By Sara Al-Farhan
Imagine ordering a drink without having to ask a bartender, or knowing exactly when the next bus arrives on a cold day at the bus stop. The Society for Information Management held a panel discussion Wednesday to celebrate four innovators who transformed these ideas into reality.
Chicago Innovation Award winners John Vasilj, Alex Bratton, Rhon Daguro and Mike Samson all created technologies that improve the way consumers think and behave in certain aspects of their lives.
Panelist Daguro’s Touch Taste Technology, which was nicknamed the “liquor tracker” during the discussion, enables customers to order drinks from their tables using a touch-screen device fitted into bar tables. The technology allows customers to bypass the wait at the bar.
Vasilj’s CTA bus tracker application gives customers real-time locations of buses and their estimated arrival times as they travel through the nation’s second-largest transit system.
They were two of 12 Chicago Innovation Awards winners announced in November. There have been 90 winners in total since 2002; 88 of those winners are still in business, according to Tom Kuczmarski, co-founder of the Chicago Innovation Awards. Kuczmarski moderated a panel discussion between the four innovators at Maggiano’s at Old Orchard, along with the president of the Society of Information Management, Mark Griesbaum, and SIM board member Ellen Barry. “It’s not really about the money. It’s not really about the exit strategy. It’s really about what’s exciting, what’s challenging, what brings value to customers,” said Barry.
The panelists’ discussion reinforced the idea that collaboration between businesses brings greater good than competition. “There are no silos. There are no separate organizations anywhere. We’re all out for the good of economic growth in our great city,” Kuczmarski said.
Samson’s innovative website crowdSPRING, which connects businesses and entrepreneurs to designers and writers, is rooted in the idea of collaboration across geographical and financial boundaries. “We all know that any successful innovation typically requires a cross-functional mix of different folks and different backgrounds to bring that expertise together,” Samson said.
Bringing an innovation to market also takes persistence, said Vasilj. “It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Vasilj said, referring to development of his new bus tracking system. CTA bus tracker usage has increased more than twofold since July of 2009 when the application was first implemented. Vasilj anticipates usage to further increase.
— Sara Al-Farhan
Reporting and photo by Sara Al-Farhan