The Innovators Connection

What it is

The Innovators Connection builds bridges and linkages between the region’s most innovative small businesses and large corporations located in and around Chicago. The Innovators Connection is funded by the Chicago Innovation Awards and Molex.

How it works

  • Large company participants express their desired needs to us relating to technologies, products, services, categories and industries that provide them value.
  • The Innovators Connection matches relevant Chicago Innovation Awards nominees and start-ups to large company participants.
  • Large companies review potential qualified start-ups, and we facilitate meetings between organizations.

Why participate

Large and small companies will benefit through new connections and the sharing of innovations that will increase company revenues and grow the economy.

Large companies gain access to pertinent new products, services, technologies and business models in their industries and adjacent industries. These new resources can sharpen the competitive advantages of large companies and add value to existing operations.

Start-ups gain access to large corporations, which can provide opportunities for new customers, licensing agreements, joint partnerships and acquisitions.

Our local focus aims to yield economic growth and job creation for the Chicago region.


“The spirit of innovation is thriving in Chicago. Big and small businesses have the potential to grow even faster through cooperation and interaction. The Innovators Connection will foster this interaction, helping to create jobs and economic opportunity for our city and its residents.”

-Mayor Rahm Emanuel


“The Innovators Connection will provide to the large companies a portfolio of startups that have created some type of economic value and done something that is innovative and very different.”

-Tom Kuczmarski, Co-founder, Chicago Innovation Awards


Our network

The Innovators Connection emerges from the web of relationships we have built with businesses of all types and sizes over the course of the first 13 years of the Chicago Innovation Awards. The Innovators Connection uses our database of proprietary data and personal relationships to help create new business opportunities throughout the region. After all, it is when the fruits of innovation flourish and grow within the Chicago region that our hometown economy will grow and people will prosper.

Past Corporate Members

Through the Innovators Connection, start-ups and small businesses from across the region tell us how they can meet these needs and provide solutions to large corporations.

Cisco JLL
Elkay Horizon Jing

If you are interested in joining as a large company participant, contact Luke Tanen at 312-988-1516 or at [email protected]


The Innovators Connection Process

Winter 2017: Small companies can join the Innovators Connection database by applying here (note: small companies that have previously applied for a Chicago Innovation Award are already in the database, but are encouraged to re-apply if they’ve since developed new innovations).
Spring & Summer 2017: Innovators Connection team meets with large company members to conduct needs assessments and present portfolios of relevant small companies.
Fall 2017: Large company members select small companies for exclusive demo days.

Apply now to the Innovators Connection

Click here to answer a few simple questions and become a part of the Innovators Connection


If you have any questions regarding the Innovators Connection, please contact Luke Tanen at 312-988-1516 or at [email protected]