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
On the Web: www.ittc.ukans.edu
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 VitalSeek.com 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.