New tech alliance gives state breath of hope
January 24, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
You probably didn't
see the birth announcement. The Illinois Technology Development
Alliance was born last week. Its proud papa is veteran tech advocate
Tom Thornton, who was named president.
you care about job growth and economic progress in Illinois, this
newborn organization is a breath of hope. Keep an eye on it.
Thornton's plan is
simple: Stimulate growth in Illinois by helping emerging technology
companies capitalize on the commercial power of their innovations.
There are a lot of high potential tech startups out there starved
for capital, customers and management talent. Thornton, 39, wants
to be the marriage maker. He intends to coach startups and connect
them with VCs.
He has $2.6 million
in funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the
U.S. Department of Defense's Office of Naval Research. He also
has the ear of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), having
served as Hastert's point person for technology appropriations.
He's also worked in tech commercialization since the mid-'90s.
Thornton wants to do
more than simply dole out grants to worthy companies. He wants
to work with federal agencies, understand their technology requirements
and find Illinois companies that have what it takes to meet the
government's needs. It's the simple formula that made California
the land of technology millionaires. As Bill Gates Sr. said when
he was here, the biggest venture capitalist is Uncle Sam. Tom
Thornton is going to make it work for Illinois. He's well-positioned
to do it. He deserves our support.
"One of the earliest
adopters of technology, period, is government," Thornton
says. "They take big technology risks. They plough a lot
of money into technology development. They have an excellent bias
to partner with small companies.
"If Navy says,
'I need a laser that can clad and repair parts,' we're going to
find that laser and source it."
Thornton sees three
benefits for Illinois startups. They'll get a really big initial
customer, technology-development capital and a lot of hands-on
know-how. It makes sense.
The Illinois Technology
Development Alliance emerged from a restructuring of the Illinois
Coalition and an effort by coalition Chairman Sam Skinner to focus
the coalition on bringing large scale federal infrastructure investments
There are three federal
mega projects on the horizon that tally almost $10 billion in
estimated federal investment. They're the Rare Isotope Accelerator
project worth $1 billion. The $1 billion FutureGen project to
develop the first zero-emissions, coal-based power plant. Then
there's the reconstruction of Fermi Lab to create the International
Linear Collider for $8 billion, perhaps the largest science investment
other than the moon launches, Thornton says.
With last week's announcement,
the Illinois Coalition can focus on advocacy and infrastructure.
They can chase those mega projects, while Tom Thornton and the
Illinois Technology Development Alliance focus on tech commercialization.
The only unanswered
question, who will lead the Illinois Coalition?
raises $11 million
landed $11 million in funding last week. The round was led by
Grotech Capital Group. Previous investors, BlueStream Ventures,
StarVest Partner and HLM Venture Partners also re-upped in this
round. The money will be used to expand the company's marketing
and sales capabilities and for product enhancements.
one of Chicago's strongest tech success stories," says David
Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.
The software company navigated the downturn and emerged with a
company that is providing a meaningful software solution to Fortune
1000 companies. It's adding staff and increasing Chicago's prestige.
CDW is celebrating. CEO John Edwardson's firm made the Fortune
magazine list of the "100 Best Companies to Work For"
for the seventh year in a row. CDW ranks 14th. It's the sixth
time the company placed among the top 15. ... Harold Evans, the
English author who chronicled American innovation in his recent
book They Made America, From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine:
Two Centuries of Innovators, speaks today at the University of
Chicago's Gleacher Center. U. of C. entrepreneurship professor
Ellen Rudnick notes there's considerable Midwest innovation on
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.