The market doesn’t need another app to find a cupcake

December 31st, 2013

Blue Sky Innovation in the Chicago Tribune: “Too much of what passes as a startup venture today is really just a good new product, not a scalable business. Entrepreneurs need bigger problems to solve, and big, industry-leading companies need the agile, creative forces of a startup,” Howerton said. “Meaningful disruption of major industries is cheaper, faster and easier to achieve than ever before.”

Posted in Misc

My friends in Ukraine

December 11th, 2013

For almost 14 years, I’ve worked with a software team in Kyiv, occasionally in person there, sometimes with team members visiting Chicago, but mostly through Skype, chat and mail. Still, they have become my good friends and coworkers. It’s a remarkable relationship (especially at the start) that obviously wouldn’t have happened without the internet.

The team has grown from just a couple of guys, and over the years we’ve built software solutions behind the scenes for some of the most recognizable internet brands.

My earliest days visiting Kyiv were fascinating. I came of age just as the USSR was dissolving. That was the most significant geopolitical event of my lifetime (arguably since surpassed by the rise of global terrorism). My new friendships were intriguing… these were mostly people who grew up in an independent Ukraine, building a business together, unrestrained by history.

There have been plenty of moments when I felt like the proud American, and saw the growing effects of westernization on the Ukrainian economy and friends. There have also been moments when I’ve acknowledged America and western Europe is on unstable ground to be moralizing, particularly in areas of income inequality and the occasional trampling of our own Bill of Rights.

Ukraine sits as a resource for both Russian and Western influence. The politics and oligarchy dictate much of what makes the news, but its people are usually far removed from all of that. They are busy building a bustling economy, and connecting with the world. Except times like today — or during the Orange Revolution of nearly a decade ago — when these people rise up together with passion that we in the west should envy.

Posted in Misc

Scouting calibrates its moral compass

May 23rd, 2013

Twenty years have passed since Scouting chose to join the culture war and began a shameful period of telling gay teenagers they were the one kind of child unworthy of being a Scout.

In 1990, the Boy Scouts of America kicked out 19 year old James Dale (over the objections of the boys and adults in his community), and fought him all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to set their own membership standards.

Today they have taken the first step back on a path that leads to equality, respect and honor for all kids. The organization has voted to ban discrimination against gay kids, and compel all of nearly 100,000 local Scout units to be welcoming. This progress was brought in part by a remarkable group of young, straight Eagle Scouts lead by Zach Wahls and the incredible work of Scouts for Equality who recruited thousands more Eagle Scouts and nearly 2 million petitioners.

Nonetheless, this is a contrived compromise that kicks gay kids out when they turn 18 and become an adult. Doing that sends a ridiculous message to kids that Scouting will tolerate who they are, just not the person they “might” become.

I wrote a piece for Forbes in January when the BSA announced a possible change in policy, highlighting the terrible business decisions that Scouting had made, not just what I believed to be poor moral choices:

“The movement of Scouting continues to be one of the great opportunities for light and goodness in the world. But in my opinion, and one shared by millions of parents with kids who could benefit from Scouting, the corporation that administers Scouting in America lost its moral compass a long time ago.” — more from me in Forbes

The BSA released their own broad survey of current members: it was convincing that a majority of Scouting parents under the age of 50 favored non-discrimination, and revealed an even higher percentage of young parents in America that weren’t even considering Scouting for their kids. By and large, the voices to maintain the status quo were older Scout leaders hanging around the program long after their own kids had grown, and specific religious institutions using the supposedly non-sectarian Scouting as a tool (though even among churches, there was growing dissent).

At the time I argued the only sane and right policy change would be to let each of the local parents and chartering partners (tens of thousands of churches and civic groups) decide for themselves whether to accept gay kids and adults. With such deeply held passions, many on religious grounds by local partners, I believed the “local option” was the only way Scouting could escape the self-inflicted wound tearing away at the future of the organization.

Last month the BSA announced details of the only resolution they would allow to be put to a vote today: one that allowed gay kids to stay in Scouting across the country, but still banned gay adult leaders.

My first, visceral reaction was that it was an even worse scenario than kicking gay kids out of the program; that Scouting had set itself up as some sort of “conversion therapy camp”, expecting kids would “grow out of the gay”.

I saw this untenable compromise – no doubt hard fought within the organization, as further proof that the BSA was still lost in the wilderness.

But today I see a real opportunity for the BSA to emerge with an even better solution than the “local option” that I previously argued was the best we could expect. By banning discrimination against all gay kids in every local community, the organization is doing what’s morally right.

Following this vote by the membership, the National Executive Board should now move swiftly to allow parents and local chartering partners to choose the right adult leaders for their Scout units, gay or straight. Legally, practically and morally, this is an inevitable position the BSA will some day take, and it’s within the authority of the National Executive Board to make that decision soon.

I’ve always believed… and for generations so did the BSA, that parents should have the right to choose adult mentors for their own kids.

If a shrinking part of America thinks gay adults are inherently unsuitable role models, they’ll still have that right as parents. They just won’t have the right to deny the Scouting experience to any kid. And they shouldn’t have the right to deny other parents the choice of adults leaders for their own kids and communities.

Today was an important first step, and if it is soon followed by another step that allows local communities to set their own membership standards for adults, Scouting will have found its way back onto the trail.

Posted in Misc

“Get them to go to ChiTech”…

April 23rd, 2013

16 year old student Shaquiesha Davis from Chicago Tech Academy just presented to the President at the White House Science Fair moments ago! When “Science Guy” Bill Nye and “USS Enterprise Engineer” Lavar Burton asked her “How can we get more girls interested in coding?” she said “Get them to go to ChiTech!”

Really proud of students like Davis who are taking full advantage of the tech and entrepreneurial mentoring delivered by Chicago Tech Academy. And the fact is, well over half of the students studying there are girls, and they’re some of the most promising future innovators that walk those walls.

Posted in Misc

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How I’m spending
some of my time lately…

I’m an entrepreneur at the intersection of technology, community development and social impact. I’ve spent my entire career building companies, communities and projects that help other people. I’ve enjoyed great success, spectacular failure and the real sense of progress and growth from both experiences.

I’m the founding chairman of a technology association in Chicago, a booster of inner-city education reform, and a partner at a venture collaborative incubating new ideas. I’m an advocate for the tech industry and some companies, occassionally in Washington DC and online.

I operate or advise several startups, businesses and growing organizations, including the following that are important to me at the moment:

Chicago Tech Academy

I helped create and now chair the board of a new, open-enrollment high school for Chicago students. This is an exciting experiment to build a new learning experience for kids based on apprenticeship and mentorship. The Chicago Tech Academy curriculum is based on tech skills and entrepreneurship, and we’re already outperforming most public schools on many important success metrics.

The student body (600 kids when full) come from across Chicago from mostly low-income, minority families. Hundreds of tech industry leaders volunteer as mentors, and partner with a carefully selected group of inspiring teachers.

FastRoot Agility

FastRoot Agility is a team of engineers and a Chicago colocation data center that design, implement and manage complex hosting environments.

managed hosting

Illinois Technology Association

I’m the founding chairman of the Illinois Technology Association. Created in 2006, the ITA champions the interests of nearly 700 tech companies based in Chicago and the region, building a more connected, collaborative economy for entrepreneurs, investors and executives.

Some other orgs and businesses that have my attention at the moment…

I’m on the board and provide the training facilities for Genesys Works Chicago, a non-profit that identifies hundreds of public school students after their junior year, spends the summer preparing them, and then places them in paid internships at companies like JPMorgan Chase and Accenture throughout their senior year of high school.



Builds patient education media platforms that educate and inform patients as they make decisions about their clinical treatment. A broadcast network in 600+ patient waiting rooms.


I cofounded TechNexus, a venture collaborative and clubhouse for the tech community in downtown Chicago. Today, more than 2,500 people a month flow through TechNexus for meetings, coworking, training sessions and to collaborate with a great network of entrepreneurs and execs that hang out here.

TechNexus has also been home to more than 100 new and growing companies that have incubated here; those companies have raised more than $50m in capital and created hundreds of new jobs in Chicago.

The concept for Phase III expansion of TechNexus into a 300,000 sq ft new construction facility in downtown Chicago:


Zealous Capital LLC

A partnership for investments and paid consulting focused on emerging growth software and technology companies.

FastRoot Software Labs

A private software lab with offices in Chicago and eastern Europe, our team of close to 30 software developers have worked together for more than a decade, building new products for entrepreneurs and corporate clients throughout the world. The team specializes in a rapid development .NET framework that’s been the basis for dozens of on-demand web applications and products.


© Terry Howerton

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