April 2016

Smart States Illinois: A Fireside Chat with Chicago CIO Brenna Berman

Adam Hecktman Brenna Berman

This week, Hardik Bhatt, Secretary of the Department of Innovation and Technology for the state of Illinois hosted a convening of civic leaders and technology innovators in what was called Smart State Illinois. Hardik has said, and re-iterated in this forum, that he wants to move the state from 1974 technology to 2019 technology…in 4 short years.  And while a big focus of that transformation is internal to state operations, and its thousands of departments and agencies, it is also a transformation for the state itself: its infrastructure, its institutions, and its skills of and capabilities for citizens.

During this planning event, I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman. Why interview a city CIO for a State event?  When people think of smart cities they think of…well…cities. When people think of Civic Tech, they think of it in the context of urban areas.

And it is true that Chicago has led the region in both moving forward with smart cities technology and civic tech. Which means that the City has an opportunity to leverage the experience in both in influencing a smart state. This includes how a place: urban, suburban, exurban, or rural, can solve challenges specific to their communities, with the help of both technology and Policy.

It was with this as a background that Commissioner Berman spoke with me about the city’s role in helping transform the state government, economy, and institutions.  Brenna has been at the forefront of many similar transformations at the city-level.  She led the first City of Chicago Tech Plan, oversaw the opening of massive amounts of government data, directed the City’s participation in the City Digital program at UI LABS, and launched the Open Grid Chicago citizen data platform.  And…we talked about it all.  See what this means for the state in this interview.

Chicago City Data User Group: Shared-Use Mobility and Data

If you have taken the L, ridden the bus, hailed a cab, Uber, or Lyft, shared a ride, or checked out a Divvy Bike, then you have experienced shared-use mobility.  Shared-Use mobility comprises transportation services that are shared among users, including traditional public transit; taxis and limos; bikesharing; carsharing (round-trip, one-way, and personal vehicle sharing);  ridesharing (car-pooling, van-pooling); ride-sourcing; scooter sharing; shuttle services; neighborhood jitneys; and commercial delivery vehicles providing flexible goods movement.

The Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) is a public-interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility and help connect the growing industry with transit agencies, cities and communities across the nation. Through piloting programs, conducting new research and providing advice and expertise to cities and regions, SUMC hopes to extend the benefits of shared mobility for all.

SUMC was founded when the Center for Neighborhood Technology started, then sold the IGO car sharing service to Enterprise.  They took the proceeds and the former IGO CEO and built this amazing think tank.  Join us on May 4th when Tim Frisbie will tell us about the data they use, the data they publish, and how this fascinating area is growing in urban areas.


Building The Bridges Through Civic Tech: Connecting “Regular Citizens” To The Resources They Need

We’ve written about our long term partnership with the University of Chicago and our support for their outstanding Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) program. Created by the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement , the program provides instruction and resources for emerging leaders in Chicago  from a diverse range of organizations work together to develop more effective solutions to civic challenges. Now in its second year, the CLA program brings together representatives in the public and nonprofit sectors for a 6 month certificate program on leadership skills. The Civic Leadership Academy’s distinct strength comes from its ambitious interdisciplinary model, employing the resources and expertise of five of the University’s professional schools—the Harris School of Public Policy, the School of Social Service Administration, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the University of Chicago Law School, and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies—as well as the Institute of Politics. The program also utilizes local experts who are part of Civic Engagement’s external partners—Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago, Civic Consulting Alliance, the city of Chicago, and Cook County.

Microsoft is proud to be a founding and continuing supporter of the CLA. As part of our focus on Civic Engagement and Civic Tech, I recently hosted a panel of local leaders to share their perspectives with the CLA cohort about the emerging Civic Tech ecosystem in the Chicagoland area. The Panel focused on: What is Civic Tech? Who are the players? How does one get engaged? What are the benefits? Our Panelists represented a broad range of backgrounds and involvement in building the Civic Tech ecosystem in Chicago:

  • Derek Eder-Founder and Partner, DataMade
  • Fabian Elliott-Founder and CEO, Black Tech Mecca
  • Julia Ellis-Founder, Ellis & Associates Consulting
  • James Rudyk-Executive Director, Northwest Side Housing Center (and CLA Alum)

The discussion focused on what’s working—and what’s not —-and we had a great interactive conversation with the CLA cohort.

Questions included:

1. Why is the Civic Tech movement beneficial for the non-profit and government sectors, both nationally and locally?

  • How is the Chicago movement “organized”?
  • How does the variety of opinions, approaches help…or hinder?
  • What can we do to ensure broader participation?

2. Let’s talk about Chicago. What has worked here, what hasn’t?

  • MeetUps, Collaborations
  • Hackathons: do they really accomplish anything? Collaboration? Brainstorming? Convening?
  • How is Chicago perceived? Best practices? National organizations that shine a spotlight on Chicago?

3. Let’s turn to a topic that is very topical today: ethics, privacy and security in data. What’s your opinion of the challenges using technology and open data for social good?

  • What are the policies? What should they be?
  • How do government officials show leadership and thoughtfulness in this area?
  • How do economic disparities help — or hinder — the individual?
  • What new thinking should government officials consider in the world of open data?

As a group, we determined that Chicago’s ecosystem is thriving and unique. There is incredible passion within the Chicagoland community and we are known nationally as a City of Best Practices. What was most compelling in the Q&A section was the focus on: How can this help my agency, my clients, the City, the County? There was a genuine desire on the part of the CLA participants to get deeper into the “how to” and what’s next” of Civic Tech.

Finally, the most inspiring comments focused on bringing the benefits of Civic Tech to the broad client base….the everyday citizen who needs help commuting more efficiently, navigating the City and County Small Business resources more efficiently, and how to get access to resources to increase their economic mobility. The CLA identified cross- collaboration as a great starting point and several of the CLA members agreed to follow up with each other, to see how they could –as a new team—incorporate the benefits of Civic Tech for their communities.

Many thanks to Derek, Fabian, Julia and James for their time and insight. It’s gratifying to see this ecosystem building and growing.

Changes in data privacy laws have global impact

Nowadays data privacy is a paramount concern for all organizations in our mobile-first, cloud-first world. In this recent article in Chicago Lawyer magazine, Microsoft Assistant General Counsel Dennis Garcia provides an overview of recent significant changes in the global data protection law landscape that can affect organizations that have access to European Union centric data.

Changes in data privacy laws have global impact

Microsoft announces teacher-inspired updates for Windows, Office, ‘Minecraft’

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At Microsoft, we’re all in on education!

Our company mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. In education, it’s to empower every student. Today, we’re proud to share the latest on what’s coming to Chicago for Back-to-School 2016/2017.

Introducing Microsoft Classroom and Microsoft Forms, OneNote Class Notebook now with Learning Management System (LMS) integration, new experiences for Windows 10 and the dawn of “Minecraft: Education Edition” – Get ready!

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First, we are announcing all new education features coming in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, features specifically inspired by teachers and focused on students.   

Faster, easier set-up:

Shared devices in the classroom are the norm – in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of schools report using shared devices. We also know that nearly 50 percent of teachers serve as their own tech support in their classroom. Until now, setting these devices up has been complex and getting students productive often takes too long.    

With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update we are introducing a ”Set Up School PCs” app that allows teachers to set up a device themselves in a simple three-step process in minutes. We’ve also made significant performance improvements for affordable devices. We expect the average first login to take 26 seconds, with subsequent logins of 6 seconds when the student uses that machine again.     

Secure assessments:

Testing is going digital — teachers consistently tell us they want a simple way to set up quizzes or standardized tests digitally. The Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a new ‘Take a Test’ app – simple and more secure standardized testing for the whole classroom or the whole school, where teachers or IT can lock down the testing environment, or enable simple quizzing.

Education-ready Windows Store:

Nearly 60 percent of teachers purchase and load apps themselves. With the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the Windows Store will enable teachers to access thousands of apps, and schools can purchase and deploy them in bulk.  

Free upgrade and affordable devices:

More and more, educators are asking us about affordable devices. We have a great portfolio of affordable, durable and innovative Windows 10 devices starting at $199, designed for the demands of education.  

So you can see, the Windows 10 Anniversary Update brings a huge range of education-specific features that teachers and students are going to love. Learn even more about these new updates, and more, over on the Windows blog!

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Second, we are announcing some big improvements to Office 365 Education. 

Today we are announcing Microsoft Classroom a new experience in Office 365 Education. Microsoft Classroom is designed to be the one place students and teachers come to manage their day from Class Notebooks, assignments and grades to conversations, calendars and to announcements!

We’re piloting this with Omaha Public Schools in Nebraska. Let me just share with you what they had to say . . .

“It simplifies our digital classroom management and frees up our teachers so they can spend more time with students and less time managing administrative access to class materials.” Rob Dickson, Executive Director, Information Management Services of Omaha Public Schools.

A key piece of Microsoft Classroom is OneNote, a tool currently used in classrooms around the world to provide students with an immersive and inclusive learning experience. Visit here to learn how OneNote is transforming a special education classroom at Holly Springs Elementary School in Georgia.

Today we are also announcing Microsoft School Data Sync (SDS) – a powerful complement for Microsoft Classroom. SDS connects Microsoft Classroom to a School Information System (SIS), so teacher, student and classes information is automatically populated in Microsoft Classroom and OneNote Class Notebooks. School Data Sync will be included in Office 365 Education.  Think of it as a super simple process that quickly provisions a set of classes and rosters from many School Information Systems already used.

Also being announced: Microsoft Forms – a simple way to quickly assess student progress and get feedback with easy-to-create surveys and quizzes. It’s in public preview starting today for Office 365 Education here.

OneNote Class Notebooks are the heart of our education experience and they just keep getting better and better. We have seen incredible momentum – with millions of student notebooks created just this school year – and currently running over 10,000 a day!

To hear one educator describe it: “It’s your whole classroom (lesson plans, materials, assignments and student work) in a digital binder with tools for communication and collaboration!” 

We’re also announcing Class Notebook assignment and grading integration is now available with more than 25 Learning Management System partners – including leaders like Canvas, Edmodo, Schoology, Brightspace and Moodle. Learn more here.

We’re really excited about all of these improvements for Office 365 Education coming for the new school year! Learn more about all of the updates to Office happening for education – check out the Office blog here.

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Finally, we’ve got some great news about “Minecraft: Education Edition! June begins an early access program of “Minecraft: Education Edition.” It will be available for any educator to download and try for free on Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan.    

This program is a great way for educators and administrators who are interested in “Minecraft: Education Edition” to give it a test run in the summer months and give us more feedback and suggestions.  

If you are new to “Minecraft” in the classroom, check out education.minecraft.net for resources to help prepare, including lesson plans and a new “Minecraft” mentors program to connect with amazing teachers already using “Minecraft.”

What’s the next step? Upgrade your devices to Windows 10 or OS X El Capitan, and sign up for an Office 365 Education account.

To learn more about “Minecraft: Education Edition” and the upcoming early access program, check out our blog.

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The culture at Microsoft is customer-obsessed and we’ve been hard at work listening to teachers and students. We hope you love what’s coming this summer and we look forward to your continued feedback and hearing about the amazing things happening in your classroom. Let me know what you think on Twitter – @microsoft_edu @tony_prophet #MSFTEDU.

Connect Chicago: Transforming Society And Economy Through Digital Excellence

The City that NetWorksDigital Advisory Board

May, 2007: The Advisory Council on Closing the Digital Divide releases its report initiated by Mayor Daley that “makes recommendations to help ensure universal access and to improve community, educational, economic and other outcomes” through digital expansion and skills. Chaired by Julia Stasch, now CEO of MacArthur Foundation, I had the honor to represent Microsoft on a cross-collaboration team of public, civic, education and private leaders on the Advisory Council. The recommendation was clear—if we can provide access, hardware, software, education and a “digital mind-set” to all the citizens of Chicago, we will build a City of Digital Excellence and see Digital Transformation. Execution plans included a Campaign for Digital Excellence, a Partnership for a Digital Chicago, and the establish seedbeds of pilot Digital Excellence Communities.

Saturday, April 16, 2016: Mayor Emanuel Launches Connect Chicago Initiative to Help Close the Digital Divide in Chicago. Nearly nine years later, the work continues under Mayor Emanuel to accelerate the vision to make Chicago the most skilled and connected digital city in America. In between the two announcements, you can see the fruits of the labor of the Digital Divide Advisory Council:

  • Creation of the Smart Chicago Collaborative
  • Creation of the Chicago Public Library Cybernavigator program and free Wi-Fi and free computer access in the libraries
  • Increased focus by leading nonprofits such as LISC Chicago through programs like the Financial Opportunity Centers in multiple locations throughout the City.
  • Establishment of numerous programs at Chicago Public Schools focusing on digital skills for students including the Early College STEM Schools program (ECSS), the Board approved graduation requirement for all students to take computer science classes, and expansion of the Computer Science 4 All program, to name a few.

Monday, April 18, 2016: Chicago Tribune Section 1, Page 3:Study: Chicago Slow in bridging the digital divide. A new study by Karen Mossberger, an Arizona State University professor and formerly the head of the Department of Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows we still have a lot of work to do. Karen is a lead researcher on the digital divide, and her study shows what we all know—that there is still a sizable gap in the number of people with access to broadband, particularly on the South and West sides.

Digital Divide

So how does the Connect Chicago announcement on Saturday help these areas where the digital divide still exists?

  1. Over the past year, Connect Chicago has cemented civic and financial support with multiple organizations to focus on erasing the digital divide. Partners include: Cisco, Clarity Partners, Comcast, Get IN Chicago, Gogo, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility Foundation, The Otho S.A. Sprague Memorial Institute, and Sprint. This shows an unprecedented alignment and coordination of the City’s technology assets. I have had the honor to co-chair the Technology Advisor Council with this amazing group of people and organizations, with my co-chair Brenna Berman, CIO of the City of Chicago.
  1. Connect Chicago is expanding the currently Chicago Public Library Cybernavigator program from 48 branches to nearly all 80 branches, creating an additional 350-400 new training hours per week across Chicago.
  1. Connect Chicago is funding the integration of digital skills training into the LISC Chicago’s Financial Opportunity Centers, looking to train 1,000 more residents in digital skills during 2016. I also have the honor to serve on the Board of Advisors and am extremely excited about expanding this outstanding program that reaches throughout the City.
  1. Connect Chicago will continue to expand its outstanding impact as the “connector” of people, organizations and initiatives that are all things Digital, such as the monthly Connect Chicago Meetups, a new, updated portal that has a wide range of training, curriculum and shared information for digital access and skills.

So, roll up your sleeves, my friends. We still have a ways to go, which is why programs that connect the initiatives focused on bridging the digital divide are so critical for Chicago. We are large, we are spread out, we are diverse and we are aware of the challenges we face. Our collective vision is for Chicago to be the global leader in ensuring that its residents and their communities are connected and empowered through technology. As Mayor Emanuel said, “By teaching digital skills, we give Chicago a stronger and more dynamic economy”. Join us! You can learn more about Connect Chicago at:

Civic Chat — Networking Our Neighborhoods: Lisa Colpoys, Executive Director For Legal Aid Online

Lisa Colpoys

Lawyers are expensive, but a much-needed part of our society. But what happens if a someone can’t afford a lawyer and doesn’t want a state-appointed one? They contact Legal Aid Online, a non-profit organization that offers law services to those in need.

In Shelleys Stern Grach’s latest Civic Chat: Networking our NeighborhoodsLisa Colpoys, Executive Director For Legal Aid Online about her work using technology to level the playing field for people who have legal problems and can’t afford a lawyer.

Watch Shelley’s chat with Lisa live on Advisor.TV:

Building Your Personal Brand For Differentiation In The Tech Industry

It doesn’t matter if you work for a major corporation, a small business, or are a budding entrepreneur, we all need to develop a personal brand to “stand out” in this hyper-exposed business world of ours. Learning how to take a hard look at our individual skills requires introspection, honesty, a bit of time, and often “a little help from our friends”. Once we have a handle on who we are and what differentiation we have as an individual, then we need some marketing polish to make us shine. Microsoft Chicago had the pleasure to host the IAMCP and Women in Technology recently at the Microsoft Innovation & Technology Center to discuss “How Building Your Personal Brand Leads to Successful Leadership!”

IAMCP panelistsI was honored to be selected to join the impressive panel which included Cindy Bates, Microsoft’s VP of US and SMB Distribution for Microsoft, as well as noted technology experts Mike Depoian, VP of Sales at Blue Granite, Chris Korsgard, CPA at Sikich Technology. and Dr. Thresa Nelson, CEO of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy. Our Moderator, Sharan Hildebrand, VP for Capax Global, did an amazing job of highlighting the diversity of backgrounds and skills, while still providing tips to the audience of nearly 80 men and women, on how to build a personal brand.

My own journey held a few surprises during the panel discussion. While one would think that my background with technical companies like AT&T (28 years) and Microsoft (13+ years) would lead one to believe that much of my personal brand is associated with technology, in fact it’s my focus on the non-technical nature of my skills that people remember me for.

I’ve been most successful when I leverage my ability to be “human glue” through prioritizing personal relationships and building a strong network both in the business and nonprofit community. I’ve “put myself out there” doing speeches and panels and encouraging women—especially young women—to be bold, build a network and never burn bridges.

We also had great laughs over my initial reluctance (fright?) over joining the Twittersphere and a bit of amazement over the number of followers one year later and how I always follow Twitter to enhance major events like Super Bowl, Academy Awards, election debates, etc. The learning point here was  to be authentic in your individual message, but to take advantage of the technology tools that are available.

Here are a few unedited nuggets of advice which you might be able to use as you build your personal brand:

  • Be authentic! Use your own “voice”, not the voice you think you should use.
  • Be self-aware of your comfort zones. For example, I’m pretty comfortable going into a room where I don’t know anyone, and starting a conversation. Many people aren’t and learning to do that helps build bridges and confidence.
  • Ask for advice and guidance from someone whose brand you respect.
  • Find a “safe” environment to test your brand (with friends/family, on a blog, etc.)

Many thanks again to the IAMCP and Women in Technology for organizing the program and to our distinguished panel and Sharan Hildebrand for your contributions. The lessons we all shared about building our brands were as unique as we are as individuals.  For more information on IAMCP, please check out

Recap — Chicago City Data Users Group: Self-Driving Automobiles

Autonomous vehicles hold the promise to reduce urban congestion, optimize transit efficiencies, and connect vehicles to external systems, as well as other vehicles.  What is the “engine” that “drives” those potentially game changing benefits?  Data.  Data from and used by the autonomous vehicle itself, vehicle-to-vehicle data sharing, vehicle to traffic control systems, and the ever critical data used to determine pedestrians and other obstacles.

On April 6th, the Chicago City Data Users Group was fortunate to have as a speaker Matthew Walter.  Matthew was a research scientist in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT, and is an Assistant Professor at Toyota Technological Institute, studying the analytics that come from autonomous vehicles.  Matthew certainly has the right background for this.  His team at MIT came in 4th place at the DARPA Grand Challenge around self-driving cars…in 2005!  Way ahead of his time.

At the Chicago City Data Users Group, he discussed the on-board systems, the data they use, and the data they produce.  Data comes from many sources including cameras on the car (with special considerations for snow, sand storms, etc), lasers, on-board engine analytics, and data coming from external systems.  See more on this great event here: https://storify.com/csrollyson/self-driving-cars-how-sensors-analytics-work.

You can see the full session here:

Defining Mobility for the Automotive Industry

As part of our continuing focus to spotlight innovative organizations and creative thinking in Detroit, here is a guest blog from our friend Ted Serbinski of Techstars in Detroit. Ted helps us better understand the enormous shift in the Automotive industry through technology innovation and integration. I also love his crisp definition of “mobility”. While this discussion is primarily focused on industry and vehicular mobility, I challenge you to also think more broadly about this definition in terms of “economic mobility”—technology that enables all citizens to access open data, to participate in the democratic process and to improve their economic standing by being “free and mobile”.

— Shelley Stern Grach

Mobility includes technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely.

Since launching Techstars Mobility in Dec of 2014, the #1 question I get asked is: What does mobility mean? And the follow up: How does this relate to the automotive industry?

And to be honest, when we launched the program, I didn’t have a great way to answer this question. Thankfully, I had some friends that had a better sense than me. Fontinalis Partners, a VC firm co-founded by Bill Ford, along with Ford, and Magna all shared their perspectives with me. And it became clear: their definitions were different and changing frequently to address the rapidly expanding market. As with any new, emerging market, it’ll take time and experience to offer a clear and consistent definition.

Since launching the program, I’ve talked with and read over applications from more than 1000 startups in the mobility space. From the applications to our 2015 and 2016 programs, to general outreach, I’ve seen companies far and wide. And not just companies in the United States, but all over the world. Over the last 2 weeks I’ve talked with companies from Dubai, Moscow, Kiev, Buenos Aires, Vienna, Tokyo, Bangalore, Estonia, Cape Town, Chile, Lithuania, Kenya, Latvia, Germany, France, Sweden, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Portugal, Romania, Taiwan, and Italy to name a few 🙂

Mobility means so many different things from a global perspective.
How I define Mobility
After 18 months and reading nearly 1000 Techstars Mobility applications, I arrived at this succinct definition.

Technologies and services that enable people and goods to move around more freely

Simple and elegant. The key things to take away are:

  • Simple
  • No mention of automotive
  • Keywords: services and goods
  • Slightly vague but still specific enough without being verbose

Why This Definition
The world is changing incredibly fast. How people get from point A to point B is changing too.

The Underlying Automotive Change
When you combine all those factors, a perfect storm of change emerges to disrupt existing business models, especially in the automotive and transportation sector.

Automotive + New Technologies + New Services = New Business Models

Automotive is now too narrow of a term. A new term needs to be used to include all of these new technologies and services. And what better word than mobility.

What the Automotives Think
Bill Ford was years ahead of the industry. He introduced his “Blueprint for Mobility” back in early 2012. He talked about a future beyond traffic gridlock in 2011. And in 2009 he started Fontinalis Partners to invest in this emerging sector.

We become a piece of the mobility ecosystem. In this new world, we need to figure out what we have to own and what we don’t and to be a great integrator of technologies and services. We need to figure out who are friends, who are foes, and how do we turn our foes into friends. 
Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford

Fast forward 4 years, and we’re seeing the automotive companies turning this vision into a reality. Looking at 2 of the Big 3, we see just that.

“As we’re thinking about the company, we’re thinking about ourselves not only as car, utility and truck company, but also as a mobility company” 
— Mark Fields, CEO of Ford

“Some might find this massive change to be daunting, but we look at it and see the opportunity to be a disruptor. We believe our decades of leadership in vehicle connectivity is fundamental to our quest to redefine the future of personal mobility.”
— Mary Barra, CEO of GM

The 2016 Automotive Shifts into Mobility
So what does an automotive company in transition to a mobility company, look like?

At the Detroit 2016 auto show, we saw a huge transformation in the perception of Ford.

Take a look at Ford’s booth compared to others:


Ford at the 2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show


2016 Detroit North American International Auto Show

To me, it was quite clear Ford felt more like a tech company than an auto company at the auto show.

But Ford is doing even more:

And GM is moving faster with bigger headline grabs:

Expanding our Definition
And that’s why I’m so excited that Techstars Mobility has partnered with Ford and others. We’re defining mobility for a whole new range of startups. And impacting the entire industry at the same time.

Taking our definition, here are the areas of most interest to us.


Key interest areas for Techstars Mobility in 2016

We’re looking at solutions that go across connected cars, trucking and multi-modal applications. Multi-modal referring to all modes of transportation, the glue, from getting you to point A to point B.

The automotive landscape is changing drastically and I’m excited to help play a small part in helping to define this new future of mobility.

Originally published at tedserbinski.com on April 6, 2016. To keep updated on Techstars Mobility and the growing intersection of Detroit’s automotive dominance and its entrepreneurial resurgence follow Ted on Twitter: @tedserbinski