Play nice together, kiddos

Nice Q&A with Jessica Stillman from GigaOM on TechNexus and curating collaboration between startups and leading corporations:

When you’re young, it’s natural to think of grown ups as party-spoiling bores. But wait a few years until you’re a fellow adult and that uncool elder brother or once sedate seeming older cousin suddenly becomes fascinating and fun loving. Adults generally aren’t stodgy to other adults.


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Appreciating the teachers of Chicago Tech Academy

Grab a copy of this week’s Forbes magazine for JJ Colao’s great story about Chicago Tech Academy. It’s fitting recognition for the school during a week the nation celebrates teachers:

“We’re essentially trying to create 21st-century learners by integrating technology and entrepreneurship into all of the classes,” explains Pat Riley, 26, who teaches audio and visual editing at the school.

Much of the credit, Hancock emphasizes, goes to the “amazing professionals” on staff. Chicago Tech prefers to recruit teachers with diverse backgrounds. Pat Riley spent three years doing p.r. and business development for a Chicago law firm. Dan Wheadon, who teaches information technology, left his job as a software engineer at Intel. Teacher bonuses, unheard of in Chicago public schools, encourage integrating field trips and guest speakers into students’ lessons.

In the third year, Chicago Tech Academy is in  the 96th percentile of ALL public schools in Chicago in meeting or exceeding the pace at which kids learn the basics of their education. That is directly a result of incredible teachers and their innovative approach to instruction.

At a school where students cross several gang territories in their daily commute, Chicago Tech teens sit down with the likes of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, pollster John Zogby and Hospira CIO Daphne Jones. “We meet some pretty important people all the time,” says Chris Hayes, 17, who spoke ahead of Ballmer at an event in 2010. “It’s not even a big deal anymore.”

Check out the full story on Forbes.

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I’m 40, so my wide-eyed optimism has crow’s feet at its edges

Debuting my new Forbes column today; from my first contribution:

Am I getting too old for this entrepreneur’s game, maybe too cynical? Has my risk tolerance receded with my hairline? Have I become a midlife cliché after 25 years of being the youngest, most impassioned guy in the room?

Screw all that. Everything is prelude. I’ve built some good organizations, but there’s still a really great company (or two or three) in me. I’ve known THAT with absolute certainty since I first put on that oversized suit and set out in search of customers 25 years ago.

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Comptia shines some light on ChiTech Academy

A great summary of last week’s Chicago Tech Academy student lottery by the folks at Comptia, who as an organization has been the single greatest supporter of this new school startup. It simply would not have been possible to create this school and see the successful outcomes without Comptia’s vision, curriculum assistance, and financial support.

“I’m learning things I didn’t even know were possible,” he said. “I have good friends, I’m in a good place to be, and I’m surrounded by staff that actually cares,” says freshman Austin Lambert, who spoke with ChiTech supporters last week before the class of 2016 was chosen.

Creating confidence, passion and the ability to effectively communicate is a key part of the school’s mission.

Terry Howerton, chairman of the school’s board of directors, counseled those who didn’t make the list to hold onto their places on the waiting list, and those who did to make sure they were committed to the extra work ChiTech requires.

“This school is hard,” he said. “This school takes more hours of your day, and more of your commitment… But make a commitment to us, and we’ll make this commitment back to you: We will work our darndest for the next four years to make sure that you meet people you would never have had a chance to meet otherwise, learn skills that you would never otherwise been able to be exposed to, and have a successful future set out before you because of your participation in this program.”

If you’re interested in helping support this dynamic learning experience for Chicago students who much need your involvement, visit the school webpage or contact me and I will hook you up.

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Chi Tech Academy featured in Inc Magazine

Nice write up by Christina DesMarais in Inc Magazine about Chicago Tech Academy:

If you think the next generation of start-up founders will hail from Stanford, Harvard, or some other university cranking out MBAs, you might want to expand your thinking. There’s a 3-year-old inner-city high school in Chicago—filled mostly with poor African American youth—grooming students who know how to think, act, and speak like entrepreneurs.

Tomorrow night we’ll find our fourth freshman class and help them start an adventure that connects then to a world of opportunity. This school is only possible because of the incredible support of mentors, teachers and so many that have played a role in helping the students imagine success.

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Advice for entrepreneurs…

I admit, sometimes it’s a hell of a lot easier to give advice than to follow it myself, but, FWIW:

Respect risk but don’t fear it. Recruit exceptional people. Fail fast, and recognize new opportunities in the wake. Build lean and scalable. Listen to people who make you and your idea better; ignore the people who don’t. Create something of value people want to buy.

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We’re about to find the Class of 2016 at Chicago Tech Academy

Three years ago we created the Chicago Tech Academy as a charter high school for urban kids, to foster technology and entrepreneurial aptitude in kids that much needed the outreach.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to see the progress that this school has made… in part because of more than 100 local tech entrepreneurs and executives that have gotten involved as mentors and supporters, hosting field trips and sponsoring internships.

I hope you’ll join us next Thursday, February 23, at 5:30pm at the Westin to witness the student lottery for our next freshman class… more than 2,000 KIDS HAVE APPLIED!  The word has spread about the success of this school.

It’s a dramatic and bitter sweet night, as hundreds of families wait to hear their name called for one of only 150 spots in the Class of 2016. And while there’s some sadness for the kids we turn away, the night is fun and exciting, and I’m sure you’ll be inspired.

If you’ve heard about our efforts with this new school, next Thursday is a great way for you to learn more.  If you haven’t yet heard about our special project, take a few minutes and watch the video at … We made this video following last year’s student lottery.

Please RSVP for next Thursday, or drop me an email if you would like to discuss getting your or your company involved with Chicago Tech Academy.


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A transition for me and the ITA

A few months ago I asked the Board of the Illinois Technology Association to begin a search for new leadership, and I am thrilled that they have completed that task. Effective immediately, I’m stepping down as Chairman of the ITA, and my day to day volunteer efforts there.

I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 15 years old, which is to say most of my professional and personal life has been fused. I’ve never known normal working hours, never left my work at the office, and have generally always been on the clock. Occasionally, my work allows me flexibility that benefits my family. Too often, my work has spread me thin, at the expense of my family.

I was raised to value public service, and my time with the ITA has been a good outlet for servant leadership. Sometimes, my for-profit businesses have suffered from my volunteer efforts, but I have few regrets.

My sister died too young, leaving behind two beautiful girls for my Mom to protect and raise. Now, in the wake of my Mom’s unexpected death (also too young at 60), I’m making more life changes, partially to spend time with family, and partially because life is too short to stand still. I’m more interested in creating, and less interested in coasting along with what I’ve already built.

I pulled a broad group of people together in 2005 to create the ITA, and a few months later recruited my partner Fred Hoch to join and help me lead the organization. Our goal was to build a more connected, collaborative tech community in the region. Today, nearly 700 member companies get real value out of this organization, and collectively the organization is able to do very good work in the community. I’m particularly proud of the various initiatives that take a long-term view of how talent will develop and flow into Chicago over the next decade.

I’m leaving the organization in the best financial health it has been, though I am also proud that we started the ITA with almost no capital, and managed through nearly seven years of very strong growth (in some very challenging times). There are a bevy of leaders at the table, some of whom can easily step up to fill the gap, but in truth the ITA long ago grew beyond the little startup with a couple of guys guiding it.

Just like most startups, there comes a time when the founders step aside to make room for other people to take things to the next level, and I’ve overstayed my time with ITA. I’m glad Jim Gagnard has stepped up to take the mantle… He has a great history taking over for founders and leading companies into the growth stage, and is well suited for the job.

I’ll remain involved and supportive of ITA as Chairman Emeritus, but my primary community service around Chicago will be focused on the Chicago Tech Academy and seeing that through to success. I cofounded that school in part as an example to encourage others in our community to take on servant leadership, and find ways to help other people. I’m of better use to that effort today, than I am of need at the ITA.

There are interesting new venture ideas percolating, and I’ll continue to support TechNexus and the venture collaboration that has happened there. With more than 100 successful startups grown within those walls, there is much that can be done there.

So, while my family steps up to take the highest priority in my life, and my time leading ITA comes to an end, I’m not moving on, just moving forward. Stay tuned.

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