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Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs

From The New York Times:

Imagine you are a venture capitalist. One day a man comes to you and says, “I want to build the game layer on top of the world. Continue reading here.
 

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Company News: Collaboration at the Heart of eMotion

In the fall of 2006, Avelo Roy sent his friend Ed Suda an email about submitting an idea to IIT’s Business Idea Challenge. Together the two IIT students spent three weeks brainstorming potential business ideas before deciding upon one that eventually took third place in the IIT Business Idea Challenge. Encouraged by this success, they proposed an interprofessional project (IPRO) based on the idea of using wireless technology to connect people who are physically separated but emotionally connected in a safe and simple way. The idea morphed into the BFF <3 Necklace. The necklace is (1) a customizable fashion accessory for tweens, (2) a wireless communication device that uses patterns of lighting and vibration to enable friends to send secret, encoded messages and (3) a gateway to an online social networking site, bfflessthan3.com.

 

Roy and Suda took the idea through four semesters of the IPRO program, providing an opportunity for students from all disciplines to collaborate and bring the concept to fruition. They competed in more than a dozen business plan competitions, placing in most of them. In May 2009, Roy graduated with a degree in computer engineering and Suda with one in architecture. Which brings us to the question, what happened next?

 

Well, one possible scenario is that Roy and Suda, like many graduates, started looking for jobs in their respective fields. While plausible, this ending would not make for a compelling story. Instead, Roy and Suda decided to leverage the resources at their disposal to make their business, eMotion, viable. Through the IPRO program, they learned about university resources available to emerging businesses, including the IIT Knapp Entrepreneurship Center. Nik Rokop, the IIT KEC Managing Director introduced Roy and Suda to people who became the management team. In fact, Nik Rokop and Amy Francetic serve on both the IIT KEC Board and eMotion’s Board of Advisors.

 

Co-founder Ed Suda, Web Manager Anica Jovanova and co-founder Avelo Roy

Co-founder Ed Suda, Web Manager Anica Jovanova and co-founder Avelo Roy
 

Furthermore, “the business competitions gave us a little bit of money, recognition, and press coverage that helped us leverage our story for recruiting the management team,” said Roy. Part of the reason for their success in the business competition was their willingness to ask for help. For example, Roy and Suda beat out more than 30 other emerging student-run businesses to win the $25,000 grand prize and “audience favorite” award in the November 2008 Entrepreneurial Idol contest sponsored by Northwestern University. According to a Chicago Tribune article, “what appealed to the judges wasn’t just the idea of an interactive necklace for tween girls tied to a secure social networking site, but the entrepreneurs’ willingness to collaborate with others to move the company along.”

 

After graduation, their willingness to collaborate has not subsided. They continued to grow their network through IIT KEC and joined the Cluster Acceleration Program (CAP), a part of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurship Center (CEC) that provides peer-mentoring for entrepreneurs. Using an investment from IIT KEC and Illinois Ventures, a seed and early-stage technology investment firm, they built a strong management team, recruiting seasoned professionals with more than 20 years of experience. Then, “we started fundraising and met with VCs who gave us milestones. We filed a global patent, did extensive user testing and built high quality necklaces.”

 

Their research led to some important realizations about the nature of the market. “Parents do not recognize how much money they actually give their kids. Even if they don’t receive regular pocket money, but get ‘x’ dollars a week for lunch, they’ll actually cut back on their lunch if there’s something they’ll want,” said Suda.
Along the way, Roy and Suda faced a few obstacles. Their biggest challenge? Raising “money, especially in this economy. What we want to do is establish relationships with established organizations that can help us expedite the process between refined prototype and market-ready product.”

 

As always, Roy and Suda are focused on the future. “We are currently looking for strategic partnerships with entertainment companies like Disney and Nickelodeon to take our business to the next level.”

 

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midVenturesLAUNCH wants your startup to COMPETE

Think your venture is better than the rest? Apply for COMPETE, where we’ll be selecting the top 25 startups to be judged by our expert panel. If you are accepted, then you’ll be given a table on the exhibition floor for free. The first round of judging is done à la a science fair, with judges intermingling with attendees to watch your pitch on the exhibition floor. The top five will then be selected for a 3 minute pitch in front of the audience and the panel of judges, where they will undergo a second round of judging. The winner of that pitch competition will take home over $100,000 in cash and services from our sponsors.

Startups applying for COMPETE must be less than 3 years old, must have received less than $2m in funding, and must have revenues less than $1m per year. The 25 qualifying startups will be chosen and have a free table at midVenturesLAUNCH event, receive media and press on the midVenturesLAUNCH website, and their business summaries will be sent to attending investors.

Applications will be reviewed and approved on a rolling basis, so apply sooner rather than later!

midVenturesLAUNCH is the largest startup conference in the Midwest, showcasing new and innovative startups and apps in the technology space. Bringing together entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, the media, and members from all parts of the Midwest tech community, midVenturesLAUNCH is a unique opportunity to watch the great new ideas come to life. Join us to make new friends, meet investors, and discover what is happening in the tech world.

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InCharge Systems publishes new white paper

InCharge Systems, Inc. (ICS) is pleased to announce the release of an 11 page white paper authored by leading industry analyst Jon Arnold, entitled The Case for Using ACerted Trust to Secure SIP and VoIP Communications. Based upon proprietary research conducted on behalf of ICS by J Arnold & Associates, this White Paper has been produced to show how a new approach developed by ICS represents a step in the right direction for businesses to make a more successful transition from PSTN to IP communications.

Abstract
VoIP and SIP-based communications are now beginning to reach critical mass with business deployments. However, security, identity, and authentication largely remain overlooked. This White Paper shows how ACerted Trust strengthens communications with a value proposition worth considering.

To download the white paper, please fill out a short registration form.

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midVentures LAUNCH partners with SocialDevCamp Chicago

Following a successful pre-launch incubator panel at IIT’s University Technology Park, midVentures has announced a partnership with SocialDevCamp Chicago, the unconference of social application and platform developers, evangelists, and enthusiasts. The event, held August 13-15 on IIT’s Main Campus, explores emerging trends surrounding the development, business, and culture fueling the social web.

The winner of the SocialDevCamp Hackathon will be given a table in the mVDemo Area at midVenturesLAUNCH to demo their new startup/app.

Follow SocialDevCamp on Twitter: @SDCChi.

IIT students receive a discounted rate to attend SocialDevCamp! Become a fan of the Knapp Center on Facebook to learn more.

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Dan Roberts talks innovation

Full-time writer Scott Berkun interviews Dan Roberts about his first book, The Innovator’s Sourcebook. Roberts talks about the inspiration for his book, developing problem finding skills, and approaches to innovation.

In addition to being a first-time author, Roberts is founder of Sidestax, a KEC business.

Read the full interview here.

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Chicago Startup Weekend: Taking Startups from Idea to Launch

Chicago Startup Weekend attendees had trouble reaching a consensus when asked about the best part of the event. That’s not surprising since the Startup Weekend attracts people from a variety of backgrounds—business managers, marketing gurus, developers, students, investors, startup enthusiasts and others— who work together to transform ideas into companies.

The Knapp Entrepreneurship Center sponsored eight IIT student entrepreneurs. Daniel Krieglstein, PhD candidate in clinical psychology at IIT and cofounder of the Knapp Center startup The JournalWiki, remarked, “Startup Weekend was a great place to find contacts. I met many graphic designers and business managers. This is the best place to find [software] developers.” The opportunity “to work on a different project led to fresh ideas about our own startup,” The JournalWiki co-founder Ed Madrigal added. For Ed Suda, an IIT alumnus and co-founder of Knapp Center startup eMotion, Startup Weekend was a chance to do something that he has never done before: “engage in a purely web experience—it’s amazing to see how quickly a unique web business can be created.”

The event began Friday, June 25th with pitches from some of the 85 attendees. The participants formed nine teams that solidified the concepts and created a business plan. The weekend culminated with presentations from each group.

The startups varied from AppTriumph, a website that allows college applicants to track their application process to Remnant Retail Space, an online marketplace for renting vacant property on a short-term basis.

One of the groups was CityMurder.com, a hyperlocal marketing tool disguised as an adventure game. CityMurder.com is the brainchild of Víctor Sánchez and Ramon Recuero, recent graduates of IIT’s Information Technology and Management program. Along with Raul San Narciso and Nozomi Yamawaki, they are currently working on urki.me, an innovative web application that enables users to create dynamic and media-rich web pages.

According to Startup Weekend judge Jonathan Pasky, “Chicago’s tech scene is really coming together, and the quality of the startups pitched this weekend [was] phenomenal.” As for us at the Knapp Entrepreneurship Center, it is difficult to avoid the temptation toot our own horn. Accordingly, our favorite takeaway from one of the Startup Weekend attendees was, “People were jealous that we are connected to the Knapp Entrepreneurship Center and get to work with Nik Rokop. We were excited to see that the Knapp Center has a great reputation in Chicago entrepreneurship community.”

To find out more about Chicago Startup Weekend, visit http://chicago.startupweekend.org/.

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Entpreneur-in-Residence Phil Leslie featured in Crain’s Chicago Business

In a recent Crain’s Chicago Business article, Phil Leslie reveals the secret to ProOnGo’s success and longevity in the mobile market: “[We focus] on making money within [the] app, not at the initial point of purchase.”

Phil Leslie is the Knapp Center’s Entrepreneur in Residence. As such, he often works closely with and hires IIT students to work with him on mobile application development.

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AwareNet: Helping You Help Others

In her diary Anne Frank remarked, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” and Shayok Mukhopadhyay, Yamini Girey, and Krishna Rao Vijayanagar (pictured below from left to right) couldn’t agree more.

AwareNet team from left to right: Shayok Mukhopadhyay, Yamini Girey, Krishna Rao Vijayanagar

Vijayanagar and Girey have recently received their master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from IIT. Mukhopadhyay is pursuing his PhD in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. Together they make up Coders Inc. and have recently won the 2010 Microsoft Imagine Cup People’s Choice Award for their project AwareNet, an online forum where non-governmental organizations, volunteers, donors and vendors can interact and share resources. The Imagine Cup competition is designed to empower students to use technology, innovation and creativity to help some of the world’s most challenging social issues as outlined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

Vijayanagar and Girey became interested in the Imagine Cup Competition after attending Chicago Microsoft Academic Developer Evangelist Krishna Kumar’s presentation at IIT in the fall of 2009. After teaming up with Mukhopadhyay, the three of them began brainstorming ways to increase enrollment in schools in rural regions. “We started looking for resources and realized it is difficult to find information to implement these ideas,” said Girey.

“Even if you want to start something, you’ll first have to find if someone already is doing such a thing over there and then you have to find volunteers and the resources. There isn’t a database or repository where you can go and easily find this information,” Vijayanagar added. Undaunted, the team saw the problem as a challenge and decided to build a social network “to connect people who are interested in volunteering or those who are already doing social welfare so that it is easy to find information and resources in a single place.”

“Putting such a platform on the Internet will enable people from all over the world to collaborate,” explained Mukhopadhyay. “Look what Wikipedia has become. Everyone contributed to it and now it is an indispensable resource. Why not do that for welfare?”

AwareNet, which is aimed at bringing together NGOs, volunteers, donors and vendors can be particularly useful in major emergencies, to enable organizations to better coordinate and plan rescue operations through AwareNet. Users can register and provide criteria about their wants and needs, research the available opportunities, and reach out to other users.

A unique feature of AwareNet is “Connectivity”, a project management tool. Using graph theory, Connectivity monitors communications between people to determine whether the task is heading in the right direction. As a result, Connectivity enables volunteers to be more successful in managing their projects.

The Coders’s work over the course of the semester came to fruition. Public support for AwareNet topped that of the other nine nominated teams in the national finals competition and led to Coders winning the People’s Choice Awards.

“We would like to thank the IIT and Georgia Tech communities, and our friends and relatives back home for supporting us during this event and helping us win the People’s Choice Award,” said Vijayanagar. “ We also thank Krishna Kumar, who helped us immensely at the competition and was a great source of guidance.”

To keep AwareNet sustainable, Coders Inc. wants to commercialize Connectivity to other venues, such as healthcare and information technology companies. The team plans to fully develop AwareNet in the coming months and commercialize the venture.

Visit the AwareNet blog for the latest details and you can also see their Facebook page at http://bit.ly/9TW1XU.

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Method to the Madness: IIT Institute of Design’s Brains, Behavior and Design Group

When Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet said, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t,” he was onto something. Indeed, research in cognitive psychology and behavioral economics shows that our irrational behavior follows patterns. We don’t always make rational decisions or choose the option in our own best interest. We often overeat, text while driving, or fail to take advantage of our 401(k) plans. How do we actually make decisions? We rely on mental shortcuts to help us quickly evaluate information.

A group of six Masters of Design students from IIT Institute of Design took this concept to the next level during a year-long capstone project in 2009-2010.

Brains Behavior and Design Team

Nikki Pfarr, Ann Hintzman, Van Vuong, Miguel Cervantes, Jennifer Lee and Jerad Lavey wanted to explore how insights from the fields of cognitive psychology and behavioral economics could be used to design better products, services, experiences and business strategies.

Cognitive psychology is concerned with the study of memory, language processing, perception and problem solving. Some practical applications of cognitive research include ways to improve memory and methods to increase decision-making accuracy. Behavioral economics explores how social, cognitive, and emotional factors influence the way people consider trade-offs, options, and priorities when making decisions.

The IIT Institute of Design team has developed the Brains, Behavior and Design (BB&D) Toolkit to take behavioral economics findings out of the lab and apply them to develop robust and effective solutions. The BB&D Toolkit was created to help designers quickly understand and apply research on people’s irrational decision making. The kit makes decision-making concepts more accessible and actionable to the general population and provides a great new lens for the design process.

The BB&D Toolkit features several tools, ranging from Reference Cards that help explain basic behavioral economics concepts to Strategy Cards with ways to change user behavior. The toolkit is available for free download at BrainsBehaviorandDesign.com.

The BB&D Toolkit has also become the foundation of ongoing educational workshops. Having attended one of the workshops, I can attest that the tools have the greatest impact when introduced through hands-on engagement. Working with the toolkit helps embed this new information in your mind so that you know when and how to use it.

Upcoming workshops focus on the effects of loss and time on consumer decision making, along with new methods for designing more appealing offerings. The workshop is intended for designers, design researchers, industry leaders and others interested in creating more desirable products, services and strategies that really reflect the way people make decisions. The team is also developing online learning modules and group facilitation guides to give the hands-on value of the workshop remotely.

Be sure to visit here to learn more about the workshops and here to learn more about the Brains, Behavior and Design Group.

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