Let’s get to work…

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life — It goes on” — Robert Frost

My family is the most important thing in my life. No business, association, school, incubator or other endeavor in which I’m involved comes close. We’ve now lost two cornerstones of our family at an all too young age, but life does go on. It especially goes on for two young girls whose futures remain bright despite the sadness in their past.

I took off most of the past two months from work and community projects to support my family.

But I’m returning next week, with a new agenda and a renewed commitment to pursuits that matter most. Life is — clearly — too short to be timid, too short to avoid risk, too short to lack boldness, and too damn short to care what critics may say.

Ready….

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Sadness

It took seven short weeks from diagnosis for cancer to capture my Mom’s life, nearly every day of which I was able to spend with her. The last faces she looked upon belonged to two young girls she adored, and the last thing she heard was all our love surrounding her. She joins my young sister, now, in the tight embraces of our family, right where our hearts meet.

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A shifting of my priorities…

I’ve been mostly silent for the past three weeks, and absent from community events. I’ve disconnected as much as possible from the routine, and shifted focus to my family. Here’s why…

Four years ago, my 30-year-old sister Hilliary died after a courageous battle with a rare and insidious cancer. It was the first time in my life that I completely checked out of work, business building and my various projects, and took a few months to be with my Mom and the two beautiful young girls my sister left behind. The past four years have been difficult for the family, but life goes on, and the memories of my sister light the way. During her illness, no one was stronger, more loving or supportive than my Mom, and she remains the steady rock tethering my young nieces as they grow.

Three weeks ago, my Mom suddenly fell ill, and has been diagnosed with an advanced stage lung cancer. That terrible disease that ripped through the heart of our family has returned. Once again, I’m curtailing many activities and centering with my Mom and my nieces.

We responded quickly, and headed to Houston to the MD Anderson Cancer Center to start treatment right away. The past two weeks are a blur of activity, doctors and treatments, though at the same time it seems an eternity since this began. There are many weeks and months ahead, with much more of the same.

I will remain engaged with work, much of which can still be done while I’m away. There is plenty of quiet time where I’m able to think, especially about the bigger and more important initiatives on my agenda, and I’m oddly more productive with some distance and perspective. Some exciting stuff has been underway for TechNexus and Chicago Tech Academy, and good work continues at ITA and various projects where I’m playing a role. I’m lucky to work with many great people on all my projects, and they have stepped up to fill the gaps quite well. I’m also now surrounded by family and close friends who provide incredible support.

My Mom is the most amazing person I’ve ever known… truly the materfamilias… she’s faced adversity and challenge at nearly every turn in her life: divorced, single mom, widowed, loss of a child, raising grandkids – yet she taught us all to take adversity in stride and grow from it. Somehow, my Mom always emerged as a more whole person after each little piece of her was taken by one of life’s challenges.

The care and compassion she showed though my sister’s illness rivaled the care of angels, and the courage she gave to the kids and our family during that time came straight from Heaven. Now it is our turn to help my Mom wage and win a battle that threatens to take her from us far too soon. We intend to win that battle, and I can think of no greater warrior to have on point than Mom.

I may occasionally blog or post about the progress and treatments (some experimental and cutting edge stuff from these doctors). Or, I might not. I may post about some of my various work initiatives, or even simple or mundane topics, often just for distraction. I may occasionally be silent and absent from the community altogether. It’s sad when things like this come along and remind you of the perspective you once gained, but slowly let slip away, the last time life through a curveball.

 

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How I’m spending some of my time lately…

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.

 

ContextMedia

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.

TechNexus

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:

TechNexus

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.

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Trademarks matter, and this is exactly why they exist

Today Timelines Inc., a growing young company based inside of Chicago’s TechNexus, filed a trademark infringement suit against Facebook. Timelines has operated timelines.com, a site that allows people to post pictures and notes to tell the story of their lives and the story of events around them. They have a registered trademark, and even facebook.com/timelines had been setup and enjoyed by users and fans of the timelines.com site. The folks at Timelines Inc invested five years and $3m building their product and brand.

Facebook has decided to call their new, enhanced profile feature (rolling out now, and over the coming weeks to all users) a “Timeline”. Not only does this concept and trademark name pretty directly conflict with the Timelines.com site’s own intellectual property, Facebook was so egregious about taking over the name that they even redirected facebook.com/timelines to their new product (just seizing control away from tiny Timelines Inc without warning or notice). At the top of timelines.com, they still have a link to their old Facebook.com/timelines fan page, which Facebook hijacked and now uses to promote their new Timelines feature.

This is a case of Goliath and David, with the world’s largest social network not just rolling out a new feature that’s remarkably similar, but intentionally doing so in a way that threatens the very existence of another company. Sometimes intellectual property lawsuits in the tech industry can seem a little capricious… but this case is very clearly about the confusion caused by a giant company throwing their weight around with no regard for the small entrepreneur. If not for this lawsuit, Facebook would have steamrolled over this little company, and probably succeed at erasing it’s very existence. Ideas matter, intellectual property is an asset, and trademarks have to mean something, even to the big guys.

TechCrunch and many other national outlets are now covering the story.

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Securing Trade Secrets in a New First-to-File Patent Process

The tech industry has a paramount interest in patents and protecting intellectual property, and it’s worth a review of the recent, rather historical, changes to patent law.

Pres. Obama signed The America Invents Act, AIA, on Sept. 16, 2011, at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va. Three major provisions of AIA significantly change the United States patent process.

AIA allows direct funding of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Congress will assign a budget for the office, but the patent fees will be placed in escrow and that money can be released when it exceeds the allocation.

This new law sets up a review process for patent applications. Third parties may question the validity of a patent for nine months after issuance.

The most important change, however, is “first-to-file,” which makes the U.S system similar to other nations and eliminates “first-to-invent.”

Different parties of interest have presented arguments pro and con about this legislation. Many commenters have questioned the effects on shop, garage and backyard innovators. One widely claimed drawback facing independent, individual inventors is their lack of funds to complete the “reduction to practice” requirements of patent law. A functional operation of the patent, beyond the conceptual state, must be demonstrated to show either actual or constructive practice, which are legal “terms of art.” This often requires capital funding, and disclosure may be necessary to convince lenders or investors.

Under first-to-invent, an inventor could prove with good documentation that a practical invention had existed before a patent thief filed. With first-to-file, the process can be hi-jacked any time. A co-worker, relative, employee, investor, etc., may find opportunities to seize a concept and patent it first, especially if that person can access quicker funding or superior developmental facilities in order to complete the reduction to practice. This burdens inventors with the need to protect ideas from all potential patent thieves.

Internal and external security for patentable concepts now require stricter controls by inventors. The following six suggestions should matter to a tech entrepreneur or company with any degree of protected intellectual property:

  1. Non-disclosure agreements must be re-written by legal counsel. Similar documents, such as confidentiality, proprietary information and secrecy agreements should be re-considered now, and all such contracts must be mutual. Employee and partnership forms require immediate updates.
  2. A “need to know” basis must be uniformly imposed to restrict access to information by non-key personnel.
  3. Different forms and types of knowledge about patentable concepts should be kept in separate storage, even on different computers. Drawings should be in one location, written descriptions in another. Working models must be separate from documents. All information technology resources must be password protected, isolated, and physically locked down.
  4. Loose lips may sink patentable ships. Idle discussions, any chatter, about concepts must stop.
  5. Presentations at meetings with venture capital people or bankers, suppliers, sub-contractors, etc., should proceed from a carefully controlled hierarchy of how much and what types of information to disclose. Presence of expert legal counsel is highly advisable.
  6. First-to-file has no legal precedent in U.S. courts, so do not “trust” outside parties. Protect all information.

Be cautious and file as soon as practical. And if you need help understanding the value of your patents and intellectual property, there are no better experts than OceanTomo, based here in Chicago.

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Getting a grip on the big picture

Real perspective:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~ Steve Jobs

 

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