Exec Spin: Why I Love ITA
Monday, March 4, 2019
Posted by: Kaylin Berg
Jeremie Bacon, Chair, ITA Board of Directors
When I co-founded my first software firm in Chicago in early 2003, the business environment for technology companies looked nothing like it does today. Most established tech organizations were still licking their wounds from the collapse of the dotcom bubble, and the startup ecosystem was barely starting to reboot. To put things in perspective, venture funding for early and growth-stage companies in the Chicago-area peaked at $1.81 billion in 2000 and then fell off a cliff. The region wouldn't raise more than a billion dollars again until 2017.
As a Chicago transplant and first-time CEO of a rapidly growing SaaS company, I was desperate for access to support resources, new talent, and executive expertise. Imagine my delight when, in mid-2006, I stumbled upon ITA's website and read this:
"The Illinois Technology Association exists to be a leading change agent that drives growth, development of technology-focused businesses, and talent in Illinois by providing connections, information, promotion, and leadership."
Intrigued, I signed up for an ITA event focused on the state of venture funding for growth-stage CFOs and found a piece of what I'd been looking for. Thirteen years later, I am still finding ways to take advantage of the incredible value ITA offers the community. Over that time, my teams and I have benefitted immensely from our involvement with the association. Thanks to relationships I developed through ITA, I gleaned experience and gained insights that have helped me navigate some of the biggest personal and professional challenges I've encountered in leading companies of tens to hundreds of employees. Some of the best connections I've made in the fifteen plus years I've been building, investing in, and running companies are the direct result of my membership in ITA.
Despite its rich history and broad influence, I still meet people from the mail room to the board room who are unfamiliar with ITA's value proposition. Here's my take in six words:
ITA delivers ACCESS, TALENT, and VISIBILITY.
Through ITA, members get direct access to the local tech economy, resources to attract, retain, and develop talent, and opportunities to drive visibility for their brands. ITA isn’t a place you go to. It is a network that member companies and their employees can leverage to find solutions to their ever-evolving challenges.
I love ITA because it facilitates ACCESS
ITA is the epicenter of the state's premier tech network. It endeavors to cultivate the ecosystem and provide infrastructure for people to collaborate and learn from each other. Key programs like ITA's Leadership Dinners (catering to C-Suite, Marketing, Finance, HR, and Product professionals), Communities of Interest (Women Influence Chicago, an AI Council and Internet of Things Council), and Educational Forums (Immigration, Influencer Marketing, and more) have opened doors and created opportunities for thousands of people to exchange ideas and share expertise over the years.
I love ITA because it helps me with TALENT
We all know how hard it is to find and retain top talent. I love ITA because it works with its member companies every day to help them develop their existing teams and find new teammates. From providing access to its Talent Portal and extensive referral network, or facilitating management and leadership development workshops, ITA is always there to help companies build their employment brand and find professional development opportunities for their teammates. This rings true for firms of all shapes and sizes, by the way. Whether you're part of a company with 10 or 10,000 teammates, ITA has something to offer.
When it comes to attracting new talent to Illinois' tech firms, ITA has been impactful with its highly successful Tech Challenge program. Moreover, with the 2018 launch of its philanthropic arm, TechForward, under the direction of Trisha Degg, ITA is positioning itself to do even more good for Chicago-land's rising tech workforce in the future.
I love ITA because it helps bring greater VISIBILITY to the community
ITA makes a consistent effort to help its member companies amplify their message and celebrate their successes. The CityLIGHTS program, which is celebrating its 20th year this September, is the event most widely associated with ITA, and for a good reason. It's always a wonderful celebration of the growth and success of Illinois' technology ecosystem. However, ITA's visibility programming also includes a host of opportunities for member companies to share their expertise, engage with a broader audience, and participate in select advocacy initiatives.
I will always be grateful to Terry Howerton, Fred Hoch, Julia Kanouse and their teams for the tireless effort they put in to start, scale, and strengthen the organization that has given so much to me. Since joining the board in 2011, I have had the good fortune of working with and learning from an army of exceptional men and women, many of whom were part of the association from its infancy. I am honored to take the baton and lead ITA’s board of directors and work closely with senior leadership to further execute ITA’s mission of making Chicago a leading tech hub.
We recently realigned the board and leadership council to help us improve our efficacy. I am very excited to be working with Tina Gravel, John Higginson, Fred Hoch, Stacey Kacek, Julia Kanouse, Amanda Lannert, Kelly Manthey, and Ryan Milligan as part of the board of directors. Their collective expertise in building and scaling technology companies across varied industries, coupled with their enthusiasm for driving ITA forward is inspiring. The ITA has a very bright future, and I look forward to helping the tech community in Illinois continue to grow and thrive.