Innovation Awards honor risk-takers
October 17, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Chicago honors innovation
Tuesday night at the Goodman Theatre. More than 400 invited guests
will fill the theater to honor the 10 recipients of the only locally
focused innovation award in the Chicago area, and to hear keynoter
Casey Cowell, founder of U.S. Robotics, a true Chicago tech success
story. Cowell receives the Visionary Award for his accomplishments.
The scene is the fourth
annual presentation of the Chicago Innovation Awards, co-founded
by the Chicago Sun-Times and Kuczmarski & Associates, the
new-product consulting firm. While it's not the Web 2.0 conference
held recently in Silicon Valley, the Chicago Innovation Awards,
presented by Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., is Chicago born and bred, and
we have a right to be proud of a program that honors local innovation.
Talk to any senior
executive these days. They'll tell you growth is their biggest
challenge. How do you grow the top line? That's the issue. Since
March 2000, senior execs have cost-cut themselves to efficiency,
but future business success requires growth. That means innovation.
Sure, you can grow
through acquisitions and financial engineering. But seasoned veterans
know more mergers fail than succeed. Even Cowell learned that
through his merger of U.S. Robotics with 3Com in an $8 billion
deal that proved unsuccessful.
The best way to grow
your business is to innovate. There's just one problem. Innovation
is tough, hard work, and many senior executives don't want to
take the risk. The great ones do, and that's why they're great.
When I take my seat
Tuesday night at the Goodman, I'm going to be all ears. I want
to learn from Cowell and the 10 Chicago innovators being honored.
Just one more thing
about Cowell and innovation. Sure, Cowell's a big success. But
he worked hard for it. He sold modems out of the trunk of his
car, and financed his company's travel expenses on an overdrawn
credit card long before the Internet was a glimmer in anyone's
Things worked out for
Cowell, and I'm glad they did. Most of us don't take the risks.
As a kid growing up in Chicago, I thought the big established
companies were the safest bets.
I once tried to dissuade
John McCartney, who became the No. 2 exec at U.S. Robotics, from
joining the company.
"Join an established
firm," I told McCartney, who had recently left a failed specialty
steel start-up. "Play it safe."
McCartney went to U.S.
Robotics anyway. The rest is history. Just last week, McCartney
was on a road show launching yet another start-up.
Maybe it was my Midwestern
conservatism. Maybe it was lack of knowledge. Today if someone
asks me about joining a start-up, I'm more positive.
But I don't blindly
say, "Go for it." I'm circumspect. I'm thoughtful. Entrepreneurship
isn't for everyone. I usually tell the aspiring innovator to seek
out others who have done it before. Listen to them. Hear their
stories. Then decide.
I guess that's the
best reason for showing up at Tuesday night's Chicago Innovation
The Executives' Club
of Chicago kicks off the first of four high-tech events Wednesday
at the Chicago Hilton and Towers when Comcast CEO Brian Roberts
takes the podium. Roberts will describe broadband's impact on
entertainment and communications.
After lunch, the discussion
continues with a top-flight panel on aligning IT in a constantly
changing business environment. On tap are: Allstate CIO Cathy
Brune; Chicago Mercantile Exchange CIO James Krause; Health Care
Services Corp. CIO Patrick Moroney; Archer Daniels Midland group
VP IT Raymond Preiksaitis, and Bain Midwest IT Practice head Rudy
Blagojevich launched a new homeland security innovation
and entrepreneurship center at Northwestern with a $350,000 grant....Society
for Information Management President John Moon,
CIO of Baxter, welcomes Marquette University Prof. Kate
Kaiser for lunch Wednesday at Spiaggia. Kaiser talks
about the future IT workforce....Getty Images chief marketing
officer Jack Sansolo talks about selling images
online at Thursday's Business Marketing Association lunch at the
Chicago Athletic Association. ... India is getting competition
for outsourcing from Canada. Canadian economic development exec
Eric Hochstein touts Canada and "near shoring"
Friday at the Mid-America Club. What's near shoring? That's Canada's
way of saying they're low cost, high quality and close by.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.