Monthly Archives: June 2015

New Search Engine Company Moves to Chicago

Hands typing on the laptop
After two years in New York and San Francisco, a new search engine that focuses on buying and selling used industrial equipment has moved its headquarters to Chicago.

The website Built in Chicago reports that Machinio.com serves as an online search engine and, practically, as a forum for the purchase and sale of industrial, agricultural, and construction equipment. Dmitriy Rokhfeld, one of the co-founders, decided to move to Chicago in part due to its proximity to the headquarters of major industrial and farming companies such as Caterpillar and John Deere.

“In Chicago, there are so many connections that individuals have with those types of markets that we had a much easier time recruiting for various positions,” Rokhfeld said. “In Chicago, we’re seen as more of a cooler startup, where in San Francisco we were seen as an unsexy one.”

According to him, the worth of used mechanical equipment sold in the global marketplace is enormous, anywhere from $200 billion to $500 billion every year.

Rokhfeld and fellow co-founder Dan Pinto launched the company in 2013, after Pinto had difficulties finding a used printing press for sale. Founded in San Francisco, the company quickly moved to New York in order to join Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, a company that trains and supports start-up businesses. During their time in New York, the duo raised $1 million from venture capitalist firms and individual investors. Eventually, the company moved back to San Francisco for a short time before settling on Chicago.

“For us, it became where could we hire great talent, and where could our company really grow,” Rokhfeld said. “We saw that being much more possible in a place like Chicago.”

The search engine consolidates information from tens of thousands of individual dealer websites of used industrial machinery around the globe and presents it in a user-friendly platform.

“Right now, our goal is to remain incredibly focused on one thing, and that’s providing a great experience to our buyers so they can find anything available online,” Rokhfeld added. “Right here on Machinio.”

Search engines are becoming one of the dominant features of the Internet. MarketingCharts recently found, for example, that 39% of all online customers come from the use of search engines.

Chicago Still Leading the Country in Mortgage Woes

Real Estate Money

A new analysis from Zillow has concluded that Chicago has more “underwater” mortgages than any other real estate market in the country, meaning there are more homeowners in Chicago than anywhere else whose houses are worth less than they still owe on their mortgage.

The total figure for the Chicago metro area, according to Zillow, is 413,690. That’s far and away the highest number of total underwater loans; New York comes in a distant second with 307,573.

According to the first-quarter data, Chicago also has the second-highest overall rate of homeowners with underwater mortgages, a concept referred to as negative equity. Nearly 24% of Chicago mortgages were underwater as of the first quarter. That’s actually a significant year-over-year improvement, down from 28.1% in the first quarter of 2014, but the market still trails only Las Vegas, which has a 25% negative equity rate.

Zillow calculated that rate by comparing the estimated values of each home to “all outstanding mortgage debt and lines of credit associated with the home,” meaning the analysis took into account home equity lines of credit and home equity loans, as well as traditional mortgages. Home values can, of course, be difficult to pinpoint (since something as simple as landscaping can increase home value by between 7% and 15%), but estimates can still act as valuable indicators of the overall condition of a market.

The national negative equity rate now sits at 15.4%, more than a three-point drop from this time last year. At the lowest point of the real estate crisis, more than 15 million American homeowners held underwater mortgages; that figure has now decreased to around 7.9 million.

But those homeowners are quite deeply underwater. “It’s great news that the level of negative equity is falling, but what really worries me is the depth of negative equity,” Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries commented in a news release, explaining that it could take up to a decade for many of those homeowners to build enough equity to get their mortgages right-side-up again.

He also explained that these underwater mortgages affect the entire market, especially with lower-end houses, because they prevent would-be first-time homebuyers from finding affordable entry-level properties.

“The logjam at the bottom is having ripple effects throughout the market, and as home value growth slows, it will be years before it gets cleared up,” Humphries predicted. “In the meantime, we’ll be left with volatile prices, limited inventory, tepid demand, elevated foreclosures and a whole lot of frustration.”

Health Experts: Sitting At Work Cuts Years From Life

Anonymous crowd of people walking on city street
At an office furniture trade show held Monday in Chicago, companies showed off new solutions to a dangerous health problem afflicting office workers. As more workers become sedentary and spend their nine-to-five workday sitting down, experts have warned that “sitting is the new smoking.”

Not only do studies confirm that sitting workers have a higher risk of diseases and deadly heart conditions, but it’s also associated with a shorter average lifespan. And according to a new report by the Chicago Tribune, standing desks and so-called “smart desk” technology are an increasingly profitable industry across the country.

At Monday’s trade show a company called Stir revealed one of these so-called smart desks, which collects data about a worker’s posture and reminds them how often to stand. The standing smart desk costs between $2,990 and $4,190, which has limited its adoption rate.

Martin Keen of Focal Upright had a simpler, low-tech solution to the health problem — a one-legged stool designed to help workers remain in a standing position while shifting their weight to the floor. The simple $100 Mogo stool has a cushion that looks like a bicycle seat, and the company has already sold more than 7,500 so far.

One study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that workers who used standing desks for an hour a day reduced their upper back and neck pain by 54%. They also experienced an improvement in mood.

Experts say that neck pain troubles 45% of U.S. workers, and that up to 80% of the country will suffer from back problems in their lifetime. This summer, more companies and workers are investing in standing desks to improve health outcomes, lower insurance costs, and cut down on chronic back and neck pain around the office.

Jason McCann is the CEO of Varidesk, which also made a presentation at the convention. McCann said he originally designed his product to help an employee with back problems, and since then he’s sold his products in all 50 states.

Chicago-Area Health Group Implements New Electronic System

e-health information.

Northwest Community Healthcare, which serves suburbs to the northwest of Chicago, is embracing technological advances to offer more convenience and better care to its patients.

The group just finished the implementation of a new electronic health record system, a project that has been in the works since late 2013.

The system “helps improve communication between clinicians, allows patient data to be readily available across all units and saves time for clinicians who no longer chase down patient charts,” CEO Steve Scogna said in a statement.

It also allows patients to access their own information through a 24-hour online portal so they can request or schedule appointments, view their test results, request refills on prescriptions, keep track of immunization and medications, and even securely communicate with healthcare providers directly.

Electronic Health Records in the U.S.
Despite their undeniable promise, electronic health records have become a fraught issue in the United States, largely because of government programs that first incentivized and have now essentially mandated their use for providers accepting Medicare or Medicaid payments.

There’s no doubt that the market for EHR systems is growing; the industry is projected to reach nearly $30 billion by 2022, according to the latest projections. Data for last year is still being collected, but adoption of basic EHR systems by office-based physicians went up by 21% in just one year between 2012 and 2013 (bringing the total figure to about 78%). Critics say, however, that doctors have had very little choice in whether to implement those systems and in how they are implemented.

Federal regulators are now having to back off on some requirements in order to give doctors, hospitals and medical software systems more time to comply with government requirements.

The next big challenge, those in the industry say, will be to bridge the gaps among various EHR software systems so that both providers and patients can reap all the benefits that EHRs can — at least in theory — offer.

One Tool Stops Police Abuse, Bad Drivers

police
Dashboard vehicle cameras come standard in many foreign countries because of higher rates of insurance fraud overseas, but many U.S. drivers have been slow to adopt the technology.

In Chicago, a series of high-profile incidents involving vehicle cameras are helping raise public awareness of the technology. On Tuesday, June 2, a Chicago bus “inexplicably” ran a red light and plowed through a busy sidewalk in the middle of rush hour, killing one woman and injuring eight more pedestrians.

Because the bus driver was the only occupant in the vehicle at the time of the fatal crash, police say the dashboard camera footage will provide crucial evidence about the accident. Witnesses say the bus came to a stop at a red light, but then suddenly rushed forward and jumped the curb at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Lake Street. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, at least 900 people are killed and 2,000 more injured annually by vehicles running red lights.

Chicago Transportation Authority spokesman Brian Steele offered few clues about the accident, only repeating witness accounts.

“We don’t know the full circumstances yet…The operator had stopped at this red light and — for reasons not yet known — the vehicle proceeded into the intersection.”

In fatal crashes, vehicle cameras can provide police vital clues during their investigations, such as proof that the driver was texting or otherwise distracted. The crash near Lake Street was just the first in a string of high-profile stories involving dashboard cameras so far this June.

Last week, six unnamed Chicago police officers were named in a settlement with the family of LaQuan McDonald, fatally shot by police in 2014. The police deny wrongdoing in the case; however, dashboard camera footage provided enough evidence for the victim’s family to force a settlement. Another Chicago man made national news this week when vehicle cameras captured him stealing and crashing an ambulance. Then, over the weekend, a dashboard camera in a parked car captured vital evidence in a shooting.

It remains to be seen if these incidents will lead to increased adoption of the technology by civilians.

Tinder, With Tattoos: Chicago-Based TatChat Connects Ink Enthusiasts

retro photo
It’s a common woe among the millennial crowd: spending hours at a time sifting through profiles on Tinder, with none of the so-called hot singles in your area as tattooed as you’d like them to be.

If you’re tired of the futility of swiping left on tattoo-less prospects, your prayers have been answered in the form of TatChat, a soon-to-be-released app developed in Chicago.

According to Chicago Inno, TatChat’s sole purpose is to bring the 45 million — about one in five — U.S. adults who have at least one tattoo a little closer together.

The iOS and Android app, which describes itself as a “living encyclopedia of body art tattoo pieces,” can be used for both dating and friendship; in fact, users can choose to stay anonymous if they wish. On TatChat, it’s the tattoos that take center stage.

TatChat users take pictures of their tattoos with the hopes of getting “likes” from other users. The app keeps track of the top 100 most-liked tattoos around the world. Users can leave comments and offer suggestions on other users’ TatWalls, much like Facebook. And if two users like each others’ tattoos, they can message each other within the app.

People without tattoos can benefit from TatChat, as well. The app allows the non-tattooed to post a photo of where they’d like to place their tattoo, allowing fellow users to offer suggestions on the design and placement.

To help get its platform off the ground, TatChat has launched a KickStarter campaign to help generate funding, hoping to raise $88,000 by June 25. The app’s developers plan to launch the iOS app in August, with a potential November launch for the Android version.

“[TatChat is a] source of information for why to have or not to have a tattoo, what to do or not to do, what is liked and what is ignored, while providing open and non-intrusive communication channels among all these people, their art, and motives,” the KickStarter campaign reads.

With Chicago’s Infrastructure Overwhelmed, Nearby Ecosystems Put at Risk

Anonymous crowd of people walking on city street

Increasingly overwhelmed by the city’s population, aging infrastructure systems throughout Chicago could begin to threaten the environment in the coming years if nothing is done to fix them.

According to The DePaulia, evidence of sewer system overload is already apparent throughout much of the city. When last summer brought heavy rains and flash flooding, Chicago’s century-old sewer lines — buried 12 to 24 inches below the city streets — weren’t equipped to cope with the extra storm water.

When Chicago’s sewer systems and water treatment plants can’t handle these intense storms, this water overflow goes into the Chicago River. But to keep the river from rising onto city streets, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District officials are often forced to release extra sewage and rain water into Lake Michigan. Last summer, the city released 525 million gallons of sewage and storm water into Lake Michigan.

And with climate experts and city officials predicting that these storms will only get more intense and unpredictable as time goes on, current sewer line repair projects might be another case of too little, too late.

“There is a new kind of storm hitting Chicago in recent years — heavy rains that can be very local, very intense and hard to predict,” a city website that pushes for preventative flood programs said. “They dump two inches or more per hour on a given neighborhood. This volume quickly overwhelms local sewers, which were not designed for such intense rainfall. Sewer mains fill up, and additional water pushes into basements through our private drains.”

Chicago’s sewer system overflow isn’t all that threatens the local ecosystem. According to a June 4 report from The Chicagoist, methane leaks from natural gas pipelines around the city pose a risk to the climate. In the city’s older neighborhoods, especially, these leaks are most prominent, indicating a clear need to upgrade and fix these leaks.

In fact, 40% of Chicago’s gas pipelines are more than half a century old, the Environmental Defense Fund found. And while these methane leaks don’t necessarily create an immediate threat to the environment, it’s clear Chicago’s leadership will need to prioritize pipeline upgrades in the near future.

Chicago Native Wants to Change the Way We Look at Tennis

Chicago Skyline
Nineteen-year-old Taylor Townsend may have lost her first-round match at the French Open, but this Chicago native is an up-and-comer in the tennis world.

Townsend grew up in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, which is known for being a troubled area. The neighborhood ranks fifth in terms of violent crimes in the city, according to The Chicago Tribune.

After training at XS Tennis Academy in the neighborhood of Kenwood, Townsend has been described as a “throwback” in the sport for her aggressive serve-and-volley style.

She describes the technique as something that makes her special. “I just want to incorporate it more and make that a more natural part of my game again,” she said when speaking to Sports Illustrated

Townsend lost her match against 20-year-old Tereza Smitkova of the Czech Republic, but she’s early in her career. She recently played against Serena Williams at last year’s U.S. Open, who is ranked No. 1 in women’s tennis in the world.

Townsend isn’t so bad, either. She recently ranked as No. 94 and was the top-ranked junior on the courts.

She began playing in tournaments in 2010 at the age of 14. It’s not uncommon to see more and more younger players taking part in tennis at their local racquet and tennis clubs these days; among six to 11-year-olds, participation in the sport increased by 13% from 2011 to 2012.

At last year’s French Open, which was her first Grand Slam, she made it to the third round, making her the youngest American to do so in the past five years.

But her career hasn’t been without controversy. In 2012, the U.S. Tennis Association asked then 16-year-old Townsend to sit out the junior U.S. Open until she had lost some weight.

She is still the same size, at 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds, but the incident did cause her to split from USTA coaches.

But Townsend didn’t let the incident dampen her spirits, and she’s trying to bring tennis, which she’s described before as a very “white” sport, to Chicago’s South Side.

She even convinced the Chicago Housing Authority to build a $9.8 million tennis facility in Bronzeville, not far from where she grew up.

Her rankings may take a drop after the French Open, but she is still expected to stay somewhere in the Top 150, according to SI.com.