Digital Second City scoops

Latest updates on Chicago technology and innovation

Online holiday sales soar 14 percent: Report

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Online holiday sales soared 14 percent from 2011, to $42.3 billion during the November-December period, according to the latest news released minutes ago from online-sales tracker Comscore.

Free shipping day, which fell on Monday, Dec. 17, saw sales skyrocket by 76 percent, to $1.013 billion, and even on Christmas Day, sales jumped 36 percent to $288 million, the report says.

Despite the growth, the 14-percent final tally fell short of Comscore's 16-percent growth forecast. After four weeks of growth, the next three weeks of the November-December holiday season failed to surpass a 12-percent growth rate, Comscore reported.

Shoppers' worries about the economy and Congress' fiscal cliff budget negotiations contributed to the December "swoon," said Comscore Chairman Gian Fulgoni.

Sun-Times scoops parking tech news

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Digital Second City Scene beat the rest of the technorati pack with the story of Chicago-based ParkWhiz, one of the first of a growing number of web and mobile competitors vying to help motorists find discounted parking-garage spaces in real time on their smartphones.

Four days after the Sun-Times column hit, ParkWhiz won $2 million in venture funding and put on its board new investors, including Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of social news website Reddit; Garry Tan, partner at Y Combinator venture fund, and Amreesh Modi, managing partner at Caprigo Ventures and former chief technology officer at Chicago-based digital maps-maker Navteq Corp.

And then, 42 tech and mainstream media picked up on ParkWhiz's funding story.

Hey, remember the Bright One. Think Wrapports, too -- the "rapport" of new technology and the "wrapping" of a traditional print newspaper.

Robots grab headlines for New Year

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Robots will be the focus of two upcoming events in Chicago -- the "Automate" show at McCormick Place convention center and the Illinois FIRST Robotic Competition for high-school teams at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The Jan. 21-24 McCormick Place show highlights how robots are playing increasingly important roles in helping businesses save money, and how they are becoming more sophisticated in working side-by-side with humans.

The Jan. 5 robot competition at IIT is expected to attract nearly 800 people from 40 Chicago-area teams of 9th through 12th graders. The teams will spend the coming months designing, programming and testing their robots to compete in the Midwest Regional Competition in April.

Silicon Valley startup wants to return to Chicago

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Dan Salcedo and Jesse Pinho are running their shopping-pool-buying startup, mobcart, in Silicon Valley, but they have applied to be among the first startups to share space Chicago's new technology center, dubbed 1871, set to open this spring in the Merchandise Mart.

"We see Chicago as a huge hub for talent and it's lower-cost than in Silicon Valley," said Salcedo, who worked as a public relations spokesman in Chicago before leaving in June 2011 to start his own company in Burlingame, Calif., just south of San Francisco.

Salcedo estimates the 1871 center here would save 60 percent to 70 percent of his costs in California, including talent, space and transportation.

Meanwhile, Chicagoans can still pool their purchasing power to get wholesale prices by using the mobcart site. Salcedo, 26, and Pinho, 23, who are joined in the venture by partner and chief marketing officer David Vosburg, 25, started the site so retailers could sell more goods and shoppers could take advantage of wholesale prices.

Nothing corny about women on corporate boards

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One of the Chicago area's least-recognized female CEOs, Ilene Gordon of Corn Products International, said Tuesday she could see the need for a mandated number of women on corporate boards because her experience has shown her that two or three women -- or moreĀ -- can make a significant impact on company decision-making.

"You've got to get to two (women on a company's board of directors), and three is better," said Gordon, head of the Westchester-based corn processor and food ingredient maker and a member of the board at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the Executives Club and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

In refreshing comments, Gordon offered intriguing insights into how some government mandates for women to serve on boards are working:

Innovative up and comers and an ocean saver

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The Harris Theater buzzed Tuesday night as a full house of technology, business and entrepreneurial types cheered each other's successes at the 10th annual Chicago Innovation Awards show.

The award presentations weren't all serious ponderings, however, as a duo from the Second City comedy troupe made light of native Chicago "des" and "dos" and big guys who like to eat, a la the 1991 Saturday Night Live skit about Chicago Bears' Superfans. Their definition of innovation included Chicagoans electing someone not named Daley as mayor (or "mare," as the pronunciation would have it).

Besides the 10 Innovation Award honorees, which the Sun-Times profiled Wednesday, the event recognized 10 Up-and-Comer finalists -- start-ups in an early stage of development that show great promise.

Holiday tech shopping for busy people

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Retailers are pouncing on social media tools this holiday to let shoppers share gift ideas, boast about their generosity and find and order products without having to stand in line at the checkout.
Most shoppers will wonder whether retailers can get the technology to actually work. I'd love to hear your experiences as you venture out on the seasonal odyssey of checking off your Santa list.
Here are efforts by three major retailers:

Looking for venture capital?

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Calling entrepreneurs seeking venture capital -- and what tech savvy wizard isn't these days?
The early application deadline is Nov. 18 for entering the 13th Annual InvestMidwest Venture Capital Forum.
The event, slated for April 4-5 in St. Louis, showcases 45 high-growth companies from throughout the Midwest in three categories: Technology, life sciences, and clean energy/sustainability.
The application form can be completed online at InvestMidwestForum.com.

When do you get best online deals?

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Technology is giving shoppers new insights into deals -- not just where they are but when they're best accessed.
Here's the scoop:

Congrats to ITA Fall Challenge winners

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Congratulations to Louis Wasserman of the University of Chicago, Keunhong Park from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign and Sean Hurley of the UIUC for earning the top three scores, respectively, in the Illinois Technology Association's Fall Challenge for undergraduate students.

Congrats also to graduate student Islam Ismailov of the University of Illinois at Chicago for acing the top score in the graduate-student category. He walked away with a $1,000 cash prize.

** The Illinois Technology Association, in partnership with Chicago restaurant-ordering site GrubHub , offered the Fall Challenge in which college students competed for cash. Supporting sponsors included Allscripts, Backstop Solutions Group, GE, Centro, Groupon, Model Metrics, MPS Partners and Redpoint Technologies.

Students started by taking a quiz.

Top scorers competed in a Final Challenge in Chicago for a chance to meet tech leaders.

The top three students received $5,000, $2,500 and $1,000 in cash prizes.

Here's another source for tech enthusiasts: