Chicago Innovation Center Exploration

Chicago Union Club thumbnail

I traveled with a Minneapolis based economic development company to Chicago to meet with some investor / advisors to explore real estate investments that would include building innovation centers.  As a strategist for Cheval Partners,  I had put together the primary concept deck that detailed out core services and technology platforms that would be required directly for the center and the overall concept of real estate development that would integrate the innovation center to industry parks, conference centers, education centers, transportation hubs, and lifestyle… etc.   The overall discuss positioned the value propositions and long term benefits to the region and the opportunities for integrating with centers around the globe for access to global innovation opportunities.   There were many learnings about Chicago political and economic histories and current initiatives and trends.   Chicago sits at the cross roads of the nation, but its transportation infrastructure is aging and has been outstripped by population growth.   A key challenge for the city is to invest sufficiently in infrastructure and in new forms of multi-model mass transit.  His is required both for the continued growth of the city, but also so it doesn’t serve as a transportation bottleneck of east / west transit.   The city is also evaluating its future identity in terms of industry.   While it remains strong in the financial sector, there is consideration of the reclaiming a lead in manufacturing as the outsource trends slow and become both cost prohibitive and fraught with international issues.   Already project are underway developing new manufacturing zoned districts and the Joliet canal system is progressively looking to the future.   Chicago has already begun some partnerships with technology vendors like Microsoft & Google to have high tech centers, but larger opportunities still exist to build more industry centric centers to fuel B2B collaboration and start-up acceleration and commercialization.




MN International: Great Decisions 2015 December Event

MN International Center

The 2015 December event of the Great Decisions forum was held in Chanhassen Minnesota.   The focus for this session was on Russia covering both foreign policy and international business aspects of the current global environment.   The event covered a broad range of questions that helped to define the current situation ( see gallery for detailed lists of the areas explored ).
After the fall of USSR over 25M people found themselves no longer a citizen of Russia but part of another country.   Over 33M where also in satellite countries just reforming at the breakup.   The overall region has suffered from an identity crisis of being a super power to a collapsed and divided region.  The size of Russia spans from Europe to Asia crossing 9 time zones and many cultural groups.
The breakup broke all existing processes and impacted trade internally and externally.   The countries economy is primarily tied to oil & gas and the lack of diversification make the economy unstable as prices of gas & oil vary due to global competition.  Today,  with inflation over 15.6%,  loans over 11.6%, and the value of the ruble dropping by over 50% this year, the economy under massive strain.   The international friction and trade sanctions imposed by the west serves as a primary reason that public sentiment for the west has become quite negative and is also the convenient source of the government and media to place blame on the hardships.   Currently there is 314 single industry cities, whose economy rests solely on the success of that corporation.   Those companies provide much of the education, jobs, and overall investment in the region.  With many companies out of money,  the entire region fails around them.   Already there are over 94 red zones; areas that are bankrupt.   There are many that see the return to global influence is to return to a military based economy exerting influence.  This may see an increased international strategy of being involved in conflict as key to support that side of the economy.
Rise of Putin and his history in the KGB where discussed at length.   His career had suffered many ups and downs, but now in power.  It is impossible to leave that power and the security it affords at an individual level.   After the breakup the country moved to an auction based system of key services and contracts.   The root problem was the rich and influential controlled the auction and they won all the contracts.   Corruption has spread to all levels of the government and to all processes.   Personal networks, trust and bribes are standard business practice and this creates a great deal of problems for international companies to operate successful and sustainably in Russia.  There is no rule of law to make business sustainable.   The law has been developed by those in power to protect those in power.   Frequently they exert this power to levy charges against anyone who may disrupt or speak out against the corruption.    The corruption is seeing many citizens trying to migrate out of the country and more importantly, get their capital out of the country and into other financial markets.   Talent of all ages are attempting to leave and is creating a brain drain of a country that has a deep academic and trained society.   Attempts to create a version of silicon valley and spur innovation have been government led and controlled and lack most of the organic and genuine nature of entrepreneurship found in  economies across the globe.   While the internal media control all the messaging,  the overall society is extremely well informed and rational in world views.   They can appreciate how broken the situation is,  but also how inaccurate media is all over the world as it is used to drive perception vs. truth.
Todd L Speaking
Discussion ranged from the middle east to the overall relationship between China and Russia.   While both countries prioritize a relationship with the west, both are struggling in those relationships.   This has created an increased opportunity for them to explore mutual partnership to benefit both economically and politically.   This has been slowed due to the economic slowdown in China as of late,  but that alliance could change political dynamics globally.   There are many political, social, and overall values difference that will complicate this partnership, but they may find momentum in areas of mutual benefit.  China is also working to become an infrastructure and manufacturing leader around the world.  They are following a new silk road strategy positioning to be at the center of trade and making massive investments in developing markets like southeast Asia, Africa, and high interest in investments in north and south Americas.
I’m also placed the agenda of upcoming talks in 2015 & 2016.   Refer to the gallery to learn more!

MN DEED Export Roundtable: Water Technology


I participated in the December meeting of the MN Deed Export Roundtable.  The event series is focused on developing the exports of Minnesota through education, networking, and support of the MN Trade Office.   Topics for each round table rotate through a variety of areas including technologies,  working with geographies, and global grand challenges and opportunities.  The 2015 December event was hosted at the Walter Library on the U of M East Bank Campus.   The focus was on Water technologies.   In attendance where corporations, scientists, entrepreneurs and exports forced on this sector.
The format for this particular event was to focus on emerging technologies and networking these innovation to the audience.  I wanted to highlight several of the technologies that were showcased and some of the conversation from the different stakeholders in the room in reaction to the innovations.
Several UMN professors showcased water filtration technologies.  One example was the global problem of mercury contamination of water sources.  The contamination enters the food supply through fish and beverages.   The impactful example that brought the urgency forward was rapid decline mental abilities of children when exposed to mercury.  (See handwriting images in gallery link below).  The case study in Japan also showed the financial impact to the corporate involved.   The company was fined $86M and the government is still paying over $100M annually for the ongoing treatment of the contamination and care for people impacted.  IQ decreases are attributed to over $8.7B lost in productivity of the workforce given current contamination levels.  Bring the problem back home, today lakes in Minneasota has over six times the minimum acceptable levels.   The university had developed nano technology to create sponges with Selenium.  The Selenium efficiency was the ability to filter from a 10ppm to .0004ppm (99.95%) with the added bonus that Selenium kills bacteria.  The sponge format was chosen as it increases surface area over 30 times from a single layer filter.  Compressibility of the sponge also made for high density disposability / space.  A single sponge, about the size of a simple dishwashing sponge, can clean up a medium size lake.   Removing all  the mercury from a medium size lake would be about the size a quarter of solid mercury.  They estimate this is a $10B dollar market and their solution is simple and cost effective approach.   Audience discussion explored other aspects of contamination, specifically pulling mercury out of the sediment layers.   Mercury is released over time to the water, but the sediment layer was not directly addressed by this technology.  Other solutions where also reveled and how new filtration methods can drastically change the economics of time, energy, and processes required compared to today’s methods.   Many methods had broad application, but could be configured to great specificity.   This created a challenge for commercialization by identifying the market needs and practice paths to commercial focused products that could be in high demand and use the profitability to further develop more specialized needs.
A another thread of presentations explored fluid dynamics and nano levels of managing flow, elasticity, velocity, etc.  The ability to have new methods of measuring and categorizing dynamics at that level is emerging.
A great deal of conversation focused on approaching commercialization through patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, etc.   The trade-offs for corporations was quite apparent when balanced against achieving a market leader position.   Other topics included exploration of export of technology/products early in the commercialization process and practices for building international partnerships.
See more of the event in the image gallery