Nanotech's here, but do biz leaders know it?

October 4, 2004


Sean Murdock. Sounds like a guy who pitches for the Cubs or plays wide receiver for the Bears. Ever heard of Sean? He could be more important to Chicago than Greg Maddux or Brian Urlacher.

Murdock admits to playing frosh-soph basketball at Evanston high school in the mid-1980s and point guard on a powerhouse youth league team.

He graduated from Notre Dame and Northwestern, but his Triple-A squad was the global powerhouse consultancy McKinsey & Co. Murdock studied economics at the golden dome and business strategy at Kellogg. At McKinsey he gained a passion for innovation and an understanding of the potential of nanotechnology.

Today, Murdock, 33, is executive director of the NanoBusiness Alliance, the national organization that guided Congress on the $3.7 billion 21st Century Nanotechology Research & Development Act. This week, Murdock and Steve Crosby, president of Small Times Media, the top nanotech trade publication, bring NanoCommerce 2004 to McCormick Place.

Nanotech startups galore

Crosby says the show will attract big firms like DuPont and General Electric as well as leading nanotech startups like Chicago's NanoInk, Nanophase and Arryx. Top researchers from Argonne National Labs and Northwestern will be there as will the money guys from places like Merrill Lynch.

"It's a good opportunity to come and learn what all the excitement's about," says Crosby who expects deals to get done.

This show and Murdock's behind-the-scenes efforts could mean more to Chicago's future than a Cubs World Series victory, a Bear's Super Bowl win and Michael Jordan's six NBA championships.

I grew up five blocks from Wrigley. I like to see the Cubs win, but Murdock and nanotech could create new companies and new jobs for a new generation of sports fans. It's hard to support winning sports franchises or even losing ones without jobs.

"Sean is one of the best things to happen to this region," says Matt McCall, managing director at Portage Ventures, a respected local venture capitalist. "Sean has enormous drive and energy. He loves this region and sees the opportunity. He's the glue."

Sean "The Glue" Murdock. I like it. Why can't world class innovators have nicknames like star athletes? How about Bill "The Man" Gates or Michael "On-Line" Dell. You get the idea.

My only question is whether our local business leaders will show up at NanoCommerce 2004. This isn't the National Restaurant Show, the Hardware Show, the Auto Show or the Flower Show. Nanotech is still in its infancy like the Internet was in the early 1990s. Crosby calls Chicago "the long winded city" because there's so much talk about our nanotech research at Argonne, University of Illinois and Northwestern, and too few companies commercializing the technology.

Things have improved thanks to Murdock's advocacy, but we still have a long way to go to catch California. "California is just a (nanotech) monster," adds Crosby. "It's going to be years before anybody challenges them." Thanks to Sean "The Glue" Murdock, maybe some of the nanotech opportunity will stick here in Chicago. I hope so. My Bulls tickets aren't getting any cheaper.

Women's Tech Conference

Chicago hosts one of the top events for women in technology Thursday when the Anita Borg Institute convenes the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference at the Sheraton Chicago. It's the first time Chicago plays host to the event, and it's a sell out.

"We're thrilled with the response," says Telle Whitney, CEO of the Anita Borg Institute who credits Chicago for the 20 percent boost in attendance. "Chicago is a great location," says Whitney.

Karen Banks, coordinator for the London-based APC Women's Networking Support Program will be honored for her social impact. Fran Allen, IBM fellow emeriti, will be honored for her technology leadership. Over 800 of the leading lights in technology are expected.

Bits & Bytes

The Chicago Innovation Awards will be announced tomorrow. Watch for several top Chicago technology companies to be named. The awards were created by the Chicago Sun-Times and Kuczmarski & Associates. Northwestern University nanotech professor Mark Ratner and CDW CEO John Edwardson will keynote. The awards take place Thursday at IIT.

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


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners