Call for Nominations: 2011 Gleitsman International Activist Award

The Gleitsman Program for Leadership in Social Change encourages individual commitment and leadership by recognizing the exceptional achievement of innovators who have sparked positive social change. We seek those individuals whose vision and courage inspire others to join with them in confronting and challenging injustice.

The Gleitsman International Activist Award, was created in 1993 by the late Alan Gleitsman to honor leadership in social activism that has improved the quality of life in countries and inspired others to do the same. The honoree receives $125,000 and a specially commissioned sculpture designed by Maya Lin, the creator of the Vietnam War Memorial. Past honorees have included Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Yunus, activists such as Dr. Jaya Arunachalam and Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, and, most recently, Karen Tse, founder of International Bridges to Justice.

For more information and to download the application materials, visit the Gleitsman Program’s web site.

Virtual Interview with Ijad Madisch of ResearchGate

Ijad Madisch is Co-Founder and CEO of ResearchGate, the largest scientific network online with over 900,000 members. He studied both medicine and computer science at the University of Hannover, Germany where the focus of his doctoral thesis was in the field of virology; specifically, the molecular typing, evolution and gene therapy vector design of adenoviruses. He spent close to two years as a researcher at the Massachusetts General Hospital, a division of Harvard Medical School in Boston where he came up with the idea for ResearchGate in 2005.

What is your elevator pitch?
ResearchGate is a scientific social networking platform which enables over 800,000 researchers and scientists to communicate, collaborate, and educate without geographic or financial boundaries.

Where did the idea for your business come from?
When I was a research fellow at Harvard, I realize how inefficient the scientific process was at the time. I realized that most of the scientific research being conducted by multiple scientists was taking place in a vacuum without data being shared. Additionally, it was difficult to find people with a specific skill set when a problem arose. I knew there had to be a better way. A faster, more efficient way of conducting research.

Why did you decide to start a business?
Finding a better way to conduct scientific research was a huge task but I knew that I could do it. I knew this idea could change the world of science and could end up changing the whole world. I wanted to make something big; I wanted to change the world. I knew that this idea could have a greater impact on the global scientific community more than my then current narrowly focused research fields.

What were the first steps you took to start your venture?
The first step was to talk to my friends (and fellow co-founders), Soeren Hofmayer and Horst Fickenscher, about the idea. Between us, we had enough knowledge to get the site up and running and, after speaking with them, we decided to pursue the idea in the little spare time we had and see how the scientific community would respond and get their feedback. We knew early on that user were not just the key to growing the site with regard to numbers but the feedback we received from them was essential in our ability to tailor the site to the community and make improvements based on the needs of the community.

How did you find your first customers?
Our first customers were ourselves and our scientific networks. If it didn’t work for us, if it didn’t help us in our research, how could we expect others to use it. After using the site for our own work we knew we could present this new method of scientific research to others at universities, conferences, etc. The site was received well at every step of the way and so we not only attracted users at the events but they told their friends about it and they told their friends and so on.

How do you continue to find customers and grow?
We have been able to maintain that kind of referral or viral growth because, as I previously stated, we continue to listen to our users and improve the site based on the needs of the community. Just as in any research collaboration, there must be a symbiotic relationship. Our users continue to contribute to our growth by using the site, referring others, and citing ResearchGate in papers and we must reciprocate by continuing to provide the best tools and listening to users for ways to improve the site and expand the capabilities of the site in order to improve functionality and collaboration.

What was the biggest challenge in starting your business and growing your business?
The biggest challenges we faced in growing the company were visibility, expansion, and continuously upgrading the site. Early on, this was particularly challenging as I was a full time research fellow and was trying to grow the site in my free time. Our users have been a tremendous asset in gaining visibility and we continue to do our best to maintain the trust that they have instilled in us by listening, updating, and improving the site based on their usage and needs. Of course, as the site has grown, the need for a more robust support staff is needed and I have been fortunate to build an amazing staff that understands not only the concept of the site but embraces the primary founding principle that we must listen to our users. Additionally, we continue to work hard to maintain our stance as a free service to the scientific and research community without the hassle of ads being plastered all over the site. Some may see this as a challenge as it limits a revenue stream prominent on other sites which is why I have included it, but, for me, this is essential in meeting the needs of our users.

What do you think are the essential elements to successfully growing a customer base for an innovative product?
Always be listening to your customers, be ready to react, and never settle. Your customers will tell you what they need, where you can improve, and what is already working. By being ready to react to that feedback, and making that part of your company culture, you can address any issues and make improvements quickly and efficiently. This not only improves customer experience and satisfaction but also leads to referrals and growth of your customer base. Finally, along those same lines, never settle. Just because something is working doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. You can’t rely on your customers to catch everything so you must proactively look for ways that improve the current customer experience but also ensure that they will always have a great experience. However, be sure to improve the experience rather than change it.

LIVE WEBINAR: Technology for a Better World – The Power of Design Thinking

Hosted by Youth Venture in partnership with Engineering for Change

Date: Monday, May 2, 2011
Time: 6:00PM-7:30PM EST

Whether you have new ideas on how to use technology to advance social change or you’re well on your way to implementing your own venture, this webinar can help. During this live webinar, you will:

  • Discover the principles of design thinking to better serve your target community
  • Apply design thinking to your Venture
  • Learn how Engineering for Change can benefit your Venture
  • Become inspired by other teams across the country

Hosted in partnership with Engineering for Change, a community of engineers, technologists, and social scientists who are committed to improving quality of life through appropriate technology solutions, you’ll walk away with practical and usable techniques to use right away.

And if you’re thinking about submitting an entry for the Technology for a Better World campaign, this webinar will help you improve your proposal and answer any questions you may have. To learn more about the campaign, visit www.genvcampaigns.org.

REGISTER TODAY! E-mail Melissa Miller at mmiller@youthventure.org with your name, school, team, and preferred e-mail address to RSVP.

Technology for a Better World

Young Inventors International is pleased to be a network partner in Technology for a Better World, an opportunity for fifty teams of young innovators age 13-18 to develop and implement solutions for positive social change. 

Ashoka’s Youth Venture and the Best Buy Children’s Foundation are looking for up to fifty teams to support through a combination of advisory services, seed funding, fundraising tools, webinars, and networking opportunities.  Plus, the top five teams will win exciting grand prizes – trips to Washington D.C. to further develop their ventures at Youth Venture’s headquarters and to be recognized at the Jefferson Awards, meeting prominent politicians and sharing their stories with the media.

Apply by May 9, 2011 in order to be considered for the opportunity to join Youth Venture’s community of more than 4,000 “ventures” – sustainable initiatives, organizations, clubs, or businesses that benefit our community or planet.

Solving three challenges of innovation

One of the challenges for many inventors is identifying the market potential of their idea.  Another challenge is manufacturing their idea.  Perhaps the biggest challenge is distributing and selling their idea.

Check out how Quirky solves all three of these problems by crowdsourcing opinons about new products and helping inventors to get started.  Some of the products developed on the website even sell on HSN!

Virtual Interview with Founder of CyberSynchs

27-year-old Amos Winbush III, founded NYC based CyberSynchs when he lost thousands of files because his smart phone crashed.  When Amos realized that a solution didn’t exist, he set out to build a universal wireless solution that allowed users to back up, manage, and retrieve their mobile content. Amos has since grown the company from a small business operating out of his studio apartment to a disruptive technology valued at $20 mill.

Amos has won several entrepreneurship awards, including Inc. Magazine’s 30 “Under 30 America’s Coolest Young Entrepreneurs,” Entrepreneur Magazine’s “100 Most Brilliant Companies of 2010,” and Black Enterprise Magazine’s “2010 Innovator of the Year.”

What is your elevator pitch?
CyberSynchs is a Universal Data Synchronization (UDS) company that offers $2.99 per month subscription-based wireless applications that enable consumers to automatically synchronize, backup, share, transfer and retrieve mobile device content as well as other consumer electronic device data.

Where did the idea for your business come from?
In 2008, I was pursuing a career as a musician.  I was coming back from a recording session, when I noticed my first generation iPhone was completely black and wouldn’t turn on.  When I realized that no solution existed, I set out to design and build a universal wireless solution that allows users to back up, manage and retrieve their mobile content.

Why did you decide to start a business?
I didn’t have a backup of any of my phone data. From this incident, I saw a simple case of problem and solution. I set about starting a company that could back up an individual’s data on any device, even though I did not have a technical or engineering background. I knew there was a need for my company’s services and that I had the personal drive and ambition to make it happen, despite the many obstacles.

What were the first steps you took to start your venture?
In June 2008 I personally invested $100,000 to get the operation up and running from my studio apartment.  While I possessed no prior entrepreneurial experience, I quickly learned a key tenet to launching and running a successful business: finding and hiring the best people to manage various functions and operations.  I had a chief technology officer in place by August to begin developing and implementing what is now our system.

By November, we had hired a core number of talented, though suddenly out-of-work technicians, quickly forming our in-house application development team.  Soon thereafter, an outside investor acquired 5 percent of CyberSynchs with a $500,000 investment.

How did you find your first customers?
We gained our first customers by reaching out to our local newspaper — The Shreveport Times.  CyberSynchs launched on November 10th and within the first 2 weeks we had 13,000 subscribers.

How do you continue to find customers and grow?
My networking efforts netted our company’s partnership with Sun, a technological and business coup, as this gave us the ability to develop applications on JAVAFX and access the Sun Cloud.  Because Sun distributes CyberSynchs within JAVAFX, the agreement swiftly and exponentially expanded our technology’s market penetration.

Our company’s expanded reach from a strictly mobile-centric to a universal data synchronization company in 2010 was one rung in our step-by-step growth plan, which also includes the licensing of our product to major corporations for integration into their devices.  Most recently, we have developed a new Parental Mode setting that allows parents to closely monitor inappropriate or potentially harmful language on the child’s mobile device.

What was the biggest challenge in starting your business and growing your business?
I started the company during a challenging business environment, right in the midst of the recession in 2008. Founded using only my own savings, I assembled a team that helped build the company into a game-changing firm that lets customers use and own their data in completely new ways. Through perseverance and a commitment to the need for the service, I was able to build the business to where it is today.

I overcame these challenges and achieved success by making several key decisions; I hired the right experts to help me, including a CFO when the company only existed for six months, which is unheard of for startup companies. I also established a working environment where individuals could be comfortable expressing their opinion. Through open dialogue and group thinking, we have been able to expand CyberSynchs into a leader in data synchronization. Finally, my decision to focus on emerging markets and business-to-business helped me gain massive numbers of customers.

What do you think are the essential elements to successfully growing a customer base for an innovative product?
I would say allowing the customer to have some control and providing them with great customer service.  We value our customers and their feedback, and use their input to help develop products that best support their needs. At CyberSynchs we provide real-time, one-on-one customer support for users.  We allow users to own their data in a brand new way. The innovative service allows data to cross platforms and operating systems with ease, releasing it from only one device. The company was founded in order to meet the need of providing a cost-effective method to safeguard personal electronic data through a universal and secure back-up solution. We give control of personal data back to consumers with maximum accessibility, manageability, and control.

Challenges of Regular Blogging

For the first time in 3 years, I’ve been posting to my blog more regularly.  A big motivation for this is the social media course I’m taking at UC Berkeley; the course requires me to maintain a blog and establish a presence on social networks.

While it’s been exciting to see that my blog has a number of readers (yay!), I’m struggling with writing content regularly.  Here are three things that I’ve tried:

1. Creating a calendar of posts over the weekend and writing them on specific days.

2. Compiling a list of regular features (e.g. favorite app of the week, top 5 list, roundup of an event, etc.).

3. Writing posts when I have time and scheduling them to be published at later dates.

Despite these strategies, I find it challenging to find the time to write the posts.  Sometimes, I also struggle for inspiration – how do I balance the need to write with contributing meaningful content for my readers?  And how do I find regular inspiration?

I’d appreciate suggestions or helpful resources on this topic.  I’d love to maintain my blog even after the course ends, if I can find a sustainable way of sharing meaningful information.

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