Welcome to Publicyte!
Publicyte is Microsoft’s corporate blog where technology, entrepreneurial principles, and pop culture inform us about innovation in the public sector and civic progress.
Publicyte is published by the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation in Washington, DC. Our goal is to provide inspiring opinion and commentary about how the entrepreneurial spirit of America is changing government, politics, education, health, and the not-for-profit space. We’re tech-savvy but our material is written for a general audience. We hope to inspire the next generation of American entrepreneurs, makers, thinkers, and creatives to leverage innovation to change our country for the better.
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Typically, when you see a story in the mainstream media about innovators, entrepreneurs, and thinkers, it's about someone on the east or west coast, and within that in a few cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. But the April 2012 issue of Details magazine (of all places) has an outstanding story about innovation in the Rust Belt of America - Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan,and the like. Former industrial cities that "made stuff" now have a new generation of mavericks making different kinds of stuff,as it happens.
Article co-author Jesse Ashlock recently appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe. To lead in, he writes,
Maybe it hit you this past Super Bowl when you saw Clint Eastwood's rousing, Chrysler-sponsored paean to the resilience of Detroit: Motown's rebirth has become a metaphor for red, white, and blue fortitude in the face of adversity. But the Motor City is just he buckle on the Rust Belt, an entire region whose name speaks of decline and decay but which is now determinedly -- and definitively -- finding its way forward. In fact, while the rest of America has staggered under the weight of the Great Recession, the innovators, entrepreneurs, thinkers, and doers in cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Youngstown have raced out ahead, leading a heartland renaissance whose effects are being felt from coast to coast.
As co-host Mika Brzezinski said, "Now I'm inspired!"
There are stories about new methods of manufacturing enabling new fashion lines to be made entirely in the midwest, a former male model who bought a factory in Ohio and turned it into an entrepreneur's coworking space, new local microbrews from Cleveland, and Pittsburgh's Sam Franklin, the executive director of the Office of Teacher Effectiveness (backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).
Really, you should buy the April 2012 Details issue to get the full story and the great pictures, or check out this sneak peak online.
In his Morning Joe interview, Ashlock mentioned the old saying, "As Ohio goes, so goes the nation." Let's hope that the spirit of innovation and creativity in the Rust Belt is infectious in Clint Eastwood's "second half of America."
Image of Detroit's Corktown neighborhood from Details.
While nearly all aspects of modern life are being influenced by technology, the computer science industry has a dirty little secret. Despite the fact that computer science majors end up with higher lifetime earnings than just about any other major, remarkably few people actually major in computer science.
In numbers: There's about a million computer specialist jobs out there, but only about 12,000 U.S. computer science graduates a year. It doesn't take a CS degree to figure out this math -- the U.S. can't meet its own demand for technological experts to actually do the important work that is innovating so much in society. That has numerous implications for American education and our global competitiveness.
Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or TEALS, is a new Microsoft program that has been successfully piloted in the Seattle / Puget Sound area. In brief, computer science professionals (developers or other full-time employed people who can program Java, etc.) donate 2-4 mornings a week as adjunct high school teachers and make first period a computer science class in schools that don't have CS education.
TEALS teachers supplement what's already happening in schools, are treated like real adjunct instructors, and even get paid a small stipend -- but money and resume building isn't the biggest reason people have been volunteering their time for TEALS in Seattle.
Microsoft's Kevin Wang is shepherding the TEALS program and he recently visited Washington,DC and northern VA to meet with schools and geeks to look at piloting the program in schools there. While he was in town,he did a nice interview with InTheCapital, where he describes more of the history of TEALS, some of the goals, and how you can get involved if you live near Seattle or DC.
Pics from 1up and Casper College.
This is a guest post by Deanna Pogorelc, a staff writer for MedCityNews, where this article originally appeared. Reprinted with permission.
In the midst of a good deal of discussion about incubators, a new health and wellness tech incubator has launched in New York.
Rather than focusing on traditional medical and healthcare devices and drugs, WellTech Funding is targeting “bold and buildable” companies that tackle unsolved problems in the $2 trillion consumer health and wellness market, according to its website. It’s providing startups with $50,000 in seed money and resources that include office space, networking, mentoring and marketing support for six months.
Although it will consider companies at various stages of development, WellTech says the most attractive candidates are those that are more than an idea — say, those with an operating website and some revenue.
It’s already brought on two companies: FITiST and Wizpert. FITiST enables fitness enthusiasts to book classes and manage their fitness schedules in one place and provides a black book of fitness, wellness and beauty services in New York and Los Angeles. Wizpert, with an iPhone app to be released next month,connects advice seekers with experts in fields from nutrition to parenting.
The incubator is backed by Jubilee Investments,the venture firm led by its founder Pete Ellis, who is also the CEO of SpaFinder.com.
How much equity WellTech asks for in exchange for the $50,000 seed investment wasn’t disclosed, but the incubator’s website notes that it will ask for the right to participate in future rounds of third-party financing, including the right to purchase up to 20 percent of future rounds. It will also request that SpaFinder.com be able to use the developed products if applicable.
WellTech has room to incubate up to 10 companies each year. It offers a more sizable initial investment than established New York health IT accelerator Blueprint Health, but seems to have a more specific consumer niche. It may also face competition from Startup Health Academy, a free, long-term educational and mentorship program for life science companies.
Images from Scoop.it.
Most people still approach their time spent in college in a traditional way: Try to get into the best one you can, take what you think are useful classes and get good grades, and when you get close to graduation look for a "good job." But some of the most famous people we know -- Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg -- created their own jobs while they were in college (and dropped out).
In the movie The Social Network, the fictional president of Harvard, Larry Summers, famously tells the Winklevoss twins, "Harvard students believe that creating a job is better than finding a job." (It's probably no coincidence that Gates and Zuckerberg both went to Harvard.)
But there's no need to drop out of school just because you're in college and have a little entrepreneurial spirit. Microsoft and Facebook are the exceptions to the rule, in the grand scheme of things. Yet there are many college startups doing just fine. At the least, founding or co-founding one's own company is an invaluable life experience to have, even if it ultimately fails. At the most,something you start in college may be the foundation for what you do after you graduate.
Colleges are even promoting entrepreneurship. For example,the University of Maryland's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business is hosting their annual Entrepreneurship Invitational on Friday, March 30th. The governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, will keynote, and Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, the founder of the Invitational (in 2006), will speak and judge.
Five finalist startups -- Route One Apparel (t-shirts), Visionics (3D art for music), Reed Street Productions (real-life gaming), 10G systems (software services), and Food Safety Administration (restaurant training) -- will pitch their businesses and compete for $25,000 in prizes. Hussein Hammouda of UMASS-Amherst has a nice writeup of these blossoming companies at College Magazine.
What's interesting to me is that in an environment where seemingly every startup, incubator, and accelerator you read about in high-profile places is focused on consumer technology/software/Web apps, these University of Maryland startups are actually pretty diverse, ranging from IT to adventure gaming to entertainment hi-tech.
What a relief that the next generation of startup entrepreneurs is getting creative about their future.
Learn more about the Entrepreneurship Invitational here.
Photo from University of Maryland.
In the media, we mostly read about how gaming is damaging how students learn and pay attention, how the cloud is mainly useful for things like movies and music, and how smartphones are useful for playing games like Angry Birds. But the reality is that while many new innovations can be used for fun or trivial purposes, they also in many cases have a large relevance to the public sector and civic services ranging among everything from the DMV to law enforcement to charter schools to doctors performing surgery to military rehab after severe injury. Yet, in the context of a digital divide, these advances are in many cases only available to some.
Microsoft is deeply involved in such issues, from an R&D level (things we research) to a product level (things we sell) to a policy level (things we promote or support). How are video games and other advances innovating the public sector and the next generation of students and citizens? Read more below.
Gamification of the public sector
Technology that once seemed somewhat futuristic -- hundreds of thousands of free or cheap apps for mobile devices (including cars!), nearly ubiquitous wi-fi connections, unlimited cloud storage, peer-to-peer sharing in all forms,devices like Kinect that see and hear you -- is now here,and improving all the time. The new HTC Windows Phone 7 that I bought just a year ago now has an outdated operating system that I haven't upgraded, seems clunky and heavy, and is a boring black color; the new Nokia 900 series phones will be out in less than a month. I use apps to order Town Cars, I use Kinect to get fit, and I use the cloud to store things I need when I'm traveling.
This is all interesting for personal reasons, but the bigger challenge I and Microsoft are interested in is applying this to the public and civic sectors. How will these technologies influence, evolve, and innovate the business of government, from local to national and international levels? How could it make classrooms more engaging for students of all skill levels? And can you imagine how people could use such technologies to proactively stay more fit and monitor their health (and then communicate that data to healthcare professionals from afar)?
As Microsoft's "Dr. Bill" (AKA Bill Crounse, MD, our Senior Director of Global Health) wrote in a post on the Microsoft in Health blog recently,
Mason General Hospital, a small Washington community, built an online portal where patients can clarify and reinforce information discussed during appointments, learn about their role in their care, and contribute to their own care. Even older patients who find technology initially threatening engage in the portal after attending workshops in its use. Programs like this one and London’s UCL Institute of Child Health’s diabetes monitoring program for youth are one way doctors and medical facilities are helping to grow patient knowledge about and engagement with disease management and healthy lifestyles.
Sig Behrens, Microsoft U.S. Education General Manager, writes something similar on the Microsoft in Education blog, specifically about the blurring of the lines between work and play,
I expect to see more mechanics of gaming brought into educational content. In the online games that many kids play daily, they are incrementally rewarded as they achieve new levels, socially rewarded by their collaboration and interaction with other gamers, and “epically” rewarded when they master the goal of the game. Content creators are likely to apply those same techniques to educational games and content mastery.
Some of the most exciting growth will be in active learning using tools like Microsoft Kinect that blur the line between learning and play. Games like Microsoft Kinect’s Brain and Body Connection are making learning more fun for today’s kids, while adding a physical dimension. Computer science teachers, such as Lou Zulli Jr. in Florida, are using Kinect to inspire learning and student collaboration. Lou says that student interest in STEM has increased by 1000% and he has so much demand to get into his classes because the kids are excited about developing educational games using Kinect. Other schools like Lakeside Autism Center for Autism are using Kinect to engage special needs students. We’re seeing only the tip of the innovation iceberg in engaging educational content.
Innovative technology for government, education, and health isn't just the domain of big companies like Microsoft; it's also fueling ideas in the small startup community. Take new company Keas for example (which happens to be founded by a veteran of Microsoft and Google) -- their social gaming app for wellness large organizations is attempting to gamify health and make even mundane things like eating your vegetables fun. And of course there is the ubiquitous drumbeat of how social gaming giant Foursquare is "changing the world."
But none of this matters if one doesn't have access to the latest tools. All of this discussion takes place within the context of the digital divide. Without access to the latest technological advances, citizens, students, doctors, patients, and more cannot take advantage of gamification or other things. Sig further writes,
We’re on the way to expanded digital access, the first step in closing the digital divide. As we approach widespread and consistent connectivity, expect to see a renaissance in digital educational content and technology. In the not-so-distant future, I expect to see technology play a greater and greater role in the education and training that prepares young Americans for the careers of the future and inspires them to become the innovators of tomorrow. We’ll be following those stories as they develop…stay tuned.
Creating the economy of the future
Making education and the public and civic sectors more engaging is part of a larger conversation about the future of American competitiveness. Microsoft and like-minded companies have a large stake in a strong U.S. workforce and economy for a multitude of reasons. And the startup community is critical too. As AOL co-founder Steve Case recently pointed out at an Entreprelooza! event in Washington, DC, a huge number of new jobs are created by relatively new companies that gain investment / go public and then hire more people to expand, so it's important to nurture nacent ideas and create conditions which promote innovation, and thus get people new skills and create new jobs and ultimately, create the next generation of innovations.
Fred Humphries, the VP of Government Affairs for Microsoft, recently noted,
As our country continues to rebound from the global economic crisis, more and more attention is being paid to our future – and in particular the future of the next generation. Will they have the tools and resources they need to succeed in a 21st century economy?
The challenges facing youth vary from community to community, but a fundamental challenge is emerging across the world. While some young people are thriving and succeeding in the classroom and out, others are struggling because they lack the education, skills or opportunities they need to succeed...
Microsoft addresses these challenges through a variety of programs geared toward preparing young people for the future. For example, last year we trained more than 360,000 students worldwide in technology and job skills through Microsoft Students to Business, which connects students with Microsoft partner companies. Microsoft also provides IT training through our Partners in Learning program. Since 2003, we have reached nearly 210 million students and teachers in 114 countries and regions. By 2013, we plan to have invested $500 million in the program, and to have reached 250 million students.
In this vein, tomorrow The Atlantic is hosting an event in Washington, DC about what it will take to educate the next generation of Americans to create the "economy of the future." This Jobs & Economy of the Future Town Hall will feature an interview with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a conversation with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), along with an expert panel discussion on re-thinking higher education. The event, which you can watch online here, will explore the ideas, efforts, and policies underway to provide students with the skills necessary to keep America competitive and enhance economic opportunities for tomorrow’s workforce.
At the event, William Reese, President and CEO of the International Youth Foundation, will also unveil a new report on this topic. In addition to watching the live stream, you can follow and join the conversation online by following @Atlantic_LIVE and using the hashtag #FutureEd.
Image from Fortune.
Guest post by Stephanie Baum, the Philadelphia Bureau Chief for MedCityNews.com, where this article originally appeared. Reprinted with permission.
A university is offering early stage companies from its academic community office space in an incubator as the institution doubles its technology transfer office staff.
Philadelphia-based Temple University has opened an office in the University City Science Center that serves as an incubator for many life science and technology companies. So far, it is negotiating with two startup companies for office space: a nanotechnology company, Pure Nano, and a cancer therapeutics business.
Stephen Nappi, director of technology transfer and commercialization operations, declined to say how many companies it’s seeking, but said it would be “a flexible office space” and “the university has a pipeline of potential companies that it would see as a good fit for the space.”
He added that in exchange for using the office space, startup companies would have an extra fee added to their licensing agreements with the technology transfer office, depending on how frequently they use the space. “This is really an ideal environment for these companies to thrive,” Nappi said.
Nappi added: “More universities are certainly moving in the direction to better support the commercialization of their discoveries and that includes incubation space for any spin-out companies to establish and grow.”
The technology transfer office revenue has grown in the past two years from $300,000 in 2009 to $2.5 million in 2011,said Nappi. Last year,it signed 25 licensing agreements led by two key deals — one for cancer therapeutics and the other in the oil and gas industry. Nappi attributed the growth to increases in new discoveries coming into the technology transfer office and the university increasing its capabilities to develop and make the technology more attractive through proof-of-concept mechanisms.
Temple just hired a technology commercialization staffer and will add another one in the next two months, which will bring the technology transfer office to a staff of four.
Recently, I wrote about the trials and tribulations of social networks focused on scientific researchers. I painted a fairly dim picture. Some people disagreed with me at the Huffington Post and other places. Nevertheless, it is clear that there are those in the scientific community who are interested in disruptive innovation within a somewhat traditional and reclusive community.
Here's another example of such innovation happening. Petridish.org is a new Web platform that empowers users to explore the world around them by participating in funding scientific research projects. Not unlike the well-known Kickstarter, the project owners set a minimum about of dollars that need to be pledged for the project to happen, and a deadline to achieve that goal. Pledges can go above that goal, but if they fall below the goal by the deadline the entire project basically doesn't happen.
Similar to what you may be used to seeing during a public television station pledge drive, there are different incentives offered by the researchers for different levels of pledges, too.
Getting citizens to care about your infectious passion for ants
Let's explain how this works by way of an example. I'm a former insect biologist myself, so I have a certain weakness for things like flies, bees, and ants. Here's a project from Petridish.org all about ants: New Species of Ants in Madagascar,submitted by Brian Fisher,an entomologist at the California Academy of Sciences with an "infectious passion for ants." There's a video in the previous weblink, and here's part of the project description:
Deep in the tropical forests of Madagascar, a France-sized island teeming with strange creatures, ants glue together the richest of ecosystems. The tiny insects are armed to protect their homes with bites, stings, acid sprays and even strangling. Yet their real war against human encroachment is failing -- only 10 percent of Madagascar’s natural habitat remains.
To save Madagascar’s forests, researchers need to know what’s in them.
I'm Brian Fisher, a conservationist with the California Academy of Sciences, and I'm ready to hop in a raft, navigate a wild uncharted river and scale treacherous cliffs with a team of extreme sports professionals as guides.
It’s not about bragging rights, however -- it’s a race against time.
Very dramatic! This sounds like a pretty decent movie description. In all seriousness though, in my experience a lot of researchers are not able to describe what they do to average people very well, never mind enhance their factual descriptions with colorful language. Granted, hunting for ants in a tropical forest is a little more exotic than your average research project, but that's besides the point.
Where will my money go?
Without discovering what Kasijy harbors it’s tough to convince locals -- and the rest of the world -- that it and other Madagascar wilderness is worth preserving. For now it’s a forest begging to be turned into firewood and grassland.
My expedition aims to:
But the logistics of five inflatable rafts, provisions, a small team of scientists and professional guides won’t pay for itself. To enable the whirlwind expedition, I'll need $10,000. Another $10,000 would help support laboratory work, including the identification, description and publication of new species, and the training of local Malagasy scientists to do such work and become local stewards of their wilderness.
But hey - what do I get out of my donation?? Here's some incentives:
Pretty cool stuff, and reasonable for the research team to provide as well. Imagine this as potential birthday or holiday gifts for sons or daughters or nieces or nephews interested in science. And this is just one project on Petridish.
What's the current status of Brian Fisher's project? They have $7,901 out of $10,000 needed with about 24 days to go at time of writing.
Why is this innovation coming from the private sector?
In the U.S, the federal government - mainly via the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Departments of Energy and Defense - is the largest funding resource for academic science research like what's described above with ants in Madagascar. Despite the relatively specialized nature of such research, there are nevertheless thousands and thousands of such projects just within the U.S., dreamt up by undergrads, grad students, postdocs, part-time and teaching faculty, and more senior full-time research professors and senior research scientists. Most of them do not get funded, because of the relative limits of government funds and the stiff competition.
And a lot of the research (like the ants of Madagascar) will not be funded by corporations because the work isn't applied enough. Sure, sure, the research could turn out something akin to Sean Connery's work in Medicine Man -- but more than likely not. Drug companies and similar organizations gamble, but usually at a more applied stage, not for the more basic levels of academic research.
What we have in America is a system by which many graduate students achieve their Ph.D.'s and often can secure a postdoctoral fellowship, but then are not able to then move to the next level with a tenured professorship and federal grant money. The reason? There are quite a few reasons. Some are practical - obviously, a given university has limited office and lab space so they can't hire indefinite numbers of professors, no matter how good they are. Another practical reason is that some people, despite having a doctoral degree and some experience, are simply not cut out for being a tenured professor. But another huge reason is that significant research universities largely rely on professors to "pay their own way" via grants that fund research and from which schools can take a percentage for "indirect costs" like infrastructure (mail, lights, heat, electricity...).
Fair enough. There is a place for this system. But for the B+ and A- researchers (if you will) who have great ideas but for whatever disadvantages are not in the top tier of people who are getting large grants and landing top professorships, is there no alternative?
Companies like Fundageek and Petridish seem to have come up with one. Now anyone - a smart high school student, a part-time high school science teacher, an overly ambitious grad student at Harvard, anyone - can write some convincing text, have some amazing photo and video collateral, and pitch an idea and make their project come to life through a great crowdsourcing platform.
But why are private companies like Petridish and Fundageek providing platforms for this, but agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation aren't? Promoting and funding innovative projects which help America in some way seems like something the scientific and technically oriented arms of the U.S. government should be involved with. Perhaps there are some legal or other reasons why say the NIH can't run a crowdsourcing platform on a .gov website; I'd be curious to hear those facts/arguments. But perhaps government agencies should approach Petridish and Fundageek and others and find a way to build a public-private partnership which helps everyone - government, private sector, and academia - involved?
About seven years ago or so, the NIH started requiring two abstracts for submitted research grants - one technical and one that could be understood by general audiences. At the time, I thought this was a great thing. Maybe something like what Petridish is doing with an array of videos, photos, text, and a way for citizens to participate is the next step for government support of scientific research. Of course, there will always be a role for direct government funding via grants; but might crowdsourcing not be a way to supplement the funding of great ideas, or alternatively fund "honorable mention" projects which show promise but don't make the cut for full government funding yet?
This week, a group of Senators introduced the CROWD FUND act, which would allow small companies and individual entrepreneurs to raise up to $1 million a year by making their case directly to investors via "crowdsourcing" -- perhaps this is the wave of the future?
All images from Petridish.