All posts by cyanzhong2019

Chicago’s impact investing landscape: A conversation

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

What is the primary purpose of business? To maximize profit or to make the society better with products and services? Can businesses balance these two goals?

Impact investing, a trend quickly gaining momentum in Chicago, offers an answer. In February, small businesses, not-for-profits, corporations, foundations and venture capitalists alike gathered at the annual Impact Investing Showcase, to learn about how the latest innovations and impact measurements help businesses “do well” and “do good” at the same time.

Impact Investing Showcase 2019. (Video by Cyan Zhong/Medill)

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How a women-led tech startup e-prescribes community resources for self-care

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

Stacy Lindau wears many hats – practicing physician, researcher, professor. But she never imagined herself a technology startup founder.

As electronic prescriptions make the old-school pencil-to-paper prescriptions obsolete, Lindau found the calling to expand the power of information technology outside exam rooms and into a broader community.

With funding from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Lindau created NowPow by bringing the brainchild of her research at the University of Chicago to market. Continue reading

Your old cell phone could become the medals for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

If you live in Japan, you might have a chance to see top athletes all over the world wear your old phones on their necks next summer.

Well, not quite, but close. The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games has been collecting used electronics all over Japan, including old cellphones and home appliances. The plan is to extract the metal and make – you guessed it – Olympic medals.

A Japanese factory is melting the electronics to extract the metal within. (Ⓒ Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo).

“The Medal Project,” as the committee calls it, is a big part of sustainability innovations ahead of the games. Kicked off in April 2017, the project is now near the finish line – March marks the last month of collection, said Tatsuo Ogura, senior manager of international communications for the committee.

“When we started this project in 2017, we expected it to finish in two years,” Ogura said. “We are on the right track and we almost met with the goal.”

The committee fulfilled the 2,700-kilogram goal of bronze collection last June. In October, it met 93.7 percent of the target for salvaging gold and 85.4 percent for silver, Ogura said.

A total of 1,500 municipalities across Japan are involved in the medal project, and they put the signature yellow donation boxes at post offices or street corners for citizens to donate their used devices, Ogura said. They can also donate at 2,400 NTT DOCOMO stores nationwide, Japan’s predominant mobile phone operator.

“We believe that, by supporting schemes like the medal project which encourage participation by the public, we can draw attention to the importance of recycling and help realize an environmentally friendly and sustainable society,” a NTT Docomo representative said in an email.  

The yellow donation box allows people all over Japan to donate their used electronic devices. Many athletes are on board with the project and signed their names to back the cause. (Cyan Zhong/Medill Reports)

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Majority of Americans now accept climate change, support carbon tax

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

Remember this tweet from President Donald Trump as the Midwest shivered through record low temperatures?

Despite the nation’s chief executive still denying climate change, America’s public sentiment on climate science is shifting to acceptance and a call for action.

The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC) and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released the results of a poll in January surveying Americans’ stance on climate and energy issues, showing that seven in 10 Americans now believe climate change is a reality.

More than 70 percent of Americans believe climate change is a reality. (Courtesy of EPIC/AP-NORC)

While partisan difference persists – 86 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans believe climate change is real – it has become a majority opinion across party lines, said Lindsay Iversen, deputy director at EPIC.

The poll results showed not only increasing support for the science of climate change but also a general willingness to take action on it. Forty-four percent of participants said they support the implementation of a tax on carbon-based fuels.

“The fact that people are willing to support a carbon tax on all of their income and across a number of different realms, not just in the narrow application with their electricity bill, I think that’s suggesting an openness to a bigger picture policy,” Iversen said.

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Show-stopping concept vehicles grandstand music and grill fresh pizza at Chicago Auto Show

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

As the flashiest fleet revved its way into the 2019 Chicago Auto Show, one special model boomed into spectators’ ears and eyes at the pre-show media exhibition. Penetrating bass and beats came from the back of the vehicle.

Kicks DJ, an orange Nissan vehicle adapted into a music powerhouse, has four diaphragms bouncing on what was supposed to be the rear window. Standing near a mixer board extending from the window, the knob-twisting, button-pushing “badass” DJ, Eric Shimp, jammed to the beats.

Eric Shimp of Vehicle Effects in California mixes music with the Kicks DJ’s mixer. (Cyan Zhong/Medill Reports)

“It’s not something that you would really want to drive, but it is fun to be able to take this into a concert venue or a field or a warehouse in this, roll it off the truck and rock a party,” Shimp said.

Aside from being a “superstar DJ,” Shimp is also project manager at Vehicle Effects, a small car-making team in Sun Valley, California. He works with Dennis McCarthy, a famous car builder for Hollywood films including the Fast and Furious series, Justice League and Batman v Superman.

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How this nano startup tackles big problems at the smallest scale

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

A floating birthday balloon that sticks to the wall. A sponge absorbing water. An exploding soda can. A bottle rocket.

These seemingly unrelated items are all analogies Benjamin Hernandez uses to explain his startup, NuMat Technologies, a nanotechnology company in Skokie that tackles big problems at the smallest possible scale.

Think of birthday balloons. When they float around and rub against the wall, they stick to it because the electrical properties of gas determine that it likes to stick to surfaces, the 35-year-old founder said. Continue reading

Cleantech innovations in the Midwest need more venture capital money

By Cyan Zhong
Medill Reports

Though still an industrial metropolis, Chicago is actively becoming a clean energy innovation hub for microgrids, electric cars and next generation battery research.

But the startup momentum in the energy sector isn’t matched with enough venture capital enthusiasm.

“There are great founders working hard on great new inventions and new technologies, and there’s simply a lack of capital here,” said Ben Gaddy, chief technology officer at Clean Energy Trust, a not-for-profit providing venture capital for early-stage cleantech startups in the Midwest.

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