Skokie company builds farm system for nanotech industry

NOTE: This first appreared in the Feb. 20 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

You could say Dean Hart is building a farm system for his league.
Hart’s parent company, Skokie-based NanoInk Inc., has been a leader in developing equipment and systems for the nanotechnology industry. For those not into nano, it’s an industry that’s based on developing things that are one billionth of a meter in size (about 80,000 times smaller than a human hair). Nanotechnology’s potential has expanded exponentially over the past decades, moving from primarily computer processors into every day applications, from medicine delivery systems to the stuff that keeps stains from settling on your clothes and carpets.
As a result of that growth, Hart said, the nanotechnology industry will generate $1 trillion in business by 2020, creating the need of 6 million new jobs globally. However, nanotechnology education has been traditionally taught in “cleanroom” environments either on the job or at a the advanced-degree level at a few colleges, which is creating a gap in skilled workers to fill the increasing number of jobs ahead.
“The problem became how can we drive nano education to the undergraduate level and create a true nano-savvy workforce?” Hart said.
To answer that, NanoInk has created an educational division called NanoProfessor. Hart, who is NanoProfessor’s chief commercial officer, led development of a three-pronged education program that can be used by schools to teach nanotechnology. The program provides equipment developed by NanoInk — which Hart notes does not need to be used in a cleanroom — as well as a textbook and laboratory exercises. The program also teaches the instructors how to administer the program and provides support to the schools.
NanoProfessor’s goal is to help schools gets students interested in nanotechnology earlier in the educational process. With President Obama’s push to increase education in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Hart notes this program is a good fit in that mandate.
“We need to keep asking, how do we continue to excite students around STEM?” he said. “Well, nanotechnology — if you do it right — can be one of the most exciting things in the world.”
While NanoProfessor was originally developed to focus on colleges, Hart said they have received increasing interest in the program from community colleges and high schools. Last month, NanoProfessor held a three-day “NanoCamp” for a group of science teachers from Wheeling High School, where they were introduced to the program and given hands-on experience with the equipment and labs.
“We received an introduction to nanoscience and conducted hands-on training with NanoInk’s NLP 2000, which enabled us to make structures at the nanoscale on a desktop system, something that is usually only able to be done in a multimillion dollar cleanroom,” Wheeling biology teacher Frank Caballero said in a news release. “We are very excited to take what we’ve learned back to the classroom. Exposure to these advances in science will interest students pursuing careers in medicine, scientific research, engineering, and others.”
Hart said Wheeling High Principal Lazaro Lopez and the teachers were very positive about the experience and he hopes they will be able to adopt the program at the Northwest Suburban District 214 school in the near future.
In addition, City Colleges of Chicago has partnered with NanoProfessor to provide two students in the college’s “Introduction to Nanotechnology” course with paid summer internships at NanoProfessor’s labs in Skokie.
“Our partnership with NanoProfessor will offer our students an unprecedented opportunity to build valuable technical skills and gain real-world experience in the growing nanotechnology industry,” Cheryl L. Hyman, chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, said in a release.
Hart added the internship helps NanoProfessor by bringing a fresh perspective into the company to help develop new products and concepts.
“Our interns are finding ways to do things that our Ph.D’s haven’t thought of, and that’s a beautiful thing,” he said.
Hart is quick to note that, although NanoProfessor students learn on NanoInk equipment, the program goes well beyond learning how to use the tools. The entire program is structured around teaching students the concepts of nanotechnology and how it relates to the sciences of biology, chemistry and physics. That, he said, gives the students marketable skills in the industry, and gives the U.S. a leg up in the global race for jobs.
“There’s no doubt that this is a race. There is competition,” Hart said. “Other countries have already recognized that those with a trained workforce will be the leaders in attracting new companies to them.”
Hart said he understands the need for schools and funding agencies to be able to justify the return on the investment (NanoProfessor’s cost is less than $300,000, which is far less expensive than building a cleanroom environment classroom). But, he added, it is also important that the industry have a pool of trained workers to fill the growing demand in jobs over the next several years, and it will be the schools that will drive that need.
“I want to see these colleges and schools training students because that’s where my future workforce is coming from,” he said. “I need undergrads who are nano savvy who can serve as my trainers, my installers, my marketing people, and get this done, and do that at significantly less expense than have a company full of Ph. Ds.”

Social marketing gets formal with Harper certificate program

NOTE: The article first appeared in the January 23 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

Who’s in charge of your small business’ social marketing strategy?
If it’s your teenage child or a similar young relative, the odds are good you’re not getting any customer traffic from it, says Corinn Hilbert. The reason it isn’t working is because businesses confuse “social media” with “social marketing,” and there is a very big difference, she notes.
“With social media, it’s arbitrary and spontaneous, with no outcomes expected. It’s just sharing,” said Hilbert, a social marketing consultant and founder of Be XSible LLC. “With social marketing, it’s strategic and purposeful with a definite outcome expected. You want new customers. That does not happen by accident.”
As social media and its potential as an effective marketing tool has grown exponentially over the past years, the learning curve for business owners to effectively utilize those tools has lagged behind. But a new program being launched at Harper College in Palatine is geared to provide focus and credibility to marketing a business online and through social media.
Harper’s Social Media Marketing Specialist CE Certificate is a 48-hour, six-course program designed to give students the knowledge and tools to conduct effective business social marketing campaigns and strategies. Hilbert teaches the course, which she said is geared far beyond just knowing how to use Facebook or Twitter. The program is designed to help business owners understand social media’s role in social marketing, and how to develop and manage campaigns that provide your business with an online identity that draw new customers and develop relationships with current ones. In addition, the program also focuses on how to obtain and analyze the results in order to improve your marketing campaigns.
The course includes classes on social media and online marketing foundations; interactive content and working with search engine optimization and blogs; social media for business; email and mobile marketing campaigns; social marketing management and a social media portfolio workshop.
Hilbert said those completing the program will have know-how to develop and implement effective social marketing strategy, as well as analyze the results of those campaigns to take advantage of opportunities to grow and nurture new and existing customers.
“We want these businesses to capitalize on social media, not just be participants,” she said.
Martha Karavitis, Harper’s coordinator of continuing education computer training, notes the program is not only unique to the school, but to most educational facilities as well. Only a handful of colleges, such as the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the University of San Francisco, have established training programs in social media and marketing.
Karavitis said the college saw a need for a program locally as businesses were more frequently contacting the college, looking to hire people with social media skills. She added these skills are becoming more sought after in the workforce, noting as many as 2,000 new job openings seeking people with social media skills have posted online locally in the past month alone.
Businesses are looking for these skills and schools are scrambling to come up with a way to teach them,” she said.
The college held a course last May for unemployed workers which offered a ‘taste’ of what would be taught in the new program, Karavitis said. The feedback from the class was so positive that Karavitis and Hilbert decided to proceed with the certificate course.
Karavitis and Hilbert note the program is not only for business owners, but also for people who are looking to obtain new skills for a quickly growing field. Receiving the CE certificate gives a jobseeker an advantage over others, as it shows a potential employer that the person has taken time to learn the needed skills in a formalized setting from a well-known institution.
“One of the biggest issues now is the lack of formal training,” Hilbert said. “With this, you’re telling an employer ‘I took the time to sit down and learn the skills needed from an institution like Harper College.’”
Karavitis added others who would benefit from the program are marketing professionals, web designers, editors or journalists who need to improve their skills and understanding of social media and marketing.
“We have a diverse audience for this, from the unemployed to COOs,” Hilbert said.
Although the current program, which begins Jan. 26, is near capacity, Karavitis said they still have a few openings and are taking requests for future programs.
But for the business owner, Hilbert said the biggest benefit of the program is developing the understanding that social marketing does not just mean having a presence everywhere in social media, but knowing what platforms will work best for getting your message to your customers.
“We want to make sure the people in the program come out with the training and skills to do a good social marketing campaign, and they are doing it right, so the business isn’t just throwing its time and money out the window,” she said.
For more information call (847) 925-6066, go to or contact Hilbert at