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PROFILES IN INNOVATION: Andi and Ali of FWD.US say: The Tech Community Needs Immigrants

Andi Dankert and Ali Procopio of FWD.US Boston

Andi Dankert and Ali Procopio of FWD.US Boston

C3 PORTRAIT: Andi Dankert and Ali Procopio of FWD.US

WHO: Andi Dankert and Ali Procopio

WHAT: FWD.US

WHERE: Dankert: hometown: Fredonia, NY; current resident: Somerville. Procopio: hometown and current residence: Warwick, RI.

EDUCATION: Dankert: SUNY Fredonia and New School (graduate), NY. Procopio: Dartmouth College, NH.

CONNECT: FWD.US.

TYPICALLY FOUND IN C3: The area formerly known as Fitness (What they dub “The artist formerly known as Prince”)

CELEB THEY’D LOVE TO HAVE LUNCH WITH: Both claimed “Jeff Buckley,” whom both agreed was a “brilliant singer.” In fact, the two bonded over their admiration for the artist during Ali’s job interview, which clinched the deal. Ali says the only celebrity image in her room growing up was a poster of Buckley.

FAVE CIC/C3 KITCHEN FOOD: For Andi it’s the Pirates Booty White Cheddar Puffs; “I’m gluten free free,” she says, “so it’s really good.” For Ali it’s the peanut M&Ms. “You take 6, and it’s super satisfying,” she says.

FAVE THING ABOUT C3: Everyone’s so friendly and supportive.

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“It’s a political, non-profit, startup,” says Andi Dankert of FWD.US. That’s a lot to take in, she admits. But she does a great job of explaining it.

POLITICAL:

As director of the Boston office, Dankert and her colleague Ali Procopio set up shop at C3 last month to spread the word that immigration issues need to be a priority concern for all startups. And that political action is necessary.

Why? Says Dankert: Because every company that expects to grow will eventually require talent that immigrants can provide. Because research shows that each immigrant innovator creates three new jobs for the American economy (Consider that HubSpot’s CEO is an immigrant). And because roughly 50% of Ph.D.s granted by Massachusetts universities are given to immigrants, many of whom, because of current policy restrictions, are forced to leave the country, thereby bleeding America of talent that has been nurtured locally.

NON-PROFIT:

Dankert further explains that Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, became painfully aware of how the immigration issue affects the future of technology in America when he was teaching a class in California and asked a group of talented students about their plans for the future. One of the responders expressed fear of not being able to attend college because of undocumented status and lack of in state tuition help. Zuckerberg wanted to know how many others were affected by the same problem, and several additional hands shot up. Zuckerberg called up his former Harvard College roommate Joe Green, who had experience in organizing social movements, and solicited his help in taking on the issue for the technology community. FWD.US was born in April 2013.

Dankert joined the New York City office of FWD.US last August, after working for several social causes, including for former NYC mayor Bloomberg, Americorps, and in Kosovo. When FWD.US needed someone to rally Boston to the cause, Dankert jumped at the opportunity.

Two weeks later she hired Procopio, who studied immigration issues as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

The duo have been organizing at tech companies, rallying public support and getting the word out all over New England ever since.

STARTUP:

New England and New York sport very different entrepreneurial cultures, according to Dankert. “Boston’s tech community is so modest compared to NYC,” she says. “Brilliant people here are doing amazing things, but generally people aren’t talking about it. In New York, there’s a lot of talk.”

Dankert and Procopio say they’ve been doing a lot of talking. They’re trying (1) to get the tech community to know thatFWD.US is in Cambridge to work with them on advocacy efforts, (2) to acquire stories about successes and challenges of dealing with immigration issues to share with politicians, and (3) to facilitate more communication among tech colleagues concerning immigration.

They have been speaking at and hosting various engagements and events.

As a startup, they have an app, #BuiltByImmigrants which uses social media to circulate stories through and help people connect with their legislatures.

Their advice for social startups:

(1) really understand the community you’re in;

(2) capitalize on efforts that have already started;

(3) create community;

(4) invest in the community; “we are in Boston to stay,” declares Dankert;

(5) talk to people who are excited and reinvigorate them.

Dankert and Procopio’s biggest challenge has been following up with people who are motived and excited about the work, but are so incredibly busy. Andi tells the story of someone who responded to her 9th e-mail, who thanked her for the persistence.

Dankert and Procopio have one last thing to say to everyone at CIC and C3: “Come talk to us!”

 

Bananas at C3

Bananas are a wonderful and timeless marketing example. If you believe in creationism, heck, there was even a divine marketing plan. Bananas have a distinct color and shape. This allows anybody to instantly recognize them. The unique name translates into all major languages. Do you know the Zulu translation for Banana? Yes, you’re right. It’s Banana. On top of that, two words: Brand Recognition. With only a fraction of the branding budget, Bananas outperform McDonalds and Coca-Cola.

Amazon’s new focus is packaging. You may have noticed on your last order that you now have an option for frustration-free. Not only are Bananas frustration free, the packaging is organic. Auto-recycling is build-in by nature. Take that Amazon! Plus, unlike other processed food, Bananas don’t need refrigeration.

Nutritional value? Wow!
Nutritional Values of a Banana

Let’s go Bananas!

Caught between the heat of the moment and a desperate heart for a business idea

Would you like to get married, right now, before the sun sets? “To whom?” should be your first response. Once you know to whom, then you’d like to know more: looks, character, what does he or she do for a living, their definition of success, their future plans, and much more. As a society, we developed social norms around all the stuff we do before getting married. It’s called dating. Duh! During the dating phase you sample, try out – and if it’s not a fit then you keep looking.

…obvious, but perhaps not.

Disney’s last hit movie Frozen sung to us how a young girl was caught between the heat of the moment and her desperate heart wanting to get married to someone, who she just met. Well, that’s the stereotype we have of entrepreneurs. That entrepreneurship is about taking on risks, to jump into the cold water and quickly learning how to swim before you plunge into the big waves of the business world – quit 6-digit salary job for launching a startup. These high rollers make for nice news articles and gather the crowd. They keep us glued to the next news story.

Most of my time, I spend on risk reduction, not taking on risk. Just like you would evaluate your life partner before getting married, you test your business idea. It’s commonly referred to as the minimal viable product. You create the business idea you have with the least possible amount of resources, such as your time and your money. Once you have the minimal viable product, you can take it for a test drive, try it out. That will give you a much better idea if this is for you. Go on a date with your business idea before committing.

PROFILES IN INNOVATION: Jared Gould Says: Be Reactive and Proactive

Jared Gould of Supporting Strategies

Jared Gould of Supporting Strategies

C3 PORTRAIT: Jared Gould

WHO: Jared Gould

WHAT: Business Development at Supporting Strategies
WHERE: Hometown: Cumberland, R.I. / Current residence: East Boston

EDUCATION: Undergrad: University of Rhode Island. Graduate: Master of Leadership from Northeastern University

TYPICALLY FOUND IN C3: In the middle section with no windows, where the phone cubicles reside. “I make a lot of calls in sales, so I use the booths a lot,” he says.

CELEB HE’D LOVE TO LUNCH WITH: The Beatles. “These guys were the greatest band of the last century. I just want to find out what it was like for them.” Gould is a musician who played with a band [name - Fairhaven] for several years, where he even opened once [more than once - Twice] for the Doobie Brothers.

WHAT HE OFFERS: Enthusiasm, energy, and excitement. Networking and educational offerings for small businesses.

FAVE CIC/C3 FOOD: French Vanilla Yogurt and granola cereal

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Bookkeeping isn’t generally considered one of the more exciting things on this planet.

But spend a few minutes with Jared Gould of Supporting Strategies, which provides accounting services to small businesses, as I did recently in the Venture Café, and you might just find yourself feeling really upbeat about numbers!

“There’s nothing sexy about bookkeeping. Bookkeeping is bookkeeping,” admits Gould. “But the way in which we deliver these services is innovating the industry and helping small businesses and startups be more efficient.”

Zeal comes with being in sales, yes. But there’s a fresh vitality to Gould’s nature that he also attributes to being so new to CIC/C3, having taken space here just a few weeks ago.

“Everyone is so passionate about what they are doing here. Even with their heads down, everyone is working so hard. It makes me want to work harder,” he says. “Some of the inventiveness around here blows my mind!”

Gould is not an inventor — “I’m sales, I don’t come up with ideas,” he says — but he has a startup spirit. His entrepreneurial activities concern pioneering a new role with an established company, Supporting Strategies, which assists start-ups and small businesses with their accounting and bookkeeping.

What excites Gould about Supporting Strategies is that its services allow entrepreneurs to off-load number-crunching tasks so that they can focus on the innovative work they do best.

As Gould tells it, the Supporting Strategies’ professionals are impressive. Many of them are CPAs and/or have MBAs and several years in corporate business, with an average of about 10-to-15 years’ experience, he says. They are frequently stay-at-home parents who have a few hours each day to do some ledger work after they drop the kids off at school in the morning.

Gould’s voice rises as he tells how he wants him and Supporting Strategies to be known at 1 Broadway as “the networking guys.” With over 260 clients and about 70 coming on board each year, Supporting Strategies has a lot of great connections. “We want to make those work for the community,” he says. The expertise that Supporting Strategies’ clients possess will be made available to business folks in special educational events, as well as in Small Business Bootcamps, or what he calls a “1 Day MBA.”

Gould is planning regular networking events, beginning next Tuesday, February 4, in the Havana Room on the 5th floor of 1 Broadway. He will be hosting Bootcamp Replay, with speaker Charlie Popkin, who will be presenting: “Business Growth & Risk Management: Proactive Steps & Pitfalls to Avoid.”  It’s free, educational, and a great way to network with other startup owners. More information can be found at www.bfbootcamp.com/replayfeb.

Gould’s job with Supporting Strategies — he’s been there about 3 months — was made possible by the fact that the 10-year-old company has been enjoying greater success, and is developing markets elsewhere, like Santa Monica, S.C., NYC, Stamford, CT, South Shore Boston, and Southern NH. Gould is focussed on the Boston/Cambridge area.

Gould’s secret to success? “Hard work, and a process-driven approach,” he says. Every morning he makes a to-do list that includes two categories: one for items he needs to react to right away, and another for proactive items that will yield payoffs later.

“So much opportunity,” he says.

PROFILES IN INNOVATION: Squadle says: List short-term goals, do due diligence

Squadle's Brendan Bencharit & Le Zhang

Squadle’s Brendan Bencharit & Le Zhang

C3 PORTRAIT: Brendan Bencharit and Le Zhang of Squadle

WHO: Brendan Bencharit and Le Zhang

WHAT: Squadle

WHERE: Bencharit: hometown: L.A.; current residence: Allston. Zhang: hometown: Boston; current residence: Allston

EDUCATION: Bencharit: Johns Hopkins; Zhang: Boston College.

CONNECT: Web: squadle.com; Twitter: le_isms & BAtTheNile. Zhang says to text or call him at 617-816-9286. He loves networking with folks.

TYPICALLY FOUND IN C3: in the music area “It’s more relaxed,” says Brandan. “We are very loud and talkative people,” adds Le.

CELEB THEY’D LOVE TO LUNCH WITH: Bencharit: “Magic Johnson. I’m from L.A., and a Laker’s fan. He’s a successful entrepreneur. He likes to help those less fortunate.” Zhang: “Jackie Chan. … He has a great sense of humor and does his own stunts.”

WHAT THEY OFFER C3: Bencharit: “My business experience.” Zhang: “Consulting and development experience.” 

WHAT THEY’D LIKE TO SEE AT C3: Bencharit would like to see more events that bring in local small businesses, in an effort to help them make their lives easier. Zhang leans toward wanting more eating functions to “increase the solidarity.  … Food is the great equalizer,” he says. “Perhaps a ‘C3 Iron Chef.’”

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 What very well could be the next big thing in retail operations was conceived in a hookah bar.
 
Brendan Bencharit owns Nile Lounge in Allston where, a few years ago, he began chatting with one of his customers, Le Zhang, about their mutual background in computer science and Bencharit’s interest in creating an electronic task management tool for his consumer business’s back-of-house operations. 
 
The two implemented a tablet-based solution that worked so well that it allowed Bencharit the ability manage his lounge from a distance and created a new business opportunity for him and Zhang.
 
Squadle's turn-key solution versus the tome

Squadle’s turn-key solution versus the tome

Zhang and Bencharit soon found a Sonic Drive-In fast-food service franchise owner who was interested in the offering. The opportunity for the manager to dispose of his huge 11×17-inch, several-hundred-page record-keeping books and replace them with a compact digital option held huge appeal. Squadle’s turn-key product, which combines hardware and software together in a bundle, allows the system to be set up in minutes and makes it a no-brainer for business owners and employees to adopt. Zhang and Bencharit had a customer.

 
On July 4, 2013, Squadle was officially born. Just six months later, the company has landed 31 locations, including Burger King and Denny’s franchises. Four restaurants are fully up and running with the Squadle system. Bencharit and Zhang say they are growing slowly, deliberately, and steadily. After acquiring some more clients and creating an even more robust product, their aim is to work with corporate headquarters to scale up. 
 
Their big vision? “To conquer the world,” says Le with a laugh. Actually, they say, they want to be to the back-end of retail what Square was to front-end. (Square revolutionized retail points-of-sale by using apps on mobile devices, enabling closings to happen virtually anywhere—not merely at a register stand.)

Ka-ching! Squadle is completely self-funded for now, though Zhang and Bencharit know that they will likely eventually need additional capital. Any funders? Get in line. They aren’t quite ready to relinquish control yet!

When asked what they like about working at C3, Zhang says that “on top of the free food, it’s the wide variety of experience and how everyone is open to learning about other peoples’ experiences.” 

Bencharit cites the outstanding staff

And both say that the energy in the space is “motivating and uplifting. … You feel the energy as soon as you walk in.” Zhang further mentions that he’s been all over the world and that the Cambridge Innovation Center is the best place of its kind he’s ever seen.

What’s their advice to those embarking on their own business ventures?

“Keep a list of short-term goals and make sure they mesh with your long-term vision, and you’ll get results,” Bencharit says. 

“You need a certain discipline,” says Zhang. “Movies like The Social Network make starting a business seem glamorous. … You need to be disciplined. You need to be organized. You need to do your due diligence … or it can slow you down or wreck your business.”

My first day at CIC! Today’s Lesson: ‘I better work!’

James Lopata at Cambridge Innovation Center

Photo of me (James Lopata) working at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Ceiling backdrop courtesy of the fact that I don’t want to divulge any entrepreneurial secrets that I shouldn’t be revealing!

I just took up office space at the Cambridge Innovation Center.

My first day here energized me. The thrill mounted for me as I overheard someone in the elevator say, “There are more startups here than anywhere in the world.” “It’s a very exciting feeling,” the woman next to me said.

It is exciting.

I’m here to learn. I assist innovation leaders in achieving break-out success with their careers. Here at CIC, I hope to learn the next practices of successful entrepreneurs. And I plan to share as many as I can so that we can all create a better world together with greater speed, ease, and joy!

The weather outside on my first day is frightful — the first real miserable, snowy day of this New England winter. But inside it is light, warm, and airy. The feeling is electric, but the sound and look of innovation is, well, kinda mundane.

This ain’t The Social Network!

Here’s some snippets of conversations: “So I need to save it as a JPEG, right?” “Oh, I see, I was saving this to the wrong folder.” “How’s your wife?” “C’est un nouveau projet.”

Oui! Someone was parlez-vousing Francais! Actually trios people!

I settled on a space — it’s open seating in the coworking center where I sit — and I quickly discovered that I was surrounded by French speakers. Is there a French Quarter here? No, but there are loosely configured grouping areas. There are tables designated for those in music, fitness, early startups, and even a quiet space for those who wish to work in complete silence.

There’s a guy walking on a treadmill, while tapping into his laptop. There’s a bunk bed with a woman typing into her iPad, lounging in futon comfort. There’s someone pacing around the ping pong room, chatting up a storm about something major (big-time VC money?!) on his iPhone.

This is what innovation looks like.

I’m reminded of Thomas Alva Edison’s quote “Opportunity is missed because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” The people here are dressed, well, not exactly in overalls — more like jeans, khakis, and sweaters. But they do look like they are hard at work. For all the glamour of how Hollywood portrays the start-up, these folks are working stiffs.

If there’s one lesson I learned about innovation today, it’s that, in the immortal words of  RuPaul:

“You better work!”

And that’s what I intend to do.

Look for more updates on my learnings on Innovation from the Center as I begin interviewing people for profiles on the blog.

In the meantime, I better work!

Sharalike @ TechCrunch meetup + Seed funding announcement – we owe you CIC !

Sharalike’s team was at the TechCrunch meetup that was hold at the Estate in Boston  on Wednesday evening, gathering 1000 persons. First time for the team to go out, and start pitching in front of the public, great experience and very useful feedback from the visitors.

2013-11-13 17.41.11

At the same time we also announced our first round of seed funding, 600K$ raised - full press release here

Our little story with CIC : we arrived at CIC in early 2013, I was just by myself, then join by my partner and co founder of Sharalike, and then by our 1st employee, then our second and third….

A quick and not exhaustive list of the things CIC has done for us !

  • Our lawyer for the seed round was recommended by one of our CIC co-worker – Great one
  • We heard about Startup Institute at CIC, and get our second employee  there
  • We heard about the TechCrunch Meetup at CIC
  • Our CIC co-worker is doing our valuation
  • We hired a resource from a fellow CIC start-up that was scaling down
  • The kitchen, coaches, CIC staff, contribute everyday to make us feel good, no worries to think about, everything just works.

We are also giving back, and are helping some fellow start-up to scale up and hook them up with our partner pentalog, who is providing us our Backend team in Romania. Contact us if you want more info

Other big milestone to come: launch of beta expected in December, register now for the beta – the earlier you register the better – there will be some benefit for early registration

Etienne 

Co-founder, Sharalike

About Sharalike

Sharalike provides the best user experience in the personal image and videography management business. Sharalike, home of SmartSelection and the SmartShow, has simplified and resolved this entire range of challenges. Using cutting-edge image management and innovative videographic technologies, the sharalike platform enables automated, yet fully editable and customizable, automatic image sorting and enhancement, slideshow creation and animation, videography – and music – in one SAS model. With its built-in file storage, multi-device (computer, mobile, tablet) synchronization, and full integration with many storage services, sharalike makes private and/or public sharing via social networks available for all users.

Check out our website for more detail and a video about sharalike