Celebrating Evanston Entrepreneurship Week!

Fans of ‘Shark Tank’ would have felt right at home at the Evanston Startup Showcase presentation on Tuesday evening, part of Evanston Entrepreneurship Week. Five startup businesses presented their concepts to a panel of four successful entrepreneurs and an audience of about one hundred potential investors, friends and interested parties. Everyone involved has a connection to Evanston, either as a resident or because their businesses are here.

The moderator for the night was Patrick Hughes, a successful entrepreneur and the Founder/CEO of Inclusion=Solutions, an Evanston-based business whose mission is to develop and supply practical products to make inclusion possible for people with disabilities or the elderly. Patrick’s outgoing personality, quick humor and take charge attitude kept the presentations on schedule without ever getting tedious.

The ground rules were straightforward: 5 minutes for the pitch, 5 minutes of Q&A from the panel, 5 minutes of audience Q&A. The five lucky presenters were selected from nearly 100 submissions.

First up was Jono Kupferberg, CEO/Co-Founder of STS Footwear, a company founded on the belief that every fan needs a footwear option. Jono showcased many creative iterations designed by Director of Design/Co-Founder Isaiah Smith, and the two men discussed their patent-pending manufacturing concept. They need $50,000 to fund their initial launch. The panel asked a lot of questions about their market research, licensing agreements, pricing and other metrics. In the world of branded products and sports-related wearables, STS Footwear may have something unique. They hope to authorize their first production run by mid 2015.

The second presentation was by Brian Hill, Co-Founder of Jail Education Solutions. Of the five presentations, this was the one I found most captivating. Using customized tablet technology and an educational platform called Edovo, they provide intuitive educational courses to incarcerated people who are rewarded for learning. Jail Education Solution’s mission is to unlock the potential of the 12 million Americans imprisoned annually and reduce rates of recidivism. Their tablet system is already being tested in six institutions; others are signing up each month. It’s an amazing feat thus far and they are just getting started. I think we will hear great things about this company.

The third presentation was a needs-based app called DINE., conceived by three 19-year old Northwestern University students (Luke, McKenna and Garrett) who want to create a better algorithm for restaurant selection tailored to the diner’s specific needs. The app, still in development, will propose three choices to ease selection rather than present unfiltered information in the style of Yelp and Zagat’s. The panel of experts enthused over the presentation, which was impressive, but even more so given the presenters’ ages.

Fourth up was Jennifer Alexander from Chapín Coffee. Their motto is ‘Fuel your day with purpose,’ and for every bag of Chapín Coffee sold, three meals are donated to malnourished Guatemalan children through Feed the Dream. Chapín Coffee sustains local farmers by purchasing only Fair Trade Certified coffee, protects the environment by sourcing organically grown coffee, and helps local women artisans maintain their craft skills by purchasing woven gift bags. Jennifer is a great presenter and the audience responded positively with ideas and contacts. For those of you looking for lovely holiday gifts, look no further than a Chapín Coffee Subscription.

The final presentation was the most fun and the one that generated the most audience involvement. Kenny Johnson, the inventor of patent-pending Funny Gloves, is Evanston-born and raised, a proud graduate of ETHS and a vocal promoter of everything the city has to offer. He has created a toy—think of a large pair of talking puppets used by two people to play catch together—that gets kids out of the house to exercise. Anyone over the age of about three years old can play and one size fits most. Kenny is an effervescent presenter: he’s already pitched the idea to the actual Shark Tank folks and is waiting to hear if he’s been selected. Just based on his story and pitch, I think Kenny is well on his way to reaching his goals. He’s created something new and has the passion and drive to do whatever it takes to see it through. The gloves are available online for $25 a pair.

Kudos to the presenters and panelists, the moderator, Rotary International for hosting and First Bank & Trust for sponsoring, the City of Evanston and Northwestern University for their support. It was a wonderful and interesting evening, and hopefully part of an annual tradition.

Ride of Silence

Nearly 20 cyclists, all wearing bike helmets and most similarly clad in yellow neon shirts with the kneeling cyclist logo, gathered at Chandler-Newberger Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. to take part in this year’s Ride of Silence.  Before we started, some people shared stories about friends who were injured or killed while riding; one person’s story was a personal account of his own accident and how the support of the cycling community meant so much to him and his wife during his recovery. Still recuperating, he was not yet ready to join in this year’s ride.

The silent procession flows at an easy pace to encourage riders of all levels to join.  The leader, Dave, moved steadily and deliberately, observing all traffic rules. An important aspect of the ride is to raise awareness of the need to ‘share the road.’ There is safety in numbers: our group was visually distinctive as we rode 11 miles together through northwest Evanston, Skokie and Niles. The ride concluded uneventfully with a whoop of exhilaration at Evanston’s Wheel & Sprocket, who generously provided not only the neon t-shirts but pizza and drinks.

I found out about the ride through The Chainlink.org and the Evanston Bicycle Club. The Ride of Silence is an international event started in 2003 by Chris Phelan in Dallas as a way to honor the memory of a cyclist friend killed on the road.  It’s a great cause and free to participate.

Ride of Silence

Five Days at Memorial

What would you do? That is the question the reader asks while reading the gripping Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.

Five Days at Memorial

Five Days is a detailed account of Hurricane Katrina and its effect on Memorial Hospital, and how the lack of preparedness on all levels (federal, state, city, corporate) was as much a disaster as the hurricane.

It is a story of how the families, patients and healthcare professionals who camped out at Memorial during the storm coped with unbelievable pressure, tremendous humidity and heat, no running water or electricity, wild rumors exacerbated by the periodic sounds of gunfire, escalating fear and sleep deprivation mixed with the overpowering smells of sweat, disease, human waste and death.

It is how doctors tagged patients with numbers and prioritized them based on their health status and likelihood of getting better; the numbers determined if, and in what order, they would be scheduled for difficult helicopter evacuations.

Ultimately it is about how a group of individuals decided, after four days of worsening conditions, the best and most humane option, for many of the remaining patients, was to euthanize those the doctors deemed too weak or sick too be rescued.

Fink’s research is unparalleled; she interviewed more than 500 people and sought out experts and first-hand accounts for six years. The tone is matter of fact and encompasses many points of view: doctors, nurses, patients, family members, National Guard helicopter pilots and many others. The reader sympathizes with the patients and hospital staff involved and strains to understand how awful the situation must have been to push good doctors to make previously unimaginable decisions.

Forty-five people died at Memorial during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than any other hospital or nursing home in New Orleans during that same timeframe. Eighteen of those deaths were deemed suspicious and likely criminal. Amid a media frenzy and emotional public outcry, charges were investigated and documented, but the grand jury refused to indict. Yet as Fink writes, “The juror was convinced — and, she believed, all of her fellow jurors were too — that a crime had occurred on that fifth day at Memorial.”  

How would each of us cope in a disaster, if professional obligations demanded us to work without knowing if our families were safe, if our homes were intact or if crime was rampant around us? How safe and prepared are our local hospitals for a Katrina-level disaster? How would we allocate scarce resources among many needy people?  Fink summarizes the dilemma before us on the last page of the book.

“Life and death in the immediate aftermath of a crisis most often depends on the preparedness, performance, and decision-making of the individuals on the scene.”

Join the discussion on July 29 as the Keepinitreal book group of the Evanston Library reads Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.

Jewel by the Lake: The Mary and Leigh Block Museum


This gallery contains 7 photos.

Last week I took advantage of two wonderful programs at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum. Both were free, fascinating and one-time only events. They prove the Block’s amazing riches nestled right here in our community and accessible to … Continue reading

Welcome to the Neighborhood, AMLI Evanston

There is a new neighbor in the southeast corner of Evanston: AMLI Evanston, a luxury apartment building at 737 Chicago Avenue. The completely smoke-free building, built to achieve LEED Silver Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, includes 214 rental units ranging from studios to three-bedrooms, plus 19 live/work ground floor apartments. The first tenant moved in this past April and already a third of the apartments are leased or occupied.

LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and Silver is one of four possible levels (the others are Certified, Gold and Platinum). There are six categories including water efficiency, indoor environment quality, energy and atmosphere and materials and resources.  Each category is evaluated based on established criteria and points awarded for meeting or exceeding the standards. Silver Certification requires 50-59 points. The goal of achieving Silver Certification drove every decision for AMLI Evanston, such as how best to conserve water, filter air, recycle trash and more.  Even the landscaping selected for the rooftop terrace garden is drought-resistant, all part of an effort to promote healthy living, sustainability and a truly green community.

According to Steve Ross, lead developer for AMLI Evanston, for the past five years he participated in or led meetings with Evanston residents, government officials and others to make certain the developers knew about, communicated with and listened to the viewpoints of all the various constituencies.  These discussions affected aspects such as the height of the building (four floors of apartments plus retail on the ground floor), how it ‘fits’ in with the rest of the structures on Chicago Avenue and the addition of the open plaza on the corner of Kedzie and Chicago Avenues. The finished project is one of the largest private investments in this part of Illinois in recent years.

The upscale amenities include many that one expects of a luxury building: a gym appointed with flat screen televisions; a residents’ lounge with more televisions and a kitchen and bar area; free WiFi; a bicycle room; a business center with computers and machines for copying, scanning, faxing; a Pilates/yoga studio; and covered reserved parking with enough spaces for every resident (note, parking is an additional fee).  But there are also some very cool amenities such as a private dog run and paw wash; electric car charging stations; a rooftop terrace with a fire pit, outdoor grills and multiple areas for lounging and conversation; and a one bedroom suite that residents can reserve and rent for $85 a night for out-of-town guests.

At the opening event I attended, AMLI prominently promoted the work of SAGE (Schools Are Gardening in Evanston), a non-profit organization that cultivates ‘health, learning and environmental stewardship through edible school gardens.’  The garden at nearby Lincoln Elementary School is bursting with all kinds of vegetable bounty, and similar gardens exist at 15 other Evanston schools.

SAGE was the perfect organization for AMLI Evanston to support and fully in synch with their environmentally aware, energy-efficient, healthy living philosophy. It was a generous gesture for a new neighbor. Welcome to the ‘hood!

Ask for Table 23 at Koi

One of Evanston’s popular Asian restaurants sponsors a clever way of promoting and donating money to worthy local charities.  Koi selects a different Evanston-based charity every month and tastefully promotes it to their on-site dining, carryout and delivery clientele, making it very easy for those audiences to donate $1 or more with their order.  Koi also promises to donate 1% of all edamame sold during the month to the charity, so be sure to order edamame when you order your lunch or dinner.

But the best and most generous contribution from Koi is Table 23.


Ask for Table 23 by name when you make your reservation; you can’t just walk in and request it.  It’s the best table in the restaurant and 20% of the sub-totaled bill, minus tax and gratuity, is donated to that month’s charity by the restaurant. Yup, you read that correctly–20%! The lucky beneficiary for June is Senior Connections, an organization near and dear to my heart.

Senior Connections recruits, trains and supports volunteers who visit and befriend homebound or isolated older people living in Evanston.  There are other organizations who provide meals, medical assistance and transportation to seniors, all wonderful and necessary services, but only Senior Connections provides companionship. Volunteers typically spend an hour a week visiting with their senior.  There is no cost to enroll and the resulting friendships benefit both the senior and the volunteer.

Kudos to Koi on initiating this great way to give back to the community!  And think about volunteering with Senior Connections. You can make a difference in someone’s life.

Koi is located at 624 Davis Street in Evanston and open for lunch Monday through Saturday and for dinner every day. Senior Connections (847-869-0682) is located at the Reba Place Ministry Center at 535 Custer Avenue in Evanston, one block west of the South Boulevard Purple Line stop.