Category: Misc

Motorola and Google could impact Chicago innovation

Google’s acquisition of Motorola for $12.5b could be a huge event for innovation in Chicago and is as much about the history of the mobile industry as it is about the future. The company that invented the mobile phone lost considerable luster over the past decade. What was once one of the greatest engineering firms in the world – an engine of innovation and patents few corporations in history could match – had become just another hardware manufacturer, competing with the likes of HTC and Samsung but losing badly to Apple in a market where hardware and software integration is becoming an obvious advantage.

Google’s acquisition announcement may come as a surprise, but it’s actually not very shocking. It’s the most obvious move for both Google and Moto, a marriage preordained when Moto Mobility split away as an independent business, adopted Android as its exclusive software platform, and dangled those 17,000 patents (and another 7,000 patents pending) as a lure. Motorola needs Google’s leadership if it has any chance of rising above the other hardware manufacturers, and Google needs Moto’s patents to protect the future of Android.

Motorola knew it needed more software integration and expertise and they’ve been cultivating stronger relationships with Chicago’s innovation community. Several members of the advanced research team from Motorola are regulars inside TechNexus, meeting and greeting and interacting with dozens of startups that flow through those walls each week. We’ve had many behind the scenes conversations with Motorola to identify the app developers, entrepreneurs and engineers that might help them better understand and integrate location-based-commerce, social and other services into their unique flavor of Android and stand out in the market.

One of the great missed opportunities for the Chicago tech community over the past 20+ years has been the relative lack of a cluster of related tech companies that just never really grew around Motorola. But under Google’s leadership, Chicago may become a major battleground in the mobile industry wars, and the opportunity for a cluster of innovative startups and ideas could result. Think about the possibilities for a more tightly integrated Groupon or Grubhub into Android/Moto devices, and then imagine hundreds of similar business opportunities. Motorola doesn’t just make mobile phones, and Android isn’t just software for your smartphone. The possibilities for a boom to Chicago’s entrepreneurial and engineering community is very real, and this acquisition could provide significant fuel.

Navteq – the Chicago company that pioneered navigation and the location based services platform – still sits here in our backyard. They’re becoming fully integrated into Nokia as a business unit, where a partnership with Microsoft already exists. It’s not hard to imagine a mega acquisition for Microsoft resulting in another integrated hardware and software play.

Apple lost the early days of the PC war by betting on an integrated OS and hardware, but they’ve made a strong case that mobile is different, and clearly have out innovated everyone else with the iPhone. Now Google moves to acquire a hardware leader in Motorola. It’s possible Microsoft isn’t far behind with Nokia. WebOS from Palm ended up in the hands of HP (though I’m skeptical they can leverage it, and probably should acquire RIM/Blackberry to complete their expertise). Samsung and HTC are the big losers right now in the Google/Motorola deal… their decision to standardize on the “open source” and independent Android OS finds them now in direct competition with Google.

More people on planet earth carry a mobile device than have indoor plumbing – more than 65% of the world’s population is tethered to a mobile subscription. At the rate of adoption, within four years that number will rise to more than 85%… there will be more mobile devices than people who have shoes. It’s an astounding market, and the battle for corporate dominance is just beginning.

Battle lines are clear and the big guys are at war. Patents – in particular a treasure trove as rich as Motorola’s intellectual property, are a necessary weapon to allow further innovation. Google was too young of a company to have a strong patent portfolio, but their competitors were threatened enough to team up to fight Android on this front (the unholy alliance of Apple and Microsoft in acquiring Nortel patents was a major shot across the bow of Google’s ship).

But the mobile market is not just about the history of innovation, and these patent plays are just about opening the door for future ideas and competition. With Google’s acquisition of Motorola, much of that future innovation could come from Chicago.


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700 Chicago Tech leaders hear about progress with tech academy at ITA CityLIGHTS

Last Thursday night’s ITA CityLIGHTS event was special, particularly for the students of Chicago Tech Academy in attendance.

From the stage, I told guests about this new urban high school that we created to inspire and teach technology and entrepreneurship. It’s a close, innovative partnership between Chicago’s tech industry leaders and teachers.

The new school is open to all students, and more than 1,000 kids entered the lottery to be a part of the next freshman class.  Many of these students are experiencing high expectations for the first time. With your help, they’ll learn to expect great things from themselves, and our community will be better for it. It doesn’t matter where these students come from, we can impact where they’re heading.

This school is a startup. Raising the donations to fund the school, developing a strong mentoring team and curriculum, and keeping a visible connection to the entrepreneurial and tech industry is critically important.

You might enjoy the video from our student lottery… and please feel free to pass along to others:

“Waiting no more” to inspire Chicago’s future tech leaders from Chicago Tech on Vimeo.

I hope you’ll consider joining me as a volunteer “booster” of this school. To learn how, drop me a note, or visit the school’s website.


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“Waiting no more” to inspire Chicago’s future tech leaders

We helped create the Chicago Tech Academy for selfish reasons: the number of high school students going to college to study science, technology, mathematics and engineering is desperately low. As employers and entrepreneurs in the tech industry, the 700 members of the Illinois Technology Association already have trouble filling skilled jobs today, and the looming gap in five years was critical.

“Waiting no more” to inspire Chicago’s future tech leaders from Chicago Tech on Vimeo.

Mayor Daley recognized the workforce need, and challenged us to create a public school that would match students with the right curriculum, teaching approach and connections to industry to inspire a new generation of technology leaders. We decided to search for students from some of the most challenging parts of the system: open enrollment, accepting motivated students from across the city, regardless of their prior academic performance. We found students for our first freshman class already at or above grade level in reading, math and science. We also found students who were many grade levels behind, and committed to teach both toward a path for success.

We just completed our third freshman lottery and more than 1,000 hopeful students waited to hear their name called. Word had spread that this new school was a place for kids to learn the basics, and so much more. ChiTech students learn from a curriculum that includes hands-on, relevant technology skills, infused with an entrepreneurial spirit. Right away, freshmen study computer science, programming and how technology can solve problems and create value in the world. They interact with mentors that teach them about building businesses and reinforce the importance of staying in school. They learn to set expectations of themselves, and grow from the expectations placed on them by hundreds of teachers and mentors from Chicago’s tech community.

The average age of people inside mission control during America’s first trip to the moon was 26 . Eight years before, when JFK challenged America to go to the moon, all of those engineers were in high school. Chicago’s competitiveness in the world depends on today’s high school students, and it is simply not sustainable to have over half drop out of school. All kids – not just the ones who made it onto selective enrollment tracks or lucky enough to come from families and communities that can help – deserve a positive view of their future.

Chicago Tech Academy’s story – just like the story of each of our students – is still being written. Not unlike startups in the tech world, this school is also just a startup. We’re not spending a bunch of new money, we’re just investing more of our time and creativity. We do know we’re making a difference: though kids commute up to three hours a day to and from school, our average daily attendance rate was 92% last year, about 10 or 12 points higher than the CPS average. Despite a heavy enrollment from at risk youth, we finished our first year with more than 75% of students on track to graduate, a key predictor of future success for freshmen.

Students took regular field trips to Microsoft, Google, NAVTEQ and many other Chicago area tech companies big and small. They interacted with dozens of mentors and guests at the school. They created web sites, studied video game design, produced videos and podcasts, learned programming skills and built computers. They wrote business plans for new ideas they developed as a team, and honed critical life skills like public speaking, analytical thinking and problem solving.

We recognize not every school can count on heavy involvement from industry leaders… even Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took time out to be a mentor at ChiTech last year. But in everything we do, we keep an eye toward how our efforts might become replicable and scale beyond the walls of our school. We’re humbled by the job before us, and the monumental need for others to get involved in the public school system to help make a difference. We understand success depends on engaged parents, passionate and serving teachers, a rigorous but interesting curriculum, the right school culture and lots of connections to the world and workforce these students will someday enter.

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Howerton thoughts to prospective students and parents at February 2011 lottery

My comments to prospective students and parents of the third freshman class of Chicago Tech Academy. We started this school to help give back to our community, and to develop the talent that some day we might engage in the workforce. More than 1,200 students applied to the lottery, and randomly 250 names were selected.

“If tonight you see your name called, and there is a doubt in your mind that you’re ready to make a commitment back to the other students of this school, I have one message for you. Get out of the way. Slide over. I wish you well, but I wish you would move on, and make room for a student that will come here and make a tremendous success of themselves.”

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Come meet the next freshman class of Chicago Tech Academy…

Two years ago a small group of us decided to make a big difference for kids in Chicago public schools, to inject entrepreneurial spirit into the curriculum, and provide mentors and inspiration to students that sorely needed the attention.

We launched the Chicago Technology Academy, a public high school open to all Chicago kids. On February 10th at 5:30pm at UIC Forum our next freshman class will be chosen by lottery from over 1,000 students that have applied.

The success of this new school is so connected to the involvement of people like you and me, and dozens of Illinois Technology Association members who have donated their time, talents, money and mentorship. It’s already made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students, and we’re just getting started.

Last year Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, was one of the many people to spend time at the school talking to the kids about becoming entrepreneurs, and about careers in tech. Many of these kids are experiencing high expectations for the first time in their lives.

You’re invited to come to the lottery to meet some of our students, partners and teachers. Spend an hour with us, and decide how best you might get involved in launching this school. The lessons we’re learning while building this new school can have broader reform impact, but we need all the help we can get.

So, if you think you or members of your company could be mentors, donors or have something else to contribute to the school, please RSVP at or reply and let’s talk about getting you involved.

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Yes, ITKAN:Creating opportunities for IT workers with disabilities – Chicago Sun-Times

It’s been a privilege watching Pat Maher and team assemble such an extraordinary group of people who work in tech and happen to have special challenges. Steven is particularly inspirational to me; my cousin has similar disabilities, and a similar lovely spirit.

“As a person with a disability, I realized it’s time to network with people in business — an opportunity I wouldn’t ordinarily have,” Steven Luker said. “I get to meet people and have them leave with a completely different opinion than their first impressions.”

If you’re interested in hiring, Pat and team can introduce you to a good talent pool that could add multiple dimensions of quality to your organization.

ITKAN advocates for people with disabilities to network and go to work in careers in technology.  The support of Rob Figiulo and SPR Companies is truly commendable, and the ITA’s Foundation is proud to support ITKAN’s effort.

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My Android Apps list

I’m a gadget geek, and nowhere is that more evident than in my need to have the latest, best phone on the market. Right now I’m convinced that is my HTC EVO. Eventually people around me start to adopt the same phone and want to know the apps I recommend, so a few weeks in to using my EVO (and making the jump to Android), here is a reference list of the apps I’m currently running:

  • Android Froyo 2.2: significant improvement over previous OS, though many of the features were already present in HTC Sense
  • HTC Sense: several of the user interface and functional improvements to the phone are really from HTC, and not part of the base Android OS
  • Swype: better input than the plain keyboard
  • Advanced Task Killer: much debate over whether it’s good or bad to use a task manager; I decided it’s worth it, occasionally, and this one seems to be about the best
  • Android Banking: decent (but not great) banking app, until my bank finally releases an Android app similar to their iPhone app
  • AppBrain App Market: better interface to the Android market
  • Android System Info: better interface into the various system functions and data
  • Astro File Manager: for managing files on the SDCard
  • Audible: audio books (still have to use the website)
  • CardStar: manages barcodes for restaurant and shopping clubs (better in theory than practice)
  • ChompSMS: better than the stock SMS message system; alternate between using this a Handcent SMS, not sure which is better
  • Compass: for when I am lost in the woods with my EVO
  • Congress: quick details on various bills and how different Members are voting
  • Craigsphone: when I want to search for a deal on Craigslist
  • DirecTV: for managing my DVR at home
  • Dolphin Browser: replacement for the internal browser; faster, and more features
  • DroidAnalytics: good interface to Google Analytics
  • Ebay: for when I want to search for a deal on eBay
  • Epicurious: love this on my iPad, so had to have it on phone as well.
  • Evernote: trying to decide if this is my preferred Note manager
  • Facebook: alternate between this and the touch.facebook interface
  • FCCTest: speed test, but since I have mostly given up on 4G it’s not very important
  • Flashlight: handy
  • Fandango: handy
  • Fring: video conferencing
  • Google Goggles: for cheating on pub quiz images
  • Gmail: probably better than the HTC Sense email app (I also tried Touchdown, but there wasn’t enough value)
  • Google Sky Map: very cool when out around the campfire
  • GotToDo: GTD-based task manager that I sync on the back end
  • Grooveshark: best music solution, with subscription I get any music I want, and offline listening. Why buy music?
  • Groupon: good app for local company
  • Handcent SMS: this, or ChompSMS
  • Kayak: shopping for travel
  • MeeboIM: for occasional IM access
  • Metal Detector: funky
  • tracking money
  • Multicon: a must have, for creating smaller icons and shortcuts
  • NewsRob: not my favorit RSS reader, but synched with Google Reader
  • NewsRoom: my favorite RSS reader, but not synched with Google Reader
  • OpenTable: for booking dinner
  • Pandora: when I want the music picked for me, and streamed
  • PayPal: for access to transactions
  • Peep: Twitter
  • PureCalendar: widgets for displaying schedule and tasks
  • Qik: doesn’t work well (yet) for video conference, but is good for video record and publish
  • ESPN ScroeCenter: good access to sports scores
  • SheadSpreet Pro: spreadsheet program on my phone
  • Taxi Magic: for booking a cab
  • Ted Mobile: watching TED videos; wish I could queue and download
  • TripIT: use it for all my travel details (and for keeping trackof other people’s travel arrangements)
  • Urbanspoon: same as the iPhone app
  • WaveSecure: if I lose my phone, I can track it or kill it remotely
  • WeatherBug: better weather app and widgets
  • Wordfeud: if I wanted to play Scrabble like games with random strangers that sometime stakes days or weeks to finish (I usually lose interest)
  • World Series of Poker: actual, online head to head if I am mindlessly looking to play while on the train
  • Yelp: Yelp
  • YouMail: all my voicemail is translated and sent to phone; better translation than Google Voice

There are a few other apps, but these are the ones currently installed and mostly being used.

Battery life is the biggest drain (pun intended), and I find that I usually carry around a second, charged battery to swap out. I bought a charger that lets me charge the spare and the phone at the same time.   I generally leave Bluetooth, GPS, WiFi and background sync disabled, unless I need it or don’t care about preserving the battery.

4G sounds great, but is generally worthless to me (it’s still spotty, even in Chicago where the network is “deployed”, and at the end of the day I find I don’t need it that often. I do have the Hotspot configured to turn on when I want to tether my iPad, but 3G is fast enough (I can’t believe I’m saying that).

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