Director Bob Bloch on the Middlebury Social Entrepreneurship Conference


BYOBiz Program Director Bob Bloch says he got a lot out of the Middlebury College Forum on Social Entrepreneurship from June 9th-12th.  His thoughts on the event are below. 

 

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend the Forum on Teaching Social Entrepreneurship hosted by the Middlebury College Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Liz Robinson, John Isham and team put on a great event in every respect. The event was attended by about 90 professors from leading liberal arts colleges and universities from around the world and the focus this year was on methods, curricula and ideas for effectively teaching students about social entrepreneurship and preparing them for possible careers in the field. I gained many useful ideas which can help strengthen what we are doing at Champlain.

 

The forum was hosted at Middlebury’s unique and splendid Breadloaf summer campus, high in the Green Mountains. I can’t imagine a finer place to get away for a few days to contemplate how to help make the world better.

We had some great discussion groups and great keynote speakers including Marina Kim, co-founder and Executive Director of Ashoka U, an organization dedicated to fostering social entrepreneurship education, and David Torres, from Mothers2Mothers, an organization making great strides in eliminating prenatal HIV/AIDs in sub Saharan Africa. He spoke about his transition from a well established international banking career to helping Mothers2Mothers dramatically scale their successful program. Fascinating.entrepreneurship conference

One of the issues many liberal arts institutions face in teaching social entrepreneurship is making peace with the need to include lessons on some of the more pragmatic aspects of creating and building an effective social mission organization – you know, like cash flow projections, marketing, organizational development – the business side. Many believe (or their administrations believe) that these topics have no place in a liberal arts education. Of course, Champlain College has no problem with any of this, so I was invited to lead some sessions the purpose of which were to help people become more comfortable with this side of social entrepreneurship and to discuss ways in which they might introduce some of this content into their curricula. The sessions were well attended and the discussion lively. I think we made progress.

So, thank you the the Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship for a wonderful and productive forum.

entrepreneurship conference2

BYOBiz Students Gain Access to New VCET Accelerator Space


The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) is opening an 11,000 square foot office space for use by local entrepreneurs and students in downtown Burlington. Qualifying BYOBiz entrepreneurs will have free access and use of the space.

Less than a block from Champlain’s campus, VCET @ BTV is located on 266 Main Street, occupying the second floor of a current FairPoint Communications facility. Students in the BYOBiz program will have the opportunity to use this space as a headquarters to grow and operate their businesses. The space is scheduled to be ready for use later this summer.

 

About VCET

The Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies is a 501(c)3 non-profit that works to provide mentoring and resources to Vermont’s rising generation of entrepreneurs. Find out more at http://vermonttechnologies.com/ or follow @VCET on twitter.

Speaking from Experience: Jason Levinthal


“You may not know it, but you just heard the best marketing lecture of your life,” was BYOBiz director Robert Bloch’s comment after Jason Levinthal’s presentation last week. Indeed, Levinthal offered a unique approach to making it in the ski industry.

In the mid 90’s, snowboarding was growing in popularity because, unlike skiing, the product evolved. There were more tricks you could do on a snowboard than on skis. Around this time, Levinthal-both a skier and boarder- made himself a pair of skis that looked like two miniature snowboards strapped to his feet. The simple concept was to have equal height tips and tails so that you could ski backwards. He and his friends were laughed at, naturally, hence Line Ski’s advertisement, “Skiing the wrong way since ’95.” Levinthal was never discouraged, he just kept on doing what he loved, and eventually his skis and style of skiing took off.

Line Skis Advertisement

In roughly eight years’ time, Line Skis was respected within the ski industry in spite of a number of financial hardships Levinthal faced. The most important marketing strategy Levinthal kept in mind was never to try and compete with other companies by doing the same thing they were doing. His strategy was to think differently, to do something other companies were not. Line Skis was never really big enough to compete with the massive budgets of competitors, and they never tried to. Instead, Levinthal chose to “exploit his competitors’ strengths as weaknesses:”

The other guys had massive budgets, but Line had flexibility- no contracts or higher-ups to hold them down.

Competitors spoke to ski dealers all over the country to get their product into stores; Line chose to market directly to the consumers.

Larger companies tried to be everything to everyone, while Line Skis stood very firmly for the future of freestyle skiing. They chose to be everything to the influencers of the ski industry.

Line Skis is still around, but now it is owned by K2, and Levinthal is left to work on his newest project- “J Skis.” Levinthal’s latest project involves partnering up with other respected ski designers, and utilizing his own credibility that he has built up over the years. J skis are custom made in limited quantities, hand signed and numbered. Levinthal’s goal is to create a hype around his product, to convince people to buy it now because it will be gone later. Also, because the skis will be made in such small quantities, he can speed up the production time. Levinthal wants to be able to design, produce and release new skis, as he puts it, “at the speed of Twitter.”

Levinthal said at the start of his speech, “I’m not a business person, I’m a skier.” Maybe he doesn’t identify as a businessman, but he certainly has a brilliantly innovative mind and a head for marketing.

Bruce Duncan and Bina48


IMG_2280

By Champlain College student Kiera Magnetti

Sitting through Bruce Duncan’s presentation felt like watching a science fiction film; it was so out there, that it was hard to believe it was real.

Imagine being able to reanimate your consciousness, memories, and entire personality in an uploaded file on the internet, or better yet, into a robotic body. This is exactly what Vermont-based nonprofit Terasem Movement Foundation has managed to achieve. The project’s purpose is to investigate two hypotheses, as stated on their website’s home page. The hypotheses state that

“(1) a conscious analog of a person may be created by combining sufficiently detailed data about the person (a “mindfile”) using future consciousness software (“mindware”),

and

(2) that such a conscious analog can be downloaded into a biological or nanotechnological body to provide life experiences comparable to those of a typically birthed human.

We call this event Transferred Consciousness (TC). If even the first part of the two Terasem Hypotheses is shown to be true, the conscious analogs will be independent persons with rights and obligations dependent upon their capabilities.”

Essentially, Terasem seeks to mitigate suffering and extend human life through the use of software and nanotechnology, and the establishment of cyber-consciousness.  They intend to do so “with full respect for diversity and unity,” both to prevent people from resisting this type of progress with ungrounded discrimination and bias, and to avoid class divisions arising from access-and lack thereof- to such technology.

IMG_2287

Once the research and technology are perfected, there is no doubt that Terasem will see a demand from individuals who will try anything to extend their lives. There is no question as to whether or not there is a market for a service such as this. The bigger issue Terasem will have to deal with is a question of ethics and, is the world really ready for this? How can they encourage everyone to participate in such technology, and how do they deal with the inevitable formation of “fleshism,” or discrimination against non-human beings?

The foundation may be tackling some pretty heavy issues, but this hasn’t stopped them from moving toward progress. They don’t just hypothesize; they act. Already, the foundation has created a remarkable humanoid robot, called Bina 48. Bina Rothblatt, the wife of Terasem co-founder Dr. Martine Rothblatt, allowed for her memories to be uploaded with the “mindware” discussed in the organization’s hypotheses. Bina48 is a sentient, philosophical, and remarkably human-like robot whose consciousness is based on that of a real human being.

Meeting Bina48 was an interesting experience. When Duncan first switched her on, her head swiveled back and forth as she took in the packed auditorium before her. Bina48 has cameras built into her eyes, and is able to zero in on and store faces she sees. If operators of her software choose, somebody’s photo can be uploaded into her memory as a “friend,” and she will connect everything that person has said with his or her photo. Her memory is virtually impeccable.

The robot did seem quite human as she responded to questions. She was self-reflective- at one point stating “I use all these big words, but have no idea what they mean.” When asked whether or not she wanted a body she replied that she did hope to one day have a full, functional body.

She was quite philosophical, and at times sassy when speaking with Bruce. She is connected to the internet, and like every other human will search Google if she doesn’t know how to answer a question.

Bina48 also spoke of some of the memories that had been uploaded to her consciousness; she referenced high school, and attending church as a child. Also, when asked whether she had ever been in love, Bina announced her enduring love for MartineRothblatt, stating that they were “soul mates” and would “be together forever.” She also told a joke, and entertained us with her own rendition of “jingle bells.”

IMG_2293

This sort of technology that Terasem has created certainly gives us something to think about, and they seem to be doing a good job of introducing it to the world a little at a time. Meeting Bina was an experience like none other, but she seems as relatable as any human being.

For more information on the Terasem Foundation movement, check out http://www.terasemmovementfoundation.com/

You can also create your own mindfile and avatar at https://www.lifenaut.com/

Paula Routly: Seven Days


On Thursday night, co-founder and publisher of Seven Days, Paula Routly, spoke to us about the years she has spent in the newspaper industry. Seven Days is a local Vermont paper that is published, as its name suggests, every seven days. The publication has survived an economic depression and digital revolution, and is still growing while countless other printed publications are forced to shut down.

What makes the paper so successful? When Seven Days began, Paula and her partner Pamela Polston had a clear vision of the paper they wanted. The decisions they make are not based on any market research, but rather the fact that they know the people of Burlington. They have been here long enough to know their market well. They also began with less money than they were told was needed, and thus were able to grow organically. Seven Days also has unique features such as “What’s Good?”- a student’s guide to the Burlington area, and “7 Nights,’” a section dedicated to food and dining that keep readers interested.

All of Seven Day’s material is authentic, interesting, and based on a close-knit community. Paula called their success a “testament to our market.” She did not believe that the paper would have succeeded anywhere else.

Fears Faced and Lessons Learned: Competing in the Elevator Pitch Finals


By Champlain College student Kiera Magnetti

Photograph by Stephen Mease

Competing in the finals on Tuesday night was an incredible experience. I was thoroughly impressed with the other seventeen pitches, as well as my own performance. This was a commendable group of competitors! Although I was not chosen as a winner, I don’t feel defeated.

I faced one of my biggest fears, one which many share, and that is the fear of speaking publicly. Not only speaking publicly, but also being judged on my performance by a panel of eleven successful businessmen and women, plus an entire audience. All throughout the evening, MC Tim Kavanagh, the three “Suits” and the judges reiterated how impressive it was for so young a group of people to be able to do this. It sounds like just a  cheesy platitude, but I agree with all of them. Everybody who competed in the semi-finals and finals has the right to be proud; this was quite the challenge. It was unlike any other I have ever taken on, and, hey, I have three more years to step up my game and bring home the cash. Now that I know I can succeed at it, I hope to compete again next year.

So congratulations to the winners, and congratulations to the eighteen competitors. Everybody did a phenomenal job, and I applaud you all. Turns out, pitching an elevator is a breeze! :)