Microsoft stepping up Chicago support

February 9, 2004


Microsoft Corp. recognizes Chicago's urban teen talent Friday at the Field Museum when Street Level Youth Media, a Near Northwest Side community technology center, receives a Microsoft Unlimited Potential Award.

The award carries a $30,000 grant and brings Microsoft's support for Street Level over the past five years to $255,000. Friday also marks the opening of Street Level's year-long exhibit at the Field showcasing the work of inner city teens.

"We're about youth enablement and empowerment," says an enthusiastic Anuj Vaidya, Street Level's development manager. The group provides kids with training in the latest media arts technology.

"We're targeting those parts of the community that are underserved," says Michael Gorriaran, general manager for Microsoft Midwest. Street Level's award is just the tip of the iceberg. With Gorriaran in charge, look for Microsoft's 303 local employees to be more engaged in community activities. It's Microsoft's effort to do good while doing well.

Since 1997, Microsoft has given $16.9 million in cash and software to Chicago area organizations. Expect that number to increase. Welcome news with the loss of Arthur Andersen and the impending Bank One merger.

CEC adds Wasserberger

"I want to help entrepreneurial companies in Chicago get revenue and funding," says David Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC), an affiliate of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Under Weinstein, the CEC's doing both.

Weinstein helped secure $4.7 million in funding for 16 Chicago area ventures over the last half of 2003.

Demand for CEC's services is growing. This week, Weinstein adds Al Wasserberger, 36, former CEO of Spirian Technologies Inc., as "entrepreneur in residence," an unpaid position. He also names Jason Felger, 28, managing director. Felger previously was director of marketing.

Weinstein is a consummate networker. He's the go-to guy if you want introductions to global companies like Boeing, Motorola or Hyatt. Dubbed the "bridge program," Weinstein helps established entrepreneurial companies bridge the gap and gain access to larger firms. The concept was advocated by former CenterPost CEO Juergen Stark. Stark want-ed established companies to lend an ear and buy from Chicago's start-ups. Weinstein, Wasserberger and Felger are making that a reality.

McKinsey alum Jai Shekha-wat, CEO of local software venture Fieldglass Inc., is a believer. "Weinstein puts entrepreneurial energy into a job that could easily be bureaucratic," Shekhawat says. Fieldglass offers software that helps large companies manage procurement. Through CEC, Fieldglass recently received an introduction to CNA Insurance.

Venture capitalist and CEC board member J.B. Pritzker says, "David's doing great. There's nothing more important to a start-up than getting a customer."

BridgePort raises $10 million

Wouldn't it be great if your cell phone could switch automatically to your office or your home Wi-Fi network? Then you could make lower cost Internet-based calls.

Chicago's BridgePort Networks aims to give the world's 1.2 billion cell-phone customers that flexibility. Merging the traditional cellular network with the red hot world of Internet telephony is BridgePort's goal. To do it, company execs have raised $10 million from Polaris Venture Partners and Catalyst Partners in a series A round.

The deal brings Mike Mulica, 40, a telecom vet, home to Chicago as CEO. "There's a talent pool here in mobile telephony," the Kellogg-trained Mulica explains. "I wanted to get back to Chicago." Also joining BridgePort as SVP/engineering is Steve Blumenthal, 50, previously CTO at Genuity. Blumenthal's an MIT and Lane Tech grad.

Heard at Kellogg

Dennis Sienko, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, told a seminar at the Kellogg Digital Frontier Conference the $200-million Illinois Opportunity Fund will be the top priority on Gov. Blagojevich's legislative agenda next session.

Sienko later added that Illinois paid $88.4 billion in federal taxes in 2002, but the federal government spent only $70.3 billion here. "The state ranks 45th on the return on the tax dollar," he said. "We intend to take a very aggressive posture in increasing the amount we get back from the feds."

Go for it, Dennis.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago based tech writer and consultant, and senior vice president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.



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