Illinois' nanotech future: growth or implosion?

March 29, 2004


Darrell Dvorak wants more media outrage. "You might expect a harsh comment about the state's nano-tech future to trigger alarm bells throughout Illinois and garner lots of media attention," Dvorak says.

Writing in ePrairie, the online news site covering Chicago's tech scene, Dvorak laments the absence of editorial angst over the ambivalent comments made by Small Times magazine regarding the future of our nanotech industry.

Here's the good news. For the second straight year, Small Times, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based monitor of the burgeoning nanotech industry, ranked Illinois among its Top 10 Small Tech Hot Spots. More good news: Illinois moved up to No. 6 this year from No. 8.

The bad news: Small Times says, "Illinois may be on the brink of explosive growth or an implosion. Research powerhouses in Chicago and Urbana-Champaign continued to gain federal research dollars, but that has yet to evolve into a sizable business cluster."

Says Sean Murdock, executive director of AtomWorks, which seeks economic development through science and technology, "They're saying our research is truly world class. The pump is primed. But they have not seen the explosive growth in patents and new venture creation.

"Is that because it takes time or because there is a critical bottleneck? It's unclear to them."

Murdock thinks it's both.

But he isn't lashing out at our political leaders. "Both Mayor Daley and Gov. Blagojevich expressed interest in nanotech," he says. The private sector needs to get more involved.

I agree. The Civic Committee should weigh in visibly on nanotech as it did on O'Hare expansion. That would be a plus. Lobbying for passage of the Illinois Opportunity Fund would help.

There is one thing we've really got to shake in this town. It's not media apathy. It's that Chicago Cubs, loser mentality. If we're going to get into nanotechnology, let's beat New York, Massachusetts and California go for No. 1. No. 6 out of 10 just doesn't cut it.

CIOs at the crossroads

"We're forecasting IT spending growth worldwide at 5 percent," says Kevin White, economist for IDC, the Framingham, Mass., technology analyst firm. That's on a base of $900 billion in worldwide spending.

The chief information officers who control corporate tech spending come to Chicago Sept. 12 for SIMposium 2004. It's the annual gathering of the Society for Information Management.

The theme of the meeting: "IT Leadership at the Crossroads." The CIOs will be grappling with the challenges of cost cutting, offshoring and stimulating growth.

"We even toyed with 'IT in the Cross Hairs' as the theme," quips John Moon, CIO of Deerfield-based Baxter International, who's guiding the content for this year's conference.

"Most companies are still investing in IT, but doing it with a lot more caution," adds Moon, who controls hundreds of millions of IT-budget dollars. "There's recognizable potential to deliver growth, but a lot more scrutiny."

Playing electronic games

Spring break is over, but 18 DePaul University undergraduates are playing electronic games for academic credit.

Students in "GAM 224: Strategies in Game Design" are learning to build computer games. The class might even lead to a job in the electronic game industry, which Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group estimates to be a $10 billion category.

"This course isn't all digital art and sound effects," says assistant professor Gary Novak. "Good script writing is the key. What keeps people coming back is great game play, not just graphics or sound effects."

While Novak emphasizes writing, DePaul students have plenty of opportunity to get hands-on with the latest digital production technology. The university boasts a digital cinema lab- oratory with state-of-the-art development and production facilities.

Magnets and bullets

"Like chasing a bullet with a magnet," is how Robert Clyde, CTO of Symantec Corp., describes attempts to stop computer viruses. Speaking at the Executives Club computer security conference, Clyde says, "In 2001, Code Red doubled every 37 minutes. This past January, the Slammer Worm doubled every 8.5 seconds. It infected more than 90 percent of vulnerable hosts within 10 minutes." The message: Prepare now before the worms strike.

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



 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners