Here's a start-up that prospered, stuck around

March 20, 2006


Can you start a tech company in Chicago and make money? Telution CEO Kent Steffen, 39, isn't disclosing how much he made when Colorado-based CSG Systems bought Chicago-based Telution earlier this month, but published reports put the purchase price at $22 million. CSG, which provides billing solutions for cable TV companies, is expected to capitalize on Telution's expertise in billing software to help cable companies compete in the phone business.

The deal fits nicely into Steffen's plans for Telution. In 1998 the ex-Accenture consultant founded Telution to create next-generation software for companies such as SBC and Comcast that are chasing the dream of convergence: providing telephone, data communications and video entertainment over a common IP platform, delivered through telephone lines, cable connection or satellite dish.

Steffen realized phone, cable and wireless service providers suffer from a common ailment. They lack quality software systems that enable customers to order new services and keep them working properly.

Flexible customer care

Says Steffen, "CSG and Telution share a common vision for the role of customer care and billing in the communications industry. Service providers are adding new services and trying to personalize them to each customer. This requires a flexible customer care and billing platform." That's just what Telution combined with CSG can offer.

"Telution's goal from Day One was to make communication more useful through a better approach to the software," adds Steffen. With the CSG deal, Steffen can scale more quickly.

Telution employs 75, and spokesman Rob Kunzler says, "Telution will stay in Chicago. CSG will open an office here." Not all Chicago start-ups leave town.

Telution is the second venture for the South Dakota native and University of Illinois computer science major. After graduating from Champaign in 1989, Steffen joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). He left in 1992 to do a start-up that produced multimedia software tools. When that didn't work out, he returned to Andersen Consulting.

An entrepreneur at heart, he took the plunge again in 1998. Now it's paying off.

Guess you can build a start-up in Chicago and prosper.

HP's Hurd speaks

HP CEO Mark Hurd keynotes the Executives' Club luncheon and tech conference Tuesday at the Chicago Hilton and Towers on "Inevitable Trends in Information Technology & Business."

Hurd's CEO performance is excellent. Last month HP announced a 30 percent jump in profits and a 6 percent increase in fiscal first-quarter revenue.

Turning around a global tech giant may be easier for Hurd than giving a stump speech. When Hurd spoke in Chicago last October, he was brief and underwhelming. Expect more on Tuesday. He has favorable results to crow about.

Also on tap at Tuesday's Executives' Club event to talk about "Capitalizing on information to drive innovation" are: Siemens Corporate Research CEO Paul Camuti; Wrigley chief innovation officer Surinder Kumar; British Telecom Americas President Chuck Pol, and Microsoft's new Midwest general manager, Janet Kennedy.

CityLights' Hoch shines

Since arriving from Washington, D.C., over a year ago, Illinois Information Technology Association President Fred Hoch has reinvigorated the ITA.

Thursday, Hoch hosts about 400 people at ITA's seventh annual CityLights awards at Galleria Marchetti. The program honors Chicago tech leaders across six categories.

Hoch is my choice for an award. Go to for more info.

Bits & Bytes

Northwestern University chemistry Professor Thomas Meade is one happy fellow. His Evanston-based start-up, Ohmx Corp., won a $150,000 grant as part of Gov. Blagojevich's drive to build Illinois' homeland security industry. Ohmx aims to develop a low-cost biosensor to screen for biological threats like anthrax. The Illinois Technology Enterprise Center at Northwestern also invested $25,000.

CDW CEO John Edwardson speaks Wednesday at the Society for Information Management lunch at Spiaggia. Edwardson describes how CDW applies technology to stay ahead of the competition.

Portage Venture Partners VC Matt McCall launches a new blog titled VC Confidential. It gives a look behind the venture capital curtain.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.


 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners