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It's Chicago innovation - big thinking, great impact
by Chicago Sun-Times 
Innovation in the development of new products or services can arrive like a thunder clap or gradually, like water filling a cup left outside in a rain shower.

Innovation of both kinds has powered the Chicago-area economy from its inception, John Edwardson, chairman of CDW Corp., told about 270 people at the third annual Chicago Innovation Awards ceremony at the Illinois Institute of Technology on Thursday.

"Chicago has a lot to offer the country and the world," Edwardson said, and then he alluded to two Innovation Award honorees active in nanotechnology. "We gave them the skyscraper, the cell phone and now this astonishing work in molecular electronics. The innovations themselves may be getting smaller, but the thinking just gets bigger and bigger, and it's happening here in Chicago."

CDW, a $5 billion-a-year company based in Vernon Hills, sells a broad range of brand-name technology products, including computer hardware and peripherals. The company is routinely listed among the best firms to work for in the United States based on employee attitudes toward work environment, compensation and advancement.

"A corporate culture of mutual respect and mutual reward is the right way to lay the foundation for our company's continued innovation and success," Edwardson said. All CDW employees receive stock options, and if certain "big, hairy, aggressive goals" are met, employees split a multi-million bonus pool.

Ten companies were honored at the awards program: Acco Brands, for its Big Mouth Filer system to meet organizational needs of students; Arryx Inc., nanotechnology applications; Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, breakthrough organizational concept focused on clearing trades; the American Cancer Society, comprehensive patient-care information services at Northwestern Memorial Hospital; Orbitz for Business, Web-based travel management for business; nPhase, machine-to-machine communications; TriTeq, electro-mechanical lock-and-key control system for vending machines; Middleby Marshall, WOW-brand commercial pizza oven; Digital Kitchen, innovative concept in commercial films for advertisers.

In addition, Mark Ratner, chemistry professor at Northwestern University and the acknowledged father of molecular electronics, was presented with the Pioneer Visionary Award.

The Chicago Innovation Awards were developed by the Chicago Sun-Times and new-product consultancy Kuczmarski & Associates, Chicago, and sponsored by software innovator Microsoft Corp., health insurer UniCare, chewing gum maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., communications firm Slack, Barshinger, and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

IIT gets Knapp Entrepreneurship Center

The Illinois Institute of Technology has embarked on a new center for technology and research-based entrepreneurship, backed by a $1 million donation to the South Side university from Chicago businessman and philanropist Jules F. Knapp.

IIT President Lew Collens announced the venture Thursday at the third annual Chicago Innovation Award program at IIT. He said the Jules F. Knapp Entrepreneurship Center will serve as an umbrella organization to strengthen existing IIT plans and foster new IIT technology-focused entrepreneurship programs.

Knapp's $1 million gift has leveraged another $1 million in matching funds provided by Chicago businessmen Robert Pritzker and Robert Galvin, for $2 million total.

"I've always wanted to do something special to support entrepreneurship at IIT," said Knapp. "Businesses are what help to make our country great and help a city like Chicago thrive. This new Center will provide relevant and practical entrepreneurial experiences for IIT students across all academic departments of the university."

Knapp, a member of the IIT Board of Trustees, started his own paint business, United Coatings, in 1962, and was among the first paint producers to market to mass merchandisers such as Wal-Mart. In 1994, United Coatings merged with Pratt and Lambert, which was purchased by Sherwin-Williams in 1996.

Reprinted from the Chicago Sun-Times, October 11, 2004.

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