Unexpected Amusements at the Un-Gala






From pop-up entertainment during cocktail hour and salads that resembled sponges (but tasted divinely) to Zamboni rides as auction prizes (on Blackhawks ice, less), the “un” in the Chicago Innovation Awards Un-Gala certainly stood for unexpected.


Breakdancers perform as guests transition from cocktail reception to the dining room.


Waitstaff passing appetizers during the cocktail reception.

The business leaders, technology experts, and developers of fast-growing startups laid down the guidelines five years ago when the benefit began: it should be all about innovation, just like the organization itself, benefit innovators of all ages, and the location must always new. For Un-Gala 2017, the Morgan Manufacturing Company in the West Loop, known for its “industrial elegance.”


Waitstaff serving wine during cocktail reception.


Desserts that tantalized the tastebuds and the eyes.

The 30-member gala committee delivered a sensational evening and $230,000 raised for the Chicago Innovation Foundation. In addition to contributions to the Women’s Mentoring Coop, the evening funds a Young Innovators Program in the Chicago Public Schools.

Executive Director, Luke Tanen, explained:

We have just begun to fund this K-8th grade project. We asked a group of participating students to think of ways to build a business by looking for needs and coming up with solutions, just like an adult innovator does. Over 1500 students participated, and we are definitely growing the program.

“We awarded prizes for the best ideas and sometimes the simplest ones are the best. First place went to 9-year-old Trinity who invented a ‘no-sog’ lunchbox to keep lunch for getting soggy, even though the box combined both hot and cold food.

“Second prize went to a student who thought of a pet food bowl that prevents pets from scattering food or water everywhere, while  the third prize-winner was a water bottle that can clip onto desks. School desks are about 2 feet by 18 inches, so when you have books, notebooks, and colored pencils, there’s no place to put a water bottle (which might spill all over your homework anyway). Very clever innovators all.”


Un-Gala honoree, JB Pritzker, delivers keynote remarks.

Guest of Honor, J.B. Pritzker, founder of 1871, Chicago’s digital startup center, addressed the 400 guests. Tom Kuczmarski and Dan Miller founded the Chicago Innovation Awards, a non-profit that celebrates, educates, and connects innovators at all organizations throughout the Chicago area, in 2002. Leslie Vickery, Un-Gala Co-Chair, Miller, and Tanen served as the evening’s hosts.


Un-Gala co-chair Leslie Vickrey and Chicago Innovation board member Michael Krauss.


JB Pritzker, Jamie Tanen, and Chicago Innovation Executive Director, Luke Tanen.

Members of the Un-Gala Committee included Tim Ayers, Alex Balestrieri, Melissa Ballate, Sara Barg, Ellen Barry, Ken Coats, Holly Copeland, Hazem Dawani, Matthew Doubleday, Lisa Emerick, Darcy Evon, Phil Fulton, Brian Gratch, Pat Iaconetti, Ryan Jacobs, Sandee Kastrul, Maria Kim, Blair Lock, Linda Mallers, Matt Matros, Ivy Michaels, Matt Robinson, Kevin Rooney, Matthew Saleski, Mohan Sawhney, Eric Severinghaus, Brad Spirrison, Greg Topel, and Joyce Winnecke.


Michael Arndt, Christine Hutchinson, and Karen Dale.


Un-Gala Presenting Sponsors: Sonny Garg from Uptake, Darren Guccione from Keeper, and Michael Parks from Thompson Coburn.