Tag Archives: Innovation

INQUIRY AND INNOVATION

by John Jonelis

What happens when you invite the community into your high school and send your high school students into the community?

Amazing things! You create a THIRD SPACE in people’s lives.

[Britta McKenna is the Chief Innovation Officer at IMSA.]

Britta – “You have your home and you have your work and you have third spaces in your life where you feel comfortable and find a community. Robert Putnam believed in third spaces. He has a book called Bowling Alone 1. It used to be that bowling leagues were that third space. People at the bar. Cheers. We want IN2 to be that third space in people’s lives.”

“Look at the ceiling. Look at the lights. Do you see the pattern?

IN2 – Symbolism in Architecture

It’s that intersection of outside and inside. Community coming together to make this a real learning laboratory experience. We want to come in and work on real-world problems and opportunities.

“People can bring problems and opportunities to us and say, let’s figure out how we can work together. Like the State of Illinois with the hackathon we just did—finding solutions to childhood lead poisoning.

“Think about all the things kids are doing that are not helping. Here’s a great place. I hope IN2 can be a third space in people’s lives.”

[The grandness of the idea and the imaginative scope hit home, but ask Britta how IN2 will implement it.]

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Innovation

“We can’t stand still. Education—if it’s doing the same thing over and over and over—is not moving ahead—it’s falling behind.

“IN2 is the intersection of what we do at IMSA and the community. We’re partnering with Invest Aurora, the Woman’s Business Development Center, the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center—they are all resources to help what we’re doing here grow and scale.

Business Mentor

[Britta anticipates my next question and gets even more specific.]

“We’ve opened up a cohort of LINKubators 2 These are actual startup companies.  We have three working in the space as a pilot.  Our students intern with them and our network can help them grow.  Our MENTORS, our IDEA BARISTAS, our SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS can all help them grow. 

“Next fall we hope to have ten LINKubator startups working in the IN2 space during the day when the kids are in class. We’re trying to see what we’re good at and get a rhythm to the space.

“So whether it’s somebody in the community with an idea or a problem—whether it’s students that want to accomplish something new—whether it’s mentors from the community coming here to help the next generation of learners—whether it’s subject matter experts helping a non-profit grow—we want IN2 to inspire students and community to go on and be entrepreneurs and develop their ideas.

“Our goal at IN2 is to blend in with IMSA and be that resource for students and community beyond the classroom. That’s what this is all about.”

Student Entrepreneur

Inquiry

“I think one of our signature programs is our STUDENT INQUIRY AND RESEARCH program or SIR. That really distinguishes us because we don’t have class on ‘I-DAYS.’ Those are inquiry days—that happens most every Wednesday. Traditional class shuts down. We have class Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“‘I-DAYS are meant for independent exploration—inquiry or research. On ‘I-DAYS, student go down to 1871 and other locations to intern for startups. Now, with the new IN2 facility, our students can work with entrepreneurs right here as well. Either way, through the SIR program, they’re doing research with mentors and business teams.”

Sue Fricano & Tami Armstrong

[I’m joined by Sue Fricano—IN2 site coordinator, Tami Armstrong—Director of Public Affairs]

Sue – “MONDAY NIGHT LIVE is an event put on by Dr. Carl Heine each week. He brings in speakers and he develops programs for entrepreneurs.

Carl Heine

“He puts external students on his TALENT board—entrepreneurial students coming in to learn the different stages of building a business and different skills used in building businesses.”

Tami – “A lot of the students here are part of that as well as members of the community that come to learn more about entrepreneurship.”

Sue – “At IN2 we are trying to give them the expertise to go out and make the initial steps of developing.”

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[Betty Hart is the Innovation Center Program Manager.]

Betty – “We have girls in the STEM program, which is a mentoring peer-to-peer program for girls in 6th to 12th grade.  We have events such as IMSA DAY OF CYBER, which focuses on encouraging students to seek cyber security careers.” 

Betty Hart

Betty – “We have TEAM STEM CAFE, which is a network of local high school students who host quarterly events focused on STEM related topics. And we have THINK CAFE, which is a community initiative that invites organizations to come in and pitch a problem or an idea.”

Britta – “Our charges really are this: The first is to be a STEM teaching/learning laboratory for our best and brightest students across the state. Then we have the FUSION programs.3 These are after-school programs at schools, grade 4-8, all around the state. And we also have the charge of educating the educators. We bring the teachers in and give them professional development, which helps them in science and math.”

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Bring Back Socrates

[I pose a thorny question:  Why teach entrepreneurship at such an early age, rather than prepare the students for college or jobs?]

Tami – “What we’re doing is launching the students so when they leave here, they’re prepared. There’s a big demand for ideas and innovation. Innovation is valuable, and very coveted. We’re supplying that to the workforce.

“We’re also launching research. How can students advance the human condition and solve the world’s grandest challenges?

“That’s what comes from IN2—the ability to make very difficult innovations. When you can harness them, bring them to a place like this, and connect the students with business and industry, dream and idea become reality.”

[Suddenly I get it. I asked the wrong question and now realize the goal is really quite straightforward—to encourage students to think for themselves—to let them discover how to learn. IMSA does it the same way it was done almost 2,500 years ago—self-directed inquiry and innovation—the Socratic Method.]

Student Entrepreneur

Possibilities

Britta – “People think we’re just this gifted school for 650 sophomores, juniors, and seniors from around the state, but we’re not. And people think we’re a private school and we’re not—we’re public. We don’t want to be the best-kept secret in Illinois.”

“And we have a student team called IMSA ELEMENT that teaches the lean startup methodology. Build—measure—learn. Students developed a whole curriculum and teach it to each other. We’re entertaining possibilities.”

  • “We need to be open to ideas, be able to move quickly, and say YES.”
  • “And have FAST FAILS.”
  • “And move toward SUCCESS and ITERATE.”

“We’re not afraid to do that here. In a world where you’re dealing with high-caliber students who don’t fail often, failure is a difficult concept. But once they get the hang of it, they actually become quite good at fast fails.”

Entrepreneur with a solution

The 17%

Britta – “We’re not looking for the vast majority to really understand this space, because we can’t hold everybody. But about 17% in the world are innovators. That’s who we’re looking for—that 17%. Once we get a few of those, they bring their networks. Those are the early adopters, innovators, and they see things much earlier.”

Those are the people IN2 was built to serve.

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This is the final article in this series.

Go to Part 1 – THE NAME IS IN2

Go to Part 2 – POWER PITCH

 Go to next series – TOP OF THE LIST

 

References

  1. BOWLING ALONE – Robert Putnam
  2. IN2 Launches LINKubator for Fox Valley Startups
  3. IMSA FUSION

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IN2 Contact Info

Address – 1500 Sullivan Rd. Aurora, IL 60506

Website – https://www.imsa.edu/

Carl Heine – heine@imsa.edu

Britta McKenna – bmckenna@imsa.edu

Tami Armstrong – tarmstrong@imsa.edu

 

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.
.Copyright © 2017 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved
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Filed under 1871, angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, Chicago Startup, Chicago Ventures, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Impact Investing, IMSA, Innovation, Innovation and Culture, Invention, investor, Mobile App, new companies, Public Schools, Social Entrepreneur, Social Media, Software, Startup, startup company, Venture

ORDINARY EXTRAORDINARY

Bator TInnovation in Offering the Ordinary in an Extraordinary Way

By Kenneth C. Bator, MBA

Let’s talk about a product that nobody wants to need. Can you transform the customer experience and make shopping for it enjoyable? Now that would be an innovation!

The product is DME. For those of you not in the healthcare industry or not familiar with the acronym, DME stands for durable medical equipment. Basically any piece of equipment used in the home to aid in a better quality of living qualifies as a DME. Common examples include wheelchairs, walkers, and crutches – none of which would be thought of as innovative.

Bator 3b

Let’s face it, for those that are unfortunate to have a need for DME, heading to a business that specializes in this area isn’t a highly anticipated event. Regardless of how friendly, accommodating, and empathetic the staff might be, it’s still akin to a “hosptalesque” experience. But then there’s Mobul, the home mobility stores in Southern California.

Bator 2b

Mobul’s innovation is in the how they display DME. Rather than feeling like your walking into an urgent care center, you’re greeted by people that are eager to serve, in a store that’s large and wisely laid out. The floor is set up in sections that mirror common rooms in the house such as the living room, bedroom, and kitchen. This allows people to, in essence, “test drive” the equipment in a similar environment to their homes. Customers also get a better sense of how the DME will look. A bathroom support bar affixed to a shower-like tile wall is a better visual than a product hanging on a hook in hard plastic.

Bator 1b

The beauty of Mobul is also in the alignment of the brand and culture – possibly achieved instinctively if not consciously:

  • The brand of a high-end store, or as CEO and founder Wayne Slavitt would say, “The Nordstrom of home mobility.”
  • The culture of delivering an experience that makes a DME customer comfortable when shopping for an item he or she would rather not need to buy.

The innovation came from anticipating and uncovering a need. To my knowledge, no one asked for a better floor plan in shopping for DME. The founders saw the opportunity and ran with it. Sometimes innovation simply comes from offering the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

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Kenneth Bator is president of BTC Small Business

www.btcinc.net

This article first appeared in News From Heartland

Copyright © 2016 Kenneth C. Bator

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link. This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2016 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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FEAR OF FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION

Ed Harris as Gene Kranz 1by Tom Lemanski

From the SMART Leadership Archives

With the aid of the film, Apollo 13, let’s briefly consider the concept of failure and its role in innovation, problem solving and decision-making.

The Apollo 13 movie documents the heroic efforts of the NASA flight team in successfully returning their crew of three astronauts to earth in their ill-fated, aborted, mission to land on the moon. There’s a compelling scene where the flight engineers discuss the crippled space craft’s desperate power situation that concludes with Flight Director Gene Kranz’s (portrayed by Ed Harris as pictured at left) determined declaration:

“Failure is not an option.”

Movie Clip

(If the movie clip FAILS to come up, try, try again.)

Failure Phobia

These inspiring words of determination are all-too-often misconstrued by risk-averse leaders who embrace the belief that any form of failure is unacceptable. If you remember the rest of the film, you know that the successful solution to the space craft power crisis was solved by numerous trial and error experiments. Most of them failed to provide enough power reduction to save the crew. With each frustrating failure, the team gained insight that led to successful solutions.

In reality, when failure is not an option, the surest route to success is through failure and the resulting innovation that only evolves when we…

Try > Fail > Learn > Adapt > Innovate

And as the instructions on shampoo bottles used to say about lathering and rinsing: “Repeat as necessary“.

failure-roadsign

Culture Check

If we can agree that innovation is critical to success and acknowledge that failures are a critical components for success, allow me to ask:

How does your organization reward failures?

Or do you harbor a risk-averse culture that discourages venturesome, entrepreneurial activities? When was the last time you acknowledged a staff or team member for their willingness to try and fail? What did everyone gain?

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Too Much of a Bad Thing?

As leaders we need to develop a tolerance for those who try and fail. We also need to manage our scarce resources. An overabundance of failures that fail to generate results isn’t the answer either. So in the pursuit of balance, there’s another lesson in failure from the Apollo 13 story. It’s the need to fail fast. Gene Kranz’s team of engineers had a tiny window of time for experimentation and that was clearly communicated to them.

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Leadership Challenges

Here are some suggestions for some ways for you to fail responsibly:

  • Find innovative ways to eliminate the fear of failure that results in creating a risk-averse culture
  • Drive innovation by seeking new ways to harvest knowledge that results from ill-fated trials
  • Find new ways to promote efficient failures. Like the NASA engineers in the movie, develop an awareness of the need to fail fast. Their fast failures led to their ultimate success.

How do you do these? I recommend that you try new approaches that fit your situation. Be prepared to fail, learn and adapt. Then innovate like your mission depends on it. And remember that fear of failure is not an option.

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The Film’s Failure Footnote:

While actor Ed Harris delivered the passionate now famous line “Failure is not an option“, Gene Kranz did not. It’s a screen writer’s creation. That didn’t stop Mr. Kranz from borrowing it for the title of his autobiography. And why not? His leadership and determined attitude led to an epic, film-worthy, real life success story.

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Smart Leadership by Tom Lemanski

Tom Lemanski serves as an executive coach and trusted advisor to successful Chicago area executives who are driven to be more successful.

Find him at http://chicagoexecutivecoaching.com/

His column, “SMART Leadership” appears at http://chicagoexecutivecoaching.com/smartleadership/

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Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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WHAT MAKES IT GOOD

Techweek Part 4 –

Two Points T

by storied business consultant, Joe Perogi,

as told to John Jonelis –

Been hearin’ complaints ‘n’ controversy about Techweek this year. People gripe so you figure there’s gotta be a good reason, right? Yeah, I hear you. Yer sayin’, where there’s smoke there’s fire. But all them critics completely miss THE HIDDEN ROOM that you and me stumple upon—the hidden room that makes this thing truly amazing. Now the dust is settled, lemme take you on a tour o’ what I seen.

First, permit me t’ introduce myself. Name’s J. P. Pierogiczikowski, but you can call me Joe Perogi. Everybody else does. They say I have way too much fun. Maybe they’re right. Confidentially, there’s alotta money in it, too.

Da Speakers

We meet at the office in the backroom o’ Ludditis Shots & Beer.

Ludditis Shots and Beer 3

It’s just a good stretch o’ the legs from here to the Chicago Merchandise Mart and we get there in fifteen minutes easy. This event takes up a whole floor and gets a special elevator.

On this tour, you and me start in a room packed with chairs and people eager to hear Sal Khan of Khan Academy—one o’ da featured speakers. I wanna hear this guy. His company solves problems in education. Uses technology to help the kids learn ‘n’ helps the teachers make better use o’ their time. That’s huge. I’m figure this is gonna be good.

Khan Academy’s gonna partner with big business—a move that’ll give ‘em a longer reach. None of us know about that at the time—all we wanna do is hear the guy talk.

Look at that outrageously pretty lady on stage. Now she’s tellin’ us how great the speaker is. Now she points out the big screen. Hey, Sal Khan ain’t even here. You’re here. I’m here. We paid to be here. All these other people are here, too. But no Sal. He’s on Skype. So I’m a little bit offended, but whaddaya gonna do? They call it Techweek, so I figure we’ll give it our best shot.

All the computers crash at Sal’s office out in California or wherever he really is. But Sal’s no quitter. He carries on—with his smartphone. Ever notice how people believe them smartphones can do anything? Maybe it’s ‘cause they call ‘em smart when they’re really just pocket-size computers waitin’ to go wrong.

THE MERCHANDISE MARTWe look at the big screen and see this faded picture of Sal Kahn. You can tell he’s holdin’ the phone too close to his face. That’s why he looks kinda distorted. And he’s got a lousy connection—maybe one bar, tops. Truth be told, none of us can get our phones working here in the Chicago Merchandise Mart. Too much concrete. But apparently the organizers think smart phones is a smart move. So we sit through snips and swipes o’ Sal’s voice, cutting in and out. Nobody knows what the hell he’s saying. It creates a feeling of suspense, doncha think? I mean, the way that distorted face skips and jerks across the faded auditorium screen.

Why don’t anybody get up and walk out? Easy. It’s that gorgeous gal on stage—she’s really somethin’. Class. Intelligent-looking. Businesslike. She apologizes. Now she’s promising they’s gonna fix the problem. Now she’s watching that big screen with such intense interest—like she can understand what he’s sayin’ and she’s hangin’ on every word. She creates in us what they call a sense of suspended belief. (I read that somewhere.) And it keeps everybody in their seats.

Sal keeps cutting in and out till his battery dies and that means, lecture over. It teaches me a lesson: It’s usually more about marketing than technology. But you don’t know that till the technology breaks down.

Did I mention that the Blackhawk’s rally is going on downtown today?Blackhawk logo You don’t wanna go? Hey—they won the Stanley Cup. It’s a big deal. Okay then, let’s crash a few more presentations.

So we take in summore lectures. Seems like every speaker talks in some important-sounding corporate lingo. It’s all meaningful stuff, right? Maybe it’s what they call high-elf—I dunno. I’m wishin’ I can be with the Blackhawk fans. So you and me ditch the lectures and hit the booths.

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Da Booths

There’s rows ‘n’ rows o’ these little islands o’ commerce packed side-by-side, with all sortsa people plugging up the floor and it all seems to go on forever. Pretty soon I get turned around and confused and everything’s a blur. Don’t it hit you that way, too? This place is so big, a guy can get lost in here real fast.

Look around. Everywhere it’s corporations hawking their wares. (There’s that word Hawk again.) Notice how most people just mill past the booths. Except fer that one—the one serving free booze. We stop there for a while. Pretty good, huh?

FREE BOOZE

So I learn a second lesson, but it don’t hit me till later: Big corporations waste lots of money. But they help an event pay the bills.

Then, just when I’m about to give up and say goodbye, we find the hidden room.

startup city logo

Da Hidden Room

See that wall with the huge Startup City logo painted on it? Looks like a dead end, don’t it? We walk up and take a closer look at the artwork. There’s a small door on our right. We go through there and WHAM! It’s a whole ‘nother room packed with booths ‘n’ people ‘n’ lotsa noise. These is all startup companies. Seventy of ‘em. Ambitious entrepreneurs, brilliant inventors and gutsy financiers ready to take a risk on a new idea. This is where the action is. So let’s do the rounds. Hey, I know summa these people! I like this place!

And whaddaya know—they got a competition goin’. The judges go from booth to booth and try to pick out the five best startups. Which o’ these folks is the judges? I can’t tell. It’s kinda like a benched dog show.

Now we find out the winners are gonna get announced at a special event with the mayor. Our tickets ain’t good enough to get in—those tickets musta cost thousands! No problemo. We crash it.

We’re in and now the mayor’s up there giving a speech:

“…I think the city of Chicago will become the mecca of the Midwest in startup cities,” he says. IMG_9067“The city of Chicago is building the digital economy as the fifth pillar…” I gotta ask you: Where’d he get all that mecca and fifth pillar stuff? I mean I like the guy but them terms don’t feel right coming outa him. Maybe if he wore a keffiyeh or a turban er somethin’. Naw, that ain’t never gonna happen.

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Da Shortlist

Then they announce the winners. But I’m an investor and I got my own short list. Lemme tell you about ‘em:

cervia diagnostic logoCervia Diagnostic Innovations is gonna wipe out cervical cancer by replacing the age-old pap smear with a better test. They got all the research and their team’s fulla PhDs and Nobel Prize winners.

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PaletteApp logoPaletteApp is bringing architects and interior designers outa da closets and into the digital world and saving companies a whole lot of money.

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youtopia logoYoutopia is gettin’ high school kids emotionally involved in those service projects they gotta do and documenting the results fer the colleges they wanna get into. You got a high school kid? Then you know that’s something worthwhile.

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faspark logoFaspark is helpin’ us all find street parking for our jalopies. It’s based on data analytics and probability of success and reduces time cruising the streets by 70%. Shows up as a map on your phone. They’re setting up in Chicago and Munich at the same time.

UPDATE – Faspark now gives you parking garage information in addition to the street parking.  Check out this article in Crain’s Chicago Business.  

None o’ them great companies made the finals ‘n’ that makes me scratch my head. And now they announce the winner:

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Da Official Finalists

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wedeliver logoWeDeliverFirst Place. I gotta say, this one’s on my short list now I get to know ‘em, and there’s an article about them in this magazine. But this is my first look at ‘em. You ever see these guys before? Great business model. Terrific CEO. Tech enabled same-day local delivery for brick and mortar businesses. These guys is gonna level the playing field with Amazon and create a buncha jobs right here in Chicago—and that’s just fer starters.

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Crowdfynd LogoCrowdFynd is a lost-n-found service that uses crowdsourcing to find yer stuff.

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Furywing LogoFurywing is is a gambling play. I don’t like online gambling, but it ain’t my place to judge.

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24Fundraiser logo24Fundraiser is a one-stop solution fer online auctions.

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neststepio logoNextStep.io helps you get yer daily workout by usin’ yer daily routine. I like that idea a lot. Gotta find out more about this one.

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trinet logoThe whole Startup City production is sponsored by TriNet. I talked to them folks at length and came away impressed.

Then I get a big surprise on the way home:

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Da Hawks

I ride the water taxi to the train and it turns out I don’t miss the Blackhawks celebration after all. The train’s loaded with drunken smiling people singin’ songs, makin’ a whole lotta noise, and generally havin’ a great time. Now it’s my turn, so I belt out The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

IMG_9086-001

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Back to Part 3 – BNC TUESDAY NIGHT SMACKDOWN

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Photos courtesy Techweek, The Chicago Blackhawks, John Jonelis.  Logos courtesy companies.

Chicago Venture Magazine is a publication of Nathaniel Press www.ChicagoVentureMagazine.com Comments and re-posts in full or in part are welcomed and encouraged if accompanied by attribution and a web link . This is not investment advice. We do not guarantee accuracy. It’s not our fault if you lose money.

.Copyright © 2013 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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Filed under angel, angel capital, angel investor, App, big money, Characters, chicago, Chicago Ventures, city, Donatas Ludditis, Education, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship and Politics, Events, Innovation, Internet, Internet Marketing, Invention, investor, Mobile, Mobile App, Mobile Marketing, new companies, Nobel Prize, pitch, Software, Techweek, the chicago machine, The City, the machine, vc, venture capital

THE POLITICS OF INVESTING

The Chicago Innovation Awards – Part 4

John Jonelis

Time Share Gulfstream JetI’m at 40,000 feet on Loren Bukkett’s Gulfstream G450 trying to squeeze out his views on two accolades at the Chicago Innovation Awards—the ones they gave to Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. So far Loren is holding out on me.

I splash the last of the Hennessy into our snifters when this doggerel runs through my head: Loren pontificates that prizes to politicians will puncture their perfect performance and I ponder what precisely he proposes.

The plane bucks in turbulence and I almost fall out of my seat. The altitude and liquor sure are working on me—as you probably noticed.  Even in a pressurized jet, you’re effectively at 8000 feet or more and liquor packs a terrific wallop. I hope it loosens up Loren before it claims me entirely. My strategy is to get him jawboning on one thing and then slide into the main issue.

Gulfstream G450

Gulfstream G450

I take a deep breath of thin, dry air and get Loren’s attention.  “Let’s talk about the keynote speaker, Andrew Mason.  He won a Chicago Innovation Award back in 2009.  Groupon had only 100 employees at that time and now it’s got 12,000 people all over the world and 1.6 billion in revenue.  Not bad for a music major from Northwestern.”

The plane yaws and I continue: “Groupon was an amazing pick for the Chicago Innovation Awards.  That year, the company was still in its infancy.” I might have added, in all this turbulence I feel like a baby rocking in a cradle.

Loren sizes me up before answering in his acerbic tone. “Most of what Andrew said was just a short version of the same talk I heard him give several times.”

“Really?  I only heard it once before.”

Loren pauses a long moment. “One part of it is new to me—his admission that in 2009 he campaigned to beat Abbott Labs for the People’s Choice Award. He used false negative attack ads and now he’s bragging about it! Maybe he’s joking—I hope so. I’m just glad it didn’t work.”

“It earned him a big laugh from the audience.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s funny.”

“Don’t you like anything about Groupon?”

Again, he takes his time responding. “I like it that his customer service comes out of the Chicago Improv. That’s highly creative.” He pauses again. “He sometimes just throws tidbits like that out there without explaining the significance.  To me, this one is striking. If that kind of thinking is systemic—and I believe it is—then the company should succeed.” He goes silent then blurts out: “And naturally I like the acceleration in growth.”

I’ve been keeping an eye on Aussy. She’s still taking notes but I notice her quick worried glances at her husband.  He’s taking longer and longer to join his ideas together and I sense that it’s time to drill down to the core:

“Loren, what did you mean when you told me the Chicago Innovation Awards just ruined their perfect record?”

He knits his formidible brows.  “I warn you, John. Don’t go there.”

“Is it that you don’t think political awards are appropriate?”

Loren tightens his lips and finally responds. “Actually, on one level, I agree with it. I like to see local government throw its weight behind entrepreneurs as much as possible. Bringing in the governor and the mayor to this event draws a bigger crowd and that’s positive too. But Rahm’s been popping up at these things a lot, I have to ask myself why. If he’s really contributing something, that’s fine. But if he’s just riding the backs of these hard working young people for political gain, I don’t like it.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the Chicago Innovation Awards

Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the Chicago Innovation Awards – jaj

He swallows his Hennessy and sets the empty glass down hard. “How can they can give the 2012 Visionary Award to a mayor?  They should’ve used the politicians as keynote speakers and left it at that!”

“Maybe they won’t count those awards in the stats.”

“That would render the whole event meaningless!”

“You mean like giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Yasser Arafat?”

He jerks his head to the side as if he’s been jolted, then turns back and glares at me. “I choose to take that as hyperbole.  But yes, that’s it precisely.”

“But you still endorse these guys?”

He passes a hand over his unkempt brow. “I like Emanuel’s sentiment when he says investors create all the jobs. And when he says that government only helps create the atmosphere for success, I agree with him. He may be the only progressive politician I ever heard rub those two ideas together. But entrepreneurship in this town is driven by the whip of massive unemployment. At the same time, the banks won’t lend. I scarcely call that an atmosphere for success.”

He draws in a sharp breath of rarified air. “I know, I know–I told you these cruel circumstances are forcing the creative renaissance that we see. It’s true. They are. But that’s not any way to sustain growth. So many of these fervent young entrepreneurs will start out with initial success only to have their hopes dashed.”

I’m amazed at Loren’s intellectual capacity. And he holds his liquor a lot better than I do even though he rarely drinks. I have to admit it, even when he’s sloshed he’s the sharpest knife in the drawer.  So I try a dig: “People like it when Rahm says he’ll lengthen the bike path. You can’t deny that thunder of applause.”

Loren thumps the table with an angry fist. “A bike path! Pshaw! Civic projects! He’s mayor—that’s all he is. Don’t expect more than that.”

“He lengthened the school day so kids don’t have to pick between math and music.”

Loren stops and smiles. “That I like!”  He waves a finger at me slowly.  “That takes backbone!”

“Tell me about the governor.”

Governor Pat Quinn at the Chicago Innovation Awards

Governor Pat Quinn at the Chicago Innovation Awards – jaj

He snorts. “He’s a party guy. What did Quinn ever do to merit—what do they call it? The Distinguished Innovator Award. Did he invent anything? No—he raised taxes because the state is going bankrupt. While he drives business out, he talks about the state investing in companies. On whose dime? That’s not free enterprise. That’s messing in my backyard.”

“Do you withdraw your support?”

He winces. “A governor should lean on the banks to free up capital. I’d applaud an effort like that. But he talks about education reform, high speed rail, clean water—the usual high-ticket malarkey. You want to know what really happened tonight? They propped those two guys up front like carved idols and bowed down in homage! It’s the golden calf all over again!”

“Loren, it’s a political season and this is still Chicago. These guys are trying to get in front of any crowd they can.”

“This is a distinguished event! There’s no reason to encourage that kind of behavior!” He shakes his head. “The old political machine grinds on and on, year after year–I can’t get involved in that!” Then he yawns and says something unintelligible. “I’m tired.  Interview over.”  He closes his eyes.

I figure he just got something off his chest—he relieved the pressure—and now the liquor and altitude can take over.

Just when I think he’s asleep he speaks softly, eyes still closed: “John, did you ever see the Great McGinty?  The motion picture…Preston Sturges…written and directed…brilliant…such a long time ago…it still tells the whole story…nothing has changed…”

See it on Amazon

Again I think he’s asleep when he mumbles, “Next time you want to interview me, pick a different topic.”

I give him a salute as he drifts off to sleep.

Aussy tucks a blanket around him and then turns to me with an accusing look. “I hope you’re satisfied,” she says.

Those are the first words I hear from her the whole flight and it’s all scorn. Then she tosses a blanket in my face. As I make myself comfortable, I get a nasty feeling that she’ll arrange a slow plane with lots of layovers for my return trip.

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Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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WORTHY OF AWARDS

The Chicago Innovation Awards – Part 3

John Jonelis

Time Share Gulfstream JetI’ve jumped aboard a Gulfstream G450 to interview the legendary Loren Bukkett. I want his take on the Chicago Innovation Awards. He finally puts away his phone and turns to me. “Okay, let’s talk,” he says.

I take that to mean he’s already finalized all the deals that peaked his interest. Nice to have a large staff to handle the details. But here in the jet cabin, it’s just Loren, his wife Aussy, and me.

Aussy is doing some form of shorthand on a tablet computer. That woman hasn’t spoken since I climbed in the plane. Maybe Loren asked his wife to keep it buttoned. Maybe he wants to control what information gets out. At this point, I’m afraid to ask her a direct question. I even wonder if this is their secret strategy to keep outsiders off balance. If so, it’s working.

They give out so many honors at the Chicago Innovation Awards tonight that I can’t keep it all straight. So much glitz and pizzazz. Jumbo screen. Music. Entertainment. Applause. Streaming internet content. I appreciate the way they present a standardized set of videos to highlight the mission of each winner. A professional job and it moves things along nicely. With sponsors like Disney, Comcast, and Wrigley, they can afford to do it right.

Chicago Innovation Awards

Chicago Innovation Awards – jaj

I pull out my notes. “Let’s do the ‘Up-and-Comer’ category first.” I proceed to read off the list but Loren waves me to a halt.

“We’ll do it my way,” he says. And he goes on to tell me about every company that won an award at that event. He does it in depth. No notes. No prompts. At his age, that kind of memory astounds me.

“Now John, keep in mind that for twelve years, every company with an award from this group is a success. And there are a lot of them. That’s impressive and gives an old investor like me a feeling of confidence. Of course my people check out these companies in depth, but you can’t help but come away with some degree of certainty—a belief deep down that every one of them will find a way to make it.”

“You said they’ll break that perfect record this year.”

“That’s the awards to those two politicos, not the companies. No as I see it, what we have here is a large pool of opportunity. I already set some wheels in motion. Don’t ask me which ones.” He clasps his hands behind his neck and leans back. “When you get to be my age, you either turn into a curmudgeon or you win back some of that idealism you enjoyed as a youth. These days, a big part of my strategy includes companies that are doing-well-by-doing-good. I saw a few tonight. One of them is BriteSeed.

I nod. “I saw them pitch earlier in the year—at BNC I think. They made a big impression on me.” I splash three fingers of his excellent Hennessy into each of our snifters. Maybe the combination of spirits and altitude will keep him loose.

“It’s a hot sector,” he says. “Their SafeSnipstm technology could be life-saving. Imagine it on a large scale. No more surgical accidents. Billions of dollars saved.” He leans toward me and lowers his voice. “Keep your eye on Northwestern Global Health and their rapid HIV diagnosis. And Recall-Connect built an automated system to match defective medical implants with patients. No more wading through reams of paper files. Medline came out with an anti-viral face mask. Preventing disease is real attractive to me, but this one’s a family company, so…”

“No need for investors?”

“We’ll wait and see. My only concern with Feeding America is scalability. But they won the Social Innovator Award so people need to take that group seriously—very seriously. Any way we can fight hunger, we oughta do it.” He gingerly takes a tiny sip of his cognac as if he’s already had enough to drink. “I’m interested in the People’s Choice Awards winner,” he says. A little company, New Futura, wants to help Latinos achieve the American dream. Naturally I’m attracted to those kinda offerings. Then there’s Moneythink helping high school kids with their careers. That’s about it for the do-gooders.”

“What about Belly?”

He pauses a moment, pats his stomach, then grins. “That’s another hot sector. That company is off and running in 10 markets with half a million customers already. I’m sure they’ll do well. But I’m not in the mobile app or social media space.”

“Doesn’t that limit your exposure to startups?”

“That it does, John. That it does.” He takes another tiny sip of cognac. “Anymore,” he says, in his Midwestern idiom, “Anymore there’s so much money chasing mobile. So many new startups and only a few will pay off. The good ones get bid-up. Way too high for my liking. New York, Boston—all those great centers for venture capital are in love with mobile and social media. Maybe it’s good for Silicon Valley but it doesn’t fit my strategy. That’s why I come to Chicago. Of course I make exceptions.”

“Do you see a bubble?”

“Well, you always need to keep that in mind. For me it’s more a problem of value.”

Anybody that follows Loren Bukkett knows that deep value is his favorite strategy. Then he shifts gears. “Do you know anything about NuMat Technologies?

That catches me off-guard and I fumble over my words. “Some. I saw them present at another Chicago event–can’t recall where. Seemed like a winner to me but with so many great offerings, the judges at that event looked elsewhere. Do you think the technology is practical? Can they actually store and transport natural gas in bulk the way they suggest?”

“Keep your eye on them,” he says. And suddenly I wish my investment portfolio could stretch that far.

“And Coyote helps trucking avoid dead runs by sharing between companies. That’s the same thinking that put you and me on this beautiful jet. I like that business model.”

He takes more from his snifter and my hopes of getting him to comment on the awards to the governor and mayor are one step closer to reality. “1871,” he says. “That is without a doubt the most significant incubator I’ve come across. They made up their minds to do it right. 50,000 square feet with an option to double. Three universities keep offices there. Venture capitalists too. A successful startup from Northwestern keeps two big rooms to teach folks to code in new languages. Lots and lots of aspiring companies—and you gotta pass their standards to get in! This is one of the new hybrids—part incubator, part accelerator. Most of their companies are outside my investment horizons but every one of them is highly interesting. It must be a great resource for you.”

“Sure, I’ve been there a number of times. They run a lot of events and always invite the community. If they expand, I may take an office there. What’s your opinion on Options City?”

Loren lifts his feet back to the tabletop. “That one hopes to cure a sore point of mine. They want to help the little guy fight back against high frequency trading syndicates. We’re talking trading in-and-out in nanoseconds. Nowadays these guys own 70% or more of the volume on most of the exchanges. And naturally, the exchanges reciprocate by giving them the same privileges as market makers. But they don’t carry any responsibility like market makers. Or risk. They don’t make orderly markets. No, they hit and run. They’re speculators. Why should they get the first look at all the trades?  It’s all driven by greed on the part of the exchanges. I think it should be illegal.”

I’m leaning forward and nodding vigorously. “It’s the High Freaks that changed my approach to trading. I had to slow my timing way down and widen my stops—take on more risk.”

“Well alotta people are going broke because of it. These operations spend upwards of $100,000 a month for the fastest hookup and shortest wire to the exchanges and then run everything by computer algorithm. This new company wants to level the playing field.”

“Can they do it?”

“The jury is still out.”

Loren talks another twenty minutes to cover it all. Food Genius, mentormob, and mobcart, all leverage the Internet to aggregate information and communication. Cummins Allison of all people is selling a document scanner for banks. Borealis makes a light that takes 90% less energy and lasts 30 years.

That leaves Bright Tag, Catamaran, Littelfuse, and SMS Assist.  An impressive event in execution, scope, and promise.  It amazes me that so many fine businesses are right here in Chicago.  All they need to succeed is a boost in the economy. 

We clink glasses. “So Loren, I still want to talk in-depth about the awards to the governor and mayor.”

He flashes me a dirty look.

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Continue to Part 4

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THE NEW NORMAL

The Chicago Innovation Awards – Part 2

John Jonelis

Time Share Gulfstream JetI’m on Loren Bukkett’s Gulfstream G450 trying to squeeze an interview out of him. “I asked you about the mayor and the governor but I didn’t get a response. What about it?”

“There are plenty of real businesses that won real awards. Let’s talk about those.”

“Okay, what did you think of the pre-show?”

He slouches in his leather chair. “I slipped in quiet-like. Why not give me your impressions?”

Once again, he’s turning the tables on me. But I close my eyes and bring up the picture in my mind. “I get there early. I’m in the lobby and it gets louder and louder. 1,500 people hitting the portable bars and yammering at each other.”

I check to see if he’s listening. I should know better. This guy misses nothing. “So I’m sitting on a bench, ignoring the throng. I turn to the fellow beside me and it’s my marketing professor, Phillip Kotler.  Haven’t seen him in 20 years.”

Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler

Loren looks comfortable and satisfied. “That man wrote something like 50 books and I’ve read every one of them.”

That’s a lot of reading.  I think back to a time when Kotler drove a Ford Taurus and loved it while his students traveled in Beemers and Benzes. They couldn’t figure him out. And there’s something he said to our class at Kellogg that I’ve never gotten out of my head. ‘It’s not your job to satisfy your customers,’ he said as the students dropped their jaws. Then he went on: ‘It’s your job to DELIGHT your customers!’ He doesn’t take credit for the line.  Now, in this economy, students are graduating college with no jobs. So the school shifts focus. Northwestern is teaching them to start businesses. And they’re succeeding at it. It’s the new normal.

Snifter of HennessyLoren pours us each a huge snifter of Hennessey VSOP.

I inhale the rich aroma. It goes down nice and helps loosen my tongue. “This crowd is completely different than I expect. Dressed to the nines—some in tuxedos. But they let me in the door anyway and call me ‘sir.’”

He gives a sneer of distaste. “I hate that ‘sir’ talk.”

So do I.  “By the way, it turns out Kotler’s on the board of advisors for this event. He introduces me to Tom Kuczmarski who moderates with Dan Miller. These guys founded The Chicago Innovation Awards twelve years ago.”

“Just give me the meat of it.”

I can do that. “First thing that surprises me—the pizzazz—lots of loud, lively music and entertainment. Like the academy awards on steroids. Then Tom Kuczmarski and Dan Miller get introduced with a promise to take them out of their comfort zone. And that’s what happens—big time.”

Loren leans back and lifts his cowboy boots to the table. “Risk taking is the only way you get innovation.”

“Yeah, that’s the way I heard it. Then they’re in a video skit. It’s a reality show—kinda like American Idol. They’re competing with the The FootworKINGz. 

The FootworKINGz

The FootworKINGz – jaj

“This is a group that dances in tightly choreographed rapid rhythmic jerks—moves taken from the streets of Chicago. And they’re sensational. Tom and Dan do a magic act but those dancers are a tough act to follow. It turns into a nightmare. That sleazebag Howard Stern leads a panel of judges. At least I think that’s who it is. They all gang up on Tom & Dan and their magic act. They criticize it and cut it to pieces.”

Loren sips his cognac and nods. “Like a presentation before investors.”

I see the connection and grin. “So Tom passes a hula hoop over Dan and suddenly he’s undressed to his boxer shorts.”

Loren smacks his lips. “Just like going through due diligence.”

“Then he shrinks Dan to the size of a baby and the guy squawks like a parakeet.”

Loren passes his snifter under his nose. “Man’s ego always gets in the way.”

“Then the judges give absurd advice about how to improve the act.”

“Expert coaching,” he says.

It occurs to me that Loren got a lot more out of this thing than I did. “Then Tom and Dan decide, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.’ And they perform on the live stage with The FootworKINGz.”

“You don’t need classical training to be a success. Sometimes it holds you back.”

“You saw all this yourself, Loren. I’m supposed to interview you.”

Hennessy VSOP Cognac

Hennessy VSOP Cognac
– image from Wikipedia

He smiles. “You just did, John. You just did.”

I feel like he taught me a lesson of some kind but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

His phone rings and he checks the screen. “Gotta take this call.” And I sit and wait. From what I can make out, he’s talking to some staffer that’s buying up shares of tonight’s companies. Finally he pockets the phone and sips his Hennessy. “Let’s get down to the real businesses that won real awards.”

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Copyright © 2012 John Jonelis – All Rights Reserved

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