Photo: Choose Chicago

By Roos van der Meer
Economic Affairs, Netherlands Consulate General in Chicago

Chicago has the political will and organizational structure to become a front-runner in the Smart City game, much like Singapore, Barcelona, or Amsterdam.

Many features make the city a distinctive tech hub for IoT and Smart City applications. Since Dutch entrepreneurs have a knack for innovation in this space, it is worth looking at the opportunities Chicago has to offer.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

There is a strong government commitment to make Chicago the most data-driven government in the world. The city is focused on using technology and data to make it as efficient and responsive as possible to the needs of residents and businesses.

With its Array of Things project, installing some 500 sensor nodes on its streets, the city also aims to use more data in planning decisions and longer-term research.

The Chief Information Officers from both Amsterdam and Amstelveen recently visited Chicago to check out projects, make connections, and share best practices between Chicago and the Netherlands.

All hands on deck

The city government is not alone in advancing the IoT and Smart Cities sphere. It is also backed by many companies, the state of Illinois, and the federal government. It is supported by both local startups as well as a cross section of horizontal and vertical players like Accenture, Zebra Technologies, Motorola, and Caterpillar.

Chicago is also collaborating with West Coast based tech heavyweights like Cisco, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Intel. These efforts come together in organizations such as UI Labs, which are charged with coming up with viable Smart City solutions for problems that city stakeholders — industry, government, and citizens — bring forward. They do so in collaboration with universities, corporates and, you guessed it, startups.

UI Labs is an organization to check out if you are in the IoT and Smart City space. It is eager to help bring great Smart City and IoT solutions into practice, and can help you collaborate with giants in the field.

Chicago is also host to a growing number of Smart City and IoT-related conferences, including Penton’s inaugural IoT Emerge event.

In short, there is a lot of movement in the IoT and Smart Cities space in Chicago, and demand is coming in from government, industry and consumers alike. Plenty of opportunities can be exploited by innovative Dutch startups and scale ups that are ready to go international.

Go where the customers are

There are several other factors that make Chicago’s innovation ecosystem an interesting landing place for startups working in IoT. One of these is that Chicago has an active consumer base in the industrial, healthcare, retail, automotive, transportation and agricultural industries.

IoT innovations can add value to all of these industries, and the sector leaders know it. The large industrial base spread throughout the Midwest, for instance, stands to benefit from the so-called fourth industrial revolution. Digital technologies, such as IoT applications, will minimize the cost discrepancy in manufacturing between countries with higher and lower labor costs.

In the healthcare sector, remote monitoring tech can play a major role in making hospitals more efficient and improving ambulance response time.

Finally, the Midwest is a leader in automotive and transportation technology. Both are sectors where IoT can add tremendous value in, for example, connected vehicles and infrastructure maintenance. All of these industries have been working with M2M (Machine to Machine) technology, the precursor to the internet of things, for many years and are ready for the next step.

Born and raised

Chicago is not only a place where IoT can be widely applied and where the early adoption of the new technologies can take place, it also has the necessary building blocks to create it, including manufacturing, software, and data analytics.


A prowess for advanced manufacturing is required to build the devices necessary to implement IoT technologies in various industries. Since the Midwest is the core of the nation’s manufacturing base, Chicago is a logical landing place for IoT and Smart City companies that have a hardware component.


Chicago has a history in software development in transformative industries, and is the intellectual base of software centered on solving business problems. This excellence is necessary to foster a healthy IoT hub and implement Smart City solutions.

Data analytics

In Chicago, data is not only widely collected, but also analyzed. No community has seen a stronger aggregation of data analytics companies over the past 30 years. This density and historic experience is important when working in the IoT and/or Smart City space.

With Chicago’s broad economic base and its commitment to being at the forefront of data and analytics, it could be a great place in which to expand your IoT business. Just look at all the thriving IoT companies and startups Chicago has to offer.

When you have succeeded in making Amsterdam and other Dutch cities smarter, Chicago could be next on your to-do list!

Stay tuned for the next blogs, and as always, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you have. We’re here to help!