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Entrepreneurial Spirit

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Being an entrepreneur in Chicago, I’m very familiar with the risks and the rewards involved. Building a new business is difficult. And it doesn’t get any less difficult once you’re up and running. The entrepreneurs who make it are those who are lucky enough to have guidance and support along the way. I did. And it’s one of the reasons I am so active in supporting local entrepreneurs. As the Co-Chair of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC), I am both pleased and fortunate to be able to help guide the organization in its mission to foster Chicago’s entrepreneurial spirit. The CEC has helped countless entrepreneurs secure financing, form strategic alliances and ultimately make better business decisions so they can be successful at all stages of growing their business. The CEC is affiliated with the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. It is the combined group’s mission to make Chicago the most entrepreneur-friendly region in America. And it’s working.

It’s working because, in addition to the business community, our higher education community is also extremely active. Four of Illinois’ largest universities offer programs to help hone the skills necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur. DePaul University, Northwestern University, University of Chicago, and University of Illinois at Chicago have each been recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine as being one of the nation’s “Top 100 Entrepreneurial Colleges.” These local institutions have been nurturing our city’s entrepreneurial spirit since 1982, when the University of Illinois at Chicago launched its Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. DePaul University offers both undergraduate and graduate concentrations, and also offers internships to allow students to see first-hand the challenges involved in growing a business. Northwestern University has developed an Entrepreneur in Residence program to pair students one-on-one with successful entrepreneurs and offers an internship program to let students work with young companies. The University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship has become one of the top three concentrations in the Graduate School of Business program there, and the Center’s Entrepreneurial Edge conference is celebrating its seventh year.

But it isn’t just our universities that are involved. With the generous assistance of Motorola, the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship are launching a new program this year to reach Chicago entrepreneurs at an even younger age — while they’re still in high school.

It is clear that the City of Chicago places a high value on entrepreneurship, but there are a lot of other factors that make Chicago a great place to build a company. Both the cost of doing business and the cost of living are lower than any of the other major cities. Thirty of the Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here, and Illinois ranks 4th in the nation in states with the most Fortune 500 companies. It’s no wonder we’re getting national attention. Chicago’s recent ranking by Entrepreneur Magazine as “first among megalopolises when it comes to entrepreneurial activity” is proof of the evolution of the Chicago business community and proof that Chicago is fast becoming the most popular place to start a new business.

We’ve come a long way, but there is always room for improvement. It is up to the business community to continue to reach out to entrepreneurs with the message: We will help you. As business leaders, it is up to us to share our successes and give of our time and our experience to help entrepreneurs learn better, faster, smarter ways to grow their businesses. As my fellow Chicago-based entrepreneurs already know, we will all benefit in the long run.

Michael W. Ferro, Jr. Chairman & CEO, Click Commerce, Inc. and Co-Chair of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center

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