Wednesday, February 28, 2001

The Cyber Scene in Chicago ~ by Kelly Markham

My first stop, February 6, was Prairiefire, a business-plan competition sponsored by McKinsey & Company and First Tuesday.  Prairiefire, an initiative started 6 months ago, is designed to help entrepreneur’s kick-start or grow their new economy businesses in the Midwest.  The competition received a total of 600 business plans that was narrowed down to 50 semi-finalists and tonight they announced the winners.

I sat in a room of about 300 to hear that the winning business plan belonged to Telcom 21, a broadband infrastructure equipment provider, based in Naperville, Illinois.  Telcom 21 took home $100,000 in cash, $25,000 in consulting services from eBlast Ventures, and $50,000 in computer equipment from Compaq.  The two runners-up were EnTech Engineering, based in St. Louis, MO which provides data on the destructibility of bridges and Opto Electronics, based in Mahomet, IL that has found a technique for assembling components in fiber-optic networks.  Both will receive $20,000 in cash and $25,000 in consulting services and computer hardware. 

This event did much to show that the spirit on entrepreneurism in the Midwest is alive and well.  I think David Jacobson, the leader of First Tuesday Chicago, summed up the night best when he said, "the real winners here are not the 3 individuals who took home checks today, but the whole technology community."

On February 21, I packed up my palm pilot and headed over to Mobile Wednesday.  Mobile Wednesday, is an event for executives, entrepreneurs, investors and consultants to meet and discuss emerging technologies and the future of the wireless internet.  The theme revolved around M-School with Douglas Lemont, Professor at DePaul University, instructing the crowd of 200 about Chicago's place in the mobile economy.  "Chicago will be a national leader in the U.S. when it comes to wireless products and we will make money," said Lemont.  Representatives from Centerpost Corporation, Sun  Microsystems, Accenture, Expanets, Fleishman Hillard, and Motorola were all present waiting to hear about the next Killer Application. 

I closed the month, February 28, at Kustom's.  Kustom's was home to Chicago's first PinkSlip party and was organized by turn-about* inc, a not-for-profit company formed to spur the success of technology companies, workers, and entrepreneurs.  The organizers, all ladies dressed in pink, encouraged people to meet in small groups so job seekers could speak directly to those filling positions.  The exchange was short-and-sweet, just enough to get business cards, resumes and job details.

The youthful crowd peaked at about 500 and the night turned into a beer guzzling and pizza munching party.  Many attendees were still employed and the networking opportunities were endless.

The next PinkSlip party will be March 21st.

Kelly Markham  is the founder of, a web portal for Chicago’s internet community.  Launch! Chicago hopes to encourage community involvement, improve access to public resources and accelerate growth of startup initiatives.