Sunday, August 24, 2014

Designer Maria Pinto Puts Chicago Fashion on the Map

Maria Pinto will be hosting a VIP Lab, “For the Love of Draping,” on October 13, 2014 at 3:00 p.m.  VIP Labs are open to Members at many CIW Membership levels.  To learn more about becoming a CIW Member, visit

That red dress.  It’s the dress—“fiery red”, as The New York Times described it—worn by Michelle Obama as she and President Elect Obama greeted the Bushes at the White House.  It’s what cemented the First Lady’s status as a style icon, and that ushered in—at the very least—a new era of Chicago fashion in the White House.
Michelle Obama poses in front of
the White House with President Barack
Obama in the signature red dress designed by Maria Pinto.

And it’s the type of fashion statement that its designer, Chicago’s own Maria Pinto, wished more Chicagoans would embrace.

“I think [fashion is] underutilized as a tool that drives our lives and can have an interesting impact on whatever we’re doing,” Pinto said.  To her, as well as to many of her most famous clients, fashion is about “self confidence, self expression [and] empowerment.”

That’s one aspect of fashion that Pinto says Mrs. Obama picked up early on.   Pinto started working with Mrs. Obama shortly after Barack Obama took office as Senator, where Pinto viewed firsthand Mrs. Obama’s pragmatic approach to fashion: choose a wide range of pieces, appropriate for everything from small gatherings to black tie political functions, to be at your fingertips, freeing up time for what “really matters”.

“She was very deliberate about her selections, but at the base of it she had a wardrobe, a closet that was ready for it,” Pinto described. 

Pinto’s classic, chic designs have rounded out the closets of other notable personalities, including Oprah Winfrey and Brooke Shields.  With her latest venture, M2057, she’s bringing her minimalist, fitted pieces to the general public.  The collection launched in spring of this year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and has been featured at pop-up events across the city.  She’ll be sharing her experiences as a designer with M2057 and past collections at her October 13 CIW Lab, when she’ll teach the fundamentals of draping, a process and form she describes as similar to sculpture.

Maria Pinto unveiled a collection under her new M2057 label this year.
“What’s cool about draping and pattern-making is [you say], ‘Here are the foundation rules.’  And then what really happens is you break them,” she said of how great designs are formed.

All of which brings us back to our original question: How does Chicago—a city that certainly doesn’t hold a reputation as fashion-forward, or even perhaps fashionable—begin to embrace these fundamentals of fashion?  To Pinto’s mind, it’s “Midwestern practicality” that holds people back.  But building a wardrobe, as Mrs. Obama realized, is an entirely practical endeavor, one that allows for “self-expression” and “self-confidence.”

In fact, “[i]t’s more than practical,” Pinto underlined.

Friday, August 22, 2014

CIW Co-op Member Steve Collens Leads New Hub for Health Innovation

CIW Co-op member Steve Collens is poised to do for health technologies what he did for digital tech in Chicago.  The 1871 "instigator", as his resume puts it, will draw on his experiences helping to launch Chicago’s central hub of entrepreneurial innovation as CEO of Matter, an entrepreneurial incubator for “next-generation health IT, medical device and biopharma companies,” according to Matter’s website.
CIW Co-op member Steve Collens steps into a new
role as CEO of Matter, Chicago's health
technology incubator.
Matter has been in the works for a year and a half, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel first began inquiring about the need for a space for health entrepreneurship. In many ways, however, Collens’ appointment as CEO of Matter represents a 15-year journey. Prior to launching 1871, Collens spent 10 years at Abbott, where he saw first-hand how large-scale corporations supported life science and health R&D.

It was that type of support for health innovation that Emanuel, Collens and Matter’s founding team identified as missing in the broader Chicago community—at least outside of Fortune 500 companies like Abbott Laboratories.  With emerging technologies in patient data management, biopharma and medical devices, the team believes health care is on the edge of technological change, but “there isn’t a center of this community; there isn’t a hub,” Collens explained.

“There isn’t an easy way for people to meet each other and make connections,” he said further of health entrepreneurship.

Collens began the process of forming Matter much the way he did when helping to launch 1871: by visiting incubators across the country.  But where he found a vast ecosystem of digital tech communities, from San Francisco to New York, health tech hubs were sparse.  Often, he found that these companies focused “entirely…on health IT companies” and rarely were they “community-focused,” as Mayor Emanuel and Collens intended Matter to be.

The reason for this lack of health tech centers?  It stems from the myriad regulations associated with healthcare and medicine.  From HIPAA regulations on patient data sharing to healthcare laws to FDA rulings, the industry, although ripe for innovation, is covered in red tape.

Despite that, Collens sees a lot of room for growth in the industry, and he notes that Matter plans to combat many of the setbacks that entrepreneurs could face when developing technologies with classes, workshops and mentorships.

“We’ll spend a lot of our time curating relationships between entrepreneurs and innovators and the experts who they can learn from,” he described of the model Matter will put in place.

Applications to membership at Matter opened mid-August, and Collens hopes to grow Matter to include approximately 200 members.  As with 1871, Collens aims to make Matter the go-to place for entrepreneurs and investors to meet and form business relationships, providing a platform for growth for Chicago’s health entrepreneurs.  In describing this goal, he draws parallels to 1871.

1871 has injected enthusiasm and energy into a community that was already here.  It just was less well organized, and it was harder for people to make connections and meet each other and meet mentors—and get attention.  That's similar to what we're doing now with Matter for the health technology community," he said.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

CIW Q&A: Backyard Brain's Greg Gage

CIW 2014 speaker and Lab host Greg Gage is bringing neuroscience to the everyday individual with Backyard Brains, the organization he co-founded with fellow University of Michigan grad student Tim Marzullo.  Backyard Brains brings neuroscience education to the everyday individual—of all ages—using hands-on experimental techniques and relying on neuroscience lab equipment.

Gage got his start as an electrical engineer, switching gears to neuroscience after attending a lecture that sparked his interest in the electrical wirings in our brains. Gage will be bringing his accessible neuroscience teachings to the CIW stage for Education: The End of School October 15 and will be hosting a CIW Lab October 16.  We talked to Gage about his passion for the mind, why cockroaches are “amazing creatures” and what attendees should expect at his CIW events.
CIW 2014 speaker Greg Gage.
What’s the impetus for Backyard Brains?  What keeps your team working toward increasing neuroscience knowledge and education for the public?
People have a very, very limited knowledge about neuroscience and how their brains work.  People have never even really heard of how a neuron sounds like—it has a very distinct sound.  People don’t know how neurons encode information…. People know more about the structure of DNA, and people know the double helix.  That’s a pretty advanced thing in science, but I think the public generally understands that.  So we’d like that to happen in neuroscience as well.

So, is there a phrase in neuroscience that you think should be the “double helix” of neuroscience—the type of phrase any layperson can use in passing and understand the basic science behind?
Rate coding is one of the things—I would love to see people understand that, which is that you perceive the outside world at the rate at which neurons fire.  It can be your nose from smelling something, it can be from your eyes from seeing something, from the hair in your ears from hearing something.  All that gets immediately transferred into a language of spikes—spikes are like the Euro, it’s the common currency that the entire brain works on.

All of this is a pretty heavy neuroscience focus. What was it like to transition from electrical engineering to neuroscience?  Did your technical skills feed into your studies?
Yes, very much so. The brain is an electrical organ, so the first thing you learn about when you come to neuroscience is about the voltage and currents that allow for electrical [activities] to occur, which can be difficult for a lot of biologists to understand.  From an electrical engineering standpoint, that stuff is pretty straightforward. 

It definitely seems like your own equipment—the Spikerbox—comes from a blend of your engineering and neuroscience backgrounds. (This device records spikes or action potentials, which in layman’s terms means that the device shows “how cells in the brain work to communicate”.) Talk a little bit about how you came on that invention.
That’s neural engineering…. I was in a neuroscience lab [in graduate school].  We were using tools in our lab, but because of the background that I had, I could see the $40,000 equipment we had probably could be made a little cheaper.  [My colleagues and I] used to go out to classrooms…. Throughout that, we were coming up with ideas to make neuroscience more reachable to the public.  One of the issues we had was that in our labs we were doing this cool stuff; we were actually recording the brain cells of living brain tissues.  And then in the classes we were doing models of brains and talking about it and we were doing everything with some type of—like a jump rope would be the action potential and a bunch of Nerf balls would be the neurotransmitters.  It was cool, but I suspect [the kids] weren’t learning anything.

So in 2009, we came up with a self-imposed engineering challenge: Can you record a spike for less than $100 dollars?  We set to work to build a brain recording kit.  The result of that was the Spikerbox.

How did you go from designing Spikerbox to launching Backyard Brains in 2009?
At some time, I switched over from actually going to go and pursue my postdoc somewhere to actually doing this little side project, which turned out to be taking up more and more of my time because people really wanted to have these kits.  We launched the company in 2009, and we haven’t looked back since.

The goal of this company is to make anything that you find in an advanced tech lab at a graduate school accessible to anyone.  If you’re creative and you have an interest, there should be no limit to what you can do.

One thing I noted about your website—that I feel I have to bring up—is that you seem to be dedicated to demonstrating neurological concepts using cockroaches.  What is the neurological fascination with the roach?
The cockroach—they’re amazing creatures, amazing creatures.  We have a large colony of roaches we keep for doing experiments with.  We use them for a whole bunch of different things—we can record how they see things, how they feel things.

Let’s end with a little bit about your upcoming Lab, “Neuroscience for the 99%”. Will you be making the Spikerbox and all your other neuroscience tools available to participants?
The workshop that we’re going to do we’ll go through in absolute detail, and you’ll see the spikes, you’ll hear what they sound like.  We’ll actually measure it—we’ll measure how fast the neurons fire.  We’ll measure all of these things using…human-electric physiology.

It’ll be hands-on…. We’ll work as a team.  I’m not going to do the experiments; they’re going to do the experiments.  We’ll discuss them together as a group.  They are the neuroscientists.  They’ll be the electrophysiologists.  They’ll be the anesthesiologists.  They will be the data collectors.  They will be the scientists in the end and be able to think critically about what they’ve just seen and come up with some hypotheses.  It will be a fun experience.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Music Dealers CEO Eric Sheinkop Transforms Independent Artists' Careers

Music Dealers CEO Eric Sheinkop’s career in music licensing started with a McDonald’s commercial. When the rapper he had helped book didn’t show to a recording session, Sheinkop stepped behind the mic, becoming the voice of McDonald’s. The experience didn’t spark a rap career, but it did spawn an aha moment of sorts for Sheinkop.

“That was my first experience with licensing,” he said. “The checks just started coming. I didn’t understand why I kept on getting checks for something I did six months before. It turned out that’s what royalties are. Royalties are now the most lucrative thing we have in our business.”
Eric Sheinkop (center left) discussed the future of Chicago Music at
a July CIW Co-op event at The Underground.  
Today, he’s built a global music licensing conglomerate around that epiphany. Music Dealers has the world’s largest catalog of independent music, with over 20,000 artists represented.  These songs can be licensed to filmmakers looking for a song for a pivotal scene, shared with individuals on the hunt for new talent or provided for commercial use.

It’s easy to see how a company like Coca-Cola—whose iconic song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” is just as much of a siren call to pop drinkers today as it was nearly 35 years ago—can effectively use music to build and bolster their brand. But Microsoft? Sheinkop stresses that all brands can benefit from using music as a way to connect to customers—which means, yes, even a company like Microsoft should be working on its advertising sound. (And, of course, it is. Both Coca-Cola and Microsoft work with Music Dealers.)

These commercial placements also, as Sheinkop learned back with that McDonald’s ad, benefit the musicians.

“It’s a placement in a television show or a television commercial or a movie that really is the catalyst in their careers,” he said, adding that the musicians Music Dealers represents are “at the tipping point.”

Just who are these emerging artists Music Dealers is representing? They’re primarily independent artists who are well known within their own musical “territory.” They are also from all over the world. With musicians from over 85 different countries, one of the company’s many specialties is finding local talent for events across the U.S. and overseas. Gone are the days when a musician needed to relocate to New York, LA or Nashville to jumpstart a career. Now, provided a musician can pass a two-tiered litmus test—proof of global licensing rights and a song with high production values—his music can be placed in Music Dealers’ catalog.

Where the song travels after approved by Music Dealers can be commercial placement, as in the examples above, but it may also be used for myriad other purposes, including to find musicians gigs. Sheinkop and his team work with cities across the globe to provide local talent for events. They’ve put together lineups for Sochi venues during the 2014 Winter Olympics, curated musicians for concerts across Brazil during this summer’s World Cup and are currently working to showcase Chicago talent in a new summer concert series at the Hancock Building.

Sheinkop sees that last effort as an opportunity to build Chicago’s music scene—and yet another chance to prove that musicians no longer have to go to New York or LA to make it big.

“They want people to feel a sense of community. [The Hancock] really is Chicago’s building…. And they’re firm about we want to show Chicago musicians, we want to support local acts,” Sheinkop said.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Table XI's Josh Golden Helps to Bring Chicago Organizations Online

Helmed by serial entrepreneur Josh Golden, Chicago web development company Table XI is poised to take over Chicago’s online presence.  The 12-year-old company has made its mark with sites of cultural significance to the Second City—sites like, YMCA Chicago's registration website and Chicago Ideas. 

And just this weekend, The Field Museum unveiled a redesign of its own site—completed, of course, by Golden and his team of web developers, researchers and strategists. It’s a fully responsive site—industry lingo for a site that functions equally well on your iPhone or Android screen as it does your laptop—and it features a blend of current exhibits (“Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair—closing September 7!”), ongoing programs and media (become a “citizen scientist”), and archival information (holding “1800 linear feet of paper material”).

Table XI's Founder and CEO Josh Golden makes responsive sites
 for Chicago's most culturally significant organizations.
This last bit—archives—is one that pops up in many of Table XI’s most high-profile projects.  From museum archives like those of the Field to PechaKucha’s and Chicago Ideas Week’s own video archives to Roger Ebert’s full catalog of movie reviews, “unlocking the archives is actually a trope” that most any Table XI employee could speak to—and one that the company is continuing to pursue in its projects.

“We’re looking for other organizations who need help making sense of long history of data,” Founder and CEO Golden said.

“CIW has actually been around long enough to have this massive treasure trove,” Golden said more particularly of Table XI’s efforts to highlight CIW’s upcoming events alongside its past Talks.  “It is a remarkable content engine and taking that and making it interesting and salient and relevant [and accessible] going forward is going to be fun.”
CIW's redesigned homepage is one example
of Table XI's approach to highlighting new events alongside
archival information.
Table XI’s approach to website redesign and development is one that has emerged from the company’s roots as a website analysis consultancy.  When clients began to ask for more than just facts and figures on its site visitors, Golden shifted the company into a hybrid analytics and development organization.  Even as Table XI has taken on more and more development projects, research, Golden stresses, has continued to be a “growing part of our organization,” especially as consumer demands have shifted over the past decade.

“Just simply building something isn’t necessarily the challenge anymore,” Golden said. “It’s building the thing that really resonates with users and that’s intuitive to use and invites them to interact with the solution, not just being forced to interact with it, as they might have once [had to].”

You can learn more about Table XI's approach to digital strategy—as well as just what Legos has to do with web developmentin their CIW Lab "Learn Agile with Legos" Wednesday, October 15 from 3 to 6 p.m.

Meet the Lab Host: Chicago Inventors Organization & Chicago Student Invention Convention

Meet the Lab Host gives you an inside look at the innovative, creative, forward-thinking Chicago organizations hosting CIW 2014 Labs.  To learn more about 2014 programming, consult our online schedule.  Tickets go on sale to the general public September 2, 2014.

Join the Chicago Inventors Organization and Chicago Student Invention Convention to invent, incubate and pitch October 16 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

The Chicago Student Invention Convention works with Chicago students to promote creative thinking, foster innovation and build prototypes. The Chicago Inventors Organization (CIO) focuses on underserved independent inventors. Both CIO and Chicago Student Invention Convention share similar goals: to inspire, support and accelerate great inventions. We talked to the two organizations about how they will inspire innovation and inventions at their upcoming CIW Lab. 

In three sentences or fewer, what is your organization's manifesto or mission?
The Chicago Student Invention Convention inspires curiosity, confidence, invention and creative problem-solving in our youth.  The Invention Convention makes every effort to ensure an enjoyable, rewarding, inspirational and educational experience for every participant.  CIO aims to be the Midwest's flagship provider of positive, affordable and credible resources to inventors whose products range across all markets and include digital apps.

Why Chicago?  Tell us why this idea or organization is based in Chicago, how you think the city has supported the project and how you think the project contributes to our city. 
The Chicago Student Invention Convention builds off of momentum from Chicago’s innovation and entrepreneurship movement.  This growing initiative aims to educate and inspire the youngest residents of Chicago, who will become the city’s future entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders.  The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have partnered with the initiative, which has now engaged over 1,000 CPS students grades K through 8.  For over 10 years, CIO has provided local inventors and entrepreneurs a commercial support community and affordable resources to launch their ventures.  CIO regularly partners with the Illinois Institute of Technology to host events catering to Chicago inventors and startups.

Give us a sneak peek of what we should expect at your Lab.  What hands-on, interactive activities do you have planned for participants?  (But don’t tell us everything—keep some of your Lab a surprise!)  
You'll learn how to pitch a new product with CIO and the Chicago Student Invention Convention.  Chicago-area entrepreneurs will serve as pitch coaches to teach the dos and don’ts of pitching a new product to potential investors.  You'll also go behind the scenes to view—and use—3D software. Finally, you'll tour BLUE1647, Chicago's newest, most diverse tech incubator and home to CIO.  We hope to inspire participants to think big and leave the event thinking as makers, designers and inventors.

We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.  
Aesthetically, the Caldwell Lily Pool near Fullerton and Stockton is Chicago's hidden gem.  Easily skipped over or altogether missed by the throngs crowding the Fullerton Beach, Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Caldwell Lily Pool is serene, slightly-bucolic and invariably empty, making it perfect for observing nature, reading a book or, even, proposing marriage.

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Meet the Lab Host: Catalyze Chicago

Meet the Lab Host gives you an inside look at the innovative, creative, forward-thinking Chicago organizations hosting CIW 2014 Labs.  To learn more about 2014 programming, consult our online schedule.  Tickets go on sale to the general public September 2, 2014.

Turn a problem into a pitch with Catalyze Chicago Co-Founder Bill Feinup Saturday, October 18 from 3 to 6 p.m.

Catalyze Chicago is a co-working space and manufacturing network built to accelerate the growth of hardware startups in Illinois. Catalyze Chicago has put its own tips to startup growth into practice: Since launching in February 2014, the nonprofit organization has doubled its space and expanded to serve 32 members. We went behind the scenes of the manufacturing accelerator to learn how the organization pairs physical tools with mentorship to build a network of successful startups.

Catalyze Chicago provides the tools needed to grow Chicago's
network of hardware and manufacturing startups.
In three sentences or fewer, what is your organization's manifesto or mission?
As those who have tried know, manufactured products are difficult to bring to market as they require expensive equipment, long development cycles and vast supply chains. We experienced these obstacles firsthand after trying to launch companies of our own, and decided to prototype a solution. Catalyze Chicago is helping entrepreneurs tackle these challenges by providing four key benefits: mentorship, prototyping equipment, a network of local manufacturers and a community that inspires open collaboration and creativity.

Why Chicago?  Tell us why this idea or organization is based in Chicago, how you think the city has supported the project and how you think the project contributes to our city. 
Chicago is a city built on manufacturing and industry. We made a name for ourselves as a trading powerhouse and pioneered the great railroads that shaped our fledgling nation. We reversed the flow of a river, reformed public health, built the first skyscraper, split the atom and threw the greatest World’s Fair in history. That hard-working, can-do attitude lives on today. The downward trend of American manufacturing power is beginning to turn as higher costs of importing and quality shortcomings necessitate bringing work back within our borders. The "reshoring", lean startup and open-source movements are gaining momentum, yielding a perfect storm of entrepreneurial opportunity.

Catalyze supports a new generation of designers, engineers and innovators, giving the hardware startup community a much-needed home and plugging them into Chicago’s great manufacturing ecosystem. As a crossroads between applied engineering and academia, startups and the private sector, Catalyze inspires synergy, creation and collaboration.

Give us a sneak peek of what we should expect at your Lab.  What hands-on, interactive activities do you have planned for participants?  (But don’t tell us everything—keep some of your Lab a surprise!)  
You should expect to be put to work and challenged to think like an entrepreneur. You will work on cross-disciplinary teams to envision core offerings, business models and methods of manufacture to bring their solutions to life. When the Lab ends, you'll have the plans, pitch and team poised to launch a commercializable product. To inspire attendees, the staff at Catalyze will host a tour of our studio, rapid prototyping workshop, installations and demos of select prototypes.

We want to be in the know!  Name one person, place or thing that you think is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets—a secret until now, of course.  
The Harold Washington Library runs a Mini Maker Space that gives anyone with a library card access to 3D Printers, laser cutters, CNC carvers, vinyl cutters and more. They run demos, workshops and open labs that are free to the public. Walk-ins encouraged! (Editor's note: You can get an exclusive, hands-on introduction to the Maker Lab with the Chicago Public Library's "Making for Everyone" Wednesday, October 15 at 9:30 a.m.)

Q&As are edited for clarity and length.