To celebrate Women’s Day, we hobnobbed with 24 year-old Silicon Valley-based high-tech startup founder Meredith Perry. She’s audacious, persistent, resourceful and a game changer in every sense. Perry’s start-up, uBeam, develops technology using ultrasound to wirelessly charge devices. In 2012, Mike Arrington hailed her demo as the “closest thing to magic” he had seen in a long time. Since, SiliconValley powerhouses such as Marissa Mayer, Peter Theil, and Andressen Horowitz have invested in uBeam.
Perry designed the early prototypes of uBeam’s technology without any engineering degree, relying on in-depth Internet research and “begging professors to teach her extra concepts after class.” When she first brought her idea to experts and engineers she was met with point-blank responses along the lines of ‘you are trying to do the impossible; it will never work.’
Our three takeaways from Perry’s seemingly unlikely success:
#1 Persist through naysaying by pursuing open-minded research
In her TEDx talk, Perry reported asking herself, “how can I get this to work” rather than a binary, “will this work or not?”
When experts diagnosed her designs with insurmountable challenges, Perry turned to tangentially related research — from acoustic weapons to musical instruments — to find new solutions. For example, a professor told her she could never transmit enough power through sound to charge a phone, but she kept moving forward with the idea because of the research she did on acoustic bombs. After she’d put considerable effort into research and thinking up out of the box solutions, many of the experts she spoke to came back and said, “hmmm, actually that could work.”
Perry was pursuing a degree in Paleobiology with a focus in Astrobiology, and had no background in electrical engineering, but her dedication to thorough and open-minded research embodies the axiom that crazy ideas are revolutionary ideas yet to be fully explored.
#2 Hire the experts
Through persistent, open-minded research, Perry was able to communicate competence and rally engineers to help her realize her designs — beginning with a fellow student who wired the first proof of concept model. She won University of Pennsylvania’s student invention competition. She then found an engineer in Indiana who helped to dramatically increase both the power output as well as the range of her prototype in just under a month to demo on stage at All Things D.
By continuing her dogged research efforts, Perry is now working with engineers at the top of their fields — several of whom were authors of the papers she was reading in her early stages of research. When we interviewed her, she said, “It was most efficient to go directly to the source. It was relieving to finally be able delegate to people who knew a lot more than me after working on the technology independently for over a year.” Now, uBeam will be able to go beyond parts found on the shelves and create its own specialty parts for its product.
#3 Root out the investors likely to support your vision
Initially, Perry had difficulty finding willing investors for uBeam. In 2013, the New York Times reported that she decided to researchinvestors who had financed “crazy things.”
In her interview with us, she recommended “seek[ing] out specific investors online interested in your startup’s space versus just trying to get in front of the ”top investors”. Again, an out of the box approach proved successful. “Prior to raising my first seed round, I went on AngelList and searched for investors that invested in things as unusual and crazy as wireless power (i.e. aerospace startups, hardware startups, etc).” Her efforts paid off, attracting support from Founders Fund, the venture capital fund from former Paypal founder Peter Thiel. Perry soon after gained the support of Yahoo’s CEO, Marisa Mayer within a record-breaking 12 minutes!
In conclusion, as Perry rightly blogs, “Never, never, never give up. If you believe in what you’re doing and you’re not breaking the laws of Physics, then it can be done. It’s just a matter of how and when. Pull as many teeth as needed to get there.”
International Women’s Day (March 8th) began in the early 1900’s as a way to advocate for women’s rights. Now it is a celebration of women’s achievements in order to inspire continued progress towards equality.
One of the more troubling technology stories to come out of the past week is the assault on Sarah Slocum, a San Francisco-based tech enthusiast and writer, who was apparently targeted because she was wearing Google Glass in a bar.
Like many incidents of this nature, the exact account of what happened is a little fuzzy. Slocum said she was merely showing friends how the connected headset works when other bar patrons began hurling insults her way. One witness told local media she was "running around very excited," which annoyed some of the people around her. But it's revealing that Slocum has publicly come forward with her account, while the people who confronted her have not. Read more...
Launch is your typical startup conference: Entrepreneurs pitch their startups to a group of judges, primarily investors and tech press.
But this year, something special happened.
Midway through the conference, which took place earlier this week, San Francisco web designer Rose Broome came on stage to introduce HandUp. Launch founder Jason Calacanis set the tone for her presentation by mentioning that he had already invested in HandUp, which is a bit out of the ordinary, as he usually waits until the startups have launched. “I think you’ll understand why,” he said.
Within minutes, members of the audience were in tears.
HandUp is a relatively new service that lets you donate directly to homeless individuals in your neighborhood. VentureBeatfirst covered the startup back in August. 100 percent of the donations go to the essentials, like food, clothing, and medical care. What stands out about HandUp is the human touch: Individuals can share their stories and ask for specific items, like dentures or a new phone.
Once they’ve signed up, HandUp members are provided with a profile card with basic biographical information, which they can hand out to potential donors.The card contains information for people to donate via a secure SMS system, and the transaction can be carried out on an iPhone.
On stage, Broome announced a cool new feature, called HandUp Communities, which will let donors and homelessmembers opt-in to send messages to each other. She also disclosed the company’s fundraising goals. HandUp has secured $ 350,000 in funds from some of San Francisco’s wealthiest and most high-profile tech people, including Calacanis, Ron Conway, Ariel Poler, Michael Birch, and Eric Ries.
What touched the audience most wasn’t Broome’s pitch, although it’s inspiring to see entrepreneurs taking a stance on societal issues. It was Adam Reichart, a homeless HandUp member, who shared his story on stage.
Reichart described his struggles finding a job and receiving medical care. About five years ago, he broke his jaw but couldn’t afford a procedure. After he signed up with HandUp, he said, “a miracle happened.” A dentist offered to perform surgery pro bono. After that, he said, “someone made a $ 1,000 donation on Jan. 6 through HandUp for my dentures and pay my phone bill and keep a storage unit.” Reichart is now looking for affordable housing.
“I have a verifiable way to tell people the truth about my needs,” he explained.
Conferences like Launch promote exciting new technology we’ve never seen before. But HandUp is deceptively simple and took just a few months to develop, as it integrates with platforms like Twilio and Stripe.
HandUp ultimately won the “Social Impact” award, as it uses existing technology for good. It isn’t the only startup attempting to solve entrenched societal problems. Y Combinator is now accepting a few nonprofits and startups like HandUp (although this is a fairly recent development), and venture firms like Omidyar and Kapor Capital are actively looking to fund social enterprises.
Still, it’s early days for the social impact trend, otherwise known as social entrepreneurship. Broome has received her fair share of criticism from potential investors and the media. Salon points out that HandUp “isn’t going to wash away a blight that has resisted decades of hard work to eradicate.”
But HandUp already appears to be making a difference in its first months. The team has signed up about 100 homeless people in San Francisco.
At Launch, Broome also shared the story of one HandUp member called Cameron. Cameron moved to San Francisco from Vermont to take care of her mother, who was dying of cancer. Cameron was evicted after her mother passed away and has been living on the streets and in shelters ever since.
Stories like these are all too commonplace in San Francisco, a city where an estimated 7,000 people are living without adequate shelter (there are only 1,100 available shelter beds). The upwardly mobile tech community has been accused of failing to support these people in need. In December, technology executive Greg Gopman inflamed already tense relations by referring to the homeless as “degenerates” in a Facebook post. He later apologized for these comments.
But Broome, who also runs the Homeless Innovation meetup group, holds a more optimistic view. She said in an recent interview with VentureBeat that she started HandUp, as her friends in the tech sector wanted to give to the local homeless. But they feared that their money would be used to feed an alcohol or drug addiction.
HandUp is designed to alleviate that fear. Homeless members can redeem the donation at North Beach Citizens or Project Homeless Connect, a San Francisco-based organization that provides housing support, medical care, food, pharmacy gift cards, and more. In the future, Broome will develop partnerships with Walgreens, Safeway, and others, so homelessmembers can purchase items from these franchises.
“My long-term goal is for people to use the card to fund housing or a shelter bed,” said Broome.
In the video below, skip ahead to 8:00:00 to watch Broome, cofounder Zac Witte, and HandUp member Adam Reichart present at Launch.
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Bing launched three news WindowsPhone 8 apps Tuesday: BingFood and Drink, BingHealth and Fitness, and Bing Travel.
In addition to the new apps, Microsoft's search engine updated its existing WindowsPhone 8 apps, and announced that all Bingapps will now sync acrossWindows 8 devices.
"Set up your favorite cities for weather, pick your favorite sports teams, chose the news topics you want to follow, and those things will be with you at your PC at work, on your Windows 8 tablet in the living room or on your WindowsPhone when you are on the go," Bing said in a blog post announcing the changes. Read more...
This is a guest post by managing editor at Burn Media Michelle Atagana
Technology is becoming commonplace and Africa is frequently touted as the next big hub. The continent is heading into an interesting space of tech-savvy consumers and creators.
Africa currently has about 45 innovation hubs and co-creation labs, which are spread out across the continent. With more than 600 million connected mobile devices and a growing working class, entrepreneurship is perceived as a viable profession.
Foreign investors are also beginning to cotton on with big tech corporations making their presence on the continent known, Google, Microsoft, Intel and IBM can attest to the opportunities Africa represents.
These fourteen companies represents just some of the amazing things being developed in Africa and entrepreneurs disrupting industries.
Money management systems are everywhere, if you have ever used Mint then 22Seven will make sense to you. The recently acqui-hired company is helping people manage their finances better. It tracks all your transactions and income and helps you visualize your spend. Compatible with most major banking institutions South Africa, 22Seven’s rocky start seems to be behind as it proves to be a geek favorite.
At its core, Hotels.ng is an online hotel reservation service for the Nigerian market and visitors to the country, with the hopes of expanding to the rest of West Africa. The platform catalogues and verifies all the hotels listed. Users can book their hotels through the site but only pay on arrival and Hotels.ng take a commission from the hotels.
Dubbed the taxi app on steroids, Tranzit is not just about finding a cab and getting from one location to another. The service also offers parcel delivery and also doubles as a discovery network. Users can search for places to go to in their neighborhood and things to do. The startup is hoping to revolutionize transportation and delivery pickup service in Africa and beyond.
Still on transportation, Mellowcabs is pretty cool. Its vehicles are electrically assisted pedal-powered cabs and they are free to use. The service makes its money through advertising. The idea is to bring online advertising offline, by displaying them in in-cab tablets. The tablets have geolocation software that automatically displays ads when a cab is near the advertisers business.
Imagine you could take your internet everywhere with you? Even areas with no connectivity? Yes, that is what BRCK is solving Africa’s connectivity issues. The creators of BRCK describe the product as “the easiest, most reliable way to connect to the internet, anywhere in the world, even when you don’t have electricity.” Think it as a rugged router that can hop from network to network seeking out whatever signal it can find to connect to the net.
This education startup is quite interesting, think Facebook for schools. The platform allows for communication and collaboration within, and between schools. The service says that its platform is safe environment for kids to interact with each other and the adults in their lives. Education is a key industry in Africa that needs disrupting and Obami is working toward impacting how students learn and how information is organized across the continent.
This online accommodation marketplace claims to be number one in Kenya. What’s really cool about them though is not just about booking a place to stay but the way they play on social media. SleepOut also lists accommodations in rural areas and boasts a travel blog that users can share their stories on.
Fresh out the MEST program in Ghana, this startup is turning African folklore into mobile entertainment. Leti Games builds cross-platform experiences on mobile devices and digital comics to engage the content hungry African audiences with an internet connection. The idea according to Leti Games is to build African superheroes that can compete on the world stage.
Healthcare is a big area that also requires innovation in Africa. This startup is working at getting medical information online and getting doctors connected. The way the company describes is “an integrated new generation healthcare information management and medical billing software”.
Mobile money is Africa’s niche, everyone one is trying to get this right. Zoona seems to have the rights tuff. Its solution is to take the issues out of cash heavy business environments in Zambia and Southern Africa. The company’s “proprietary technology” gives consumers the ability to make use of electronic payments via many Zoona agents. The services include money transfers, enterprise payment solutions and eVouchers payments.
It’s hard to navigate the job market when you are small contractor or someone who deals in quick labour. This is the problem that Naija Workman hope to solve. The platform wants to shake up Nigerian’s underdeveloped local services market by providing a market place for people to find contractors and said contractors can find work.
In Africa access is a luxury. Project Isizwe doesn’t think it should be, so it is giving it away from free with the help of the government. The idea, which as been rollout in one region, is to provide free Wi-Fi hotspots to low-income communities. This way the startup believe it can use the power of an internet connection to promote education and economic growth throughout Africa.
E-commerce is the new social network. Africa’s ecommerce scene is on steroids and this particular fashion and electronic site, currently embroiled in a dispute with Rocket Internet over domain hogging, is hoping to conquer the continent. Konga offers free deliveries and cash on delivery services especially for Africa’s unbanked population.
This startup is tackling a number of problems. Tackle Africa’s poverty and health issues while protecting forests. To do this it is making clean energy technologies available to more people in the developing world through carbon-financed distribution channels.
A fiery tweeter and digital native, Michelle Atagana has been hanging around the internet since she was eleven, back in the days of Netscape. Later on, her interest lead to her graduating with a Masters Degree in New Media and Journalism, and her position as Managing Editor at Burn Media.
She was named one of Mail & Guardian’s top young South Africans in 2012, writes a column about technology in Africa for CNN, judges occasional startup competitions and spends her free time working on the final draft of her PhD. But Mich says she’s just a girl, standing in front of a startup, asking them what their business plan is. Mich is also passionate about women’s rights and the African feminist movement.
Its first product, a smart ring that will make its public debut tomorrow at New York Fashion Week, focuses on what’s most important to teens—their social lives—by sending them alerts from selected contacts on different social media channels. Photos won’t be available until the ring is unveiled, but head of marketing Jeanniey Mullen gave me a sneak peek. It looks like a signet ring and has an O-shaped diffused light on top that flashes different colors.
The startup boasts a team with an interesting pedigree. Co-founder Rich Schmelzer launched Jibbitz, a line of decorative charms for Crocs footwear, with his wife Sheri from their Colorado basement in 2005.
If you don’t like Crocs and were mystified by their phenomenal success in the early 2000s, you are probably wondering why anybody would want to start a business dedicated to making the foam clogs look even more outrageous. But Jibbitz proved to be extremely popular and was acquired by Crocs for $ 100 million in 2006. Since then, the Schmelzers have also launched GeoPalz, which makes activity trackers for kids.
Mullen says Schmelzer’s background in kids’ accessories and wearable tech has been key to RingBlingz’s development. The founding team’s collective experience also includes Mullen’s stint as CMO of Zinio, one of the first newsstand apps; Alexandra O’Leary’s position as COO of GeoPalz; and Bill Phelps’ time as a product manager at EB Brands, which develops and licenses wearable tech to companies like Reebok.
RingBlingz has a good chance of grabbing the attention of teenagers for several reasons. First, a ring is more affordable (RingBlingz will retail for about $ 40 to $ 60) and less obtrusive than a wristband. Its alerts lets users stay on top of social media, texts, and calls without having to constantly check their phone. RingBlingz is also customizable, which Mullen says was a key point in focus groups because teens want to coordinate all their accessories with their outfits instead of wearing the same black band every day. The first ring is targeted at girls, but Mullen says there are styles planned especially for boys.
How it works
RingBlingz, which uses Bluetooth LE and connects to an iOS or Android app (a Windows Phone version is in the works), has to be within 100 feet of its paired smartphone to work and alerts teens when they move too far away. This will probably be a major selling point for parents who fret about kids losing expensive devices (maybe RingBlingz will also figure out a way to pair retainers).
Since teenssend a median of 60 texts each day, the RingBlingzteam knew they had to make sure its app offers plenty of room for customization, with different light colors and patterns for each contact and social channel. Alerts can also be set for group conversations and the ring can be put into vibrate mode for class.
The ring’s non-rechargeable battery lasts three to six months and free replacements will be provided by the company. Mullen says the startup is looking at other sources of power, such as inductive charging, that will work with the device’s small size.
RingBlingz can serve as an introduction to wearable tech for kids–a novelty that is useful for them, but doesn’t have so many functions or such a high price tag that it puts off parents. The startup, which is currently looking for seed investment, plans to develop new devices for RingBlingz’s users as they enter their early twenties, as well as different consumer demographics.
“RingBlingz is meant to be a full line of products that will expand over time. We have considered a number of factors, like the engagement level of kids who have the ring, as they move into adulthood, and adding features like two-way communication,” says Mullen. “The potential is endless.”