IIT to launch new major merging tech, business

February 23, 2004


An educational innovation is brewing on Chicago's South Side. This week, Dennis Roberson, 55, the new vice provost of IIT, will unveil a hybrid degree program for undergraduates that merges technology with business.

Dubbed the "Techno-Business Program," the effort aims to prepare undergraduates for tomorrow's job market.

"Technology companies need graduates with more than just a solid background in business," says Roberson, former Motorola executive vice president and chief technology officer. "They need graduates who bring a respect for and critical understanding of technology." He believes his new program will produce the kinds of graduates industry leaders demand.

Roberson aims to make the curriculum rigorous in the classroom while creating lots of opportunities for live interaction with companies and executives. He expects a few student-led start-up companies will emerge.

Roberson's supporters include IIT President Lew Collens, who adds, "We're working hard to click with a new generation of students, creating degrees and programs that respond to a changing world."

If you're a high school math and science whiz with an eye toward a career in business, check this program out.

Spain lights Highbeam.com

Chicago's Pat Spain, 51, is doing it again. Spain is a founder of Hoover's Online, the successful business-intelligence service that he sold for $119 million in September to Dun & Bradstreet.

Now he's turning the lights on at a new company, Highbeam.com, located at 360 N. Michigan Ave.

"We're helping people become better online researchers," says Spain. With an e-library of 28 million documents from 2,600 sources and updated daily, Highbeam aims to give ordinary consumers access to sophisticated, online research capabilities at an affordable price. Spain reports that 4.5 million unique visitors use the free parts of his site each month, with 40,000 paying subscribers signed up so far.

"We've raised $4.3 million in capital. There are angels in town and several were very generous," says Spain, who put up capital of his own. His VCs include Chicago's Prism Opportunity Fund and Connecticut-based 1to1 Venture Partners.

Spain got his start in research studying ancient Roman history at the University of Chicago. In 1990, he and classmates Gary Hoover and Alan Chai hatched the idea of putting corporate financial information into the hands of everyday users. Their first attempt, a $20 print volume, flopped. Spain decided to publish on the fledgling Internet. Hoover's Online was born. The rest is Internet history. Now Spain's writing a second chapter.

Kuhn Capital's phone is ringing

Ryan Kuhn, 55, founder of Kuhn Capital, a local M&A advisory shop launched in 1986, says, "It's often cheaper to buy than to grow organically." Lately Kuhn's phone is ringing, suggesting a marketplace uptick.

Kuhn specializes in advising firms doing transactions in the $10 million to $50 million range. He credits the recent rise in tech company valuations and cheap money for increased deal activity.

"For buyer's, it's cheaper to use money than stock," Kuhn says. "On the seller side, there are a lot of guys who are weary having survived the downturn. They're older. They've got customer pipelines that support higher valuations."

The upshot is more deals.

Kuhn's advice for local tech entrepreneurs: "Look around the Midwest. There are thousands of manufacturing companies under pressure to use the latest technology to make and distribute their wares," and Chicago is a great test bed.

Datebook: Wilbur Gantz, CEO of Ovation Pharmaceuticals, keynotes Friday's Chicago Technology Forum at U. of C.'s Gleacher Center, which focuses on building Chicago's biotech community. ... Chicago native Jordan Glazier, general manager of eBay Business, returns Wednesday for National Manufacturing Week at McCormick Place. ... Cisco's Jim Holycross chairs Thursday's VoIP Development Forum at the East Bank Club.

Better times: Dell Inc. President and COO Kevin Rollins pumped up U. of C. business students last week, saying, "Opportunities for graduate students who are very curious, have high energy and a passion for winning have never been greater."

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


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners