Monday, December 17, 2007

Program pairs experienced execs with start-up entrepreneurs,1,4245138.story


Program pairs experienced execs with start-up entrepreneurs


December 17, 2007


When approaching the Valley of Death, most entrepreneurs don't seek comfort from the Psalms. They prefer cash.

The valley is what start-up companies call the period when their original "angel" investor cash begins to run out, but the young firms haven't matured to the point where venture capitalists or others are prepared to invest.

"Almost any young entrepreneur you ask will have the same answer to the question of what they need to succeed," said Tom Churchwell, managing director of the Chicago-based ARCH Development Partners venture fund. "They say it's money."

That's inexperience talking, he said. While money is essential to fueling a start-up, sound management, good planning and smart execution of a strong business plan not only will put a young firm on the path to success but also will attract funding from savvy investors.

To impart these lessons, several experienced chief executives have joined together to offer a mentoring program for Chicago-area firms. After a competition among several young firms, three have been selected to receive intense mentoring for the next six months.

The firms are RevStor LLC, a Schaumburg-based data storage firm; ParkWhiz LLC, a Chicago-based firm that uses the Internet to match people wanting to rent out parking spaces with motorists needing a place to park; and PrepMe Inc., a Chicago firm that helps people prepare to take standardized tests.

"We see this as a pilot program," said Churchwell, president-elect of TiE Midwest, the group sponsoring the project. "After six months, we'll see how well this scales up."

The effort is tailored after experiences of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who take their firms to success, make bundles of money and jump back into the fray either by starting other firms or investing with young innovators while acting as mentors, said Churchwell.

"Serial entrepreneurs know pitfalls they can help younger guys avoid," he said. "They also recognize and avoid blind alleys."

Knowing how the game is played can be more helpful than being handed a bag of money, Churchwell said. To pave the way for future investment once initial funding runs low, an experienced entrepreneur plans ahead.

"You contact potential investors way before you're ready to ask for money," he said. "You explain your business plan and tell them the milestones you intend to hit over the next six months. When you go back, if you can say you hit those milestones, plus some other accomplishments, an investor appreciates that. You'll get serious consideration."

Even though most entrepreneurs are in love with the bright idea that causes them to start a new company and the technology behind it, Churchwell said, investors aren't impressed. Instead of listening to descriptions of slick technology and rosy sales projections, they look for solid management with a proven success record.

"When you put up your money, it's always about the management team," Churchwell said.

Brickhouse: Yahoo's Innovation Incubator

anyone had any interaction with this?
 Brickhouse: Yahoo's Innovation Incubator
By Reena Jana
November 20, 2007 9:42AM

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How does Yahoo's Brickhouse model work? Any of Yahoo's 13,000 employees can submit proposals for possible new products. Up to 200 ideas are submitted each month. With boosts from Brickhouse, the pace of innovation at Yahoo may be accelerating -- but will it be fast enough to catch Valley rival Google?  

Within Silicon Valley, Yahoo has a reputation for being bureaucratic and slow to innovate, especially in contrast to rival Google. To infuse itself with startup energy, Yahoo began an offsite incubator late last year called Brickhouse.

Its job is to shorten the time it takes to bring new ideas to market. "The goal is to take the idea, develop it, and make sure it's seen by senior management quickly," says Salim Ismail, whose business card reads, simply, "Head of Brickhouse." "We need to iterate, see customer reactions, and launch fast," he says.

In the rapidly moving world of search, that's the way to go. Various Yahoo researchers voiced similar ideas for a fast-paced product-development incubator over the years, but it took an outsider's initiative to make it real. Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr, the photo-sharing site acquired by Yahoo in 2005, is credited with doing so. She wanted to keep Flickr's startup culture alive inside the bigger, slower parent company. Now it's up to Yahoo to make that culture its own.

Brickhouse is located in the South of Market district, where the hip digerati live and work in San Francisco, more than 40 miles from Yahoo's Sunnyvale (Calif.) campus. There are the cliched trappings of geeky culture: beanbag chairs, a foosball table, and Nerf darts. One wall has a huge sheet of paper covered with countless iterations of a lightbulb, the symbol of a great idea. Cheap shoji screens separate different areas of the large, loft-like office. "It's deliberately low-budget," says Ismail.

Brickhouse employees share space with other divisions of Yahoo, such as Yahoo! Video, which develops software applications for Web-based video, and Yhaus, which focuses on user-interface design. But the shop also opens its conference room to Bay Area entrepreneurs for large meetings. And Brickhouse holds "Wii Wednesdays" when friends of Yahoo workers gather to play video games. The idea is to build informal social contacts with other startups.

How does the Brickhouse model work? Any of Yahoo's 13,000 employees can submit proposals for possible new products. Up to 200 ideas are submitted each month. A council of five top company executives, including CEO Jerry Yang and his co-founder, David Filo, vets only the best five to 10. Before Brickhouse began, there were far fewer suggestions and they tended to be brief one-liners. Now, says Ismail, "employees post screenshots, create mock-ups, present cases, and describe potential hurdles."

In February, Brickhouse unveiled its first product, Pipes, a free software tool that lets users gather and mix RSS feeds from many Web sites. Pipes received critical raves by bloggers for its ease of use. The site was so busy its first day that it crashed. But how Yahoo will monetize the venture is unclear.

Next up is Fire Eagle, set for this fall. It's a Web-based software platform that, for example, lets people meet up with co-workers and friends more easily by broadcasting their whereabouts, often tracked by GPS, in online posts or cell-phone text messages. Fire Eagle took only three months to develop -- about 65% less time than the fastest development of typical Yahoo products. With boosts from Brickhouse, the pace of innovation at Yahoo may be accelerating -- but will it be fast enough to catch Valley rival Google?

Meeting Miser

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Jewish teens get early start on life of philanthropy

Jewish teens get early start on life of philanthropy
  Dec 4, 2007 Arizona Daily Star  

By Stephanie Innes

For Hanukkah this year, 16-year-old Erin Olitzky asked for a "Save Darfur" bracelet and a sweat shirt from her favorite charity, Oceana.

The Catalina Foothills High School sophomore has been giving philanthropy a lot of thought lately. On the eighth night of Hanukkah, she'll be donating $34 to Oceana, a Washington, D.C.-based group that campaigns to protect and restore the world's oceans.

"I'm really big on the environment, so I knew this was where I wanted my money to go," said Olitzky, who learned about Oceana in a magazine article.

The money represents 5 percent of Olitzky's B'nai Tzedek fund -- money she began raising last year through the B'nai Tzedek Tucson philanthropy program. B'nai Tzedek literally means "people of justice."

The Jewish Community Foundation administers the teens' endowment funds and gives them a 5 percent interest rate. Each year the teens are expected to donate at least $18 or up to 5 percent of their fund.

B'nai Tzedek isn't just about money. Students attend at least four B'nai Tzedek sessions per year to talk about their values, what they care about and social responsibility.

Sixty-one teens currently are in B'nai Tzedek Tucson, 28 of whom are making their first payouts during Hanukkah this year. Hanukkah, often known as the Jewish festival of lights, begins at sundown today.

"Tzedek" comes from the Hebrew word "Tzedakah," which means righteous giving -- in other words, giving as an obligation to create a just world.

Tzedakah is mentioned several times in the Torah and is one of Judaism's 613 mitzvot, the paths for serving God. "Mitzvot" is the plural of "mitzvah," which is a commandment under Jewish biblical law for individuals to make the world a more sacred and just place. Some focus on ritual and others on ethical considerations such as caring for the elderly and visiting the sick.

"Many of the sages really considered Tzedakah the most important mitzvah," said Abigail Foss, coordinator of B'nai Tzedek Tucson. "We wanted to change the notion that to be a philanthropist you have to be grown up and fairily affluent. We want the kids to see themselves as givers who can and must give."

It's a concept that Foss and the teenagers have compared to the story in Jon J. Muth's children's book "Stone Soup." The group read the book together at one of its first gatherings.

The book describes how three monks enter a village, only to find hard-hearted villagers who lock their windows and doors and don't welcome the three. When the monks begin preparing a big pot of stone soup, they pique the villagers' curiosity, and soon everyone wants to provide ingredients. As each villager opens his or her heart to give, the next person gives more.

The teens generally contribute $180 to begin their funds, and the program kicks in the difference to make $500, giving them a start. The number $180 is used because of the significance of 18 in Judaism: The Hebrew word for "life" is "chai" and has a numerical value of 18.

Youths such as Olitzky typically use money they've received as gifts, as well as getting donations from friends and family members to start their funds.

If the teens' funds haven't reached $1,000 by the time they are 18 years old, the money will be returned to help other teens' funds in B'nai Tzedek. If the funds are at $1,000, the teens may continue adding to them through the foundation, with a goal of reaching $5,000 by the time they are 30. The hope is that they will continue to maintain the funds and give throughout their lives.

Between them, the 28 teenagers will be giving money to 13 non-profit groups, including Doctors Without Borders, the American Jewish World Service and Tu Nidito, a local agency that helps children and their families as they deal with serious illness and death.

Sara Hofstadter's dog, Lilly, inspired her philanthropy of choice -- the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. Eight years ago, Sara, a 14-year-old freshman at Catalina Foothills High School, adopted the Australian shepherd mix from the local Humane Society.

A lifelong love of soccer motivated Josh Landau, a 15-year-old sophomore at Catalina Foothills, to donate his money to Grassroot Soccer, a Vermont-based charity that helps African youths to play soccer while also educating them about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The charity was co-founded by Ethan Zohn, who was the winner of CBS' television program "Survivor -- Africa."

"In Third World countries, kids are playing soccer barefoot, and with whatever they can. I thought this was a perfect organization because it uses the power of soccer to teach about AIDS and HIV. I heard about it and looked it up online," Landau said.

"If I have the money, I'll be giving to charity when I'm older, too. It's important to give to people who aren't as fortunate as me -- to give them a better life."

Tucson High Magnet School sophomore David Richelson chose a charity close to home and close to his heart -- Congregation Bet Shalom, the Conservative Jewish synagogue in the Foothills area where he grew up and continues to attend services. Because the synagogue, its members and its leaders have given him so much, Richelson said he wanted to give something back.

B'nai Tzedek Tucson, one of 37 such programs in the United States and Canada, is funded by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation and private donors.

Foss said that ideally, the teens will be creating relationships with the charities they support, offering not only financial help but also some of their time. The group recently brought food Downtown to the Giving Tree Feeding Project and later talked about the experience.

"The whole point is an orientation toward the world, regardless of where they end up socio-economically," Foss said. "Judaism empowers people -- everyone has to give, and you can give. It's an important notion. We don't leave the responsibility to people who are affluent. We all can and should give."

Jewish celebrations of Hanukkah begin at sundown today.

One of the Hebrew meanings of the word Hanukkah (Chanukah) is "dedication" -- a birth of life from darkness, referring to a time when Jews regained freedom of worship.

According to the Talmud (Jewish civic and religious law), the celebration dates back more than 2,000 years. The eight-day holiday celebrates the Maccabees' victory over the Syrians in the second century B.C. The Maccabees were a first- and second-century B.C. Jewish family that brought about the restoration of Jewish religious and political life.

According to Jewish belief, the Greek-Syrian Empire, also called the Seleucid Dynasty, had oppressed Jewish religious practices and defiled most of the pressed, ritually pure olive oil necessary to light the sacred eternal flame inside the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Jewish teaching says that when the temple was recaptured from the empire, the remaining oil was enough to last for only one day.

But the oil in the small jar miraculously burned for a full eight days -- long enough for the gathering of a fresh supply of olive oil and rededication of the temple. The story is commemorated each night of Hanukkah with the lighting of menorahs, which have eight lights plus one helper light. They are lighted one light at a time on each night of the celebration. The Hanukkah menorah is lighted only after nightfall, which signifies the Jews' purpose to illuminate the darkness of the world until a time when the world will be filled with the knowledge of God.

About 3 percent of the Tucson-area population is Jewish, which works out to about 30,000 people. Nationwide, about 2 percent of the population is Jewish.


Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at