Sydney startup Qwilr has raised $500,000 from the Sydney Seed Fund and Macdoch Ventures to reinvent document software. Co-founder Mark Tanner says documents haven’t changed in a very long time, whether it be Microsoft Office or Google Docs, or PDFs. “They’re still just A4 pieces of paper that are very static and quite deliberately unintelligent,” he says. “Qwilr wants to be halfway between word documents and PDFs, and tools like Squarespace and Weebly.” Tanner says Qwilr will unlock the “full power of the web” for documents. That includes everything from embeddable video and audio, and importantly, analytics. “Everyone just expects basic analytics (online), but documents today, you have no idea what’s happening to them,” Tanner says. “You could send out three quotes this week, or an invite to a party, and see it has been viewed this many times, this particular client didn’t even open the document. It would change the way you write to them, how you view the client and your interactions with them.” Tanner returned to Australia after working in New York for Google to start work on Qwilr with co-founder Dylan Baskind. Baskind came up with the idea while working as a freelance artist, designer and engineer. When freelancing he was competing against larger firms, and built Qwilr as a means to help his proposals stand out from the pack. “Often a freelancer or agency will spend hours and hours on a proposal, only to dump it into a text-heavy, long, ugly document,” Tanner says. “With Qwilr, that same proposal can look stunning, be done dramatically faster and include all kinds of images including pictures, photos, gifs and videos. In addition Qwilr pages have analytics running in the background so you can track how many times your proposal was opened (if at all!) and which sections your clients cared about the most.” Users can sign up and create Qwilr documents for free, and can upgrade to a $29, or $89 monthly subscriptions for access to features like advanced analytics and password or time limited security. Tanner wouldn’t say exactly how many users have signed up, or how many are paying for the premium products, but says it has “thousands of users” in over 30 countries. “The big thing for us is it has been global from day one. We’ve had to deal with right to left writing styles, things you don’t think about initially. And the real metric is there are tens of thousands od documents that have been made on Qwilr,” he says. “At the moment, a reasonable amount of people, freelancers and digital agencies, they’re converting really quickly, because they’re seeing the value. At the moment we’re very happy rate, and while it’s a starting number, we are very happy.” Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Bill Shorten’s recent announcement that, if elected, a Labor Government would “ensure that computer coding is taught in every primary and secondary school in Australia” has brought attention to an increasing world trend. Estonia introduced coding in primary schools in 2012 and the UK followed suit last year. US-led initiatives such as Code.org and the “Hour of Code”, supported by organisations such as Google and Microsoft, advocate that every school student should have the opportunity to learn computer coding. There is merit in school students learning coding. We live in a digital world where computer programs underlie everything from business, marketing, aviation, science and medicine, to name several disciplines. During a recent presentation at a radio station, one of our hosts said that IT would have been better background for his career in radio than journalism. There is also a strong case to be made that Australia’s future prosperity will depend on delivering advanced services and digital technology, and that programming will be essential to this end. Computer programs and software are known to be a strong driver of productivity improvements in many fields. Being introduced to coding gives students an appreciation of what can be built with technology. We are surrounded by devices controlled by computers. Understanding how they work, and imagining new devices and services, are enhanced by understanding coding. Of course, not everyone taught coding will become a coder or have a career in information technology. Art is taught in schools with no expectation that the students should become artists. Drag and drop A computer program is effectively a means of automating processes. Programs systematically and reliably follow processes and can be used to exhaustively try all the possibilities. The languages used to program computers have evolved in the 70 years we have been building computers. Interfaces and programming environments have become more natural and intuitive. Language features reflect the applications they’re used for. What is needed to easily express a business process, scientific equation, or data analysis technique is not necessarily the same as what is needed to rapidly develop a video game. However, throughout the evolution of programming languages, the fundamental principles have remained the same. Computer programming languages express three essential things: The order in which a sequence of instructions is performed A means of repeating a sequence of instructions a prescribed number of times And tests as to whether or not a sequence of instructions is performed. While personal preference influences which computer language a programmer uses, there is a greater understanding of which languages work well for teaching introductory programming. For example, Scratch is popular for primary school students and is quick to learn. Alice has been used to help students quickly build computer animations. Python is increasingly used for scientific applications. Visual programming languages – where students can drag-and-drop icons rather than type code – allow for rapid development of simple programs. At Swinburne University of Technology we run workshops to introduce school students to program NAO robots. Students use the Choregraphe environment to link robot actions from a library. Students previously unused to programming can develop interesting robot projects in a couple of days. More sophisticated development of the robot requires students to use a more detail-oriented language, such as Python or C++. The simpler options lead to positive student experience. Computational thinking Writing and then executing a program gives immediate feedback as to whether you have correctly expressed instructions for the computer. Ultimately, the understanding of how to express concepts so that a computer can perform tasks accurately and efficiently is far more important than the details of the programming language. Underlying all computer programs are algorithms, which specify in a more abstract way how a task is to be done. Algorithmic thinking – also called computational thinking – underlies computer science, and there has been a growing movement on algorithmic thinking in schools. The new national curriculum reflects algorithmic processes, and materials are being developed to help teachers with the new curriculum. Victoria has recently developed a new subject for the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) entitled Algorithmics. There are even materials for teaching algorithmic thinking without computers. The Computer Science Unplugged movement, led by Tim Bell and colleagues at the University of Canterbury, has developed resources that teach students concepts through movement and fun activities. Teaching for the this century Teaching computer coding in schools is very different from initiatives that advocate for computers in the classroom. I was not, and am still not, supportive of compulsory laptop programs in schools. The idea is not necessarily to expose students to the technology itself, which is almost inevitable these days with the wide penetration of mobile phones. Rather, students are exposed to the skills needed to develop computer applications. While IT skill shortages is a contentious topic, there is no doubt that not enough of the best and brightest are studying computer science at university. A significant factor is insufficient exposure to the topic at schools. Teaching coding at schools is aimed at addressing the lack. It might be said that whatever programming language is taught will be obsolete by the time the students enter the workforce. My experience is that, if taught properly, students can rapidly transfer the principles of one language to another. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the challenge was to understand the physical world, and harness force and energy. This understanding percolated into the school curriculum. In the 21st century, the challenge is to understand and harness data, information and knowledge. Computer programming is a necessary way of introducing students to these concepts. Leon Sterling is Pro Vice Chancellor Digital Frontiers at Swinburne University of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Jokes about scientists, an explanation about how statistics can be manipulated and arguments about the sustainability of eating meat are just some of the topics on Bill Gates’ reading list this American summer. The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft puts out a list of book recommendations this time each year and his endorsements usually carry weight: the books climb up the bestseller charts as soon as Gates spruiks them on his personal blog. This summer Gates has picked seven holiday reads, making an effort to “pick a few more things that are on the lighter side” compared to last year. “Each of these books made me think or laugh or, in some cases, do both,” Gates says. Here’s Gates’ annual summer reading list: How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff Gates has already made it known how much he likes this book for investors, having recommended it to everyone at TED earlier this year. Huff’s book for investors was first published in 1954 but Gates says apart from a couple of examples that are no longer relevant, he says the book “doesn’t feel dated”. “One chapter shows you how visuals can be used to exaggerate trends and give distorted comparisons—a timely reminder, given how often infographics show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds these days,” Gates says. “[This books is] a useful introduction to the use of statistics and a helpful refresher for anyone who is already well versed in it.” Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh Gates promises readers will “rip through” this book in just a few hours, “but you’ll wish it went on longer because it’s funny and smart as hell”. The book is based on Allie Brosh’s popular Hyperbole and a Half blog, which is part-comic and part-memoir, told in short vignettes about her life. “The adventures [Brosh] recounts are mostly inside her head, where we hear and see the kind of inner thoughts most of us are too timid to let out in public,” Gates says. “I have interrupted Melinda a dozen times to read to her passages that made me laugh out loud.” The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins Gates says Richard Dawkins has “a gift for making science enjoyable”. Gates describes Dawkins’ book as “an engaging, well-illustrated science textbook offering compelling answers to big questions, like ‘how did the universe form?’ and ‘what causes earthquakes?’”. “This book is as accessible as the TV series Cosmos is for younger audiences—and as relevant for older audiences,” Gates says. “It’s also a plea for readers of all ages to approach mysteries with rigor and curiosity.” “Dawkins’ antagonistic (and, to me, overzealous) view of religion has earned him a lot of angry critics, but I consider him to be one of the great scientific writer/explainers of all time.” What if? and XKCD by Randall Munroe Gates has included two books by Randall Munroe on this year’s reading list: What If? is full of Munroe’s answers to “absurd hypothetical questions” from all fields of science and XKCD is a collection of cartoons that poke fun at scientists and computers. In What If? Gates says Munroe provides funny answers to the questions, but “the science underpinning his answers is very accurate”. “It’s an entertaining read, and you’ll also learn a bit about things like ballistics, DNA, the oceans, the atmosphere and lightning along the way,” he says. When it comes to the jokes in XKCD, Gates says not everyone will love Munroe’s sense of humour, but he definitely does. On Immunity by Eula Biss Gates says he thought this book from Eula Biss would be a worthwhile read but he had “no idea what a pleasure reading it would be”. “Biss, an essayist and university lecturer, examines what lies behind people’s fears of vaccinating their children,” Gates explains. “Like many of us, she concludes that vaccines are safe, effective and almost miraculous tools for protecting children against needless suffering. But she is not out to demonise anyone who holds opposing views.” “This is a thoughtful and beautifully written book about a very important topic.” Should We Eat Meat? by Vaclav Smil Gates admits this book is “probably the least beach-friendly” book on his list but says it is a “timely” read. “The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats. And the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet,” Gates says. “How do we square the circle? Vaclav Smil takes his usual clear-eyed view of the whole landscape, from meat’s role in human evolution to hard questions about animal cruelty.” This article was originally published at SmartCompany.
An innovative augmented reality app called Arboretum, which overlays location-aware soundscapes over the National Arboretum, has been named as one of the joint winners of NICTA’s Digital Canberra Challenge. The ARboretum app was created by APositive, a digital design studio focused on augmented reality experience design. It shares the $12,500 prize with Link Digital, which created a whole of government open data repository for Canberra images and videos that will be opened up to the public. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr presented the prize to APositive at the DCC Awards Day and Innovator Showcase at the National Gallery of Australia. APositive chief executive Amber Standley told StartupSmart the app charts your location in the National Arboretum and plays wild sounds native to the country of origin of nearby trees. So, for example, standing near a cedar will produce a Himalayan soundscape, while cork oaks trigger a Portuguese soundscape. “The brief for the Canberra Challenge was to create a digital art installation, and it was a fairly open brief. A few years earlier, we had the idea of creating a geolocation app for the arboretum,” Standley says. “We really felt we didn’t need to overlay visuals in the Arboretum, as it is already very visually rich. But there is a lack of sound compared to what you would find in a real forest, especially with the noise from the Tuggeranong Parkway and other visitors.” The sound library the app draws on was created by a professional sound designer. It uses mini soundscapes within larger ones that change randomly, giving each visitor a unique experience. The app also allows users to immediately access information about specific trees, their origins and significance. ARboretum from Amber Standley on Vimeo. “We’ve been around officially for two years, and for a year before that as a sole trader. I originally studied for a masters in digital design. I moved into a research cluster where we were bombarded with requests about augmented reality, and eventually turned it into a commercial venture. “We offer custom augmented reality apps, AR experience design and AR Design Thinking workshops to help our clients grasp this new technology and solve problems using AR. We provide AR services to government, art galleries, heritage, small and large businesses,” Standley says. Standley says APositive has worked with businesses on marketing collateral, including overlaying data over signage, posters and digital exhibits. But its projects have also included recreating an 18-pound gun for a World War I exhibition and working with television personality Wil Anderson and a green screen to create a moving artwork. Standley says augmented reality glasses, such as Microsoft’s Hololens, are set to lead to a boom in the augmented reality sector over the coming years. “I am looking forward to the time when wearables like Microsoft Hololens and Meta’s glasses are more mainstream. These devices will allow us to interact with data in a more natural and social way,” Standley says. “We can use our hands again, look ahead not down and share experiences with our peers more freely. Augmented reality will be the interface in which we interact with the data served on these devices.” Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Uber will have to defend itself against a lawsuit which claims the company is discriminating against the blind by refusing to transport guide dogs. A San Jose court has ruled the plaintiffs in the case can pursue their claims because Uber is a travel service and therefore subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Aaron Zisser, a lawyer for a disability rights group who helped bring the case to court, told Reuters the plaintiffs were pleased with the decision. “Uber is a very popular service, and it is important for riders with service animals to be able to use it like anyone else,” he said. Guess who’s back – back again Nokia is quietly planning to return to the phone market in 2016, Re/code reports. The Finnish company – which was a household name due to its popular mobile phones during the 90s and early 2000s – is also planning to explore the virtual reality market according to insiders. Microsoft finalised a takeover of Nokia’s devices and services business in April 2014 worth more than $7 billion. Nokia is prevented from selling phones under its name until the end of this year. You can now message someone who doesn’t follow you on Twitter Twitter is now allowing users to private message people who don’t follow them. “We hope these changes help you connect more easily – and directly – on Twitter with the people, causes and businesses you care about most,” the company says. “If you do receive a Direct Message from someone you don’t want to privately converse with, you can still take steps to stop them.” The updates are rolling out worldwide from today and require users to change their settings before strangers are able to message them. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 279.47 points, falling 1.54% to 17,826.30. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 78 US cents. Do you know more on this story or have a tip of your own? Raising capital or launching a startup? Let us know. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
On one level, the European Commission’s argument with Google is unsurprising. The EC’s commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager’s job is to investigate possible breaches of EU competition law. That is exactly what she is doing with her official complaints against Google’s use of its Google Shopping service. Equally unsurprising, is the investigation of Google’s other possible breaches of its monopoly position with how it controls the use of its mobile operating system, Android. One should also set aside the melodrama that accompanies such cases. News reports of the case have highlighted calls for the break up of Google as suggested by the European Parliament last year. The reports have also focused on the possible massive Euro 6 billion fine Google faces if the antitrust complaints are upheld. Finally, there is the fact that the case is the result of a conspiracy of competitors, led by Microsoft. All of the drama however, masks what is going to be a protracted process that could take years, during which time the entire landscape that is being fought over could have changed, not once, but several times. Google themselves were at pains to respond to the accusations that they were harming consumers by pointing out that search was quickly being superseded, and that: “People are increasingly using social sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter to find recommendations, such as where to eat, which movies to watch or how to decorate their homes” Whilst it may be true that Google has a monopoly on search of the Internet as a whole, that is certainly not the case when it comes to the “social web” which is well and truly dominated by Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others. Likewise, Google may have dominated advertising on the desktop but that is increasingly not the case on mobile. Law and trade policy operate on timescales that are always going to significantly lag technological change. As if understanding the full impact of an existing technology on consumers and competition was already not challenging enough, attempting to do this in the context of what will happen in even a few years is almost impossible. In fact, even determining monopoly in a technological market is not always straightforward. For example, even though Android controls over 80% of the world’s smartphone market compared to Apple’s share of 15%, in terms of mobile e-commerce, users of Apple’s mobile devices account for 5 times the value of Android users. For all of the EC’s past actions against Microsoft, they were irrelevant in shaping what eventually happened in the market. The actions had no effect on Microsoft’s behaviours, and came as little-to-no benefit to consumers. As with the EC’s complaint against Android, the fact that software comes pre-installed does nothing to preclude a consumer’s ability to run alternative software. The EC’s objections against Google again raises the more general issue that it is a futile exercise to use antitrust law to retrospectively try and influence the way the technology companies, and the digital economy as a whole, work. As with copyright and patents, the law has simply not been able to adapt and keep pace with the disruptive change brought about by technology and society at a global scale. It has led policy and law makers, and companies not wanting to adapt to change, to focus on the past and act as a break, rather than an enabler, of progress. It would be a far better use of the EC’s time and resources if their energies were spent creating policy that enabled the digital economy that they profess to want rather than keeping their vision of it restricted to a time that has long since passed. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Mobile annotation software startup and Startmate graduate Drawboard will see a huge jump in users after Microsoft announced its software will be pre-installed on every Surface 3. Alistair Michener, founder and chief executive officer of the Melbourne-based startup, says Microsoft’s announcement gives the Drawboard team a lot of confidence that they’re on the right track. The startup’s software Drawboard PDF has regularly featured in the top 10 apps of the Windows Store’s paid category across the world over the past six to 12 months. Michener, says Microsoft has given him no indication of how many Surface 3 units it believe it will sell, but he expects that number to be greater than 10 million. He won’t disclose how many downloads Drawboard PDF has had to date, but says once Surface 3 launches, the number of people using its product will be far greater than its current figure. “It will be great to get that amount of eyeballs on our application. So obviously that dwarfs the number of users we currently have,” he says. “We’ll have to think about changes in support methods and also how we react to feature requests. Obviously we’ve got our own vision for Drawboard in the engineering and construction markets but there will be those out there in the masses that require something else.” Michener says while the Windows App ecosystem is nowhere near as big as Android or iOS, he hopes it can close that gap over the next two to four years. “I’m a strong believer in Windows 8, Windows 10 and the Surface line. That combo will do a lot of great things in the enterprise and education space. That’s what really driven us forward,” he says. We’ve largely been bootstrapping for the last 12 months, but received a Commercialisation Australia grant in 2013 that let us get started. Fortunately, we stuck to our vision from the beginning and along the way we expanded our market for our first product and have been able to generate enough revenue to grow our team and started earning some profit. “We seem to have hit the sweet spot for a device like the Surface. So Microsoft is a really key partner. The announcement, which we’ve known about for a little bit of time, is really validation for what we’re doing, and has given us a lot of confidence we’re doing the right thing.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Buy tickets to the 2015 StartupSmart Awards.
“It’ll never work.” “It’s not trustworthy.” “It’s not fair.” “It’s illegal.” For the last 20 years, this sequence of responses has become quite common to those who watch the internet and the creative companies it’s spawned. Incumbent businesses confronted by these digital disrupters resist changes to the status quo for understandable reasons: they were winning at a game they had mastered. When the game changes, efforts to strengthen the previous barriers to entry are standard procedure. Microsoft did it to Linux (an open-source operating system), the Bell companies fought voice service competition from cable-TV triple-plays and startups like Vonage, and record labels defeated Napster and then proceeded to sue their own customers once they realized peer-to-peer file sharing could not be shut down at a central locus. More recently, Airbnb and Uber have inspired a new generation of incumbents to play these same cards. Both companies have grown at phenomenal rates over short lifetimes, both rely on not owning the core asset (sleeping rooms in the former case, cars in the latter), and both have attracted sky-high equity valuations. Because of these traits, they have also attracted the attention of asset-owners who formerly profited from scarcity and thus are threatened by the lower prices brought by the asset-light coordination model of these two disrupters. This threat has prompted the asset-owners to erect barriers to entry wherever they can, often in the guise of more regulation. Just this month, Airbnb faced a proposal in San Francisco that would place more restrictions on rentals, while Uber has inspired fierce opposition to a bill that would allow its entrance into the Nevada (read “deliberately scarce Las Vegas taxi”) market. More interestingly, New York hotel interests are fighting Airbnb’s efforts to pay lodging taxes, in part because doing so would seem to legitimize the new competitor. In all cases, the incumbents are trying to use their links to legislators to increase regulation of their sector, biased toward status-quo definitions of same. But such efforts that purport to protect consumers lead to all sorts of unintended consequences. Previous efforts to stifle disruptive technologies have often been costly for the economy and in the end unsuccessful, no matter how logical and attractive they appeared to be at the time. Sharing beds and cars Both Airbnb and Uber make commissions by matching sleepers or riders with beds or cars, aided by the internet’s tendency to lower coordination costs and smartphones' unique combination of geographic context, rich visuals and ubiquitous wireless networking. It’s a much more attractive model than owning infrastructure and having to pay health care for employees. Across the world, many taxi and limousine commissions (TLCs) have ruled Uber illegal (even so, the service currently operates in 55 countries). Couch-surfing is more difficult to regulate: a 30-story hotel in Times Square is impossible to miss, while 20,000 available rooms in New York city (the figure dates from 2014) are mostly invisible from the street. In both cases, however, the incumbents can only do so much by way of competition: cab fares are set by law and taxi medallions are scarce for obvious reasons. In New York, the price of those medallions dropped by 17% (about $200,000) between 2013 and 2015, so Uber is hurting incumbents where it counts. Hotels with high fixed expenses, meanwhile, can only compete with Airbnb in subtle ways: saying “we’re cleaner than Joe Blow’s guest room” might be seen as damaging the brand while validating the competition. As a result, these incumbents can do little except drop prices or resort to regulatory protection. In part, this paucity of options reflects the highly fragmented nature of both markets. Trying to organize 50,000 licensed New York taxi drivers (who share 13,600 vehicles) to improve service, speed up pick-up times or otherwise compete with Uber on quality would be a logistical impossibility. Incentives aren’t aligned: the medallion owners don’t drive cars. Furthermore, taxi companies have been slow to invest in GPS and similar technology, guarded as they were by the regulated scarcity. Hailing and hoping Compare this model to Uber, in which the car owner is the driver. The smartphone app is a far superior method of arranging a ride compared with hailing and hoping – or even calling a dispatcher then hoping. Much like Fedex, Uber’s supply chain visibility (knowledge of where the package or cab is) contributes to the overall value of the experience. Conversely, waiting for a cab to get to the airport is made much more stressful by the lack of knowledge of where the ride is or how bad traffic is on a given route. Airbnb uses a similar confidence builder, wrapping information around the transaction. Much like eBay (its business-model grandfather), Airbnb rates both buyers and sellers, making both opening one’s home and staying in a private residence less of a gamble. For both Airbnb and Uber, the low barrier to entry and then the decentralized structure of the asset threatens the incumbents' moats: medallions in the taxi setting, real estate investment and heavy overhead (branding, IT systems and labor costs) in the case of a hotel. Complex regulation protects incumbents It’s important to realize how complex business regulation has become. What started as an effort in consumer protection (think of Upton Sinclair, “The Jungle,” and the creation of what became the FDA) now serves to do multiple additional things: to employ regulators who have a vested interest in keeping their jobs to maintain barriers to new-market entry and thus innovation to reassure markets and investors of a stable competitive environment. Thus what looks like “illegal” or “unfair” competition is in fact often a matter of innovation breaking an outdated, well-protected business model that has focused on profits rather than customer service or competitive differentiation. Note that in every case we have mentioned, the consumer protection function of regulation did not drive efforts to outlaw the competitive threat: Linux, VoIP, and unbundled CDs all dropped prices in the market while arguably improving quality. Regulators, however, need things to regulate, as we have just seen when the Federal Communications Commission defined the internet in such a way as to make up for millions of Americans abandoning wireline phone service, its primary locus of influence and revenue. Thus the incumbents and the regulators face a common threat. Room for regulation, but… At the same time, it’s worth noting that Airbnb’s and Uber’s independent contractors, with few exceptions, are looking littler and littler in light of the massive valuations and global aspirations of the two startups. In the latter case particularly, drivers have faced repeated and arbitrary changes in compensation models. Uber asserts that these changes should increase gross revenues, but the effect on operating expenses (and thus take-home pay) is less clear. Given the power imbalance between very big money at headquarters and independent contractors at the edge of the network, there is scope for harm, for protection and for risk – and thus a potential place for regulation – but those affected lack the political weight to compete with the more powerful motivator of eroded profits among a small number of incumbents. Labor unions and regulations protecting both workplace safety and the right of workers to organize were part of the answer to a similar imbalance in the 20th century. It’s as yet unclear what new arrangements could emerge now. So when a TLC tries to block Uber cars from accessing airport terminals, or hotels ask a city to refuse Airbnb’s efforts to pay lodging taxes, it’s worth asking: whose interests are being protected? Most likely, the legal efforts directly relate to the incumbent businesses that have been insulated from competition rather than to the common good, public safety, or economic progress. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Microsoft has unveiled Windows Hello, a Windows 10 feature that uses infrared cameras to automatically identify users based on their face, eyes or fingerprints, without them needing to type in a user name and password. Windows Hello was unveiled as part of Microsoft’s Convergence 2015 business computing conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Once authenticated on a device, users will be able to access apps, websites and networks secured through the company’s Passport service without needing to key in a password each time. The new system will be opt-in only, with a user’s “biometric signature” to be stored locally on a device and will not be sent over a network. It will only work with devices that incorporate a fingerprint reader, illuminated IR sensor or other biometric sensors. It comes after Microsoft unveiled a number of identity authentication systems as part of its Azure cloud computing platform in March last year, including Azure Active Directory and Azure Access Rights Management that are interoperable with Windows Hello. At the conference, Microsoft also announced Lync replacement Skype for Business is rolling out next month. On the Internet of Things front, it has expanded Azure Intelligent Systems Service into a commercial product called Azure IoT Suite that allows businesses to manage and capture machine-generated data from sensors and devices. Also, the company’s Salesforce competitor, Dynamics CRM, is receiving a major update. For businesses using Office 365 or Yammer, there’s a preview available of Office 2016, and an Admin app for Office 365 that allows IT staff to remotely manage the service from Apple, Android or Windows Phones. Also, a new Office 365 dashboard feature called Delve uses machine learning to show users with Google Now-style cards with relevant work information. This article was originally published at SmartCompany.
Last week, prominent tech site Gigaom ceased operations with the terse note “Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time”. Started in 2006 by Om Malik, the site had raised about $40 million over that period to create a technology news site, an IT analysis business and another business running IT events. None of them could make enough money to cover the $400,000 a month needed to keep the business going. For a site that covered the future of journalism and media in detail, it turned out that it had little insight into how to succeed in a landscape that is setting legacy media and digital media alike, in a continuous struggle to survive. The shutdown of Gigaom follows on the heels of AOL’s shutting down of two tech sites earlier this year. TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) and Joystiq were both closed by AOL as part of its process of “simplifying the portfolio of brands”. The problem that digital media sites face is that, unlike traditional print where their markets are protected geographically, websites largely compete on a level playing field, albeit one that is determined in part by Google’s (and others) ranking of sites in its search engine. Every tech story that is released gets rapidly echoed by literally hundreds of sites. Recycled tech news Take a recent article about Microsoft’s decision to release its personal assistant technology Cortana, across multiple platforms. A search in Google News brings up 290 versions of the same story. The ultimate irony is that the originating “exclusive” for this story from Reuters actually comes 15th in the list of news sorted by Google in order of “relevance”. As the majority of these sites make money from advertising, the inclusion of stories on any given site is motivated not by journalism, good or bad, but by the need to fill the site with constantly refreshing content. In fact, the job of journalism becomes solely one of copy editing, adjusting an already published story for style, format and length, for an individual site. The danger with this for those employed in this sector (or perhaps a blessing to finally convince them to do something else more worthwhile), is that computers are getting very much better at being able to generate this type of content. Algorithms will be able to take a press release, newswire story, or simply any other story circulating on the Internet and generate a new one with the right mix of specific language tied to brands, advertising, and possibly reader interest. Recycled news This state of affairs is not simply related to technology news. Taking any random headline from the NY Times; for example a story about CIA funds falling into the hands of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan gives 83 articles all repeating the same story as reported by the NY Times. At least in this case, the NY Times appears top of the list in the Google News search. The Senior Director of News and Social Products at Google, Richard Gingras and Sally Lehrman, a fellow of the Markulla Center for Appled Ethics, have suggested that the current situation has eroded the public’s [trust] of journalism in general. They quote reports from the Pew Research Center showing that “55 percent of Americans said they simply did not expect a fair, full and accurate account of the days’ events and issues. As many as 26 percent said they did not trust the news to get facts right.” The Trust Project Gingras and Lehrman’s solution to this lack of trust in journalism is the aptly titled, “The Trust Project”, a new effort led by the authors and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. This project proposes that all journalists should disclose their expertise and any conflicts of interest and engage in rigorous citation in their writing. The sites that they write for should also have a published code of ethics. Whilst these aims are highly laudable and should be common practice (The Conversation implements all of these principles), it is not clear that it will solve the ultimate problem that the vast majority of content on media sites on the Internet is derivative. One estimate by journalist Nick Davies claims that only 12% of stories featured in the UK’s quality press were original, the rest were what is often called “churnalism”. On the Internet that number will be higher just by the nature of the sheer volume of content that is produced every day. Journalism academic Jeff Jarvis has suggested additional recommendations to the Trust Project that involve Google News ranking derivative stories below the original sources in their search results. Judging the ultimate quality of articles in this way might prove difficult to do algorithmically. Gigaom’s passing will largely go unnoticed. There is an endless supply of other sites filling the void, although a vanishingly small number of them will be paying journalists or operating as a business making a profit. This article was originally published at The Conversation.
The BBC is set to give away a million Raspberry Pi-style computers to British school students to encourage children to take up coding. The BBC reports the program will see the British national broadcaster hand out the small computers, known as Micro Bits, in a bid to replicate the success of the BBC Micro B computer in the early 1980s in teaching kids how to code. The program aims to fill a skills shortage that will see the UK need to find an additional 1.4 million digital professionals over the coming years. A number of leading tech giants including ARM, Microsoft and Samsung are also involved. Microbric managing director Brenton O’Brien told StartupSmart the Micro Bits program is “a fantastic initiative” that should be replicated in Australia. Late last year, South Australian-based Microbric smashed a crowdfunding target for its Edison Lego-compatible robots, which it began shipping in the lead-up to Christmas. “There’s no doubt there’s a lot more demand for people with programming skills not just now but into the future, so it’s a fantastic program. The problem with getting tech into schools has always been affordability. Companies supporting an initiative like this can remove the cost burden from schools and increase the uptake,” O’Brien says. “If you look at the names supporting this, it’s pure capitalism. The companies see that they will need tech workers in the future, and governments aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. “Just this past week, [Federal Education Minister] Christopher Pyne was talking about scaling back the tech curriculum because it’s ‘too hard’ for teachers. The thought that someone would question the need for tech education in this day and age is absolutely absurd. So it’s great to see the sponsors putting their money where their mouth is. “It would be an absolutely fantastic thing to see Australian school kids exposed en masse to tech in a similar way. Coding is the new literacy… Their ability to make computers do what they want them to do is vital to the future of the economy.” However, Macquarie University’s Professor Michael Heimlich warns that while programs such as Micro Bits are well intentioned, they “don’t tell the full story to kids”. “I don’t want to dissuade people from putting tech into the classroom, but you need to make the connection about how kids are going to make a career out of STEM. Otherwise it will be something they leave behind in junior high school,” Heimlich says. Heimlich is helping to organise the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Australia Regional Event, a competition aimed at high school students, which runs at the Sydney Olympic Sports Centre on March 13 and 14. “FRC is quite unique because, if you look at the surface, it’s a robotics competition. But what makes it unique is that it works a little like a startup incubator. So the program rewards things like going out to the community to raise money for their team, getting mentors, social media, website development and gaining skills. Heimlich says that along with raising STEM skills, it fulfils the important role of educating kids about STEM careers. “It’s really not a long step from a first-world to a third-world country. Just think about having a power grid that’s maintained, clean drinking water and trains that run reliably. When people tend to focus on the glitz and glam of the iPhone and Mars – even without an Australian Silicon Valley or space program – STEM has a big impact on the economy. Being a first-world country is underpinned by engineering,” he says. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Microsoft has launched its second Australian Innovation Centre, with the South Australian centre aiming to graduate more than 40 startups, provide training to at least 250 people and create at least 80 jobs over the next 18 months. MICSA will host regular training events, workshops, and a regular speaker series. It will also offer startups meeting rooms and facilities, industry connections, software and cloud credits through its BizSpark and BizSpark Plus programs The establishment of MICSA comes after Microsoft launched its Queensland Microsoft Innovation Centre in May 2012. Microsoft also runs the BizSpark Plus program, which offers startups access Microsoft Windows Azure services over two years, along with other tools and software. Microsoft Australia state director Brian Kealey told StartupSmart South Australia is uniquely positioned in terms of government, academic and industry backing that will allow the program to work. “The tech startup sector is a critical part of the economy going forward, and we see it as our role to help foster that. We make this investment to grow the economy, but won’t take an equity position or force the startups to sign anything. That said, if startups need access to equity, we can help to make those connections,” Kealey says. MICSA adds to a booming Adelaide tech startup scene that already includes the Majoran Distillery, the Innovyz program and Simon Hackett’s Base64. According to Kealy, MICSA is designed to add to the existing SA ecosystem, rather than compete against it. “We built a foundation group and run a month scrum to get feedback and see if this is definitely going to help with growth… We have, over the past six to 12 months, worked with Hills Innovation, Hub Adelaide, Majoran and a range of other partners. So, for example, we use Majoran as a co-working space if they need help with co-working,” Kealey says. According to Kealey, MICSA intends to offer its services both in a programmatic and a-la-carte fashion. Also, participation is not limited strictly to startups working with Microsoft platforms or technologies. “We reach out to startups through social media, coworking spaces and various other channels. That said, 90% of the startups bring their idea to a competition, coworking space or program and get referred to us for training to become part of MICSA,” he says. “We can provide startups with access to our technology through our BizSpark programs, and [the Microsoft] Azure [cloud platform] certainly will support PHP, MySQL, Linux and a range of other open web technologies. That said, we can do a lot more, like training connections and development, regardless of their tech choices. Five foundational members of MICSA include: myEvidence: Allows law enforcement officers to capture crime scene information digitally. Makers Empire: 3D printing software developed specifically for primary schools and tested extensively by classroom teachers and students. Lend A Skilled Hand (LASH): A social enterprise that connects skilled volunteers with local and international community projects in need of their expertise. Codies: An interactive learning platform that uses Kinect for Windows Devices and in 2014 developed its first education motion sensing application. Jemsoft: Developers of a world-leading intelligent access control system called Portcullis. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
It’s long been the debate that has divided a nation. On one side is a settlement founded by convicts, and on the other, a once illegal colony founded by gold miners. It’s the battle between the cozzies and bathers. The scallops and the potato cakes. Rugby league and Aussie rules. Australia’s international city against the sporting/arts/coffee capital of the cosmos. The long “a” in Newcastle against the short “a” of Castlemaine. The battle of city buses and double decker trains against bunched up trams and limited express Metro services to Flinders Street via the City Loop. (That last one is a battle over which system is the least unreliable.) With the inevitability of someone tumbling head-first down a slippery dip – or should that be a slide – the debate has crossed into startup land. Which end of the Hume Highway (for those of you south of the border, that’s the Hume Freeway) is to become Australia’s Silicon Valley? North of the Murray, along poorly laid out streets in a state of perpetual traffic jam, the consensus is the city that is home to Fishburners and BlueChilli should become Australia’s Silicon Valley. Meanwhile, on the other side of The Alps (or as the locals say it, “Theelps”), Melburnians sit in their alleyways, sipping Magic Coffees chatting about how the laneways between York Butter Factory and Inspire9 are the natural home for this nation’s Silicon Valley. So which end of the great Hume power corridor should be home to Australia’s startups? North or South of the Murray? Well, your loyal correspondent, from a corner of the hills known as Parts Unknown, says both sides of this argument need to wake up to themselves! When it comes to highly scalable tech-enabled businesses, the NBN is a great leveller. Mix in AWS, the Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure and there’s no reason why the next big thing in tech can’t launch from nearly anywhere in the country. Indeed, from Joondalup to Geelong, Wollongong to Toowoomba and Bega to Cairns, startup scenes are booming in this nation’s regional cities. With Skype and Google Hangouts, there’s simply no reason why rural or regional startups can’t participate in most events hosted in the big city coworking spaces, or why conferences shouldn’t be uploaded to YouTube after the event. And that’s without even mentioning the vibrant tech communities built around Startup Tasmania, SpaceCubed in Perth, iLab in Brisbane, Entry 29 in Canberra or Majoran in Adelaide. Now, Sonny Jim Crockett, your dear Old Taskmaster says the Melburnians and Sydneysiders really need to get over themselves and realise there’s far more to this great nation than their two cities! Kids these days – they want the whole toy chest to themselves, but then they run out of juice before teatime and then there’s tears! No, if Australia wants world class innovation, we don’t need to be a Silicon Valley – we need to become a Startup Nation! So do you have a great startup idea? Forget about the Melbourne-Sydney rivalry – start from where you are! Get it done – across Australia – today! P.S. They’re not potato cakes or scallops because they’re neither a cake nor a form of seafood – they’re really potato fritters! Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
YouTube has launched a platform for children with the aim of making it safer and easier for pre-schoolers to find fun and educational videos online. The family-focused app, which is currently available on the Google Play and Apple stores in the US, also allows parents to limit their kids’ screen time and search settings. YouTube’s kids group product manager, Shimrit Ben-Yair, said in a statement the new app will allow children to search for everything from maths tutorials to how to build a model volcano. “For years, families have come to YouTube, watching countless hours of videos on all kinds of topics,” she said. “Now, parents can rest a little easier knowing that videos in the YouTube Kids app are narrowed down to content appropriate for kids.” Microsoft allows third-party developers for its fitness wearable Microsoft today announced updates to its Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health apps, meaning third party developers are now able to create apps for the company’s fitness wearable. Matt Barlow, general manager of new devices marketing at Microsoft, said in a statement the updates were made in response to customer feedback. “This feedback is at the heart of the decisions we make, and today we’re pleased to take our first steps in launching new features and functionality for Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health that address what we’re hearing,” he said. The update was released today and will roll out on Windows Phone, iOS and Android devices in the coming days. Facebook data protection practices questioned: report Facebook’s data protection practices have come under fire in a report commissioned by Belgium’s data protection authority. The report examines Facebook’s privacy policies and, in particular, slam’s the social network’s approach to “freely-given”, “informed” and “unambiguous consent” when it comes to customer data. “Given the limited information Facebook provides and the absence of meaningful choice with regard to certain processing operations, it is highly questionable whether Facebook’s current approach satisfies these requirements,” the report reads. A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch the company recently updated its terms and policies to make them “more clear and concise” in order to reflect new product features. “We’re confident the updates comply with applicable laws,” they said. “As a company with international headquarters in Dublin, we routinely review product and policy updates including this one with our regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who oversees our compliance with the EU Data Protection Directive as implemented under Irish law.” The report comes as the European Union is in the process of updating its data protection directive, which was made in 1995. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 0.14%, rising 25.01 points to 18,115.43. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at 78.03 US cents. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Hardly a week goes by without a new social media platform launching, with one Melbourne founder suggesting social media startups need to carve out a niche if they are to survive in such a highly competitive environment. With this in mind, StartupSmart rounded up five Australian social media startups we think you should keep an eye on in 2015. 1. Nabo Sydney-based startup Nabo is a social networking platform for neighbours. The idea is to bring people in the same suburb together online so they can organise play dates for their children or even have their goldfish babysat while they’re on holiday. The startup has secured $2.25 million in funding from Seven West Media and Reinventure Group, and launched nationally in December last year. 2. Vent Complaints have always thrived online. However, a Melbourne startup is looking to collate them in the one place and allow people to be supported by others if they need to get something off their chest and don’t want to pollute their Facebook or Twitter feeds. Vent has grown into a community of more than 10,000 users and to date the startup has raised $100,000 in funding. 3. TalkLife Talk Life is a mobile phone app and social network designed to host important conversations about mental health that people might not necessarily wish to talk about on a general platform or share with family and friends. The Adelaide startup’s founder, Jamie Druitt, has received support from London’s Bethnal Green Ventures and is collaborating with Microsoft Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in order to analyse real-time user data to predict high-risk mental health episodes in young people. 4. Mothers Groupie Social network Mothers Groupie aims to reduce the isolation felt by young mothers by helping them meet face-to-face and talk to each other online. The site allows people to create or join groups based on a location – such as Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs – as well as other factors such as “young mums” or “new mums”. The platform also features a directory of “helpers” such as babysitters, cleaners and sleep consultants. Mothers can also post their own job ads and the startup is looking to expand into the US. 5. Mineler Mineler is a professional social network for people who work in the mining industry. Based in Perth, the platform allows people to bid for work and contracts as well as connect with others in the mining industry. The startup currently has more than 60,000 members as far away as Colombia and Canada, and has raised $500,000 in seed funding. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Many tech workers and entrepreneurs leave Australia for Silicon Valley, and while for many it’s not the end game, employee share option scheme reform is key to luring them back, according to Xero managing director Chris Ridd. The Australian Consulate-General in San Francisco estimates more than 22,000 Australians are working in the United States and the Valley in particular. Ridd can relate. About 20 years ago when working for a large multinational he had the opportunity to leave Australia and work in Silicon Valley, but would eventually return and is now based in Melbourne. “I think it would be a shame if we had a situation where great talent in Australia and New Zealand felt they had to go to Silicon Valley to pursue career goals and get traction with an idea. But the reality is a lot go over there and come back,” Ridd says. “From my perspective and a lot of people I talk to (that move abroad), the US is not the end game but can be part of furthering your career. But Australia is a cool place to live and we’ve got a lot of innovation here. “So you can pick up some great skills and experiences and bring that back, that would be my hope.” That said, there must be incentive for talent to return to Australia and a big part of that relies on employee share option scheme legislation reform. The startup industry has been lobbying for some time for the government to roll back changes made to the legislation in 2009 which made employee share option schemes essentially unworkable for startups. The government has since promised to introduce new legislation, but has been criticised by Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie and Atlassian founder Mike Cannon-Brookes as it would only apply to companies with less than $50 million turnover. Ridd says when he moved from Microsoft to take a job at Xero, a big part of the appeal was the New Zealand-based company was able to offer an employee share scheme. “I took a 50% pay cut when I joined Xero. What got me on board was the act that they were able to offer equity. Equity is a huge value proposition when you’re in startup mode,” he says. “The only option you have at your disposal to attract people from large corporates that have a lot of experience is to offer equity, and to put a tax regime on top of that, that makes it less attractive is insane.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Melbourne-based startup CliniCloud is merging the Internet of Things and home healthcare to help doctors provide accurate diagnoses. CliniCloud’s kit, which launched pre orders recently, includes a digital stethoscope and a non-contact thermometer, both of which are linked to a smartphone app. Users can then monitor and record readings taken, and show those readings to their doctors when they get the chance to see them. The startup began as StethoCloud, a student project which finished runner-up in Microsoft's 2012 Imagine Cup Grants program. Originally the idea was to develop a product that could help diagnose childhood pneumonia in developing countries. But after using its $75,000 grant from Microsoft to test a prototype, co-founder Hon Weng Chong says it began to become clear there was demand for such a product amongst everyday consumers, particularly parents. His time working as a doctor in emergency departments, particularly the time he spent at Warragul Hospital in East Gippsland and Rosebud on the Mornington Peninsula, helped him understand why. “I saw a lot of young families coming in, and a lot of the time they’d say ‘if only I could explain to you what happened at home',” he says. “We’re trying to help them do that with a stethoscope and thermometer. So if your child had a wheeze you could record it then and there, along with the temperature and bring it in.” The decision to package a stethoscope and thermometer together was a careful one. Chong says he and co-founder Andrew Lin wanted two devices that, when paired up, could give a doctor quite a bit of information to aid diagnosis. “At the time I saw a lot of respiratory conditions come through, asthma was the biggest one, and having the sounds captured from the stethoscope was very useful, but augmented even further with information if the child had had a fever at the time, was very valuable,” he says. In addition to the grant, CliniCloud raised funding from friends and family about a year ago, and also took funding from angel investors, which Chong described as a extended seed round. CliniCloud is aiming to ship its first kits by July, with demand being treated as a test for product-market fit. If it proves successful the plan is to target a retail launch in the United States. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Prepare to open your wallets, ladies and gentlemen: Microsoft has announced the release of an augmented reality (AR) headset called HoloLens. Although having been announced only a fortnight ago, tech media are already dreaming feverishly of the potential applications for such a device. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s own press images seem to promise a benign utopia replete with living room Minecraft games and attractive, tech-savvy white people. It might look rather like an excitingly chunky pair of wrap-around sunglasses, but Microsoft promises that it is entirely self-contained, with speakers, lens and CPU housed entirely within the chassis. Being substantially smaller than the Oculus Rift, and intended to be less invasive than Google’s much-maligned Glass, HoloLens provides perhaps the most credible attempt to introduce augmented reality into our homes. What is augmented reality anyway? Even though HoloLens is new, the idea of augmented reality is certainly not. First proposed by L. Frank Baum (author of the Wizard of Oz) in his 1901 novel The Master Key, AR has a long and illustrious history, at least in theory. But what is it, exactly? Augmented reality is a form of “mediated perception”: an AR device overlays a virtual world on the real one. It does this by taking a live video feed of the external world and then supplementing it with computer-generated sensory input. In this sense, it is unlike virtual reality, which entirely replaces the external world with a virtual one. Instead, AR embellishes the real world to make it more fun, clear or informative. Already there is a huge number of AR apps, most of which have been built for mobile devices. One such is Layar, which synchronises camera input with data from Google Maps in order to let you see the world with the digital marginalia built in. Meanwhile, games like Ingress enable smartphone users to win points and compete with other players by “hacking” with virtual nodes that are attached to real-world landmarks. In order to hack the node, they need to actually stand near the landmark, giving it a distinctly physical dimension. Some of these AR programs are genuinely remarkable, and carry with them the seeds of a changing paradigm. The new version of Google Translate, for example, can perform real-time spoken-word translation, as well as translating written words almost instantaneously. The Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy gets one step closer. However, HoloLens provides you with something a little different. Unlike mobile phone apps and Google Glass, the sensory overlays provided by HoloLens are interactable digital objects. They don’t merely provide parenthetical or additional information about things in the world; instead, those objects serve to further populate the world around us. The futures of where we live and work If you’re interested in Microsoft’s vision of a future filled with digital objects then check out its publicity video: the promises may seem overwhelming (one might even say “unbelieveable”). According to Microsoft, with a liberal application of augmented reality, the home and office become deeply and richly interactive in a way that has been hitherto impossible. Objects are designed and tested on the fly. A single pinched finger or flicked wrist enlarges or crumples or dismisses instantly and organically. Meanwhile, entire classes of consumer items are rendered completely redundant, collapsed into HoloLens and products like it. If Microsoft realises the future it proposes, AR products will see televisions, gaming systems, music players, desktop computers and even cosmetic objects like wall art and decorative carpets consigned to the dustbin of history. We will no longer have a need for these physical objects; instead, they will be projected into our field of perception as strictly digital entities. To be clear: this is not a prediction on my part. Far be it from me to make predictions about the purchasing habits of other people (I can barely keep track of my own). This, however, appears to be Microsoft’s vision. Although varnished into a high gloss, what is perhaps most telling about its vision of the future is not what isnew, but more what is missing. Televisions, gaming consoles, paintings: these objects have no place in Microsoft’s future. The future of consumption If this outcome is realised, it seems obvious to expect radical shifts in manufacturing and other secondary industries. Already there have been murmurs of concern and excitement about the possible economic ramifications of cheap 3D printing, particularly with regards to what it means for the manufacture of simple items. If Microsoft is successful in killing off the television and other media apparatuses, we may well also see manufacturing shrink from the other end. If the HoloLens and products like it do supplant other consumer electronics, we will be witness to the slow, awful collapse of what is currently a highly speciated consumer landscape into a homogeneous field of kooky-looking headsets. However, even as manufacturing will be forced to grapple with greater decentralisation and greater automation, not to mention potential market erosion at both the top and bottom ends of the sector, those who create, market and sell entertainment content will almost certainly find AR technologies an enormous boon. Marketers and content producers will have a window into our habits and tastes, sharing material funded by consumer commitment to almost-negligible microtransactions. Meanwhile, consumers will almost certainly fight back. Already a great many web browsers come installed with native ad and pop-up blockers. Moreover, having tired of product placement in movies and the indignity of “advertorials” in magazines, several designers and developers are working on products that block ads in the real world. It seems fair to expect that this presages a subtle, extremely sophisticated arms race between those who consume content and those who produce it. The sky is not falling These developments might sound like the first stages of a miserable Gibsonian future, but there’s no need to panic just yet. Indeed, there’s plenty of reason to think that the widespread uptake of AR technologies will, on the whole, make life easier. However, just like the internet dramatically changed the way business is conducted (such as the slow demise of brick-and-mortar bookstores), it seems reasonable to expect that the spread of AR technologies will introduce its own difficulties. But we should not take our own predictions too seriously. After all, we’ve been privy to these kinds of statements before. People who visited Norman Bel Geddes' Futurama exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 were awarded a souvenir pin upon departure: “I have seen the future”. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can look back upon this claim, along with some of the more outlandish predictions made by our forebears (flying cars, robot servants, Jetsonian spaceflight, post-scarcity economics) with an indulgent smirk: chrome, finned cars and bakelite have swung seamlessly into fashionably kitsch; ill-fated relics of a future that never was. There is, of course, a lesson here. In our own era of social networking, genetically modified foodstuffs and tawdry capitalism, it behoves us to be a little cynical about the promises and drawbacks of an augmented reality, in much the same way that we mock the promises of the Atomic Era. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I weren’t excited. I am, and very much. There’s too much of the techno-utopian in me not to feel a subtle thrill that the future we’ve been promised is finally arriving. But nonetheless, I worry, and I reserve judgement. Not very much, granted, and not very loudly, but amid the excitement there is a subtle sense of disquiet, and the sly hint of a disdainful sneer. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The final communique of the 2014 G20 Leaders’ Summit called for enhanced economic growth that could be achieved by the “promotion of competition, entrepreneurship and innovation”. There was also a call for strategies to reduce unemployment, particularly amongst youth, through the “encouragement of entrepreneurship”. This desire to stimulate economic and job growth via the application of entrepreneurship and innovation has been a common theme in government policy since at least the 1970s. The origins of this interest can be traced back to the report produced by Professor David Birch of MIT “The Job Generation Process” that was published in 1979. A key finding from this work was that job creation in the United States was not coming from large companies, but small independently owned businesses. It recommended that government policy should target indirect rather than direct strategies with a greater focus on the role of small firms. Fostering the growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems Over the past 35 years the level of government interest in entrepreneurship and small business development as potential solutions to flagging economic growth and rising unemployment has increased. It helped to spawn a new field of academic study and research. This trend was boosted by the success the iconic “technopreneurs”. Technology entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, or Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google have become the “poster children” of the entrepreneurship movement. One of the best known centres of high-tech entrepreneurial activity has been California’s Silicon Valley. Although it is not the only place in which innovation and enterprise have flourished, it has served as a role model for many governments seeking to stimulate economic growth. Today “science” or “technology” parks can be found scattered around the world. They usually follow a similar format, with universities and R&D centres co-located with the park, and venture financiers hovering nearby looking for deals. Most have been supported by government policy. What governments want is to replicate Silicon Valley and the formation and growth of what have been described as “entrepreneurial ecosystems”. However, despite significant investments by governments into such initiatives, their overall success rate is mixed. So what are “entrepreneurial ecosystems” and what role can government policy play in their formation and growth? This was a question addressed by the first White Paper in a series produced by the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ). The purpose of these papers is to help enhance understanding of what entrepreneurial ecosystems are, and to generate a more informed debate about their role in the stimulation economic growth and job creation. What is an entrepreneurial ecosystem? The concept of the “entrepreneurial ecosystem” can be traced back to the study of industry clustering and the development of National Innovation Systems that took place in the 1990s. However, the term was being used by management writers during the mid-2000s to describe the conditions that helped to bring people together and foster economic prosperity and wealth creation. In 2010 Professor Daniel Isenberg from Babson College published an article in the Harvard Business Review that helped to boost the awareness of the concept. The diagram below shows the nine major elements that are considered important to the generation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The focus of this first SEAANZ White Paper is on the role of government policy. Future White Papers will deal with the other eight elements. Isenberg outlined several “prescriptions” for the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The first prescription was to stop emulating Silicon Valley. Despite its success the Valley was formed by a unique set of circumstances and any attempt to replicate it in other places were unlikely to succeed. This led to a second prescription, which was to build the ecosystem on local conditions. Grow existing industries and build on their foundations, skills and capabilities rather than attempting to launch high-tech industries from scratch. The third prescription was the importance of engaging the private sector from the start. Here the role of government is indirect and one of a facilitator not a manager. In trying to shape the growth of such ecosystems attention should be given to the support of firms with high growth potential that can help to generate a “big win” early on. This is the opportunity for local success stories to become role models for others. However, care must be taken by governments not to try to pick winners or over engineer the system. High growth firms by nature are inherently risky and highly innovative firms are typically unique. As such there is no magic formula for their success. Helping such firms to succeed is more about removing obstacles to their growth such as anti-competitive cultures, unfair taxation on small firms, unnecessary “red tape” or lack of access to markets, skilled employees or investment capital. In seeking to help stimulate entrepreneurial high growth firms it is important, according to Isenberg, to avoid flooding the system with too much “easy money”. This can take the form of government grants and venture capital funds that are too easily obtained. What is important is to grow firms with strong root systems that can sustain their own growth as much as possible before seeking additional funding. Such firms should be financially sound; profitable and well managed, or their likely success rates will be low. The focus should be on encouraging sustainable, growth oriented and innovative firms not simply fostering more start-ups. Starting a new business is the easy part, successfully growing it is the challenge. What can government do to stimulate entrepreneurial ecosystems? The challenge for government policy is to develop policies that work, but avoid the temptation to try to effect change via direct intervention. A 2014 study of entrepreneurial ecosystems undertaken by Colin Mason from the University of Glasgow and Ross Brown from the University of St Andrews for the OECD, developed a set of general principles for government policy in the relation to these ecosystems. They contrast “traditional” versus “growth-oriented” policy approaches to enterprise development. The first of these approaches tends to focus on trying to grow the total number of firms via business start-up programs, venture capital financing and investment in R&D or technology transfer. This is a “pick the winner model” and can also include business or technology incubators, grants, tax incentives and support programs. Such programs are essentially transactional in nature. It is not that they are of no value, but they cannot guarantee success via such direct intervention. A “growth oriented” approach is more relational in nature. This focuses on the entrepreneurial leadership of these growth firms. It seeks to understand their networks and how to foster the expansion of such networks at the local, national and international level. The most important thing is the strategic intent of the team running the business. Firms seeking to grow need to be given help in linking up with customers, suppliers and other “actors” within the ecosystem who can provide resources. Government ministers can play a critical role in fostering enterprise and innovation. Their role is to direct the government departments and agencies to focus on the problem and develop effective policies. A minister who has a good understanding of what entrepreneurial ecosystems are, how they form and the role and limitations of government policy is well-placed to generate more effective outcomes. Key recommendations for government policy In summary, key recommendations for government policy in the fostering of entrepreneurial ecosystems are: Make the formation of entrepreneurial activity a government priority - The formulation of effective policy for entrepreneurial ecosystems requires the active involvement of Government Ministers working with senior public servants who act as ‘institutional entrepreneurs’ to shape and empower policies and programs. Ensure that government policy is broadly focused - Policy should be developed that is holistic and encompasses all components of the ecosystem rather than seeking to ‘cherry pick’ areas of special interest. Allow for natural growth not top-down solutions - Build from existing industries that have formed naturally within the region or country rather than seeking to generate new industries from green field sites. Ensure all industry sectors are considered not just high-tech - Encourage growth across all industry sectors including low, mid and high-tech firms. Provide leadership but delegate responsibility and ownership - Adopt a ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approach devolving responsibility to local and regional authorities. Develop policy that addresses the needs of both the business and its management team - Recognise that small business policy is ‘transactional’ while entrepreneurship policy is ‘relational’ in nature. For more reading see: Mazzarol, T. (2014) Growing and sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystems: What they are and the role of government policy, White Paper WP01-2014, Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ). Note: Tim Mazzarol is President of the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand Ltd (SEAANZ). SEAANZ Ltd. is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 1987. It is dedicated to the advancement of research, education, policy and practice in small to medium enterprises. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Crowdsourcing startup CrowdSourceHire is collaborating with Microsoft for the first time in order to run a competition showcasing how businesses can drive innovation by hiring programmers with original ideas. The Code4Goal Coding Challenge, which is sponsored by Microsoft and will take place in February, is for programmers looking to promote their coding skills as well as solve issues faces by Australian companies. Participants will be asked to develop a product that helps businesses sift through large volumes of resumes in order to help them save time and money – while at the same time assisting them in choosing the right candidate. The competition’s judges include Shaun Clowes, director of product growth and analytics at Atlassian, and Andrew Coates, developer evangelist at Microsoft. The winner will be selected based on speed, accuracy, the cleanliness of their code as well as how innovative their solution is. Co-founder of CrowdSourceHire, Des Hang, told StartupSmart the competition was about “identifying and providing a solution” for a problem faced by large companies. “It’s also about promoting how you come up with a logical implementation to a solution – and that’s the part that is important for coding,” he says. “At the end of the day you can always take a course and learn how to code. But if you want to be a good coder you need that experience to plug in your skills.” Hang says he also hopes a few participants will get hired due to their work or at least build some strong connections with companies interested in being innovative. “Raising the candidates’ profiles will be the whole outcome of this,” he says. “We hope to help people in their career projection as well as any opportunities they may have as well.” CrowdSourcedHire is currently taking part in the Telstra-backed Muru-D program. Hang says the startup is currently in talks with Grabtaxi, an Asian-based company that uses taxis instead of private drivers and is looking at taking on Uber. “We’ve engaged with a couple of Telstra business units and engaged with a big startup – Grabtaxi – in south-east Asia. They are ramping up their hires and they want to use us to help them with that.” CrowdSourcedHire uses crowdsourced industry experts to assess prospective hires for startups and other businesses that may not have the infrastructure in place to adequately vet candidates. Registration for the Code4Goal Coding Challenge is currently open, with submissions closing on 2 February. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.