Category Archives: MITEF


John Jonelis

Big DataThere’s a lot of buzz about Big Data these days. By Big Data, we’re talking Big Mountains of Data. The manipulation of this resource will change the world and do it soon. I hear plenty of lofty goals for the benefit of mankind but destructive ends also seem likely. So what can we expect? I’m here to pass along the short version in plain language.

Tonight we’re treated to speakers from Oracle, CABI, and Narrative Science – a business that grew out of the artificial intelligence labs at the University of Chicago and Northwestern.

Pound for pound, Chicago’s MIT Enterprise Forum is always dense with PhDs and Thought Leaders. I spot a VC in a room dominated by businessmen, academics and MIT alumni. Josh London from Wellter moderates this high-powered session.


Distilled Data

Louis Nagode – Oracle

Louis A Nagode

Louis A Nagode … jaj

Louis Nagode is a self-proclaimed geek, but he’s world-renowned, with 30 years of business intelligence under his belt. When he talks Big Data, he’s thinking an aggregate of an enormous bulk of worldwide information—ultimately all the knowledge in the world. He says we’re creating data at a phenomenal rate. In the next 2 years we’ll create more data than ever existed before. The key to using it, according to Nagode, is distilling it down to useful information. He breaks it down into four “Vs”:

  • Volume—(How do you process it all?)
  • Velocity—(How fast does it change?)
  • Variety—(How do you make use of it?)
  • Value—(How do you make sense of it?)

The big question is this: Can we use Big Data to reduce workload for people, manufacturing, and other altruistic purposes? The next two speakers give concrete answers to that.

Nagode talks about alternatives to databases—alternatives like HDFS, the distribution of data across multiple computers around the globe. That’s data that can be harnessed.

Oracle Logo

To sift out what we need to know he uses a map-reduce pipeline. Look it up if you want, but it boils down to this: You no longer need a structured query language like SQL. Bottom line, it’s getting a lot easier to use data. Let’s move on and see just how easy this gets:


From Data to Story

Kristian Hammond – Narrative Science

Kristian Hammond - JAJ

Kristian Hammond … jaj

Hammond built the artificial intelligence lab at both the University of Chicago and Northwestern. Now he’s built a Chicago company that takes numbers and symbols and communicates the hidden insights in a more human form. Let me put it more directly: He transforms Big Data into words and narrative. In other words, STORY!

Numbers require expert analysis. Graphs help visualize numbers but we’re still looking at only an 8% penetration. Stories, on the other hand, are highly accessible. They communicate beyond data and tell you things you can’t see. After all, narrative is the way we’ve communicated as long as we’ve been human.

His system produces a short narrative that tells your company the pertinent facts, then gives a summary—A SUMMARY OF WHAT YOU CAN DO THIS WEEK TO MAKE YOUR COMPANY BETTER. We’re not talking about overseas labor knocking this stuff out—no, machines are doing it using artificial intelligence!

Narrative Science Logo

Hammond gives an example of a food chain using corporate analytics. The data says that sales of Reuben sandwiches are down. The STORY gives the company easy-to-understand and actionable recommendations, something like this: “Reuben Sandwiches are this week’s weakest menu item with average sales of 136.7 units. Bringing sales up to norm means $7.2MM in added revenue overall. This requires only 6 more sales per store per day.” Now that’s useful information that people can understand and act on.

According to Hammond, people have forgotten the business reasons for data. By telling them the business side in Story, the data becomes immediately useful. As he puts it, “Story is the last mile in Big Data.”

What about education? His system give feedback on an exam with advice on how to improve a student’s performance: “In physics, you need to focus on the Theory of Relativity. Look back to Chapters 5 and 6 of the text.”

How about a sector report for stock analysis? Or a seasonality report for commodity analysis? Why not pull down the Twitter data of all the speakers at a conference and give it out as written analysis? What about a data-driven narrative for media? Turns out that’s a natural. Hey, this could put me out of business!

So how does it work? They analyze nuance and word choice 200 ways plus adjectives and adverbs. They match the client’s written “voice.” They can generate different styles using the same machine. According to Hammond, “Any data, any story, we can do it.”

Now let’s look into using Big Data on a grand scale:


Use it for Good

Roland Dietz – CABI, IERG, Focused Connections Partners

Roland Dietz - JAJ

Roland Dietz … jaj

Dietz showed us Big Data in use on the world stage. His organization predicts infestations in plant or animal populations worldwide.

They can show a farmer what might happen to his crop. To do that, they combine data from around the world on climate, soil composition, movement of materials, markets, and many other sources. This model is open source. The data is freely given and freely distributed.

The profit is in what they do with Big Data. As he put it, “We start with tons of information, then identify its significance. That becomes our competitive edge.”


For example, let’s say you track the movement of a pest that destroys coffee plantations. You know the various soils, plant densities, climates, population centers, and topography worldwide. With this, you can predict where the plague will spread.

Some governments don’t want to join CABI, but the group has done good work, even in Korea and Pakistan. When countries see that the organization isn’t political, they accept them. Some are restrictive about what they share because they don’t understand the consequences. But when they find out some of the unexpected benefits of Big Data, they open up.

Big Data at Emmi Solutions - JAJ

Big Data at Emmi Solutions … jaj


  • Constant Change—The ecosystem is non-linear and always in flux. Using Big Data means doing analysis in real time.
  • Analysis—Data without an expert is useless. But just like any science, you come up with a theory based on the data. Then you test it. The scientific method is very much alive and well.
  • Opportunities—The biggest opportunities identified so far are in healthcare, world agriculture, education, and evidence-based decision making in business.
  • Privacy—This is a huge question that needs to be answered. More and more, people accept constantly observation. But how is the data used? If, for instance, a telecom company has significant insight into YOU, do they keep it proprietary? Can an organization publish information on coffee production in Senegal without permission? I suggested that I’d love to get my hands on coffee pest data to gain an edge trading commodity futures.
  • Ethics—Turns out, these speakers aren’t the ones to address this issue.  “It’s above my pay grade,” said one. But might not Big Data be used for evil purposes? A member of the audience suggested the specter of ethnic cleansing. Like nuclear power, the possibilities for both altruistic and destructive goals seem endless.



Louis A Nagode—



Kristian Hammond—

Narrative Science


Roland Dietz—

Focused Connections Partners

CABI – a not-for-profit international organization that improves lives by solving problems in agriculture and the environment.

IERG – (International Executive Resource Group) – A not for profit organization of senior business executives from around the world.


Josh London—

Wellter – Enables employees to comparison-shop for healthcare providers.


The Venue—

Emmi Solutions – builds patient empowerment solutions for health organizations that measurably impact outcomes. Their offices are a terrific venue for this event. By the way, they’re still looking for talent. Check out this link: Looks like a great place to work.


MIT Enterprise Forum, Chicago




Find Chicago Venture Magazine at Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.
Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved





Filed under CABI, Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, Data, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, Financial Markets, IERG, Information, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, MIT Enterprise Forum, MITEF, Northwestern, Oracle, University of Chicago


 The MIT Whiteboard Challenge

Think of it as the white-knuckle challenge for entrepreneurs. Bare bones, no props, no slides. Just you alone, your idea, five minutes and a whiteboard.

photo by Y Malina

photograph by Y.Malina

Are you in mid-sentence when the clock expires? Tough. “TIME!” calls the moderator. And you just shut your mouth and take a seat. More than one finalist got caught saying, “The most important thing is—” only to have the sentence lopped off by an abrupt, “Time’s up! Next presentation!”

That’s right—just five minutes to get your message across to a huge roomful of Angel and VC investors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and probably

the highest concentration of PhDs of any investor gathering. MIT alumni. Luminaries from top schools like Northwestern and the University of Chicago. The venue itself—the IBM Innovation Center—can prove overwhelming and daunting.

IBM Innovation Center - Chicago

IBM Innovation Center – Chicago

Truth-be-told, I love it. I love everything about it. The people running this event work long, hard hours and are actually very polite and friendly. But they’re drop-dead professional. It’s a highly competitive environment and they set an ultra-high standard of fairness. Even the criterion is transparent: They’re looking for quality of presentation, use of the white board, a clear problem, a clear, realistic, and unique solution.

The Chicago chapter of the MIT Enterprise Forum consistently puts on top quality events. They keep a lot of talent busy behind the scenes to do just that. As usual, Nancy Munro runs a tight ship. Twenty preliminary judges already narrowed the field to ten finalists. For each of those presenting here, nine worthy companies didn’t make the cut.

And this is by far the best Whiteboard Challenge in five years. I feel privileged to sit beside a distinguished panel of judges headed by Dr. Moises Goldman. Audience voting by mobile phone will augment the assessment of his panel. Ted Wallhaus, chairman of the global board, is here tonight and kicks things off. As I switch on my recorder and prepare to take notes, I feel the chill of excitement in this room. Tonight I’ll see the best of the best. I actually know two of these outstanding people. How will they do under this kind of pressure?

The evening starts with the introduction of winners from previous years that have established themselves as viable companies. Then for tonight’s entries: This is a super-strong group of entrepreneurs. Every one of them brings to the table a unique business idea with a compelling social need. There’s money lying on the floor for any one of these companies.

1st Place

SwipeSense—Yuri Malina

The Problem—“Two million people contract hospital-acquired infections every year. One hundred thousand of them die. The lowestSwipeSense logo projections place the cost to hospitals at $5.8 billion per year.”

“The CDC and the WHO say the number-one way to prevent infection is hand washing. But compliance in hospitals is only 40%. That’s right—the staff washes their hands less than half as many times as required.”

Yuri Malina and his partner Mert Iseri studied hospitals in an 8-week marathon and came up with some startling insights. Sinks and the wall-mounted gel bottles are fixed in place—never where you need them. Staff needs to sanitize their hands 4-5 times during a patient visit but did you ever see a doctor or nurse do that? No, the typical behavior is to wipe hands on pants. That’s known to spread disease but it’s a habit ingrained in us over a lifetime. So hand washing is a problem—both practical and behavioral.

Hospitals are so serious about this issue that they want tracking of hand washing. Some have been using tattletale schemes, asking nurses to observe their peers and write up infractions. What’s the result of that? An annual report that nobody reads and a stressful work environment.

SwipeSense Hand Sanitizer

SwipeSense Electronic-Reporting Hand Sanitizer

The Solution— Yuri believes we can get to the point where there is no such thing as a hospital acquired infection. SwipeSense provides a portable gel dispenser that is worn on the belt—readily available to the caregiver. A natural swiping motion, much like wiping hands on pants, dispenses a measured dose of sanitizing gel. The unit collects and processes feedback using a simple wireless network. That enables hospitals to deploy goal setting and incentives to drive behavioral change. “The result is a straightforward solution to a simple problem.”

Yuri Malina

Yuri Malina

The Inside Story—Yuri Malina and Mert Iseri first earned national stature while still in school, by co-founding Design for America, now with chapters in major universities across the country. As that organization takes root, they will step into board-level roles.

I first met these two at the Levy Mastermind Group when they arrived on their longboards—laid back but sharp and wildly passionate. These guys love the game—every part of it. They wowed everybody there. Their enthusiasm was so high, I became convinced that these two can make any project work. More on that subject in the article, Six Reasons Why Tech Belongs to the Young.

I visited Mert and Yuri at their Northwestern digs and found that they take full advantage of University facilities. PhD level advisors. Free prototyping—a huge competitive advantage. Then they collaborate with hospitals in pilot projects that test the prototypes and uncover new needs.

Because they went through the first generation of the Healthbox incubator, a staff of distinguished professionals has a stake in their financial success. Their device has gone through several iterations. Now, with a mature product, SwipeSense has signed six beta customers.

Just a short time ago this pair of young entrepreneurs had already raised $500K in investment dollars to fund further research. Then they went on an east coast tour and boosted that to $750K. No doubt these guys will meet their $1M goal—no doubt whatsoever. Yuri’s presentation captured everybody at the MIT Whiteboard Challenge. Tonight they walk away with the $3,000 first prize—another in a long list of accolades.

Yuri Malina

Yuri Malina

Yuri is an inventor, artist, and adventurer. This was the best presentation I’ve seen from him—the best I’ve seen from most anybody. When awarded first place, his partner’s loud call was heard over the cheers of the audience. “You’re awesome, Yuri!” How can anybody compete with that kind of energy? Keep hitting it out of the part, you guys. We’re all rooting for you.

Yuri Malina

Yuri Malina

2nd Place

CerViva—Solomon Arman Nabatiyan, PhD – Cervia Diagnostic Innovations

A cancer biologist trained at Oxford and Camridge, he’s affectionately known as Dr. Sal at Northwestern University where he serves as aCerViva logo research professor. He co-founded the crowdfunding site, for raising funds through non-traditional sources as well as CerviaDX.

The Problem—The #1 killer of women worldwide is not breast cancer—it’s cervical cancer—a disease that is 100% preventable. A woman dies from cervical cancer every two minutes. $5.8M is spent each hour on screening using the Pap-smear test.

The Pap test is 90 years old. It’s expensive, takes 7 days to process, and requires high-priced equipment and skilled technicians to perform. After all of that, it’s about as accurate as flipping a coin. Scraping to obtain a sample causes discomfort in patients. The result? Only 25% of women have access to the test and overall efficacy is only 13% prevention—that for a disease that is 100% preventable.

The Solution—CerViva is a test that is 95% accurate, using molecular markers to produce results not subject to human error. It costs only

Dr Sal

Dr Sal

$5 per patient, takes only 30 minutes to process, uses cheap disposable equipment, and requires no skilled technicians. Rather than scraping, the experience is similar to a 3M Post-It Note picking up dust. The result? According to projections, 95% global access, and 95% prevention.

Dr. Sal raises laughter from the audience when he points out with a smile that a university professor gives 13% an F and 95% an A. “We all have important women in our lives,” he says, “and we need to support them and keep them cancer-free.”

The Inside Story– I talked to him at length after the meeting. He knows entrepreneurship and coaches it at Northwestern. He mentored Mert and Yuri of SwipeSense. The guy’s the complete package. Can you imagine the social implications of his discovery? The dollar value? This is the kind of stuff is the reason I try never to miss an MITEF event—especially the White Board Challenge.

Dr. Sal was interviewed by TechCocktail after being in the Chicago Startup Spotlight event at TechWeek. He described his social motivation: He hopes to plow profits into worldwide access to life-saving technology—especially in the developing world. “Cervical cancer has to disappear and we won’t take no for an answer! We already have the technology. We just need to do the work.”

photo by Yuri Malina

photograph by Y.Malina

3rd Place

SiNode—Samir Mayekar

The Problem—What happens when your day isn’t over but your smartphone’s day is? Samir shows a familiar icon that he calls the red battery



of death and gets a lot of laughter. He’s got my attention. To take notes before my battery dies, I’m running my laptop at 10% power with the screen dim.

He goes on to explain how a battery works off a cathode and an anode. “There’s been a terrific amount of innovation in cathode technology but the anode has remained fundamentally unchanged over the past 20 years.”

The smartphone market is huge and growing at 35% per year. Same story for tablets and other devices.

The Solution – Here’s what SiNode can do:

Capacity – Batteries can store more energy. 8 hours of talk time goes to 25 hours—a 3x improvement.

Charging – 95 minutes of charging time becomes 10 minutes—a 10x improvement.

Scalablility – The battery uses simple chemistry so it’s easy to manufacture.

The technology is published with two patents pending. He will supply the Army, the Navy, the CIA, and Homeland Security. Those

Samir Mayekar

Samir Mayekar

organizations are willing to pay a significant premium for these batteries. Using that revenue, SiNode will bootstrap into the device space—phones, tablets, computers, and all forms of electronics. The long-term plan calls for forming partnerships with large battery manufacturers. Eventually he expects to move into electric cars.

It’s a strong team that includes the inventor. I like the business plan—a minimum of outside investment and immediate cash flow. I looked for more on the internet and discovered that SiNode has already won a number of accolades:

The Clean Energy Challenge 2012 – Finalist
First Look West Clean Energy Challenge 2012 – Finalist
Kellogg Shark Tank – 1st Place
CleanTech Open 2012 – Advanced to semi-final round
And now—The MIT Whiteboard Challenge – 3rd Place

Hey, I can’t wait to get me one o’ them super batteries. How about you?

MIT Enterprise Forum

The Rest of the Field

Givby— Bill Scheurer—”Philanthropy for the Rest of Us”  Here’s an exciting idea  —something that makes you feel good about yourself. Something that revs you up before, during, and after. Giving is a buzz, and it can be just a click away. Raising large sums by many tiny donations, Givby makes micro-philanthropy easy and affordable. By combining with social networks, it makes giving fun as you crowdsource your friends onboard. And you pick the charity. The trick is to keep the gift amounts secret rather than trying to drive competition, which only discourages people from participating. This guy spent 20 years in fund-raising with 10 years in non-profits. He seems to have a new insight on the matter. I talked to him afterwards and learned that he’s bootstrapping the project and yet it’s already live. Development is moving at a rapid pace. Keep your eyes open for this one.

Green Tech—Prasad S. Kodulkula PhD, PMP, PgMP, Professor at Northwestern University has found a way to produce Green Energy from Greenhouse Gases. He converts air pollution into clean energy to drive our cars and fly our planes. His goal is to recycle pollution the same way we recycle water. To do that he uses CO2 to grow algae then makes biofuel out of that. Algae is already a proven source for biofuel but this new method makes it 5-10 times cheaper to produce than existing pond or light-based solutions. One patent has issued and one is pending. I close my eyes and imagine a coal-fired plant with no stack—directly feeding one of these units. Could that happen?  Could we re-open all the Midwest coal mines and put all those small towns back to work? Could we again make steel in Gary Indiana, yet keep the air clear?

NoRedInk—Jeff Scheur—Virtual tutoring—This is a web-based solution to teaching grammar using kid’s personal interests. 14,500 teachers and students have already used the site and he hasn’t yet resorted to  paid advertising. Kids have dedicated 8700 hours working on it since last Feb. A passionate member of the audience told me that schools are crying out for this technology. Millions of education dollars are going unused for lack of a working system. Schools can’t find enough tutors to fill the gap.

Virtual Field Trips—TJ Pavlov— This is a way to enable schools to take interactive field trips via the internet. The distinctive here is

drawing by Yuri Malina

drawing by Y.Malina

the word, “interactive.” Students can converse with people on location. If the business model doesn’t stick, he plans to use the system in his own classroom.

Intelligent GRE Tutor—Jonathan McBride—This is an intelligent tutoring system for the GRE exam using artificial intelligence and learning sciences. It finds out what a student knows and teaches to the need. It maintains a balance between difficulty and skill with enough repetition to make it stick. The military is already using this kind of technology. It should be ready for market within 6 months. After the event, I heard members of the audience suggesting many more opportunities for this technology.

Turning Chicken Feathers into Playground Equipment—Neil Kane—This is a bioplastic application with a hilarious name—perhaps to help people remember. With a patented method licensed through Northwestern University, he proposes to make plastic using chicken feathers—a waste product. The result? Petroleum use is reduced by 40%. A stronger plastic is produced.

Clean Water Forever—Len Bland—Water is a $360B market. Wastewater plants use 4% of our electricity and produce sludge. Now they can supercharge the process using natural bacteria to eat up 80% of the sludge and reduce electricity use by 90%. Their IP includes 70 worldwide patents. I know Len as a highly competent businessman. He’s still going through his due diligence process, but if everything’s in order, this could be huge.


Video of last year’s MIT Whiteboard Challenge –


MIT Enterprise Forum – Chicago

Ungaretti & Harris – host attorneys

IBM Innovation Center

IBM logo
SwipeSense—Yuri Malina—

Yuri is co-founder of Design for America—

Yuri’s Blog——blog.html

CerViva— Solomon Arman Nabatiyan—



SiNode— Samir Mayekar—




Find Chicago Venture Magazine at Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved


Filed under Chicago Venture Magazine, Chicago Ventures, CORE Insight Story, Events, Innovation, Invention, Kellogg, MIT Enterprise Forum, MITEF, Northwestern

MIT Event coming to Chicago

MIT Enterprise Forum


Future of the Office – How Technology Will Change the Way We work

Monday, September 26th 5:30-8:30 pm

As I heard it – The explosion of mobile devices, together with social technologies and smart apps, is creating a new distributed workforce. It’s transforming physical offices and how work gets done. Join us for our season kick-off event as we examine the implications of new trends for business efficiency and productivity. If you’re looking for the latest developments that will help you save time, work faster and produce better results this is an event you don’t want to miss.  
Panel Moderator
Dr. Hugh Musick, Associate Dean IIT Design 
Jeff Calusinski
, IBM Distinguished Engineer, Social Media& Client Technologies – How social media and mobile technologies will impact and change the way we work with each other both internally and externally.  
Ross Kimbarovsky co-Founder crowdSPRING – How crowd sourcing and a freelance worker for hire work force is changing the way we get work done. A look at cloud computing (tools and technologies that are shaping the way we work.

Sudhakar Lahade, Growth Initiatives Steelcase  – How the physical work place environment is changing to accommodate a new work force.



Monday September 26th
5:30 – 8:30 pm

Hosted by our host sponsor, IBM
IBM Innovation Center
71 S. Wacker Drive, 6th floor 
(Note that the Wacker entrance is closed. Enter from Franklin Street)

$10 for members.
$30 advance payment for guests

For details –


That’s what I heard. What did you hear? Your comments are welcome.

Find Chicago Venture Magazine at
Comments and re-posts are welcomed and encouraged. This is not investment advice – do your own due diligence. I cannot guarantee accuracy but I give you my best.

Copyright © 2011 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved.


Filed under MITEF, Uncategorized