Monthly Archives: April 2018

#17 – MAKING CONNECTING SMARTER & BETTER – LISA CARREL/PROXFINITY



Attending a conference, meetup or gathering and coming away without making valuable contacts is an all too common and frustrating occurrence for busy business people.  But Chicago-based Proxfinity is shining a literal light on the problem – with a unique wearable and software solution.

In this edition of Series A – The Podcast, meet Lisa Carrel, co-founder and CSO of the company bringing real change to the conference world.

Carrel shares the journey of Proxfinity with Microsoft for Startups technical evangelist Martin Schray and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns, detailing a unique path that included patenting a product before there was really even a market.

In a nutshell, Proxfinity’s solution features a smart badge that lights up to identify common interests and allow people seeking to make connections a quick and easy way to identify someone they should speak with.  It sounds simple, but it’s an elegant, complex and effective way to maximize the time and efficacy of a networking event.

Carrel offers valuable insights and advice for other female founders on everything from raising capital to building a team, and chronicles how Proxfinity pivoted several times before settling into its successful strategy and solution.

Even though Proxfinity emerged from a cohort of female-led companies nurtured by 1871 in Chicago, the company’s story, struggles and successes are important teachings from any entrepreneur.

 


#16 – SMART APARTMENTS AND A SMARTER KC – BLAKE MILLER/HOMEBASE



From a smart city to smart apartments, Kansas City entrepreneur Blake Miller has been at the forefront of innovation on the Silicon Prairie.

In the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast, we travel to Kansas City for an in-depth look at why America’s heartland is home to some of the nation’s top tech talent along with arguably its best barbecue.

Producer/correspondent Josh Kerns visits with Miller and Microsoft for Startups technical evangelist and engineer Jordan Svancara to go inside his latest venture Homebase, a smart apartment platform and ecosystem poised to dramatically change the rental housing game for tenants and property managers alike.

“After researching the market, the results were conclusive–current property management platforms aren’t built to handle the needs of today’s connected life,” Miller says.

For residents, Homebase brings together the best of IoT, combining smart appliances, security and the like with rent and utilities payment, maintenance management and more.

Homebase enables far better management for apartment owners as well, from finance to maintenance, enabling dramatic improvements in efficiencies, service and ultimately revenues.

Miller and Svencara also offer an insiders view into what makes Kansas City so special as a pioneer in innovation, from municipal WiFi to fiber to a number of other public/private partnerships that have spurred continued growth and success for the city, entrenched enterprises like Sprint, Garmin and Cerner, and countless startups like Homebase.  And did we mention the barbecue?!


#15 – EXCLUSIVE & IN-DEPTH: CHICAGO TECH TITAN HOWARD TULLMAN



Plenty of people are called industry leaders, tech titans, ground breakers and pioneers.  But few have earned the moniker like Chicago tech visionary Howard Tullman.  The serial entrepreneur has helmed a variety of successful companies, written numerous influential books, and helped spawn hundreds of other companies through his groundbreaking startup collective 1871, the epicenter of the Chicago tech scene.

In a very special edition of Series A – The Podcast, Tullman shared his rare insights and wisdom in an exclusive, in-depth conversation with technical evangelist Martin Schray from the Microsoft startups team in Chicago and Series A producer/correspondent Josh Kerns as he prepares to retire from his role as CEO.

Tullman offered unique perspectives on what makes Chicago such a vibrant economic center, despite often being overshadowed by other cities like NY and San Francisco. (1:00)

“It’s very rare to find an economy where no single part, sector or industry is more than 12 or 13 percent,” he says.

The result is a thriving economy with opportunities in all industries, from logistics to automotive, education to CPG.  And its area universities turn out more computer science and engineering graduates than perhaps Boston, Tullman says.

He offers some provocative but realistic takes on the failings of big enterprises to nurture innovation, creating widespread opportunities for startups – especially in Chicago. (3:10)

“If you look back at the last decade or two, I would say that all of these big corporations starved R&D and now they’re desperate to make it up and they think M&A is going to make it up and that’s not going to happen by itself. It’s going to happen when you have match makers like 1871, when you have people that have developed whole pipelines of opportunities.”

Tullman shares his unique experience in the evolution of Chicago as a tech center, growing from just two percent of the economy when he founded 1871 six years ago (6:00) (named after the year of the great Chicago fire that leveled much of the city, but sparked its renaissance) to 14 percent today.

“In the last five years we’ve added 165,000 jobs that we would call tech-oriented jobs,” he says of Chicago’s growth.

(10:41) Tullman speaks passionately of 1871’s successful efforts to nurture women in tech and Chicago’s place as the leading city for female entrepreneurs, as well as the critical need and value of diversity.

(17:45) Among the other highlights are his perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of new trends, (21:00) his criteria for selecting companies for 1871 or his funds, Why he penned a recent article in Inc. and believes in slowing down some companies and founders moving at the usual breakneck speed of the startup world (30:00), and the use and value of metrics to evaluated performance. (41:00)

It’s a rare and extremely valuable  opportunity to hear from such a titan of tech and business for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, leadership and the Chicago tech ecosystem on the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast.


#14-FINDING NEEDLES IN A TRADE SHOW HAYSTACK – SUMMITSYNC



Many business people will tell you there are few things worse than attending a crowded trade show like CES or NRF in hopes of connecting with a potential customer, only to find it nearly impossible to find the needle in a haystack.

It’s a problem veteran founders and marketing and sales guys John Corrigan and Al Torres faced themselves, prompting them to set out to change that.

Their NY-based startup SummitSync elegantly marries AI and machine learning to help large companies identify and connect with customers across the more than 85,000 conferences of all size held in the U.S. each year.

“We help them figure out who’s going to be there, we help set up the meetings in person, and then we can connect all of that information automatically back to their CRM and their marketing platform to help…from handshake to customer journey,” says Corrigan, CEO and co-founder in an interview on the latest edition of Series A – The Podcast.

It’s a huge problem, and opportunity.

“You’re talking about a $300 billion industry,” COO and co-founder Torres tells producer/correspondent Josh Kerns.  “End of the day, it’s about how do I get in front of my prospects in order to drive the business.”

The co-founders outline their journey as a startup, building a product and bringing it to market, their lessons learned, and the dramatic pivots they’ve taken along the way.

Their experiences provide tremendous insights for any founder and an extremely enlightening and entertaining conversation.


#13 – AI IN LA – CITY OF ANGELS AT THE EPICENTER



When you think of business in LA, artificial intelligence isn’t likely to come to mind. But it turns out a number of leading entrepreneurs and academics have made the City of Angels an epicenter of AI.
Some of those leading minds came together recently for Applied AI, an event hosted by LA-based startup Deep Current.

The gathering drew several hundred to the company’s headquarters to hear from and visit with Steven Guggenheimer, Corporate Vice President overseeing Microsoft’s AI business; Joel Luxenberg, CEO and founder of Deep Current, and Prem Natarajan, Vice Dean of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
Before the event, the trio were joined by veteran tech writer Jonathan Shieber for an enlightening conversation with Microsoft US/Canada startups leader Jim Brisimitzis for a special edition of Series A – The Podcast.

Professor Natarajan detailed LA’s rich past with artificial intelligence, machine learning and the like dating all the way back to the late 40’s, and helped provide context about the myths and realities of AI as it gains popularity and visibility.

Shieber provided an interesting perspective on the wealth of tech talent across Southern California transcending far more than just the entertainment industry, from LA’s rich history with everything from aviation to fashion.

“The fact of the matter is that there is a lot to explore and a lot of rich veins to mine for entrepreneurs and investors that are looking at the Los Angeles ecosystem for growth and returns,” Shieber says.
Guggenheimer outlined Microsoft’s vision for AI and the company’s history dating back more than 25 years in advanced research. But as with the others, he spoke of the reality and practical applications, and where the company sees technology going.

“One of the areas that you’re getting to have a platform layer that’s unique is in AI. So it sits above the cloud or the edge and it gives you unique capabilities, be it cognative services, or conversational user experiences and so that’s an area of focus,” Guggenheimer says.

“My own view is that if you do a good job with AI, people don’t know it’s AI. The products just work better.”

For Luxenberg, he sees the need to leverage AI and other technologies to solve real business problems and bridge the gap between humans and machines to deliver real value today to enterprises, rather than some utopian vision of the future.

“Deep Current is an engineering organization,” he says. “We’re coming in really tactfully looking at how we can solve problems using machine learning technologies is really important because there’s a lot of buzz around automation right now. every single industry, every single business leader wants to do this. And yet the automation solutions that exist can never get past the 70-80% marker because they’re not augmenting processes.”

Join Joel, Guggs, Prem, Jonathan, Jim and producer/correspondent Josh Kerns for a fascinating look at Applied AI and the tech scene in LA in the latest edition of Series A-The Podcast, available now.