Archive for February 2nd, 2012
When it comes to being an entrepreneur, IBM’s general manager for its Watson Solutions group has been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Twice.
When Manoj hit the stage at this afternoon’s IBM SmartCamp Global Finals in San Francisco to explain why he’s back at a big company like IBM, he started with his own start in mind.
Though he’s been with IBM for five years, and had an early background in corporate America at 3M, he started his own company in 1998 (Exterprise), which was acquired in 2001 before he started another company, Webify, which was later acquired by IBM.
One of the reasons he has since stayed at IBM, Manoj explains, is that “it’s the place to be if you want to have impact and change the world.”
He continued: “As you grow older, you start to understand what your core competence is, and mine is converting PowerPoints to products to profits.”
Manoj explained how startup culture and reality has changed dramatically from the dot com boom to present times. In the past, you would build it and they would come, and it was all about eyeballs, traffic, and the amount of money raised as a badge of honor.
Today, if they come, you can then go build it, but you’d be well advised to validate THEN scale, and that actual revenues are the path to profitability. Moreover, it’s advisable to take as little money up front as possible, so that you can focus on building value, a business, and not just a startup.
Ultimately, Manoj explained, companies are bought, not sold, and if you focus on building a business around a greater purpose, the riches will come.
He then turned to Watson, and the role the Watson technology is playing as IBM works to build a smarter planet.
Watson, Manoj explained, was a part of an IBM research project that followed in the spirit of the Deep Blue/Kasparov chess match of 1997, but that this time around, more focus was put on the commercialization of the technology.
What made Watson so unique was that not only is it smart at answering questions, but also that it can process and analyze 200 million pages in three seconds. The business implications of such a capability in our emerging data-drowning environment are critical. There are now 2 billion people on the Web, and “businesses on a smarter planet where people are dying of thirst in an ocean of data.”
So, Watson has been geared towards some select industries initially, namely healthcare and financial services, with others yet to come.
On the healthcare front, Manoj revealed some startling statistics. One in five diagnoses today are estimated to be inaccurate or incomplete, and there are 1.5 million errors in the way medication are prescribed, delivered, and taken in the U.S. alone each year.
And yet 81% of physicians report spending five hours or less per month reading medical journals, even as medical information doubles every five years.
Which is where Dr. Watson’s technology can help doctors with their diagnoses. Not to replace doctors, but to help them winnow down to the most likely diagnosis based on Watson’s ability to rapidly analyze millions of likely scenarios and generate and evaluate those hypotheses to identify the “best” outcome.
As Manoj suggested, think of it as a navigation system for doctors.
IBM SmartCamp Global Finals: California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome On Entrepreneurship & Economic Development
The IBM Smart Camp Global Finals finally have come into the final stretch.
Kicking off the afternoon was guest speaker Gavin Newsome, former mayor of San Francisco and now California Lieutenant Governor.
Never mind, cheerleader for the resurgent state of California and Silicon Valley as the global hub of innovation and venture capital.
Newsome opened his comments with a warm welcome to the great state of California, and complimented IBM on its “remarkable capacity to get first round draft choices from around the world,” speaking, of course, of the nine IBM Smart Camp Global Finalists in attendance and anxiously awaiting the announcement of IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year later this afternoon.
Newsome explained though California has faced some hard times of late, with 11.1% unemployment, the state is still about inviting the “best and the brightest” to “take risks, make mistakes, learn from them, and change the order of things.”
Newsome went to emphasize the importance of education, and joked that “when you [the nine SmartCamp finalists] decide to move out west, all nine of you, you’ll know we’re committed to your talent and growth.”
The lieutenant governor went on to explain California “was always in the future business,” highlighting the state’s open immigration policy and federal/state research partnerships. As Newsome expanded, “California is not just about researching but about commercializing that research. It’s not just about the power of an idea, but rather, about the power of an idea being tested.”
Newsome concluded his remarks with a tip of his hat to the IBM smarter planet initiative, acknowledging that 90+% of the world’s population will soon be living in cities, and that smart technology, driven by smarter entrepreneurs, will be key to addressing those growth challenges and creating a sustainable framework for their rapid expansion.
If I’ve learned anything hearing the business pitches and talking to a number of the IBM SmartCamp Global Finalists here in San Francisco these past couple of days, it’s that their enthusiasm is infectious.
Great entrepreneurs generally seem to have some common characteristics: They have passion and commitment, they often have visions and the drive to change the world in some way, shape or form, and, they typically have the perseverance and wherewithal to move forward no matter how difficult the odds.
Such is how I would characterize the nine finalists in IBM’s 2011 SmartCamp Finals. Though there may not be a single common thread in the business ideas that have been brought to the table here — they are as diverse as our increasingly complex and globalized planet — the vision, drive, and eagerness to learn from one another and their Silicon Valley mentors has been a key theme of the IBM SmartCamp.
Sure, everyone would like to get fully funded and go make a gazillion dollars in the next great IPO. But these finalists seem to realize they need to walk before they can run, and the wisdom and counsel that has been shared in the closed mentoring sessions during the last two days seems to be as distinctly valued as the opportunity to “win” the SmartCamp Global Finals.
The fact is, and it’s been said throughout the past couple of days, ALL the finalists are winners. They wouldn’t have made it this far in the competition were they not, and no matter who gets the official “win,” it’s very clear that all the finalists have benefited tremendously from the networking and counsel shared amongst they and their peers.
As Facebook prepares to enter the public markets and offer the greatest IPO in the history of mankind, it’s probably a good time to step back and realize there are many ways that entrepreneurs can change the world.
Though much attention and focus has been generated by the consumer-facing social media applications that suck up much of the oxygen and ink, IBM SmartCamp in San Francisco this week has proven once again that the business-to-business opportunities presented by business analytics, and mobile/social/local technologies, are just as profound in the business realm, if not more so, than all the Facebooks of the world put together.
So, stay tuned to this blog and to the Twitter hashtag #ibmsmartcamp through the rest of this afternoon as we prepare to announce the “IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year,” while recognizing all the finalists here at IBM SmartCamp were winners before they ever arrived, and have already changed the world in their own unique and diverse ways.
UPDATE: Profitero was announced as the “IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year” late this afternoon at the IBM SmartCamp Global Finals. Congratulations to Volodymyr and his team, and to all the fantastic nine finalists who made it to San Francisco. You’re ALL winners in our book!
Volodymyr Pigrukh is the CEO and co-founder of Profitero, a Dublin-based startup finalist in this year’s IBM SmartCamp Global Finals which provides a next-generation pricing intelligence service for retailers and manufacturers.
The company is a mere one year and three months old, and though Volodymyr is originally from Belarus, he started Profitero in Dublin.
Like many startup concepts, the idea appeared almost by accident, when his associate who managed several online stores came to realize he had no way of effectively pricing mobile accessories. So, he developed a prototype solution that would crawl his competitor’s websites and get real-time pricing information that would in turn help his accessories’ website create competitive pricing.
Profitero has already raised $1 million in venture capital, and has 13 full time employees and a few key name brands they’ve already partnered with.
So what’s the value prop? Profitero helps its clients increase sales and maximize profits by leveraging high-quality online competitive data at scale.
This, in turn, allows businesses to react quickly to changes in their competitors’ prices.
To date, retailers and manufacturers have found Profitero’s data essential for pricing strategy, forecasting, price management, merchandising planning, product promotions, and market/brand positioning.
It’s currently monitoring 27.5 million products across 2,500 European retail websites, and it plans to grow this to 100 million products in 2012.
Sometimes you look at a mobile app for your iPhone and your Android, and you wonder, how in the world did they come up with that?
That’s what Victor Anastasiu, CEO of Skin Scan, and his associate Mircea Popa, did once while sitting in Anastasiu’s living room in Bucharest a year ago, where they were chatting and having a beer.
They were discussing potential business ideas, and the idea of applying fractal geometry to the problem of skin cancer came up.
Hey, it’s just conversation, right?
Anastasiu explains that though there wasn’t a huge culture of entrepreneurship in Bucharest, he was a co-founder of an incubator hubb there called “Bucharest Hubb,” despite there being little access to the international entrepreneurial scene.
As they brainstormed and started to build an application that uses a mathematical algorithm to calculate the fractal dimension of a mole and surrounding skin, then build a structural map that reveals the different growth patterns of the tissues involved, they knew they had to find a platform that could be effective.
The iPhone was the perfect diagnosis, as it was much more homogeneous than the Android, and the app was perfectly suited to use the iPhone camera.
If Skin Scan processes the map and sees the mole has any abnormal development, it will alert the user to a needed medical visit.
SkinScan’s accuracy rate is currently at 70%, matching up to the average dermatologists’ diagnosis and suggesting that IBM’s own Dr. “Watson” could soon face some diagnostic competition in the healthcare realm.
IBM SmartCamp Finalist Profile: Localytics — Everything You Needed To Know About Your Mobile App, But Were Afraid To Ask
One of our San Jose State University interns for the day asked the most basic of questions, but it elicited the most elaborate of responses: What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
Raj Aggarwal, CEO of Localytics, a real-time analytics platform for mobile application developers answered this way: “Because you can have an impact you couldn’t have otherwise have had.”
He went on to explain: “Different people have different paths. Some get out of college and do a startup. For others, being in the industry and in an environment gives real exposure to what the problems were, real insight we wouldn’t have otherwise have had.”
Not unlike the current Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, Aggarwal had worked at Bain Consulting and had, in fact, spent some time counseling Steve Jobs and Apple on their iPhone strategy back in 2005, well before the iPhone launched.
Aggarwal said he learned a lot from his interactions with Jobs, namely, how important it was to be hands on and involved in the critical details, and also his willingness to take risks. “What I learned [from Steve Jobs] is how important it was to actually be there and driving the process, how much impact one individual could make in an organization.”
Aggarwal has brought those lessons forward into Localytics, a tool that offers most powerful application analytics platform for mobile app publishers. Localytics works across the iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7 platforms, making it platform agnostic and creating an instant broad market opportunity for the startup.
In fact, Localytics prides itself on being the only real-time service, providing the session-level detail and data access demanded by the top mobile app publishers in the industry.
Aggarwal’s not opposed to even spreading a little FUD to get folks hooked on his product. He explains from looking at his own service’s data that “26% of users on mobile devices use those apps only once!”
The more you know about your mobile apps, he seems to suggest, the more you have the opportunity of NOT being among that 26%!
Dr. Ronald Zhang left his home city of Beijing to attend the University of Central Florida, and didn’t go back home for eight years.
When he returned, how found there were new buildings and roads and shopping malls, and he almost didn’t recognize the place, never mind couldn’t find his way around.
After catching the American entrepreneurial bug during his time in the States, along with his PhD, Dr. Zhang concluded that what was missing in the GPS, location-based services market was the inside out view.
Google Streetview and Keyhole had captured the outside in view, but Dr. Zhang explains that people spend 90% of their time indoors — at shopping malls, restaurants, and the like. Where was the data feed for them?
And that’s how Palmap came to be founded, a Shanghai-located company now with offices also in Beijing and Xi’an.
Though American entrepreneurialism may seem to be far removed from the Confucian approach to orderly development in the East, that’s precisely what drew Dr. Zhang to the U.S. “With American entrepreneurs, there are no rules, boundaries, you can just go mad and crazy, and only be limited by your imagination. More and more, that’s what’s happening in China, but here (in the U.S.), there’s a spirit that we want to bring back to China.”
Dr. Zhang went on to explain such people “don’t necessarily make revenue yet” but that “they have services that can change the world and make life better.”
His idea for Palmap started around the time the iPhone was released, and he explained that “the Internet changed everything in China, and those technologies are implemented by people like us. So that’s my dream, to do something with my own mind.”
Zhang’s ultimate vision with Palmap is to bridge the divide between click-n-mortar and brick-n-mortar, or as he explained it, “online to offline.”
Between those two endpoints — and not unlike his transcendence of two very different worlds, the U.S. and China — Dr. Zhang and his team plan on making a lot of people happy…and then, and perhaps only then, will the money follow.