Blackwell jumps through hoops for Chicago kids

July 3, 2006


Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade is the basketball star of the moment. The Chicago native and Marquette alum is the NBA finals MVP. I watched Wade play. He's an awesome athlete. But if Nike is planning new TV commercials, tell Chairman Phil Knight to profile Robert Blackwell Jr. over Wade.

Why Blackwell? Because the 45-year-old is an all-star Chicago area high-tech entrepreneur who believes African-American and Hispanic kids should study math and consider careers in technology.

"There is not enough knowledge about the opportunities that math and science education create," says Blackwell, who wants more African-American and Hispanic entrepreneurs. With more entrepreneurs there would be more role models, and "then more people would see technology as a vehicle for success," Blackwell adds.

That's why I want Nike to promote Blackwell over Wade, Michael Jordan or even Tiger Woods.

Blackwell is founder and CEO of Chicago-based computer consultancy Electronic Knowledge Interchange (EKI). EKI helps organizations such as Wal-Mart, the City of Chicago, Kraft and Motorola get the most out of their technology investments. His consultancy employs about 100 people and generates nearly $20 million annually in revenues.

Talented athlete

Blackwell is a talented athlete. He earned a black belt in martial arts, and he's active in American table tennis. He knew early on the odds of success in athletics were slim, but the potential for winning as a tech entrepreneur was good. Athletic talent like Wade's is unique, but Blackwell believes we can all develop our minds. And he says there are jobs in high tech despite all the outsourcing to India.

"Wade is a talented and articulate man who seems to be a good person," Blackwell says. "The fact is not many people make it in professional sports. The people we hire are going to make between $75,000 and $150,000 per year. You can have a decent life with that kind of money."

The only catch is you have to be educated and have solid math and computer skills.

Blackwell offers advice for kids from Chicago's neighborhoods: "You can do whatever it is you want to do in life if you are willing to put in the work and willing to focus. Performance can overcome a lot."

Blackwell knows the importance of mentoring youth. He serves on Mayor Daley's Advisory Council on Closing the Digital Divide. He wants kids across the city to have access to technology and education.

"We have the responsibility to create a better environment so that poor kids have the opportunity to be successful," he says.

Phil Knight should cast him in a Nike commercial.

Digital equity summit

Sharnell Jackson, Chicago Public Schools chief e-learning officer, co-chairs the International Society for Technology in Education Digital Equity Summit Thursday in San Diego. The summit is part of a three-day conference attended by an estimated 18,000 educators. It explores ways of assuring equal access to technology tools, computers and the Internet.

Says Jackson, "We're going to be developing action plans for creating digital equity."

West Coast venturing

Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center President David Weinstein and Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal law partner Michael Rosenthal sponsored nine Chicago companies at the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance Venture Forum held last week in San Jose.

Representing our local entrepreneurs were: Advanced Diamond Technologies President Neil Kane, Bias Power President John Muntean, Ecto founders Truls Henriksen and Christopher Salvo, Firm58 President Sam Mele, ForceLogix President Patrick Stakenas, Freerain Systems CEO Josh Karp, LiquidTalk Networks CEO David Peak, Starthis CEO David Naylor and Swap Simple President Elliot Hirsch.

Says Weinstein, "We're showcasing Chicago's brightest emerging technology startups to the venture community. It is a great way to highlight Chicago's untold success stories in Silicon Valley."

Bits & bytes

Karenann Terrell, 45, is the new chief information officer at Baxter International. Previously, Terrell was chief information officer, Chrysler Group and Mercedes Benz North America. In addition to IT Terrell is an expert on hybrid cars. The Purdue grad says she's excited about the opportunities in biotech at Baxter and to participate in growing the tech community here in Chicago.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.



 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners