Edward L. “Ed” Kaplan (ME ’65) has done much more than provide the gift that helped launch the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship. He is a shining example of the ideas that the Kaplan Institute teaches.
A Chicagoan who earned a mechanical engineering degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Kaplan, then 26 years old, acted upon an entrepreneurial vision in 1969 to create Data Specialties (DSI) with Gerhard “Gary” Cless to, as Kaplan relayed in a 2018 Illinois Tech Magazine story, design electromechanical equipment and “have some fun.”
Through ups and downs, Kaplan and Cless turned the part-time business into Zebra Technologies, a Fortune 1000 company that now focuses on barcode scanning, specialty printing and supplies, mobile computing and rugged tablets, RFID and real-time location systems, and intelligent workforce management and execution solution, among other pursuits. The company now employs nearly 9,000 employees worldwide across 128 offices in 54 countries. Kaplan served as the company’s CEO from its founding until retiring in 2007.
It took Kaplan and Cless more than 15 years before they created their big break: developing the Z-130, a thermal transfer printer for on-demand barcode labeling. “Our thermal transfer printing of barcodes was a technological breakthrough at 200 dpi. We went from being a product to a labeling solution,” Kaplan said in the magazine story, Built by Barcode.
That entrepreneurial spirit carries through to the Kaplan Institute.
“I’m just a lucky guy who made some money, and that money is now invested in that white building and in the people who are going to be in that white building,” Kaplan said in the magazine story, pointing to the Kaplan Institute. “Universities could be about a lot of different things, but to me, the reason we’re building that institute is because we want to teach students to—by themselves or in collaboration with others—build a business, learning what it takes to go down that road.”
Kaplan and his wife, Carol, have been gracious benefactors of Illinois Tech and the Kaplan Institute, including making a gift of $11 million to establish it. A portion of that gift—$10 million—represented a successful challenge grant to help encourage and support the development and construction of the new building.
Kaplan remains active with the Kaplan Institute, including serving as board chair on its Board of Advisors.