The first official Startup Weekend took place over a period of 54 hours on Sept. 16-18, 2011. Danielle Scherman, one of the organizers, invited me to attend and being curious about how events like this actually take place, I could not turn down the offer. The process of bringing 70-100 people together to pitch ideas, form teams and prototype a business in a short weekend intrigued me. Looking back at it now, I realize it was much more than that. When I first decided to go, I was on the fence whether to observe or participate. What triggered it for me was a warmup exercise Maris McEdward used to stimulate idea flow called Half Baked. A bunch of seemingly random words were put on the white board. Then we were assigned to teams to pick two words and do a quick one minute pitch for this fictitious business idea. A good example of this was John Garcia's impassioned delivery of his team's choice: Fresh Underwear. He then went beyond the requirement and overnight developed the website you now see, essentially creating a business overnight. It's amazing what one creative individual can do. I love the web page. If it wasn't for the fact that he was a judge, I would have snagged him to be on my team for his obvious skill set. But now I am getting ahead of myself. My motto has always been, life is not a spectator sport, so when it came time to pitch a real idea, I took a number. Everyone who picked a number had 1 minute to do a pitch. I pulled #7 so had about 6 minutes to come up with an idea. Around the time #5 was completing his pitch, I came up with a name for my idea: Heart My City. The next moment of truth was whether or not your idea progressed to the team development stage. There were 23 ideas in total which got paired down to 8. The selection process was very organic. Everyone got 3 postit notes and voted for the ideas they felt they liked. Since my idea was #7, I held a paper with a big #7 on it. Now imagine 70 people, all in a room, standing and moving like random particles, placing these postits on your number. It was wild. When the dust settled, Heart My City had about a dozen postits on it. Enough to get me to the team formation stage. Get ready for another seemingly random event. 70 people now coalesce around the idea of their choice, coupled with your efforts to recruit a team amongst people you may or may not know. Some teams were as big as eight or as small as one. I was fortunate to snag two smart guys, Jason Axelson and Patrick Kelly, the Heart My City team. The rest of the time was spent in heads down mode focussed on business development and prototyping. The key benefits of a Startup Weekend is the dedicated time and space to work on a project, facilitators that manage the time and keep things moving. mentors and coaches that are available for advise, a positive, supportive environment to try out new ideas and last by not least, feedback on the strengths and weaknesses in your proposal. Looking back at Startup Weekend, I can say it was a challenging but very rewarding experience. But as challenging as a 54 hour weekend might be, it is nothing compared to what comes next, turning your Startup Weekend idea into a real business. We'll talk to several of the winners on the October 26th edition of Bytemarks Cafe and ask them what their experience was like and what is next for their startup idea. Hope you can tune in for that.
Taking a company to IPO (initial public offering) is not a simple process. It has gotten harder by orders of magnitude since the post-Dot.com bubble and with the introduction of Federal legislation like Sarbanes-Oxley to regulate financial practice and corporate governance in the post Enron-era. Nevertheless, for a company that has a great idea and the potential to scale to a national or even international size, it is one way to raise needed capital. Few Hawaii tech companies that have gone IPO come to mind, like Digital Island, Hoku Scientific and Cyanotech. There have been previous pitch competitions before but none that was a pitch in and of itself. Road to IPO says it all. The competition was open to any Hawaii company willing to go through the arduous evaluation and critical review process with the team from NASDAQ OMX. Of the 40 or so companies that initially applied, 10 were selected as semi-finalists. These were: Kuehnle AgroSystems, Inc., GreenCar Hawaii, Actilytics, Inc., TruTag Technologies, LLC, CBI Polymers, LLC, Eyegenix, LLC, MobiRez, LLC, Ocean Network TV, Labels That Talk and PromoStream Inc. On Wed. Feb. 16th, after another round of presentations, this list was paired down to three finalists. They are: TruTag Technologies, LLC, Labels That Talk and PromoStream Inc. I learned recently that PromoStream is like surf cams for cities. They develop digital content for travel destinations and provide this content for destinations, counties and properties. In addition to the installation of webcam systems, the business model includes ad insertions into the video streams to monetize viewership. We got to visit TruTag on a Bytemarks Lunch outing back in Sept 2009. This technology is a novel approach to tagging medicine, food, consumer goods and industrial products. The micro tag is made of purified silica and can be place in pills to ward against counterfeiting. The micro tag is inert and can be ingested. Ken Berkun's website for Labels That Talk reveals little about his product but we did have the benefit of a demonstration at a Manoa Geeks gathering in July 2008. Labels That Talk aka SoundPaper can be thought of as a barcode with sound. You can record a short audio and the SoundPaper printer prints a strip that looks like a 3 inch QR code. This code is then read by a mobile device like an iPhone (which by the way wasn't around in 2008) and plays back the audio. These three companies compete on Wed. February 23rd and the winner will get an all expense paid week of networking and VC introductions in Silicon Valley. The event on the 23rd is open to the public and you can register online to attend. It'll be well worth the admission to see how these companies present and to track their journey on the Road to IPO.
This Entrepreneurial Symposium, organized by the Hawaii Strategic Development Corporation, Enterprise Honolulu and the High Tech Development Corporation, was a unique opportunity to hear how three entrepreneurial support organizations, each in different states (Ohio, Kansas and Oklahoma) approach the development and nurturing of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The goal for each of these organizations is to foster job growth in the technology sector and to position their state to be a global competitor. Ray Leach, CEO of JumpStart (Ohio) talked about developing a consensus plan by pulling all the stakeholders together to get broad commitment for entrepreneurial development. This involved public/private partnerships and an effort to transform the culture which was predominantly manufacturing. Over the course of 12 years, starting in 1998, Ohio lost an estimated 450,000 jobs. Something needed to be done and as Leach puts it, "never waste a crisis." They took on the task of transforming the business culture and elevating the role of entrepreneurship. They also play an active role in networking entrepreneurs with investors as well as keep state legislators aware of the role entrepreneurs play in business and job creation. Joni Cobb, CEO of Pipeline exuded enthusiasm and passion for the role entrepreneurs play in building businesses in Kansas. Pipeline, which started as an initiative of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation is now a 501(c)3 non-profit providing tools and services to support the development of entrepreneurs. As described by Cobb:
PIPELINE is an “immersion experience.” Our goal is to link each Innovator into a robust and powerful network of supporters, peers and mentors. The Innovator does not just “learn about business.” The aim is to undergo a life altering experience that also changes the direction and trajectory of their company. In the process, Innovators recognize the power of the statewide network, and remain engaged in Kansas as mentors, coaches and investors.Pipeline's approach struck me as being like an intensive Executive MBA program in Entrepreneurship, with Cobb as the Dean and Chief Evangelist. Going through it would be a life changing experience. Finally, Tom Walker, CEO of I2E (Innovation to Enterprise) based in Oklahoma, talked about their primary focus: Business Services, Access to Capital and Entrepreneurial Development. Its mission is "Home grown economic development by fostering the birth and nurturing the growth of advanced technology companies in Oklahoma." I2E was formed in 1997 as part of Oklahoma's State Legislature's Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology Initiative. Over the course of 2007 - 2010, I2E showed their 150 companies exhibited a 30% growth rate while the rest of the state was in decline. I2E not only provides business support services and access to capital, they also coordinate events and publish resources like the Entrepreneur's Path: A Handbook for High Growth Companies. Each of these organizations started as their respective state's initiative to grow the tech sector in the late 1990's and early 2000's. They took time to gain consensus and broad base support. Now in 2010, each is recognized as models of best practices and for other states to replicate. Needless to say, Hawaii has had the same desire and has numerous assortment of state agencies and business non-profits groups to prove it. But the question still remains, does Hawaii have the commitment and willpower to create and sustain a vibrant, creative, entrepreneurial technology sector. I am glad we are having this conversation but one we have obviously had before. Will it be any different this time around, during this new administration? Hope remains...
This past weekend will be one remembered by O`ahuans for a long time. It was the second island-wide blackout in as many years. It was about 6:30pm on a Friday evening. We had just finished dinner and I was settling down to my cup of coffee when the lightning flashed, the thunder crackled and the lights went out. I walked outside and noticed the darkness extend beyond Pearl City. It was an eerie feeling. We all know what followed, 12 to 24 hours without electricity. We still do not know exactly what caused it and HECO is not saying. In the ensuring days people got together and freely expressed their feelings. These are not in any particular order. They are highlights of conversations that I was a part of with others and thought I would share them with you. I may not agree with all of them but they were certainly thought provoking.
- Island-wide Blackout: If all it takes is a lightning strike to take out the electricity for the entire island of O`ahu, can you imagine what a Hurricane Iniki would do to O`ahu. It would be devastating. How can an earthquake in 2006 on Hawaii island and now a lightning storm shut down the entire island? This only shows how fragile our infrastructure is.
- Hawaiian Electric Industries: Confidence in HEI is at a low point with these island-wide blackouts. It brings to question their ability to manage a regional power company. Their track record in other markets like the Philippines and China have been less than stellar. Didn't they get out of those markets to focus on this market?
- Alternative Energy: Now is the time for Hawaii to put everything it's got into establishing alternative energy as a cornerstone industry in Hawaii. We have solar, wind, geothermal, ocean and biofuel projects taking shape. Will it happen? Consensus was NO, because we are too near sighted and motivated my self interests. Hawaii does not have the will power and single minded focus. We do not have that key person with the vision and ability to execute.
- State Legislature: There are too many agendas and near sightedness to get anything done. Generalization: the Legislature is social liberal and fiscally conservative. Even though alternative energy makes sense, they won't fund it.
- Act 221: The strong survive and the weak die. Act 221 skews that dynamic and artificially props up companies that should otherwise die. With that said, Act 221 should be supported in this economic downturn to help the fledgling tech industry. It might be another question when times are good.
- Better Place: This company may be the best thing to happen to Hawaii. It would put Hawaii at the forefront of alternative energy transportation. The problem is company representatives are spending too much time with Gov. Lingle and not enough time lobbying the Legislature who appropriate the money. If that doesn't change it will just be another PR campaign.