Calling all Chicago techies

Panelists listen as fellow speaker, Kevin Brilliant, fields a question during Made In Chicago Week's Get in the Game: A Sports and Technology panel.

By Lily Singh

Tucked behind a bookstore and talking above the sounds of the restaurant housed above, Chicago’s sports technology leaders zoomed in on the landscape of the town’s tech talent.

Panel discussions, classes and events were all part of Made in Chicago week, which ended Tuesday. Sessions aimed at highlighting innovation in town. Wednesday’s event, “Get in the Game: A Sports & Technology Panel,” brought together speakers who work at the intersection of both arenas. The discussion was moderated by Danny Ecker, a reporter from Crain’s Chicago Business.

Early in the conversation, Ecker asked the big question. “Is there enough talent in Chicago to fulfill the kind of needs that you guys have from a sports tech perspective?”

Nathan Wojtkiewicz, co-founder and COO of Swingbyte, was the first to field the question. His company, Swingbyte, tracks golfer’s swings by attaching a small device to the shaft of the club and is then able to analyze that data to be reviewed on the company’s app.

“There’s plenty of talent, I think, for the development of new products,” Wojtkiewicz said. “And we do all that – we don’t use any of our offshore partners to do any of the really heavy lifting as far as research and development.”

Wojtkiewicz pointed out that Chicago is home to top universities such as Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and other schools, places that are full of talented students.

Perhaps the problem is not the lack of talent but the challenge of convincing the top talent that they should work at your company, according to Lisa Meyers Strasman, president of NCSA Athletic Recruiting. She explained how Chicago’s sports technology scene has evolved in recent years from a hiring standpoint.

“There’s so much more competition than there was even five years ago,” said Meyers Strasman. “We would be looking for a developer and we’d put out sports and people would come see our cool office and it was a lot easier than today where there’s so much competition among other sports technology companies who also have really cool cultures and environments.”

“I think [of] developers who can build apps, I think you can find enough talent here to do that,” said John Contreras, co-founder and CEO of Matchup. “Finding people who do machinery and artificial intelligence is a much bigger challenge.”

Contreras’s company allows you to join in on fitness challenges with friends regardless of the wearable technology that you use to track fitness, such as an Apple Watch or Fitbit. Contreras finds it difficult to find a specific kind of programmer.

“For us, I mean luckily we have currently enough talent in house to do it but at some point we’re gonna need more and I think that’s gonna be our hardest hire, no doubt.”

Strasman had one thing to say to the programmers attending the event.

“There’s so much great talent in Chicago but the development is definitely a challenge,” said Strasman. “So if there’s any developers in the room be prepared to work in sports.”

Photo at top: Panelists listen as fellow speaker, Kevin Brilliant, fields a question during Made In Chicago Week’s “Get in the Game: A Sports and Technology Panel.” (Lily Singh/Medill)