Tech group changes name, leader and focus

February 7, 2005


When software companies find their product is passe, or their technology improves, they launch a new version. The 23-year-old Chicago Software Association is doing just that. The CSA, representing more than 400 area technology companies, is rechristening itself the Illinois Information Technology Association.

Today ITA names Fred Hoch, 34, as president. Hoch joins ITA from the Washington, D.C.-based Software and Information Industry Association where he was a vice president. Hoch is expected to be the highly visibly face of ITA. He has a reputation of being equally comfortable in an elegant corporate boardroom or in the garage of a tech startup.

"The Chicago and Illinois tech communities are gaining momentum but under represented," says Hoch, who is clearly enthusiastic. "People around the country and on both coasts have great things to say about Chicago's technology community." Hoch hopes to provide national perspective, which could increase the prominence of local tech across the nation, leading to more business opportunities.

Hoch inherits an advocacy group with lofty ambitions, but the Illinois Information Technology Association faces an uphill battle. Time will tell if ITA under Hoch's command can deliver on its broadened mission.

New software versions offer great promise. It's how well they function after installation that's critical. The same is true with the new ITA.

"This began last spring," says Terry Howerton, 32, CEO of Chicago-based Fastroot and interim president of the ITA. "We decided to dream bigger dreams and have broader objectives."

A team of three dozen volunteers engaged in the planning, Howerton says. In the vanguard were Ellen Carnahan, managing director of William Blair; Doug Cogswell, CEO, Advizor Solutions; Jack Noonan, CEO, SPSS, and Bill Merchantz, CEO, Lakeview Technology.

They benchmarked CSA with the Pittsburgh Technology Council, which operates in a market one-tenth the size of Chicago. But, Howerton says, "they have triple the members, and a full-time staff of 35. They play a meaningful role in Pittsburgh's entrepreneurship and venture communities. There's no excuse for Chicago not to be doing a much better job."

The ITA will have three goals. Get beyond software to include advanced manufacturing, nanotech and biotech. Establish a statewide focus. (Last year the group helped defeat a proposed software tax). And, do more than represent technology vendors.

Howerton wants ITA to serve corporate and mid-size tech buyers. He views our state's tech problem as a gap between local buyers and sellers. He's right.

The new ITA intends to help buyers and sellers connect in Illinois. Howerton plans to build on the successful "technology bridge" program introduced by former CenterPost CEO Juergen Stark and David Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.

The bridge program helps newer startups gain access to the region's larger companies. Howerton sees a need to scale this effort statewide.

Scott Glickson, partner at the law firm Gordon & Glickson and an ITA board member, sees the changes as positive. "It will facilitate more connections between vendors and buyers," Glickson says. The result will be more jobs across the state.

Former CSA executive director Candy Renwall, who stepped down last November, is thrilled. Says Renwall, who retains close ties to ITA, "Once again, the association is in the vanguard."

CEC honors AdGooroo

Last week, Google posted a seven-fold increase in fourth-quarter profits. That's good news for Richard Stokes, founder of local tech startup AdGooroo. AdGooroo provides on-demand competitive intelligence for Google AdWords advertisers. The more companies advertise on Google, the more they need Stokes.

This week the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center names AdGooroo entrepreneur of the month. "AdGooroo is one of several emerging technology companies in Chicago leveraging the search-engine industry," CEC managing director Jason Felger says.

Stokes isn't complaining about finding money to grow his business in Chicago. Sources say AdGooroo is picking up angel investors and organizational momentum.

"If you've got a great opportunity and are able to execute, the money is not hard to find," Stokes insists.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-area tech writer and consultant.



 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners