Greetings from ISTC/I Leadership

The Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) exists to measure, connect, and advocate for the state’s innovation community.  Our work highlights the importance of research, innovation, and entrepreneurship in solving challenges that improve people’s lives and enrich the state’s economy. 

As an intermediary organization, we connect and align public and private members of the state’s technology community that don’t often come together on their own. This includes our research universities, federal labs, leading companies, high schools, emerging startups, and a network of civic/non-profit organizations.

We’d like to recognize and thank our dynamic group of members and funders, who represent the pulse of the state’s innovation community and share our passion and mission. 

Through the work of the Illinois Science & Technology Institute (ISTI), we continue to make lasting connections between companies and classrooms to build Illinois’ STEM talent pipeline. In 2018, we reached a record number of students across more than 40 Illinois high schools, engaged more than 450 mentors, and created new lines of sight to careers in STEM fields.  We are now partnering with other non-profits in Illinois and other parts of the country to use our Mentor Matching Engine e-mentoring platform, which is enabling even more rich interactions between young people and STEM researchers and professionals. 

Finally, we thank our tremendous board of directors for their leadership and ongoing guidance. Please take a moment to learn more about our accomplishments throughout 2018 in our pillars of data, advocacy, education, and innovation programs. We look forward to building on these efforts in 2019. 

  • Mark Harris
  • President & CEO
  • ISTC & Institute
  • Geoff Curtis
  • Board Chair
  • Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs & Chief Communications Officer, Horizon Pharma plc


Record-Breaking STEM Talent and University Startup Production

The Illinois Innovation Index expanded its role as the go-to resource measuring and benchmarking the state’s innovation economy in 2018.

In April, the Index released new data on record-breaking startup production from Illinois’ universities. To accompany this release, ISTC hosted an event at 1871, which included speakers from university leaders, startup founders, and members of Illinois’ venture capital community.

In September, ISTC published its R&D Index, detailing $16.5 billion in private and public sector R&D activity. The R&D Index was released at Illinois Ignite, an event celebrating university research and commercialization in the state.

Finally, December marked the release of our STEM Talent Index, highlighting the explosive growth of computer and data science in the state. ISTC hosted an event at Arity to release the new data, which also included a panel of talent experts.

One out of 10 computer science degrees in the nation comes from Illinois colleges and universities, according to the index. California is the only state that churns out more. The number of computer science graduates has been growing nationally, but Illinois’ annual growth of 21.5 percent outpaces the national average of 19.8 percent. Data science also is growing in prominence as a profession, with increasing numbers of degrees and jobs in data science-related fields, the index found.

Ally Marotti

Chicago Tribune


The Learning Language – STEM Challenge Success Story

In order to serve the community, technology must reflect the community. That’s what students at Foreman College and Career Academy learned last spring when partnering with Microsoft Corporation as part of ISTI’s STEM Challenge program. Students at Foreman recognized a disconnect between community members and the school’s administration, and with the help of artificial intelligence and Microsoft mentors they set out to break down that barrier.

About 30% of Chicagoans speak a non-English language at home, according to a study by Crain’s Chicago Business. Because of this diversity in communication, Foreman students found that parents or community members contacting the school had difficulty accessing and understanding the information they needed. The students designed a chatbot that not only guided question-seekers through the ins and outs of the administration, but did so in English, Spanish, Russian, and Greek. Users simply input their question in their desired language and received a concise and digestible answer. Through their bot, students were able to support efficiency in their district and promote inclusion in their community.

Learn more about STEM Challenges here.

How to Get Involved

  • Have your company support a STEM Challenge
  • Sponsor STEM Student Showcase events
  • Become a mentor on Mentor Matching Engine
  • Contact Us

Looking Forward

In the 2018-19 school year, ISTI is working with 1,600 students across 44 high schools. That brings the Institute’s overall impact to over 5,500 students across more than 65 high schools in the six years since its inception. As always, we are grateful to the schools, teachers, and corporate partners that make this impact possible. For the full partner and school list, click here.

This has had a positively tremendous impact on the students involved, both socially and academically. The students have gained so much confidence in themselves as well as gained priceless experience with this project.

Teacher, East St. Louis Senior High School


Using the Data to Drive Policy

ISTC advocates for sound policies and programs at the state and federal levels. We actively support legislation and initiatives that have a positive impact on research, innovation, and technology commercialization.

Throughout 2018, ISTC furthered its partnership with SSTI – a national nonprofit that strengthens initiatives to create a better future through science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship – as part of its Innovation Advocacy Council.  In collaboration with representatives from more than 20 other states, we engaged members of Congress on a number of innovation issues, including funding for the Regional Innovation Strategies Program.

ISTC utilizes its data to inform policy and program recommendations that will strengthen Illinois’ innovation economy.  Moving into 2019, we look forward to working with Gov. Pritzker, members of the General Assembly, and the Illinois Congressional delegation to advance new ideas that will advance Illinois’ position as a tech leader.  Scroll down for our takeaways from each Index.

Leaving behind women and communities of color will weaken our growing tech ecosystem and lead to unrealized potential of a critical local talent source. If we want to make Chicago a top-tier tech hub, it is only going to happen by harnessing the talents of all our young minds.

Mark Harris


Advocacy in the News:


Building on Opportunities and Successes

In 2018, the ISTC partnered with Aon Corporation – specifically Aon’s Affinity division – through our Corporate-Startup Challenge program. Aon Affinity worked with our team to identify technology target use cases for partnership opportunities with startup and early-stage companies. Through our rigorous scouting process, we identified 135 startup candidates, which were narrowed down to the 41 best matches presented to the Aon Affinity team. Aon ultimately selected 10 companies from this pool to invite to their private demo day, hosted in July at Chicago’s Aon Center. The startups represented specific alignment with Aon Affinity’s interest in data enrichment, AI/machine learning-driven insurance technology, process optimization, and insurance-focused blockchain solutions. After our 18th successful demo day, Aon has begun exploring partnership opportunities with 7 of the 10 startups matched to their needs.

In late 2018, our team also received the exciting news that Caterpillar, a former Corporate-Startup Challenge participant, closed a $20M Series A investment in Guardhat Technologies. Guardhat was originally introduced to Caterpillar through the 2015 Caterpillar Corporate-Startup Challenge demo day.

Get Involved

Contact us to learn more about our corporate innovation programs, which help to facilitate partnerships with the region’s brightest tech innovations.

Contact Us