ESTEEM Students Visit IDEO, Google, and Other Top Tier Companies on Chicago Trip

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

One of the focuses of the ESTEEM program has always been getting out of the classroom. We talk about it all the time on this site -- stories of students working with exciting companies and non-profits, gaining experience in real-world situations and learning how to translate their coursework into action.

For ESTEEM, this is the heart of entrepreneurship: Getting out and doing something. Making something tangible that can make some real impact.

We’re fortunate, then, to be situated so close to Chicago, which is rapidly becoming one of the startup and tech hubs for the whole country. America’s “second city” is first-class when it comes to playing host to incredible companies and the inspiring and creative people who make them what they are.

In January, ESTEEM students had the opportunity to visit the Chicago homes of some of the planet’s most innovative companies, and learn what makes these world-beating organizations tick.


The Big Day


6:15 in the morning, Monday. Naturally, the coffee machine broke as the students arrived, leaving everyone without coffee at just past 6. An inauspicious start to a remarkable day.

Our intrepid ESTEEM students piled onto a bus, the day after break, and the day before classes would start. Most slept through the short ride to Notre Dame’s Chicago space. Not a bad idea -- they had quite the day ahead of them. Joining them were guests from the Notre Dame Design Department and Provost’s office, who would share in the day’s excitement.

The whirlwind tour started with an in-depth panel discussion, featuring some of the top brass from places like The Clean Energy Trust, Flavin Ventures, Silent Circle and IA Collaborative.

After the panel, students began getting a look at some of Chicago’s leading firms with a visit to IDEO, the award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow.

Students were treated to a tour of the collaborative facilities, and time with a Senior Design Lead to discuss IDEO’s particular approach to Design Thinking.


Next, to the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower. A Q-and-A session with a Notre Dame grad who created the non-profit Ladder Up, which provides financial services to the working poor. Including financial aid forms and banking assistance, Ladder Up and has returned $334 million to 165,000 clients since its founding.

Leaving the Tower, students next headed to Google’s Chicago office. Amazed by the energy in the place, students toured the impressive facilities led by a Google’s VP. Standing work stations were everywhere, as were quiet zones where the coders worked -- and no photography please, lest someone accidentally pick up the confidential code being written during the tour.

Students were awed to be standing in a space where one of the most influential companies in existence plans, develops and releases products that will no doubt be affecting the lives and work of millions in short order.


The next stop couldn’t have been more different than Google: Gravity Tank. A whole different scale from the corporate behemoth they had just left, students toured this innovative consultancy’s Chicago office with a Gravity Tank strategy lead, who told them that the firm works with only about 12 clients at a time, focusing heavily on prototyping, customer interviews and doing their thinking in other places than the office.

1871 is blowing up. The 50,000 square foot space that Refinery 29 called “the coolest office in Chicago” is looking to expand, and has just tapped famed Chicago entrepreneur Howard Tullman as its new CEO.Finally, to 1871 Chicago, the windy city’s co-working center for digital startups. Located in the famed Merchandise Mart, the facility provides Chicago startups with affordable workspace and access to mentors, programming, educational resources, potential investors and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs.

Boarding the bus, the ESTEEM team concluded business after a long but excellent day.


Wrapping It Up


After the non-stop intensity of a full day touring and learning from some of Chicago’s most impressive firms and innovative people, the team retired to Maggiano’s Little Italy for a family-style feast. Plates of calamari, salmon, chicken parmesan and unbelievable tiramisu were passed as students rehashed the day -- there was so much to process.

They got to spend a little time getting to know the professors from the Provost’s Office and ND Design Department who came along, and had an opportunity to introduce their thesis projects to the guests.

Leaving Maggiano’s full and happy, the students collapsed final time onto the bus, leaving Chicago and arriving home at Notre Dame at 11:15pm, Monday night. Classes would start the next day, and the students left to get some much needed rest.

Another successful, crazy, packed, intense, informative trip for the ESTEEM students -- one that explored the innermost workings of world-class firms normally hidden from the public. A once-in-a-lifetime experience to be sure.