IVCA Profile Q&A: Dan Lyne, Director of Technology Development for World Business Chicago, Member of Chicago Council of Technology Advisors

IVCA Profile Q&A: Dan Lyne, Director of Technology Development for World Business Chicago, Member of Chicago Council of Technology Advisors

October 13, 2010

CHICAGO - “ The world of tech companies and new media is constantly evolving and growing, in Chicago, the State of Illinois and the world. One of the prime movers in this arena is Dan Lyne, the Director of Technology Development at World Business Chicago, and a member of the Chicago Council of Technology Advisors for Mayor Richard M. Daley.

The IVCA recently talked to Dan Lyne, about a number of subjects regarding technology, both in Chicago and around the rest of the planet.

IVCA: Your focus is on helping to advance early stage tech companies. Through what avenues are you applying that focus?

Dan Lyne: Entrepreneurs and early stage tech companies need help in advancing their networks or getting their feet in the door. In my post at World Business Chicago, I am simply one of many individuals throughout the tech community who try and use our platform to connect those dots a bit. There are several components at play here. I think the most critical are the - ˜softer' avenues; I'm talking about helping to bridge partnerships, seek out business counsel or mentors, and to bridge connections with finance networks or general business alliances.

IVCA: What are the common roadblocks that early stage tech companies face, and what are the fastest ways to navigate around those roadblocks?

Lyne: If I had to narrow it down to one area specifically - “ it would be the simple fact that most early stage tech companies either act fast or evaporate. And in that type of rapid transition, hundreds of decisions are made in the blink of an eye. Of the mulitple roadblocks that exist in starting a business, I would suggest that entrepreneurs don't often have access to the proper guidance around them to say, - ˜hey, I know that issue, I have encountered it and here's how I dealt with it successfully or unsucessfully.' And that simple knowledge transfer often is the difference between getting stuck in the mud or launching a business forward to meet its growth milestones.

IVCA: How does an investor approach tech companies as far as understanding what customer problems they are addressing?

Lyne: I interpret this question from a couple standpoints. If we're talking about early stage or angel investors, I think we often see those investors approach opportunities from two directions. First, they hone in on places where they see obvious rifts in the system that can be successfully addressed through innovation and often technology based solutions. Second, they focus on areas where they have some degree of familiarity, or more tangible knowledge base, whether that knowledge is in new media or even packaged goods if that is the case.

I don't think early stage tech investors always expect to be the subject matter experts, but we might hope to see these investors approaching problems with individual entrepreneurs from the standpoint of "I'm a partner, and because of my background in this subject area, I have resources in this particular field that can help solve this issue." And to go back to the previous question, and to pound home the obvious, but this really helps propel businesses as they are making rapid decisions, and helps them get it done that much quicker.

IVCA: You are on Chicago and Mayor Daley's Council of Technology Advisors. What is the city doing right at the present moment when it comes to technology advancement?

Lyne: Municipalities and states play significant roles in specific areas, both in new company formation and the growth of existing industry. I think one critical area where Chicago has obviously played a strong role is in the area of infrastructure development. There are several examples of tremendously successful past efforts by the city with respect to technology based infrastructure growth. One of those partnerships that was developed years back resulted in the Lakeside Technology Center, which is a million+ square foot data center off Cermak near McCormick Place. That facility, now owned and operated by Digital Realty Trust, really filled a tremendous need at the time. It was an important focus and great partnership, I believe, for the city.

I would also say the same thing about 600 West Chicago, which is the former Montgomery Ward Catalog building. The city's involvement in the redevelopment of that building was absolutely critical in providing a home for the types of companies that require major next gen infrastructure but also require open collaborative space. It represents a city within a city, in a sense. It is home to some of the advanced telecom leaders in our nation, boasting huge bandwidth and energy capabilities. While at the same time, its expansive floor plates and high ceilings support the growth of both emerging technology-based companies and the web based financial industries like thinkorswim, jumptrading, Groupon, Echo Global Logistics and InnerWorkings. The city played a real strong role in jumpstarting the conversion of this iconic structure, and the current facility is bursting at the seams.

To answer the question more directly -- recently, the mayor announced formation of a strong team of existing current tech leadership, once again to address and focus solely on the short and long-term infrastructure needs of our tech community. This could mean several things - “ collaborative raw space for emerging accelerators that operate both locally or nationally and/or a larger use of the current assets in place around town for a tech campus type of play. Once those leaders bring their vision forward, it will be interesting to see the results. That is where the city seems to be laser focused right now.

We have really great success stories currently; we need to build upon that momentum. It's important that we not rest on our laurels, but rather we drive forward and figure out what the next generation of needs might be and hear it from the tech community specifically.

IVCA: In your observation, what is different about a corporate culture in technology firms versus a more traditional product company?

Lyne: This may seem redundant, but tech firms approach the use of space in a glaringly different manner. There are very few crystal palaces in the tech world, and collaboration is paramount; this provides a healthier atmosphere for new company formation and growth. And if you need to draw a corollary, tech companies liken themselves more similarly to the creative industries. It is easy to see a lot of cross pollination between those two worlds- ¦musicians, artists, engineers and developers. That type of bridging has gone on in Chicago, where both our creative industries and tech industries are being recognized as strong business sectors. So I consider this a very healthy progression.

IVCA: What is the most exciting development in new media that you are currently pro-moting or involved? Where will this development lead us?

Lyne: There are a number of exciting developments in new media stratosphere right now, not the least of which are the successful stories related to Groupon, Lightbank, Exceler-ate Labs and Sandbox, and the companies and leaders they are producing. More exciting is that we're seeing the emergence of the next generation of Chicago business leadership, many of whom are being generated from our new media and overall tech community. That single factor alone is a very exciting prospect for Chicago- ¦and one that is only going to become more magnified in the coming months and years.

IVCA: Since access to new media and technology is mostly a for-profit and customer based movement, how can society bridge the gap between lower income persons with less access and their role in new technology?

Lyne: This reaches into important issues related to digital opportunity and divide that can, and should be, discussed in a more lengthy forum. But if I was forced to throw out three specific pure tech solutions that will significantly propel and bridge that gap --- mobile, mobile, mobile.

IVCA: In your travels and studies, which part of the world seems most anxious to embrace the future tech and media that proliferates virtually on a daily basis?

Lyne: As I have observed different efforts nationally and internationally that focus upon support networks and robust infrastructure as accelerators for new company formation and growth, without a doubt, Barcelona Activa in Barcelona, Spain, is a fantastic model. Their District 22 has an incredibly broad profile of operational efforts to try and achieve the growth. Obviously their national financial model allows them a little bit more ability to throw a tremendous amount of money at this. But take the time to look at the stages and elements that comprise Barcelona Activa and its facilities; its operational model truly supports global cooperation and partnerships - “ through both vast infrastructure investments and through precision entrepreneurial support mechanisms. It is absolutely unlike anything I've seen in the world, and it is truly a model for empowering entrepreneurs to realize their goals.

IVCA: What does the IVCA contribute to the tech industry community?

Lyne: The IVCA, under Maura O'Hara's direction, has played a significant and important leadership role. I really feel that she has been extremely creative and effective in transforming the IVCA into an keenly collaborative and powerful voice. As such, the IVCA has been helping to paint that creative canvas for the community of early stage entrepreneurs and jumpstarting the growth of new companies in Chicago. Oftentimes these communities are not as communicative, but the IVCA has done a great job of bringing those worlds together.