Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tech 50 shows progress, but more work remains

Tech 50 shows progress, but more work remains

Crain's annual Tech 50 list is essentially a snapshot of Chicago's progress as a tech startup hub. And snapshots have a way of making you smile and grimace at the same time.

With the proliferation of incubators, accelerators, coding schools, networking groups and co-working spaces around town, there's justifiable excitement over the prospect of fostering high-growth, tech-oriented startups here. Think 1871, TechStars, Catapult Chicago, Technori, Starter League and Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, to name just a few. Last week's $800 million acquisition of Chicago-grown credit software startup Braintree Inc. by e-commerce giant eBay Inc. underscores the potential payoffs for Chicago techies and the investors who love them.

When Crain's began tallying Chicago's top tech talent in 2011, the list was 25 names long. It expanded to 50 the following year. This year's list, published Sept. 23, easily could have mushroomed to 100 while still excluding worthy people.

Women and minorities remain largely underrepresented in the tech sector both in Chicago and nationally.
As Chicago tech investor J.B. Pritzker notes in a video conversation with Crain's contributor Lisa Leiter, it would have been a tough task to compile a list of 50 such names until recently. “Five years ago, the serial entrepreneurs in Chicago had not come to the forefront,” Mr. Pritzker says. “That is the critical component for success in the tech community—successful entrepreneurs reinvesting in the community and starting up new companies.”

And with people like OKCupid founder Sam Yagan, Flashpoint Academy founder Howard Tullman, Built In Chicago creator Matt Moog and OpenTable innovator Chuck Templeton so active on the scene, Chicago has what it takes to build a startup hothouse with some staying power. No wonder investors from both coasts are starting to scope out Chicago startups.

Still, there's work to be done. Women and minorities remain largely underrepresented in the tech sector both in Chicago and nationally, and the Tech 50 list reflects that reality. And while Chicago is gaining as an entrepreneurial center, this week's State of Small Business (starting on Page 15) section highlights some of the challenges—including the fact that Illinois lags the national average when it comes to entrepreneurs per capita.

Here's hoping Chicago makes progress on these fronts in the year ahead. If so, those advances will be reflected in next year's Tech 50 honor roll.

BENNETT DAY SCHOOL featured in Crain's Chicago Article

Private schools are popping up around town

 - Geoff Jones, head of school for Gems World Academy Chicago, which is under construction. - Kendall Karmanian
Geoff Jones, head of school for Gems World Academy Chicago, which is under construction.
Kendall Karmanian

As well-off families move into downtown Chicago, private schools are seeing an opportunity for growth. Six private schools are opening or expanding in the city in the next two years, catering to families who prefer private education or don't want to tackle the highly competitive enrollment process at the top-performing public schools.

One of the new schools is for-profit Gems World Academy Chicago, which will open an elementary school next year and a high school in 2015 in Lakeshore East. Another is Bennett Day School, which is backed by venture capitalist Howard Tullman and Harper Reed, former chief technology officer for the Obama re-election campaign. It will open in a storefront in the Fulton River neighborhood near Google Inc.'s new headquarters and will feature a “TinkerLab” dedicated to creative problem-solving.
“If you built five more like this, the demand would be there,” says Mr. Tullman, who a decade ago co-founded Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, a Chicago-based private college.
Also on the way: The British School of Chicago, currently in the Clybourn Corridor, plans to expand to the South Loop. Lycee Francais de Chicago, in Lakeview, is building a $32.5 million school on the site of the former Ravenswood Hospital that will open in 2015, increasing enrollment to 800 from 690.
This month, the German International School Chicago purchased the Lakeview building it has rented for five years. The school offers pre-K through fourth grade and plans to grow a grade a year through 12th grade. Also this month, the University of Chicago Lab Schools opened Earl Shapiro Hall for students in nursery school through second grade. The new facility has allowed Lab to increase enrollment by 300. (In a similar development in downtown Evanston, the Beacon Academy Montessori High School will open next fall.)

Keith Shahan, who heads the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, a Chicago-based umbrella organization of private schools, calls the growth “a simple case of economics. Demand is greater than supply.”

Research by the National Association of Independent Schools shows that Chicago has fewer independent private (nonparochial) schools than several other cities. Chicago has a school-age population of 614,033 and 16 independent schools.
St. Louis, by comparison, has 64,544 school-age children and 24 independent private schools. San Francisco, with a school-age population of 109,544, has 26 independent schools.

The number of households with children has declined by 3 percent over the past five years in the city as a whole, according to census figures. But a few thousand families have moved into the downtown area in the past decade, and private school officials say that has created intense demand for the limited spots in both private schools and selective-enrollment public schools, such as Walter Payton College Prep in Old Town (which is building an annex to accommodate 300 more students).

Ald. Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward encompasses the South and West Loop, says, “There are so many families that they're knocking down the doors to go to St. Mary's,” a Catholic elementary school that opened in the South Loop two years ago. “People are staying because they want to or because they haven't been able to sell their homes to move to the suburbs,” says Mr. Fioretti, who successfully fought to add space for 300 neighborhood students in the new Jones College Preppublic high school in the South Loop.

Latin School of Chicago, Francis W. Parker and the Lab Schools, the most notable private schools in the city, get far more applicants than they can accommodate. Over the past five years, Latin has received an average of 244 applications for the 45 to 50 spots available for each ninth-grade class, says Randall Dunn, head of school at Latin.
“The number says we've got room for competition. It means there are more options for families in the city,” Mr. Dunn says.
Tuition will run from $28,000 for lower grades to $35,000 in high school at Gems World Academy Chicago. It's run by Dubai-based Gems Education Ltd., which has schools worldwide and hopes to make inroads in the U.S. Headed by a former Lab Schools principal, Geoff Jones, the school will feature an International Baccalaureate curriculum that allows families to transfer from one Gems school to another.
Bennett Day School was founded by Cameron Smith, a former executive at private-equity firm CHS Capital LLC in Chicago. The school's early-childhood campus, including pre-K to first grade, will open for the 2014-15 school year. The school will move to a flagship campus in 2015 and add a grade a year up to eighth grade. Tuition will run from $17,748 in the lower grades to $24,205 in the upper grades.
Educators say there's no easy answer as to whether the growth of private schools is good or bad for the public school system.
Barbara Bowman, co-founder of the Erikson Institute, a graduate school focused on child development in Chicago, says private schools cater to a small number of school-age children and are far less of a threat to traditional public schools than charters, which often are cost-free to families. “The issue isn't about private schools but about improving the quality of public schools,” she says.
Mr. Shahan, who worked for 15 years in public schools, sees it both ways. “The easy answer is it's bad because it takes away a higher socioeconomic group,” he says. “But you can also make the argument that it's good to have schools doing things really well. It gives public schools an impetus to do better for their brighter kids and special-needs kids.”


Private PK-8 school will bring together veteran educators, tech heavyweights and community and corporate trend leaders to advance creativity, innovation, and lifelong learning in Chicago’s children.
CHICAGO – Bennett Day School, a new kind of PreK-8 grade school in Chicago will open its doors to a first class of students beginning fall of 2014.

An inquiry-based learning community rooted in the Reggio Emilia approach to education, Bennett Day School will encourage cognitive understanding inherent to multiple intelligences, as well as global and social awareness.

"At Bennett Day School, we are committed to advancing creativity, leadership and a love of learning within all our students," said Kate Cicchelli, Principal & Chief Academic Officer. "Our school is a place where children of all ages learn through questioning, exploring and discovering. But perhaps most importantly, Bennett Day School will contextualize their learning within a greater conversation about community and citizenship. Our belief is that, by providing this context, we will empower every student to better understand their place in our world and develop the responsibility and leadership qualities that will stay with them throughout their lives.”

Leading the charge at Bennett Day School is a group of veteran educators and professionals, including Cicchelli, COO Shuchi Sharma, and CEO Cameron Smith, whose diverse professional experience will be tremendous assets in helping the school carry out its mission.  Bennett Day School with also be partnering with celebrated creative talent and prominent thought leaders here in Chicago and internationally.

The school’s leadership has also appointed an Advisory Board that includes high-profile community leaders and educators such as Erikson Institute professor Jie-Qi (Jackie) Chen; veteran strategist Cyrus Patel; founder and first principal of Walter Payton College Prep High School Gail Ward; Chairman and previous President and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, Howard A. Tullman; and CTO for Obama for President and Threadless Harper Reed.

Following the school’s 2014 start date at its Early Childhood Campus located at 657 West Fulton, Bennett Day School plans to add an additional grade level each year, in their new Flagship Campus. When completed, the middle school program will provide a rigorous academic, arts, and athletic program for all attending students, both new and returning.

Bennett Day School’s application process opened August 12th, 2013. Interested parents and guardians are invited to sign up for information sessions provided on Bennett Day School’s website.

About Bennett Day School

Bennett Day School strives to be a progressive school that provides unparalleled experiences – in our program offering, instructional approaches, and nurturing environment – that will shape our community for a fulfilling, successful, and impactful life. Compelled by curiosity, immersed in complex questions about the world around them, and supported by a diverse faculty and peer population, the Bennett Day School community will ask and seek the answers to those questions that derive from creativity and innovation. Individual and collaborative learning will be central to the work of our school day; students and teachers will be held to the highest standards, not simply in terms of final outcomes, but in the planning and realization of their own learning.


Friday, September 27, 2013


How to turn more startups into growth companies

How to turn more startups into growth companies
By John Pletz

Want to know what it takes for Chicago's startups to take it the next level?
I'll be sitting down Oct. 2 with some of Chicago's best-known entrepreneurs and ringleaders from the tech community to find out.
My guests include Fred Hoch, CEO of the Illinois Technology Association; Seth Kravitz, co-founder of Technori and Bow Truss Coffee; Jeff Malehorn, CEO of World Business Chicago; Jim O'Connor Jr., co-founder of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and managing director of investment firm MVC Capital; and Howard Tullman, founder of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy and managing partner of venture fund G2T3V LLC. It's part of Crain's Small Business Week.
It's a lively group of smart folks who I know aren't afraid to call 'em as they see 'em. Join us for what promises to be an entertaining conversation at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 2 at Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, 225 W. Wacker Drive.
Chicago's startup scene continues to grow, but the big challenge ahead is transforming small companies into high-growth businesses with big budgets and payrolls. In his own blog post this week, Mr. Hoch contends Chicago has one of the nation's deepest pools of high-growth companies with revenue between $2 million and $250 million.
“These organizations make money, drive revenue and increase business," he wrote. "They are not always 'sexy' — or the next big thing — but they are the backbone of Chicago tech. . . .As these companies take on more talent and capital, they are beginning to shape Chicago's national identity.”


Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck
House of Blues October 29th Benefiting San Miguel School Chicago

CHICAGO, September 23, 2013 — Rockers and business leaders are showing their support for San Miguel School Chicago, the “Little School That Could”, located in the Back of The Yards neighborhood on the South Side. 

Returning School Rocks Celebrity co-chairs lending their support to the event include Larry Wert, President/Broadcast Media of the Tribune Company, Howard Tullman, Chairman/Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, Chicago rock legends JY Young of Styx, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, Joey Molland of Badfinger, Mike Arturi of The Lovin’ Spoonful, and Jim Peterik of the Ides of March and Survivor.

Celebrity co-chair newcomers represent Chicago’s rock & roll past and present, including Jimy Sohns and John Roberts of The Shadows of Knight, James Fairs and Jim Pilster of The Cryan’ Shames, Mimi Betinis, John Pazdan & Mick Rain of Pezband, Brad Elvis & Chloe Orwell of The Handcuffs, and Mike & Katie Redmond of The Redmonds.  For good measure the co-chairs are joined by Jim McCarty, founding member/drummer/vocalist of The Yardbirds – though not a Chicagoan, McCarty and the Yardbirds were deeply influenced by the Chicago blues scene and eventually recorded at the fabled Chess Studios at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue during the Jeff Beck lineup years.

All the Celebrity co-chairs are fans of legendary Grammy® Award winners and music icons Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck who will perform at the 7th annual School Rocks benefit concert on Tuesday, October 29th, 2013, at Chicago’s House of Blues. 100% of the proceeds will provide scholarships and community support to inner-city students at San Miguel School Chicago.

JY Young vividly recalls seeing Jeff Beck perform in Chicago during his Yardbirds and Jeff Beck Group days, and released a 1985 solo album, “City Slicker”, with Jan Hammer, Jeff Beck’s collaborator on his groundbreaking rock-fusion LP, “Wired”.  The influence of Brian Wilson’s vocal harmonies and Beck’s guitar virtuosity can be heard in James Fairs’ songwriting with the Cryan’ Shames.

Tickets for the School Rocks benefit concert are $300 and available at or 773.890.0233.

Since 2007, the School Rocks benefit concerts have raised $2.5 million for student scholarships. San Miguel’s mission is transforming lives through education, commitment, and love. 97% of San Miguel students are at or below the U.S. poverty rate, but the high school graduation rate for San Miguel alumni is 92% (national rate is 75% and CPS is 63%).

During the evening, San Miguel will present its Leadership in Education award. Past recipients include U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Kathleen and John Buck, Mike and Pat Koldyke, Bill Engels, and Mrs. Lina Abraham.

Major sponsors and underwriters of School Rocks include:

·        Venue Underwriters: Roger Follis, Charlie Hartley
·        Grammy Award Sponsorships:  The Wiebking Family
·        Raffle Underwriter: Tiffany & Co.
·        Media Partner: Modern Luxury Media
·        Greatest Hits Record Sponsorship: Project RUSH, Studley, Jack and Stephanie Flynn and Family
·        Top 40 Album Sponsorship: InterCall
·        Design Underwriter: Anne Allodi Designs

About San Miguel School Chicago

San Miguel School Chicago provides an innovative and accessible educational experience for children from inner-city families, so that they can complete high school with the skills, support and self-awareness to make the next productive choice in life. For more information, please visit


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The Challenges of a Digital Artisan in the 21st Century Workplace

September 11th, 2013

A recent article on top technology trends talks about “wiki-work”, which describes today’s seamless internet-facilitated creation and distribution of work, and the “porous workplace” where mobile technology enables work to be carried out in any location and at any time. Trend spotter, Howard Tullman, believes that these and other trends will contribute to a future where more people will piecemeal their workloads, working multiple freelance jobs instead of one full-time position. “By 2020”, Tullman claims, “40% of the U.S. population is going to be acting as free agents.”

This projection aligns with the concept of the “digital artisan” that we have defined in our previous blogs; an individual who is adept at leveraging digital capability to create, enhance and deliver high quality products or services in small quantities, tailored specifically for select customers and markets. In other words, it’s the antithesis of today’s world of mass-production and mass-markets.

For me, however, Tullman’s forecast arouses some concerns and prompts me to pose the following questions: if 40% of the population becomes freelance by 2020, what will the overall economy look like? Will large companies still dominate the economic landscape? Will mass-production and consumption still be the drivers of economic growth? What will be the role of Wall Street in this new world? How will labor law and human resources operate? How will people transition into these new roles? And how will society and the ecosystem evolve to support them?

I’ve also recently been reading about the new Catch 55 – a derivative of the famous Catch 22! Catch 55 refers to the requirement for employees to now work beyond the traditional retirement age, primarily due to dwindling pension funds. This is becoming complicated, however, at a time when companies are being forced to ease the 55+ year olds out of their positions as the younger generation – which is cheaper to employ – push for promotion and the top jobs.  Again, this is something that we have written about – with the loss of the older, more experienced worker goes a wealth of tacit or aggregate knowledge that corporations traditionally hold so close to their chest as proprietary capability. This loss of know-how is effectively released out into the collective where it can, potentially, become fuel for the fire of competitors or new entrants.  The question then arises – how do these 55+ year olds transition into a new world where the corporate workplace considers them too expensive to hire, even though they invariably bring valuable experience-based capabilities and a keen desire to continue working for at least another 10 to 15 years?

Having been one of those 55+ year olds who made the transition from corporate life to free agent / freelancer / consultant, I can attest to the challenges that this brings, and in particular the acquisition and application of new and practical skills. Aspects such as learning how to sell and market yourself,  building a pipeline of work, ensuring that projects are in various stages of completion and execution to maintain a continuous cash flow, dealing with large companies that often delay projects, don’t pay or delay payment – all these are taken care of by others in a corporate environment. There is clearly an opportunity for a new type of agency to emerge – one that seeks and feeds jobs and projects to this select group of freelancers, and leverages their talents to meet corporate requirements. In a report by Vistage “The Future of Work”, this concept is referred to as “Going Hollywood”,  where in movie making today a different set of actors, directors, screenwriters and producers are brought in each time to fill the necessary roles, versus the days when large movie studios controlled the whole process.

One final thought that comes to mind is that, if 40% of the working population is going to become free agents with no guaranteed employer or income, then credit bureaus, mortgage companies and banks will have to drastically rethink and readjust their perspectives on how they assess people for loans and mortgages, or otherwise the future implications for home ownership and wealth creation, as well as the building industry, appear pretty grim.

Since collaboration is now the name of the game, the social networks and communities that have rapidly emerged over the last 5-6 years should now be evolved into broader learning and support mechanisms for today’s digital artisans, to ensure that this group of individuals acquires the necessary skills, support and training to make a smooth transition into the 21st century workplace.

Steve Bell, President, KeySo Global

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