On August 26th I was honored to be a part of the graduation ceremony of the 2011 Graduate Studies Program (GSP) at Singularity University. This university, located at the NASA Ames campus in Silicon Valley, aims to educate and inspire leaders to apply advance technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges. The goal of the ten week GSP program is to develop ideas and solutions that have the potential to positively impact at least one billion people within ten years. The program is well supported and funded by companies such as Google and Cisco and Venture Capitalists such as Vinod Khosla (Co-founder of Sun Microsystems and keynote speaker at GSP 11) and Bob Metcalfe (Founder of 3Com). This year GSP11 students will choose one of six “grand challenge areas” to focus their projects: Education, Security, Energy, Global Health, Space and Poverty. A few of their ideas are detailed below.
1. IgniSolar: A team of six entrepreneurs have patented and developed a solar panel at one-tenth the price of regular solar panels. Their solution is a concentrated Photovoltaic Solar panel which is flexible, has reflective fabric, requires no tracking and had passive cooling. The technology replaces expensive heavy mirrors with reflective fabric, and minimizes extra features to make a cost effective product. IgniSolar's value proposition is in its complete solution and performance. It generates 20 times more energy at one-tenth the price compared to its competitors. Its target customers are households and commercial customers in sunny climates such as the Middle East, Southern Africa, Northwest India and other places with no or intermittent electricity.
2. Corruptiontracker.org: Dr. Clarence Tan and his team have created a corruption tracking and reporting system. People will be able to submit reports directly through CorruptionTracker.org via SMS, mobile telephony, and our Internet site. To expedite implementation, CorruptionTracker seeks to work closely with the internationally renowned open source platform, Ushahidi. To date, the platform is aggregating data from localized Twitter and Ushahidi anti-corruption deployments but soon will deploy a patented SMS system with mobile application implementation and will include photos, videos and audio recordings that take advantage of mobile telephony technologies.
3. Senstore: provides technological and community tools that make it cheaper and faster for developers to create health devices and applications. Senstore provides the technical and social infrastructure to empower developers to build health monitoring devices cheaper and faster by partnering with existing technology platforms and partners. Their goal is to be open sourced and driven by the community.
You could read more details on projects of the GSP 2009 class here.
You can read about the first four finalists at the UC Berkeley Business Plan Competition here.
5. Picatcha: is a picture-based captcha that uses images of brands instead of text thus getting ad revenue too. Captchas are text messages to distinguish humans from computers to prevent spam and improve security. They are used on blogs, contact forms, e-commerce sites, etc. Picatcha improves usability and security over current captchas. It aims to recapture the 3-18% new users that leave a website due to a frustrating captcha experience and prevent the 60% hacked captchas.
6. Intimal Solutions: cures deeply embedded ulcers on feet and legs that can't be treated by substitute technologies. This minimally invasive method is a relief to substitutes - surgery or tight compression bandages that may not help and the problem could recur. Intimal Solutions tested a group of patients and found that the technology heals 84% ulcers in 25 weeks and the problem does not recur. They have already applied for 3 patents and received insurance codes to bill to.
7. Easy Parking Spot: is an online parking marketplace. It helps small businesses, individuals, schools, churches, etc. monetize their parking spots by posting their parking availability and cost on this website as well as placing physical signs in front of their parking spaces to help with branding. Using a mobile app you can identify a parking spot near your location and reserve it or recharge it with this app without having to go to the parking meter to add quarters.
8. Gram Power: is a pay-as-you-go energy storage system to improve energy accessibility in the $11.6B rural energy market in India and Africa. This prepaid plan is activated by a dongle and can help entrepreneurs and individuals get access to electricity for a minimal cost. This electricity rental plan will be distributed and managed by sales managers.
Grand Prize ($20,000): Intimal Solutions
People's Choice Award ($5000): Imprint Energy
Best Elevator Pitch ($1000): Inserogen
Semifinal track winners:
IT & Web: Kopo Kopo and Picatcha competed and Kopo Kopo won
Energy & Clean Tech: Imprint Energy and Gram Power competed and Imprint Energy won
Life sciences: Cardio Paint and Intimal Solutions competed and Intimal Solutions won
Products & Services: Axis and Easy Parking Spot competed and Axis won
I went to the UC Berkeley annual business plan competition on Friday evening. It was insightful and impressive. Eight finalists were chosen from 35 semi finalists by a panel of eight judges. Eight finalists were given 15 minutes each to present their ideas and the remaining 27 semi finalists who didn't make it to the final round were given 1 minute to give an elevator pitch. Finalists belonged to one of four tracks - IT & Web, Energy & Clean Tech, Life sciences, Products & Services. There were 2 finalists in each track. Three prizes were distributed at the end of the evening: People's Choice Award ($5000), Best Elevator Pitch ($1000) and Grand Prize ($20,000).
To get details on the semi finalists please read through the UC Berkeley Business Plan Brochure 2011 (pages 17-24). Best Elevator Pitch went to Inserogen, a biotech company that uses non-transgenic tobacco plants as protein bio factories thus accelerating vaccine development.
The eight finalists had the following components in their presentation: identifying an unmet need and solving it well, a substantial and growing market size, a strong team, proof of concept, a robust revenue model/financial analysis, an integrative production and distribution strategy and strong positioning through competitive analysis. The eight finalists were:
1. Kopo Kopo: provides financial services to emerging markets via text messages through mobile phones at approximately $200/month ($100-$400 monthly subscription fee). Kopo Kopo has already partnered with 2 financial institutions (profit shown in image on right) in Kenya to provide the poor access to financial services. They offer a SaaS platform to financial institutions to connect mobile money networks to a Management of Information Systems (MIS). They plan to target this 1.1B market by targeting the 30M small and medium sized Sub Saharan businesses in Africa.
2. Imprint Energy: This was my favorite and I voted for it in the People Choice Award category. Imprint Energy makes rechargeable batteries that can be printed and attached to shoes, clothing, etc. These customizable, paper thin, longer lasting batteries consist of 5 layers and Imprint Energy has partnered with many companies for its development and manufacturing as seen below. The competitive landscape has few players and Imprint Energy batteries last longer, are rechargeable, are easier to manufacture and are more rugged and safer compared to its competitors.
3. Axis: makes a protective vest that protects athletes from spinal and bodily injuries through advanced sports injury prevention technology. It specifically protects the neck and buttocks in addition to the back as those are the most susceptible parts during an injury. It uses a gel technology which hardens on impact and protects the athlete. Axis plans to start with the equestrian market and then expand to other high risk sports.
4. Cardio Paint: provides heart attack diagnosis and improves risk stratification with a peptide-based injectable. 5M patients visit emergency rooms annually for chest pains of which 60% are told to wait and see what happens. Cardio Paint addresses problem by improving risk stratification through an injectible that accumulates radioisotopes (as seen in the rat's tail below) at a blood clot and better diagnose heart attacks at half the cost and one-tenth of the time.
You can read about the remaining 4 finalists here.
I went for a talk by Steve Blank a few weeks ago. He spoke on listening to your customers to validate the idea for your startup (or a new product for existing companies) until you get to a scalable and repeatable business model (he calls the pivot) and thus be successful. He urges entrepreneurs (or intrapreneuers) to "get out of the building" (see a signed copy of his book to me) and listen to your customers to validate your idea or tweak it based on customer feedback. I highly recommend his book because I have been practicing his Customer Development model (right image) and find it very successful. As a usability specialist for 4 years I made websites easy to use by asking customers for their feedback.
Recently, I wrapped up an internship at HealthCrowd, a telehealth platform that connects holistic practitioners such as therapists and nutritionists to you. I decided to find out for myself what our customers (in this case people who visit a nutritionist, therapist, etc) thought of our service. I asked ten customers and found six in favor of the service and four not in favor or who would not use it the way it was intended to be used. Many would argue that ten customers are not enough to make conclusions but with limited time and resources it always helps to listen to even a few at least for the qualitative feedback if not for the quantitative extrapolation of results to apply to the larger population.
Below, you will see two video excerpts of my interviews (positive feedback video on top and negative at the bottom). Putting together the positive feedback from all six customers it is clear that they would use HealthCrowd for its benefits: convenient consultations that can be taken from work (or anywhere) during lunch break (or anytime), better control of their health through online health monitoring and a more effective way of choosing a practitioner (through common health stories shared in the form of user testimonials). Customers who did not favor HealthCrowd said they would use the service as a directory to search for a practitioner and once they identified a practitioner they would book an in-clinic consultation. Others resonated the fact that the relationship built through in-clinic consultations is integral to the healing process. One customer just didn't trust HealthCrowd (see second video below) based on impressions formed in the under-5-minute interview which goes to show how quickly we form our impressions. By addressing these needs and truly listening to our customers we should be on a less rocky road to success. Specifically, how do we capture the customer segment who will use this service as a directory? How do we substitute the power of relationships formed during in-clinic consultations? In what ways can we build credibility and get patients to trust HealthCrowd?
In conclusion, customer feedback is a critical component for the success of any company and should be done frequently to refine our hypothesis through all stages of product development.