Wrigley has winner with Global Innovation Center

August 8, 2005

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

There's a bright new jewel on Chicago's technology skyline. It's the Wrigley Global Innovation Center at 1132 W. Blackhawk St. It's hard to find, but it will make Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. tough to beat in today's intensely competitive global marketplace. In an age where rapid new product innovation can be decisive, Wrigley's innovation center gives it an edge.

It is one sweet-looking facility, designed by Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, St. Louis, to empower the knowledge workers who create the innovations.

Finding it is another story. Heading east on Division from the Kennedy Expy., and then north on North Branch Street, you'll see the dome of Wrigley's ultra-modern facility come into view. That's when you'll get the goose bumps, and realize something special is in the area.

Knowledge workers at work

It's a 193,000-square-foot facility designed to create an environment that fosters innovation. Though it won't officially open until mid-September, 240 Wrigley knowledge workers already occupy the center.

"Great innovation starts with great people," Wrigley spokesman Chris Perille says. "The building was designed from the ground up to encourage interaction, collaboration and creativity." Wrigley is looking for creative sparks that could turn into tomorrow's market leading products.

To light that fire, the center features state-of-the-art lab space, a fully flexible office environment and mobile information technology.

Ian Robertson, Wrigley senior director of global IT, supervised the center's technology strategy. He says, "The biggest challenge was mobility and interconnectivity. Rapid innovation requires teams to form, collapse and reform as the work changes. That led us to a fully wireless enabled network, and an IP telephony solution."

Mobility and flexibility go beyond broadband technology. The center features a pilot production plant where even the heaviest manufacturing equipment can be shifted quickly. The goal is total adaptability with an eye on rapid innovation.

The new Wrigley innovation center is still a diamond in the rough. The doors aren't quite open. When it's complete, it will be a global showplace for what's best in class in new product innovation.

That's something good to chew on. Wonder if they'll give out free samples?

VisaNow accelerates

VisaNow founder Robert Meltzer had an idea. He saw junior lawyers spending hours doing non-legal work on immigration cases. He thought there had to be a better way.

Meltzer created a software program to streamline the process. He took his program on-line to make the visa process faster, easier and more transparent. Chicago-based VisaNow was born in December 1999.

"We change the way legal services are delivered," Meltzer says. "Leveraging the Internet, we deliver services more efficiently."

Foreign nationals working in the U.S. need authorizations such as the H-1B visa. Tech companies need foreign-born engineers. VisaNow helps human resource departments at companies such as AT&T, Andrew Corp., Cingular Wireless and Pitney Bowes.

When Meltzer started VisaNow, applicants typically approached immigration attorneys. The paper-intensive process could take weeks or even months. Using on-line processes VisaNow initially reduced that to a matter of days. Today Meltzer claims he can complete the process in a matter of hours.

"No one can beat that," Meltzer says. "At a minimum they have to deal with FedEx."

Today, Meltzer employs 25 people. He's backed by Garage Technology Ventures and U.S. Venture Partners.

Friendly prospective investors

Tom Thornton, Illinois Technology Development Alliance president, and Tom Churchwell, ARCH Development Partners managing partner, host their August Monday morning meeting today at Northern Illinois University's Naperville campus. The event offers entrepreneurs a chance to test drive their business case in front of friendly prospective investors.

Today's presenters include AIM Wireless Solutions, a maker of technology that reduces cell-phone noise; Angstrom Technologies, a producer of radiation detectors, and Pearl Productions, a creator of interactive tourism and entertainment guides. To have your company considered for a future Monday Morning Meeting contact Christine Aston at Aston@ITDA.biz.

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

 

 

 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners