15,000 miles, 10 companies and 5 days of discovering the next big thing down under.

I’ve traveled pretty extensively in 2011 and 2012 in my work with startups but the biggest trip is the one I’m currently in the middle of. Helping an accelerator in Adelaide, Australia with their inaugural class, Innovyz Start. Accelerators are tough programs no matter where they are located but some regions and cities have bigger challenges that others. These challenges and opportunities are what brought me to Adelaide. I was pretty confident that the same brilliant companies that I’ve come across in places like San Antonio, Austin, Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago and New Orleans would be in places like Adelaide as well and I wasn’t disappointed. My next few posts will be discussing some of the companies I’ve encountered and the unique things that are occurring in Adelaide that just might be emerging best practices that we should be doing everywhere.

A small tease of the type of companies I’ve met? See the folks below, they are going to change how millions of college students get an education all around the world.


Blame it on Leo

Leo Burnett Picture
Photo credit: Wikipedia, Creative Commons License

Special thanks to Doug Crets who provided a lot of guidance and feedback on this post.

The old folks do the new things so much better.

I’ve been thinking about how there are some fundamentals to good business and good business development, no matter the epoch we are in, including this one. Tech entrepreneurs of today are hyper focused on customer development and building a product that people can use. For Leo Burnett, the founder of global advertising giant Leo Burnett, this made perfect sense.

Incidentally, Leo Burnett had some people at the Big Omaha Conference back in May and I had an opportunity to spend some time with them.

Why? Leo Burnett is one of the original big advertising firms – at one time, and maybe still is the tenth largest in the world — and it was, like its competitor Ogilvy, notorious for the copy-heavy ads that are more like novels now than the flash bang image-led advertising of today. They are responsible for the Marlboro Man and Quaker Oats. What would they be doing at a tech conference like Big Omaha? Or better, why WOULDN’T they be at a conference like Big Omaha.

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Big Data meets Facebook

Big Data meets Facebook

“Big Data” is a term that is quickly getting a rep like the term “social media expert.” Lot’s of smoke and little fire. Notice Technology is a firm that just launched a REAL big data solution called Polygraph that uses the activity streams from Facebook to developer compelling and accurate consumer insights. How does a small company with two folks build a big data solution efficiently? As a PAAS on Azure of course. This is also a great story about entrepreneurship and about how you must let your experiences and customer feedback guide your startup–and that it’s possible to do this without raising millions of dollars.

Learn more about the philosphy of Polygraph at:

The Origins of Polygraph Facebook Data Mining Analytics

Sheer badassery of Kinect

Sheer badassery of Kinect

Kinobi is company that helps people learn from interactive experiences. All powered by Kinect. Impressive stuff and nice pivot from their earlier concepts when I first met them as part of LaunchPad Ignition. Accelerators in smaller regional markets are hard to pull off, LaunchPad Ignition sets a bar for how lean Accelerators can cultivate an ecosystem focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. I expect alot more of us will be hearing about Kinobi soon and their founder, Chapman Snowden.

Creating the Windows 8 user experience

Creating the Windows 8 user experience

Jensen Harris, the Director of Program Management for our User Experience team, authored a post on the Building Windows 8 blog that surfaces the best publically available insights on Windows 8 and the reasoning behind some of the choices we made and why we made them. A great read if you’re a fan of Windows or just a fan of good design thinking.

There are no mistakes, uncorrected, that stay little when you fail address them.

There are no mistakes, uncorrected, that stay little when you fail address them.

I don’t know Scott Thompson but most of what of I’ve seen seems to indicate that he was a competent executive and leader that was willing to make difficult and unpopular choices to get a struggling company back on track. But one slip up, one mistake, which may have seemed like a small one at the time, shows that operating with integrity and honestly matter more than anything else you’re ever going to do publicly or privately.

Thoughts on grave dancing…and how your town becomes the next Silicon Valley (Hint: You don’t want to)

This article is getting a lot of play and I’m sure they’ll be some pretty vigorous debate about Steve Blank’s observations. I’m not a VC and I don’t have the stellar reputation of Mr. Blank but in my small little circle of working with startups all I can offer is that I see everyday in my communities what he is talking about. I also work with most, but not all the institutions I mention below.

Steve focuses mostly on VCs in the valley but there’s a penultimate movement that we can look to and see if some of Steve’s theories are going to come true—I give you the modern startup accelerator. Accelerators like TechstarsY Combinator500 Startups, built the playbook that valley VCs are trying to emulate now. Right or wrong and for better or worse these entities are the arbiters of taste when it comes to determining what is cool and/or valuable.

Make no doubt about it, these are successful organizations that ARE generating wealth and I’m no more blaming them for this paradigm shift that Steve is blaming VCs. But a reasonable question to ask is where do the folks that want to solve the HARD problems go to get capital and support because the systems that have been in place to support that innovation have shifted—probably permanently. This shift is/will leading to a dilemma that would have been crazy to propose even a few years ago—is the US facing an innovation gap?

Most of the new accelerators that are sprouting up in the US or all over the world are emulating these new accelerator models. You have some holdouts like Houston Technology CenterAustin Technology Incubator and other institutions that are supported by state government and academic institutions. You have regional programs like Pipeline Entrepreneurs and highly organized angel networks like Triangle Angel Partners and Nebraska Angels that have strong regional focuses. Many of these local groups serve as areas of refuge from those that have built their careers around innovation by securing SBR (small business research) grants or transitioning from the public to private sector in areas like aerospace, bio-science and security. Finally you have a few technology companies that have dedicated research units (GoogleIBM and Microsoft most quickly come to mind).

But the reality is that these groups are probably not enough and they don’t fully make up for the fact that a big sector of our economy that support innovations and entrepreneurship in bio-science, engineering and aerospace has moved and shifted their focuses to segments of the economy that allow for quicker returns on investment.

The two concepts that fuel this, social and software are often the only areas getting attention from anybody these days. But if you look at what is happening in China and places like Israel and Russia you should be a bit worried, the innovation gap is something that could manifest much more quickly than we all think. The question is how to keep what we have and make sure that we’re poised to grow these capabilities in the US. If it were up to me I’d suggest we need a program similar to the Moon program that serves as a catalyst to spurn innovation, or better yet a Marshall Plan that provides that funding to enable ecosystems to work on wicked problems and the capital, patience and oversight to bring them to life.

It’s easy to be dismissive of government involvement in something like this with the inevitable friction that they bring to the table but big problems need big entities to help solve them and it’s one of the few places where sovereigns have not just an obligation but also an opportunity to lead.

My advice to regions that want to be the next Valley? Don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll ever have a perfect collection of skills that makes the Valley so successful (See Fred Wilson’s excellent post on this subject). Leverage the strengths that you do have and zig where others zag. Communities that are starting to emerge and be successful with entrepreneurship are doing just this and in future posts I’ll highlight some regions that I think are doing this well.

Three great posts on Metro style application design

Slightly different perspectives but all are filled with valuable insights. As always get the latest information on Windows 8 from Building Windows 8 and learn about Metro guidelines at design.windows.com.

Why developers should care about design, and how Metro helps

Is Metro a Noun or a Verb?

What is Metro, really?

I’ve spent most of the past few months teaching Metro design principles and have learned a great deal about what designers and developers think of the the UX patterns and guidelines we’ve developed. As with any product that has a history measured in decades there is always a little hesitancy when change is introduced the most important things to understand about Metro and Windows 8 in particular, is the following…

1.) Everything that folks love about Windows and how it supports client applications on the desktop hasn’t changed–in fact it works better than ever.

2.) Metro addresses the challenges that Windows historically had in providing a great user experience across touch-first devices and does so against a nearly infinite variety of form factors–from 10″ screens all the way up to 60″ screens–snapping and scaling beautifully along the way.

3.) Metro gives developers access to what has the potential to be the largest and most lucrative distribution platform in the world with the Windows Store.

Here are some stories about Metro that I’ve come across lately.

I’ve been a Mac user for 11 years and this is the first time I’m excited to use a PC

Metro design system big in Windows 8

Hands on: Linkedin Windows Phone app is better than iOS, Android versions



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