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Celebrating the Contributions of Chicago Entrepreneurs

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Over the course of the past couple of months, my colleagues and I at UIC's Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies have been hard at work putting plans together for the 25th annual Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame induction ceremony. On February 25 we will welcome 22 new members to this organization which was established in 1985 and now has more than 400 members.

This is, of course, much more than an event. By recognizing these individuals we are issuing a reminder about the importance of entrepreneurs, and the businesses they have built, to the economy of the Chicago region. It leads me also to think about ways in which the work of entrepreneurs, which can literally start in a garage or basement workshop, gather energy and grow to global significance.

The statistics about the importance of business enterprises launched by entrepreneurs to the American economy are jaw dropping. According to the Small Business Administration, these businesses make up almost 98 percent of employers, generating more than half of nonfarm private GDP. They employ about half of all private sector workers and generate patent applications in numbers that far outstrip major firms. Small businesses are responsible for about three-quarters of the net new jobs in the American economy. World Business Chicago keeps a close eye on regional economic numbers, and while there is little to cheer in a 10.3 percent unemployment rate, one can sense the spirit of entrepreneurs in January's two point increase in consumer confidence, and the fact that the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index, which tracks manufacturing activity, increased in this region even though it dropped nationally.

I've written in the past for Huffington Post Chicago about my conviction that it will be the Midwest, the Chicago region in particular, that will lead the nation out of the recession. The reason is the diversity of our economy. Much like having a diversified investment portfolio, we don't depend on the success of any one type of business for the economy to succeed. If one sector lags, others can move ahead. The Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame event puts a human face on the diversity of the region's business sector. David Penyak, for example, is the founder of Genesis Logistics in Bensenville, which provides a range of logistics and transportation services to businesses across the country. It is a business very different from Berthold Electric Co., which manufactures power distribution equipment used throughout the world. We will honor Roderick C. Berthold, president of this 75-year-old Chicago-based firm. I suspect that businesspeople visiting Berthold have stayed at Manilow Suites, founded by our honoree Francine Renee Manilow. The sense of diversity in our economy is reflected in the work of Albert Nader, founder of Questar, one of the country's leading producers, marketers and distributors of non-fiction programming for television, home entertainment, and education. One of Chicago's many connections to the online world is reflected in the remarkable success and rapid nationwide growth of Groupon. Founded by Andrew Mason just two years ago, Groupon has harnessed the power of group buying to the size of the online community and the breathtaking speed of Internet activity.

The list goes on, with high tech, low tech, manufacturing, service, and health care all represented in the entrepreneurial activity we will celebrate.

One story in particular will be celebrated, that of Glen Tullman, founder and CEO of Allscripts, who will receive a special Lifetime Achievement Award. His business demonstrates the way in which an entrepreneur's dream can begin in Chicago and grow to national significance. In 1997, Tullman led a team of investors in the purchase of a small firm that provided prepackaged medications to physicians. He set about refocusing the firm on health care technology, things like electronic health records, electronic prescriptions, emergency department information systems, and homecare automation. From its roots in Chicago, Tullman guided Allscripts through a series of acquisitions and today the firm serves more than 160,000 doctors, 800 hospitals, and almost 8,000 post-acute and homecare organizations nationwide.

It is easy to talk in abstract terms about business success and failure, about the growth of the economy or the incredible challenges of the recession. At UIC we have a special focus on teaching the skills of entrepreneurship. Through the Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame we see our hopes for the students reflected in the life stories of Chicago entrepreneurs. By celebrating the new members each year, we are reminded about the importance of the businesses they run to the future of the economy--and where the Chicago region fits in that picture.