Leaders fire up for Tech Fest '06

March 6, 2006


Will $100 laptop computers close Chicago's digital divide? Deborah Strauss, executive director of Chicago's IT Resource Center, doubts it.

"They're not in production yet," says Strauss, who leads the city's top center for supporting not-for-profit groups and community technology centers. "They're intended to be mostly Internet machines. A limited machine might be the right thing in a developing country. In Chicago's inner city, we need more than hardware. We need connectivity, training and robust hardware."

While Strauss is unsure about $100 laptops, she's bullish on the state of technology adoption among Chicago's not-for-profits and the local community technology movement, which aims to help disadvantaged households gain technology skills and access.

The Hispanic Housing Development Corp., Erie Neighborhood House, Intel Computer Club Houses and Lawndale Christian Development Corp. are just a few of the leading groups Strauss cites.

"They're all doing innovative work," she adds. She's also looking for Gov. Blagojevich to sign a bill that provides funding for digital divide initiatives.

Technology innovation

On Friday Strauss convenes the leaders of the tech community for her Tech Fest '06 fund-raiser. The gala takes place at the Hyatt Regency, and honors the most innovative not-for-profit adopters of technology with two Technology Leadership Awards.

Finalists include the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Chicago Zoological Society, I-GO Car Sharing, Illinois Legal Aid Online and Nor-Wood Life Care NFP. An all-star panel of local techies vetted the 60 nominees: Allstate CIO Cathy Brune, Board of Trade CIO Bill Farrow, United Way CEO Janet Froetscher, Exelon CIO Dan Hill and Accenture CIO Frank Modruson.

Mr. Lavin goes to Washington

Can a blue state bring home federal dollars to support tech commercialization?

With House Speaker Dennis Hastert hailing from Illinois, you'd think our state would be rolling in technology investment dollars. Yet Illinois recently lost a $15 million Labor Department grant to support technology competitiveness.

Gov. Blagojevich's point man on economic development, Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, was back in D.C. last week knocking on Hastert's door. Lavin briefed members of the Illinois delegation on the governor's efforts to expand the homeland security industry in Illinois. It's a growing $45 billion global industry.

Plenty of cutting-edge security research takes place at Argonne, the University of Illinois, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Blagojevich wants that R&D pumped into commercial ventures headquartered here.

"Speaker Hastert is very engaged," says Lavin, who's also briefing the staffs of Democratic Sens. Richard Durbin and Barack Obama.

What do our pols need?

"They are looking for a road map," Lavin says. "We're out there talking with them about specific things they can help with." The Transportation Security Administration is looking for a site for a center to study transportation safety. Lavin thinks that would fit Illinois just fine. Joining Lavin at the D.C. briefings were a host of commercial sector execs including Motorola Vice President David Borth.

Moto SLVR shines

Motorola CEO Ed Zander held a hometown launch party last Thursday in Millennium Park for his super thin, candy-bar-shaped, iTunes-playing SLVR cell phone. At less than half an inch thick, the sleek metal SLVR weds cutting edge style and state-of-the-art performance. Millennium Park was the perfect venue to showcase the hot designs Motorola is inventing.

Motorola Mobile Devices President Ron Garriques says, "The event recognizes Chicago's unique place in Motorola history. Although we're a global company, Chicago is home, and this event celebrates Motorola and Chicago -- two great brands with a history of innovation and re-invention."

SLVR's other launch sites include Milan, London and Berlin.

Bits & bytes

Google CEO Eric Schmidt signed on to address the Economic Club of Chicago on April 6. Word is Google's expanding in Chicago. ... IIT professor Bob Carlson hosts NetSecure '06, a computer and network security conference Wednesday at IIT's Rice campus in Wheaton.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.


 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners