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Local web community establishes scholarship fund to honor fallen collaborator

Updated: May 16, 2011 11:46AM

Last September, 26-year-old Internet developer and designer Matt Puchlerz died suddenly of heart complications. Although the Buffalo, N.Y.-area native worked in Chicago for only a couple of years, his talent and personality made a lasting impression on everyone around him.

“Usually people [are skilled] with one side of the brain or the other,” said Kat Nelson, a vice president for Chicago-based software development company Obtiva, where Puchlerz worked. “You don’t see his blend of design and development talent very often.”

Only weeks before his death, Puchlerz worked directly with senior product executives at Groupon. While building new group commerce applications from scratch, Puchlerz simultaneously served as a “voice of reason” that everyone listened to and a “goofball” who would entertain those around him with a wicked Karaoke take of the Hall & Oates song “Maneater,” recalled Groupon vice president Suneel Gupta in a blog post.

In addition to working with Obtiva, Puchlerz was an active member of the Refresh Chicago Meetup group of local web professionals. Two days after his death, nearly 300 people showed up for a memorial service at the Japonais Patio at 600 W. Chicago. Groupon engineers helped set up a live Twitter feed broadcast on a large screen at the event to show Puchlerz’s parents and wife how much of an impact he had on others during his short time here.

Last month, a digital arts scholarship fund was established in Puchlerz’s name at his alma mater, Starpoint High School. After the initial $5,000 target was met by more than 50 individual donations, the Killswitch Collective — which first employed Puchlerz when he arrived to Chicago — provided an additional $5,000 to fund a second scholarship.

“Everyone wants Chicago to be seen as a tech hub,” said Nelson. “But it’s what we do for each other that really makes the difference.”

Young entrepreneur charges ahead at Future Founders competition

Chicago International Charter School senior Anthony Driver on May 4 took home first prize during the 2011 Future Founders Citywide Business Plan Competition. Hosted by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center at the Hard Rock Cafe, the Future Founders competition showcased plans and presentations from more than 200 high school students representing multiple schools on Chicago’s South Side.

Driver’s emerging company, Charge “N” Go, plans to manufacture electronic devices designed to charge standard consumer electronics from multiple locations.

More than $25,000 in cash and prizes were handed out to multiple students who participated in the annual “American Idol”-like competition. Each year, CEC Managing Director Scott Issen recruits dozens of area entrepreneurs and executives to mentor students as they prepare their business plans and presentations. More than 700 students have participated since the program began in 2005.

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