By Richard R. Klicki, Director of Content Development, Daily Herald
The past year has been quite a busy one on the suburban technology scene. Over the past 25 issues, I’ve highlighted new products, innovations and homegrown trends in the ‘burbs, proving once again that innovation isn’t exclusive to River North.
There were so many great local tech stories in 2015. So as we bid adieu to the year, here’s a look back at some of the more unique ones.
In the four years that this column has graced these pages, I’ve seen a number of suburban tech incubators launch with the hopes of capturing the success seen from the likes of Chicago’s 1871. While the need exists, many incubators continue to struggle as they lack financial support from sponsors or local governments.
But DuPage County’s Rev3 Innovation Center
is hitting on all cylinders.
Since finding a home at the Northern Illinois University’s Naperville campus, the technology/manufacturing incubator grown steadily in membership and landed its first major corporate member last spring in Bloomingdale-based global supply chain solutions company Bi-Link. Bi-Link occupies an office there and provides 3-D printers to help other members develop prototypes. In addition, Bi-Link provides staffers to help mentor members and other resources to help guide Rev3 membership to success.
Nic Zito, business development director for Rev3’s parent Choose DuPage, said membership has grown from two members at the beginning of the year to more than 20 today. It hosted more than 150 events during the year, that included networking, educational seminars, and business pitches events.
Plus, US Bank
has recently come aboard as a sponsor.
Rev3’s goal for 2016 is to bring more electronic and manufacturing equipment into the space for the entrepreneurs to turn their business plans into reality, Zito said.
Keep the suburban revolution going.
A new dimension
As a “reformed” gamer, I was particularly attracted to Arlington Heights-based Optimal Design
’s partnership with Utah-based The Void
in its development of a 4-D virtual entertainment center. VEC promises to be a LazerQuest on steroids, totally immersing the player into a complete virtual environment.
Optimal Design was tapped to create a head-mounted display, which is paired with a haptic vest to bring the 4-D experience together. While the helmet surrounds the player’s head with the sights and sounds, Optimal Design Principal Joe Wascow said, the vest provides a tactile feel.
“If you were in a first-person shooter game and were shot at the front left side, you would feel it on the front left shoulder, then feel an exit in back,” Wascow said. “Not only are you getting the visual, not only are you hearing what’s going on, you’re feeling it as well. It could be something like walking out in the rain and feeling the raindrops hitting your body.”
The Void CEO Ken Brettschneider approached the company for the project. In addition to Optimal Design’s previous work with large companies ranging from Motorola to Lenovo, Brettschneider was impressed that the company has all its design and development operations in-house.
Wascow said the company has made a number of improvements to the original prototype, including the integration of a curved OLED video display aimed to enhance the experience. He added they are still on track to unveil the VEC in 2016.
Airbnb for your car
It was one of those ideas that you slap your forehead and yell “Why didn’t I think of this?”
But Forest Park resident Devin Bates got there first.
Springing from the need for a parking spot, Bates developed the website ShareASpot, devoted to connecting people looking for parking spaces with people who have an available space.
Unlike apps that can find you space in parking lots, ShareASpot works specifically with property or small business owners who have a space that could be used for parking, and links them with people who are seeking a space in that area. People seeking a parking spot can register at no cost, while those with a driveway space, concrete slab or a business with extra parking can rent that spot on a daily or monthly basis. ShareASpot adds another 20 percent to cover its costs.
ShareASpot hit a milestone this month when it announced it is partnering with Chicago-based parking startup ParqEx. The two companies plan to combine resources to speed up the growth of its market in the city and suburbs, with the with the long-term goal of expanding into markets throughout the U.S.
“Parking is a nationwide issue,” Bates said.
Under the agreement, the ParqEx platform will be used for all transactions and customer support.