UIC engineering dean might bring new era

November 8, 2004


A new era might be dawning in engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. With Prith Banerjee's recent arrival as dean of the College of Engineering, UIC could become a world class player.

Banerjee is off to a good start. He aims to beef up enrollment. He's creating a strategic plan to stimulate cross-disciplinary collaboration that could garner prestigious National Science Foundation grants. He's raising money, cultivating corporations, and Thursday he launches a series of Tech Talks where he'll outline his vision.

His mantra: "Exceptional engineering in the heart of Chicago." He believes the future of engineering lies in conducting research with strong industry ties, and considers an urban location an asset.

Banerjee doesn't talk, he implements. While dean of engineering at Northwestern, he conceived an idea to automate computer-chip design. He formed AccelChip Inc., and raised $2.3 million in financing before adding another $6 million in venture capital. The company employs 25, and claims annual revenue of $800,000.

Banerjee recently stepped down from AccelChip to launch a new venture called Binachip. The key technical people are two of Banerjee's former students, David Zaretsky and Gaurav Mittal. If the company IPOs, it'll reap big rewards for studying under Dean Banerjee. Going forward, Banerjee sees new company creation as a definite opportunity at UIC.

Considering annual undergraduate fees are about $16,000 for Illinois residents, Banerjee's program is an academic bargain. Time will tell if he can spin his magic. Our city will be a beneficiary if he succeeds.

Microsoft's Herbold here

Former Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold visits Thursday to speak at Steve Lundin's BIGfrontier event at the Merchandise Mart. Herbold's flogging a hot new book, The Fiefdom Syndrome.

Herbold describes ways to demolish business cliques, and he sees fiefdoms as responsible for colossal failures at Enron, Arthur Andersen and WorldCom.

"People become fixated on their own activities," Herbold says. "They get very introspective. They believe things they do are quite good. Their assessment is more positive. They try to become independent.

"They try to control information about their performance," Herbold adds. "They are not unethical. They are trying to put their best foot forward." That's the beginning of the problem.

Herbold's observations are worth hearing. For a technologist, he's seen a lot. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science at Case Western. He worked in R&D at P&G, moving up to run data centers. He did a one-year rotation in P&G's vaunted marketing department intended to break down silos in the organization. It turned into a nine-year stint. He was named head of market research, later CIO and then global head of marketing.

In 1994, Herbold met Bill Gates, who recruited him as Microsoft's chief operating officer. "My job was to take the business issues off Bill's desk," Herbold says. Steve Ballmer ran sales. Gates focused on products. "My job was to handle the internal operations and the business issues," Herbold says. The rest of Microsoft reported to him.

Herbold has more corporate battle scars than most CEOs. He's definitely worth hearing. What's most amazing is he started out as a tech geek.

Cardiologist entrepreneur

Local entrepreneurs come in many forms. Take Jeff Soble, 45, a cardiologist and assistant professor at Rush Medical Center. Soble sees patients, and teaches medical students. In his spare time, he's a successful entrepreneur.

Soble is founder of Cyberpulse, a local software company that provides information management tools for cardiologists. His software is found inside medical systems manufactured by GE, Siemens, IDX and Camtronics, top players in the field. His programs help assure doctors have the right information at the right time to care for patients.

Soble started the business in 1995, teaming with Jim Roberge, an IIT researcher. They were interested in computerizing cardiology reports, and connected with Marquette Medical Systems in Milwaukee, now part of GE.

"We've only begun to scratch the surface of how information technology can empower doctors to serve patients in a complex medical environment," says Soble, whose company is profitable. "You must have crucial information about the patient at your fingertips. That's where hospitals are evolving, and that's what Cyberpulse empowers," Soble says.

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


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners