DIGITAL PRAIRIE: Tech 50 movers and shakers

Kansas City,MO (06-25-2002)

From The Kansas City Star
By David Hayes and Suzanne King

When we asked some of Kansas City's business leaders for nominations for The Star's third annual Tech 50 list, we were greeted more than once with skepticism or outright laughter.

The general response? That Kansas City's attempt in the late 1990s to establish itself as a technology business center pretty much had failed. "You'd better stop at 20, or 10" was the response from several people.

Some of that cynicism is well-founded. About 20 percent of those on the newspaper's 2001 list left town in the last 12 months, were acquired by companies outside the area, or simply closed.

But putting that pessimism aside, we also found that the Kansas City area maintains a healthy base of companies that have adapted, adopted or created technology to develop new businesses -- or to do business more efficiently.

Software developed at DST Systems manages 78 million accounts for mutual fund shareholders in the United States, making the company the nation's largest provider of shareholder services. The company also developed technology to mail out 1.9 billion statements and records in 2001, making it one of the U.S. Postal Service's largest customers.

Garmin International has outdistanced its larger rivals in the last two years, and now has a dominant position in the market for consumer Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.

Cerner Corp. and GeoAccess, which produce software for businesses, lead their industries. Punch, a small consumer software company, outsells its nearest competitor, a huge software conglomerate. And, with a recent acquisition, Handmark now sells four of the top 10 software titles for Palm handheld devices.

Together, the companies on this year's list employ about 130,000 people worldwide, including about 43,000 in the Kansas City area. While Sprint Corp. accounts for about half of those employees, we also found former small startups that are now well-established companies with lots of employees.

And, surprisingly, most of these companies contend they're on strong financial footing.

In fact, the majority of companies on this year's list are turning a profit -- a distinct difference from the lists of past years, which were dominated by companies running on venture capital kicked in by investors.

This year's survey was not without its downside. We found a dearth of technology leadership on both the business and civic side. Startup cash is more of a problem than ever. And the city still lacks a strong technology training ground.

But along the way, we also found some interesting entrepreneurs trying to develop some cool technologies. We'll profile them in coming months.


Name: Victor Frost, Tim Johnson

Company: KU Information and Telecommunication Technology Center

Title: ITTC Director, Executive Director for Applied Technology

Age: 48; 43

Location: Lawrence

On the Web:

Founded: 1996

Employees, revenues: 49 faculty, technical and support staff; 131 students. Budget of approximately $6 million.

Overview: KU scientists are developing snowmobile robots and a new radar system that will be used in Greenland and Antarctica to study ice sheets, all funded by an $8.7 million National Science Foundation grant.

Back home in Lawrence, KU's second-largest research center was one of the founders of the Lawrence Technology Association.

The ITTC is a leader in high-speed telecommunications and a variety of other cutting-edge technologies. Its researchers are working on a water-finding radar system that could serve as a prototype for NASA as it seeks water on Mars. Other researchers have developed technology that has been spun off into a new company that monitors advertising on television.

And search technology developed at KU is being used by Today Communications of Kansas City to find and evaluate health information sites at its site.

In all, ITTC has 50 active research projects.

On campus, one of the center's latest projects is a new e-Learning Design Lab, which will study teaching and learning methods using new technology.

For more information, contact ITTC.

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Partner with ITTC

The Information and Telecommunication Technology Center at the University of Kansas has developed several assistance policies that enhance interactions between the Center and local, Kansas, or national companies. 

ITTC assistance includes initial free consulting (normally one to five hours). If additional support is needed, ITTC will offer one of the following approaches: 

Sponsored Research Agreement

Individuals and organizations can enter into agreements with KUCR/ITTC and provide funds for sponsored research to be performed at ITTC with the assistance of faculty, staff and students.

Licensing and Royalty/Equity Agreement

An ITTC goal is the development of investment-grade technologies for transfer to, and marketing by, local, Kansas, and national businesses. To enhance this process, the Center has developed flexible policies that allow for licensing, royalty, and equity arrangements to meet both the needs of ITTC and the company.

Commercialization Development

Companies with a technology need that can be satisfied with ITTC's resources can look to us for assistance. We can develop a relationship with interested partners that will provide for the development of a technology suited for commercialization.

ITTC Resource Access

ITTC resources, including computers and software systems, may be made available to Kansas companies in accordance with the Center's mission and applicable Regents and University policies.

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