Global nanotech leaders gathering in Chicago

October 31, 2005


The question caught me off balance. Driving home from the Bears game, Brice Heath, a marketing exec at HSBC asked, "What do you think about nanotech?"

Most Chicagoans know more about the nickel defense than the science of small particles. "I'm not sure I'd rush out, and take a job in nano," I said. Turns out Heath is happy at HSBC. He just wants the scoop on nano.

If you're like Heath, head to McCormick Place for Nanocommerce 2005 Tuesday.

The global leaders in nano will be there. Local luminaries like Northwestern professor Chad Mirkin, Abbott Labs global business research director Paul Epner and Motorola technology VP Jim O'Connor, Jr. will be among 70 speakers.

"It's the largest business-oriented nanotech conference in North America," says Sean Murdock, Nanobusiness Alliance executive director and organizer of the show. Murdock thinks Chicago area businesses ought to get more involved. "The governor supports nanotechnology. Companies need to engage. If that happens, Chicago will be a world leader," Murdock says.

On the frontier

"Nanotech is the most significant technological frontier being explored today," says Jack Lavin, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Gov. Blagojevich has budgeted $36 million in the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne. There's an additional $5 million in the governor's 2006 budget for Northwestern's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center.

Patti Glaza, CEO of Small Times Media, which tracks nano-tech progress, thinks Heath should reconsider his career choice.

"Illinois has a solid foot in Small Times' rankings of states and nanotech businesses, moving from No. 8 in 2003 to No. 6 in 2004 and down one slot to No. 7 in 2005," Glaza says. "The future is nanotechnology. No question. I'd encourage my daughters to work in nanotechnology."

EDC roadmap

The Economic Development Council released its tech success roadmap last week. The findings resulted from a 14 month process involving 150 volunteers including reps from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Civic Committee, Chicago's major academic institutions, the venture community as well as not-for-profit organizations, government and the private sector.

"We believe in an environment where tech commercialization is not left to chance," says Bell Boyd & Lloyd partner Chris Bloom, chairman of the study committee. "Chicago needs a sustained effort to support technology commercialization."

The study draws three conclusions. Chicago is a major hub of tech research, but our region must renew its commitment to tech commercialization. Chicago needs to benchmark success in this area, and regularly publicize a scorecard illustrating progress.

"We need to market Chicago tech within Chicago, to the nation and to the world," Bloom says.

The study also recommends building connections between academic researchers and prospective entrepreneurs, connecting manufacturers with sources of new technology, and linking financial resources with new ventures.

A centerpiece of the EDC's roadmap is the creation of an organization to provide connectivity, benchmarking, marketing and support for technology commercialization in the region. Bloom points to San Diego CONNECT as a role model.

Bits & bytes

University of Chicago MBA candidate Karan Goel won first place in the Fortune Small Business business plan competition for his on-line tutoring company, Goel appears on the cover of the November issue. ... Marty Singer, CEO of PCTEL and Midwest chairman of the American Electronics Association, was appointed to the PCAOB standing advisory group. PCAOB is a private, non-profit unit created under Sarbanes-Oxley to oversee auditors.

Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen was honored last week for his commitment to biotech, receiving the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization's (iBIO) Maitland award. Under Van Dusen's leadership, Skokie pledged $10 million to support the Illinois Science + Technology Park which is expected to create 3,200 jobs. IBIO holds its Midwest Life Sciences Meeting Wednesday at Navy Pier

The Black Data Processing Association hosts its annual CIO reception Thursday at the O'Hare Marriott.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.



 ©2005 Marion Consulting Partners