Thursday, March 19, 2009

Attention Entrepreneurs: Start Smart with the MIT Enterprise Forum

The MIT Enterprise Forum puts on some great programs, and they're a great value. Take the Start Smart series, which kicks off next Tuesday March 24th. This series consists of eight sessions (one per week) detailing the major steps involved in launching a successful startup -- all for the low, low price of $525. You couldn't touch a comparable college-level course for that amount of money.

Topics include positioning, pitching, recruiting, raising capital, bootstrapping, partnering and rainmaking. It's an MBA in a nutshell. There are some super presenters, including Doug Levin, who founded Black Duck Software; Lotus veteran Sue Balzano; Steve Zamierowski from Deloitte & Touche and Chad Joshi of Vegawatt (the guys who are turning restaurants' waste vegetable oil into electricity).

The event is hosted at my favorite law firm (because it's our law firm) - Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Talking About the Global Battery Opportunity

Last night I and other CHENers attended the MIT Enterprise Forum, Innovation Series event, which was a room-packed panel discussion on the state of energy storage, with a focus on battery technologies for automotive and consumer devices. The impressive panel included representatives from Lilliputian Systems, Honda Strategic Venturing, Battelle Ventures and Argonne National Laboratory.

Peter Rothstein of Flagship Ventures kicked off the discussion with an overview of the market opportunities, challenges and drivers. Batteries, supercapacitors, and fuel cells are all hot beds of innovation in solving energy storage issues. The numbers presented were very compelling:

*The global battery market alone is anticipated to grow to $50 billion, serving portables, micro power, consumer electronics devices and transportation.
*The Lithium-ion segment of the battery market represents a nine to ten billion dollar market, not including the transportation sector.
*Investments in battery technology are growing significantly, with the dominant new technology being Lithium-ion – figures show investments grew from $3.7 billion in 2004 to $6.8 billion in 2007.

New England is a region leading the country in innovation for energy storing devices. CHEN PR client Boston-Power is a leader in developing next-generation, Lithium-ion batteries and recently announced that HP has begun shipping an Enviro Series laptop battery based on Boston-Power’s Sonata technology.

Issues in developing and perfecting battery technology include safety, calendar life, cycle life, recharge time and cost – the cost being a major issue for hybrid cars. Additionally, the panelists discussed the challenges and opportunities to manufacture these new technologies. Today there are no U.S. manufacturers of new battery solutions – primarily being produced in China – but the opportunity to bring that capability onshore are tremendous. The U.S. government has $2 billion in grants available as part of the Stimulus package to develop this capability. The issues in moving battery technologies to mainstream manufacturing include scale, cost and reliability. Analogies were made to the semiconductor industry in its earlier days of manufacturing in volume.

The message at the end of the evening was clear. Energy storage, and in particular battery technology, is an enormous opportunity for the U.S. and specifically for New England. As one panelist remarked “we are never going to go back, the electrification of vehicles will happen and the U.S. government is very serious about bringing these energy efficient devices to reality.”

The next Innovation Series also looks to be a winner, Cloud Computing to be held on April 15.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Always Look On the Bright Side of Innovation…

With all due apologies and credit to Monty Python, last night’s WebInno conference had me whistling that infectious tune from the end of Life of Brian – and for good reason.  In the shadow of life seeming “jolly rotten, there’s something [we’ve] forgotten,” and that’s innovation is what drives us in both good times and bad. There was positive energy in a very full two rooms, a lot of active discussion and some pretty cool innovations, the vast majority of which were targeted at making life easier (and in some cases cheaper) for all of us – consumers, businesses, shoppers, parents and even golfers.  They’re fixing, as Eric Idle croons in the song, the things that “make you swear and curse.” 

I also took the opportunity to pose a couple of questions of two great execs of side dish companies, asking first what keeps them excited and confident that now is the right time for innovation, and secondly, why they chose Boston to make that innovation happen (see Xconomy and Innovation Economy for more on this discussion.)I’ve embedded their answers in the videos below.  But without further ado, here’s a snapshot of what last night’s lineup had to offer: 

  • Adroit Interactive – improving campaign performance and reducing costs through dynamic ads
  • BravoCart – as one exec described it, “drag and drop ecommerce”
  • LilGrams – extremely easy platform to consolidate and share baby/kid memories (i.e. make sense of the thousands of pics and vids on my hard drive and across WAY too many sites)
  • CoachesTown –  Customized and secure portals (and automatic communication mechanisms) for youth sports teams and leagues
  • JitterGram – instant mobile coupons and promotions for dinners, lift tickets, stores, resorts, etc.
  • JotNot – Turn your mobile phone into a document (as well as whiteboard) digitizer
  • mCaddie – One-stop destination for courses, instructors, tournaments and leagues to make the golf experience easier and more successful
  • PickupZone – Tap a network of local businesses as your personal package delivery location so it’s never left unattended on your doorstep again
  • Wiggio – Group collaboration for everyone  

A special thanks goes out to Abe Gurjal, co-founder of JotNot and Tim Blasko of CoachesTown for taking the time to chat with me about what they’re doing and their outlook on the environment in which they’re doing it.  As I’m about to start coaching my soon to be 8 year old’s baseball team, Tim’s product is just what the doctor ordered. And my wife will likely be calling Abe soon, since I now even have more of an urge to get an iPhone.   Thanks guys and best of luck in what I’m sure will be a successful year for both of you.

And now for something completely different…video interviews!  


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