Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Startups

Startup companies are one of the aspects of the American mentality that are great drivers of innovation. The ability for anyone with an idea to start a company is beyond the mindset of people in many other countries.

And while the odds of a startup being in existence — much less profitable — within five years are not good, the desire for people to explore the boundaries of what's possible has lead to some huge successes.

Some consider Silicon Valley in California and Silicon Alley in New York as being the hotbeds of innovation. While it's true that these are where many great ideas have been launched, creativity knows no geography.

While some consider a bad economy a bad time to start a business, the startup activity has been remarkably good. It's bad times that often drive people to think creatively and creativity drives innovation.

So I was very pleased when I heard about the upcoming Startup Weekend Stamford from Friday, March 30, to Sunday, April 1, at the Stamford Innovation Center. Think of this as a boot camp for innovators.

According to the organizers: "Startup Weekends are 54-hour events designed to provide superior experiential education for technical and non-technical entrepreneurs. The weekend events are centered on action, innovation, and education. Beginning with Friday night pitches and continuing through testing, business model development, and basic prototype creation, Startup Weekends culminate in Sunday night demos to a panel of potential investors and local entrepreneurs. Participants are challenged with building functional startups during the event and are able to collaborate with like-minded individuals outside of their daily networks."

A number of Westport residents will be assisting would-be entrepreneurs, including Peter Propp with Shore Communications and co-founder of FairCo Teem.

Asked about the Startup Weekend, Peter said, "The main thing is to give people the chance to work on an idea of their own or someone else's idea and then present it to experts who will choose a winner." Peter will be there assisting, as well as mentoring. "It could turn into a company, but it is mainly a chance to learn about the startup process," Peter said.

So whether you're considering a startup, know someone who has a great idea for a startup, want to find out more about how startups work or just want to see some incredibly creative people — and maybe the next Facebook — give some thought to attending this event. A few years from now, you may be able to say "I saw that company when it was just an idea."

Information on the Stamford Startup Weekend may be found at www.stamford.startupweekend.org.

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 22 February 2012.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Oblivious to Some Social Networks

A colleague's son recently graduated from college and is looking for a job. The son suggested that his father recommend him on LinkedIn, but my colleague thought a recommendation from a father might not be the best idea.

That's when my colleague's father turned to my 13-year-old daughter, who knows the son, and suggested that she recommend him on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com). My daughter replied: "What's LinkedIn?"

I was surprised at my daughter's response. As an early user of LinkedIn for business, I thought everyone used LinkedIn.

Upon further reflection, my daughter has no use for LinkedIn. It's primarily a business tool for people to connect people to other people. And my daughter is in the eighth grade.

For my daughter, her social media life is taken up with two main social media sites: Facebook (www.facebook.com) and Tumblr (www.tumblr.com). Her main use of the sites is that her friends are there and that's how they communicate with each other.

Her email account remains essentially unused. More than 90 percent of her digital communications with her friends is done through texting, Facebook and Tumblr.

The current most successful social media/social networking site is Facebook. With its expected $100 billion IPO coming up, it is clearly a social and financial success — especially for those with pre-IPO shares of stock.

As I started to think about the other social media sites that are out there, I recall a few that were huge (relatively speaking) just a few years ago, but have clearly languished in comparison to the big boys.
Remember Second Life (www.secondlife.com)? It was a site where people could create an avatar (a digital image to be themselves — or a person they wanted to pretend to be — in a fictional, digital world). Some companies opened up stores in Second Life. At least one country talked about opening up an embassy or consulate in Second Life.

How about MySpace (www.myspace.com)? That has become the place for bands and performers to publish their music and performances.

What I find interesting is how both Second Life and MySpace were once the "gotta go to" places that controlled significant heft, they are no longer quite as compelling, especially for the masses.
While Facebook will continue to dominate the social media space for a few years, one thing I've learned is that in technology, nothing is unchangeable. Not only do the people and products change, but the companies behind them change. I just wish I knew what the next step would be. And I look forward to showing my daughter LinkedIn. Maybe even making her first recommendation.

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 8 February 2012.