Blog post

Caretta at Chicago Ideas Week

Chicago Ideas is a seven-day celebration of ideas, innovation, and community designed to ignite, inspire, connect, and catalyze the city of Chicago around great ideas and great people.

The event is built on one core belief: When a broad spectrum of thinkers and instigators share ideas, we have the power to transform our world.

Chicago Ideas Week has become one of my favorite events of the year, because of my life-long passion for entrepreneurship and strong connection to the city of Chicago. I first arrived at age 17 to visit the University of Chicago, and stayed as a student, then to start the LifeCard, Sterling Partners and now Caretta.

In 2012, after moving the Sterling offices from Northbrook to 401 N. Michigan Avenue, my partner and long time friend Steven Taslitz met with Brad Keywell and after learning about CIW suggested that Sterling become a sponsor of CIW. After becoming a sponsor, I joined the board in 2013. This year, I helped with the strategic planning process and joined Brad as a Co-Chair along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Highlights From Chicago Ideas Week

Day 1

“State of the Union”

Brad and I had the honor of introducing the “State of the Union” talk on the first night of Chicago Ideas Week. With the 2016 presidential election fast approaching, CIW explored issues, both domestic and international, that will define American politics and policy for years to come. Host David Gregory moderated a roundtable with CNN’s SE Cupp and Marc Lamont Hill, RNC strategist Sean Spicer and the Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page. Following politics, David interviewed Bethany McLean and Greg Ip on the continued recovery of the US from the financial crisis, then Juan C. Zarate and Robin Wright on the US government’s approach to Iran and lastly Nancy Lindborg on the migrant crisis.

Day 2

“Leading under pressure”

It’s one thing to lead under the best of circumstances. It’s quite another to manage a team facing a constant barrage of challenges or setbacks. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards kicked off the event and spoke about her recent response to criticism and on expanding programming. When asked about the key to leading under pressure, Richards said, “You have to set your sights on the next decade, not the next day.”

We also heard great advice from author and historian Alexa Clay on the qualities of a successful pirate and other black market entrepreneurs. Here are five things misfits do that translate to the business world: “Hustle. Hack. Copy. Provoke. Pivot.”

Finally, General (Ret.) David H. Petraeus discussed his learnings on the battlefield and in the board room as he explained his process for planning and implementing strategic ideas.

After the talk, we escorted Gen. Petraeus to a reception for Sterling Partners’ CEO and Director Summit at The Kitchen.


Following an action-packed Day 4, I moderated an evening panel with a group of true geniuses...individuals whose ideas are among the most groundbreaking, inventive and awe-inspiring I have ever seen.

Dr. Robert E. Fischell was the first speaker of night. Fischell is a prolific inventor with over 200 issued U.S. and foreign patents for heart pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, coronary stents and devices to treat epilepsy and migraine headaches. Ironically enough, one of Dr. Fischell’s devices saved my mother’s life last year so I was especially excited to meet him and hear about his inventions.

Next, we sat down for Jennifer Eigenbrode, an astrobiologist and geologist with expertise in detecting and deciphering organic molecules found in rocks, sediments and ice. Her work has largely focused on early Earth records of microbial life before there was an oxygenated atmosphere and signatures of microbial life in rock regarded as analogs of Mars. Eigenbrode joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a research scientist in 2007.

Currently, Jennifer works on the science analysis at Mars instrument on the Curiosity Rover in search of organic molecules on Mars. When we asked her what instrument she would be most excited to use in person on Mars, had she been Matt Damon in the recently released film The Martian, she said “A microscope—so I could see the micro-organisms under the surface to prove that perhaps life once existed there.”

Sticking to the outer space theme, we interviewed fourteen-year-old brilliant pianist and wunderkind Emily Bear. She was able to compose on-the-spot as I told her stories, including one involving a space ship soaring to Mars and being greeted by a group of scientists who threw a party for her. Emily also performed an original composition and a jazz-adapted “Bumble Boogie” to close out her performance. Check it outhere.

As background, Emily has performed at many of the worlds’ most well known venues including Carnegie Hall, the White House, Lincoln Center, Montreux Jazz Festival, Blue Note, Ravinia and the Hollywood Bowl, among others. A composer since she was three years old, Bear received the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award at the age of six. Bear has released six albums of original music, and her most recent album “Diversity” was produced by Quincy Jones for Concord Music.

Finally, Philip Zimbardo, one of the world’s most distinguished living psychologists spoke to us about the negative impact the gaming industry has had on young men and his recent work on a nonprofit dedicated to creating everyday heroes called the Heroic Imagination Project. Dr. Zimbardo has served as president of the American Psychological Association and is best known for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment.

We ended with a panel of all of the geniuses together. One of the questions we asked was “If you had a billboard, what would it say?” You’ll have to wait for the CIW video to hear the fascinating answers word for word. Bob spoke about faster FDA approvals of critical, lifesaving devices. Emily advocated for music education in schools, telling the audience that music has been reduced in her own school. Jen spoke about the question of life beyond earth. Phil spoke about the importance of saying speaking up, saying “No” to avoid the slippery slope that can destroy our character. What an amazing evening.

Co-Chairing CIW has been a great privilege and I am now convinced that an ideas “Platform” is an essential tool for connecting citizens in cities around the issues and opportunities that really matter and can help ensure a better the next decade as well as for the next generation. How does this work? Amongst the 2015 CIW attendees were students from Chicago Public Schools, entrepreneurs, educators, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, change makers, business leaders, city leaders…all listening to ideas and inspiration from some of the smartest people in the country. This creates an atmosphere of trust, inquiry, debate, challenge and learning. This process, across 160 events over 7 days...creates new connections, new discoveries and new collaborations that contribute to progress...progress to a better future. Here’s to founder and my co-chairman, Brad Keywell, for launching this important platform that now takes its place as a Chicago institution…a catalyst for change.