IBM Entrepreneurship Day
Connecting Companies with Capital
- On Tuesday, February 4th, DataHive Consulting went to IBM Global Entrepreneur Day in Cambridge, MA which had the theme of "Connecting Companies with Capital. As both startup entrepreneurs and advocates of the innovative startups popping up in Cambridge and Boston, we wanted to see how IBM was supporting the entrepreneurial community, what IBM's Innovation Center looked like and, most importantly, which startups were being showcased by IBM. And although we're not seeking capital (yet!), it never hurts to meet people with money.In short, this event was very good and very appropriate to the goals at hand. The week before, we were at Connect 2014, which is a fantastic celebration of Social Business, but also can be overwhelming when one is looking for specific people. In a show with thousands of attendees, it can be hard to get in touch with people. In contrast, the IBM Global Entrepreneur Day felt like a Cambridge startup event and would not have felt out of place in a number of accelerators. I mean this as a compliment: the worst thing IBM could have done with this event would have been to bring the power of 400,000 employees to a massively over-elaborate event because, frankly, that's not how startups work.Startups are about finding new ideas, collaborating, and executing one step ahead of your competitors. They should be focused. And, accordingly, this event was focused on a short and focused agenda.The event started with two hours of presentations in the auditorium, which also spilled over into other rooms after the auditorium exceeded capacity. Chris Lynch of Atlas Ventures shared his insights earned as one of the leading analytics entrepreneurs and angel investors in the Boston area. But for all of his business success and his investment strategy (he invests in founders and people first), it was interesting to see his excitement for Hack/Reduce, a non-profit devoted to developing new Big Data technologies and applications. Rather than focus directly on the most easily monetizable social or mobile app, as too much of the venture capital world is currently working on, Lynch is working on the primary research infrastructure to create the next generation of technology-driven analytic companies.After Lynch, we saw a panel of IBM, American Airlines, Constant Contact, and three startup companies associated with them: Findability Sciences, Artaic, and MarketMeSuite, respectively. For me, the most interesting aspect of this panel was how these startup companies were aided by these much larger organizations. The mythos of the lone wolf entrepreneur who eats shoe leather and gets by on his own skills and talent is nice, but the truth is that it never hurts to have a little help from a larger company that can provide some foundational technology, cover some basic travel bills, or provide expert guidance at an introductory stage. One of the key lessons to learn here was for entrepreneurs to look for an institutional partner to help fill in the gaps that are missing. As cliché as it sounds, no man is an island when it comes to building a company.We stepped out for part of the event to take care of business, since we have our own startup to run as well! But we came back for the breakout sessions. There were a number of choices, but as a Social Big Data company, there was really only one option for us: the social business breakout led by Eric Andersen and starring Rachel Happe of the Community Roundtable, Bobbie Carlton of Mass Innovation Nights and CMO of hot predictive analytics startup RapidMiner, and Tammy Fennell of MarketMeSuite.
- It was fun to be on the listening end of a social presentation for a change and to simply listen to others (which is a key aspect of social!) for a change. Happe, Carlton, and Fennell all had different perspectives on how social was a moneymaker for them, which makes sense when you consider that Happe runs one of the great enterprise communities for social business, Carlton has built an institution in Mass Innovation along with being a startup CMO, and Fennell provides a social media software solution. (By the way, DataHive is currently testing out MarketMeSuite because of this event!)
Tammy spoke about the value of social as a tool for outreach. It was interesting when she described the "a-ha" moment for her husband when he realized that, as an introvert, he could use "social" and reach out to people who needed his help. And as an engineer, he took the next step and created a social media management solution for the SMB market. From a tactical perspective, this ability to use social media as an engagement tool is valuable both to increase interactions and to get metadata and sentiment that otherwise wouldn't be shared.
In contrast, Bobbie Carlton had a very different problem when she wanted to start MassInnovation Nights. At this point, we consider MassInnovation to be a startup institution in the Boston area, but it wasn't always this way...
- With a little bit of donated space and some Bring Your Own Food and Drink, MassInnovation was born as a purely "social" social event. Pre-Twitter, an event would have been much more difficult to create simply because of the challenges of postering up Cambridge and Boston or spamming the world to try to find like-minded innovators.
- Carlton also brought up a fundamental truth of social media.
- We couldn't agree more. Time is money. In the average American company, an employee brings in about $250,000 in revenue, or about $125 per hour. Think about that the next time you make a business purchase. When you buy a $10,000 marketing investment, the tradeoff should be "Could I do or create the same thing in 80 hours?" And the answer will probably be "No," but you should at least do the math.
Rachel Happe brought up a similar challenge about self promotion. Let's face it: people who blatantly self-promote are often difficult to deal with. To get around that in social, your "self-promotion" needs to not simply be about yourself.
- In other words, treat "social media" as an actual social channel. Treat your blogs, posts, and tweets as an advertisement for the things you truly care about. If your last five posts all talk about yourself rather than your interests, your social media efforts will probably be a failure. If your last five posts all talk about the five most interesting trends you see in the world or how you can make a difference, you will probably be very successful because your excitement and passion for others will come out.
The funniest moment of this breakout was undoubtedly when Eric Andersen asked the panel...
- Yep. The APIs are still so-so and the inability to customize your post to the extent that you can in Tumblr or even the decade+ old LiveJournal is frustrating. However, the ability to show up on the first page of your followers on a keyword-specific basis can be very valuable if you're a marketing or sales-oriented employee. If you want to cheat Google SEO, use Google+.
After this breakout, we moved to the Afternoon keynote focused on IBM Design Thinking from Charlie Hill, the CTO for IBM Design.
- This presentation was a repeat of what we saw the week before at Connect 2014, but provided us with some basic design insights that IBM seems to be taking to heart.
- Although "outcome, not feature" is a standard concept, it is easy for even the nimblest of entrepreneurs to forget this. How often do we get caught up saying that our product is "50% faster" than the competition even if that speed improvement is inconsequential to the customer's experience? Or that we have a "one-click" experience when nobody knows why the experience actually matters? Focus on the big problems.
Finally, we got to our favorite part of the Entrepreneur Day, the startup showcase. DataHive ran into three startups that we were especially interested in: Verbal Applications, Splashscore, and Ubersimple.
Verbal Applications has a healthcare application called VerbalCare that seeks to simplify patient-nurse interactions via a mobile application. Interesting, the application was initially designed as a home or remote-care application before it was brought into the hospital for in-patient care. This OXO-like design shows in the ease of communicating basic needs to the nurse with the touch of a button. DataHive believes that this application has a lot of potential both for solving immediate communications challenges and for providing important contextual information associated with in-patient stays, including diagnosis, ongoing treatment, and potential risks.
Splashscore provides reward points based on your interactions on Facebook. Much like Bing Rewards or other "gamified" interactions, Splashscore provides points based on the interactions that you and your friends have with a specific brand or event. Through evangelizing, participating, and replying, Facebook users can continue to build up loyalty points towards prizes, rewards, and charity donations. Lyle Stevens, the CEO of the company told us that Splashscore was especially popular with women between 25-45. From a pure marketing perspective, this looks like a growth area for spend based on the fact that women are continuing to increase income relative to men and women on the older side of this age group are often entering their prime earning years. By making Facebook more valuable and interesting to a key demographic, Splashscore is going to have some fascinating opportunities to work with mainstream brands across the board.
Ubersimple provides a sensor for events that allows sponsors or attendees to provide a one-swipe transfer of information. Having spent what felt like hours on tradeshow floors waiting for my badge to be scanned, I would love to be able to provide my information in one quick NFC-powered swipe instead. However, the bigger picture is that these sensors could also replace business cards in an ideal world. It would be great to simply tap sensors rather than bring out business cards or to have a one-sided exchange where show sponsors collect my information without having to provide any information about themselves. By speeding up a mutual exchange of information, we would be able to follow up with each other more easily and with greater context.
DataHive was impressed with all three of these startups and, frankly, we would love to work with these companies over the rest of the year both to enable some creative uses for their technology and to handle some of their potential branding, social, and Big Data challenges. Each of these companies has the potential to fix an obvious pain point and all fit into our motto of Social Big Data for Human Insight. We wish them all the best of luck as they pursue their entrepreneurial visions and we thank IBM for hosting a valuable Entrepreneur Day at their Innovation Center.