Wednesday, September 21, 2011

FairCo TEEM: Where Westport's Tech-savvy Meet

As part of my series on technology in Westport, this week's column is about where many of the tech-savvy people in Westport meet and get to know each other.

One of the newest groups of people getting together is FairCo TEEM, which stands for Fairfield County Technology, Entertainment, Environment and Marketing. The group meets monthly to learn and develop relationships among local businesses and entrepreneurs. Started in 2010 by Peter Propp, John Blossom and Alex Sherman, it has grown from a handful of people sitting at Bogey's to a group with 160 members and approximately 40 attending each meeting and now meets at the Westport VFW building on Riverside Avenue.

Propp has a background in technology from IBM where he handled numerous aspects of its WebSphere software product, among other projects. John Blossom is an expert in content and publishing. Alex Sherman holds a senior position in R&D at Affinion in Stamford. Together, the three have extensive experience in technology, marketing and startups.

So when Peter and Alex attended a New York Meetup event focusing on people and companies in the New York area, they thought it would be worthwhile to bring the model to Fairfield County. A typical meeting consists of mixing and mingling followed by a presentation from one or more local companies regarding what they're doing.

Meetup events are an excellent way for people to connect with each other in a professional, yet social way.

Having attended a few of the FairCo TEEM meetings, they provide an excellent way to connect with local technology people. Members include software developers, marketing people, presidents of local start-ups and people from some of the area's larger firms. Everyone at the meeting seems genuinely interested in tapping into the talent that is here in the Fairfield County area.

Propp said he was invited earlier this month to meet Governor Malloy at a jobs roundtable at the new Stamford Tech Center because the governor wanted to know what the state could do to drive more job growth in the tech and start-up arenas. Propp told Malloy about FairCo TEEM's founding and said there are a lot of great start-up ideas coming out of this state, but the challenge is to connect them with the skills to make them happen and the money to bring them to market with the appropriate backing.

Malloy loved his story on FairCo TEEM, said Propp, who thinks the group has already played and will continue to play an important role in driving innovation to market. Propp further noted the group is "already connecting the dots between the innovators, the builders and the funders who are all critical to creating a start-up ecosystem."

It's this sort of local and statewide attention that will continue to let people in our community help grow our economy.

This month's FairCo TEEM meeting will be held 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 465 Riverside Ave. Visit www.meetup.com/FairCo-TEEM for information.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 21 September 2011.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Automotive Technology in China

As I reported in my last column, I recently spent 17 days with my family in China celebrating my 25th wedding anniversary.

We stayed primarily in the tourist spots, including Beijing, Shanghai, Yangtze river, Three Gorges Dam, terracotta warriors, Li River and Hong Kong. Unfortunately, we did not have time to see many of the manufacturing or other primarily rural areas that I'm sure would have provided even more insights.

It was a great trip and, as always, allows me insights into how other people and countries do things. What I often like seeing is how other people's ways of doing things often take a very different approach and can be quite eye opening.

My expectation of China's large cities was that most of the traffic was bicycles, mopeds and other slow, clunky traffic. Not so. Most of the cities we visited were clogged with automobiles large and small. Despite Beijing's broad streets — sometimes four lanes each direction — it looked like any major American or European city from a traffic perspective.

Shanghai and Hong Kong were much denser than Beijing, with more high-rises, looking more like New York City, but cleaner and much newer.

What did surprise me was the number of electric scooters (mopeds) we saw. Given my non-scientific sampling, it wouldn't surprise me if half of the scooters were electric. Unlike the noisy, stinky small-engined mopeds we're used to, these electric ones were silent.

My guess is that the range of an electric scooter was 10 or so miles, but for most people, that's sufficient to get them where they need and back on a single charge.

Looking at the street traffic, there were quite a few identifiable brands of automobiles, including Toyota, Nissan, Kia, BMW, Mercedes, and more. What surprised me was the number of Buicks that were driving around. General Motors has a strong presence — including manufacturing — in China, and Buick is a brand that has a remarkable presence.

Of course, there were brands I was totally unfamiliar with ... some of Chinese origin and others from India, Korea and elsewhere. Some odd varieties, including the requisite three-wheeled variety that we see so few of in North America.

What did surprise me was the number of truly ancient vehicles still on the road. Here's a link to a video of a Chinese truck that was common there: http://tinyurl.com/ChineseTruck. It would clearly not pass any road or safety standards we have in the United States, but certainly looks easy to maintain and is probably quite reliable.

Unfortunately, I didn't see any "next big thing" from an automotive perspective. It could be that some of the vehicles that we saw were fully electric or hybrids, but they didn't stand out visually or with any badging that would indicate they're anything other than gasoline or diesel-powered.

My take-away from a transportation perspective is that, at least in the Chinese cities, they have certainly advanced from the stories and pictures I recall, and I can understand why their need for oil, in particular for gasoline and diesel fuel, is continuing to drive global demand.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 7 September 2011.