Social Enterprise At Technori

Technori Pitch LogoLast week I was finally able to attend a Technori Pitch. This month’s event featured early stage companies focused on having a positive impact on some of the most pressing social challenges in Chicago, the U.S. and the world. This was perfect for me since I have joined just such a company in AuctionsByCellular.

It started off with a keynote from Christa Velasquez, Senior Fellow with the Initiative for Responsible Investment (IRI) at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University. Christa gave an overview of what qualifies as a social enterprise and talked about impact investing. Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky Innovation did a pretty good job of covering her talk here.

Next up, five companies pitched their business to the investors and other attendees. All of them had a unique, inspirational story about how they are making a positive impact on the world.

OneGoal
Founder Jeff Nelson gave a powerful talk about his program whose sole purpose is to get CPS students to graduate from college. When Jeff was a CPS teacher, he found out that only 6% of his students would graduate from college. By partnering with great teachers, OneGoal has raised that rate to 84%. Learn more about OneGoal at onegoalgraduation.org and follow @OneGoalGraduate on Twitter.

ReBuilding Exchange
Founder Elise Zelechowski spoke about how her company, ReBuilding Exchange, is creating a marketplace for reclaimed building materials. They have been working with construction companies to foster a business model where it is more profitable for them to resell building materials rather than discard to a landfill. They also do cool things like offering DIY classes to people who want to build projects with reclaimed materials, employ workers that have barriers to finding jobs and sell custom furniture in their retail warehouse. They have an online store as well. Check them out at rebuildingexchange.org and follow @RXChicago on twitter.

Spark Ventures
The Spark Ventures presentation was very polished, both in the delivery and some really excellent photography showcasing all the good work their organization is doing. They specialize in creating sustainable businesses in developing countries, creating employment, opportunity and a brighter future for children in impoverished communities. Beyond asking for investment, Founder Rich Johnson asked the crowd to “lend us your status”, a really cool way to ask for people’s support via their social media accounts. Find out more at sparkventures.org and follow @SparkVentures on twitter.

Moxie Jean
I had heard of MoxieJean before when they competed in Bytes Over Bagel’s Chicago Tech Startup Madness. Founder Sharon Schneider started out by humorously going over all the problems Moms have finding quality second-hand clothes, and then quickly showed how her company had turned it into an easy, fun experience. Moxie Jean is upscale rescale, a website to buy or sell top brandname children’s clothes. They’re on twitter at @MoxieJeanKids.

Collaborative Group
Founder Kathleen Wright spoke about her company’s ambitious mission to bring economic opportunity to artisans all over the developing world by connecting them to big brands and retailers. They are already having a lot of success, partnering with quite a few brands already and getting a lot of press. Check them out at collaborative-group.com and following @coll_group on twitter.

Using Trello For Idea Management

trello-logoTrello is a fantastic web app from Fog Creek Software for organizing just about everything. I have written before about how I use it to organize my ideas. I recently ran across an article on using Trello to keep track of ideas, which made me want to get more into it.

If you are someone who has a lot of ideas for a variety of things, this is how I recommend you use Trello. First, get an account. It is free.

Stage 1: Idea Dump
Make a board. Call it ideas. And just pile them on in there. As you keep adding ideas, you can categorize your ideas into lists in your ideas board..

Stage 2: Idea Buckets
Hopefully, your ideas board fills up quickly. When it does, split off new boards of your most popular categories (e.g. Side Projects, Blog Posts). Then, further segment those boards into categories. For example, create a board of Gift Ideas, and have individual lists for your spouse, kids and so on.

trelloStage 3: Idea Management
You can get more out of Trello by using it to prioritize your ideas as well, moving ideas up and down their list. You’ll see your best ideas will naturally float to the top, and the clunkers drop on down. It is great for collaboration as well. Inviting others to join one of your boards and add their ideas in is simple and quick. Trello also makes it easy to transition from the idea stage to design/production.

If you are a creative person, give Trello a try. They have a fantastic mobile app as well, so you can manage your ideas anywhere, anytime.

Open Source Your Code For Fame and Fortune

My slides from my Techweek Chicago presentation are going to be published live (wifi permitting) during the talk. Once that happens, you can check them out at johnpolacek.github.io/open-source-for-fame-and-fortune . The presentation was built on top of a new html presentation framework I just started working on. It is called TweenDeck, and it is built on top of the Greensock Animation Platform. If you know what you are doing in Greensock, and understand how to build a Timeline animation, then you will find it super easy to use. It is a bit time intensive, as you have to handcode a lot of animations, but what you wind up with is a pretty slick preso. In addition to building presentations, I could see it being used to create things like product demos and animated stories in the browser.

As a followup, below are some additional resources related to what I talked about in the session.

Open Source Resources

Techweek LAUNCH

J.B. Pritzker started talking about all the great stuff happening in the City of Chicago. He was especially excited about innovations happening in the bio-medical technology space.

Four of the big initiatives in Chicago. First, there is 1871, which launched a year ago and is always in development. Second, starting a bio-medical accelerator to take advantage of all the major companies that already exist here and connect them with startups. UI Labs is an initiative to excite the U of I Engineering grads and keeping it here in Chicago. The fourth was to connect the best scientists from different disciplines to foster innovation.

J.B. concluded by saying that we are in a tech renaissance and he is excited for Chicago to take advantage of it.

Next, they presented the five startups in contention for the big prize.

NEXTSTEP.io makes sense of your quantified self. It lets you combine all the api’s and data from various services like Foursquare, Nike Fuelband, Instagram, etc. Like Mint.com helps you achieve your financial goals, NextStep.io helps you achieve your health goals. For example, by challenging you to walk to a coffee shop that is 10 minutes away instead of 2 minutes, or do walking meetings instead of static meetings.

The average non-profit uses 7 different services to manage its fundraising. 24Fundraiser reduces that to 1. They already have 500 users and are bringing in monthly recurring revenue.

Furywing wants to revolutionize the gambling industry. They want to make normal mobile games, but add real money gambling to them. What if you could play Angry Birds for money? They are about to launch their first gambling game in the UK, where they have a gambling license for iOS and Android.

Crowdfynd is taking lost & found and taking it online with crowdsourcing. We lose all kinds of stuff. People are using Craigslist, Facebook and Twitter for this now, but none of them work very well. This service allows regular people to become heroes. The app is free for consumers. They make money by charging companies who are obligated to manage their lost and found items.

WeDeliver is a same-day delivery made simple. It allows local brick & mortar stores to compete with the big eCommerce. Like the way Uber allows taxis to connect with people, WeDeliver facillitates the delivery of products locally with bike messengers and local services. By doing same-day delivery, it actually gives local businesses an advantage over Amazon and the like. They also offer online tracking and scheduled deliveries.

My favorite was WeDeliver, which was also the winner. Big congratulations to those folks!

After the prize was awarded, the mayor himself, Rahm Emanuel came out to say a few words (see the video).

Techweek Day 2: Mobile Prototyping

This was another Techweek Lab Coat Series Session that covered various new prototyping tools. There is a lot of activity in this are, with new products coming to market every 2-3 months. Mark Rickmeier covered a few of the newer, better ones.

The first was POP (Prototyping on Paper) where you can take pictures of hand-drawn wireframes and actually stitch together an interactive app prototype. If you want to prototype actual apps, you can use Testflight to push prototype apps directly to phones. Airplay lets you project an app demo from a phone to an Apple TV. Noteboard is a dry erase board that folds up (portable whiteboards that are about the size of an iPhone)

Techweek Day 2: Entertainment for the Masses

This was the best session of the conference so far.

Emerson Spartz says that understanding how to make things go viral is like having a superpower. Emerson came up with algorhythms for systematically making things go viral. He could successfully predict whether things would go viral within 20 minutes.

After Emerson spoke for a little, Filmmaker Casey Neistat told his story of ipodsdirtylittlesecret.com was really cool.

Emerson’s scientific approach to virality was an interesting comparison to Casey’s organic approach.

When something goes viral, it creates a lot of emotion. Virality = Emotion. The simplest ways to create emotion is through anger (e.g. injustice), cuteness, nostalgia, current events. People are always asking themselves, “Will sharing this make me look cool?” People also want to be the first one to share it (taking ownership).

Casey: “No matter how talented you are as a filmmaker, you can’t compete with a cat playing a piano.”

Emerson then riffed in response to a question about how brands can get things to go viral. To get things to go viral, ignore content. Concentrate on incentives. Bribery works better. Giving money works great. Referral programs are the simplest and most effective way to get something to be viral.

Figure out what you want people to do, then figure out what you can bribe them with (coupons, donating to charity on your behalf). Then Casey hilariously chimed in and says he hates everything Emerson is saying (partly because it is true).

The sweet spot is to couple great content with an incentive to share.

Emerson’s Greatest Hits:

  • Tweet important things 3 times, 8 hours apart.
  • Every post you make to facebook, upload a photo.
  • You will get 50-100% more engagement.
  • Short sentences.
  • Change every comma to a period.
  • No more than 2 sentences in a row.
  • Lists are magical.
  • Make your lists odd-numbered.
  • Start at the highest number and go down.
  • Put arrows before links. –> (untrains people from ignoring your links)
  • Always use a link tracker (like bit.ly) so you can track the stats

Techweek Day 2 – Labcoat Series: SEO

SEO takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight. Google takes time to see the changes in your site. For smaller sites, it may take 30 days for Google to crawl the site.

Work with Google, not against them. Google is 70% of the search traffic (Bing and Yahoo! are 25%). Figure out how their algorhythm is looking at your site with Google Webmaster Tools. Look at Keyword Research to see how you rank for different terms. Use the Keyword Research Tool to see the types of searches being done. Open Site Explorer is a great tool from Moz for evaluating your link structure. Google Trends is a great tool for seeing the cycles in searches.

Google does look at links in gmail and uses them as part of the calculation for SEO ranking.

Three areas to concentrate on:

  • Popularity – Getting lots of sites to link to you
  • Authority – Get the best sites to link to you
  • Relevance – Lots of things. Content, links, keywords, titles, etc.

More is not better. Longer, more detailed content is better. Content near the top of the page is seen as more important by Google. It is better to consolidate content into a single page rather than spread across a site. Don’t kill pages, use 301 redirects instead. Don’t use the same SEO tactics on all your content, mix it up between the 350 different signals Google looks for. Consider going after ranking for localized searches.

Great stuff once again from Brent Payne. Wish these talks were an hour instead of 30 minutes so he could get in deeper.

The Sharing Economy: P2P Everything

Robin Chase, Founder & CEO, Buzzcar, Zipcar and GoLoco. People only ‘consume’ cars for an hour or two at a time. The idea is to ‘right-size’ the car economy. Unlike typical rental car companies, Zipcar trusts its users and thinks of them as collaborators.

Take a company like Skype. They are using your stuff. Your internet connection and your computer. They too are taking advantage of the sharing economy.

When launching Zipcar, Robin discovered that people hate the word sharing. This is changing. Airbnb had more rooms available 4 years after its launch than all of the Hilton Hotels chain.

There is a new partnership developing between individuals and companies. Between the local and the global. She calls it Peers Incorporated. Companies create a platform that delivers economies of scale that individuals can use to their advantage. By using the platform, the individuals enable the company to have rapid growth.

She mentioned a really cool startup I hadn’t heard of before called Fiverr, a marketplace for $5 services.

One key is to let people take advantage of excess capacity. Zipcar and Airbnb are examples of this. She said smartphones are an example too. The apps on these phones use the extra capacity of the phone and return extra revenue to companies by letting people fill them up.

Her new company, Buzzcar, lets individuals rent their cars. It also enables them to be creative in how they represent themselves and market their cars.

Techweek Day 2: How to Turn Tweets Into $$$

Some key points from the panelists (Natalia Oberti Noguera, Rick Murray, Justyn Howard and Brad Burke

  • People don’t relate to companies, they relate to people.
  • If you have a company account, also have a personal account.
  • Some companies are using Twitter as a primary customer interface.
  • Don’t chase or place too much importance on a single negative tweet.
  • Having a 5-minute response time is one thing, but having a good response is better.
  • Don’t just respond with a link, taking extra time to answer a question will create a better interaction.
  • Storytelling is compelling (more compelling perhaps that retweet to win a prize).
  • Storify is a great tool.
  • The Advanced Search in Twitter is a nice tool too.
  • Natalia Oberti Noguera’s primary advice: Be Helpful

Techweek 2013 – Day 1

Every year, Techweek Chicago grows. This year there are over 8000 attendees and actually thousands of companies, ranging from fledgling startups to big tech companies.

Deputy Mayor of Chicago Steve Koch kicked things off talking about how the city government is making a big effort to grow the tech sector, doing things like starting a Bio-Medical Incubator similar to what 1871 is for startups.

Motorola Mobility has a big presence at the conference this year, making a big deal about their return to Chicago, and to the Merchandise Mart the location of Techweek itself. Just the day before Techweek started, they unveiled their new logo and branding, and it is in full effect with the rainbow pastel Google colors replacing the old Moto red.

motorola-has-a-new-logo-and-it-looks-really-googlyMotorola: Revolutionizing the Move from Libertyville to Downtown
They got right into the talks with Motorola

Jim Wicks, Motorola Mobility’s SVP of Consumer Experience Design, spoke at length about the future of Chicago as the Tech Hub of the Midwest and the future of communications technology. He ended by saying that even though we are at a technology conference, what we are really talking about is people.

Jim handed it over to Iqbal Arshad, Motorola’s SVP of Engineering, who said he was going to give us the inside scoop on what’s been going on at Motorola since the Google acquisition. He talked about Moto’s previous obsession with putting out lots and lots of products, meeting financial targets and satisfying shareholders. The new vision is not about churning out products as fast as they can, but instead on innovation.

Iqbal touched on the history of computing and the lack of innovation in computer chips and asked, “Are we just building better calculators? Are we solving real human needs, or checking checkboxes?”

He then talked about their new flagship product, Moto X.

Designing Products with Purpose: Fusing Form and Function
After Neal Sales-Griffin and Jason Fried introduced themselves. Together, they do the Starter League, a school with a 9-month graduate level program for people who want to learn programming and has trained over 600 people.

Then they started talking about product design. Jason talked about how when you start you have big ambitions about changing the world. Unfortunately, we always have more ideas than we can implement. It is about paring things down and focusing exclusively on what is essential. Jason has termed this epicenter design. It is about getting things right as you go, before you move on (avoid technical debt!)

You learn what is important as you ship. Software development is based on a lot of guessing. It is important to avoid building too many things on top of those guesses. Shipping your products gets answers.

They talked about hiring. It isn’t just about finding the best people. It is about finding the best people that can work together. It is about creating the best team. Two great people that work together well, can get more done than four great people who don’t.

Jason says he hates the word “content”. You don’t consume “content”, you consume food. “Content” diminishes what you are talking about. You aren’t just filling up space. Words matter. What are you trying to convey? If your company talks about content, then that is what you will deliver. If your company talks about stories or clarity, then that is what it will deliver. Every word you use sets an expectation.

Candid Perspectives On Bootstrapping High Tech Companies US First Robotics Challenge
This was a ‘Fireside Chat’ format led by Maria Katris CEO of Built In. On stage for the discussion were Brandon Cruz (Founder, President, & CTO, GoHealth) Andrew Sieja (Founder & CEO, kCura) and Eric Vassilatos (Co-founder, Vivid Seats). They talked about the early days of bootstrapping their now successful companies. Brandon talked about how they were on the verge of shutting down their business at one point. Andrew talked about experiencing lean years after the dot-com crash. Eric said “Thank god for credit cards.”

Some advice from Andrew to developers who want to become entrepreneurs: “Take a paycut and go into sales for a bit.”

Rise of the Impact Entrepreneur
Chuck Templeton of Impact Engine wasted no time and just started dropping knowledge bombs about building businesses and changing the world at the same time. I took notes as fast as I could:

Solving things at margins instead of at scale. With the population of the Earth reaching 7 billion, we need to change how we think of the world. We have to realize that we now live in a world of finite resources. Instead of materials that glue together, make products that snap together. Moving from a value chain (disposable products) to a value cycle, a market economy to a shared economy, a centralized production model to a distributed mesh model (more resilient), physical products to dematerializations. The big challenges are big opportunities.

The ecology is the foundation of our economy. The next 10 years will be very different from the last 10. New business models are constantly emerging. To get the best people and have the best customers, you need to appeal not just to their pocketbooks and minds, but also their hearts. Chuck finished by talking about two of the startups from the first class of Impact Engine (Azadi and Portapure) that do just that.

How to Create Your Personal Brand Online
This was an interview with about.me Founder & CEO Tony Conrad. Tony talked about the mission of about.me is to be the best way to introduce and define yourself online. It is a problem that people are googling you and then you are defined by an algorhythm. What can an intern talk about on LinkedIn?

For tactical steps, he said first have a starting page to which to point people. Second, be careful to involve yourself in things you want to reflect back on you, and have them link back to that starting page.

They also talked a bit about one of Tony’s companies, Makerbot, which was just acquired for just over $400 million. He compared what is going on at Makerbot to the early days of Apple.

Wearables are the Next Mobile Devices
With over 50+ issued patents to his credit, Rachid Alameh, Tech Lead at Motorola Mobility, was the speaker for this event. He believes wearables will be at the heart of innovation going forward. After covering today’s landscape, he observed that users tend to act with more than one device, choosing one as primary, usually the phone because of its mobility. The interface between devices is manual, where we have to enter credentials and make connections – not a good experience. Wearables will overcome this by offering seamless connections, to even ‘strange’ devices. Password technology will improve (currently people authenticate on their devices 39 times a day).

There will be a fundamental shifts where people will use wearables as their primary device. Our current technology is solid and rigid, but humans are fluid and flexible.

Google Glass takes things to the next level by giving a heads up display and making it hands free. (On a side note, two of the attendees were actually wearing Google Glass)

It is about user experience. The minute you put it on, it customizes and adapts itself to the user. People are creatures of habit. From the moment the wearable is on, it is figuring out these habits and creating a profile. It becomes a digital extension. It does continual background data collection and analysis. It will know where the user is and what he is doing, and adapt itself (a self-grown system) to current conditions.

Wearables must be skin- and body-friendly. We must be able to put them on and forget it. They must operate for extended durations (like watches). These devices will get charged continuously and invisibly throughout the day via heat or energy capture.

There will be strategic sensors. Accelerometers are just one example. There will be optical/proximity sensors. Sensors that detect other devices and make them your own. There are hundreds of uses for these wearables. Rachid presented a few.

Help Me – Wearable detects a fall down stairs. It enables voice command and interacts. If no response, it calls someone relevant to call for help.

Driver Drowsiness – Detects driving conditions. Can even detect who is the driver. It can notice driver drowsiness signals, interact with the user to alert them to the risk.

Early Medical Warning – Can detect health signals, for example a few days in a row of continual sweating, a potential sign of a heart attack.

All Devices Are Mine – Proximity handshakes authenticate users in the background and allow automatic access to personal data anywhere from any device (at a library or mall for example)

All Home Devices To The Rescue – Home devices can monitor health of occupants and spread alerts. For example, allow you to silently check on your children.

Wearables are coming. Make no mistake about it.

Party Time
Next up, I went to the Draftfcb Happy Hour by my company. I got a chance to hang out with some of my coworkers and meet some new people as well.

4672342001_028c946df2Shortly after that, we attended the Motorola “Welcome Home” Party. Luckily the rain stayed away and we got to enjoy listening to the sounds of JC and the Uptown Sound while standing outside on the South Drive alongside the Merchandise Mart, which is quite a beautiful sight and night!

Photo Credit: ifmuth