Posts about entrepreneurship

Footballs Providing Light to Those Without Electricity at Home

This is an update on our previous post: sOccket: Power Through Play. This year, Soccket, 3,000 balls are scheduled to be put into use around the world. The college students (all women, by the way) that came up with this idea (harnessing the kenetic energy created while kicking a football [soccer ball] around to power a batter to use for lighting) are continuing to test and develop the product.

That ball has to be able to survive dusty, wet and harsh conditions and continue to provide power. The new, production version of the football powers a water sterilizer, fan, and provides up to 24 hours of LED light. It also can’t be deflated (a side affect of a design that is able to survive the rough environments, I believe).

I love to see engineers focusing on providing solutions for the billions of people that need simple solutions. Creating the next iPhone innovations is also cool, but the impact of meeting the needs of those largely ignored today, is often even greater.

The sOccket inventors also have a talent for publicity, which is always useful for entrepreneurs.

Related: Water Pump Merry-go-RoundWater and Electricity for AllHigh School Team Developing Clean Water SolutionsSmokeless Stove Uses 80% Less Fuel

Engineers are the new Currency

Silicon Vally investor discusses keys to good investment companies: “Engineers are the new currency… having the right engineers that can innovate and deliver is absolutely vital to success… It takes a great team to help the entrepreneur develop”

The video also makes the point that what separates Silicon Valley is the engineering talent.

Related: S&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the TopEngineers Rule at HondaThe Google Way: Give Engineers RoomStatistics on Entrepreneurship

Get Your Own Siftable Modular Computers

I posted about Siftable Modular Computers early last year. Recently I have seen ads for them on my management blog, so I decided to see what progress had been made.

The price is a steep but they do seem cool. A Sifteo pack of 3 cubes, plus software, 2 games… is $149. They also require Mac or Windows software. no straight Linux 🙁 Each extra cube costs $45. They started shipping (at least in the USA) on September 30th.

Even though it doesn’t say it is available for Android or Linux here is a video from the recent Android open conference by David Merrill

I do agree that the idea of using these cubes that are in our physical space that we manipulate is very cool. And the idea of intelligent play I very much support. But they need to reduce the price and make them available on the best operating system (Linux/Ubuntu) – which is also open and free. They have also released a software development kit for those interested in creating games for the device. I wish them well.

Related: Teenage Engineer’s Company Launches Safety StairOpen Source for LEGO MindstormsZubbles, Get Your Colored BubblesArduino: Open Source Programmable Hardware

Zubbles – Get Your Colored Bubbles

photo of blue bubblephoto of blue colored bubble.

I first posted on this in 2005: Colored Bubbles. Now you can order your own via Zubbles. Colored Bubbles Have Landed (and Popped and Vanished)

Having solved the colored bubble dilemma, we spent most of 2006 trying to refine our dyes and the manufacturing process. We had invented several completely new dyes and a few derivatives of existing dyes. But the manufacturing process was long, tedious and expensive. It took three days just to make a few grams of each dye. It quickly became apparent that we needed to radically streamline the production process in order to have a viable product.

The complexities of the chemistry resembled a pharmaceutical more than a toy. So I enlisted the help of Gary Willingham, and the Belgium development team, at Fisher Scientific. Fisher is a pharmaceutical chemical manufacturer with the equipment and expertise needed to manufacture tons of our dyes.

Due to the complexities of the chemistry, Jamm decided to stay close to the production process and manufacture Zubbles in the US. The first bottles rolled off the line this week. Jamm presented me with the very first case of Zubbles. And it was a very strange feeling to finally hold the product in my hand—15 years after I mixed my first batch of dishwashing detergent and food coloring.

Being an entrepreneur is a challenge any time. When your product requires complex science and engineering that adds additional challenges. It is great to see this product is now available.

Related: Making Magnificent Mirrors with Math1979 “iPod-like” Music PlayerThe Glove – Engineering Coolnessscience and engineering gadgets and giftsBuild Your Own Tabletop Interactive Multi-touch ComputerAwesome Cat Cam

Teenage Engineer’s Company Launches Safety Stair

Young engineer launches stair aid by Geoff Adams-Spink

A young woman from Sheffield has turned a GCSE coursework project into an award-winning stair-climbing device for older and disabled people. Ruth Amos has launched her StairSteady handrail at Naidex 2008 – the annual disability exhibition in Birmingham.

She told BBC News that she was inspired to create the device for the father of one of her teachers who had had a stroke. She won an award for her idea and has now set up a company to sell it. The StairSteady is a horizontal rail at 90 degrees to the wall or banister that people can hold on to as they go up or down stairs.

The invention was then entered for the Young Engineer for Britain competition and won first prize.

Great stuff. Innovation doesn’t have to be amazing technology. Finding solutions that make people’s lives better is the key. And then showing some entrepreneurship is great, Ruth setup her company when she was 16. I wish her luck.

Related: posts on engineersEngineers Should Follow Their HeartsAutomatic Dog Washing MachineEntrepreneurial and Innovative EngineersMicrofinancing Entrepreneurs

Automatic Dog Washing Machine

I think this is pretty cool; I’m sure some will object though. It was “designed by a team of veterinarians and engineers to clean the dog very very well. Its very very safe.” You probably can’t afford one for your house though: it cost $30,000. The
The Dog-Washing Machine is available in France and elsewhere, too (the video above is from Vancouver, Canada).

The brainchild of French entrepreneur Romain Jerry, the Dog’O’Matic takes about 30 minutes: 5 minutes for the actual washing with soft jets of water and a mild shampoo and an additional 25 minutes for drying with warm air.

A French reporter tried the invention with her own dog, and though the pooch initially tried to jump out of the machine, the dog quickly calmed down once the process started and completed the wash.

I imagine some will react emotionally that it must be mean because a machine sounds mean. I don’t really see why it must be mean. Plenty of people pay others to wash their dogs and the dogs jump around and bark and shake when they are getting lathered up. That isn’t cruel, I don’t see why this would be.

Related: Friday Dog Escape Funposts on engineering entrepreneurshipMaking Magnificent Mirrors with Math

USA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USA

The USA continues to lose ground, in retaining the relative science and engineering strength it has retained for the last 50 plus years. As I have said before this trend is nearly inevitable – the challenge for the USA is to reduce the speed of their decline in relative position.

A new open access report, Losing the World’s Best and Brightest, explores the minds of current foreign science and engineering students that are studying in the USA. This is another in the list of reports on similar topics by Vivek Wadhwa and Richard Freeman. And again they point out the long term economic losses the USA is setting up by failing to retain the talent trained at our universities. It is a problem for the USA and a great benefit for countries like India and China.

“Foreign students receive nearly 60% of all engineering doctorates and more than half of all mathematics, computer sciences, physics and economics doctorates awarded in the United States. These foreign nationals end up making jobs, not taking jobs,” said Wadhwa. “They bring insights into growing global markets and fresh ideas. Research has shown that they even end up boosting innovation by U.S. inventors. Losing them is an economic tragedy.”

According to the study’s findings, very few foreign students would like to stay in the United States permanently—only 6% of Indian, 10 percent of Chinese and 15% of Europeans. And fewer foreign students than the historical norm expressed interest in staying in the United States after they graduate. Only 58% of Indian, 54% of Chinese and 40% of European students wish to stay for several years after graduation. Previous National Science Foundation research has shown 68% of foreigners who received science and engineering doctorates stayed for extended periods of time, including 73% of those who studied computer science. The five-year minimum stay rate was 92% for Chinese students and 85% for Indian students.

The vast majority of foreign student and 85% of Indians and Chinese and 72% of Europeans are concerned about obtaining work visas. 74% of Indians, 76% of Chinese, and 58% of Europeans are also worried about obtaining jobs in their fields. Students appear to be less concerned about getting permanent-resident visas than they are about short-term jobs. Only 38% of Indian students, 55% of Chinese, and 53% of Europeans expressed concerns about obtaining permanent residency in the USA.

On the tonight show yesterday, President Obama said

we need young people, instead of — a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, they want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher.

And if we’re rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and making people’s lives better, that’s going to put our economy on solid footing. We won’t have this kind of bubble-and-bust economy that we’ve gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, recently expressed his frustration with the policies discouraging science and engineering graduates staying in the USA after they complete their education.

That is a brilliant [actually not brilliant at all] strategy take the best people hire them in American universities and then kick them out” It happens. “Its shocking.” It happens. “I know we are fighting against it.” “We America remain, by far the place of choice for education, particularly higher education.”

Related: Invest in Science for a Strong EconomyScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyUSA Under-counting Engineering GraduatesLosing scientists and engineers will reduce economic performance of the USADiplomacy and Science Research

Thanksgiving, Appropriately

photo of Frew Wube in Ethiopia

This is a post from my Curious Cat Investing and Economics Blog: Financial Thanksgiving. I have tweaked a bit to tie into appropriate technology since that is the related area to me on this blog.

For me, giving back to others is part of my personal financial plan. As I have said most people that are actually able to read this are financially much better off than billions of other people today. At least they have the potential to be if they don’t chose to live beyond their means. Here are some of the ways I give back to others.

Kiva is a wonderful organization and particularly well suited to discuss because they do a great job of using the internet to make the experience rewarding for people looking to help – as I have mentioned before: Reducing Poverty. One of my goals for this blog is to increase the number of readers participating in Kiva – see current Curious Cat Kivans. I have also created a lending team on Kiva. Kiva added a feature that allows people to connect online. When you make a loan you may link you loan to a group.

I actually give more to Trickle Up, I have been giving to them for a long time. They appeal to my same desire to help people help themselves. I believe in the power of capitalism and people to provide long term increases in standards of living. I love the idea of providing support that grows over time. I like investing and reaping the rewards myself later (with investment I make for myself). But I also like to do that with my gifts. I would like to be able to provide opportunities to many people and have many of them take advantage of that to build a better life for themselves, their families and their children.

The photo shows Frew Wube, Haimanot and Melkan (brother and two sisters), an entrepreneur that received a grant from Trickle up. Trickle Up provides grants to entrepreneur, similar to micro loans, except the entrepreneur does not have to pay back the grant. They are able to use the full funds to invest in their business and use all the income they are able to generate to increase their standard of living and re-invest in the business.
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Mobile Phone-based Vehicle Anti-theft System

18 year old self-taught electronics ‘genius’ invents mobile phone-based vehicle anti-theft system

Morris Mbetsa, an 18 year old self-taught inventor with no formal electronics training from the coastal tourist town of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean in Kenya, has invented the “Block & Track”, a mobile phone-based anti-theft device and vehicle tracking system.

The system, that Mbetsa created by combining technology from projects that he has completed in the past, uses a combination of voice, DTMF and SMS text messages over cell-based phone service to carry codes and messages that allow control of some of a vehicles’ electrical systems including the ignition to manage vehicle activation and disabling remotely in real time.

Mbetsa is now looking for funding to commercially develop his proof of concept and bring it to the market

Another cool example of engineering in action.

Related: Inspirational EngineerAfrica Turning to China and India for Engineering and Science EducationCar Powered Using Compressed AirEngineering Entrepreneurs

Cost Efficient Solar Dish by Students

Solar Energy Dish

Low-cost system could revolutionize global energy production

A team led by MIT students this week successfully tested a prototype of what may be the most cost-efficient solar power system in the world – one team members believe has the potential to revolutionize global energy production.

The system consists of a 12-foot-wide mirrored dish that team members have spent the last several weeks assembling. The dish, made from a lightweight frame of thin, inexpensive aluminum tubing and strips of mirror, concentrates sunlight by a factor of 1,000 – creating heat so intense it could melt a bar of steel.

To demonstrate the system’s power, Spencer Ahrens, who just received his master’s in mechanical engineering from MIT, stood in a grassy field on the edge of the campus this week holding a long plank. Slowly, he eased it into position in front of the dish. Almost instantly there was a big puff of smoke, and flames erupted from the wood. Success!

Burning sticks is not what this dish is really for, of course. Attached to the end of a 12-foot-long aluminum tube rising from the center of the dish is a black-painted coil of tubing that has water running through it. When the dish is pointing directly at the sun, the water in the coil flashes immediately into steam.

Someday soon, Ahrens hopes, the company he and his teammates have founded, called RawSolar, will produce such dishes by the thousands. They could be set up in huge arrays to provide steam for industrial processing, or for heating or cooling buildings, as well as to hook up to steam turbines and generate electricity. Once in mass production, such arrays should pay for themselves within a couple of years with the energy they produce.

“This is actually the most efficient solar collector in existence, and it was just completed,” says Doug Wood, an inventor based in Washington state who patented key parts of the dish’s design–the rights to which he has signed over to the student team.

Great job students. Good luck with RawSolar. Photo (by David Chandler): Matt Ritter shows steam coming from the return hose after passing through the coil above the solar dish.

Related: Cheap, Superefficient SolarSolar Thermal in Desert, to Beat Coal by 2020Solar Tower Power GenerationEngineering Students Design Innovative Hand Dryerposts on solar energy

Easy File Sync Over the Internet

Dropbox aims to simplifying file backup, sync, and sharing for the world. Like other Y Combinator startups it is small and focused – 3 MIT computer science alums. Watch a web presentation that shows a very useful looking service. It is in private beta now – you can register to be notified when it is open for public launch.

Y Combinator: “We care more about how smart you are than how old you are, and more about the quality of your ideas than whether you have a formal business plan.” You have until April 2nd to apply for funding for the current cycle.

Related: Google and Paul Graham’s Latest EssaySix Principles for Making New Things by Paul Graham