Interviews

Hear from the entrepreneurs, researchers and innovators who will speak at Technoport 2014.

Steve Wozniak
2

Julie MalvikFebruary 3, 2015

Norwegian Students Shooting for the Moon

A shared idea about the future of technology went from a vision to a reality when three Norwegian students got together and founded the company MOON Wearables. The company is created to design and make wearable electronic devices and software applications. The goal: to make life easier for people by giving them beautiful objects they will love to use.

Wearable technology presents the potential for massive transformation in many industries. The more obvious ones include consumer electronics and communications. Early adopter industries include clothing, healthcare, sports and fitness. However, we see many industries adopting wearable technologies as computing and wireless communications integrate wearable into virtually every aspect of product and services.

How can this type of technology improve people’s daily lives?

“Elon Musk once said, “Engineering is the closest thing to magic that exists in the world.”

“We absolutely share his view. And with the rise of the internet-of-things (IoT), we believe the history of engineering and technology is soon facing an inflection point. Where before, most ‘things’ around us have existed as individual cells of technology and engineering, analogous to how computers existed as individual workstations prior to the Internet. Today and going forward, these cells are beginning to be interconnected. The world’s things will begin talking to each other,” Jørgen Veisdal says.

“The currency in this world, as we see it, will be knowledge about the user. Where is he/she? What is he/she doing? Is he/she hungry? Sick? Bored?”

“Utilizing a few simple sensors and microprocessors in conjunction with a few hundred lines of code, MOON and its application can begin making informed predictions about the answers to such questions. Our predictions may then feed into the ecosystem of things around the user, improving his or hers experience.”

“If our app knows that the person is in Trondheim, that the weather is cold and dark, that the user has just walked three kilometers in 25 minutes, and his/her blood sugar is low, these factors may be brought into what the user sees, hears and feels around them. As you walk in the door, your August Smart lock can tell your Sonos sound system to put on some smooth jazz, your light bulbs from LIFX will dim up a calm yellow light, while your Nest sets the thermostat to a soothing 25 degrees. All before the user even has time to take off their shoes,” he says.

An idea born at NTNU

The idea for MOON started two years ago when Jørgen Veisdal began at his graduate degree at Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “A believer in the potential of the-up-and-coming wearable market, I was reviewing the various products in the marketplace trying to understand why some products had been successful and others had failed,” he says.

He tells that this analysis culminates in three key properties, which in his opinion a wearable has to have in order to be successful. “At the time, no products were successfully delivering on all three properties. I still believe that to be the case today.”

The wearable technology market is entering a rapid growth phase. Examples of leading indicators of future wearable technology sales such as Google Trends, cost reduction of the key enabling technologies, increase in functionality that is becoming possible and initial sales of new smart wrist wear such as Apple Watch, and fitness monitors. All show that a very rapid growth is in prospect.

Driven by the arrival of the Apple Watch, which will begin shipping in April according to CEO Tim Cook, the global market for wireless power and charging in wearable applications is set to attain a giant 3,000 percent expansion this year compared to 2014, according to IHS Technology.

Furthermore, there will be a remarkable growth this year for wireless charging in wearable electronic devices. According to statistics on Market Watch the wireless charging in wearables will generate revenue exceeding $1 billion by 2019.

“In choosing which segment of the market we wanted to contribute to, we similarly analyzed what the goals of using any given product may be, and how one might go about trying to achieve such goals. For wearables, this relates mainly to where on the body the device physically sits and what it enables the user to do, that he/she is currently unable to do with a smartphone/tablet,” Jørgen Veisdal says.

“Failing to deliver on either or both of these two properties is, in our opinion, where most wearable vendors get it wrong. When we make product decisions, the final decision always comes down to how it affects one or both of these two factors.”

Goals for 2015

“Ultimately, what we do is build tools that will make people’s lives better. That’s our ultimate goal. When they asked Steve Jobs about how he saw the computer, he would invariably refer to it as the ‘bicycle of the mind’, a tool which enables humans to perform at higher levels than they would be able to without it.”

Veisdal explains, “In our opinion, there have been two such ‘bicycles’ in our industry to date – the personal computer and the smartphone. These were two inventions that truly made people’s lives better in a dramatic way, and largely shaped our modern world. We believe wearable technology has the potential to offer improvements at a similar scale. Our firm’s name was chosen to engrain this belief in our own company culture.”

“We are not spending our twenties building something that aims for incremental improvements. We’re shooting for the MOON.”

In the past few years the wearable technology market has made a huge jump out of the trial and error phase and into the hands of hundreds of thousands of eager consumers, with hundreds of product launches last year alone. With consumers already spending a lot on the product, it should not be surprising that seller competition has skyrocketed.

“We are about to begin manufacturing complete functional prototypes of our device for demo and testing purposes. Because we are building everything in-house, this process is expected to be both comprehensive and time consuming, but we are hopeful that it will culminate in a minimum-viable product by the end of the year.”

“I think it is interesting to talk about motivation. Having followed the technology industry in Silicon Valley like many people may have followed their favorite sport’s teams for over ten years now, we have been dreaming about this opportunity since we were in our early teens. This is it for us,” Veisdal says.

He expresses himself as a dreamer. “In truth, at our core, more than anything we are dreamers. Dreamers work in bits and atoms, trying to create things that we want for ourselves, but that don’t exist around us. In order to do so, in the face of overwhelming odds of failure, putting our hearts, souls on the line, the thing that keeps us going is undoubtedly our passion. The passion we share for what we do.”

“Of course, if such was our goal, there are easier ways for us to make money. We could perfect and license out our circuits and spend our time doing business development instead. It would certainly be a lot cheaper, and we would likely get a lot more sleep while doing so. It’s not magical. It’s not going to make users smile. That’s something I think this country has lost, or maybe never even had, that Silicon Valley is amazing at. Creating user experiences that are so thorough and well thought out that people form an emotional attachment to them. That’s engineering at its finest, and it’s rare.”

Anne Kjaer Riechert
60David Nikel

David NikelJanuary 29, 2015

Innovating Towards Peace

Joining Pascal Finette for Technoport 2015’s Peace, Love & Entrepreneurship session is Anne Kjær Riechert, who works at the fascinating crossroads of innovation and global peace.

A graduate from the prestigious social innovation and change management school KaosPilot in Denmark, she has since worked as creative lead and corporate social responsibility (CSR) consultant for the brand strategy company Stoic, launched her own humanitarian project, Kids Have a Dream, and studied Peace Studies in Japan on a prestigious Rotary Peace Fellowship.

She moved to Berlin where she worked as the Manager of Public Affairs for Coca-Cola, and setup a Peace Innovation Lab in collaboration with Stanford University.

The Peace Innovation Lab network provides design frameworks, principles and methodologies for Persuasive Technology interventions to measurably increase positive engagement, at scale. They aim to improve social security, provide academic knowledge, facilitate business development, build personal capacity, and build strong local communities.

She was kind enough to sit down with Technoport for a Q&A ahead of what is sure to be an inspiring talk at Technoport 2015.

Anne Kjaer Riechert

How did you connect with the Peace Innovation Lab?

The Peace Innovation Lab was founded at Stanford University in 2010. I met them when I was doing research for OpenIDEO in Palo Alto. They were mixing technology, innovation & peace studies, an unusual triangle that I found exciting. Through my research spending a lot of time in the peacekeeping world there were very fluffy concepts, but I wanted hard facts to see if the interventions we made were working. Technology is such an enabler, it allows you to take effective real-time measurements and helps you scale up if what you are doing is working.

When I graduated, I could choose between continuing my research at Stanford, or collaborating in a different way. They encouraged me to start a Peace Lab in Berlin and basically gave me a wildcard to build up a presence.

What does the Berlin branch do?

When I arrived in Berlin the cross-sector networking was missing. There were meetups of course, but they were based on pizza and beer, and what happens happens. I don’t believe in that being the only way.

Now in Berlin, we are a grass-roots movement with 670 members from all sectors including government, academia, for-profit and non profit. Once a month we run a collaborative workshop for two hours, at which experts talk about a technology or social innovation topic. This is followed by a 90-minute brainstorming session, where we aim to come up with new concepts and/or discuss implications. Afterwards we always go out for a drink together, an informal but important part of the community.

Participating in a full 2-hour program inspires people and eases the collaboration process. It makes it easier to network with people later, because you know who they are, what they are interested in, and how to navigate the system better.

Do you have any advice for developing an entrepreneurial mindset?

The mindset for a social entrepreneur is a special kind of mindset. Triple bottom line thinking is crucial. Unfortunately a lot of time social entrepreneurs are so keen to make an impact that we forget the financial viability of what we are doing. The biggest challenge faced by social entrepreneurs is getting this balance right.

What can we look forward to at Technoport 2015?

I’m going to give my personal story to encourage the entrepreneurial mindset in people and to say just go for it.

I will describe how we developed the Peace Innovation Lab in Berlin, together with how and why it is radically different from the one at Stanford. We spent a long time working with Stanford on business models and spreadsheets before we realised we hadn’t built anything. We put away the computers and started building, sourced feedback and grew.

Meet Anne in Trondheim

Join us in Trondheim, Norway, on 18 & 19 March as we seek to awaken the entrepreneurial mindset at Technoport 2015.

Pascal Finette
60David Nikel

David NikelJanuary 27, 2015

Pascal Finette: From Palo Alto to Trondheim

Travelling to Technoport 2015 all the way from the heart of Silicon Valley is serial entrepreneur Pascal Finette, whose CV makes impressive reading. He’s founded a couple of technology startups, led eBay’s Platform Solutions Group in Europe, launched a consulting firm helping entrepreneurs with their strategy & operations, invested into early-stage tech startups, led Mozilla Labs, created Mozilla’s accelerator program WebFWD, headed up Mozilla’s Office of the Chair and invested into social impact organisations around the globe at Google.org. Phew!

He’ll speak at the Peace, Love & Entrepreneurship session, apt given his experience in creating the non-profit organizations Mentor for Good, POWERUP and The Coaching Fellowship (yes, he’s managed to cram all that into his career, too!)

Right now, he heads up the Startup Lab at Singularity University, which has a mission to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges” – now that’s a mission statement we at Technoport Towers can identify with!

Pascal was kind enough to talk to Technoport about his experience and what we can expect from him at Technoport 2015:

Pascal Finette Open Innovation NASA

Making an impact

“Singularity University is fairly young, only six years old. The vast majority of our work is educational, and about two years ago we saw more startups that leveraged exponential technology so we set up a support system, to combine ongoing education with access to our community and network. Today we are three parts: a startup part, a corporate part where Fortune 500 companies reinvent themselves, then an impact partner part. The latter group have boots on the ground so they let us know what it’s really like out there. We are in Silicon Valley but it’s completely different to be out on the ground in Africa.”

“Our philosophy is simple: we bring people together to create transformative change. Our startup program brings together 80 people who all know each other and have a drive to change the world. It’s a ten-week project over the summer when we support them, bring in mentors, and other program elements that foster them and their confidence. A good chunk of the projects turn into companies. Of course, they are very early stage often with no market validation, so we may then bring them into our new accelerator.”

The entrepreneurial mindset

All this begs an obvious question that ties into the theme of Technoport 2015. Is the mindset of a social entrepreneur different from a “regular” entrepreneur, and if so, can people learn the qualities needed?

“I dislike the term social entrepreneur because it sounds like it’s different from entrepreneurship. It’s not. These people are entrepreneurs but they choose to solve a pressing social need. The skills required to solve problems are exactly the same, in fact it’s maybe a little harder because of funding sources.”

“When you look at what makes a social entrepreneur do what they do, it’s always that drive for impact, a sense for wanting to create something bigger than themselves, and a deep connection to the issue at hand, be it human trafficking, autism, whatever it is. Every human being has the capacity for that.”

“There’s an interesting trend with the new generation of “millennials”. Instead of the Wall Street boom or Dot Com boom, where the urge was to create as much money as they could, this generation seems to want to create a better planet. Perhaps it’s the hyper awareness due to today’s media, but whatever it is, I am hopeful we will see a lot more social entrepreneurs in their 20s.”

Pay it forward, every day

It should be obvious by now that Pascal is a subscriber to the “pay it forward” philosophy and as such, shares his thoughts on entrepreneurship with the thousands of subscribers to his daily email newsletter, The Heretic.

“A few years ago I had an urge to share my thoughts with the world. It began on Twitter but 140 characters was too limiting, and I couldn’t use my existing blog because it was syndicated through Planet Mozilla, so I wanted to create another place. something that is safer place. It’s turned into a really interesting experiment for me. Can I actually write something on a daily basis? I use it to reflect on something I read or heard during the day, so it’s become a wonderful way for me to reflect, sharpen my own thinking, perhaps reiterate a point I made to someone else and even expand on it.”

Meet Pascal in Trondheim

Join us in Trondheim, Norway, on 18 & 19 March as we seek to awaken the entrepreneurial mindset at Technoport 2015.

Innovasjon Norge
60David Nikel

David NikelNovember 27, 2014

Q&A with Anita Krohn Traaseth, Innovation Norway

A few eyebrows were raised when Innovation Norway announced their new choice of CEO earlier this year. Rather than opt for a “safe” choice from within, the board appointed Anita Krohn Traaseth, head of Hewlett Packard Norway and outspoken blogger on Tinteguri. After her first few months, she was kind enough to take time to tell me her thoughts on the organisation and the future of innovation in Norway.

Anita Krohn Traaseth

How were your first few months at Innovation Norway?

I’ve had 100 “speed dates”, taking 10 minutes with my colleagues, customers and other partners. The more meetings I have, the clearer the competences and need for Innovation Norway becomes in my mind. A lot of people in Norway have opinions about the organisation, who we are what we do, and there is a gap between the facts and myths.

We got clear feedback form our owners that even though our budget was raised for 2015, we are being asked to work differently. I’m impressed by the knowledge of our people and their willingness to change.

So it’s so far, so good. I’m an intrapreneur and this is a dream job for me.

What can you bring from the private sector?

It’s important to understand that Innovation Norway is a hybrid, somewhere between public and private sector. We have some established myths about both sectors because its easy to generalise but there are huge differences inside each. understanding the role of IN is key and not losing sight of history. we are not ten years old, we are 162 years old. The history of Norway investing in specific programs to enhance innovation is long.

We have a huge responsibility for tax money so we need to do things right. If we do things wrong, we are on the cover of the newspapers. Trying to balance the demand for quality in everything we do, while being innovative ourselves and taking risks is something we need to improve on. We need a larger focus on making decisions ahead of delivering documents, using lean methodologies.

Can you tell us about the Innovation Index?

We are part of the EU Commission’s Innovation Index that comes out every year. Currently Norway is ranked as average, as we have been for years, and journalists write articles about how bad we are and we must invest more in R&D. I think this is wrong. It’s time to start asking what is behind the data? Is it based on the old way of innovating? We are not the first ones asking questions. The UK took their own responsibility in 2009 to define their own innovation indicators relevant for them.

The poblem with the figures for Norway is our economy is dominated by natural resources. Statoil is defined as a low-tech company because their investment in R&D is internal and not measured by the criteria.

Different countries give their input to the index and divide questions about innovation and about R&D, but in Norway we combine it. SSB surveyed Norwegian companies about their key innovation areas and top of the list was they are doing it internally. Less than 5% involved research institutes.

When it comes to protecting innovations, the most important thing for us is to implement them and get the market advantage. Elon Musk gave away patents and was celebrated for it here in Norway, but our own DNV has been doing the same thing for over 100 years.

It’s time to ask some questions about these indicators. We should be part of benchmarking, but why can’t we define our own innovation criteria?

What is the future for the Norwegian startup “industry”?

One of the biggest things preventing Norway having a startup culture is the lack of self-esteem. Saul Singer was in Oslo two weeks ago and he told us the first word he was introduced to by Norwegians was janteloven. What kind of a message is janteloven for the next generation of entrepreneurs?

At the same time we need to build breadth. I am for keeping that, because this is the only way we can build similar to sports, a culture across the country. We are the sum of all our parts and we need to celebrate success on a national level. For example, so many Norwegians have never heard of the small startups in Sogn go Fjordane with worldwide success. We need to build a culture of being proud. We need to cheer for failures. The road to success is failure, not janteloven.

With high salaries and some of the best working conditions in the world, why would any Norwegian risk it all to become an entrepreneur?

It’s a very good question. As in most countries, entrepreneurs are not driven by necessity, they are driven by passion and the ability to make a difference. Social security reduces many of the risks associated with innovation. It may seem like a paradox but the fact is a comprehensive welfare system makes it easier. We have the system to allow entrepreneurs to fail. but the question is why aren’t they doing it? It comes back to what you say, we don’t have a culture of individuals, we have a culture of team sports and making a difference in peace, conversations, thats where we have our national pride. I think we need to combine this in the future with solving big issues like india.

Economists say in 2050 India will be the largest economy. We cannot compete with the millions of people in India. They are our future competition so this is the time to cooperate and help them solve their basic problems like energy and waste, areas that we have expertise in.

Should Innovation Norway money be sent directly to startups or used to fund the ecosystem?

We definitely have to do both and we’ve had this dual approach in Norway for many years. Trying to structure innovation by saying “this is the successful way, this is how we will structure incubators”, I just don’t believe in it. I believe in triggering innovation. we have to give the opportunities to home-grown entrepreneurs as we do to the research institutes.

I agree with the advice from Saul Singer. We need to not have so many conversations about how to structure incubators and focus more on the companies we are supporting. Push them, show them the way, and then support them further. You get more creative the less money you have.

DN published interesting new research about the factors behind successful entrepreneurs. Firstly, they have bigger dreams, worldwide dreams. Secondly, they wake up early in the morning and get on with it. Thirdly, they are not stopped by a lack of capital and they work through failures.

Is innovation possible outside a capitalist economy like the USA, especially given Norway’s high cost of living?

Obviously the market has become global and people will move to areas where they get the best chance. Our research institutes are world leading and have no recruitment problem, because people want to be where the action is.

But Norway is a capitalist system, we are more productive than the American economy, and their Government has  been stimulating innovation more than Norway. We need to be more clear on what Norway has to offer, such as a high quality of life. Startup Extreme is a great example of something unique we can do to attract people, that’s not based on politics or tax.

Should Norway cooperate or compete with our Nordic neighbours?

We have great potential of clustering ourselves as a Nordic region. Cities are fighting each other to be the technology capital but this is useless. Within Oslo the argument was whether to build the technology hub at Nydalen or Fornebu. This was a waste of time. Visiting Americans asked why we were spending time discussing this, when to them Norway itself is just a campus of the Scandinavian or Nordic market, and thats the market that’s interesting to them. This regional cluster has huge potential in the world, but first of all we need to work things out in Norway at a regional level. The new-look Innovation House in Palo Alto is a great example of Nordic cooperation, so we are starting the process.

We are two keen bloggers, I can’t resist asking you about what blogging does for you?
As a blogger and bestselling author, it was a brave choice of the board of to hire me. I am visible, have opinions and want to change things, but there is a balance between leading a Government-owned company and being visible. It can be handled in a very healthy way

I think there was a desire to bring in a high-profile figure to make Innovation Norway more visible. I’ve long been active in debates about commercialising technology, so what I can do with this profile is speak up more about what we need, what we do, make it more visible. For example, we don’t disucss whether to be a social company, we have to be a social company. If we are not there and available, if we don’t understand innovation dialogue, then we don’t understand the real time consequences. i want to be part of the discussion.

Leaders don’t have to blog. I drain myself mentally by writing, as I need to put a demanding life into perspective. i have chosen to continue blogging while in this job because I want to encourage young people into entrepreneurship but show the vulnerable side. When i share my thoughts, I make new connections and find opportunities for me and my colleagues. It is a risk, but someone has to do it!

Photo credit: Jo Michael

ValentinaBook
15Megan Jones

Megan JonesApril 22, 2014

Technoport 2014: Valentina D’Efilippo on the power of infographics

At the end of April innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and other technology pioneers will gather in Trondheim for Technoport 2014. In the run up to this exciting event, we are publishing a series of interviews with our speakers to learn more about how they are driving innovation. This week we hear from Valentina D’Efilippo, a multi-disciplinary designer and co-author of The Infographic History of the World.

Why do you think infographics have become so popular?
Beyond just data and words, infographics use images and graphical representations. These key elements – data, words and imagery – operate as a system for simplifying information, revealing new patterns, and producing new knowledge. Though they might not have always been called “infographics,” info/data-based visualizations have always been around. With rapid advances in both technology and the speed at which we consume information, infographics have become an effective way to grab audience attention and deliver complex information in digestible formats.

In 2013 you published The Infographic History of the World. How did you decide to make that book, and what do you hope it will achieve?
Craig Adams, the editor of the book, came up with the initial idea of narrating history through infographics. James Ball, data journalist for the Guardian, and I joined forces to bring Craig’s idea to life. The Infographic History of the World is our attempt to narrate history in an unconventional way. Rather than looking to define the world’s history, this book looks to leverage the power of infographics and refresh an age-old subject for the general public and the specialist alike.

Instead of simply celebrating infographics on a stand-alone basis, we hope to take our readers on a journey through history. If we convert our audience from passive readers of a single story into fellow travellers, they can explore data and use the visualizations as starting points for their own exploration and understanding.

How do you see visual media driving or supporting innovation – either today or historically?
Since our earliest times, humans have attempted to interpret and describe the world around us – past, present and future. Embracing the picture-worth-a-thousand-words perspective, people continue to use visual metaphors to share their ideas with others. Visual media have consistently played an important role in supporting, communicating and delivering innovation.

Visual media bear a responsibility to simplify complexity and record discoveries. Yet, they also have the potential to become the fabric by which we can discern new meaning and share new knowledge. In some cases, there are existing relationships that are only revealed once the raw data has taken a visual form.

How do you think the role of visual media will change with the rise of big data and increasing technology?
With the social data revolution and the rise of big data, we should expect to see increasing prevalence of data visualization through media. As growing amounts of data become increasingly available, there will be a need to understand what is being recorded. Visual media is a likely leader in making this information accessible in a swifter and smarter way.

While infographics have been around for ages, recent proliferation of free and easy-to-use tools makes visual media more accessible to a large segment of the population. Demand for the communication of data-based information is evolving in tandem with advances in technology. Visual media has the opportunity to communicate ideas quickly and effectively. With the increased use of interactive media and new technology platforms, I expect the use of visual media will increase across disciplines.

 

Want to hear more?

Valentina will speak at How Visual Media Helps Us Make Sense at Technoport 2014. She will elaborate on the topics explored in this interview as we shed light on the future of funding new ventures. Learn more about Technoport 2014.

Image credit: Valentina D’Efilippo

Comlight
15Megan Jones

Megan JonesApril 9, 2014

Technoport 2014: Siri Skøien on entrepreneurial success

At the end of April innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and other technology pioneers will gather in Trondheim for Technoport 2014. In the run up to this exciting event, we will publish a series of interviews with our speakers to learn more about how they are driving innovation. This week we hear from Siri Skøien, an award-winning entrepreneur and founder of Comlight, a motion-sensing street light system to reduce energy use.

Where did you get the idea for Comlight from, and how did it start?
It really started as an idea – I had no engineering or technical experience, I come from a business background, but I knew that if I didn’t do this someone else would. So for the first year I was working alone, getting the marketing plan off the ground and starting the patenting process. And from there I worked on incorporating electrical engineering and so forth.

How did you find the process of looking for early stage funding?
It was very difficult – very difficult, even in Norway.  This was seven years ago, and I think there’s been some progress since then, but I spent a long time looking for funding. You know, I would keep calling people and I’d get 200 noes and eventually one yes, and that’s what you’re waiting for. One thing I did was I used the local press to get the word out, I tried to get coverage of all the new developments in the local press. And actually it ended up that our first investor contacted me! It may be that I got very lucky, but that’s how we started.

Since Comlight has been going for seven years, as you say, how has the product changed over time?
We’ve made some improvements to the radar detection, and recently to the backend so users like road authorities have a better computer programme to see all the lights individually and manage them. That’s been a big project.

With the radar system, the first generation of Comlight could only detect cars and trucks and other vehicles. It took two years of intensive research and development to create a system that could detect pedestrians, which is what we have now. We’re always working to incorporate market feedback to increase the functionality, and so customers can adapt the system to their needs.

So how would a pedestrian experience street lighting in a place where Comlight has been installed? I can imagine that people would be concerned about safety.
Yes. In fact, though, I often have people come to me and say, “Are you sure it’s working? I can’t see the lights turning off anywhere.” And I say, “That’s great!” That’s how it’s supposed to be. We wanted to create a product that is so effective you don’t notice that the lights are off in front of you or behind you. If you’re walking through a park you don’t want have that spotlight feeling of being lit up on a stage. This applies to cars as well. It’s about safety as well as energy savings – safety and security is a big priority. So the system is working and saving energy, but our eyes can’t detect it.

Where is Comlight going in the future?
We want to stay small and stay innovative – to always be one step ahead, because the customers are always asking for more things. We do have some work going on in Canada and the US, but for this year we are mostly focusing on Europe. Our target customers is big lighting companies like OSRAM and GE, because it’s very time-consuming to go after the end-customers ourselves. Companies like that want to offer smart lighting but they don’t have what Comlight has, so they buy our product and sell it on to road authorities, city agencies and so on.

In terms of developing the Comlight system, we’re looking to increase the functionality so it can do other things like monitor traffic, count vehicles or check speed. It’s possible to incorporate things that aren’t even connected to lighting and energy efficiency, and that’s where this technology is going.

Are you optimistic about the future of smart lighting?
Yes, I’m very optimistic. Smart cities as a concept is really taking off, and the market for smart lighting has grown a lot recently. Norway has fallen a bit behind, people tend to want to install the same systems as they always have, but still it’s increasing here too.

Smart cities are one of the biggest movements of our time, and this has really expanded even in just the last year. This is where the world is headed.

Want to hear more?

Siri will feature at our Venture Angels and Crowd Investors event at Technoport 2014. She will elaborate on the topics explored in this interview as we shed light on the future of funding new ventures. Learn more about Technoport 2014.

Image credit: Comlight AS

Jonas Kjellberg Skype
60David Nikel

David NikelApril 7, 2014

Technoport 2014: Jonas Kjellberg talks startups

One of the big themes of Technoport 2014 is troublemakers: people who aren’t afraid to disrupt industries with new ways of thinking and new ways of doing business. One great example of a troublemaking company is Skype, the VOIP service and instant messaging client that transformed the way many businesses, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people communicate, almost overnight.

Jonas Kjellberg is well-placed to tell the story, having joined Skype’s co-founders during the very early days and steering the company’s rapid global growth. Since the sale of Skype to Microsoft, he has worked extensively advising other start ups as well as consulting and starting his own businesses. He lectures at Stanford University on sales cultures and how to bring product sales, profitability and the whole company together, and is co-author of Gear Up.

He’ll tell Skype’s story during Technoport 2014’s Troublemakers session, but I managed to ask him a few questions in advance to whet your appetite…

Can you tell us about your role(s) at Skype?

I joined the founding office in Stockholm and was initially responsible for the biggest region, which at the time was the Nordics. When the company grew bigger I became responsible for all revenues generated from clients.

Did you have any idea back then that Skype would be as successful as it has been?

I liked the product and the people in the team, and I had worked with them before. That it could become that successful, was not in the cards, It had been a very rough start of the project. But the product had a great global delight so there was a dream that we could hit it big. But competition was against giants like Microsoft and their MSN Messenger, AOL, ICQ, and all the telcos in the world, so there were many that hated what we did.

Why do you think the Nordics have been so successful at producing startups?

I think there is a tradition of product innovation in the Nordics that results from our traditional industries. But the more tech-based startups that make it big, the more people there are that have done the journey and know what it takes to build a high potential venture.

Can you explain what Gear Up Ventures is and who might find it useful?

Gear up is a framework that will help you create a high potential venture. It explains all the parts that need to be in place, to get the wheels spinning. The framework was initially developed at Harvard, and has been the backbone of teaching at Stanford, to foster and teach great entrepreneurs.

Should a startup think global first, or build up a successful business in their home market first?

A startup should always follow its own beliefs. My personal view is that you should try to think big, and get the global approach in to the DNA of the company from the start. It is hard to add that later.

American companies often have the world as their target market, and would never dream of having just one market at the size of Finland, as their only market. So it is a mental approach, but there is no right or wrong.

Want to hear more?

Jonas Kjellberg will be talking troublemakers at Technoport 2014. Want to join him? Register today!

Samasource
15Megan Jones

Megan JonesApril 4, 2014

Technoport 2014: Leila Janah on Samasource and social entrepreneurship

At the end of April innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and other technology pioneers will gather in Trondheim for Technoport 2014. In the run up to this exciting event, we will publish a series of interviews with our speakers to learn more about how they are driving innovation. This week we hear from award-winning social entrepreneur Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Samasource.

How would you explain Samasource and how it works?

“Sama” is the Sanskrit word for “equal”. The entire SamaGroup (which also includes SamaUSA and Samahope) was built on a shared vision – that of an equal opportunity world, where people aren’t suffering in poverty simply because they happened to be born in a disadvantaged region. We connect people in need to medical care and to dignified work that enables them to take control over their futures.

Impact sourcing is one piece of this strategy. In simple terms, it refers to the practice of outsourcing labor to disadvantaged populations. So if you’re a large corporation and you’re regularly sending work to business process outsourcing (BPO) firms, impact sourcing allows you to use some of those contracts to fight poverty and improve lives. If only a handful of the world’s largest corporations dedicated 5% of their outsourcing portfolios to impact sourcing service providers, it would make a significant dent in global poverty.

Samasource uses the Microwork model. Can you explain what this is and how it has been implemented?

Think of the way an iPhone, or any peripheral device, connects to a computer. You use an adapter cable that allows the two devices to exchange information. The Microwork model is like a massive adapter cable that allows people in poverty to plug their brainpower into global enterprises. It’s a way of connecting these two groups – corporations and the impoverished – for mutual benefit.

Customers approach us with large data projects that require vast numbers of small human judgments. For example, a company might have thousands of photos featuring pieces of furniture that need to be carefully tagged so that computers can be trained to recognize the shape of a chair, or a couch. We break that project down into irreducible tasks, and set up a workspace for them within our technology platform. These tasks then get sent to our delivery center partners in the field, where members of disadvantaged populations are trained to complete them.

Through the Microwork model, you might see a single mother who’s lived her entire life in a Kenyan slum tagging images for a major international corporation. But what’s truly unique about the Microwork Model as a solution to poverty is the way it invests skills and experience in workers. 89% of our workers either go back to school or find further employment in the formal sector.

Some have criticized Samasource for outsourcing the work of US citizens to other countries. How do you respond to this?

This is a common misconception. The services that Samasource provides to its customers – which include huge global brands like Google, Microsoft, and LinkedIn – would in most instances be too cost-prohibitive to complete in the United States. So it’s not as if our workers in Kenya or India are out-bidding Americans for jobs. If our workers weren’t completing these data projects, they’d be completed by a BPO firm or simply not done at all.

With that said, Samasource recognizes that poverty is a global problem, and we’re equally dedicated to fighting it here in the US. I started SamaUSA for this reason. SamaUSA is a domestic program that teaches digital skills to low-income community college students, and helps them to find work on online job platforms like Elance and oDesk. SamaUSA is running in three California community colleges already, and we’re poised to scale the program through the entire country.

Do you have plans for scaling up the impact sourcing model further?

A solution to poverty is only viable if it affects a significant number of individuals, and Samasource has always targeted women and youth who support multiple dependents for this reason. We want the wages we pay to positively impact families and invest new capital in entire communities.

But we’re just one participant in a growing trend, in a fledgling industry. Right now, we’re trying to use our influence with large corporations to support the entire impact sourcing space. We believe that we can scale this model collaboratively, by compelling major brands to commit part of their outsourcing portfolios to any number of impact sourcing service providers.

Have there been any technological challenges associated with outsourcing work? What does the future hold for this?

The lack of reliable Internet access in the developing world has been a significant challenge. One of our model’s limitations is its inability to reach populations that are off the grid. In a lot of remote areas, infrastructural investments must be made before the Microwork Model can be applied and people can be recruited.

We’ve had great success, however, when those infrastructural investments have been made. We’ve partnered with Oxfam Novib and a number of other international NGOs on a project called Internet Now! that’s bringing Internet access and computer-based work to rural areas in northern Uganda. This region was devastated by the country’s civil war and never recovered. Many people there still live in huts, and walk miles every day to collect safe drinking water from public pumps. But with our partners ALIN and Inveneo, we’ve set up solar-powered, Internet-enabled centers in three rural Ugandan communities. The people there may not have running water in their homes, but they’re getting paid to complete computer-based tasks for huge global brands. It’s amazing.

What have been your main triumphs and tribulations as a social entrepreneur, and what advice would you give others? 

Samasource has now reached over 20,000 people through the wages it pays to workers. I consider that a colossal triumph, although it’s just the beginning of what we hope to accomplish. Experiencing the spark of inspiration as a social entrepreneur – that “a-ha” moment when I get an idea that I think can help people – is exhilarating, but that moment is the start of a long, arduous journey toward real impact.

When raising money to get Samasource off the ground I heard “no” from a lot from potential funders. I’ve also faced people who think I have no business being in the tech industry as a woman, and as a woman of south Asian descent. But I’ve also been lucky to find kindred spirits who are just as excited as I am about using technology to change the world.

The most valuable advice I’ve ever heard comes from Silicon Valley leader and investor Ben Horowitz: “Don’t quit.” Especially in the tech world, where successes can become obsolete within the blink of an eye, it’s crucial to a have an inner voice simply telling you to keep going, keep refining, keep striving.

Want to hear more?

Leila will speak at our A Tool For Change session at Technoport 2014. She will elaborate on the topics explored in this interview as we shed light on how innovation and entrepreneurship can change the world. Learn more about Technoport 2014.

Image credit: Samasource.org

Shareable.net
15Megan Jones

Megan JonesApril 2, 2014

Technoport 2014: Lauren Anderson on the game-changing power of collaborative consumption

At the end of April innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and other technology pioneers will gather in Trondheim for Technoport 2014. In the run up to this exciting event, we will publish a series of interviews with our speakers to learn more about how they are driving innovation. This week we hear from Lauren Anderson, Community Director at the pioneering shared economy organisation Collaborative Consumption.

1. How would you explain “collaborative consumption”?

We describe collaborative consumption as the reinvention of old market behaviours such as bartering, lending, swapping, trading and exchanging – but this time they’ve been reinvented for the Facebook age! Social, mobile and location-based technologies are enabling us to share and exchange all kinds of assets now – from physical stuff to less tangible things like time, skills and space – on a scale and in ways that wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago.

2. How is collaborative consumption disrupting existing models of doing business?

We are already seeing collaborative consumption disrupting established 100-year-old industries such as car manufacturing, hospitality and even banking by putting the power in the hands of the people. These new technologies are not only more efficient and often more affordable, but they also provide more authentic and personal experiences over mass-produced and standardised, which is something people are hungry for these days. Having said this, there are many ways that existing companies can, and should, get involved in understanding how this consumer shift might affect them, and what they can do to maintain relevance and build brand loyalty with these new consumers.

3. What are some examples of different types of businesses that are leading this movement?

In our directory of examples we have documented more than 1000 examples of collaborative consumption globally, and have found examples in more than 100 countries. But while there are many small local marketplaces in this space, there are also some bigger global companies who operate across a number of continents.

Airbnb, the p2p accommodation marketplace, is arguably the biggest collaborative consumption platform in the world, behind sites like eBay. TaskRabbit and similar task marketplace platforms have been hugely successful. Carsharing and bikesharing platforms are up and running in hundreds of cities around the world, transforming the ideas of mobility. And for a local start-up, EasyBring is a collaborative distribution service, or ‘crowdshipping’, tapping into a network of deliverers who can send packages for others.

4. Cities are also getting involved – tell us a bit more about that.

Cities look after a lot of the regulation at a local level, and in many cases collaborative consumption companies are not adequately dealt with in the current legislation, causing a lot of uncertainty and fear. Other than that, there are many ways cities can adopt collaborative consumption-based models to supply services to residents and also build a culture of empowered citizens rather than a passive community. We expect to see many cities following the likes of Seoul in South Korea, and Portland, Oregon, to really make Shareable Cities part of their mandate.

5. What role can collaborative consumption play in overcoming global challenges such as climate change?

As an example, most collaborative consumption platforms are focused on maximising the ‘idling’ or underused capacity of the things around us – ensuring that the things we own are used to their full potential. Other platforms are dedicated to the redistribution of stuff from where it’s not wanted to somewhere it’s needed, extending the lifecycle of products otherwise headed to landfill. And perhaps most importantly, collaborative consumption encourages people to consider whether they really need to buy something new, or if there are other ways they could access it, which might involve connecting with other people in the community.

6. Where do you see collaborative consumption going in the future?

In the future, we definitely see that there will be much more involvement from existing organisations, as well as local and even federal governments, as collaborative consumption becomes a much bigger part of the consumer ecosystem. We will start to see the most successful models of collaborative consumption being scaled and replicated around the world, and local economies will be strengthened through these new ideas. Ultimately we believe that we will be able to reduce our reliance on the consumer machine, and that we will be able to restore the balance of community and contribution that we are missing today.

Want to hear more?

Lauren will feature at our Troublemakers event at Technoport 2014. She will elaborate on the topics explored in this interview as we showcase stories of some of the individuals behind disruptive companies. Learn more about Technoport 2014.

Image credit: Shareable.net

Crowdfunding interview
15Megan Jones

Megan JonesMarch 13, 2014

Technoport 2014: Liz Wald explains international crowdfunding

At the end of April innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and other technology pioneers will gather in Trondheim for Technoport 2014. In the run up to this exciting event, we will publish a series of interviews with our speakers to learn more about how they are driving innovation. This week we hear from Liz Wald, Head of International at crowdfunding website Indiegogo

How would you explain Indiegogo to someone not familiar with crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is the process of raising money from a large number of people to fund the projects that matter to them, resulting in significantly more funds and awareness than would ever be possible through a single contribution. As with Indiegogo, this primarily happens online, where money is exchanged, often for an item called a “perk” in a way similar to other online marketplaces like eBay, Airbnb and others. 

There is no approval process for campaigns on Indiegogo (unlike other platforms, like Kickstarter). Why is that?
We welcome a diversity of campaigns spanning creative, cause-related and entrepreneurial projects. This gives campaign owners and contributors the chance to fund what they care about most, without restrictions.  We don’t think we should judge who should raise funds for their idea, but rather the crowd should choose to fund or not based on their interests.

In keeping with the company’s mission to democratize funding, it’s important for Indiegogo to remain an open platform. With no application process or waiting period associated with launching a campaign, individuals can start raising funds immediately, without delays or bottlenecks. Further, we do not curate, which means that we, as a third-party, don’t arbitrarily define the value of any campaign on behalf of the campaign owner.

What, in your view, are the hallmarks of a successful technology crowdfunding campaign? What are some examples of innovative projects?
Beyond raising money, crowdfunding provides several benefits for individuals and organizations. First, a crowdfunding campaign creates a unique opportunity for market validation and increased access to social networks, amplifying overall awareness as like-minded people continue to visit and share your campaign. Second, entrepreneurs can receive early customer feedback, giving them an advantage as they refine their service or product. Third, those who crowdfund gain access to emails and data analytics, providing crucial insights as they move forward once the campaign is over.  This is as true for a creative campaign as a tech-focused one.

One great example is the wireless activity tracker called Misfit Shine.  In addition to raising close to $850,000 from nearly 8,000 backers, they got invaluable feedback on their product design and as a result of the campaign launched both a necklace and a bracelet as well as their original clip-on product. This kind of customer feedback would be nearly impossible if just one or a handful of investors had backed the company.  Even better, they finished their campaign with a great database of users, plenty of funds to create their product, and the proof of concept needed to then take their idea to investors if they chose to do so.

There are campaigners and contributors from nearly 200 countries on Indiegogo. Do you find that certain types of projects are more popular in different countries or regions?
Indiegogo doesn’t focus on any particular category. Below are a few examples of categories of campaigns on the platform:
– Film
– Web/Video
– Music
– Gaming
– Design
– Small Business
– Community
– Health
– Education

Interestingly we’ve seen a pretty solid mix from all corners of the earth.  While hi-tech projects might be obvious in places like the US, Germany and Israel, we see them from less expected locations as well.  We also see amazing innovations from places like Rwanda where a solar phone charger is more a necessity than a novel idea.  The bottom line is that creativity and ingenuity exist everywhere.

Indiegogo currently accepts and disburses funds in USD, CAD, EUR, AUD, and GBP. Do you foresee it accepting Norwegian kroner anytime soon?  
We’re consistently improving our platform to better meet the needs of our international customers and will continue to offer more global payment options as we move forward.  Whether it’s the krone or yen that comes next, the important thing is that we continue to give people options both for raising funds and for making it easy for contributors to participate.

Want to hear more?

Liz will feature at our Venture Angels and Crowd Investors event at Technoport 2014. She will elaborate on the topics explored in this interview as we shed light on the future of funding new ventures. Learn more about Technoport 2014.