Archive for November, 2011

New Haven Startup Community, There’s More

November 27th, 2011

Hartford Courant columnist Rick Green emailed me a few days ago to talk about YEI and entrepreneurship in New Haven. I wanted to share my thoughts here since I didn’t get a chance to talk to him before he ran his article this weekend.

Here are some of the other items of note in the local startup ecosystem. I’m sure I’m not mentioning them all as I put this together quickly, so feel free to add in the comments section.

  • New Haven Founders: We’re making strides in building the community. The quote from the article is: “But Casey, Rotholtz and Harrison also talk of the importance of creating a local culture of entrepreneurs and the importance of bringing young people with ideas together.” We have 70+ founders in our informal New Haven founders group. Bob and Kate have attended and building good community. Zach, you’re welcome, too.
  • Plenty of Startups. There are quite a few startups in the area and growing. If you know of more, please add them to my list of New Have startups.  And if you think the list should be longer, let’s starup another company ;-)
  • Startup Weekend New Haven. Great energy and attendance at the Startup Weekend last weekend two weeks ago. Check out my recap if you’re interested in more.
  • Tech Fun. An increasing amount of tech fun including Hackathon @ Yale, HackHaven, HackYale, and the Ruby Meeup. I hear from people everywhere that good engineers are hard to find. Not sure that is different here or else where?
  • Work Space: If you’re looking for flexible lease terms for startups at an early stage, check out the Grove, CTech and The Bourse. CTech has been quite full and the vibe at the Grove is amazing. The Bourse is beautiful and tons of space although haven’t been in a while.
  • Universities: Like the activity on-campuses like YES (including the recent pitch competition), YEI as mentioned in the article and the Quinnipiac Entrepreneurial Institute.  I hear University of New Haven is working on relater matres although I’m less familiar.
  • Local VCs and Angels. Over the past few years, we’ve seen more active local VCs. Examples include Elm Street Ventures and Launch. Angels, organized and not as much are around include Top Floor to Angel Investor Forum.
  • Good Support. And there is great support for entrepreneurs. From startup legal pros like Frank Marco and Paul Hughes to EDC’s CEO Anne Haynes and many others.

Let’s keep building the ecosystem!

Think Act New Haven

November 24th, 2011

What can we do to benefit New Haven with $1000 and 1000 hours of volunteer time?  New Haven Public Allies wants your suggestions.  Looks like an interesting project.  But why only $1000? Any how about we brainstorm at hashtag #ThinkActNewHaven as I’m sure not everyone will make the event or fill out the lengthy application form.  I’d be all for a public art project like Inside Out to bring the community together and show many that they can be involved in doing something positive and be a subject of art. I’m sure you can think of a lot of other good ideas.

Invitation to Brainstorming Event on Think Act New Haven

The New Haven Public Allies invite you to the launch of our community project, Think.Act.New Haven. We have $1000 and 1000 hours to devote to a project that will benefit the city of New Haven and we want the inspiration for the project to come from community members like you! Our launch event is a community conversation, which will be happening on Tuesday, November 29th at 5:30pm at the main branch of the New Haven Public Library (133 Elm Street). Refreshments will be available, and all are welcome!

To inspire us to action, we want your ideas! If you have an idea for a project that will better the city of New Haven, please fill out the attached Proposal Application, or simply fill it out online on our website here. The form consists of a few questions asking you to describe your idea for a community project.

As Public Allies, we are committed to strengthening New Haven by completing an innovative team service project that will span five months. We are proud to present Think.Act.New Haven, which will kick-off on November 29, 2011 with a request for project proposals from the community. We hope to gather ideas from the people who know New Haven best—you! We have developed criteria to select a proposal that will meet a demonstrated need in the community. The finalist(s) will work with us to further develop an action plan that satisfies our shared vision. We want you to inspire us and work alongside us, although we, the Public Allies, will have the final say in the design of the project


Sketchbook from Kauffman Foundation

November 20th, 2011

Two great videos from Kaufmann Foundation. A few minutes each and worth it so you can easily explain the power of entrepreneurs and startups. (Even talks about finding your true self and being more authentic! Wow!)

3 Things Entrepreneurs Do:

  1. Birth the new (innovation)
  2. Create jobs (young firms create all the new net jobs in US)
  3. Create new net wealth (they claim all new net wealth and founders take only fraction of wealth generated)

What is the magic sauce to have more entrepreneurs in the US?  And how to make them more successful?

Services to Products

November 20th, 2011

A fellow member of the New Haven Founder group posed an interesting question: how do you transition from being a services company to a product company?  If you have an existing customer base that expects you to be building software for them and continuing to support previous projects, how do you make room to build a product and transform the company?

The larger your services company, the harder it is to make this transition.  For example, I’ve heard of a case where the management assigned a great team with plenty of resources to build a product – yet they still failed.  Why?  Because the rest of the company was so used to judging success by short-term revenue, billable hours, that the product was seen as a failure before it even had a chance.  It takes time to figure it out and if the opportunity cost is so clear and in everyone’s face constantly, then even despite senior management support, the social pressure can be intense.

While I have not faced this challenge myself directly, I think there are two successful strategies I’ve seen employed:

For a smaller company, you may not face the pressure from other employees, but rather from customers.  So, raise prices a lot.  You’ll solve your problem quick.  Customers will either stop calling on your and you’ll have more time or they will pay more.  You may be able to work less and make enough money while you focus on your product development.

For a larger company, you can purchase a product company and hope to keep them separate.  Or eventually integrate enough that the product revenue generates services revenue, as well.

What are your thoughts?

Open Source Ecology

November 20th, 2011

At the high end of innovation, the heros are those that invent something totally new.  We think of Thomas Edison and for fundamental science perhaps Newton.  There are a lot of financial rewards and praise for those that bring existing technology to consumers that can pay a premium for ease of use and good experiences.  And it is hard work – many technology startups are about commercializing products for higher-end customers.  Totally into all that.

It is also impressive when people come together to build open source software.  If you’re reading this website, your likely familiar with the story of Linux, Apache and others.

I’m also into lower-tech innovation that makes existing technologies cheaper and more widespread.  You’ve probably heard of the DIY village nut sheller from Full Belly Project or Unilever’s BOP strategy’s for soap (which doesn’t seem like tech innovation at all perhaps…) And I’m into market innovation and support like One Acre. But I digress…

The purpose of this post is to share a new project I learned about recently.  Open Source Ecology is a open-source hardware project for creating big tools.  As they describe their Global Village Construction Set project:

a modular, DIY, low-cost, open source, high-performance platform that allows for the easy fabrication of the 50 different industrial machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts.

The aim of the GVCS is to lower the barriers to entry into farming, building, and manufacturing. Its a life-size lego set that can create entire economies, whether in rural Missouri, where the project was founded, or in the developing world.

They successfully raised over $60,000 on Kickstarter and appear to be off to a great start.  I’ve been corresponding with the founder and impressed with his focus and round the clock work ethic.

Check out more for yourself in this video:

Startup Weekend New Haven Pitches

November 14th, 2011

Wonderful energy tonight at the Startup Weekend New Haven pitch session. Enjoyed speaking Friday night to kick off the 54 hours of startup creation.  Popped by a little bit Saturday and got to se the teams hard at work.

First place prize gets you $1500 cash funding, 6 months in CTech space in Science Park, $2500 in legal services from Wiggin & Dana and 6 month free hosting from Independent Software.  The other winners get similar type of items, just less of them.

Winners

  • 1st: SugaTrack
  • 2nd: MeriBooster
  • 3rd: SociobO.

The full slate included:

Quistar– smartphone–based B2C coupon service with barcode integration.  Targeting businesses in grocery, retail and dining.  Consumer targets include saver, do-gooder and others.  Started with by 3 students at Quinnipiac University.  I like that they did a survey (over the weekend?) to validate market need.

Nonprofit Igniter – Simple clickable manageable beautiful websites for nonprofits.  Looks like software and hosting plus some services. Freemium if you use their domain name.  Higher prices with hosting for with own domain names.  Looks like a large team with 7 people.

The Worldview – Live video aggregation hub organized by location.  Sounds likes Ustream, Livestreaming and Justin.TV with geolocation strategy?  Ad supported without hosting costs of other video sites.  UI demo looks like Google Earth-like interface for discovering live streaming video from around the world.

Townsquar.es – online community to share information, collaborate and act.  Premise is that information sites (NYtimes, Quora, Twitter, etc) don’t link directly with action-taking sites (Change.org, Kickstarter, etc.).  Townsqur.es allows proposing an action to attach to a discussion.  Revenue model was not clear to me.  Perhaps allowing people to put bounties on the actions?

LudusPro – high school athletic statistic gathering and sharing.  Built around individual athletes having their own page listing their team participation, stats, etc. Freemium revenue model with iPad app as launch point.  Schools charged to upload stats.  Sounds similar to GameChanger although customer target may be different?  Glad they have technical founder and allow athletes to modify personal stats (although says it is unverified).  Sounds like the team knows the market: size, competitors, motivations, etc.

Project Kindly – “because kindly acts are contagious” – creating the ability to share good news via social web/mobile apps.  Like SeeClickFix for things that other people or you are doing to make the world a better place.  They built an MVP during the weekend for iPhone – love it!  First team to present that made very clear they built an actual product this weekend.  I’m not familiar with competitive space.  Sounds like revenue model is ad-supported?

eVentures – “where one person’s junk is another person’s jewels” – online ecommerce platform for P2P sales for offline goods.  I’m not sure I totally followed the full value proposition and plan to beat Craigslist, eBay or others.

Record Remedy – electronic medial records SaaS solution for small healthcare offices.  Strategy is to focus on web rather than client/server or tablets.  I did not understand the competitive advantage.  Commented they would leave sales strategy to yet-to-be-hired salespeople.  I believe founders and exec management should be involved – especially early on.

Lux-Med Services – medical tourism for luxury-oriented US consumer.  Concierge research and booking for medical tourism.  Large and growing market: they say $15bil with 30% annual growth expected.  Pitch seemed more descriptive of market research rather than a pitch for a specific business. Perhaps because they were cut-off before completing the pitch?

simpleLMS – better online teaching and learning.  Concept to tackle: cumbersome admin tools, disjointed communication, and poor communication tools (example of homework submission and grading).   SaaS low-cost LMS competing with Blackboard, Moodle, etc.

MeritBooster – fundraising for K12 student clubs, trips or projects.  Everyone knows that selling door-to-door isn’t the most effective (although I think there is great benefit from learning to do cold calls).  Sounds like Donors Choose or Kickstarter for student led projects.  MVP built by school age co-founder over the weekend and have already raised money via the platform.  One unstated benefit is less “shrinkage” or increased traceability for funds raised.  Revenue model is commissions plus ads.

SociabO – mobile app for real-time matching of groups in realtime.  Add your friends that your with to your group and see which groups are near by.  All in real-time and with your phone.  Groups have to accept invitations to reveal actual location.  I’m not clear on the competitors although I think there should be a business in this space for sure.  I imagine it tends towards winner take all?  I wonder if they can add a component that makes it more social acceptable to “hang out” on the service without seeming overeager?  Like the presentation – funny and to the point although did not explain the ad-based revenue stream completely.  The demo of the app was a nice touch.

Social Plan.it - social trip planning. Drag and drop clippings around the web.  Like YellowPen for travel research.  Allows you to order activities and produce a clear calendar.  I assume ad supported?

ShugaTrak – blood sugar level check compliance for teens. Service includes app and website. Parent and teen agree on criteria and rewards. App tracks progress by loading result directly from glucosemeter to app via phone interface. Revs from test strip companies, insulin mfgrs. Working with new haven jdrf. 100 visits to site built this weekend.  Communication to parent via phone activity/inactivity.  Revenue is advertising or subscription. [This company write-up ghost written by Paul Hughes as I had to run out to next appointment.]

Which one is your favorite?

Bring Venture for America to New Haven

November 13th, 2011

[Updated: If you are interested, please fill out informal survey to show demand.]

Friday night I got a chance to speak with Eileen Lee COO of Venture for America.  More convinced than ever that we want to bring their work to New Haven.  Let’s figure out how to talk them into it, or replicated it on our own.

For those of you that are not familiar with the model of Venture for America, here is the run down.  In their own words:

A non-profit program for young, talented (college) grads to spend 2 years in the trenches at a start-up with the goal that these graduates will become socialized and mobilized as entrepreneurs moving forward.

We’re looking for talented and driven

individuals to become part of our

inaugural class in summer 2012…

Work for two years at a start-up in a lower cost city

Train with seasoned entrepreneurs and investors

$100K in seed investment awarded to start a business

They say they are looking for 5 to 10 companies per city.  Each company agrees to pay the fellow in $30,000s and provide health insurance.  Also, the expectation is at least $2500 in donation to the organization to fund the 5 week training boot camp before fellows begin work.  First class gets to work summer of 2012.

Eileen tells me their BHAG is for fellows to create 100,000 jobs nationally by 2025.  Sounds great to me.

They have picked the cities for 2012 and New Haven is not on the list.  We’ve got the startups looking for quality folks and an under-appreciated quality of life.  How’s it sound to you?

Yale Pitch Competition

November 12th, 2011

Feeling a really strong entrepreneurial energy in New Haven and at Yale especially in the past few months.  Here’s one example: Thursday night there were three separate events on campus about entrepreneurship.

I spoke at the Yale College Seminar “Venture Capital, the Start-Up, and the Law” taught by Stephanie Lim.  Told the story about Higher One and how we handled legal issues in creating and growing the company.  Touched on incorporation, fundraising, etc.

Simultaneously, Kam and Jeff were speaking at HackYale about the SeeClickFix story and how to use Ruby on Rails to build great websites fast.

And YES was hosting a pitch competition judged by Barry Nalebuff.  I was able to catch the tail-end of it and ended up helping with the judging.  There were definitely some create pitches and Barry commented on the improvement in quality since last year.  He said 4 or 5 of this years pitches could have one last year.  That was great to hear!

The three finalists at the pitch competition were Cognection with etailer optimization software, a wristband that reminds healthcare professionals to wash their hands and a spontaneous real-time Meetup mobile app.  Great passion and pitches shown.  In the end we gave the iPad to the real-time Meetup app in part on grounds of feasibility for students to execute on it and potential ability for rapid adoption and scale.  The wristband is exciting from a lives-saved perspective and I hope to see it in the marketplace soon!

Hacker-Makerspace New Haven

November 10th, 2011

The best learning and the some of the most creative ideas come from a spirit of play. Exploring what’s possible and being open to the wonders of the world is amazingly powerful. And wonderful things can come from it. If you need an example: the Homebrew Computer Club spawning the PC revolution.

There is a resurgence of interest in making and hacking in the physical space. From the Maker Faire to TechShop or DIY Bio, to DIY Drones it’s building momentum. (If you haven’t seen it, check out the growing list of hacker spaces globally.)

A few weeks ago, a group got together to discuss the need for and desire to create a makerspace, hackerspace or tech shop in New Haven. It’s time isn’t it? As JR puts it, we are the home of the erector set after all.

CT Hackerspace

CT Hackerspace. Photo by JR Logan.

I was not able to make it to the meeting, and was glad when Anne Haynes sent me the notes from the meeting. I got even more excited. Let’s do it!

A key decision is scale and funding model. Should we buy a bunch of equipment and build a 10,000 st ft floor plan? That requires more funding and therefore more demand off the bat. Or do you take donations of equipment, build over time with passion and energy from members and collect dues as necessary?

I hear that Rob Narracci (have we met?) sketched out a budget for a self-funded makerspace with all equipment paid for in cash. At $100/month, you might need 300 to 400 members to keep it going. Do we have that demand? Could we start for less money? I’ve heard that the some hackerspaces start for very little cash plus donation of time, machines and parts. (I think CT Hackerspace got started this way?)

Do you start with a wood shop? I would want to have want to have Arduinos, a Makerbot, and a laser cutter of some sort off the bat. Way more interesting to a younger generation than glue, planes, bandsaws and tablesaws, right?

It’s not for production scale, but might be for prototyping. Probably not for DIY Biology (although that would be a cool space, too!) and probably not art focused (materials are different?).

I took the liberty of starting a Google Group so we can continue the discussion. Happy to add admins or use a different forum, but did want to get the ball rolling.

Google Groups
Subscribe to New Haven Hacker Space
Email:

Visit this group

Need some inspiration? Watch this TED Talk from Dale Dougherty on how we’re all makers or at least should want others to be:

State Support for Building CT Startup Ecosystem

November 6th, 2011

Through the efforts of the Connecticut Technology Council, DECD, Startup America and many others, I’m sure, the state approved a multi-year $625mil economic development package.  You probably heard that already.  But what does that mean on a practical level for startups?

Tuesday I hosted a group of entrepreneurs at Higher One to hear more about the details of the plan.  (Sorry for the packed house – many more people than expected.  We are moving soon to a new building with larger conference rooms.)

Matt NemersonKip Bergstrom and Casey Pickett presented the results of research and a plan for moving forward.  See below for the full deck.

The general take-away is that CI is getting $25mil more annually for 5 years.  At least $5mil a year is expected to go into building the startup ecosystem and the goal is to make an impact as fast as possible.  I heard Kip say he would like to stand up new incubators/accelerators in the next few months.  Sounds like there will be an RFP issued for matching funds from the state to support private efforts to do this in Stamford, New Haven, Hartford and New London/Storrs.

If I understand correctly, the Stamford Innovation Center is an example of the type of incubator/accelerator envisioned.  And perhaps YEI would be, as well, if open more broadly rather than focusing on Yale.   I imagine that the success and buzz around YCominator and Techstars serves as a draw. Plus, my guess is it is easier for the state to support things that are more tangible and physical like a physical incubator space.

Innovation Ecosystem – Startup Connecticut – 10-13-2011 – Version 3 2

While there was generally excitement to have attention to these issues, there were some questions like:

  • Will the state be able to execute quickly?
  • Will the state’s move crowd out private actors and then not follow through making the situation worse than it would otherwise have been?
  • Will the emphasis on scale, buy-in and metrics, bloat the effort until little is achieved?

(It was funny to see the roll reversal.  A roomful of entrepreneurs pitched on an idea.  They say: “good idea, but can you execute?”  Sounds like VCs ;-)

I’d love to see more activity happening.  That part excites me.  I do want to make sure that efforts make sense and are real solutions to real issues.  I have a theory that the choice of venue for a young entrepreneur has more to do with (a) social recognition and (b) having a good social life/quality of life than anyone likes to talk about.  People will comment on finding engineers or cost of this or that.  Those may be business issues although I think people often overcome them when the social part is there.  I wonder if that is being addressed in this plan?

Here’s a simple idea that David Fischer gave me.  What if you gave free rent/housing for one year to entrepreneurs to start in New Haven.  Rather than focusing on the office, make it easier for people to live here and experience the benefits.  If you want you could put encourage them to live close to each other or in the same building.  You hold some mixers and networking events and generally make them feel special and welcome.  Once they build the social network, momentum will kick in and some percentage will stay.

You could start this almost immediately.  Get a panel of judges.  Create a one-page application.  Require people to raise $25,000 of private money (could be their own).    Do as little due diligence as possible so as not to slow down the process or deter good people from joining.  Then make a fuss in the social media, online entrepreneurship world that New Haven is paying you to move to town.  Maybe even pay the airfare to get here.  (I think the closest I’ve heard to this idea is Startup Chile.  Do people know much about that program in practice?)

Would love to hear your thoughts on how to most effectively grow the startup ecosystem in New Haven and CT.