Stubborn Dreams

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Ignite Philly (2) – Evolution of Entrepreneurship

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Thank you to Geoff DiMasi, Alex Gilbert, Far McKon, and Vanja Buvac for organizing another interesting event, full of diversity and aerogami.

In the late 90s/early 00s (in the era of the dot com boom and Philly Tech magazine), when I drove east towards NJ on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I couldn’t help but notice the building with castle-like turrets trumpeting its presence as the headquarters of Half.com. I always thought the building was a little ugly but I was always like “Wow. Half.com was founded here. In Philly.”

Yesterday, Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital and the founder of Half.com, kicked off ignitePhilly #2 at Johnny Brenda’s. Josh has been involved in several initiatives (Tech Council, Greater Philadelphia First) to help answer the question of the Philly Brain drain (why do talented graduates choose to leave Philly after they finish school here). He honestly admitted that none of those initiatives really worked; they were trying to address the problem from the top-down.

As an investor in LinkedIn, del.icio.us, and Stumble Upon, he has learned that communities can be nurtured but they cannot be created from the top-down. Times change, Philly evolves. IndyHall, DreamIt, Philly Startup Leaders – these are Philadelphia-based ventures that were started by entrepreneurs. Josh says that these ventures are really getting traction. Succeeding because they are not top-down driven but started by entrepreneurs.

If there was a hidden subtext to Ignite Philly #2, I think it showcased the evolution of Philly. Maybe true to its stereotypical/fictional”Rocky” roots. A democracy for technology. Interesting people doing interesting things outside the Silicon Valley mindset and spotlight (until they’re ready). Bringing art/design/technology to people who want to learn, reinventing the practice of teaching/public television. Making it easier for good developers to spend more of their time developing. Bringing people together who might not have met. Adding value.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we want/can have more look-at-me high profile companies and their flashy headquarter buildings, but I think Philly is at the ground-level of the evolution of entrepreneurship. Small, focused teams with big ideas that can make an long-term impact (and money – passive income: good)  

Eve H., PARK(ing) day, Philly

  • (PARK)ing day started by Rebar in San Francisco.
  • Event was last Friday. Mostly started by architects and landscape designers. Started off with sketches.
  • Success was based on the involvement of key individuals (Pam, Jeff) and organizations (City Planning Commission, City of Philadelphia)
  • What is a parking space? Pennsylvania Horticultural Society had staff meetings in their PARK(ing) space that day. Up in NYC, A HR firm held job interviews.
  • Green space is very important in the city. Green spaces allow people to connect. People have the urge to talk to one another. People just need a little nudge to connect
  • Random walk-ins: David from UPenn – stopped by the parking space, sat down on rocking chair, and chatted for 5 minutes and left (this is what the day was supposed to do – connect strangers we live and work with)

Chris Lehmann, Science Leadership Academy

  • School 2.0: Creating the schools that we need today. Progressive education with 21st century tools.
  • Stop thinking tests can measure learning. Right now, schools are very data driven (but really good data is hard to collect – hint: not tests).
  • It’s not what students get on tests but the work they do that is important
  • Student-centered-learning: Make schools inquiry driven. Something to figure out vs. not what they want you to know.
  • Traditional classroom: Hierarchical assessment. Recall-based learning. Obsolete in the age of Google.
  • “Certain technologies are not additive. They are transformative” -Neil Postman. Technologies must be like oxygen
  • Projects. Students doing amazing things: Flow process bio-processing engine project. Installed in Guatemala – helping villages get off the grid.
  • Students using UStream to share their classroom lectures and discussions with the world
  • Research/collaborate/communicate should be part of learning
  • “Good person + Bad system” -> (Bad) system usually wins
  • What is the role of the teacher in the age of Google? Wisdom

Jameson Detweiler, Drexel’s Smart House

  • “Better Living Through Smart Design and Technology”. It’s not just about green, but helping people. Focus on solving problems that affect people in their daily lives
  • Location of Smart House: 35th & Race. Former fraternity house in less-than-ideal condition
  • 10 students will live in the house. They will try out the new technology in a real-world environment, every day. The house is a test framework for smart design and technology.
  • Five areas of focus: Environment, Energy, Interaction, Health, Lifestyle
  • Examples of technology being tested: Globule-infused paint to reduce energy consumption; Summalux LED lighting to help circadian rhythms, counteract SAD; open-source format for nutritional information
  • Smart House focus on *integration* – how well do the technologies work with each other *and* with people
  • Affiliate program – opening up Smart House to smart minds outside of Drexel. Let them know.
  • Design competition. Announcing final design/winner in November

Adam Turkelson, Neat Receipts

  • Practitioner of Neural Networks. Neural networks are used everywhere. Expert systems, knowledge bases. You probably have used one already.
  • Biologically ingrained processing models applied to Machine Learning
  • How it works: (Biological neuron) Dendrites -> Soma -> Axon becomes (Virtual neuron) Input -> Activation Function -> (adjustable weight) > Output
  • Exaggerated claims of success hurt NN
  • 1940s-1960s: Various models. 1970s: Nothing happened 🙂 1980s: Back Propagation.
  • Back Propagation: Saved field of NN. (non-linear -> stochastic)
  • Back Propagation most widely used NN. Many open source implementations. However, slow algorithmically and computationally
  • NN are amazing, powerful. Be creative. treat them like toys, not like complicated programs

Stu Hankin and Wil Robinson, IdeaBlob

  • IdeaBlob is a new venture from Advanta
  • The idea with the most votes at the end of the month wins $10,000
  • Any kind of idea goes. (Poor) Hanging bag hand guard. (Good) Business cards to help student get elected
  • Important concept: Don’t be afraid that someone is going to take your idea. Be afraid that no one will ever see your idea.
  • IdeaBlob features top advisors and guest advisors (president of Kiva.com) – Connects experienced entrepreneurs with aspiring entrepreneurs
  • IdeaBlob contest – 8 ideas for grand winner (Sept. 22 to Sept. 31)
  • October 22nd. BlobLive in Philly. Prince Theater. Free drinks! Brings IdeaBlob to the people. People in audience give advice/support to people presenting their ideas on stage. Free drinks!!

Steve Welch, DreamIt Ventures

  • Change is overused term. He prefers evolution (better ideas/more efficient systems)
  • Great ideas come from more efficient systems
  • Differentiate, Select, Amplify (Biology) applied to business creation/evolution
  • World GDP per capita has increased rapidly. Driven by evolution of open markets that share ideas and products across borders
  • Early-stage companies. Very few VCs (except for Josh K.) invest in them.
  • DreamIt. Darwinism. 11 companies. 3 months incubator. 1 on 1 mentoring. Legal/accounting/startup counsel.
  • Costs have gone down dramatically. Evolution of business: East Indian Trading Company to Microsoft/billg to Facebook. Costs go down with outsourcing of development and manufacturing.
  • Speed. The World is too competitive. Your idea needs to get out there.
  • This past DreamIt: Lots of great ideas, not enough requisite technological skill.
  • Next DreamIt: HackerTrack – allow hackers to apply. Meet up and team up with people with big ideas.
  • Diverse teams – don’t want others who act like you, talk like you.
  • Fail quickly – Josh K. – testing ideas out with as little capital as possible
  • Businesses that survive long term bring value to society

Mark Yim, University of Pennsylvania, GRASP lab

  • Talk given to engineering education conference about teaching / how he teaches
  • Demonstration: Asked audience to point towards the sky. Most people pointed with index finger. In Japan, people lead with their thumbs (thumb-centric society – texting). Point: Technology changes people
  • Push model of learning. “Chalk and talk”
  • Pull model: Interactive with web
  • Learning from phenomenological obervation. Engineers taught theoretical concepts, but not design
  • Traditional labs: Push model. Tell them what to do exactly.
  • New labs: Give the students a problem, tell them to solve it but not how to solve it. Don’t tell them what to do. They come up with their own experiments.
  • Learn a lot more from failure than successes – students designing vibration dampening-type system. Some of the more crazy ideas – Mark told them so but regretted telling them so.
  • Non-linear elasticity of rubber. Students develop model of rubber band/how it stretches. Tested via bungee cord with action figure. How close can you get the action figure to the ground? Some got close, some action figures hit the ground (hard)
  • Heat transfer: Students taught theory – told to design a heat sink for an iPod like device (but not told how to design it)
  • Paper Aqueduct: Students build out of cardboard and glue. How much water can it transport without the system breaking down.
  • Conclusion of students: Must claimed they learned more in the new lab (but it might be that they think they learned, not that they learned)

Beth Van Why, Design Philadelphia

  • Beth found Make:Philly a permanent home at UArts (big part of Make:Philly’s livelihood/success)
  • Her new project: helping to find design a permanent home in Philly.
  • Design Philadelphia – celebrating its 4th year. October 16-22, 2008. Funding from William Penn Foundation, City of Philadelphia organizations, design firms.
  • Open up what’s going on in design in Philly to people in Philly. 450,000 people see DP brochures.
  • DP = Lectures and “all-out parties”. Lots of professional organizations and local gallery (F.U.E.L) involved
  • Showcase local designers. Josh Owen.
  • 15 open houses. Behind the scenes at architectural and/or product design firms. See the different types of creative work going on.

Don and friends, 8Static.com

  • DesignPhiladelphia 8Static.com party. October 18th. $5/$8. Studio 34. 4522 Baltimore Pike. 6:00 Free screening of “Reformat the Planet”
  • “Reformat the Planet”. No-budget documentary about the chip music scene. Premiered at SxSw. 150k views on PitchFork.tv. Free screening at 10.18 party.
  • Joey – 17 years of guitar playing experience. Makes GameBoy foot controllers
  • Dino – 3 channels of GameBoy sound.
  • Don – Visuals for 8Static. Likes simple, repetitive patterns (because he’s neurotic). Likes to remix original video game graphics (especially if they’re female)

Far McKon, Aerogami

  • Goal: 300 Paper Airplanes folded during <5 min of presentation

Jen Yuan, Web 2.0 Free Agent

  • Emailed Geoff saying she wanted to speak at Ignite Philly (2). Topic? “Smart Pet Tricks: Hacking Cats into Dogs”. Geoff sold on the topic alone.
  • Teach cats to sit, beg, high-five. And even jump through a flaming ring of fire a.k.a. hoop!!
  • 9 lives, 9 tips. The twist: These nine tips are not just for teaching real cats to do tricks. Managing programmers said to be like herding cats. These tips also apply to managing projects.
  1. Step back from your preconceptions
  2. Recruit every useful skill set
  3. Make the most of what you’ve got
  4. Get on board as early as possible
  5. Communicate expectations clearly. Use simple unambigious gestures
  6. Give immediate positive reinforcement (make a clicking sound to let them know reward/food is coming.
  7. Gradual steps. Teaching cat how to sit. Looking at you -> looking up -> (food behind ear) -> sitting down
  8. Set a realistically generous timeline
  9. Maintain what you’ve developed (do it over and over and over)

Howard Blumenthal, MiND TV

  • Worked for Viacom, MTV in their formative stages. Wouldn’t work for them now.
  • Mainstream TV not for the people. Billion dollars spent by presidential candidates on TV advertisements (contrast: $1b/yr spent on cure for cancer/cancer research). Rupert Murdoch of Fox wants to control what you watch.  “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn’t thinking”
  • “By the people, for the people”. 5 minute long shows. Diverse collection of shows.11 different 5 minute programs in a hour. Channel 35 / Channel 20 (Comcast)
  • MiND TV: The New Public Television. Open Forum for sharing and learning.
  • Teaching people to make television. Recent workshop: high school students to senior citizens learning to make shows.
  • MiND TV evolving from Janice Davis: 1st person with show on MiND to new stars: 9 yr old State Fiddling chamption.

Jim Stogdill, Accenture

  • 5-yr veteran of defense contracting. Wants to bring Open Source Systems into Defense Land.
  • Eisenhower. 2nd World War. Foresees permanent armament industry of vast proportions. The military/industrial complex.
  • 50 years later, very isolated military/industrial complex
  • Inside the Defense bubble – warped version of Prisoner’s Dilemma/Nash equilibrium (No one gets what they want). CMMI/System engineering/formal systems.
  • Open source collaboration – 2 directions (e.g. don’t expect that you will not be changed)
  • Culture and Trust. Culture comes first. Trust comes later.
  • People are fractals too.

Jason Allum, RipIt

  • Building small. Little projects that you can sell. Passive income is cool.  
  • VCs not really interested in small apps/projects. 
  • Building is the easy part. Money/time/help
  • Microfinance: small amounts of money for little piece of the action
  • IndyHall Labs – framework for micro-entrepreneurship. Logical extension of IndyHall. Automates process of user buying, getting email, paying, you getting paid
  • Accounting. Real-time dashboard: Put something in, what do you get out (earnings down to the pennies)
  • Customer support: Through IndyHall labs, access diverse talent pool. Free you up to do new things.
  • Next step: community to match up projects and ideas with talent and cash.

Kristin Groenveld, ArtSphere

  • ArtSphere. Celebrating 10th anniversary
  • Bring art to people who don’t normally have access to art
  • Involve lots of different people. Get people from other countries, other parts of Philly. People isolate themselves/communities are isolated.
  • ArtSphere has events in public spaces. Everyone feel welcome. Meet someone who you might not meet in your normal sphere.
  • Fishtown Recreation Center. Good location (easily accessible via public transportation) in a neighborhood with lots of crime.
  • Fishtown Diaries I and II: Document ArtSphere and the good things going on

Harris Romanoff and Dana Schloss, MakePhilly

  • MakePhilly: Started with Craigslist posting that drew 15 random folks to Dark Horse(?)
  • 2.5 years old. 18 meetings, funded by own members
  • “All of us are makers as long as we’re willing to play”
  • “Making is more of an attitude (thing) than ability”
  • MakePhilly meetings: 1) Open make 2) Guest speakers 3) Maker challenge
  • Maker Challenge: “1 hour to make something with people you don’t know.” “In the end everyone comes up with something different”
  • Successful Maker Challenge. Rube Goldberg machine. Why? Little bit of planning but with parameters that allowed creativity (Rock’em Sock’em robot integrated into Rube Goldberg contraption)
  • Not-as-successful Maker challenge. #16 – Marble Run (Similar to Rube Goldberg). Why? No parameters. Couldn’t fit together (integration problems). Weren’t really that organized. Did not really provide materials that sparked inspiration 
  • [Note: I participated in the marble run (above) and I was thinking that it wasn’t a failure. You form an ad-hoc team. Time literally flies – you have to make decisions quickly and go with it. You’re arguing with people you don’t know – what is the line – have I crossed it? We decided and started building. Adjusted. We made something worked and we were proud of. Integration is always tough. 10 more minutes and it would have worked]
  • October 19th: Art Buggy Derby. Washington Square Park. http://www.artbuggyderby.com
  • Monthly meetings. Sunday at 3pm. Next one: November 23rd

Geoff DiMasi & Paul Wright, Open Source Philadelphia

  • Declare Philly an Open Source city
  • Worked with Mayor’s office (6 months)
  • Improve on the information we share
  • Philly as place to not just work, but to live and to grow
  • Ben Franklin was an early open source pioneer
  • From video: “We talk openly. We speak honestly. We motivate, we innovate, we create. Creativity is everywhere.”
  • Open hearts, open minds. City of brotherly love. Open source city. Not just technology, communication. Greater impact than sum of parts.
ignite Philly (2) was fun. It was different from the first one. The first one, the kick-off is always unique just for being the first. The second and thereafter – those are the important ones – that prove that there is momentum. I didn’t mingle but I had a nice time meeting William (soccer coach). Yes, I should have talked to that cute girl taking notes too, right next to me.
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Written by kleeruby1

September 24, 2008 at 3:20 pm