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The 336 | Venture Cafe Blog


I’m just back from the Land of the Rising Sun, where I met with my Venture Cafe Global colleagues to share best practices and insights. During Thursday Gathering, each executive director was asked to give some advice to the VC Tokyo community. Here’s what I told them our two cities – which couldn’t be more different in many ways – have in common.

So first of all, some context: Tokyo is a city of 35 million. The Triad is 1.64 million. Tokyo’s economic engine produces $1.6 trillion in GDP, while the entire state of NC produces $540,497 billion. The building where Venture Cafe Tokyo is held is twice the number of floors as the Wells Fargo tower in downtown WS. At first blush, it might now seem like we share much, but in truth, we do.

Historically, both cities relied on large companies to drive growth, and that, over time, created a sense of complacency. The corporation as caretaker mindset is still pervasive in Japan today, and its legacy here in the Triad still looms large. The power of the individual, of the entrepreneur, was diminished. The appetite for risk-taking dulled from the streets of Shimbashi to the streets of Greensboro. 

But here’s where each city gets it right. Tokyo thrives on innovation – from building entirely new islands in the Tokyo Harbor and hosting immersive digital art installations. They think BIG. They think long-term. The Triad is re-learning the power of entrepreneurship and creating successful startups and small businesses. We’re starting to create our own innovation identity. We’re thinking bigger, and more collaboratively. 

As I stood before the eager crowd, it struck me how small the world really is. Sure, Japan was really different – they eat jellyfish for crying out loud – but our shared challenges bring us closer together. 

Here’s a short video from Tokyo.






WSSU Students Work with Neighborhood Businesses to “Stake Their Claim” 09 April 2019

Since January, students at WSSU have partnered with seven small business owners to develop a marketing plan that includes new signage for the newly named Renaissance East Corridor, a small cluster of businesses located a few blocks from the university. The new signage will be unveiled at the event. 

The project will be completed this semester by students in an entrepreneurial marketing (MKT 3305) course taught by Dr. Notis Pagiavlas, marketing professor and founding director of the WSSU Center For Entrepreneurship (CFE).

The project, called “Stake Your Claim,” is supported through the S.G. Atkins Community Development Corp., which assists East Winston residents and businesses and also partnered with the City of Winston-Salem on the East End Master Plan, and CFE. The project is allowing students to gain hands-on experience but also impact an area near campus.

Last year, Dr. Pagiavlas attended several meetings with the businesses to gain preliminary insights of their vision, operations, and marketing challenges. During the meetings, businesses agreed on three phases to improve their marketing strategy as they reach their intended target markets: 

  • Create a community organization of neighbors collaborating to strengthen their businesses.
  • Collaborate with CDC and CFE to install and design matching outdoor signage and marketing material.
  • Prepare marketing plans to include improve property appearance (property repairs, painting, build a coffee shop, brighter street lights, attractive landscaping).

Based on the description of the needs provided by each partner business, students chose one business and were tasked in teams over the course of the spring semester to create a marketing plan that includes matching signage for each business and a website to support an extensive social media presence. 

The signage was custom-built by Leon’s Custom Signs & Designs. Marketing plans for each business and their websites will be completed by the end of the month.

“We want to help increase the visibility of businesses in this historically significant corridor, and we’re excited that these entrepreneurs are working with WSSU students to form their own marketing collaborative and generate ideas to promote the area,” said Carol Davis, executive director of the Atkins CDC.


WHEN BEING NUMBER TWO IS BAD posted 29 January 2019 Respected think tank Brookings Institution and McKinsey released a study last week called Automation, AI and the Future of Work. And the Triad is specifically mentioned – and not in the way we’d like for it to be. The researchers found that Greensboro is the SECOND MOST AT-RISK city in the country to lose jobs to automation and AI. Winston Salem ranks #6 – with both cities projected to lose nearly half our jobs. Those jobs most at risk include food prep, production and office support. Research also indicates that African American workers are more likely to be impacted by automation. In a time when we’re trying to address the causes and impacts of entrenched poverty and lack of economic mobility, this is not welcome news. Before you get all up in arms, consider that automation has created more jobs than its replaced. The hard part is that automation is disruptive. It requires a different set of skills. We all see it coming – and it’s up to us to be aggressive about preparing our workforce and students for what’s ahead. According to an article in the Winston Salem Journal, “Researchers said that communities have limited time to make adjustments. “It calls for urgency and for taking more and greater precautions, ranging from stepped-up provisions for lifelong learning, improved labor-market transitions, and more helpful programs to address the individual and regional hardships of the vulnerable,” the researchers said. “In that sense, the assessment may not warrant dread, but it surely requires attention and action along with the reassurance that automation has the potential to be beneficial even while it remains disruptive.” So what are the ways we as a future-focused community can do to ward off the risks? Brookings Institution researchers recommended five strategies for minimizing the impact of automation, many of which have been options touted since the turn of the century. They include: * Embrace growth and transformative technology; * Promote a constant learning mindset, such as invest in helping workers learn new skills; offers more accelerated learning and certification opportunities; and make skill development more financially accessible; * Facilitate smoother adjustments for displaced workers to get assistance, including hiring through subsidized employment programs; * Reduce hardships for workers who are struggling, such as expand income supports for those in low-paying jobs; and * Identify vulnerable employment sectors to automation and pursue investments in low-risk sectors. At Venture Cafe, we’re focused on bullet points one and two by providing free, high quality education each week focusing on building hard and soft skills, technology and the resources innovators and entrepreneurs need to start, build, grow and scale their business. What are you doing to prepare?   ______


With the unemployment rate at historic lows and an estimated 7 million job openings, companies are having a tough time sticking to stringent skills requirements. With fewer people out looking for work, they’re looking for parallel experiences and a combination of hard skills and soft skills that complement the job’s responsibilities. Here. according to a recent LinkedIn survey, are the top five hard skills and soft skills companies are looking for today.

Here are the 5 most in-demand soft skills in 2019:



WHERE ARE YOU FOCUSING YOUR ATTENTION IN 2019? Posted 04 January 2019 I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions, but here’s the thing: our organization is at a pivot point. So it’s a natural time to look – with clear eyes and mind – at what needs our attention. For me, this means creating a better relationship with DISCIPLINE. Those of you who know me know that, well, I’m not very disciplined. I’m more of an intuitive, in the moment decision maker who respects process but doesn’t want to be a slave to it. See? Even my language about it is negative. I need to recalibrate my mindset to create positive associations. Maybe I need a different word – one that doesn’t predicate itself on reward and punishment. Know what one of my favorite words is? CREATE. Yeah, that feels better. I’m going to CREATE new tools and solutions for our organization to thrive. But that’s not where I have the problem. My particular challenge, probably like many of you, is in incorporating these new tools into the way I work. I need to COMMIT. What needs your commitment this year? What are you avoiding doing that really, really needs to be done to move your organization forward? Let’s talk about it next Thursday. And every day. —– VENTURE CAFE AND PIEDMONT BUSINESS CAPITAL CHOSEN TO RUN MWBE CENTER IN BAILEY POWER PLANT Posted 29 November 2018 Wexford Science & Technology, LLC and the Innovation Quarter today announced Venture Café Winston-Salem as the leader of a new minority- and women owned business center to be located in Bailey Power Plant. Venture Café will partner with Piedmont Business Capital to provide support, training and access to funding for local businesses and entrepreneurs. “Venture Café Global has excelled at advancing inclusive innovation across the country, and we are extremely fortunate to have Venture Café Winston-Salem carrying that flag in our community,” says Will Partin, senior director of development for Wexford Science & Technology. “This partnership will provide truly impactful services, mentorship, and opportunities to entrepreneurs and businesses run by women and people of color.” Under the initiative, Wexford will provide $200,000 in funding support to Venture Café over a two-year term, in addition to 1,400 to 1,600 square feet of additional office space inside the Bailey Power Plant. “Together with Piedmont Business Capital, our two organizations are deeply committed to delivering a first-class experience through the center that will provide certification training, access to funding, entrepreneurial resources, business matching and more to people of color and women in Winston Salem,” said Karen Barnes, Executive Director of Venture Cafe Winston Salem. The aim of the center will be to encourage, support and spark local small businesses and start-ups founded by women and minorities. Venture Café’s mission is to broaden, connect, and support the innovation community through public spaces and programs to help anyone with an idea succeed, making the non-profit an ideal fit to lead the new initiative. An independent advisory council, led by former Winston-Salem city council member and current state representative Derwin Montgomery, reviewed applications from several non-profits to lead the accelerator and made its decision based on the merits of each response and the council’s assessment of the business acceleration opportunities presented by each program. “This initiative for minority and women-owned businesses is another step to ensure that the economy of the future in Winston-Salem is an inclusive one,” said Montgomery. “I am excited to see increased collaboration and innovation occurring daily in the Bailey Power Plant as Venture Café takes on this new challenge, one in which they are uniquely positioned to help the city address. I look forward to seeing the diversity of the businesses that will grow due to this effort.” The program will be housed in the Innovation Suites at Turbine Hall, part of the Bailey Power Plant, which opened in February. The Innovation Suites now house several startups and companies, as well as the operations and Thursday Gatherings of Venture Café Winston-Salem.  

THE FIVE STAGES OF ENTREPRENEURIAL COMMUNITY GROWTH: WHERE WE ARE I’m fresh out of a regional ecosystem meeting (we meet on a regular basis with other entrepreneurial support organizations and academic institutions from WS and GSO) and wanted to share a cool model – and some good news – with you today. A close colleague just returned from a national conference on building successful entrepreneurial communities, and as she said, “We’re doing all the right things.” She shared a 6-stage model and as we all studied it, we realized WE’RE IN STAGE FIVE! Here, according to co.starters, are the five stages of evolution for successful entrepreneurial communities:

  1. Connecting at Chaos. The Triad offers ample opportunities to come together, meet, share and present.
  2. Moving to Mainstream. We have multiple public pitch events and education that encourage the early adopters to move.
  3. Ideas to Action. We hold frequent business model workshops and weekend launch programs.
  4. Taking Root. We are growing cohort-based business fundamentals programs across the region and connecting entrepreneurs with advisors.
  5. Growing Up. This is where we are > now we must leverage as many assets as possible to help promising startups become sustainable.
  6. Retaining Value. This is what’s next > develop ways to capture and share knowledge, values, and relationships created along the way for the benefit of the larger community.

This is no time to rest. This is time to keep our feet on the pedal – to pull in new partners from economic development and corporates, from government and academia to capitalize on the time, energy and investment it’s taken for us to get this far. We’re doing all the right things. Thanks for being part of the journey. ———– CURIOSITY MATTERS – BUT ARE WE ENCOURAGING IT AT WORK? posted 18 September 2018 In the latest edition of Harvard Business Review, the cover story is called “The Business Case for Curiosity.” Naturally, being the curious person I am, I opened it and devoured the story package. Here’s what I learned about how curiosity boosts business performance:

  • it improves decision making and reduces bias
  • it fuels employee engagement and spurs collaboration
  • it prompts creative problem solving and fortifies organizational resilience

But studies show that most managers aren’t encouraging their staff to explore and discover, to feed their curiosities. Nearly 3 in 4 employees said they face barriers to asking more questions. Managers are afraid of new approaches and value efficiency over experimentation. So what can you do to spur more curiosity at work? The articles suggest five strategies:

  • Hire for curiosity
  • Model inquisitiveness as a leader
  • Emphasize learning goals
  • Let employees broaden and guide their own interests
  • Have “What if?” days

Curious and want to read more? Check out the articles online.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP, INNOVATION AND ECONOMIC MOBILITY: TRANSPORTATION This week, the Center for the Study of Economic Mobility premiered its documentary, Bus Stop Jobs, at the Forsyth County Main Library to a packed room. The 11-minute film follows Brittany Henderson, a young mom with a job downtown, who spends 2.5 hours a day on the bus, getting her son to school, getting to work, and getting home. Her life is partially defined by her need to live, work and shop on a bus line. It limits her housing options, her career options and her ability to feed her son healthy food. Maybe you’ve seen or heard the numbers: If you’re born into poverty here in Forsyth County, your chances of escaping are extremely low. One study ranked us 2478th out of 2480 counties studied. The only places that ranked lower are Indian reservations in South Dakota. That’s simply not acceptable. We can do better. We must do better. Here at Venture Cafe, we want to help put an entrepreneurship and innovation lens on social problems like economic mobility. How do we look at systems, like our public transportation system, and create more innovative solutions that better serve our residents? That create more value from time wasted waiting on buses? We believe the best use of innovation is to improve the human condition. This is a conversation whose time has come. Let’s create critical mass, mobilize our passion and ideas and resources, and put our considerable talents to work. Let’s create safe spaces and civic labs for generating big hairy audacious ideas, for building prototypes and analyzing results. Let’s build a city and a culture that won’t stand for anything other than lifting everyone up and unlocking their full human promise. Join us. _____ Y’ALL – WE NEED TO HAVE A SERIOUS CONVERSATION posted 9 August 2018 Friends, We need to have a serious conversation tonight. We need to have an honest conversation tonight. And this is the place we can have those, right? Y’all, we have built a community here at Venture Café from the ground up. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s a place where everyone comes together. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you look like or how much money you make or where you live or who you love or how long you went to school or how you worship or anything else. All are welcome. It’s a place where trust is built and relationships are formed and good things happen. It’s a place where people feel safe to share their hopes and dreams as well as their setbacks and failures. This is the place we’ve made. We – all of us in the Venture Café community – are doing vital, life-changing work. Work that is helping create new jobs, new possibilities, new companies and new hope for our local economy and local families. And believe me when I tell you that there’s a lot of work to do. That’s where our focus is and our heart is. Thank you for being part of the change. It will take all of us to keep pushing. But here’s the thing. The progress we’re making as a community sometimes makes us a false target for those who are more interested in their own agendas and hungry egos and personal benefit than the greater good. They nip at our heels, they spread lies, they threaten the beautiful community we’ve built here. And as tempting as it is to spend energy on shutting them down, we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by the yapping because we must focus on the work. As a community, this is when we RISE. When we stand together and celebrate what we’ve built here – this amazing place filled with the most amazing people – and we RISE. And we keep our eyes facing forward and our focus on what’s important. When we let our actions speak and we do what’s right despite it being hard. When we protect what we’ve gained, when we defend what we’ve all carefully built and lovingly tended and when we show our true strength together. Maybe you’ve had this experience too. And if you haven’t yet, you probably will as an innovator and entrepreneur. When you’re faced with the temptation to spend your precious energy on security guard issues to fight off the energy vampires, keep your attention and energy on pushing forward instead. Keep your energy at the higher level where it’s put to better use. It’s a struggle to do this. I’m struggling with it right now. And I’m sharing this with you because it’s important to be honest about the struggle. And it’s important that you see the struggle and hopefully learn from it. I love this community. I love what y’all have created here. And I will not let anyone diminish what we’re doing. I will not let anyone threaten the safe space we’ve created here. I will not allow anything to come before the work that needs to be done. The work that we – all of us – are doing to create a more vibrant, equitable and resilient city.  AND I WILL NOT ALLOW ANYONE TO PULL US DOWN AS WE RISE TOGETHER AND SAY IN A STRONG, CLEAR VOICE TO THOSE WHO SEEK TO STAND BETWEEN US AND PROGRESS – “GET OUT OF OUR WAY. WE HAVE WORK TO DO.”  ———-  WHY WE’RE ASKING YOU TO JOIN OUR INNOVATION COHORT posted 23 July 2018 Working in silos is a notoriously slow and ineffective way to create synergies – aligning and collaborating is a much more powerful tool. That’s why we’re asking you – as one of the area’s corporate citizens – to consider joining our first Innovation Cohort. So what is an Innovation Cohort and why should you invest? This group of leaders will learn from one another and provide guidance and momentum to our local efforts. You will truly engage with regional entrepreneurs and innovators to advance your company’s initiatives as well as the transition to a knowledge economy. Here are four reasons why you should consider this strategic investment. 1. You’ll enjoy local activation and global connections. Through the growing Venture Cafe Global network, you’ll have access to other innovators and a yearly summit where you’ll learn from other pioneers. You’ll tackle pressing issues like talent attraction and retention as well as change management. 2. You’ll start to disrupt your procurement process by partnering with local entrepreneurs and making strategic investments in new solutions. These aren’t charitable investments, these are growth opportunities. How are you looking for new sources of ideas and revenue? 3. Innovation thrives when there’s critical mass. Help accelerate the pace of change by helping to create our first innovation cluster. Help define our region’s centers of excellence to attract more investment and recruiting. 4. Become truly embedded in the expansion of our local innovation districts. Engage with leaders to shape the vision of what’s next and imagine what’s possible. We’re looking for 6-8 companies to step up and own this opportunity. If you’re ready to lead the way, if you’re ready to invest your time and treasure to make the Triad more Innovation-Ready, email Karen Barnes at and say I’M READY! ——– TACKLING INNOVATION FROM WITHIN: WHY INTRAPRENEURS ARE ALSO HEROES posted 10 July 2018 Startups and founders seem to garner all the business ink these days. Those avant-guard entrepreneurs who risk it all make for a great story. But what about those curious innovators lurking inside large organizations, not so quietly stoking the fires of change and disrupting business as usual? It’s time to celebrate the intrapreneurs. There are numerous success stories to pull from. Take Lockheed Martin, one of the country’s largest defense contractors. Companies don’t get much bigger and more bureaucratic than that. Yet in 1943, in the heat of World War II, they famously set up a SkunkWorks project that delivered a new fighter plane in 30 days. This group of engineers codified their ways of working into 14 rules and practices – and they’re still relevant today. Several companies have adopted the 20% Rule – where employees get to spend one day a week pursuing their ideas, no matter how adjacent or seemingly random. Others build Innovation Labs or take space off campus to avoid the stifling corporate culture that inhibits risk-taking. [Ask us about the Innovation Suites at Bailey Power Plant!] And never, according to Fast Company, has there been such a push to create spaces and opportunities for employees to think like owners. So what happens when you walk into your office and act like you own the place? What changes would you make? What policies would you discard? What new ideas and models and channels and products and consumers and partnerships and research would you pursue? Are you ready to be an intrapreneurial hero? ——- WORKFORCE 2026: SIX GOALS posted 07 June 2018 This is the last installment of our three part series on a recent study outlining the current and future needs of our region as well as strategies to prepare a competitive workforce. To read more, please visit From the full report: “The plan is driven by six core goals for talent alignment, development and attraction. GOAL 1: The Piedmont Triad is recognized as an attractive place destination to live, work and learn.

  • Develop a dedicated talent attraction and retention website.
  • Utilize additional marketing tools for outreach activities.

GOAL 2: Employer engagement in the Piedmont Triad is coordinated, consistent and results-oriented.

  • Establish sector partnerships for each target industry
  • Develop regional data sharing agreements and a central repository for talent-related information
  • Create a regional leadership forum
  • Optimize how employers connect with students and graduates

GOAL 3: K-20 students have access to and are engaged in world-class STEM and CTE education.

  • Develop K-12 programs aligned with target industry needs
  • Address programmatic alignment with higher education
  • Build awareness of career opportunities in the Piedmont Triad

GOAL 4: Expand experiential learning and career services in higher education

  • Highlight the ROI for employers to offer experiential learning opportunities
  • Expand innovative career service functions within higher education institutions

GOAL 5: Discouraged populations are engaged in the workforce and supported in upskilling opportunities.

  • Expand programs that enable discouraged populations to re-enter the workforce
  • Inform discouraged populations about career advancement resources in the region
  • Promote on the job funding and program development offered through the workforce development system
  • Highlight and promote the value of post-secondary credentials for the workforce.

GOAL 6: The Piedmont Triad has programs that support innovation and entrepreneurship.

  • Connect workforce initiatives with programs that support innovation and entrepreneurship
  • Support the expansion of successful entrepreneurship models such as Union Square and Wake Forest Innovation Quarter

What are the challenges you face as an employer trying to hire workers? What kind of jobs do you want to see here in the Triad? ———— WORKFORCE 2026: WHERE THE JOBS WILL BE posted 04 June 2018 In the coming decade, the Triad will need thousands of new workers to fill more than 15,000 estimated new jobs. In new studies conducted for the Piedmont Triad Partnership, the region’s supply and demand of qualified workers and open or new positions shows that employers are already facing difficulties. What are the most in-demand jobs over the next decade? According to the research, the Triad will generate:

  • 9000 healthcare jobs including home health aids, registered nurses, support specialists, lab technicians, phlebotomists, specialty therapists and dental hygienists.
  • 2000 computer control programmers, fabricators, machinists and welders.
  • 1000 computer and information analysts, software developers, database administrators and support specialists
  • Thousands of new drivers and material mover positions
  • Back office, business, finance, sales and marketing slots

The same survey showed that 75% of companies experienced difficulty finding qualified candidates in the last 12 months. The toughest slots to fill were skilled labor and technical positions. Candidates lacked both hard skills and soft skills including critical thinking, teamwork and good attendance. In the final installment of our series, we’ll take a look at the six goals and strategies laid out by the study.  

WORKFORCE 2026: THE TRIAD JOBS OUTLOOK AND OUR LABOR POOL posted 31 May 2018 Over the last months, regional education and business leaders commissioned a Talent Alignment Strategy study to understand current and future workforce needs and ensure initiatives feed these opportunities. Over the next week, we’re going to take a look at the high level findings from this report, exploring the region’s labor force and thriving industries, where we need additional skills and finally how to align the talent pipeline. A full report is available here.Today we’re looking at workforce analysis. Here are some key findings. Overall Employment In the past ten years, the Triad’s population grew by more than 125,000 people but between 2007 and 2010, local employers shed more than 50,000 jobs. In the economic recovery, the overall employment base increased for 7 consecutive years, but hasn’t reached pre-recession levels. Growth is fueled by industry clusters: Back Office, Entertainment, Healthcare, and Retail. Smaller sectors showed great promise: Aviation employment doubled, Biomedical posted a 30% increase and Automotive rose by more than 25%. Requirements For Jobs Of The Future Through 2026, demand for workers in Production, Logistics, Management, Business and Finance, Computer and Math and Healthcare will drive growth. Healthcare alone will approach 9000 new jobs. Increased educational levels and soft skills like critical thinking will be essential to fuel the economy – high school graduation rates are on the rise in the Triad as are Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees.  

  THE TWO PIZZA RULE AND OTHER TIPS TO MAKE YOUR MEETINGS MORE EFFECTIVE posted 29 May 2018 Look, no one really likes meetings. Especially meetings where nothing gets accomplished and you resent having wasted the time when you could be working. But meetings are a fact of life, and they can even be really productive tools, when they’re done right. And sometimes that means getting weird. Here are some tips for leading more effective meetings from some of our favorite sources.

  • Jeff Bezos offers the two large pizza rule. If two large pizzas can’t feed the people around the table at any meeting, it’s too big. Keep it down to the key players.
  • Start by saying something nice about each other. Receiving compliments has the same effect on the brain as receiving cash and, honestly, who couldn’t use a little more praise at the office?
  • Stand up when the meeting’s end time arrives. We’ve all heard of standing meetings – but some company cultures simply stand when the meeting is supposed to end, signaling it’s over and preventing the dreaded longer-than-scheduled meeting syndrome.
  • Get out of the office. Ever tried a walking meeting? Get in your steps and help change your perceptions by changing up your environment. By switching locations, a little fun is injected into the meeting and creativity can spike.
  • To encourage thoughtful responses, some meeting leaders schedule in a minute or two of silence before moving on to the next topic. This allows our subconscious to work on the problem and allows people to think a bit deeper before leaving the subject.

What are some of the ways you make meetings more effective in your company?  

TECH COMPANY PROFILE: QORVO – POWERING THE WORLD’S DEVICES FROM GSO posted 21 May 2018 The Triad is home to several influential technology companies, and from time to time, we like to highlight their contributions to our local economy and to the world. Qorvo is a leading provider of radio frequency solutions and recently posted quarterly earnings of $665 million. But what do they really do? And why are they an important member of the local economy? Radio frequency is a key backbone of telecommunications, and Qorvo provides more than 2000 products used in applications ranging from radar systems to smart home energy management, internet of things to 5G. The company dates back to early experiences with RF Micro Devices, TriQuint and Texas Instruments among others. Today, its 8000 employees are spread throughout 17 countries and its products were shipped in more than 1.5 billion devices in 2016. Nearly 1400 of those jobs are in Greensboro. The company’s commitment to innovation extends beyond its product line. Qorvo offers clients an in-house foundry – a lab designed to prototype, test manufacturability and ramp production. As speed to market defines success in tech, innovative approaches like the Foundry serve to keep Qorvo ahead of the curve. How can Qorvo’s example inspire your enterprise?

BETTER BRAINSTORMING: FINDING INSIGHTS AND IDEAS THROUGH PLAY posted 18 May 2018 In the innovation and entrepreneurship space, ideas are always at a premium. But rarely do they just magically appear, fully formed, ready for action. The art and science of brainstorming is an essential tool for those constantly searching for new paths forward. You’ve all been in brainstorming sessions before. You pull out the pens and sticky notes and stare down the strategic question in front of you. And keep staring…So when do the ideas start flowing? Here are some great suggestions to spark better brainstorming sessions, no matter what the topic is.

  1. Instead of starting to look for answers, start by brainstorming better and other questions. As a recent Harvard Business Review article stated, this helps “make it easier to push past biases and venture into uncharted waters.” Realize that you may be looking for your lost keys in the only place there’s light, because that’s then only place you can see, instead of where you probably dropped them.
  2. Rather than brainstorming, try Gamestorming instead. Use a host of games designed to spark imagination like word association, backcasting (instead of forecasting), image sorts, or drawing exercises. Build a prototype fro construction paper and string. Here’s a great book with loads of ideas that we use here at Venture Cafe.
  3. Bring in people from outside your organization and discipline. If you’re in technology, invite in artists. If you’re in finance, ask an entrepreneur. When you add unexpected perspectives, curious and glorious new options open up.
  4. Create a scenario and try to navigate through by adopting the persona of your customer. But don’t do this around a desk – you have to go live the persona. Create cards with an assignment, a budget and a challenge you have to fulfill and then go out and experience what your customer lives everyday.
  5. Ask others to brainstorm while you listen. Instead of a formal focus group, gather friends, users and loyal customers and ask them to hack your current product or service. Don’t guide the conversation and watch where it goes organically – that’s how your customers are thinking – and that’s valuable intel.

What are the tools you use for better brainstorming?    

SAGEWORKS FOUNDER BRIAN HAMILTON TO KEYNOTE AT VENTURE CAFE WINSTON SALEM APRIL 26TH: SUCCESSFUL FINTECH EXEC WILL SPEAK ON LESSONS LEARNED posted 23 April 2018 Winston Salem NC — On April 26th at the Venture Cafe Thursday Gathering, Sageworks Founder Brian Hamilton will keynote the evening’s programs with conversation based on his experiences growing his company into the largest real-time database of private financial information on the country. Brian Hamilton is the chairman and co-founder of Sageworks, a Raleigh-based financial information company. He started Sageworks with Sarah Tourville with the mission of helping small businesses. He is the inventor of ProfitCents, an artificial intelligence system that converts financial data into plain language so people can make better decisions. Thousands of financial institutions, accounting firms, privately held companies and government institutions use this technology, which has simultaneously generated the largest real-time database of private-company financial information in the United States. To date, more than 2 million businesses in America have benefited from Hamilton’s inventions. “Brian is exactly the kind of successful entrepreneur who can address key issues from embracing risk to navigating the challenges of growth,” said Karen Barnes, Executive Director of Venture Cafe Winston Salem. “The Sageworks story is one that will inspire future and current entrepreneurs – it’s the story of perseverance, tenacity in the face of challenges and recognizing opportunities.” Brian’s keynote address will begin at 6pm, Thursday April 26th.  “I’m looking forward to speaking at the Venture Café Thursday Gathering this week,” Hamilton noted. “Venture Café Winston Salem’s work in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation is critical given that small businesses are truly the backbone of the American economy.” Sageworks is a financial information company that provides commercial lending, credit risk and portfolio risk solutions to financial institutions. Since being founded in 1998 in a technology incubator, Sageworks has grown to serve more than 1,200 U.S. banks and credit unions and created the largest real-time database of private company financial information in the United States. Hamilton holds two patents for his work in automating financial analysis. He is a regular guest on CNBC and MSNBC and a contributor to Inc. and Entrepreneur magazines. Brian also founded and developed Inmates to Entrepreneurs, a program that helps ex-offenders start their own small businesses. He holds an undergraduate degree from Sacred Heart University, where he serves on the Board of Trustees, and an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. ——– CIVIC INNOVATION CONVERSATIONS: PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION Posted 18 April 2018 Like many mid-sized cities, WS and GSO don’t offer the same level of public transportation service and options – and it’s in the way of economic growth and mobility, and access to health care. People in neighborhoods who rely on public transportation can face commutes of an hour or more each way to work, while those in neighborhoods who would like to use more public transportation simply don’t have options. It’s an area that’s ripe for innovation – so what’s happening here in the Triad about it? The Winston Salem Chronicle reports that the city spends the least amount on public transportation than any major NC city. And according to Craig Richardson, WSSU economics professor and head of the newly-formed Center for the Study of Economic Mobility, some WS residents’ public transportation experience has grown worse in the last few years. Less frequent routes mean longer commute times, fare increases mean more expenses and fewer routes mean fewer options. So what can be done about it? That’s the question a group of local leaders are trying to tackle. The Transportation Coalition meets regularly to discuss issues and potential solutions. But what could the role of innovation be? Take a look at a couple of other cities like Miami where public transportation officials are harnessing Big Data and predictive analytics to improve efficiency. Or cities that offer Uber or Lyft subsidies in place of expensive public transportation infrastructure, saving time and money. Or apps like Remix or Swiftly. What can we learn from the Smart Cities movement? How will autonomous vehicles change the game? Will shared ownership of cars ever take hold and be a way to provide affordable on-demand transportation options? It’s time for city leaders, elected officials, innovators and entrepreneurs to make some breakthroughs so more of our citizens can have access to better jobs, shorter commutes, and health care.  What ideas do you have?  

WHY AGILE DEVELOPMENT IS HOT – AND NOT JUST IN SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT Posted 10 April 2018 In my last startup – an applied artificial intelligence company – I lead product development of our first app and machine learning decision engine. Truth is, I had no idea what I was doing – I came from a world of marketing and communications, not programming and software development. But no better way to learn than by jumping in. One of the first things I had to master was Agile Development, an incremental and iterative process for building products. As our India-based developers taught me on the job, it relies on a set of values, progressive steps and detailed plans to be successful. And now, more and more companies are realizing that Agile is a valuable model for more than just software development – it’s being adopted by other departments as well. So what is Agile Development? First a bit of history. Incremental and evolutionary product development isn’t new, but what Agile did back in 2001 was take best practices from lightweight software development models like SCRUM, abandon inefficient heavyweight models and define a new approach they called Agile. The result is Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the guiding principles and processes intended to create early delivery, rapid planning, continual improvement and flexible response to change. The Manifesto proclaims that Agile values include:

  • Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools
  • Working Software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to Change over following a plan

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development is based on twelve principles

  • Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  • Welcome changing requirements, even in late development
  • Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
  • Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  • Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  • Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  • Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  • Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly

If you’re not a software developer, simply replace “software” with another word like “prototype” or “product” or whatever is more relevant to your job function. HR departments in a handful of progressive companies are translating Agile values and principles into their work, finding it is fundamentally changing how a traditionally slow function must adapt faster. Here’s a great article from Harvard Business Review about HR and Agile. What can you make more Agile in your organization?

CREATING A SELF-LEARNING ORGANIZATION: THE NEW TRAINING REALITY Posted 06 April 2018 Used to be, if you wanted to advance in your career or change careers entirely, you went back to school and got a different degree or certification. Used to be, HR offices offered a static menu of training courses designed to touch the largest number of people possible with a generalized message. But today, in the age of accelerated change and hybrid skills, it’s up to each one of us to become active learners. And it’s up to companies and leaders to transform their cultures into learning organizations. So what exactly is a learning organization? The theory, first published by MIT professor Peter Senge in his seminal book The Fifth Discipline, is recognized as one the the most important management strategies in modern times. Senge defined five disciplines of a learning organization:

  • Personal masterya discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.
  • Mental models are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures of images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.
  • Building shared vision – a practice of unearthing shared pictures of the future that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.
  • Team learning starts with dialogue, the capacity of members of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into genuine thinking together.
  • Systems thinking – The Fifth Discipline that integrates the other four.

These are all squishy concepts, something that many business thought leaders pushed back on. How will we know when we’re a learning organization? Here’s a Harvard Business Review article that provides another perspective on the journey. What are you doing to promote your own learning? What are you doing to encourage your organization to push the boundaries of what you already know?

More and more companies are recognizing that innovation is “everyone’s job” – and in one sense that’s true. Great ideas can come from anywhere. But the problem with that notion is that ultimately, it means no one is leading the charge for change. And change is the kind of squishy, cultural idea that demands a leader. From manufacturing to higher education, city management to service providers, companies are heeding the “Innovate or die” mantra. One approach to imbuing innovation throughout an organization is to hire a Chief Innovation Officer. So what does a CINO actually do? A recent article in Harvard Business Review examined the responsibilities of two major companies’ Chief Innovation Officers – from P&G and Samsung. The study outlined seven major focus areas:

  • Supporting best practices
  • Developing skills
  • Supporting business units in new product and service initiatives
  • Identifying new market spaces
  • Helping people generate ideas
  • Directing seed funding
  • Designing shelter for promising projects

Corporate behemoths like P&G are great case studies for smaller companies to study. Here’s a recent article with GE’s Chief Innovation Officer and GE Ventures CEO Sue Siegel that explores issues ranging from automation, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and creating value. Who’s in charge of innovation where you work?

A TRUE GARAGE STORY: HOW A NC UNICORN STARTED WITH USED PARTS, A HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR AND THE TERMINATOR I recently had the pleasure of hearing Steve Nelson, a Wake Forest grad and founder of Carbon3D, share the company’s startup story. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Carbon3D, take a moment to Google them – you’ll see articles from MIT Technology Review, TechCrunch and The Economist among others touting their game-changing technology and wild success with raising venture capital. They’re re-engineering additive manufacturing. They’re Silicon Valley darlings. And they started in a garage in Chapel Hill. So it turns out, the company started with an idea inspired by The Terminator movies. Remember the one where the T1000 rises out of the quicksilver? When a solid form emerged from the slippery ooze? That idea inspired a scientist dad and his high school aged son to buy some used printer parts from eBay for less than $100 and try an experiment. Could they replicate the Terminator using oxygen and light to create a new way to print in 3D? Could they formulate resins and materials that didn’t require products to be printed layer by layer? Now this isn’t just any scientist dad. He’s a materials genius. But over the course of a weekend, he and his son prototyped a 3D printer that produced things in ways no one had ever seen before. Check out this video of how Adidas is 3D printing high performance soles for their athletic shoes. Today, the company has raised $365 million in funding, counts former Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally as a board member and has investments from THE most highly regarded Silicon Valley CS firms. But here’s the moral of the story: it all started with a single idea. And that idea started with the words “What if…” What are your What If’s? What problem are you trying to solve? That’s where innovation starts. Not in a garage or a lab. Those are great second stops. Here’s to unexpected sources of inspiration and the curiosity that leads us to change the world works. WHAT A FORMER TOBACCO TOWN CAN LEARN FROM AN OLD STEEL CITY Like Winston-Salem, Pittsburgh rose to fame as a manufacturing hub, churning out tons and tons of steel and earning the city the nickname of The Iron City. Today, Pittsburgh is widely recognized as a tech hub, anchored by Carnegie Mellon University, a thriving startup scene and a surprisingly international and tantalizing foodie culture. It’s home to Google, Amazon, Facebook and Uber, who decided to test their self-driving cars there, placing the city at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle revolution. So what can we learn from their transformation? How did they re-invent themselves into a tech destination for the most innovative companies in the country? Pittsburgh used to be known as the home of US Steel and Carnegie Steel, where a young man named Thomas Mellon started a small business that turned into an empire. The downtown skyline is dominated by a glass castle, complete with turrets, home to Pittsburgh Paint and Glass (PPG). Not unlike a small, Southern city we all know and love that has a miniature Empire State Building and a proud heritage of making furniture, textiles, tobacco products and more. But here’s the big X Factor that Pittsburgh has and we don’t. A global research university that’s pumping out thousands of robotics experts, computer science engineers, artificial intelligence experts and software developers. Carnegie Mellon University boasts a world-class robotics lab, a state-of-the-art computer science faculty and facility in a building named for Bill Gates, all in a city that’s throbbing with energy and high quality of life scores. CMU introduced the first machine learning department and tested a self-driving car way back in 1984. Where in the Triad is this class of tech innovation and research being done? What would it take to replicate their model? Here are a few ideas – build on them and make them better:

  • A satellite campus of NC State in Winston-Salem
  • A well-funded and equipped technology research + development center jointly run by local colleges/universities and companies
  • Launch and recruit more tech startups to the area

What are your ideas? Start a conversation in our LinkedIn group here.   HUNTING UNICORNS: THE NC COMPANIES VALUED AT $1 BILLION OR MORE                         Posted 16 March 2018 It’s one of the magical, mystical dreams of every innovator or entrepreneur – seeing their company hit the $1 billion mark. For some of us, thinking of that number is practically impossible. First, we have to hit the $1000 a month goal. And that’s exactly where two NC unicorns started, too. And did you know that a group of local angel investors got in on the ground floor on one of them? There are two NC-based unicorns – AvidXchange based in Charlotte, and Carbon3d founded in Chapel Hill. AvidXchange, valued at $1.40 billion, automates invoicing and bill paying and successfully raised $300 million last year, the most of any NC company. Carbon3d, valued at $1.74 billion, is a 3D printing company that started in a garage with used parts purchased off eBay. Today, it has a lucrative contract with Adidas and is poised to disrupt the additive manufacturing space. Even though neither is located here in the Triad, one has a local connection. In its early days, AvidXchange received an investment from Piedmont Angel Network, an investment that continues to this day. And a profitable one at that. Back in 2015, the investment resulted in a $1.5 million payout. So here’s the moral of this short story: never put limits on your dreams – they can grow past your wildest imagination. And don’t ignore investment opportunities in your own backyard- there’s great talent and promise growing right here. It’s time to grow our own unicorn. TECH TREND: WHAT THE HECK IS QUANTUM COMPUTING? Posted 13 March 2018 What’s the next great milestone in computing? It’s called quantum computing and all the big players are racing to achieve it. From IBM to Google, Microsoft to Intel, scientists are unleashing the next wave of computing that will leave today’s supercomputers choking on their virtual dust. So what is it? Here’s a short YouTube Video that helps explain the coming revolution. Last week, Google announced a major breakthrough: a 72-qubit quantum computer called Bristlecone that’s taken the next step toward “quantum supremacy” and is pushing the field closer to true usefulness. So here’s the simple explanation of the head-scratching physics that make quantum computing so exciting. Scientists have learned that subatomic particles have the surprising ability to exist in two places at the same time. In classic computing, these particles have been assigned to be 1s or 0s. In quantum computing, the basic building blocks are called quantum bits, or qubits, and they can store far more information than just simple 1s and 0s. This is promising to power the next advances in cryptography and security strategies, optimizing search, modeling complex molecules, dissecting complex problems and improving artificial intelligence. So how far away are these supercomputer killers? Well, progress is happening fast. Just last November, IBM announced they’d created a 50-qubit quantum computer, only to be ousted last week by Google’s Bristlecone chip breakthrough. But we’re nowhere close to true commercialization. As one Wired magazine journalist described it, “The baby hasn’t even take its first steps yet.” But that hasn’t stopped Google from staking a bold claim to have commercially available quantum computers in the next five years. As always, here’s to what’s next! DOES YOUR ORGANIZATION HAVE A GROWTH MINDSET? Posted 09 March 2018 In the past several years, research by a Stanford professor Carol Dweck has reached the top levels of progressive companies, universities and non-profits alike. Her acclaimed book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, shot up the ranks and is now required reading at places like High Point University. Have you noticed that it’s not always brains and talent that bring success? That, in fact, sometimes those very things stand in the way of success? Did you know that praising brains and talent can actually jeopardize accomplishment and self-esteem? Then you need to know about the growth mindset. Dweck describes two belief systems or mindsets that influence achievement and success – the growth and fixed mindsets. Those who “believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others have a growth mindset.” These people believe their abilities can be developed through hard work and effort. This mindset is about the love of learning and the resilience that’s vital for accomplishment. Those who believe their talents are fixed traits have a fixed mindset. These folks spend their time “documenting their intelligence or talents instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success – without effort. They’re wrong.” Her research shows that those individuals and organizations with growth mindsets tend to achieve more, put more energy into learning and have more engaged and empowered employees. Those with a fixed mindset report more cheating and deception to get ahead. Now keep in mind that no one is just one mindset – we’re all on the spectrum somewhere – so don’t get hung up on trying to be a “pure” mindset. Dweck advocates that leaders encourage and praise the effort that goes into the work, not just the results. Do results matter? Of course. But, she argues, it’s just as important to reward the learning, progress and processes that produce real achievement – things like asking for help, trying new approaches and strategies and recovering from setbacks. Organizations that embrace a growth mindset encourage risk-taking, knowing that sometimes sometimes those risks won’t work. But the resulting lessons learned, emphasis on collaboration instead of competition and opportunity for growth are worth the effort. Here at Venture Cafe WS, we encourage risk-taking, personal learning, resilience and learning through experience. What are the ways your company expresses the growth mindset? If you want to read more, here’s a great article from Harvard Business Review NEW WAY TO CONNECT THE VENTURE CAFE COMMUNITY: INTRODUCING OUR NEW LINKEDIN GROUP PAGE posted March 6, 2018 Maybe you’ve noticed that we’re big believers in the power of eyeball to eyeball communication. But we’re also big believers that conversations and creative collisions happen throughout the week, not just at our Thursday Gatherings. So we’re pleased to roll out a new way for our community to grow, to encourage each other, and get connected with resources. Our new LinkedIn group is a great way to:

  • Pose a burning question or use your experience to answer someone else’s questions
  • Find a mentor or expert or share your lessons learned with a local innovator or entrepreneur
  • Post job openings or resumes
  • Continue conversation
  • Find presentations from Venture Cafe WS speakers

Join the Venture Cafe LinkedIn Group ———- FIRE UP THE ROBOTS! THE TRIAD’S MAKING BIG MOVES Posted 27 February 2018 From the halls of elementary schools to the labs of graduate institutions, the production lines of advanced manufacturers to new practice facilities, robotics are taking center stage in the Triad.

  • Local use of industrial robotics have doubled in the last eight years, according to a national study, and the Triad ranks in the top 30 metro areas for advanced manufacturing. Burlington-based powerhouse LabCorp is doubling their robotics capacity while local plants for Siemens Energy, Technimark and Fusion3 help make up the nearly 1400 robots deployed across the Triad today.
  • We have a new practice facility – Mounts Robotics Center – that students can use to develop and test their robots. WS Mixxer, our new maker space, is open for tinkerers and builders of all interests, including robotics.
  • Check out this amazing video of a robot cat being built by a WFU professor of physics and computer science.

We’d love to feature your robotics program, students, or work stories at Venture Cafe – sign up here to share your experiences, lessons learned and successes with the region’s leading innovators and entrepreneurs. —– A TRUE POWER MOVE |  FROM MANUFACTURING POWER SUPPLY TO AN ENTREPRENEUR POWER SOURCE Posted 13 February 2018 Over the last nine months, Venture Cafe has travelled between eight different locations, highlighting different areas of our community where diverse ideas and connections have been shared.  On Thursday, February 22, we will move to our permanent home in Turbine Hall at the newly renovated Bailey Power Plant. The Power is YOU. Winston-Salem is a community that continues to reinvent itself; we have moved from a from manufacturing town, to a banking town, to a town that embraces innovation and entrepreneurship. The arts continue to ignite our souls and touch our hearts, and the restaurants, breweries and local businesses give the needed spark to our city’s identity. The people of Winston-Salem are the generators, the transformers, and the fuel. We continue to create, connect, collaborate, and transform. Venture Cafe will be the turbine that will connect, create and support the power of innovation. Turbine Hall is where new ideas, new connections, and new ventures will bring the building back to life. It will be an exchange of power from the past to innovative future of our community. The energy behind the power, is you. Please join us for The Power Move on February 22, from 5pm-8pm at Turbine Hall. Winston-Salem Journal Article about the new Bailey Power Plant   AND THE WINNER IS…ADRIANA GRANADOS FROM PIXGIFT Posted 09 February 2018 Several weeks ago, we announced an exclusive benefit for the Venture Cafe community – free consulting services from the Wharton School of Business Undergraduate Consulting Club. And we’re pleased to announce that Adriana Granados of PixGift has been selected – she’ll start receiving expertise in the coming weeks and will report back to us in April about her experience, her progress and where she’ll be headed next. Here’s our conversation with Adriana. Q: What are the biggest challenges facing PixGift right now? A: PixGift is challenging the status quo of online donations by designing emotional experiences and making it more creative, personal, visual and fun. If you saw the ads during the Super Bowl, you probably noticed that a large majority (especially Toyota) made reference to emotional experiences. Today’s marketing focuses on experiences. But in the online donation world, there are no personal and fun experiences; only cold donate buttons and progress bars. Pixgift builds on the energy of images, the crowd and collaboration to take the experience of giving and giving-back to the next level. But even when we help people and organizations better connect with online audiences, build community and turn images into thousands of dollars for a cause, the challenge is to convey that a community is needed to make a difference. A company should understand that running a community project is a great way to get exposure for their brand, a non-profit should understand that the power of the online channel lies in its ability to amplify the message, create donors in the future, and raise incremental funds. A donor should understand that there is power in togetherness. Q: What do you think the experience with WUCC will be like? What are you most excited about? A: Like any startup, financial resources and time are scarce. First, I’m looking forward to getting assistance from passionate students and experts who want to help my business. Second, obtain information, feedback and practices on marketing and data analysis. Third, being part of an intergenerational team in which each one of us is a part of a whole to make a difference. I know the time will be short for all the needs that PixGift has, but even if they can only complete one task from my long list, the help is invaluable and priceless. Q: How has coming to Venture Cafe helped you in your business so far? A: Venture Café has been the best experience I’ve had in Winston Salem. I’m not saying this out of courtesy, but because I really mean it. I found incredible friends, mentors and connections. Every Thursday is an opportunity to learn more from others, do something for others, listen to others, embrace innovation. It’s amazing how much Winston Salem has changed since I came to the United States 11 years ago and walked on 4th Street at noon without crossing a single human being for three blocks! Like PixGift, Venture Café is built on the energy of collaboration. I invite people to never stop coming as weaving a new fabric requires time and effort from each member of our community. Congratulations Adriana!

Three Things About Women + Entrepreneurship posted 06 February 2018 Women entrepreneurs and investors are grabbing the lead in the Triad this week from leading Silicon Valley fund founder Laura Deming on Thursday to Startup Weekend Women’s Edition this weekend. Plus we have an opportunity to join a national network of women entrepreneurs and investors who are slaying it at work and owning their financial futures. Here are three things you need to know this week. Thursday, Feb 8 @ 1pm Laura Deming, Founder of the Longevity Fund, will speak at Forsyth Technical Community College’s SciTech Lecture Series. Reserve your seat here. Laura is a 23-year-old prodigy who heads a $23 million investment fund providing capital for companies disrupting the aging process. The lecture is free. Triad Startup Weekend | Women’s Edition February 9-11 | Hustle WS, Venture Cafe, Flywheel Co-working Intensive weekend is designed to inspire more female leaders in the startup world and to connect more women to the amazing amount of resources and mentors available in our startup community. The hardest part of starting up is starting out! Register here. Women Investing In Women | Ellevate The number of women entrepreneurs, professionals investors is growing, so how do we support them and connect them with great futures? Check out Ellevate, a global network of advisors, investors and fellow professional women. There are chapters in RTP and CLT – so who’s up for starting one here in the Triad?  

The Importance of #OpenSourceConnections posted 02 February 2018 You hear a lot of conversation these days about open source software – that’s software that’s freely shared, easily modified and widely distributed. And that got me thinking about how Venture Cafe is an open source community. Here’s why that’s important. Like many startup ecosystems, there are incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces here in the Triad. And they play a vital role in launching small businesses. But they’re only open to a select group of entrepreneurs at a time. These cohorts are generally subject to an application process and select the founders who are ready for their program. Once in, they have access to additional resources, mentors, space, funding, etc. And that’s awesome – we need that. But we play a different role in the local landscape. We’re here to serve everyone. In a cohort or not. Entrepreneur with a dream or successful small business owner who wants to grow. Visionary non-profit or large-scale industry that’s hungry for innovation. From idea to expansion, we’re here to help get you connected to the resources and people you need to succeed – including incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces! We’re open to everyone. We’re always free. And we’re always looking for more ways to serve our region. If you have ideas about how we can further align, amplify and accelerate our local innovation economy, let us know. That’s what #OpenSourceConnections is all about.    

#TriadTalks: Community Conversation About Our Tech Future Posted 30 January 2018 At last week’s Thursday Gathering, we shared some videos from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) highlighting key innovation and technology trends. We then asked the gathered group three things: what was most surprising, how can we leverage this technology and how do we become a more tech-savvy community? The conversation was spirited and the group didn’t want to stop talking at 8pm. Here are some key topics that had them so engaged.

  • The most surprising things were actually the things not mentioned: How will our current infrastructure (electrical grid, bandwidth, streets, etc.) handle the new demands placed on it by things like smart cars?
  • Leveraging the latest technology sparked conversation about Smart Cities. This growing movement is projected to be a $34 billion sector in just two years – and some developing countries are designing new population centers to be smart from the very beginning. What would it take for Winston-Salem to be a Smart City? Greensboro is already part of a national Smart City Challenge which includes the launch of an Open Data Portal, partnership with Waze to share traffic data, and an increase in mobile options for residents, including real-time transit tracking and a pay-by-smartphone parking option.
  • 5G is being heralded as the next revolution with exponentially faster speeds, practically no lag time. But when will it come to our neck of the woods? What does it mean for rural areas? Will be help equalize the technological divide?
  • To become a more tech-savvy community, the group suggested our city tap into our creative community for collaboration; that everyone become learners, not just kids, and learn abstract thinking; and in this age of STEM education, we should leverage our great history of art to emphasize STEAM.

The conversation will surely continue. What do you think? ——– NC LAGS ON KEY INNOVATION METRICS; HOW DO WE ACCELERATE OUR PROGRESS? Posted 26 January 2018 The NC Office of Science, Technology and Innovation recently released their Innovation Index report a few weeks ago and the results are decidedly mixed and there are reasons to be concerned about our state’s trajectory – unless we adopt some aggressive new strategies and take action. So where do we stand? Here are some of the key findings: • Economic Well-Being: North Carolina has one of the fastest-growing populations in the nation, but the productive capacity of its economy is below average, with a higher-than-average share of its residents unemployed, with low wages and incomes, and/or living in poverty. • Research & Development: North Carolina excels at academic research & development, but the total level of the state’s research & development, particularly that performed by business, is below the national average and insufficient to fuel and sustain strong economic growth. • Commercialization: North Carolina organizations, particularly its academic institutions, generate significant intellectual property, but the overall levels of the state’s innovation commercialization activities are below the national average and must be stronger to realize the full economic and social benefits of that intellectual property. • Innovative Organizations: North Carolina’s high-technology sectors are increasing in employment and have wages that are above the national average for all business establishments, but a higher-than-average share of the state’s business establishments and employment is not high-technology in nature and has average levels of entrepreneurial activity. • Education & Workforce: North Carolina has a well-educated and well-trained science & engineering workforce at the more-advanced educational levels, but the overall educational attainment level of its residents is below the national average; additionally, while the average years of education of its recent in-migrants and the in-migration of college educated adults as a percentage of the total state population are above the national average, they are not sufficient to raise the state’s overall educational attainment level significantly. Below average isn’t good enough – not nearly good enough. NC we have to do better. And we have to start right now.

THE RISE OF VOICE ASSISTANTS AND SMART SPEAKERS – WHAT’S HERE AND WHAT’S NEXT January 23 2018 “Alexa, how many hits did my website get last week?” “Siri, show me football scores.” “Hey Google, where’s the closest dentist?” More and more, we’re talking to our devices instead of typing. Thanks to advances in computers’ ability to understand and engage with conversational language – called natural language processing – we’re entering a new era of technology. Experts predict that within the next four years, more than 66 million American homes will have voice assistant or smart speaker devices – that’s nearly half of all households. 50 million are projected to ship this year alone. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), integrated voice assistants appeared in everything from refrigerators to cameras. They can even start your Jeep now. So how can you leverage this new technology in your business? Do you have a customer service department? Consider adding a chatbot to your web site driven by artificial intelligence and natural language processing. Big companies are already successfully deploying this to streamline operations, reduce human interface time and increase accuracy. Do you have an app? Think about adding voice commands instead of buttons. Do you receive product orders? Add a voice feature where customers can re-order their favorites using a spoken request. Do you confirm appointments with customers? Instead of sending an email or leaving an old-school voice mail, automate those notices through smart speakers. Alexa, what else can we do? ——– RTP MAKES AMAZON HQ2 SHORTLIST; BB&T TO INVEST IN FINTECH STARTUPS January 19 2018 Lots of great news for NC this week from RTP making the Amazon HQ2 short list to BB&T’s announcement that they’ll invest up to $50 million in fintech startups. But what impacts will be felt here in the Triad? RTP is too far away for many direct impacts, say local economic development officials. And Charlotte is positioning itself as a fintech hub, so BB&T will probably look at startups in many places other than its hometown. So what will it take for the Triad to lure investments and tech jobs? There’s no one silver bullet. It’ll take a systemic effort – public and private sector partnerships, workforce development, more local investment, a concerted effort to raise our profile in-state and beyond, more startup success stories, improved economic mobility, community buy-in, a culture of self-learning and many other variables. Here’s what you can do. Don’t stop learning. Stay curious. Push your abilities. Adopt new technologies. Read. Embrace risk. Invest local. Support new businesses of every size and shape. Celebrate our wins but have real conversations about the work that remains to be done. Raise your hand. Disrupt the cycles that don’t serve us anymore. Forge new partnerships. Fight irrelevance. Re-create yourself. Shed old stereotypes. Demand better from yourself and those around you. Stay strong. Believe. We’re working hard to help create a community built on these things. We’re glad to have you in it. Let’s get to work. ——– WHAT IS DIGITALIZATION AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE? Jan 16 2018 I recently attended a talk given by a leading futurist and he characterized what’s next as the manipulation of atoms, genes, neurons, bits and qubits. Truth is, we live in an increasingly digital world where the near horizon promises to bring disruption like we’ve never seen before. And that can be scary…and it can be a time of immense opportunity if you’re prepared for it. So what are we doing to prepare for it? First, some context. In a recent study from The Brookings Institution, digitalization is defined as: “The process of employing digital technologies and information to transform digital businesses.” And these experts found that more American jobs require higher levels of digital skills, and that trend is only expected to grow. Tech skills are table stakes now – from spreadsheets to cloud computing, customer relationship management platforms to videoconferencing – it’s not just so-called “white collar” jobs that demand them, it’s what the authors call “good jobs.” These good jobs pay more. Companies with higher adoption of technology show greater productivity and growth. Regions with skilled workforces are leaving others behind. In other words, digital fluency is the new currency. But it also has unintended consequences as workers who perform rote work are essentially de-valued, contributing to increased inequality. Digitalization is changing the skills less advantaged workers need to acquire these good jobs. So we must move forward consciously and intentionally to ensure that no one is left behind in gaining digital skills as we seek to create a more innovative economy here in the Triad. Not kids. Not women. Not people of color. No one. As the authors stated, digitalization “amplifies both opportunity and inequality and that means that getting a clear view on its workings is an urgent priority for workers, business people and policymakers who want to maximize the benefits of this trend and mitigate its harmful effects.” So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to talk about it here in this blog, we’re going to talk about it on Thursday nights and in every event we attend. We’re going to ask YOU to talk about it. We’re going to explore how to apply new ideas and innovations to our communities, organizations, and products. We’re going to show you some tools like design thinking, systems thinking and strategies for creating learning organizations. We’re going to encourage you to take on the role of self-learner and we’re going to connect you with the resources you need to move into the digital realm. Welcome to 2018 – the Year of Digitalization. Let’s get started. ————— December 5, 2017 | Innovation + Financial Services: Four Questions with Allegacy Federal Credit Union The Triad is home to thriving life sciences firms, but it’s also got a rich heritage in financial services including the headquarters for Allegacy Federal Credit Union. Tucked just off Stratford Road, their campus features a waterfall, local artists and resident geese and their commitment to supporting the local economy runs strong. Allegacy serves more than 700 businesses across North Carolina, and like other financial services institutions, they’re retooling their offerings to reflect technology, the community and the new realities of today’s customers. We sat down with Tracy Myers, VP Business and Community Development, to discuss the future of fintech, and what’s happening right now in the Triad. Q: What is Allegacy’s commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship here in the Triad? What are some examples?   A: Our AllHealth Wellness Account rewards members for their active lifestyle. Our AllHealth Lite product offers small businesses an economical option to offer their employees a wellness plan. Healthcare Financial Advising is an innovative product that helps show people how much their health risk factors could cost them in healthcare costs in retirement. Our Interactive Teller Machines allow independent transactions like traditional ATM’s with added functionality of cashing checks and talking to a live person when needed. Q: How do you think the financial services industry will change in the next 5 years?   A: I think we’ll see more electronic options with a personal touch and products that combine financial services and financial education customized for the individual’s lifestyle. Q: What are you most excited about right now that’s happening in the Triad?   A: We are excited that the Triad is committed to expanding efforts in healthcare, education and biotech and we are thrilled that we are here to adapt and grow with those changes. Q: Finish this sentence: In 10 years, Winston Salem will be…. A: The hub for cutting edge healthcare. Though technology will be at the forefront of how transactions are completed in many business sectors, Winston Salem will still retain its personable small town feel while harboring the technology of much larger cities. We will continue to be an integral part of the Triad and partner with the other Triad cities as well as Charlotte and the Triangle to create a place where the businesses of the future want to call home. Thanks to Allegacy for being our Lead Sponsor for Biotech Night. We appreciate your support and community involvement!

June 16 2017 | Three Questions with NC Biotechnology Center

As we count down to Biotech Night @ Venture Café on June 22, we reached out to Nancy Johnston, executive director of the NC Biotechnology Center here in the Piedmont Triad for some context.

Here are some important things to know for us non-scientists:

  • You don’t have to have a PhD to be interested in biotechnology. It impacts anyone who wears a fitness device, gets a flu shot, eats vegetables that are more resistant to pests, or is interested in cleaner energy.
  • Biotech means good jobs. There are more than 650 companies here in NC, employing 63,000 workers and creating $86 billion in annual economic activity.
  • Right here in the Piedmont, there are 74 companies with nearly 9500 workers.

Q: Nancy, what distinguishes our region from other biotech hubs in the state? A: In our 12-county region, we are diverse and continue to gain traction with new entrepreneurial advancements and existing company growth. There is no single story that defines the success of the Triad, but more of a sum of all parts from our growing cluster of biotech companies, the strength of our academic research institutions and the value of our research park and innovation communities. There are many reasons to be proud of our contributions to the state. Alamance County leads the nation’s small metro regions in research, testing and medical labs. We have the second highest concentration of Ag biotech companies. And we’re home to The Joint School of Nanoscience & Nanoengineering, an academic collaboration between NC A&T and UNC Greensboro, which also houses the only Zeiss Helium Ion Microscope in the southeastern United States as part of its Nanomanufacturing Consortium. And so much more… Q: What’s new around our region when it comes to biotech? A: Well, the region just attracted 400 high level attendees from across the state and beyond to celebrate biotechnology excellence at Triad BioNight 2017 with Keynote Speaker, Dave King, Chairman and CEO of LabCorp. The energy and enthusiasm of our advisory committee and key leaders have provided momentum for advancing innovation and job growth. And, right now there’s a lot of activity happening from the new pharmacy school at High Point University to the new Center of Excellence in Biotechnology at Alamance Community College. Workforce training here is among the most established in the country with the National Center for the Biotechnology Workforce at Forsyth Tech and continues to push new boundaries. The FDA just approved a device created by Cook Medical that helps newborns avoid surgery from esophageal birth defects. And the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) is leading a $20 million effort to apply advanced manufacturing to regenerative medicine. Regional innovation can be discovered in areas such as Ag Biotech, nanobiotechnology, diagnostics, regenerative medicine, biopharmaceuticals and medical devices. Just to name a few… Q: What’s the most surprising thing about biotech here in the Piedmont to non-scientists? A: People just don’t realize how much biotechnology touches their daily lives. For example, if you or a loved one have benefited from healthcare innovations to help treat, manage, or even cure disease, you have experienced the value of clinical trials conducted in our area. You are more than likely using products with oils extracted from novel crops made here. Or if you have a dog, chances are you’ve given your pet a pharmaceutical that was researched and developed here. If you’ve been to the NC Zoo, you’ve been to one of the hubs for animal science and horticulture in our state. Basically, biotechnology provides solutions to help heal, fuel and feed our community and the world. Biotechnology innovation can be found most everywhere and our region is one of the strongest in the state. In fact, we’re the second largest behind Research Triangle Park.

Join us to learn the stories behind the discoveries and the brains behind the business at Biotech Night @ VentureCafeWS on June 22. Thanks to the Piedmont Triad office of the NC Biotechnology Center for being our Lead Sponsor, and to NK Patent Law and the Greater Gift Initiative for their partnership. See you at Biotech Night @ Venture Café at the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter!  Click here to check out the detailed schedule!