State's tech game plan like Bears offense

August 9, 2004


Sounding like a football coach in a pre-game session, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka launched her long-awaited $50 million Technology Development Fund. Give Topinka credit.

The fund is a smart play. State Senators Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and Jeffrey Schoenberg (D-Evanston) sponsored legislation, and fought hard for this victory. "We want Illinois to be in the forefront of technology," Topinka says. Insufficient capital for emerging enterprises and an exodus of talent trained in Illinois are the rationale for the fund. Rightly so. It's structured with an external guardian, Northern Trust Global Advisory Services, and an independent board to reduce the potential for intramural high jinks.

Topinka's move reminds me of Bears football. The Technology Development Fund is a solid up-the-middle running play. It'll gain a few yards, but it won't win ball games or lead to championship seasons. When it comes to technology, Illinois should be a playoff contender.

Here's a question for Illinois legislators: Why did it take so long to launch this modest fund? Second question for our state's leadership: What's next?

A $50 million venture fund is great. But the Technology Development Fund isn't a coordinated, bipartisan, multiyear, technology-based economic development program. It's no substitute for establishing a culture of collaboration where our elected officials work with the commercial and academic sectors to establish programs that spawn jobs for our kids.

The technology economic development game is every bit as competitive as professional football. Big Ten states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and non-conference stalwarts like California and Massachusetts know what's at stake, and play to win. It's time for Illinois to get into the game.

Topinka's move helps, but we need a lot more.

Wired NextFest for Chicago?

Wired magazine execs are scouting Chicago for their NextFest celebration. The deal's not done, but it would be a great event to host.

Wired Publisher Drew Schutte confirms our town is a contender for the June event.

"We're excited about technology and how it's transforming the future," says Schutte, who launched NextFest in San Francisco last year, creating a mini-World's Fair environment. The event drew 25,000 according to Schutte.

"In these times when things are somewhat tumultuous, here's an event celebrating the future in a fun way," he adds.

Millennium Park would look good on the cover of Wired. The event could showcase new technologies emerging from our universities and Federal laboratories.

"Are the people of Chicago going to be excited about seeing the future? My sense is yes," adds Schutte, who needs support from commercial sponsors to lock in the deal. Ed Zander, this could be a fit for the new Motorola.

Microsoft hosts researchers

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates held his Research Faculty Summit in Redmond, Wash. last week. The annual conclave draws 400 of the world's leading scientists from 130 institutions.

Signaling its importance as a research center, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had 15 faculty members on hand, according to Wen-mei Hwu, professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering.

Hwu's research is on the cutting edge of micro-processor technology and software effectiveness. Hwu hopes to prevent computer glitches like the one that recently shut down American Airlines. Hwu's work influences chip leaders like Intel and AMD as well as Microsoft.

"I'm right in the middle of all these things even though I'm right in the corn fields," Hwu says.

Bits & Bytes

"Chicago is our kinda town," says Ricoh Corp. CEO Susumu "Sam" Ichoka as he opened his new Technology Portal Showroom at Madison and Wacker. The Ricoh team sings praises for Dan Lyne, from World Business Chicago; Donna Gutman, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and Christopher Hemans from the City's department of planning. Ricoh employs 450 here. ... Neil Kane, 41, is the new entrepreneur-in-residence at Illinois Ventures, an Urbana-based venture capital firm. Kane is also president of Advanced Diamond Technologies, a nanotech start-up that received its first round of funding last week. ... Adroit Consulting's Darci Moore and Kevin Jennings lead sessions at Wednesday's International Contact Center Management Conference at Navy Pier.

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


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners