Archive Page 2

Good Impact Investing Requires DIET and Exercise

BSG logo - smallI moved to Austin in the mid-1990s as part of an expansion of BSG Corporation, a company for which I was a co-founder. In 1996, two things happened that shaped my engagement in community and social ventures for the next 20 years to present day.

First, BSG was acquired by another large services company for several hundred million dollars. Second, I was accepted into the 1996-97 class of Leadership Austin.

Up until then, my only community activity had been supporting my church and the schools my young children attended. Outside of those activities, all of my energy was poured into helping BSG grow and succeed. Consequently, while I traveled around the country to our offices in locations like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Seattle, I didn’t even know the names of the streets on the adjacent blocks around my new home in Austin.

So, when we sold BSG, I had a hunger to get to know my community better and was blessed with the means to take the time to do it. After some discernment, mightily enabled by my Leadership Austin experience, I thought that lending my services as a non-profit leader could be a worthwhile way to get engaged in a high impact way.

easter-seals - 75 yearsLong-story short, I interviewed for and won the CEO position (equivalent to Executive Director for many non-profits) at Easter Seals – Central Texas. This is the “Exercise” part of good impact investing, per this post’s title.

Being the CEO of a major regional non-profit (we had a $multi-million annual budget with a 22-county Hill Country territory) gave me the opportunity to see the social services sector from the inside, for which I’m grateful.

The experience was critical for learning the importance of exercising head and heart in different ways. It also enabled me to see how business practices I had learned and considered second nature were under-valued, under-represented, or completely absent in social services.

At the end of my one-year tenure as CEO, performing the real-life exercise as a hands-on social venture leader also helped shape the opinions that I carry today about the strengths and weaknesses of the sector.

Since so much of the non-profit sector competes for social venture dollars, I’ve learned to guide my criteria for judging an organization’s ability to succeed by criteria that are not unlike those of any other new venture I evaluate — non-profit or for-profit.

In fact, I don’t really think in terms of non-profit or for-profit. I think of high-margin, low-margin and no-margin ventures…to me, the financial side of evaluating a venture is all about growth and sustainability.

But, even before the financial sustainability question and its corresponding element, the business model, the four most important issues that I look for can be summed up with the acronym DIET, standing for : Demand, Idea, Excellence, and Team. (Yes, this is where the “DIET” part of the DIET and Exercise title comes from.)

Having been a both social venture leader and in the business of launching new ventures, as I have for years as a principal with Powershift Group, I’m looking forward to going deeper on the DIET and Exercise concepts, sharing my perspective as an impact investor, during our SXSW panel, Sunday, March 15. I hope you can join us and I look forward to your questions and comments!

wannabe_1024pxPS: If you have a moment, and are an educator, a student, or the parent of a high schooler, please take a look at one of Powershift Group’s most recent social venture projects: the Wannabe mobile app. You can download it (free) for all iOS devices, from the iTunes AppStore.

Three Icebreakers for SXSW Networking

sxsw icebreakersSo you are standing in a line at SXSW or waiting at the bar and someone you don’t know has just made eye contact with you.

That awkward moment strikes.

Your internal voice shrieks “you should say something.”

And then, the first thing that comes to mind is “sooo… amazing weather, huh?” leaving you filled with self-loathing for the world’s most unoriginal, impersonal icebreaker.

Later, by the way, to be followed by the second most unoriginal (but necessary) question: “what do you do, Steve?”

Here are three alternatives to checking the weather that I like:

  1. “where are you from?” quickly followed, if you discover you live in the same city, with “oh yeah? what part of town?”
  2. “what’s the gossip?” which half the time gets an immediate reply of “what do you mean?” to which you can define however you want, e.g., gossip about “the best party” “worst speaker” “most famous celebrity who snuck into town” etc.
  3. “how’s the network?” that (admittedly) is a geeky version of the weather icebreaker, but eminently more useful at SXSW, where you never know exactly how the wifi and 4g are going to respond

So, have fun out there at #SXSW2015 and don’t ask about the weather…because, ya know, in Austin it changes every 24 hours in the spring anyhow!

I’m a Little Dewey Redux: Honoring the Spirit of Dewey Winburne

[In late December 2014, a minor institution closed shop, the Austin Startup blog, produced and largely written over the years by my friend and colleague Bryan Menell. I deeply enjoyed being one of the many unpaid, volunteer contributors to Austin Startup, lending my tips and news through my Cleantech, mobileTech, and Freshtech Friday columns over the years.

dewey awardBut, of all of my posts spanning close to a decade, nothing comes close to the response I got from a column I wrote reflecting on the honor of being a Dewey Winburne award finalist.

While Bryan has kept the post available on his Austin Startup archive site, I wanted to re-post it here, so that it would be available to anyone that went looking to catch a further glimpse of what Dewey meant to the early, pre-boom days of modern tech Austin and SXSW. I hope you enjoy!]

Original post date: December 26, 2011

Chances are, you may have never heard of Dewey Winburne, especially if you are somewhat new to Austin. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time to help change that possibility, in a small way.

Because, regardless of whether you never met Dewey Winburne before he died in 1999 or have never even heard the name before, Dewey is a symbol for Austin and its tumultuous, joyous, sometimes depressing, yet eternally optimistic tech start-up ecosystem and the collateral acts of goodwill that thrive alongside the entrepreneurial journey.

I won’t go into Dewey’s life, partly because I personally never met him during his years of greatest visibility as an ambassador for SXSW, and partly because I can’t imagine ever being able to do as good a job as the tribute website that has stood in his honor for years: http://www.patrickcurry.com/dewey/  But, it’s a life that merits a few moments of reflection, which I hope you will take to honor his memory, by following the link.

For several years, carrying forward a tradition of honoring Dewey’s memory, the SXSW Interactive organizers have circulated a call for nominations that goes something like this:

Greetings and happy early October from SXSW-land.

I am writing because you are a past honoree for the Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards, which have traditionally recognized Austin-area technology-related do-gooders…

As a past Dewey honoree, we would love to hear your ideas about your friends / peers / associates / followers / heros who are doing good work through new media in Austin, as well as in other communities around Texas, around the nation, and around the world.

What kinds of people are we looking for? This person might be a teacher who is using new media in some amazing way. Or, this person might be a software developer who has created an app that helps improve the living conditions of a particular area. Or, this person might be a community organizer who has a particularly innovative strategy with regards to technology.

There are numerous other kinds of people who would be a great candidate for the 2012 Dewey Awards. Indeed, just so long as this person works at a grassroots level to better society through the power of new media, then you are on the right track with your idea.

Yes, I receive this email because I’m a past Dewey Winburne Award finalist. In other words, I’m a little Dewey (see below). But, you don’t have to be a past finalist or award recipient to nominate candidates for the award. In fact, in the 2012 SXSW plans are efforts to make the Winburne Award one for a global audience.

Help make it so, by passing on the story of Dewey Winburne to others, by nominating a deserving candidate, and by attending the 2012 Awards ceremony. You don’t have to be a nominee to be a little Dewey yourself.

= = =

From the generosity and good record-keeping of the SXSW organizers, here is a full accounting of Dewey Winburne Community Service Award honorees (finalists and recipients) – the next time you see one of these women or men, take a moment to say “thanks” or – better yet – ask them what they are doing in the community!

Ileana Abounader, Brenda Adrian, Jim Allan, Shahed Amanullah, Stephen Amos, Meredith Beal, Tricia Berry, Anthony Bertucci, Bianca Bickford, Janet Blake, Silona Bonewald, Dennis Borel, Stacy Bouwman, Donny Branam, Lisa Byrd, Andres Carvallo, Gary Chapman, Jeanine Christensen, Sue Cole, Pierce Collins, Jayne Cravens, Julia Cuba,

Laura Donnelly, Thea Eaton, Dave Evans, Jennifer Evans, Joe Faulk, Teresa Ferguson, Tiffany Galligan, Juan Garcia, Rodney Gibbs, Lisa Goldman, Danny Gomez, Mona Gonzalez, Sheri Graner Ray, Steve Guengerich, Bobbie Guerra, Richard Halpin, Wendell Handy, Sheena Harden, Tim Harrell, Rondella Hawkins, Josie Hughes,

Kat Jones, Leroy Jones, Kathy Keller, Karen Kreps, Joyce Lauck, Jon Lebkowsky, Walter Lenoir, Herman Lessard, Adina Levin, Nick Lewis, Rich MacKinnon, Dario Martinez, Jan McSorley, Lisa McWilliams, Gordon Montgomery, Melanie Moore, Maria Morissey, Rachel Muir, David Neff, Joanna Nigrelli, Pat Pound, Roberta Przybylski,

Alicia Rascon, Armando Rayo, Connie Reece, Sam Robertson, Monica Roesch, Chip Rosenthal, Sharron Rush, Keith Rutledge, Dave Sanders, Carl Settles, Randi Shade, Trent Sharp, Dr. John Slatin, Leroy Smith, Harvey Smith, Ken Starks, Roger Steele, Sharon Strover, Dale Thompson, Angela-Ja Touza-Medina,

Allen Weeks, Adam Weinroth, Melvin White, Monica Williams, Stefan Wray, Richard Yu, and Kevin Zeppernick.

= = =

Comments in response, left on Austin Startup

Dave Evans says: Here’s to all the “Little Dewey’s” in Austin, and the “Little Dewey” in all of us. (Yes, that includes you since you are reading AustinStartup!).

What is it that I love about Austin? It’s exactly the sense of community that is evident in this (Steve’s) post: In the 10+ years that we have celebrated Dewey and his spirit via the award created in his honor literally hundreds of people have been shortlisted for this award. That in itself is an amazing testament to what drives Austin: It’s a rare combination of tech-savvy, of hip, of culture and of community mindedness. My wife and I jointly received the Dewey Award in 2001. To this date, it remains our greatest honor.

Working with Dewey was amazing: the accomplishments in and around his vision are now part of Austin’s core fabric. In 1995 we helped organize SXSW Interactive: that was my intro to working with Dewey. His work at AIL with students like Patrick and Louie produced amazing outcomes. Memorable events include the Global Schoolhouse website, shown by none other than Bill Gates while presenting at the Whitehouse in 1996 (Patrick and Louie finished the site at 3am, barely ahead of the 9am talk. I had to call Patrick’s mom and explain why he was working so late…she understood.) We had Austin declared–by City Charter–as friendly to “multimedia” and the small tech companies who would ultimately build Austin’s vibrant tech base, cited in the past month by Governor Jerry Brown as drawing talent away from California. The list goes on.

And so it is, that each and every day, as we go about our work in Austin continuously building and rebuilding and inventing and reinventing our own futures that, in our way, we show the “Little Dewey” inside us.

Jon Lebkowsky says: Steve, thanks for this post. I remember well when I first met Dewey. I was cofounder of an Austin startup called FringeWare, Inc. that was less tied to the local geography and more of a cyberspace phenomenon. We were rooted in the emerging technoculture of the early 90s. When we heard that SXSW was splitting multimedia from film, creating the SXSW Multimedia Conference, our art director Monte McCarter and I showed up to cover it for our FringeWare News Network. I recall that first conference was mostly focused on CD-ROM technology; they had nothing about the Internet, so we were strongly encouraging Dewey and Hugh Forrest to add Internet programming (I think it took a couple of years for this to happen). My day job at the time was working with state poverty programs, and in my first conversation with Dewey I got that he was more concerned with the social significance of technology than with the tech itself, or tech as a business. He wanted to use multimedia to make the world a better place, to give people better lives. In our enthusiastic conversations over the following years, this was a recurring theme. You see this community service focus of Dewey’s represented in the annual award. In a world where the reality and culture of technology is so much about business and marketing, Dewey’s vision is more compelling than ever. We have to remember that the marketplace is nothing without the human element, the people on either side of any transaction, and we have acknowledge and care for people who have less of the advantages that most of us have enjoyed. That’s what “the Dewey” is all about, and that’s what Dewey himself was all about.

Adam Weinroth says: Steve thanks for posting – While I never met Dewey, I’m glad his memory has become a touchstone for what makes Austin’s tech community so vibrant and familial. The list you posted represents part of a unique “social network” that exists in Austin, and for me, includes friends, colleagues and heroes like you, Jon L, Dave E and so many others.

Randi Shade says: Thanks to SteveG for a wonderful post and best wishes to him as he heads to China. When I think about Dewey’s work and vision for Austin as a community-oriented high tech hub, and then read the response to SteveG’s post from Dave, I am struck by how many “Little Dewey’s ” there have been over the years and what an amazing impact it has had on Austin, and in turn the world. Thanks to each of them, and here’s to keeping Dewey’s memory alive by inspiring a whole new crew of “Little Dewey’s” in the coming years.

C. Enrique Ortiz says: Thank you Steve for sharing this…

From a Facebook comment by Carl Shepherd, co-founder of Homeaway: “Dewey was, quite simply, a man before his time. Had he lived only a couple of more years, his influence on the Austin tech scene would be known to all, and not just to those of us lucky enough to have known him.” More on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002028344605

Jayne Cravens says: Co-winning the Dewey with the wonderful Teresa Sansone-Ferguson was amazing – Austin was my adopted home, and SXSW is a homecoming for me when I can get there. I never knew Dewey Winburne, but I benefited from his legacy, both through SXSW, which has brought me SO much in terms of ideas and contacts and very good times, and from initiatives focused on making tech available to everyone that he supported and that I’ve come into contact with during my time in Austin. I look over that list of “Little Deweys” and think, “I know her! I know him! Oh, I know her too!” That’s just how Austin is – I haven’t found a community like it anywhere else when it comes to using Tech for Good, and for everybody knowing everybody. I don’t live in Austin anymore – but you would think I did looking at where my LinkedIn and Facebook contacts are from!

I wish there was an online community for Dewey winners… what a brain trust that would be…

Gordon Montgomery (@xovation) says: Steve, this is a brilliant post thanks. One of my requests on receipt of my award was that we all connect and work together as a group of alumni to bring ALL of our talents to bear in a real way in Austin. The timing could not be more perfect! I am working with a small group to make Austin a City of Transformation, empowering and enabling all communities such that when people arrival here they can see, feel, hear, touch and just sense how our little city is extraordinary. Your list alone gives me access to energizing that possibility. Thank you. You are the uber-Dewey. Happy New Year. GM.

Joel Greenberg says: I’m one of Dewey’s many, many friends. Here’s a little about our times together.

I first heard of Dewey in the same place I first heard about Human Code: as an award winner at the Intermedia Conference in San Jose, CA sometime around 1993. He was being honored for his addiction laserdisc that he produced while at AIL. Something clicked that year; what we now know as “transmedia” was just beginning to rip into our culture. Dewey’s addiction laserdisc showed that technology could be used for more than corporate training; Human Code’s Mars Lander showed what could be done with 3D. While laserdisc was on its way out, Quicktime 1.0 was on its way in and there were arguments about CD vs. broadband.

When I moved to Austin a year or so later, Dewey and I became friends. I’d be programming in my home office on Duval Street; he’d pick me up and we’d drive his van to some interactive event, talking about all the cool uses of this new media technology and how it wasn’t all about databases. He was excited about the potential of the technology to bring people together, an excitement fueled by his religious experiences of community. Dewey was always friendly, would talk to anyone, and seemed to know everyone in Central Texas. I got some of those stories on tape over lunch at his favorite restaurant, Les Amis.

On Fridays, he’d met with Dr. Kozmetsky, who wanted to be kept abreast of the new technology. Dr. K gave Dewey an office at what was then known as MCC on the Southwest corner of Braker and Mopac. He graciously offered me office space with another fellow traveler, Henry.

Dr. K also gave Dewey the keys to the projector room behind the big auditorium on the first floor. Dewey invited me to go with him and when we opened the door, it was like walking into a time warp. It turned out to be a well appointed on-line editing suite, with 1 inch editing machines and Bernoulli Boxes, huge removable drives that floated on a cushion of air. But technology was changing fast and the equipment was already outdated. It looked like a spaceship that had been abruptly abandoned five years earlier; there was even a sucking sound when we opened the doors for the first time. We had fun acting like technology archeologists, bouncing from machine to machine, trying to figure out if we could use this stuff for some kind of multi-media lab.

A few years later, Dewey got absorbed into his online learning project for the Texas Workforce Commission and I got absorbed into Human Code. By the end, we were both working so many crazy hours, I didn’t see much of him, except times he’d drop by work as Human Code took on his project, or maybe at a user group meeting. The darkness of a glowing computer screen absorbed too much time.

Truth be told, there shouldn’t be a Dewey Winburne Memorial. There should be Dewey. But, he was a human being and as we all are, he was complex. He left behind a wife and child he loved and a community of friends. I suspect many of them have a reaction similar to the one my wife and I have when we talk of him: “!@?!!!&^# Dewey!” His death brought together his community and therefore, was visible because his community was large. I wonder how many other lives have been adversely affected by the business, but in less visible ways?

My wife and I remember all the nice, fun stuff Dewey would do for other people and for us. “Here take this,” he’d say as he’d hand me or someone else some old piece of equipment others were throwing away. Or, “Here are the keys,” to whatever he had. Or, “I can get you in to the SXSW party, take this badge.” Or, “So and so, meet such and such.”

Now, my son’s attending the middle school where Dewey’s wife Dorothy teaches. So despite him being gone, Dewey still seems to be hanging around. I’d love to show him the gadgets I’m putting together, like solar powered holiday lights run by an Arduino, or talk to him about the world our kids our growing up in, drenched in “new” media. I half expect a Tweet from him from the other side.

David J. says: Steve, What a great post. I applaud you for taking time during this mad mad season to post about Dewey and what he meant for SXSW, The Interactive scene in Austin, and Austin in general. I am honored to be a nominee.

Sharron Rush says: I never got to know Dewey, darn it! I learned about him in 2002 when I received the award and I have always regretted that I missed him. The stories of his life and work are so inspiring, although sometimes when I wax on about “the spirit of Dewey” those who knew him remind me “Dewey was not a saint, you know.”

But he was an extraordinary leader by example and Dewey seems to have had a clear vision to put tech to use in ways that change people’s lives for the better. It is a vision that seems too often lost in gadgetry and commerce. I will always think of Dewey as a person who put real dedication and energy into the practice of tech as a means to include and engage people who had previously been marginalized. Receiving the Dewey award made a huge difference in our work at Knowbility. It helped us to integrate the idea of accessible technology into the conversations at SXSW Interactive and through that to the greater design community. I will always be grateful to Dewey, to Hugh Forrest, and to all the little Deweys for creating such an inclusive community of practice and for keeping that vision clear and strong.

Kat Jones says: Steve, Thanks for pulling us all together, into conversation and community, about ideas and efforts that matter. There are just so many different ways “the story” can unfold, and each day we can each take a step towards making it an awesome experience! Just like you did by writing this post and inviting the community to the conversation. Clearly, Dewey’s spirit is very much alive. Happy New Year!
Kat

A note from Steve Amos of 4empowerment.com: “Hi SteveG, Happy 2012! Sorry for the delayed response…I did not know Dewey except very briefly but… It is amazing how he inspired so many and a tragedy he was not able to see his vision come to life, impacting so many folks in Austin and around the world.”

Rachel Muir says: Steve, thank you for your kind and beautiful tribute to Dewey! What a gift to share in celebrating this wonderful life that inspired so much in our community. I’m proud to be a native Austinite and honored to be linked to the amazing legacy and vision Dewey had. I remember being presented with the award by Dave and Jennifer Evans and thinking then, and now about the amazing lives Dewey touched and continues to impact. Here’s to all the little Deweys out there and from Girlstart an especially warm thanks to everyone for helping inspire young girls to dream big in technology!

Dennis Borel says: Dewey and I were co-workers at AIL in the 90s, where he was initially teaching dropouts in the GED class. He was always coming up with ways for the youth to do hands-on learning and started blending in technology projects. We put together a proposal to the State to do an early multimedia laserdisc on addition targeting at-risk youth. Kids in the program contributed to the scripts, had acting roles, helped shoot the scenes; generally gave the end product amazing authenticity, winning New Media magazine’s national Best Multimedia Product of 1994 Award. The multimedia lab that was created to do the project became a regular part of the educational program. Of course, because Dewey was first and foremost a teacher. Proud to be a little Dewey.

Patrick says: Thank you for the wonderful article, Steve. Dewey was so important to so many of us. I’ve been lucky enough to live out so many dreams that were seeded in that dingy warehouse on 4th street, not to mention the friendships that have lasted all these years, all because of his overflowing generosity and support. He continues to inspire — I just wish he was still here to see everything that he’s created.

Mattermark vs. CrunchBase

I love Mattermark. I think what they are doing with big data compilation and analysis is spot on for investor decision making and support for new ventures.

Presently, I’m not a paying subscriber to their service. But, I’ve been a short-term user of their services. And, I’ve really enjoyed their daily e-newsletter, ranking it in LinkedIn as one of my top 10 reads for professionals.

MM vs CB report coverRecently, Mattermark promoted their mobile database edition to some of us dedicated evaluators. I downloaded it and have tried it out a couple of times. My initial summary is: it’s got a ways to go to catch up to CrunchBase, which I’d consider the mostly widely available-to-the-public alternative.

To illustrate, I chose a private Austin tech company that received the most funding in the past year, a mobile software company called Mozido, and browsed the information provided by Mattermark vs. CrunchBase.

I saved a PDF of the screens, which you can view or print.

I like the clean white-space look, fast response time, and employee growth chart from Mattermark. But, I expected a lot more of the reference information to be click-able, rather than static.

And, I also expected to see more images of people, products, and places, e.g., Mozido’s headquarters building, maps of their locations, photos of the home screen of their flagship app, and the like.

These are the areas where CrunchBase outperforms Mattermark, at the moment. It is more visual, more complete, exceeding the information that Mattermark provides.

Since CrunchBase provides company officials and other 3rd parties the option to edit the company’s information, there is an incentive for the company to invest in good information “hygiene” – keeping their listing up-to-date, relevant, and highlighting positive achievements, while eliminating negative or old information.

Unlike a wiki-style approach, where edits are first allowed unencumbered, then corrected or reversed by moderators (like Wikipedia), any edits that you make and save to CrunchBase are put in a queue for a moderator review before being posted.

Sometimes, the new information is posted quickly to CrunchBase; other times, it seems like the refresh takes days. This delay can be a little frustrating to companies that are trying to spruce up their profiles before meeting with investors, customers, or the release of a piece of significant news.

In any event, it will be interesting to see how Mattermark continues to improve and refine their mobile offering. As of this moment, if I had to choose one new venture company profile database to use, I’d go with CrunchBase.

But, that’s the beauty: you don’t have to choose just one. So, I recommend you use them both, actively managing your company’s “face” to the investor world.

Austin Clean Energy Initiative Reunion

ACE-reunionThis is a photo of Allan (“Chip”) Wolfe and me, taken recently at a reunion lunch of what I liked to call the “Batman and Robin” of cleantech evangelizing in the early 2000s. NOTE: Chip was Batman; me, Robin.

What we’re each holding is the original copy of a modestly historic City of Austin resolution that we were proud to have received.

It says, simply: “Be it resolved by the City Council of the City of Austin: The City Council endorses the Mayor’s Task Force on the Economy’s Austin Clean Energy Initiative, adding the clean energy cluster to Austin’s local economy.”

You see, back in late 2001, it was pretty clear that a virtual neutron bomb had dropped on the economic activity of any US city that had been benefitting from the dot-com boom, what we know fondly refer to as “web 1.0.”

ACE-resolutionEarlier in the year, the Dow and S&P had shown their first sounds of cratering, under the dual weight of ridiculously overhyped dot-com investing and the drying up of Y2K remediation dollars, on which companies had spent billions. Throw in the third blow of 9/11, which happened that dark September day, and what you had was the Austin tech economy in a free fall.

Then, in early 2002, I found myself sitting in my friend and colleague Angelos Angelou’s office who more-or-less said “Hey, I’m going over to IC2 to sit in with some people who are getting together to talk about clean energy technologies. Want to come along?”

Having spent the first dozen years of my professional life growing up and doing business in the oil & gas patch of Houston, Texas, I was intrigued and said “Sure!”

That meeting is where I met Chip. Others I very clearly remember at that first meeting, in addition to Angelos and me, were Richard Amato (the 1st director of ATI’s Clean Energy Incubator), Randi Shade (before she made her 1st Austin City Council run), Dennis Corkran (operating his family business Corkran Energy at the time), and a handful of others.

At the time, I’d been scanning the economic landscape for sectors to invest some time & effort, including life sciences, biotech, financial services, social ventures, and others that were a few steps removed from the hobbling dot-com industry.

An_Inconvenient_Truth_Film_PosterWith this merry band of sisters and brothers, I instantly knew I’d found something. Mind you, this was a full four years before “An Inconvenient Truth” exploded on the scene and made cleantech and its evil twin, global warming, household discussion topics.

But, once we started talking, the group – which we dubbed the Austin Clean Energy Initiative, or ACE Initiative for short – saw with clear-eyed conviction that, not only was the time right, but in fact the Austin and central Texas region had an enormous cluster of industrial, environmental, university, and civic resources already present that made cleantech a natural candidate for entrepreneurial activity.

However, as it is unlikely to surprise you, few business leaders at the time saw things the way we did. To his credit, Will Wynn, Austin’s mayor at the time, did “get it” fairly immediately and became an important advocate of ACE.

But, to win over the rest of the business community, we had work to do. I’ll leave a description of those efforts to another day and a cup of coffee, if you are really interested.

To jump to the end, Chip and I – as Batman and Robin – and the rest of the ACE Initiative team (including a big shout out to Jon Lebkowsky, who I’ll call our “Alfred” of the team, which means he was really often the brains of the operation, but kind enough to let us take some credit!) met with hundreds of city, business, and academic leaders, all around Austin, Texas, and parts beyond, advocating our position.

ACE-reportThe effort culminated in the publication of a major report, commissioned by the ACE Initiative and rolled out at a significant press conference, that convincingly established what we had known — that Austin/central Texas had the resources, people and financial capital to be one of the major centers of cleantech entrepreneurial activity in the country.

We were quite proud of that 100-page report, which you can still download today, and have been pleased at its prescience (in that cleantech, indeed, did become a welcomed part of the entrepreneurial, business establishment in Austin) and its durability, with most of the main arguments researched in the report as valid today as they were at the time.

So, back to the Austin city council resolution, which I had found sandwiched in some old files I was cleaning out over New Year’s day. I hadn’t broken bread with Chip in over a year, so I thought it was time to pass the resolution from Robin to Batman and reminisce about one of my favorite advocacy projects in the 20 years I’ve been in Austin.

The Nature of Travel

There has been a lot written about cartoons lately. Here is a favorite cartoon of mine, slightly personalized, that captures my older-wiser perspective on the nature of international business travel. Enjoy! ((C) Berkley Breathed)

China travel

The Nature of Technology

brian arthurOn the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), I am a high “N” for “iNtuiter” on the 2nd of the 4 dimensions analyzed  — the opposing quality being “S” for sensor.

An “N” as I understand in layperson’s terms is someone who sees the possibilities of something presented to them. An “S” on the other hand is someone who sees the precise nature of something presented to them, as it is.

So, for example, an N might be given a blue sheet and think “oh, this could be a great ghost costume for next Halloween” or “cool, a tent to use alongside the sofa-cushion fort we’ve got under construction in the living room” etc.

Whereas, an S would say, “that’s a sky blue sheet for a single bed. Period.”

I mention this personal quality because it helps explain why I especially enjoyed the thesis of Brian Arthur’s classic The Nature of Technology, that I read over the holidays. Not that Sensors wouldn’t enjoy it too. But, the book is about the evolution of technology, which requires you to think a lot about “what could be” not “what is.”

It was recommended to me a couple of years ago by a good friend, when we were visiting one afternoon about our shared appreciation for another great book on science & technology, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

The Nature of Technology is a scientific evaluation, written in a non-academic yet still rigorous manner, of how technologies have evolved and continue to evolve.

One of the interesting arguments that Prof. Arthur poses in the book is the similarity between biological and technological evolution. Here are examples of the similarities he draws from a few main tenets of the book:

1. Novel technologies arise by combination of existing technologies (evolution, natural selection)
2. Existing technologies beget further technologies (heredity)
3. Novelty occurs from the constant capture of new natural phenomena and harnessing of them for particular purposes (adaptation)

This last tenet — especially, the part about “capturing and harnessing of new natural phenomena” — was particularly illuminating for me. Because, in many respects, it renewed a lapsed interest I’d had in news & data streams that cover scientific research and discovery, when I was younger.

Are you in a constant scan (like I am) for insights to that “next big thing” in software, gadgets, or other new tech? Then my recommendation is this: follow research in new natural phenomena emerging in communications…person-to-person, group-to-group, human-to-machine, device-to-device, and more.

Here are a few ideas for you…

Perhaps VR really hits a mass market this year with some new kind of meaningful communications/interaction paradigm, if Facebook and Oculus can work out the price point and integration issues that get beyond the gamer community.

Maybe it’s really time for haptic tech to break through, where we begin tapping into our sense of touching, in addition to hearing and seeing.

Or, perhaps, we’ll see the likes of DMX, with a version of the total experiential tailoring that they do for business clients like Abercrombie & Fitch, hit the home market — SaaS would take on a whole new meaning, with Senses-as-a-Service.

These are the types of integrative interactions and communications (conscious and unconscious) that I’ll be spending more time watching in 2015.

The challenge for all of us is to open up the aperture, seeking inspiration for the technologies that will emerge to shape our digital future in the coming decades as profoundly as email and social media have in the past several.


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