April 2010

Better, Faster, Cheaper … Entrepreneurship Education

Guest Blog Post by Joseph Steig – Director, Venture Well and CFO, Long River Ventures

Tech entrepreneurs are driven by the maxim “better, faster, cheaper.” But what about entrepreneurship education?

Over two weekends this April, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) conducted VentureLab. The goal is to produce an experience that accelerates university student entrepreneurial endeavors and better positions these ventures to compete for business plan competitions, funding and customers: better, faster, cheaper entrepreneurship education.

Sponsored by Microsoft and held at the Cambridge NERD facility, VentureLab was run by James Barlow. NCIIA “imported” James last fall from Scotland where he ran the Scottish Institute for Enterprise. At the first April 9 weekend session, James handed out $500 to each team to provide a little boost to accelerate their ventures. The challenge was to see how much they could accomplish in two weeks leading up the second weekend starting April 23. At a time when there is a national call for greater innovation and entrepreneurship, it’s important to recognize that training and motivation are as important as money and that major progress need not always be expensive or drawn-out. Students can be equipped very quickly to advance their ventures. The ability to learn to do a lot with little is a defining point for many entrepreneurs. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a proliferation of low-cost approaches to invention and entrepreneurship. Programs as diverse as MakerFaire and TechStars suggest that ventures, particularly those created with “ramen noodle” budgets can produce tremendous innovation.

Is $500 enough to accomplish a lot? On Friday, April 23 at Microsoft NERD the twenty teams showcased their accomplishments with IGNITE style 5 minutes talks. The definitive answer: in many cases, dramatic progress was made by the push engendered by the deadline, and fueled by the money. Examples are as diverse as Solar Ivy, LifeServe and Relay. All the teams continued to work every waking hour through the weekend. Now NCIIA’s challenge is to take them forward and get them further support through our own mentoring program, our E-team grants program (open application for student innovators: May 7), MassChallenge and VentureWell.

The VentureLab program is part of a larger series of offerings from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance. This April event was sponsored by Microsoft NERD and is part of a larger set of offerings on which we’ve received support from Microsoft. The program came out of a mutual interest to provide support and acceleration to a range of student technology ventures in the Boston/Cambridge area and throughout Massachusetts and New England. The effort is in alignment with MassChallenge and initiatives such as the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center, focused on the Massachusetts innovation economy and university technology entrepreneurship.

NCIIA is a national non-profit, based in Massachusetts, that works with top universities across the US to support faculty and student entrepreneurs in creating technology innovations and ventures that address global challenges and basic human needs.

Joseph Steig directs VentureWell, a spin-out of NCIIA that works with university researchers to produce transformative commercial innovations that improve the human condition and environmental sustainability. He also serves as CFO of Long River Ventures.

Introducing Docs… for Facebook

Editor’s note: this post originated here on April 21, 2010.

I’m so excited to announce the launch of a new beta Facebook app from FUSE Labs called  “Docs”, also  available at our docs.com website.  Built on Microsoft Office 2010, the Docs app enables Facebook® users for the first time to create and share Microsoft Office documents directly with their Facebook friends, using the Office tools they already know.

It’s been quite a sprint for the FUSE team to deliver this beta – from concept to its initial implementation in less than four months.  The FUSE Labs mission is to explore a range of “Future Social Experiences”.  In this exploration it’s our belief that we may increase the value of Office ‘docs’ by giving everyone the ability to seamlessly take their friends and connections with them from Facebook to docs.com.

The fact that we’ve been able to adapt the Office 2010 “Web Apps” technology to work directly with Facebook truly speaks to the flexibility and power not just of the Facebook platform, but also of the Office system’s rich “contextual collaboration” capabilities.  And we’d never have been able to achieve our critical ‘simplicity’ goals had it not been for our ability to use a new test feature from Facebook that allows us to build an instantly personalized and seamless document authorization & sharing experience directly from our site.

This exploration exposes yet another facet of Ray Ozzie’s broad and long-held vision of social productivity.  Although quite simple (and fun!), docs.com integrated with the Facebook experience bring together the best of ‘software’ with the best of ‘services’.  Documents can be created directly within the app, or can be uploaded from your PC.  After starting work on a document alone, you might then choose a few others with whom to share it.  Or you might instead share it with all your friends, or you might share it with the world.  Documents can be viewed and edited directly within a web browser – or, with a single click, you can edit them more richly and powerfully through the Microsoft Office software on your PC or Mac.

One of our FUSE Labs principles is that ‘it’s not what you say – rather, it’s what you do, what you learn, and how you adapt’.  So, we hope you’ll register at docs.com, have some fun with our app, and help us explore!  See you there!

Lili Cheng

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*Facebook is a registered trademark of Facebook Inc.

Fueling the MassChallenge and Supercharging the Innovation Ecosystem in Massachusetts

When we first met John Harthorne, Akhil Nigam and David Constantin (the founders of MassChallenge) in June of last year it was hard not to become instantly inspired by their individual passion and grand idea of catalyzing a start-up renaissance right here in Boston. Their timing was spot-on, as the region reeling from the effects of the economic downturn needed a new cause to get behind, something to lift our spirits and most importantly lift the sagging economy. After they detailed their vision and plans for MassChallenge we knew that this was something special that Microsoft had to participate in. At the end of that first meeting, Microsoft joined 3 other initial founding sponsors (The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, The Deshpande Foundation, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation) by providing early stage boot-strap capital to enable the MassChallenge team to put their plans into action.

Why does Microsoft care?  Why would we get involved in the MassChallenge?  It’s simple, actually – it’s a core part of our DNA and since the opening of NERD we have had an ongoing dialogue with the local community about the biggest areas of need and where Microsoft can add the most value. The constant thread in these conversations has centered around the local innovation economy and lack of sustained progress. We have responded to this need by opening NERD as a rallying point for technologists and investing in people and programs like the MassChallenge that the community feels are important. We’ve taken a ‘rising tide will lift all boats’ approach and we feel that it’s vital to everyone’s collective success to have a thriving innovation ecosystem in their back-yard.

Fast forward a year later- John, David and Akhil have been able to boot-strap the MassChallenge despite the tough economic times and today have officially launched one of the largest global start-up competitions. Today, we are excited to announce that Microsoft has doubled down on its investment in MassChallenge through a new 2 year partnership where we will create the Microsoft-MassChallenge Seed Award, provide technical mentoring and access to software through our BizSpark program for all MassChallenge entrants .  Through this expanded partnership, the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center will become the largest private sponsor of the MassChallenge.

We’re excited and honored to be able to contribute to this fantastic Massachusetts initiative and look forward to seeing each of these promising start-ups reach their full potential.

To view photo’s from today’s MassChallenge launch event, click here.

Microsoft Partnership with Dogpatch Labs

Over the past year there has been a noticeable shift in the innovation ecosystem in the greater Boston area that has helped create a super-rich community and set of resources to help entrepreneurs succeed. The decision by Dogpatch labs to open a lab in Kendall Square has helped fuel this positive shift by creating a vibrant environment in which entrepreneurs can network, collaborate, share ideas, and impart best practices with each other.

One of our key goals at NERD is focused on helping the greater Boston technology and innovation ecosystem thrive, and with all of your guidance we feel that we’ve been able to add value and ensure that the ‘rising tide will lift all ships’.  When Dave Barrett approached us about Microsoft becoming a formal sponsor of DPL, our missions around supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem were so close that it was a no brainer. 

Our partnership with Dogpatch labs marks a significant effort to foster innovation by supporting early-stage developers with access to a network of people, resources and tools. A fundamental component of this partnership includes providing Dogpatch facilitated access to Microsoft product personnel, programs & services, including Microsoft BizSpark program reach across the virtual community clustered around the three Labs locations (Silicon Valley, New York and Cambridge). The partnership will also feature Microsoft and Dogpatch collaboration around workshops, meet-ups and other activities which extend entrepreneur access and visibility into Microsoft product organizations and with our executives

We are thrilled to be the first-ever corporate partner to the lab, and can’t wait to roll-up our sleeves and continue to deepen our partnership to ensure that the greater Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem can continue to realize its full potential.

To learn more about Dogpatch labs, click here.