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Entrepreneurial ecosystems and the role of government policy

1:13AM | Thursday, 22 January

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 partners with Microsoft to promote innovation through coding

1:18AM | Thursday, 15 January

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.

Out with the keyboard as talk takes over typing

1:01AM | Thursday, 15 January

With the recent acquisition by Facebook of voice-recognition company Wit.ai, all four major players in the post-PC market (Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook) now have a significant infrastructure for hands-free communication with your device.   But what will that mean for our communication with our devices? Is voice just another method to talk to your computer, or are we on the cusp of a revolution in computer communication? How old is your keyboard, anyway? The humble computer mouse was created in the 1960s by engineer Doug Engelbart. The keyboard, through its ancestor the teleprinter, is even older, having been developed in the 1900s by mechanical engineer Charles Krum and connected to a video display terminal that owes its ancestry to a device developed in the 1930s.   Despite the age of these devices, they still remain the main input devices for your personal computer on your desk or laptop.   Sure, they have more buttons, or more colours, or higher resolution, but the basic input mechanism for the average home computer is the same now as it was in 1984 when the Macintosh became the first commercially available computer to provide a graphical user interface and mouse and keyboard input.   Even the multi-touch screen, made famous by the iPhone and other devices in 2007, could be considered a direct descendant of the mouse, simply moving control of the pointer from an indirect method on your desk to a more direct method on the screen.   But perhaps that is all about to change, with voice-recognition technology finally becoming important to the main players and other technology changing the way we interact with computers. Your voice is your password to a world of possibilities Like the mouse and keyboard, voice-recognition technology has been around for a number of years. Commercial voice-recognition software has been available for computers since the early 1990s.   But it was only with the advent of technologies such as Apple’s Siri and Google’s Voice Search around 2010 that voice recognition became part of many people’s lives.   Through a natural language, context-aware interface that is always connected to the Internet, technologies such as Siri allow users to address a vast range of needs while skipping touching their device altogether. Instead, they rely on their voice to set timers, check the weather, find movie times and even query where to hide a body.   In 2014, Microsoft introduced Cortana, a Siri-like competitor, meaning that all three leading smartphone platforms had voice recognition. Also in 2014, Apple introduced the “Hey Siri” feature in iOS 8, allowing users to “hail” a smartphone from across the room (as long as it’s plugged in) and ask it a question without touching any buttons at all.   Finally, in 2012 Google released Google Now, an extension to Google Voice Search that provides users with contextual information prior to them requesting it, such as providing traffic information as you leave the office or a list of good restaurants to eat at when you arrive in a new town.   And it’s widely rumoured that both Google and Apple have plans for voice-recognition technology in their television products as well.   While these solutions sometimes have a way to go (John Malkovich surely remains the only person in history to get Siri to correctly interpret “Linguica”), they present a starkly different view from the mouse-keyboard combination of old.   It surely won’t be long before users can have a standard conversation with their device, talking it through a problem rather than frantically tapping the on-screen keyboard or clicking the mouse. Blending the digital and the physical world The revolution extends beyond our voice to other devices as well. It would appear that along with replacing old-fashioned input devices, output devices like the monitor are slowly being phased out.   Earlier this year, before it acquired Wit.ai, Facebook made news for acquiring pioneering virtually reality company, Oculus VR for a staggering $US2.3 billion. The major product of Oculus VR is the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset that immerses you fully in a 3D virtual experience.   Using positional sensors, the Oculus Rift can track your head movements to allow you to look around the environment. The device is still in development. Given the cost of the development kit at around $A400, it’s expected that the final product will retail for less than $A500, bringing virtual reality to the everyday consumer.   Even if you don’t want full immersion, new output products are making it easier for us to step in and out of a digital world without needing a computer monitor.   Google Glass, still in development but having been in beta for a number of years, provides a small display that you can view while wearing the glasses. Products such as the new Android Wear watches from Motorola and others, as well as the Pebble smartwatch and upcoming Apple Watch, provide us with small, customised views into the digital world.   These can all put notifications, music control, sleep and activity monitoring and all the power of those voice-control systems literally at our fingertips, all without the need to use a full input or output device.   Even in your car, Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay provide a glanceable, touchscreen and voice-controlled interface to your smartphone to ensure you’re always connected to the cloud. Sensors everywhere Beyond these standard options, input devices and data-gathering devices are continuing to pop up in places that we don’t expect, making it easier to interact with your devices and control your digital world.   At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) this year, gadgets using Bluetooth Low Energy for communication with your home network abound, from a smart chair that helps you work out to a pot for your plants that monitors their vitals and allows you to apply water with a touch of a button.   These add to items from the last year such as the connected toothbrush that monitors your brushing time and style and reports on how you’re doing and the Vessyl cup, a smart cup that can tell you the calorie and caffeine content of your beverages as well as keep track of your daily water intake.   No longer are we tied to our keyboard and mouse to look up and record this data. Our devices will now do it for us automatically and let us know when something needs to be changed.   This trend towards the Internet of Things has been brewing for a number of years, but if the CES is any indication, this year shows a real explosion in external input devices that collect data about us and feed it into the cloud.   It will be interesting to see what the future brings. It could be argued that the new ways of communicating with your computer are already here, although just beginning.   As the year progresses and these models mature, perhaps it won’t be long before we are speaking to our device using natural language while wearing a VR headset and being instantly alerted about the status of our plants and how much activity, sleep and caffeine we’ve had so far today.   With all of these solutions, perhaps finally the old mouse and keyboard are looking mighty old-fashioned.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Facebook launches pilot trials of Facebook at Work

1:55AM | Thursday, 15 January

Facebook has begun trials of its Facebook at Work service, a cloud-based platform that allows business to create social networks for staff, with the project led by an engineer who launched one of Sydney’s most successful startups.   Development on the project is being led by Lars Rasmussen, who was the cofounder of a Sydney-based mapping startup called Where 2 Technologies that was subsequently acquired by Google and rebranded as Google Maps.   After his success with Google Maps, Rasmussen went on to lead the development of Google’s ill-fated Google Wave project, which was intended as a real-time collaborative document editing platform.   TechCrunch reports an app for Facebook at Work has appeared on the iTunes app store, with an Android version set to go live shortly and another version accessible through the Facebook’s website. News of the service first leaked in November last year.   Facebook at Work will also give employees the option of either using a single login for both their work and personal accounts, or the ability to keep both separate.   Facebook at Work is set to compete against collaboration platforms such as Microsoft’s Yammer. Microsoft announced it is combining its business-focused Lync video conferencing and instant messaging app with Skype to create a new package called Skype for Business late last year.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

The top 10 Aussie startups of 2014

12:29AM | Friday, 19 December

It’s been a big year for the Australian startup ecosystem. Success stories like Atlassian and Campaign Monitor continue to go from strength to strength and the ecosystem is growing. According to the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association the 2014 financial year saw the highest level of venture capital activity in dollar terms over the last 10 years.   That uptick was despite “tough fundraising conditions” and the federal government’s termination of the Innovation Investment Fund weighing on local venture capital activity.   Here are some of the startups that contributed to the ecosystem’s success and caught StartupSmart’s eye over the past year. In no particular order:   1. Eyenaemia   What better way to begin than with a startup that literally wants to save people’s lives. Anaemia, a deficiency in the number or quality of red blood cells, currently affects an estimated two billion people worldwide, including 293 million. It is the cause of 20% of maternal deaths every year. It’s an easily treatable condition but is often symptomless. If left untreated it can lead to serious complications.   Eyenaemia has developed a simple non-invasive treatment, which allows anaemia to be diagnosed through a mobile app, and a quick selfie. They won the Microsoft Imagine Cup, and are currently conducting large scale field tests to confirm their solution works.   2. Canva   Sydney-based design startup Canva’s goal is no less ambitious – it wants to “democratise design”. This year it rolled out its design marketplace, which allows professional designers to contribute layouts and earn royalties every time their designs are purchased. Perhaps most significantly, it also signed up Apple’s original Mac evangelist, Guy Kawasaki, as its chief evangelist.   3. Scriptrock   Startmate graduate ScriptRock, an Australian IT DevOps company, raised $9.8 million in a Series A round, led by August Capital. Also participating in the round were Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, and Square Peg Capital. As of August, less than 12 months after launch it had signed up 600 customers and is looking to scale up growth.   4. CoinJar   Australia’s leading bitcoin startup left Melbourne, setting up its headquarters in London, a city competing with Australia to be the world’s leading fin tech startup location. The relocation is part of the startup’s grand plan to expand into Europe. It also released Australia’s first bitcoin debit card, which enables bitcoin to be used to pay for goods and services anywhere where debit cards are accepted. If (when) digital currency becomes mainstream in Australia, there’s a good chance CoinJar will have had a lot to do with it.   5. Invoice2go   Invoicing app startup Invoice2go was one of Australia’s big startup success stories of 2014. Founded by Chris Strode in 2002, in 2014 the startup raised $35 million led by Accel Partners and supported by Ribbit Capital. It’s got serious traction in the form of 120,000 customers and is looking a potential market of 100 million.   6. LIFX   After holding one of Australia’s most successful kickstarter campaigns, smart lightbulb maker LIFX took out the top award for smart systems in the consumer goods category at the 2014 Edison Awards. It then partnered with Sequoia Capital and raised $12 million in Series A funding. It wasn’t without setbacks, however, after concerns emerged that its light bulbs could be hacked, leading to debate about the security of IoT devices.   7. VentureCrowd   Australia’s first equity-based crowdfunding platform, VentureCrowd helped facilitate the raises of two companies, opening up a new way for startups to raise capital. Transportation network and mobile payments startup ingogo used VentureCrowd to raise $1.2 million of a $9.1 million raise in September. It then helped fashion startup Fame and Partners raise $50,000 of a larger undisclosed funding round. With regulation that will open up equity crowdfunding to retail investors expected to arrive mid next year, these two deals look like just the first of many.   8. OneShift   Online recruitment platform OneShift has grown to service 400,000 job seekers and 35,000 businesses. The platform, which founder Gen George describes as a “dating website for jobseekers”, matches employees with businesses looking for anything from one-off shifts, causal work, or permanent employment. The startup impressed Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman at a pitch session at Above All Human in Melbourne earlier this month.   9. That Startup Show   The web-series produced in Melbourne wasn’t even a startup when it launched. Since the pilot episode launched on YouTube in August, the series has attracted more than 110,000 viewers across Australia, Europe, Asia, Canada and the United States.     It secured angel funding from Alan Jones and technology foundry Digital4ge and completed filming its first season. Co-founder Ahmed Salama says the vision for That Startup Show is to provide a voice for startups not just in Australia but around the world. It’s also been negotiating with a number of possible distributors, including TV networks.   10. Shoes of Prey     The Sydney-based online retailer is taking on the world. Earlier this month it raised $6.5 million from US-based Khosla Ventures in December. Those funds will be used to finance its bricks-and-mortar expansion in markets, including the United States.     It’s already opened an office in New York and will be available in Nordstrom stores in Seattle, Washington, California, New Jersey, Illinois and New York.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Gadget guide: six new technologies to watch in 2015

12:51AM | Friday, 19 December

A year ago, SmartCompany listed the top new technologies set to race into 2014. Well, another year has come and gone, and a new group of technologies are emerging over the horizon.   So what new technologies should you look out for in 2015? It’s time to gaze again into the crystal ball and take a look at six technologies you should keep an eye on in 2015: 1. Make-or-break time for smartwatches   Over the past year, both in the form of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform and the Apple Watch, the tech giants have made big bets on smartwatches.   However, so far consumers have been a bit ambivalent. Sure, smartwatches can bring notifications to your clockface and apps on your wrist, and being able to do a voice search with Google without pulling out your phone or tablet is nifty.   On the other hand, a majority of the people inhabiting the planet already carry a far more powerful device with a larger screen in their pocket or handbag, in the form of a smartphone.   So the real question now is whether consumers will embrace this new technology.   Over the next year, entrepreneurs and innovators will either come up with a “killer app” for the smartwatch that drives it into the mainstream, or else the technology will be remembered as a flash-in-the-pan tech fad.   Either way, the next 12 months will be crucial to the long-term prospects of this much-hyped technology. 2. Mobile payments and tickets   Another technology rapidly approaching the critical make-or-break point is mobile payments.   These days, from “touch and go” chip-and-pin credit cards to public transport tickets, there are a growing number of smartcards that are based on a technology called near-field communications (NFC).   Over recent years, a growing number of smartphones have embedded these chips, allowing the “tap to share” features on Samsung Galaxy and Microsoft Lumia smartphones.   NFC technology received a surge of mainstream attention with its inclusion on iPhone 6, which uses the chip as part of its Apple Pay payment platform.   Of course, the great thing about NFC is that you don’t need to be tied into a proprietary walled garden platform such as Apple Pay. Potentially, all of the smartcards in your wallet could potentially be replaced with an app on a smartphone with an NFC chip.   Since we’re now at the point where just about every flagship smartphone has NFC, we’re also at the point where it’s plausible for consumers to replace a wallet full of cards with a phone full of apps.   Whether consumers embrace the convenience over the next year will be interesting to watch. 3. Multi-device app development   The number of tech gadgets on offer to consumers is greater than ever before.   A couple of decades ago, the average consumer just had a desktop or laptop in their study at home, and a second on their work desk.   Today, a consumer could potentially use a smartwatch, a smartphone, a tablet, a desktop or laptop computer, a smart TV (or a set-top box or games console) and an in-car entertainment system in the course of a single day – and all of them run apps.   Where Apple, Google and Microsoft once created operating systems for single devices, they’re now creating app platforms and ecosystems for devices.   With Mac OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple added a feature called Handoff that allows users to pass activities from one device to another.   With Windows 10, Microsoft will allow a single app to run across a range of devices, including everything from smartphones and tablets to Xbox game consoles, PCs and servers.   Meanwhile, with 5.0 Lollipop, Android apps can now run on Chromebooks. Not only that, but Google has created a range of versions of Android for different devices, including cars (Android Auto), wearables (Android Wear), and TVs (Android TV).   For businesses, what this means is that consumers are likely to increasingly expect their apps, websites and online services to work seamlessly across a range of different devices and contexts. 4. Health tech   The interesting thing about many of these devices is they have potential therapeutic benefits for people with otherwise debilitating medical conditions. Others could be used as a preventative tool to warn users about possible health risks.   For example, Google Glass can potentially overlay graphics for people with poor vision highlighting potential risks and dangers. Cloud platforms can be used to collate health records and readings from a range of different devices and sources. Robotics can be applied to help people with limited mobility carry out everyday tasks.   The great news is that there are a range of Australian businesses already doing some great research in this area.   A great example is Eyenaemia, a new technology, developed by Melbourne medical students Jarrel Seah and Jennifer Tang, which allows users to diagnose anaemia by taking selfies with their smartphones.   The technology has grabbed the attention of none other than Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates himself.   “I could see a future version for Eyenaemia being used in developing countries, especially with pregnant women, since anaemia contributes to nearly 20% of deaths during pregnancy,” Gates says.   As of August, a health-tech startup group in Melbourne has already managed to attract close to 1000 entrepreneurs and medical professionals to some of its meetings, and a similar group in Brisbane is attracting around 100.   Health tech is an area Australia could become a world leader in over the coming years – if the investment and political will is there. 5. Plastic OLED displays   A year ago, low production yields put a limit to the production volumes of curved or flexible screen devices.   The first curved screen displays appeared on smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy Round and the LG G Flex, and at some curved-screen TVs at the International CES trade show. However, prices were high and volumes were limited. It required specialist types of glass, such as Corning’s bendable Willow Glass, to make.   The situation is set to change over the coming year thanks to a new technology called called P-OLED (plastic-organic light emitting diode).   P-OLED works by sandwiching a layer of organic material, which lights up on receiving an electrical charge, between two sheets of plastic. Along with the organic material, there’s a thin grid made up of a transparent material that conducts electricity (known as an active matrix) that can deliver a charge to each individual pixel.   Unlike LCD displays, which require a backlight, all of the light is generated by the organic material, meaning P-OLED displays are thinner as well. It is also thinner than glass AMOLED displays.   LG Display, one of the top three display manufacturers worldwide alongside Japan Display (Sony, Toshiba and Hitachi) and Samsung, says we should expect to see bendable tablets next year, with rollable TVs and foldable laptops screens in 2017. 6. Rise of the Chinese tech giants   This last one is not so much a new technology, per se, as it is a potential tectonic shift in the tech industry landscape.   During 2014, Xiaomi overtook Apple as China’s second-largest smartphone maker and – according to some figures – overtook Samsung as its largest. By the end of the year, it was the world’s third largest smartphone maker by volume, trailing only Samsung and Apple.   But while Xiaomi attracted most of the attention, it’s far from the only Chinese electronics maker set to make an impact over the coming years.   Lenovo became the world’s largest PC maker by buying IBM’s PC division in 2005, and has recently completed its purchase of Motorola from Google. Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is also making its consumer electronics play. In their shadows are a range of other brands, such as Coolpad and ZTE.   But it’s not just device makers that are having an impact. Look no further than the record-setting $US231.4 billion ($A258.8 billion) IPO of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. In conclusion   From health tech to mobile payments, there are a range of technologies that will potentially have a big impact on Australian small businesses over the next year.   But perhaps the most important thing for businesses will be to make sure your consumers have a seamless digital experience across all of them.   This article originally appeared at SmartCompany.

Five Australian startups to watch in 2015

12:43AM | Wednesday, 17 December

The startup scene continues to flourish in Australia, with hundreds of new startups launching this year and many scaling nationally and overseas.   Here is StartupSmart’s pick of some of the startups to keep an eye on in the new year.   1. Bitcoin Group   Melbourne-based Bitcoin Group, the entity behind bitcoin arbitrage fund Bitcoins Reserve, has big plans for 2015.   The company plans to raise $20 million at 20 cents a share by listing on the ASX. On top of that, the startup is a big supporter of the local bitcoin community.   Chief financial officer Allan Guo previously told StartupSmart Bitcoin Group hopes to raise the profile of bitcoin in Australia and make sure more people understand digital currencies.   “There are people building exchange platforms, as well as payment systems, wallets, all the technology, but for us we see the biggest problem with bitcoin is the lack of understanding, the lack of trust,” he says.   “The transparency, the legitimacy, that’s what we want to bring.”   2. Swift   Swift is a Melbourne startup that grew out of after-hours alcohol delivery service Liquorun, and allows retailers and other businesses to deliver their products to consumers within one hour.   Swift is a classic example of an Aussie startup taking a niche concept and applying it to the broader market. “Shopping online is very convenient until it comes down to accepting delivery of the item,” founder Joel Macdonald previously told StartupSmart. “You know where you’re going to be in the next 60 minutes but you don’t necessarily know where you’re going to be the next day. Everyone’s time poor.”   Swift was one of five companies to recently secure funding from BlueChilli’s $10 million venture capital fund and is in talks with a number of US retailers.   3. Stashd   Fashion-discovery startup Stashd launched earlier this year and allows users to swipe left or right on an item depending depending on whether they would like to ‘stash’ or ‘trash’ it.   The app features more than 100,000 items and users in more than 80 countries. Co-founder Jessica Wilson says 30% of the apps users are “power users” and have engaged with the app more than 100 times since downloading it.   “I think a lot of it is you become super addicted to it,” she says.   “Internationally we’ve grown well because it is different, and we’re one of the first people in the fashion app space.”   Stashd has plans to grow the product range to include items from the likes of Zara, The Iconic and Asos.com. The startup will likely announce a seed investment round in the next few months.   4. Wattcost   Aussie startup WattCost has developed a device that can be attached to a household’s power meter to provide home owners with real-time data on power usage.   Former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble says WattCost was the most interesting startup he has seen all year and Google could very well buy the company in the race to become the dominant Internet of Things platform.   “We don’t know who’s going to win, but Google’s in the early lead because they bought Revolv, they bought Dropcam and they bought Nest,” he says.   “And I think this is going to be another one that they’re going to buy, because knowing how much electricity is going through the house, knowing when the rates are changing, that’s really important.”   5. TalkLife   Global social network TalkLife was founded in Adelaide and this year announced a collaboration with a London-based business accelerator.   The startup allows young people to discuss issues such as depression and suicide and support one another online. It has grown rapidly since its launch in 2012, with currently more than 100,000 users worldwide.   Founder Jamie Druitt previously told StartupSmart the startup is working with Harvard and MIT research teams to investigate how data can be used to predict high-risk mental health episodes in young people.   “I think it is fantastic that TalkLife can give them the opportunity to see data on mental health in real time,” he says.   “I think we need to look at how we can grow TalkLife now – it has only ever grown organically but we’re not even scratching the surface of mental health. We’ve got a long, steep road ahead.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Tapit opens US office following rapid international expansion

12:26AM | Tuesday, 16 December

An Australian startup leading the way in contactless communications has opened an office in New York as part of its expansion into the US market.   Tapit, founded in 2011, has been finding new ways for consumers to access information instantly on their phones – all off the back of an aggressive international expansion.   Earlier this year the startup collaborated with the likes of Google and HBO to allow people to access film and television-related content on their smartphones by scanning event posters.   In September, Tapit entered the Chinese market via a partnership with mobile commerce giant 99 Wuxian.   Co-founder and chief executive Jamie Conyngham told StartupSmart the company opened an office in New York because it wanted to position itself where its clients were.   “There’s a concentration of media in New York and a lot of iconic brands have their global headquarters there, so it made more sense for us to relocate there rather than San Francisco,” he says.   Conyngham says the startup has been using Australia as a “launchpad” for global deals, which has worked well because it can bring those case studies to the US.   “If you do a deal with Google or Microsoft in Australia you have that case study and you can then go to their global teams,” he says.   “You can’t do that unless you do those deals in the US – Skype only takes you so far.”   The company has been helped by the fact that Australia is ahead with contactless communication in comparison to other countries, according to Conyngham.   “You’ve seen the massive take-up of tap and pay with credit cards and that has put us ahead in the contactless ecosystem. So we’ve been lucky to have headquarters here in that regard because the US is a bit behind – even in the UK.”   Tapit also has offices in Tokyo, Shanghai and Dubai. The fast-growing startup has pioneered contactless communications for brands such as Telstra, Vodafone, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Sony.   There are around 635 million smartphones fitted with near-field communications technology around the world, and Tapit expects that number to grow to one billion by 2015.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

When emails go public. How to avoid sharing the things you should never have said

12:57AM | Tuesday, 16 December

There is a lesson for us all in the continuing revelations from stolen Sony emails being splashed over world-wide media. It is a lesson that Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal could have benefited from before sending emails with racist comments about President Obama. Or an email calling Leonardo DiCaprio’s behaviour “Absolutely Despicable” when he decided to pull out of a planned Steve Jobs biopic.   The lesson is a very simple one. It is that when you are writing an email (or any other corporate document), imagine that it will inevitably one day end up on the Internet for everyone to see. Even without the hacking episode, there have been enough horror stories of private emails being accidentally sent to the wrong people who have little issue with making the contents public.   The emails of Amy Pascal and other Sony Pictures’ executives reveal damaging internal discussions about business practises and commentary on a wide range of people that the company relies on to do their business. It is hard to imagine how those involve retain their credibility as more of the emails become public.   The dangers of emails being used against an organisation was something that former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates discovered the hard way during US antitrust investigations. After that point, Microsoft internally discussed a practice of not keeping any emails for longer than 6 months.   In many other cases, emails have been obtained by journalists and others and used against the owners under Freedom of Information requests.   Deleting emails after a set amount of time would have helped a great deal with Sony’s problems but it comes with its own issues. Many organisations, including universities, are subject to legal regulations governing how long official records need to be retained. Emails can be considered part of official records and so it is sometimes difficult to apply a blanket policy that requires all emails to be deleted after a relatively short time.   The problem of email could also potentially be solved by using other forms of electronic communication instead. There have been suggestions that email could be replaced with instant messaging. This is certainly the case but many of these services keep records of conversations. Google for example, allows individual hangouts to be switched into “off the record” mode, but does not allow this setting as a default for all conversations. To delete the record of the conversation, it has to be done individually.   Special software that automatically deletes conversations can be used such as messaging apps Telegram and OneOne but these require widespread use. In terms of the types of email exchanges that were highlighted in the Sony releases, it is unlikely that the participants would have had the presence of mind to use more secure communications in any event.   Although companies should be advising all of their staff, especially the senior ones about good email hygiene, there is still a much easier way of avoiding all of these issues by not writing the email (or document) in the first place. If that is not possible, then there are a few definite things you should do when writing email:   1) Always keep it brief. The more you write, the harder it is to check you haven’t said something you will regret. 2) Never write email when you are angry or emotional. Leave it for 24 hours before writing, if at all. 3) Never write email when you have been drinking. 4) Never include personal, intolerant, or insensitive statements in corporate email.   If it helps, it is also useful to imagine a prosecuting lawyer looking over your shoulder as you write every email you send.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Bill Gates reveals the best books he read this year

12:43AM | Tuesday, 9 December

Bill Gates is known for his business acumen and philanthropy. But the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft is also known for his reading habits. Following on from his summer reading list, released in July, this morning Gates named the five best books he read this year. While Gates’ annual reading list is not packed full of how-to business manuals, he said in a blog post it is fitting that this year’s collection does touch on economics and business as for him at least, inequality and the rising prominence of Asian economies has dominated the news. SmartCompany was given a sneak peek at Gates’ list of best books of 2014 and why he recommends you put them at the top of your Christmas reading pile. Business Adventures by John Brooks Brooks’ collection of articles is Gates’ favourite business book and a regular feature on his recommended reading lists. “Shortly after we met, Warren Buffett loaned me this collection of New Yorker business articles from the 1950s and 1960s,” says Gates. “I loved them as much as he did”. “Brooks’ insights about business have aged beautifully, and they are as true today as ever. I still go back to this book from time to time and this year I had a chance to re-read the chapter on Xerox. Business Adventures is a neglected classic and it’s still my favourite business book ever.” You will find it difficult to purchase a hard copy of Brooks’ book in your local bookshop as it is out of print, but the ebook version is readily available. Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty Gates credits Piketty’s tome as sparking “a fantastic global discussion this year about inequality”. “Piketty kindly spent an hour discussing his work with me before I finished my review,” says Gates. “As I told him, although I have concerns about some of his secondary points and policy prescriptions, I agree with his most important conclusions: inequality is a growing problem and that governments should play a role in reducing it.” “I admire his work and hope it draws in more smart people to study the causes of, and cures for, inequality.” How Asia Works by Joe Studwell According to Gates, Studwell’s book provides “compelling answers to two of the greatest questions in development economics: how did countries like Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and China achieve sustained, high growth? And why have so few other countries managed to do so?” Gates was particularly taken with the agricultural section of Studwell’s book, which he says is “particularly insightful”. “It provided ample food for thought for me as well as the whole Agriculture team at our foundation,” Gates says. “And it left us thinking about whether parts of the Asian model can apply in Africa.” The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion Gates’ affection for the writing of Melburnian Graeme Simsion is well known, and despiteThe Rosie Effect not yet being published in the US, Simsion gave Gates his own early copy. “The hilarious follow-up to The Rosie Project is one of the best novels I’ve read in ages,” Gates says. “It’s a funny novel that also made me think about relationships: what makes them work and how we have to keep investing time and energy to make them better. A sweet, entertaining and thought-provoking book.” Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization by Vaclav Smil Smil’s books are a perennial feature in Gates’ reading lists and this year the billionaire has selected Smil’s take on the world’s use of materials. “If anyone tries to tell you we’re using fewer materials, send him this book,” Gates says. “With his usual scepticism and his love of data, Smil shows how our ability to make things with less material – say soda cans that need less aluminium – makes them cheaper, which actually encourages more production. We’re using more stuff than ever.” This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: Microsoft splashes $US200 million on email startup

12:24PM | Monday, 1 December

Microsoft is believed to have spent over $US20 million to a startup called Acompli, which makes an email app for Android smartphones and iPhones.   The news was reported by Re/Code, with Microsoft later confirming the deal in an official blog post from the company’s corporate vice president for Outlook and Office 365, Rajesh Jha.   The email client was developed by veterans from Zimbra and VMWare, and supports both Microsoft and Google email services.   US retailers concerned about Chinese online marketplace Alibaba   A number of leading US retailers have called on Congress to end special tax treatment for online retailers, citing fears Chinese marketplace Alibaba could “decimate” their businesses.   According to Reuters, claims were made in a series of TV and radio ads by a lobby group called Alliance for Main Street Fairness, which includes major US retail chains such as Best Buy, Target and JC Penney.   While Alibaba has not yet launched in the US market, the retailers are concerned the company could use some of the money raised through its recent IPO on a US expansion.   Google Fiber signups in Texas   Google Fiber has opened up signups in the US city of Austin, Texas, according to The Verge.   The fibre-to-the-premises internet service costs $US70 per month for data only, with 1 terabyte of cloud storage and TV setting consumers back $US130 per month, and a slower 5Mbps download and 1Mbps upload service available for a once-off $US300 fee.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 43.45 points to 17784.8. The Aussie dollar is down to US85.04 cents.

What to do when your biggest friend is also a foe – a lesson from Mozilla

11:31AM | Thursday, 27 November

This past week Mozilla, the developer of the popular Firefox web browser amongst a number of other products, announced that Yahoo!, rather than Google, will become the company’s default search index in the US. In China, the default search engine will be Baidu, it will be Yandex in Russia, and it will remain as Google in all other markets. Hiding within this announcement, however, is a valuable case study for any business on what to do when your biggest paying customer turns into a competitor.   As I discussed in this column back in February, around 90% of Mozilla’s revenues come from Google, which pays a commission for searches originating from the search field in the Firefox tool bar.   As incredible as it might sound, that little search field in the top-right hand corner of Firefox on a PC or a Mac is worth around $US280 million ($327.5 million) per year in revenue.   To find out why that deal initially came about, we need to go back in time nearly a decade to when an engineer named Mitchell Baker – one of the most overlooked female leaders in Silicon Valley – launched Mozilla from the ashes of a company called Netscape.   Back when Firefox launched in September 2012, such an arrangement between Mozilla and Google was ideal for both sides. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominated the web, shipping by default on every PC and every Mac, and used MSN Search (now Microsoft Bing) as a default search engine.   As Firefox’s user base grew, so did the number of users it directed to Google. For Google, that growth in terms of users meant its lucrative search ad revenue grew, making the deal lucrative for both sides.   But a decade is a long time in the tech world. In that time Google released its own web browser, known as Chrome, and Google became the default on more than 1 billion devices using its Android or Chromebook platforms. Not only does Google now no longer need Firefox, but Firefox is now its chrome-covered competitor.   This put Mozilla in an incredibly awkward position: Its main source of income was now also its biggest rival. What Mozilla did next is rather counter-intuitive.   First it released Firefox OS, a slimmed down operating system based on the Firefox web browser primarily aimed at low-cost smartphones in emerging markets. At this year’s Mobile World Congress, it announced a smartphone that runs Firefox OS that sells for just $US25 outright. It was now competing head-to-head with Android devices at the very moment low-cost smartphones became a key growth market for Google.   Then it launched its own app store – known as the Mozilla Marketplace – that sells apps for any PC, Mac or smartphone that runs either Firefox or Firefox OS.   It followed this with the announcement of a string of devices running the platform, including tablets, smart TVs in partnership with Panasonic, low-cost computers and – most recently – a Chromecast-like HDMI stick called the Matchstick.   The new products and the app store will potentially create a new source of revenue for Mozilla, but also saw Firefox jump right in the path of Google’s mobile computing juggernaut, Android. That same Google – keep in mind –was also still Mozilla’s main source of income.   To paraphrase Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister, it was potentially a very “courageous” move. However, there was one strategic masterstroke by Baker and her team that hadn’t been revealed yet.   Google is not the only company on the internet that’s willing to pay to have a large number of web searches sent in its general direction. This is where the deal with Yahoo! comes in.   Better still, Yahoo! has no ambitions as far as making smart TVs, web browsers, HDMI sticks or app stores. In fact, if it leads to more people searching with Yahoo!, the online media giant has a good reason to promote those efforts.   As I said near the start of this article, there’s an important lesson hidden in this for any business or organisation whose biggest customer is also a competitor. In fact, it’s almost a case study on what to do (or try to do) in a very tricky commercial predicament, as Mozilla was.   That is to make sure you leave the door open for another customer or backer (in this example, Yahoo!) to potentially step in, while at the same time developing new sources of revenue over the longer term. Also, so long as your business has a Yahoo! waiting in the wings, it potentially matters less if those new revenue sources put you in direct conflict with your biggest customer (Google).   Because sometimes in business, your best friend can quickly turn into your biggest enemy.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Government report identifies six disruptive tech trends to watch

11:07PM | Sunday, 23 November

Mobile messaging apps such as Whatsapp are killing traditional text messages while multi-screening is going mainstream, according to an Australian Communications and Media Authority.   The ACMA paper, titled Six emerging trends in media and communications, attempts to identify disruptive media and communications trends that “strain the effectiveness and efficiency of existing regulatory settings”.   Here are the six media and communications trends identified in the report:   1. Communications go over the top   Consumers are increasingly rejecting carrier-based phone calls and text messages in favour of apps and online services such as Apple iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat and Microsoft’s Skype.   According to the report, revenues from fixed line phone services have collapsed by 34% in five years, from $18.296 billion in 2008 to just $12.045 billion in 2013.   Over the same time frame, the number of voice over internet protocol (VOIP) users has surged from 2.1 million to 4.6 million.   However, this extra data users has been good news to mobile phone carriers, which have seen their revenues surge from $15.967 billion to $20.014 billion.   2. Consumers build their own links It’s not just the number of communications apps that is booming. Australian consumers are using them with a wider variety of devices, which are connected over a growing number of network technologies.   Consumers now regularly switch between fixed-line internet connections, Wi-Fi, mobile broadband and – especially in remote areas – satellite connections, depending on the time of day.   The number of devices they use is also increasing, with the number of Australians owning a tablet, laptop and smartphone increasing from 28% in 2013 to 53% in 2014.   3. Wearables are set to boom   On top of smartphones, tablets and laptops, the report predicts wearables (including Google Glass, smartwatches and fitness trackers) are set to become increasingly common over the coming years.   The report suggests the number of wearables worldwide will grow from 22 million in 2013 to 177 million in 2018.   It also predicts that an increase in the number of devices running Google’s Android Wear platform, along with the release of the Apple Watch early next year, will lead this trend to accelerate.   4. Online content is going mainstream   The internet is not just disrupting the way we communicate.   According to the report, consumers are increasingly viewing a greater number of TV services (including pay TV, broadcast TV, streaming TV and catch-up TV) delivered to a growing number of devices, over a growing number of network technologies.   In a typical week, 97% of Australians watch a free-to-air or pay TV service. By contrast, one-in-two Australians have watched online TV over the past six months. This includes professionally produced catch-up or streaming TV services, pirated movies and content from video sites such as YouTube.   Meanwhile, people aged between 16 and 24 now watch more TV over the internet than they do from broadcast television services.   5. Multistreaming is now mainstream   In many cases, new forms are television are complementing, rather than replacing older ones.   The report shows 74% of Australians with internet access regularly watched TV and used the internet at the same time, up 25 percentage points from 2009. It is as high as 89% for people aged 25 to 34.   Overall, 71% of people still prefer to watch TV shows and movies on television, compared to on mobile phones (5%), tablets (4%) and computers (29%).   Meanwhile, user-generated content is mostly watched on computers (71%) or mobile phones (41%), rather than tablets (17%) and televisions (10%).   6. TV is still the one for news   Finally, when it comes to getting the news, the more things change, the more they stay the same.   The report shows that 92% of free-to-air or subscription television viewers watched a news or current affairs programs on television in 2014.   While newspaper circulation has dived 18% between 2009 and 2013, the drop has been a drop of just 10% from TV over the same time.   Image credit: Flickr/alvy   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Understanding the new Accelerating Commercialisation government grant scheme for startups

11:19AM | Thursday, 20 November

The federal government has just announced details of the Accelerating Commercialisation component of the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme, a funding program that replaces the Commercialisation Australia program.   The Accelerating Commercialisation (AC) program is designed to help small to medium businesses and researchers commercialise on what is being referred to in the information packs as “novel products, processes and services”.   There seems to be a stronger emphasis on connecting those applying with a network of commercialisation advisors to provide guidance on early-stage commercialisation.   There are certainly quite a few changes to the previous Commercialisation Australia program and there are some important points to note: Two parts of the offer – portfolio and/or grants First, being part of the Accelerating Commercialisation Portfolio gets your company publicly listed on a database, gives you a commercialisation advisor contact and also gives you opportunities to connect with a new Expert Network of  advisors.   Secondly, you may apply for grants (up to $250,000 for the commercialisation group of a research agency and up to $1 million for a company).   Importantly, you don’t have to seek funding (grants) to apply to be part of the Accelerating Commercialisation Portfolio. Two stage application process To apply, you’ll need to complete the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Programme (EIP) Accelerating Commercialisation Expression of Interest (EOI) form online at business.gov.au.   Your application will be reviewed by a customer service advisor, after which you may progress to the more detailed Accelerating Commercialisation application or they may point you in the direction of other applicable grants. Grant eligibility criteria and funding When applying for funding there are some things to be aware of around the eligibility criteria: Any funding needs to be matched 50:50. (Good news for companies in the BlueChilli incubation and accelerator programs is that BCVF qualifies as one of the matched fund providers). If you have already made sales and are looking for funding for scale or marketing you won’t qualify Funding for next versions of your product (unless major) don’t qualify. It’s worth completing the Expression of Interest BEFORE launching your MVP. You need to make your first sales in AUSTRALIA Maximum length of project is two years. Funding will be tied to agreed milestones around that timeframe. Tech sector restrictions removed Previously, there were limits on the tech sectors that could apply for commercialisation support. Now, companies from any tech sector can apply.   That being said, there are five key areas that have been identified as ‘growth sectors’. If your business targets a growth sector, you get bonus points: Advanced manufacturing; Food and agribusiness; Medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; Mining equipment, technology and services; Oil, gas and energy resources; or Enabling technologies and services for the above In summary Overall, this new program seems to be for earlier stage companies looking for funding to complete development, prove commercial viability, make first sales in Australia and move towards commercialisation of novel IP.   The new program has stronger ties into the Expert Network of advisors, industry, corporations and government which has the potential to help accelerate the commercialisation of these early stage businesses. It also aims to increase visibility of the ecosystem as a whole (this is a good thing!)   For more information, see accelerating commercialisation.   Catherine Eibner joined BlueChilli After spending her previous years mentoring startups as the head of the Microsoft Bizspark program in Australia. Eibner brings her passion and experience across technology and business to help the BlueChilli startups achieve global success.   This article first appeared at BlueChilli.

Inside Slush: day one of Europe’s biggest tech conference

11:14AM | Wednesday, 19 November

The first impressions of Helsinki in winter evoke words like “grim” and “desolate”. Rather than shying away from the imagery of a frozen northern landscape, Slush embraces it with the slogan “welcome to the north”.   While slightly foreboding, the message is one of a frontier in both location and the startup ecosystem. Where Nokia once held the world’s attention for Finnish tech companies, the country’s gaming scene has charged into focus with Rovio’s Angry Birds followed by Supercell’s Clash of Clans as almost default downloads for addictive mobile gaming.   The Slush experience starts right from the beginning, at a sparse airport with a surprising amount of the non-European startup community spilling out into the freezing winds. Including more than a few Australians, who we will meet over the coming days.   Day One    With what can only be called spectacular growth, Slush has outgrown its previous venue and settled into the Messukeskus convention centre on the edge of town. With an almost absurd amount of attention to detail, the team have converted an enormous convention centre into a thriving and beautiful rave, complete with smoke machines, lasers, and dubstep breakdown.   The venue is set up around four major stages, one dedicated entirely to the startup battle pitching 100 international and local startups against each other for a top prize of 250,000 euros. Yes, euros. This alone would be an incredible ringside event, but the day kicks off at high speed with Finland’s Prime Minister Alexander Stubb taking the Silver Stage to launch the event. In the process affirming his support for the national tech and startup community and sharing his belief that "kids need to learn coding at school”.   A small comment but a big point of difference compared to the debate surrounding reports in Australia released by Education Minister Christopher Pyne, suggesting that a digital technologies curriculum was unnecessary in Australia as a point of focus for our future workforce.   Cementing the contrast are furthers comments by Estonia’s young Prime Minister Taavi Roivas, taking the stage to boast that the country sets the record for most startups per capita, and that he has actively studied the success of major local startup success stories that include the Microsoft acquisition of Skype.   Also on the political tip, a few words from surprise guest Chinese Vice Prime-Minister Wang Yang, who despite the pomp and ceremony of his attendance, managed to drop a locally relevant joke by way of “I’m not angry, I’m a fan of Angry Birds”. A little lost in translation perhaps, but it’s the thought that counts.   Game On    Elsewhere, the schedule splits the crowds into three major streams of Gaming, Leadership and Enterprise Software. On the gaming tip, Rakuten founder Hiroshi Mikitani speaks about leading the curve in converting his company to operating in English, a tactic that is now taught in business school as one of the secrets of Samsung’s success on South Korea. For Mikitani’s moves, he said the appreciation was a long time coming.   “Many people really critiqued me & called me crazy,” he said. “But it now allows them to hire from all over the world, and 80% are non-Japanese and the diversity has helped us to become more innovative and is core to our growth.”   Similar scaling lessons were shared by GungHo Online Entertainment founder Taizo Son and Supercell’s CEO Ilkka Paananen in a surprisingly intimate fireside chat.   Taizo Son notably sharing tales of the days of his shame in being unable to make payroll for the staff of the then-fledging gaming company. The now-billionaire laughing now about advice that startup life is not unlike a video game. "You are like Super Mario,” said Son. "You are struggling in the first stage but its fun to play”.   Building a successful company is a game that has come at the cost of many mistakes, with Son claiming that more than 80% of his decisions over the last 15 years have been failures. He advises that startups embrace the opportunity to fail as not only one to learn, but one to define the potential path.   "In most of cases we can’t execute what we think ideally so we have to align with the failures.”   Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen on the other hand advised a theme of team dynamics and persistence as a path to luck.   "Most successful people don’t know why they are successful so luck does play a role,” said Paananen.  "Even if they did know, how do you know those methods are applicable to you situation?”   Instead of reliance on advice he spoke of the importance of forming a hard working team with a strong dynamic, and taking the input of adviser’s with a grain of salt.   "Be humble and listen to everybody, but make the decisions yourselves and trust your instincts,” Paananen said. Adding a cautionary comment on the topic of diversity, stating that he "would never invest in a group that does the same thing as I did".   Back from the dead (but where is Snake?)   Of the many product announcements making the most of the event’s media platform today, the most high profile was the launch of the Nokia N1 tablet. Being released in time for the Chinese New Year of February 15, Nokia is jumping back into the consumer hardware space with a competitively priced $249 tablet.   The bombastic launch and focus on releasing into the Chinese market first showed a renewed enthusiasm after the Finnish company sold its handset business to Microsoft. To be clear, this is the Nokia mothership reasserting its relevance after selling off it’s most well-known product arm, and we will reserve judgement until we get our hands-on media demo on the second day of Slush tomorrow. In the meantime, the bravado is infectious. At least as far as Scandinavian culture goes, with Nokia’s head of products Sebastian Nystrom taking his time to soak up the stage.   “They said RIP Nokia. I say they couldn’t be more wrong”.   It wasn’t quite a Jobs-esque performance, but the local crowd were rapturous with the potential of the local heroes rising again.   Mikko, don’t kill my vibe    In the “mind equals blown” category of the day was the direly titled “RIP Internet”, presented by Finnish security expert (and regular conference celebrity talker) Mikko Hypponen. As a veteran of computer security, Mikko spoke of the looming dangers in the infrastructure of the internet, and the potential for it to be damaged or destroyed by either neglect or intent.   “Sometimes it feels like we’ve built a monster,” Hypponen reflected. “We are running our critical infrastructure with ‘projects’”. While an advocate for open source, he points out the recent Heartbleed and Shellshock vulnerabilities of popular and in many cases essential open-source projects, and asks if there’s not a better way to ensure the development of such ubiquitous infrastructure technology.   On a darker note, Hypponen walks through an example of governmental interference, showing examples of a WhatsApp message sent during the Hong Kong riots. The message claimed to be from protesters, linking to software to allow them to communicate and organise via a private network. The network allegedly run by the Chinese government as a way to access personal details and track the key organisers of the riots. Heavy.   Other examples of impending doom included known cases of bot networks formed via insecure devices in the category of the Internet of Things.   “Who wants to infect [web enabled] toasters? It beats me - but combined they make an effective bitcoin mining network!”   Design first (or when you need a pick-me-up)    For those needing a break from the security downers, a Product Design feature on the Green Stage ranged across topics of interface design, UX and hardware design.   Microsoft’s hardware phone designer Peter Griffith talked about obsessive details in hardware development, while Infogram’s Ikko Jarvenpaa talked about the responsibility and ethics of startups where trends and opportunities outpace the legal framework.   “Technology moves faster than laws, creating unregulated opportunities,” said Järvenpää. “But we need to be mindful of societal repercussions. With great power comes great responsibility, yes, but those of us working with highly scalable technologies wield great power”   What does on sauna stays in sauna    As the sessions wound down for the day the halls were cleared to transform into party mode, seeing a literal army of local volunteers spill out to convert the promo stands, stages and social spaces into one big party venue.   Given it already looks like that rave I accidentally went to that time and didn’t inhale at, it’s no surprise.   But what goes on startup tour, stays on startup tour. Unless you follow the tweet stream, in which case you can tune in tomorrow for more live action on the floor of Slush 2014 – including a hands-on with the Nokia N1 and an introduction to the (crazy) Australians that have made the pilgrimage from Down Under to the northern frontiers of global technology and startup culture.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Robert Scoble thinks Australia’s WattCost should be Google’s next purchase

11:42AM | Monday, 17 November

Could WattCost be the next Australian startup acquired by Google? Former Microsoft evangelist Robert Scoble believes so.   The startup has developed a device which attaches to a household’s power meter and provides homeowners with real-time power usage data, and uses that data to help them save power, money, and reduce their carbon footprint.   The WattCost team is currently in the United States meeting with Scoble, who is Rackspace’s startup liaison officer, after winning the company’s 2014 Small Teams Big Impact Pitching competition.   WattCost co-founder David Soutar says the trip to Silicon Valley has been fantastic so far, and praised the job Scoble and Austrade have done in introducing the WattCost team to investors, advisers and other successful Australian founders.   “Silicon Valley investors seem to value what we’re doing at a much higher level than back home, but we would really like to work with Australian investors if possible,” he says.   “We believe we’ve developed a world-class product, that will change the way consumers interact with their homes to control their electricity costs, and people over here are opening their doors on short notice to listen to us.”     Scoble described WattCost as the most interesting new startup he’s seen all year. He says Google is leading the race to become the dominant home IoT platform.   “We don’t know who’s going to win, but Google’s in the early lead because they bought Revolv, they bought Dropcam and they bought Nest,” he says.   “And I think this is going to be another one that they’re going to buy, because knowing how much electricity is going through the house, knowing when the rates are changing, that’s really important.”   WattCost works by monitoring fluctuations in power usage and uses machine learning to iron out any ambiguities.   “Every appliance has its own unique digital signature, so we’ve learnt what those signatures are,” Soutar says.   “Some things you can talk about instantaneously because of the load, but when I talk about digital fingerprints, that’s how it is used over time. If you imagine a microwave, say you put it on for a minute, it runs through a certain power signature cycle.”   When something is plugged into the home network that WattCost isn’t familiar with, it prompts the user through its smartphone app to let the system know what it is. That smartphone app is where users can find real-time power consumption information on their home. It can make suggestions like delaying using the dishwasher until off-peak times, or updating a fridge that is consuming more energy than it should be.   “We want to help people save money and lower their carbon footprint,” Soutar says.   “There’s never been a way to do that from a personal point of view, so we’re really passionate about helping people do that.”   That passion, Soutar says, will eventually lead to WattCost releasing its own API.   “The consumers should own the data and they should be able to use it in whichever way they want,” he says.   The WattCost energy monitor is available for pre-order for $149 (the first 1000 can be pre-ordered for $99) and it’s expected to ship in the middle of 2015. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Asia-Pacific region could lead the way on IoT, says Akamai

11:50AM | Monday, 17 November

The Asia-Pacific region is likely to be an early adopter for the internet of things (IoT), creating opportunities for Australian startups, according to Akamai president of products and development Rick McConnell.   “Overall, Australia is one of our top markets in the world in terms of revenue. While IoT specifically depends on adoption of IoT devices by end users, in our experience web delivery will map closely to what happens with IoT,” McConnell says.   “I think Asia is leading the way on smart connected cities, which include a lot of things that are connected devices. It wouldn’t surprise me on connected homes and cities if the adoption rate for devices and capabilities across Asia leads the world.   “For example, there are buses in Singapore that are available to be tracked through an app, a perfect use case where IoT is invaluable.”   Competition in the IoT marketplace is intensifying in recent years. A range of major IT and tech firms are already competing as cloud-based platform providers for the sector, battling for the attention of tech startups. These companies include the likes of Microsoft Azure, Cisco, IBM and others.   McConnell claims his company is in a unique position in the marketplace, with a content delivery network responsible for 15-30% of all internet traffic, with 2000 server regions across 95 countries.   “The one thing that Akamai does better is deliver content fast and reliably around the world, while IBM and Microsoft Azure have their strengths in computing power and storage,” McConnell says.   “We think there’s an ecosystem opportunity to work with other companies, such as IBM for storage or Microsoft for computing power, while we have a highly distributed network to get the content out.   “We have servers within 20 milliseconds of the users of the internet. That provides the transport layer.”   McConnell says there is likely to be opportunities for tech startups in collecting and compiling data, for building devices, and providing functionality to smart devices.   “You have thermostat functionality, pacemaker functionality, the remote management of an MRI machine that communicates to GE notifying it needs to be repaired,” he says.   Security, reliability and real-time communications should be key considerations, according to McConnell.   “Drones are a great example. A drone is in the air making deliveries and will need to compute so it does not hit a person or fly into restricted airspace. Many of those instructions will come remotely and will need to be at near real time,” he says.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How these six new technology predictions fared in 2014: Control Shift

11:03AM | Thursday, 13 November

Futurologists are a common feature at business conferences.   Unfortunately, many aren’t held accountable to how their predictions pan out. We’re all still waiting for our flying cars, clean reliable fusion power plants and 3D holograms.   In November last year, I picked six new technologies that were likely to make an impact in 2014. So how did they fare?   Here’s what happened:   1. Curved and flexible displays   This first pick came with a caveat:   “Unfortunately, getting devices with a curved or flexible screen produced on a production line designed for flat screen devices has turned out to have been far more difficult than it initially seemed… As a result, you’re unlikely to see these devices outside South Korea in the immediate future.”   Sure enough, at the International CES in Las Vegas, Samsung demonstrated curved-screen TVs as the centrepiece of its display. In January, LG launched the G Flex curved-screen smartphone in Australia.   Meanwhile more recently, at its Unpacked 2014 Episode 2 event alongside the IFA trade show, Samsung unveiled a new curved-edge smartphone called the Galaxy Note Edge.   As predicted, there have been issues putting flexible and curved glass into mass production. However, LG Display appears to have come up with a solution: Using plastic instead of glass in a new display technology called P-OLED (Plastic-Organic Light Emitting Diode).   The thin, flexible display technology helped it to create a round-screen Android Gear smartwatch called the G Watch R, along with a smartphone that has a display that runs right to the edge screen.   The company expects smartphones and tablets that are designed to bend (and fold flat after being bent) to begin appearing next year, with rollable tablets, foldable-screen laptops and flexible TVs coming sometime in 2017.   2. Smart TVs   Whether it’s smart TVs that run apps out of the box, set-top boxes or HDMI thumb sticks (such as Google ChromeCast), 2014 was a massive year on the smart TV front.   The year kicked off at CES with LG reviving the Palm Pilot operating system (webOS) for its smart TVs and Panasonic partnering with Mozilla to put Firefox OS on its TVs.   Not to be outdone, in June Google announced Android TV, a new platform for smart TV apps and content. Last month, it announced the first set-top box to use the platform, known as the Nexus Player. Also from Google, a little device known as the ChromeCast finally reached Australia in May.   Amazon saw the action and said “me too”, releasing its version of the ChromeCast in October and a set-top box called Fire TV in April.   So what will people watch on all these smart devices? The best news is that streaming video service Netflix is set to launch in Australia.   It seems the humble “idiot box” has never been smarter than it was in 2014.   3. Smartwatches   Apple Watch was announced this year. Need I say any more?   Even putting Apple Watch aside, 2014 was a huge year for smartwatches. Google also announced its smartwatch platform, known as Android Wear, which in turn powers devices from a range of companies including Sony, LG, Samsung, Motorola and others.   These devices are all packed with a range of apps and features – and they’ll even tell you what the time is.   4. Augmented reality glasses   Google Glass got a limited public release this year with a range of fashionable frames and prescription lenses. Sony released the software development kit for its Google Glass clone.   But the real big mover was a related technology called virtual reality. Jaws dropped when Facebook paid $2 billion for virtual reality device maker Oculus. Last month, Samsung announced the first consumer device based on the technology, known as Gear VR.   You could say 2014 was the year augmented reality and virtual reality became a reality for consumers.   5. Home automation   Google kicked off the year by launching its home automation push with the $3.2 billion takeover of smart thermostat maker Nest. The tech giant encouraged other businesses, including Australian smart-light maker LiFX, to build new devices that connected to Nest.   Apple responded in June by launching HomeKit as part of iOS 8. The technology makes it easy for third-party device makers to allow their devices to be controlled with iPhones and iPads.   6. Low-end smartphones   This is a topic I’ve touched on over the past couple of weeks. The short version is we’re reaching a saturation point in the smartphone market, while low-cost vendors such as Xiaomi are booming in China.   The great news for consumers is, even with the Australia tax, buying an affordable smartphone has never been more affordable.   Throughout the year, a range of devices (including the Moto E and Moto G, the Kogan Agora 4G and the Microsoft Lumia 635 and 530) hit the local market. Each boasted features once the preserve of high-end devices and – best of all – prices well under $300 outright.   Conclusion   Forget about waiting for that flying car.   From smartwatches to smart TVs and low-end smartphones to home automation, the six technologies on the future gadget form guide ran a strong race in 2014.   When some of this technology will make it into the average person’s home is another question.   This story originally appeared on SmartCompany.

THE NEWS WRAP: Xiaomi in talks to raise $US1.5 billion in private capital

11:51AM | Monday, 10 November

Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi is negotiating a capital raise of $US1.5 billion ($A1.75 billion), at a valuation of $US40 billion, in the largest private financing for a venture-backed company since Facebook in 2011.   The company is speaking with investors including DST – the Russian internet company that also backed Alibaba, Facebook and Airbnb, with a deal yet to be finalised, sources told CNBC.   Both Wall Street and Silicon Valley investors are largely uninvolved in the Xiaomi raise, instead the company is hoping to secure funds from Asia-based investors. Uber seeking to raise $1 billion at a valuation over $17 billion Transportation network startup Uber is in early talks with investors about raising $1 billion in new capital, the Financial Times reports.   The talks come less than six months after Uber received $1.2 billion in funding at a valuation of $17 billion. After strong interest from investors, the company is looking to take the opportunity to build a balance sheet “proportionate” to the scale of its business, a source told the Financial Times. Microsoft completes Minecraft purchase Microsoft has completed its $2.5 billion acquisition of Minecraft developer Mojang, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox Division Phil Spencer says.   Spencer had previously confirmed that although Microsoft was making Mojang a first-party developer, it had no intention of forcing a halt to Minecraft development on any non-Microsoft platforms. Overnight The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 19.46 to 17,573.93. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US87 cents.

Xbox director praises independent Aussie game developers

10:32AM | Friday, 31 October

Independent game developers are crucial for an “amazing, innovating” industry, according to Chris Charla, the director of the Independent Developer Program for Xbox One.   Charla is in Melbourne for the PAX 2014 festival, and said the Independent Developer Program for Xbox shows Microsoft is committed to supporting independent and emerging developers.   The program allows qualified game developers to self-publish digital games on Xbox One and also assists them with some of the costs that would normally be a barrier for small development studios.   “We think independent developers are crucially important,” Charla told StartupSmart.   “We want to make sure when someone turns on their Xbox they have access to the broadest, most diverse range of games on the planet. It’s really hard to make a game and if you talk to a game developer they put their heart into it.”   The Independent Developer Program also assists developers in promoting their products. Charla says they initiative has already see a “broad array” of independent games released onto the Xbox platform – everything from horror games to pinball.   As for the Australian independent gaming community, Charla says it is “amazing”.   “It’s not surprising that when it comes to video games the country is able to punch above its weight in terms of its cultural impact.”   Charla praised co-working spaces and the way the gaming community comes together without government or large corporations telling them to.   “All these developers know each other, they can help each other out… it’s an amazing spirit,” he says.   “Worldwide we are seeing local groups of independent developers coming together to support each other, whether it’s through nights where they come together to drink beer and play each other’s games or attend co-working spaces.   “It’s a really exciting time in the gaming industry both to be a player with awesome new choices with consoles and games... and as a developer. It makes me excited to get up in the morning.”   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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