Innovation Awards honor risk-takers

October 24, 2005

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

I grew up on the North Side, but I want the White Sox to win the World Series. Chicago needs winners in baseball and technology.

I don't know A. J. Pierzynski or Ozzie Guillen. I wish I did. I do know Bill Lederer and Eric Heneghan, and I'm rooting for them all. You can read about A.J. and Ozzie on the sports page. Let me tell you about Bill and Eric.

Bill Lederer hit it out of the park in the Internet boom. His affordable-art Web site, Art.com, went for more than extra bases. It was Chicago's first Internet grand slam. Art.com received $11.5 million in funding in November 1998. In May 1999 Lederer sold out to Getty Images for a cool $128 million.

Major leaguer that he is, Lederer is back at bat. He's pitching Socrates.com. Socrates is no curve ball. It's a chest-high fastball headed right for Lederer's wheel house.

Socrates.com provides solutions for common life problems. Need to create a lease, a will or a tax return? The forms and the know-how are all on Socrates.com.

Lederer is creating simplified services for the things you would pay a lawyer, an accountant or a consultant hundreds of dollars an hour to provide.

Socrates is more than a forms business. It offers over 7,500 products including guides, newsletters, kits, books and electronic downloads that help you do it yourself. If you get jammed up, Socrates will connect you with a qualified professional.

It's both an online and off-line business. By year end, Socrates products will be in 9,000 retail outlets. Lederer expects sales to reach $14 million this year. He'll be in the black next year. He's going global, which is why he's calling it Socrates.

"As the world's most famous teacher, Socrates has unbelievable name recognition throughout the world," says Lederer. Sounds like a winner to me.

At the dot-com dawn, Eric Heneghan and his brother Adam built Giant Step into Chicago's leading interactive advertising agency. In 1999, they sold out to Leo Burnett for a tidy but undisclosed sum.

"We keep that all pretty quiet," says Heneghan who was an early advocate of online advertising.

Like a big league manager, Heneghan believes the power of the Internet is in the numbers: the ability to measure business effectiveness. He taught GM how to cut the cost of customer acquisition by 60 percent using online tools.

For the past four years, the Heneghan boys have been building a new Internet marketing company. Their latest trip to the plate is as owners of Elevation Inc.

They just took 10,000 square feet of space at Kinzie and Clark. Their clients include H20+, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Navteq, Jones Lang LaSalle, Orbitz and Pella Windows.

Says Heneghan, who persevered through the dot-com losing streak, "Traditional companies are just starting to realize how to use this Internet channel."

Technology infrastructure

When it comes to developing the next generation Internet, Chicago is where it's at.

Internet2. Grid Computing. StarLight. I-WIRE. TeraGrid. The Chicago Ring Network. All of these cutting-edge efforts take place here. They're shaping the future of computing. The leader in grid computing software tools, Univa works out of Lisle.

On Friday morning, the University of Chicago's Bob Rosenberg will assemble the team that's developing the next generation Internet at a Tech Forum at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago.

Speakers include U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), chair of the House Science subcommittee on Energy; U. of C. and Argonne Grid computing guru Ian Foste.r; Univa CEO Steve Tuecke; U. of C. CIO Greg Jackson, and TeraGrid project director Charlie Catlett.

No word yet on whether Jerry Reinsdorf will attend. After basketball and baseball, maybe he wants to win at technology.

Bits & Bytes

Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd keynotes tonight's Economic Club dinner at the Chicago Hilton & Towers.

"Kilowatts & carbon: investing in an affordable low-carbon energy future" will be the topic of a high-energy roundtable presented by the Executives' Club of Chicago at noon Nov. 17 at the Chicago Hilton. Exelon CEO John Rowe, Natural Resources Defense Council energy director Ralph Cavanagh, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell are on tap. Call (312) 263-3500.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.

 

 

 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners