Informance performance draws VC applause

April 4, 2005


John Oskin, 42, is something unusual in Chicago. He's the founder of a software company serving the manufacturing industry headquartered in Northbrook, not Silicon Valley.

Oskin's company, Informance International, helps manufacturers measure and improve operating performance.

"We can make America more competitive marrying financial information and lean manufacturing techniques," says Oskin.

With the typical U.S. factory running at less than 50 percent efficiency, Oskin wants to protect domestic manufacturing jobs by improving factory operating performance.

"Our customers are looking to be competitive and keep jobs on shore," he adds.

His clients include packaged goods leader Unilever, chemicals giant ICI, and big pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Wyeth. Oskin has even iced Chicago's own World's Finest Chocolate as a customer. Talk about a sweet start-up. Oskin's running one. At least he was.

Recently, Oskin demoted himself to executive vice president of strategy to make room for Michael Ker to become CEO. Ker is a veteran software company executive, having run Canada-based WebPlan for nine years.

Oskin closed a $6 million series B round of funding in December with bicoastal support. California-based Mayfield and Virginia-based New Enterprise Associates anted up with Cargill Ventures, Minneapolis, also part of the mix.

Oskin's sales results and Fortune 500 customer base made the VCs salivate.

"We had a phenomenal fourth quarter," says Oskin. "We grew by 150 percent over the prior year's fourth quarter and 200 percent from Q3 to Q4 in revenue."

Oskin learned his craft at GE's appliance division, where he worked after graduating from the University of Louisville. His claim to fame was doubling the output at GE's fractional-horsepower motor facility. Those are the motors that go in your dishwasher.

The experience provided the springboard for his software venture. Not bad for a fellow who grew up near Harlem and Irving in the shadow of O'Hare's manufacturing district.

"John has a done a great job building a software company," says David Weinstein, president of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center. "He's attracted great VCs, and he's got George Roberts, Oracle sales EVP, to serve on his board. That's the type of talent we want working with our local companies. He's huge," says Weinstein.

Kellogg tech conference

Evanston can be a sleepy town. The residents probably didn't notice the giants of technology wandering into Northwestern University's Allen Center for the 11th Annual Kellogg Technology Conference.

In the lobby, the man who brought the Kellogg School of Management to prominence, former Northwestern business school dean Don Jacobs, was quietly reading the Financial Times. No one noticed him, either.

Author of the tech classic Crossing the Chasm, Geoff Moore, who wrote the book on building a startup company, keynoted the event.

Moore was followed by Matt Szulik, CEO of Linux software provider RedHat, and Dan Rosensweig, COO of Yahoo.

The MBA candidates got the message. Mina Arsala, 29, a first-year MBA candidate, wants to work this summer at Ed Zander's Motorola. Says Arsala, "I think high tech is dynamic. It changes every day."

Mohan Sawhney, professor of technology and director of NU's Center for Research in Technology and Innovation, drew a strong crowd. Sawhney's mantra: "Why market soap when you can market technology?"

Guess the tech boom isn't over at Northwestern.

Bits & bytes

IBM hosts leading members of Chicago's innovation community Thursday at its Innovation Roundtable Workshop at the Swissotel. The meeting gathers Chicago's top VCs, academics and execs from emerging software companies. Dave Carlquist, IBM central region vice president, is on tap to speak.

The IBM event coincides with the National Venture Capital Association and Illinois Venture Capital Association lunch Thursday at the Fairmont. NVCA President Mark Heesen and Adams Street Partners' T. Bondurant French will expound on the current state of the private equity markets.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-area tech writer and consultant.



 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners