The Cobbler's Kids Get New Shoes

Time to Stop and Launch our New ERP

Pete Catoe
Founder & CEO ECRS (ECR Software)

 

ECRS is known for developing and deploying world class software systems for retailers.  Ironically, like the old saying, “The Cobbler’s kids have no shoes,” our own internal systems have long past their prime.  So November is a big month for everyone at ECRS as we go live with our new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system.  It’s a modern, cloud based, comprehensive system that touches every part of ECRS.  

Launching a new ERP could be compared to changing the tires on a car still rolling down the road.  As you know, you have to stop the car first, and the same is true for the company.  We need to slow down - and even stop - so we can change our old way of doing things and replace it with a better, more effective approach.  This means that for the next few weeks, we will be asked to stop and help in this new phase of our corporate development.  Some team members may be asked to do extra, even duplicate, work.  It is a temporary and necessary pain that we must endure to successfully make the transition.  

Why are we deploying this ERP system?

If we want to build a better ECRS, to better serve our customers, we need tools that will allow every ECRS team member to perform at his or her best.  To some, this might mean having a lighter, more powerful laptop, or, to others, the very best development tools or increased process automation.  The ERP is a foundational tool, the nervous and memory center of the entire corporation.  Every company has an ERP, but our current system is made up of outdated systems, requires duplicated data entry and intensive manual processes.  It’s time to replace it with a unified system designed to eliminate duplicate entry, streamline operations, and increase accuracy.  Having a new core system will allow ECRS to grow $100 million higher in revenue.  The point is, we do not want our growth, and full potential, to be held back by old outdated systems.  

Time to pull together and act in a true spirit of collaboration.

In business, we tend to look for reasons to blame one another, missing opportunities to help each other succeed.  If we want to make the new ERP system fly, more collaboration than usual is needed.  Each team member must find ways to contribute individually for the sake of building something that is greater for us all.  Deploying this new ERP is a major cornerstone of our goal in building a better ECRS.  We can’t succeed if each and every one of us is not prepared to think and act in the true spirit of collaboration.

Onward and upward. 

Get your idea out there!

If you attended this year's Entrepreneurship Summit, put on by App State’s Center for Entrepreneurship, you were able to experience something pretty great. The fact that Appalachian state can put on a conference of that quality and attendance (over 300+ attendees) is a testament to the excitement and momentum behind the the High Country’s Entrepreneurial ecosystem.

This year’s keynote was delivered by a good friend, Chris Heivly. His talk was incredibly interesting and I hope people came away as motivated as I did - and ready to Build The Fort. [Chris likens the idea of building a company to building a fort. They share many characteristics and it can be useful to think of building your company in this way. I'd encourage you to read the book.] One thing stuck out to me in particular, and that was the notion of sharing your startup idea with others. It reminded me of an older, humorous, but TRUE article - Why Nobody Will Steal Your Shitty Start-up Idea. As funny as that article is, it's right and Chris is right - you've got to share your ideas - get them out there, get feedback, adjust them and build the thing.

At Startup High Country, we talk with so many people who have great ideas, and we consistently encounter the same questions and fears in these entrepreneurs. More often than not, entrepreneurs are afraid to share their ideas with others, not necessarily because they are worried about being judged in a negative light, but because they are worried about someone else stealing their idea and running with it. They start talking NDAs, patents and trademarks, oftentimes way too early. All of those things are important and have their place (and time), but in the infancy of a startup idea, they just don’t belong. What really matters isn't just the idea, but rather understanding the market for it and you and your team's ability to execute it. This is why investors will not sign an NDA before hearing your pitch and why you shouldn’t even ask for that. Focus your efforts on how you're going to out execute your competition.

It’s much more important for you to share your idea with as many people as you can. This will allow you to mold your idea, find out what parts of it are interesting to people, whether or not they would pay you for it and ultimately if there is actual potential for a product. Chris recommended sharing your idea with at least 50 people and by the time you get to that fiftieth person, you’re going to have the pitch nailed down, more ideas about the product and a more fleshed-out concept.

So start small and easy - share your idea(s) with your family and friends; then move on to complete strangers. Reflect on those conversations, then lather, rinse and repeat! We, Startup High Country, are always willing to hear your ideas and give you feedback on them. It’s one of the things we love most about working with entrepreneurs.

What are you waiting for?

Why I Burned The Ships

Building a company to last and not to exit

Pete Catoe
Founder & CEO ECRS (ECR Software)


I’m often asked if ECRS has an exit strategy.  An exit from what, I wonder.  

My career goal is to build a world class software company, and the other leaders who work at ECRS share this same goal: a lasting company that provides real value to our customers, employees, community, country and of course produces a fair return.  Can a leadership team simultaneously build to last and build to exit?  

In my opinion you can’t. Similar to Hernando Cortez, when you decide to burn the ships at the beach, and you have no possible retreat, it keeps everyone focused forward on conquering the many challenges that any business set on the long-term is sure to confront.  Building a lasting sustainable business is a marathon, not a sprint.  Nearly every decision and investment made at ECRS is done so in the context of how it affects the whole, in juxtaposition to an exit strategy, or how the decision will affect the shorter-term valuation.

So my answer is No. At ECRS we don’t have an exit strategy, and as long as I’m in charge we never will.  However, I’m a realist, so one day, when I’ve exhausted all that I personally have to offer ECRS, I will step aside and personally retreat.  When that day comes, it is my intense hope that ECRS will continue to charge forward independently, conquering new challenges and markets under a steadfast leader who understands that exit plans, just like ships, should be burnt. 

Silicon Hollar: Phase 2

Autumn has finally made its way to the mountains and the changing of the seasons always brings about a time for renewed focus and new energy for me. It's been a few months since we've posted here and it's not for lack of activity and momentum in the startup community; in fact, quite the opposite. We've been very busy here at Startup High Country on-boarding and mentoring the first two startups in our inaugural 2016 startup cohort: ChurchLEARN, a video sharing platform and online learning community for the church, and Fyssion, a premium audio equipment manufacturer. 

There are exciting things brewing in Boone, and it's not just the IPA at AMB and Booneshine. We're going to have several big announcements over the course of the next few months, so please stay tuned and join us at the next Silicon Hollar Startup Social at The Uptown, on October 11th, to hear more about the startups and other entrepreneurial activity in Boone. 

James and the Startup High Country team

ELEVATING TECH STARTUPS IN THE HILLS AND HOLLARS

Writer: Jason Reagan - a futurist, tech writer, communications specialist and optimist. Jason blogs for DroneLife (@DroneLife) and SiliconHollar.

This article first appeared in High Country Magazine, a sister publication of High Country Press


When James Bance and Sam Glover gaze out over the amazing vistas from Howard’s Knob in Boone, N.C., they see the usual sights — the college town’s main streets, Grandfather Mountain’s stolid profile and the gorgeous “hollars,” hills and peaks that have captured the hearts of so many.

But James and Sam see something else – an opportunity to transform the region from just a thriving tourist/university area into the next tech success story — a vibrant new hub for startups. Forget Silicon Valley, meet Silicon Hollar.

James and Sam form the core of Startup High Country. The nascent partnership is a hybrid incubator, startup accelerator and consultancy group. Wait. What does that mean?

“What that means is we provide mentorship, software and web development services, physical space and, in some cases, we’ll be providing seed investments to local entrepreneurs who have an existing company or a new business idea,” James said.

The duo teamed up with Chris Grasinger and Jeffrey Scott, two longtime High Country residents and advocates for local entrepreneurship and, together, the group hopes to blaze a new trail with the vision of building a technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem to support quality jobs and provide investment opportunities for everyone in the region.

“In the High Country we have a fantastic variety of entrepreneurs in the area, we have a thriving university and high speed internet infrastructure,” Grasinger said. “We created a title and an organization to help brand and organize the efforts of connecting and accelerating these elements.”

“I can remember growing up and people always talked about distribution and sales going off the mountain, but the beauty of technology is that neither one of those is an issue,” Sam said. “The world becomes your market and there’s no need for overhead, shipping and warehouses.”

“[Sam and I] had been blessed in that we’ve worked for amazing companies, like Google and Shoeboxed,” James said, adding that the duo “recognized that many of the residents here hadn’t felt the financial benefits of the 21st century. So, we set out with this completely audacious goal.”

The SHC Difference

That all sounds great, right? Better jobs, a higher quality lifestyle, access to better technology. But can it really work here? Local residents have heard this before – the blossoming of a new startup and venture-capital paradise nestled in the Appalachian Mountains has to some extent been only a dream in the High Country for years.

The Startup High Country difference? It boils down to experience. The four-person team has tons of experience as startup entrepreneurs – you might say they’ve climbed this tech mountain many times.

“We’ve all experienced the successes and the scar tissue that comes with the territory of starting a company,” James added. “We want to short-circuit a lot of the inevitable early mistakes that first-time entrepreneurs will make and then put them on a track to ramp up faster.” In fact, Startup High Country has already started mentoring and providing services for four companies.

It’s Business and It’s Personal

For James, the startup culture has been part of his DNA for most of his life. He co-founded his first tech company at 21 after moving to the Bay Area from his native Wisconsin. Over the past 15 years, he has built a solid resume in the tech and investment world, occupying roles in leadership, sales, marketing and business development at companies like Bazaarvoice, (a 2012 IPO), Adometry (which was acquired by Google 2014), AOL/Verizon and John Hancock. He knows his stuff.

However, James’ High Country journey started in Deep Gap. He and his wife, Sharla – along with their children, Blake and Mila, – moved to Blowing Rock from Austin (another American startup success) four years ago to be closer to Sharla’s parents, Deep Gap residents John and Vicki Unmack.

“They’re amazing people and have a heart for serving others so they’ve built deep relationships here. My wife and I decided to make the move to be closer to them.”

As happens so often with new residents, James and his family immediately fell in love with the outdoor life of the area from skiing to cycling. But the Great Outdoors will only take you so far when the siren song of Entrepreneurship calls.

A High Country native, Sam attended UNC-Chapel Hill and is known throughout the region as an innovative entrepreneur and growth leader. Over the past six years, he’s worked with several NC-based startups. Sam helps them define core metrics, accelerate growth and scale product development. He recently launched and sold his first company, Zip-Services — a technology platform aimed at disrupting the commercial laundry and linen business. Currently, he’s VP of Operations for Shoeboxed, Inc. Like James, he lives in Blowing Rock with his wife and dog.

Silicon Hollar

While the High Country may never match the startup tech horsepower of Silicon Valley, Startup High Country believes the region can brand an appropriate moniker – Silicon Hollar. The name arose after a conversation with local entrepreneur James Bauler, referring to the deep, rich valleys (hollows or hollar as we say ‘round here). Because SHC is already working with the Appalachian Regional Commission to attract angel-fund investors, the Hollar metaphor resonated immediately.

“Silicon Hollar is simply an idea, a concept to rally around, a place and a metaphor for the tech ecosystem here – much like Silicon Valley in California or Silicon Prairie in Nebraska,” James said, adding “it’s not an attempt to become, or to be thought of as another Silicon Valley, we don’t want that.”

Using a strong and memorable branding metaphor like Silicon Hollar has the potential to highlight the uniqueness of the High Country and leverage its strengths, along with technology, to set the standard as a beacon in rural Appalachia and to demonstrate what a successful tech community can look like.

“What I love about the [Silicon Hollar] metaphor is that is gives people in the area something to rally around and be proud of,” Sam said. “It’s a network of people interested in bettering the High Country through entrepreneurship and technology.”

“Most people have now heard of Silicon Valley, so the name will usually make some sense to individuals,” Chris said. “The truth is our Silicon Hollar will have its own unique personality – similar to the valley, we aim to be a hotbed for high growth entrepreneurship, but we also value adventure, outdoors, and the beautiful environment in which we live.”

It Takes a Community to Raise a Startup

Setting a vision like Silicon Hollar and offering startup resources is all well and good, but to really succeed, Startup High Country will need community buy-in.

Fortunately, the High Country has already blazed a small-scale trail in both tech and other startups, thanks to a few local pioneers. A prime case study is ECR Software (ECRS) Corporation, a startup icon founded and headquartered in downtown Boone.

The company has not only transformed the way we shop, but has also helped lead a renaissance in “Main Street” development. Housed in a former auto dealership building, ECRS was founded in 1989 by Peter Catoe, who was a marketing student at Appalachian State at the time.

The software/hardware company holds the exclusive rights to their self-checkout register software– systems that allow consumers to easily scan, bag and pay for their groceries at thousands of retail outlets across the country.

According to the company’s website (ecrs.com,) the local business offers a plethora of retails systems “from front-store systems including point-of-sale and self-checkout, to comprehensive back office, warehouse, and inventory management solutions. Clients include grocers in San Francisco, Montana, Toronto, as well as beverage companies, breweries, health-product distributors, fuel suppliers and healthcare systems.”

“When I was first approached by the core team at SHC, I was struck by their level of energy, optimism, passion and entrepreneurial vision they have for our community,” Catoe said. “In addition, I’ve also really enjoyed observing the Silicon Hollar meetings. It’s very exciting and heart-warming for an old tech entrepreneur, such as myself, to see so many young entrepreneurs coming together within our community, and being excited about building great products and great companies,” he added.

Watauga County has also transformed the startup environment by becoming a Certified Entrepreneurial Community. In partnership with AdvantageWest Economic Development Group, the county launched a strategy in 2007 to create “overall business climate, policies, regulations, and opportunities to learn and grow [that] are simple to find and available.”

“When you put it all together you can see that SHC is filling a void that was present, because free enterprise can only be transformative within a community when entrepreneurship is valued and most of all, nurtured,” Catoe added.

James says a key component to Startup High Country’s success lies in the already available resources at Appalachian State University. Local university contacts like Dr. James Wilkes, Sara Beth Hopton, Erich Schlenker and Ged Moody have helped pave the way by linking SHC with students and faculty who have a vision and drive to start new companies locally.

Other community resources include Mike Quinto, James Bauler from Cruxolve, and Dave Walker from Ascent. “They have been integral in creating the momentum behind Silicon Hollar and we couldn’t have moved the needle without them,” James said.

ASU’s Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship has also launched a unique enthusiasm for startups both among students and local community leaders.  Directed by Schlenker, the center’s staff empowers those with new startup ideas and partners with them to research and crunch numbers to determine if there’s a market and viable business model. “Entrepreneurs can use the center’s office space and other on-campus facilities while center staff connect them with professional services, funding and mentors,” notes a recent report in ExitEvent.com

“It’s easy to be excited about ideas and opportunities, but the difference between having success and not having it is being willing to start,” Erich said.

Real Results

As SHC’s Silicon Hollar concept gains traction, the group is seeing new success stories blossom across the board.

“We’re really focused on job and investment opportunities, and by getting several startups off the ground and funded within the next 12-18 months, they will quickly make a really positive impact in job creation,” James said.

Promising young entrepreneurs, like Zak Ammar from Vixster and Dale Yarborough from Gidoa (pronounced Gi-Dough), stand out as success stories for SHC. Vixster, for example, is a trash and recycling service company that facilitates a peer-to-peer removal service for commercial and residential customers. Think of it as Uber for trash service. By using a digital, GPS platform, users can create an account, request an on-demand pickup – pay for it online, and Vixster will match them with a driver in the same vicinity to pick it up. Gidoa aims to provide transparency and accountability in the charitable donations industry. Both are finalists for the recent 2016 Pitch Your Idea Competition at ASU.

“We’ve had a really nice response from the community to what we’re doing,” James said.

Startup: The Next Generation

A tech-oriented community will wither on the vine quickly without a fresh infusion of talent and software experience. To meet that challenge, SHC plans to break new ground in software coding education.

“In order to stay competitive globally, not just locally, we need to get more of our kids exposed to software coding before they hit the post-secondary level,” James said. He is among a growing number of startup leaders who believe computer coding classes should be required in high school curricula.

We’re really focused on coding education,” Sam said. “We’re hosting a summer camp – High Country Coding Corps – with App State’s Gear Up program, teaching rising 6-9th graders computer programing through something they all love – Minecraft.

“For most of us coding is a foreign language, but kids who make coding their native language will be well equipped to snag high-paying jobs and work at amazing companies like Google and Amazon, or even locally at ECRS,” James added.

Making Headway in the Hollar

While most people can get on board with Startup High Country’s vision and enthusiasm, everyone involved also realizes the road ahead, like the region’s soil, will yield a lot of bumps, rocky obstacles and steep climbs.

Although the High Country offers many advantages for startup incubation and recruitment — Outside magazine has named Boone one of the “10 Best Small Towns in the U.S. – job creation has always suffered due to a variety of factors, including cost of living and geography.

“It’s no secret that there’s a serious lack of quality, high-paying career opportunities in the High Country,” James said. “It’s not an indictment on anyone here, it’s just a reality.”

And the future for the High Country may grow bleaker if economic strategies fail to adapt. According to the N.C. State Institute for Emerging Issues’ Future Work Job Disruption index, Watauga County outranks all other counties in North Carolina in potential job losses due to technology automation.

“I see SHC as an opportunity for our community to get ahead of the forecasts and take control of our future, to push back against that prediction,” James said.

“Let’s use what we know: creation, innovation, and technology to rewrite our community’s economic story.”

Get Involved with Silicon Hollar

“I tell everyone, this is challenging work, but it’s good work. All we need is a few lighthouse companies — those companies that shine brightly and that others can follow and avoid the rocks. With Startup High Country, we can invest in entrepreneurs ‘on the mountain’, so they don’t have to go ‘off the mountain’ to build their companies and fulfill their dreams,” Startup High Country Co-Founder James Bance says. “The easiest way to stay connected with the tech initiatives in our area is to sign up for the mailing list at siliconhollar.org and come out to the events. We help curate the site, but it’s really a public space for everyone to use; it’s a gateway to all things tech in the High Country.”

“You don’t have to be a computer programmer or work for a technology company to be involved. The beauty of a startup community is that almost anyone can get engaged. It takes many different disciplines to drive success, not just tech. Designers, photographers, executive assistants, writers, project managers and more, are all essential to the mix.”

This article first appeared in High Country Magazine, a sister publication of High Country Press

 

April Startup Social Recap

If you weren't able to attend April's Silicon Hollar Startup Social, at the Greenhouse in downtown Boone, do not fear - here's the recap and you can join us for the next event on April 14th.

As always, a big thank you to everyone that contributed and attended! Once again Appalachian Mountain Brewery, and Booneshine, hooked us all up with some super tasty cold beverages for the evening.

We had a really wonderful turnout, with by far the most attendance of student entrepreneurs and coders we've had.  We're super pumped for all of this momentum and are really excited for what the next few months are going to bring the area.  To learn more about the work we're doing at Startup High Country, please read Jason Reagan's awesome article in the most recent High Country Magazine.

The winner's from our High Country Hacks hackathon presented their project Verb, which really has lots of potential - definitely be on the lookout for more from this team.  James Bauler talked about the work Cruxolve is doing and their new project WorkPlace.  Brandon told us about his project - Church Learn - which is just getting started.  

There are a couple of cool job openings in the area as well: Nordic PC is looking for a web developer to build out a new site for them and Jackson Sumner is currently hiring engineers.

The next Silicon Hollar Startup Social will happen on May 12th, 5:30, at the Transportation Isight Center on App State's Campus.

March Startup Social Recap

 

If you weren't able to attend March's Silicon Hollar Startup Social, at the Greenhouse in downtown Boone, do not fear - here's the recap and you can join us for the next event on April 14th.

Huge shoutouts to everyone that contributed and attended! A big shout out to Danny Wilcox from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, and Tim Herdklotz from Booneshine, for supplying super tasty cold beverages for the evening. Even though at this point we shouldn't be, we were surprised once again by the great turnout (it was App State's Spring Break), with over 40 coders, local entrepreneurs and high country residents who work in, and have a desire to contribute to, high growth technology in Boone. 

Steve Mercil from Angel Capital Group talked about the formation of the angel fund that's currently taking shape right here in Boone.  We'll be sure to keep everyone updated on the progress and we think before long, we'll see an investment from this group.  How cool was it to hear from (and see in action) Jimmy from Spinboxx?   Also, Vixster has officially launched, so go check out their service - we've only heard and experienced good things.  Be on the look out for a special event at the May social, sponsored by Vixster.    

The next Silicon Hollar Startup Social will happen on April 14th, 5:30, at the Greenhouse. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

The Internet of Thneeds

By Jason Reagan

Internet of Things: “a world where physical objects are seamlessly integrated into the information network, and where the physical objects can become active participants.” — Stephan Haller, SAP Research, 2009

“This thing is a Thneed. A Thneed’s a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need” —The Once-ler, 1971

With the proliferation of wearable technologyRFIDsself-driving cars and the Quantified Self movement, it’s clear that The Internet of Things has moved beyond trendy, PowerPoint slide fodder and into the Real World of Things.

In the wearables market alone, sales are expected to leap 129 percent by year’s end, hitting 22 million shipments by 2015 and a Google-Glass-shattering 135 million by 2018, according to CCS Insight. AGartner report predicts the existence of 26 billion devices comprising the Internet of Things (IoT) by 2020.

To better gauge where “Things” are headed, Pew Research asked 1,606 experts:

“As billions of devices, artifacts, and accessories are networked,will the Internet of Things have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025?”

The experts shouted a resounding: “Yes!” as 83% agreed with Pew’s thesis question.

Salesforce.com chief scientist and survey participant JP Rangaswami waxed poetic about IOT’s potential. He writes:

“The proliferation of sensors and actuators will continue. The quality of real-time information that becomes available will take the guesswork out of much of capacity planning and decision-making. This will affect the food you buy and cook and eat; the fuel you use to power yourself, your devices, and your vehicles; the time you take to do things; and, as you learn to live longer, the burden of care will reduce as a result of far better monitoring of, and response to, your physical and emotional state, in terms of healthcare. People will engage with information using all of their senses: touch and feel, sight, sound, smell, and taste—using them in combination, more often than not. Wearable, connected devices will become embedded more and more in our bodies, more like implants, as in the [Google] Glass becoming more like contact lenses.”

As technology evolves, individual parts of the whole move from Want to Need. In the 1980s, mounting a computer on every desktop for most businesses was a Want — “It would be nice..but we can’t afford it.” Fast forward to 2014, and that same computer-less business would measure its shelf life in nanoseconds.

But in between Want and Need is yet another subdivision — theThneed. You’ll recall the Thneed from Dr. Seuss’ cautionary tale The Lorax. The book follows the rise and fall of the ultra-capitalist Once-ler as he ramps up production of thousands of Thneeds (which were apparently the Swiss Army Knife equivalent of a Snuggy).

To make a short story shorter (and let’s just table the fate of the poor Truffula trees for now), the Thneed didn’t start out as a Need. In fact, people didn’t know Thneeds existed until the Once-ler began to manufacture them.

Once word got out (we assume the Suessian denizens had Engadget), the Thneed became the Prime Want (the iPhone, the Galaxy, the Kindle).  People lined up for hours outside Truffula Stores. Before the Thneed could cross over from Want to legitimate Need, however, the Once-ler decimated the environment and resources at “the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows.”

Ultimately, the Thneed occupied an in-between niche, in that, people not only wanted them, but almost “needed them” to live their version of a self-actualized, modern life.

Right now, full deployment of the Internet of Things is a Want — a Wow Factor underscoring what is already the greatest Era of Wow our species has yet encountered. Our economy won’t grind to a halt if every manufacturer fails to employ RFID inventory control; we won’t see a spike in heart attacks for lack of FitBits.

However, as the experts already foresee, the shift from Want to Thneed will come. And by 2025, the Thneed will transition to a Real Need. Our precious planetary resources will require the kind of laser-focused management that only a network of Big Data-driven devices, implants and actuators can likely provide.

To again quote Rangaswami:

“The net effect will be to reduce waste everywhere: in physical flows and logistics, in the movement of people and goods; in logical flows and logistics, in the movement of ideas and information; decisions will be made faster and better, based on more accurate information; prior errors in assumption and planning will be winkled out more effectively.”

From a Transhumanist perspective, the inevitability of the Internet of Things will play a pivotal role in human longevity. Incrementally, we will continue to deploy network-capable devices both near, on and inside our bodies as a means of monitoring, measuring and enhancing our health.

“The population curve … will cause much of the monitoring and assistance by intelligent devices to be welcomed and extended,” said University of North Carolina Professor Paul Jones in the Pew survey. “This is what we had in mind all along—augmented life extension.”

Our challenge: To shape this technology from an “Ain’t It Cool” Want to a sustainable Thneed (and protect those Truffula trees) until The Internet of Things settles into its rightful role as a Need in our journey of enhanced human evolution.

 

 

Jason Reagan (@JasonPReagan) is the creator of TransHumaniac, a newbie futurist, tech writer, communications specialist and optimist. He also blogs for DroneLife.com (@DroneLife).

This article was republished with Jason's permission.  The original article can be found here

February Startup Social Recap

If you weren't able to attend February's Silicon Hollar Startup Social, at the Greenhouse in downtown Boone, do not fear - here's the recap and you can join us for the next event on March 10th.

Huge shoutouts to everyone that contributed and attended! A big shot out to Danny Wilcox from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, and Tim Herdklotz from Booneshine, for supplying super tasty cold beverages for the evening. Once again, we had a great turnout, with over 40 coders, local entrepreneurs and high country residents who work in, and have a desire to contribute to, high growth technology in Boone. 

How cool was it to hear from the Glance team about how they're planning on disrupting the hiring and recruiting space. Here at Startup High Country, we're super excited about their future and are really looking forward to seeing how these guys progress.  Also, we were fortunate to hear directly from Ralph Wood and see his Teknest iPad case in use.  

The next Silicon Hollar Startup Social will happen on March 10th, 5:30, at the Greenhouse. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Five Character Traits Of Innovation Leaders

By Henry Doss
Managing Partner at Rainforest Strategies LLP

A leader is best when people barely know he exists.  When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:  We did it ourselves. - Lao Tzu

Leading innovation is a lot like parenting.

As a parent, you generally don’t have any meaningful training or preparation before you start.  You kind of learn as you go, and figure things out as they land in front of you.  Most of the advice you get is off base and not at all relevant to your circumstances.  By the time you’ve accumulated enough experience to be more or less competent, the skills you’ve acquired are mostly irrelevant.  To top it all off, the really important things you did, the things that will really matter somewhere in the future, are totally invisible, hidden away in a flurry of daily actions and drama and living.

You will rarely, if ever, get credit for good parenting.  And you will rarely, if ever, get credit for leading and causing innovation.

At least not if you’re leading the right way.

Becoming a powerful leader of innovative organizations rests in many critical ways on a foundation of ways of being, ways of thinking and ways of conducting yourself.  Self-awareness and insight into yourself as a leader and as a member of a social group will determine how much you contribute to or cause innovation in your world.  As a beginning point for reflection about how to be a leader in innovation, here are five likely characteristics of strong, collaborative leaders and role models:
 

1:     Don’t do.  Influence.


Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence; he is just using his memory. — Leonardo da Vinci

More often than not, you create value and innovation in an organizational system by being a role model for behavior and thinking and accountability, not by calling on organizational authority or lines of command.  You do not simply proclaim “Innovate!” and expect anything to happen.  It is who you are, rather than what you do that will matter.  Doing, making demands, setting goals, checking, measuring, reporting and so on are of course necessary parts of any organization’s operation; but these actions are functions of command and hierarchy, not innovation.   You cannot create or cause innovation through appeals to authority — yours or anyone else’s.  Authority is a rote function of history and hierarchy; influence is a function of character, risk, and caring.  Innovation, and innovation cultures, derive from the latter.  As a leader, cultivate a state of being that is innovation, rather than a set of commands about innovation.
 

2:     Seed the future, not the present. 

Never let the future disturb you.  You will meet it with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.  — Marcus Aurelius

The demands of organizational accountability tend to be urgent.  Things need to be done now.  Reports finished. Meetings scheduled.  Production quotas met.  These are necessary things, but they have nothing to do with innovation.  The future is where innovation always lives, and sometimes that future is a long way off, uncertain, and really hard to forecast.  Those who wish to be true leaders of innovation must be able to meet urgent, near-term demands, and at the same time serve as role models for the future . . . without worrying too much about the specifics of that future.  The seeds of culture and risk and trust that you sow as an innovation leader of the now will only manifest themselves at some future, unpredictable time and place.    Be in the present; be about the future. You will have lots of company worrying about that next board meeting, or that next quarterly report; but as a leader of innovation you may find your concern for the future to be a lonely spot.  Stay there.
 

3:   Work for the love of change and improvement, rather than for what you get for yourself:

We set out to save the Shire, Sam and it has been saved – but not for me. — Frodo Baggins, from The Return of the King

Innovation leaders tend to be motivated more by what can happen for the benefit of others and of their organizations, rather than what can directly benefit them.  That’s not to say that you should not have an interest in how you benefit from your own hard work, nor does it mean that you don’t pay attention to your personal welfare.  What this does suggest is that the state of constantly being concerned for other’s benefit, for the growth and success and fulfillment of others in your organization, has an almost magical impact on outcomes — yours and everyone else’s.   Where you want to drive positive change and constant improvement, lead from outside yourself and you’ll see those results.   Lead from your own personal interests, and everyone else will, too.  And that’s a recipe for mistrust, fear and zero-risk states, not innovation.
 

4:    Take personal risks that will benefit others, even when — especially when! –  those who will benefit may not even know what you’re doing.

Not for ourselves alone are we born.  — Cicero

It seems inevitable that in most — all? — organizations, rewarding is deeply linked to recognizing.  This emphasis on recognition, in turn,  creates a value set that causes individuals to seek recognition.  Work is evaluated in terms of how much recognition any particular action might realize, not in what value that action might have for the organization.  Incentive structures — the great demon of unintended consequences – then create feedback loops that equate being seen and known with being a contributor.  The result:  No one will take risk that might cause someone else to be recognized, or to cause a negative recognition in the event of failure. Which, of course, ensures the long-term failure of any organization.

The positive behavior leaders of innovative organizations want to role model and to embed in their teams is selflessness.  This is a tall order, and one that can feel a bit out of reach.  But the call of being a leader is to be an agent of change, and making things better.  Powerful leaders of innovation will both be, and cause others to be, grounded in taking appropriate risks on behalf of others, rather than themselves.  When this happens, if this happens, organizations are transformed
 

5:     Share, share, share all the time.

Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality. –  Dalai Lama XIV

Business (all manner of business) is simply the control of information.  But in the case of innovation, there is a trick to that word “control.”  The most powerful driver of new things, and of discovery, and of invention is transparency.  Look around your own organization.  Where you see silos, you’ll see information hoards.  Where you see “departments” that are incentivized by their individual success, you’ll see information hoards.  Where you see individuals seeking recognition or power or advantage, you’ll see information hoards.  And where you see information hoards, you will not see innovation.

Effective leaders are grounded in the notion that “what’s mine is yours.”  They will see information and knowledge as treasure to be shared, to be used by everyone in service to organizational goals.  But most organizations structure their operations, incentives, and metrics in such a way as to discourage the actual sharing of information.  Innovation leaders will be in constant search of ways to open up information flows, of ways to bring individuals and groups together to share and optimize knowledge.  When this happens, when structure and incentive and ways of being encourage open information systems, the result may be rather unpredictable; but it will certainly be innovative.

There is one thing that all five of these leadership characteristics have in common: They are all ways of being, or thinking, or acting.  They are not skill-based; they don’t require any specialized knowledge; and they certainly don’t require any authority.  They simply require a change in how a leader thinks.

And that may be the only leadership assignment that matters.

Henry Doss believes authentic leadership can change the world.  His book, The Rainforest Scorecard, provides a guide to the measurement of innovation in organizations.

The Internet of Things Will Connect Us All

By: Matt Zothner

Imagine driving up to your house and your garage, lights, blinds, and even music are aware that you’re home. The lights turn on and your music picks up right where you left off a second ago in the car. Imagine this kind of technology also connecting your fridge, washing machine, and air conditioning, saving you both energy and money.

Sounds great doesn’t it? It’s called the Internet of Things, and it refers to all electronic devices being connected to the internet, communicating to each other as we go about our daily lives.

So far, there are a handful of products or “things” connected to the internet including cars, TVs,  printers, airport kiosks, etc. Soon, however, the world will be connected through roughly 30 billion devices, according to Gartner.

If you can imagine your house being completely connected, then can you imagine an entire city, a “smart” city, collecting data by itself about anything from traffic logistics to hospital wait times? Or better, imagine a connected public transportation system - buses, parking spots, traffic, maintenance - all improved for a better city life. It sounds ludicrous, but it’s almost here.

The “smart” city is just the beginning of the Internet of Things, or IoT. The ultimate goal, in fact, becomes connecting all electronic devices across the world. When everything is linked, systems can be seen and updated in real-time. This reduces waste and cost for all parties - consumers, companies, and the government.

The technology is still being developed because it faces issues like technical standards, meaning that each device must be able to communicate with all the other ones regardless of manufacturer. Also, the experience needs to be easy for us to work with. That issue may be solved already, since all the information can go to our smartphones and wearable devices.

To some, this sounds like it could turn into a dystopic sci-fi film from the likes of Terminator, and they may be right. It’s true that when more things are connected, there are more security breaches and a larger potential for hacking. But in order for the Internet of Things to truly take off, consumers have to be willing to give their data away. This information won’t be related to personal data, but rather data from the amount of energy you use, health signs from wearables, and much more.

When we can understand our data collected from these devices, we can understand ourselves better. Our patterns, habits, and future trends may stem from the Internet of Things, and it’s an exciting time for a world of connectivity. I’m certain that as our “things” become more connected, we as people do too, and then, hopefully, the world truly becomes one.

Zothner, a junior marketing major from Cary, is an opinion writer

 

http://www.siemens.com/innovation/en/home/pictures-of-the-future/digitalization-and-software/internet-of-things-facts-and-forecasts.html

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/consumer/so-you-don-t-understand-the-internet-of-things-don-t-worry-you-soon-will-1.2364847

 

 

December Recap: Silicon Hollar Startup Social

We had a great turnout last month with lots of fresh new faces.  Once again our local breweries (Appalachian Mountain Brewery and Booneshine) delivered with some tasty cold beverages.  James Bance announced a new fund, already seeded with $25K -- you can find more information about this initiative here.  Additionally we heard from Chris Grasinger about High Country Coding Corps and the exciting work they are doing and PickSix's lead developer, Justin Warnes talked about how they are staying ahead of the curve with their technology stack.  Joe Cazier of Appalachian State also spoke on being selected to lead the initiative to determine how the UNC system is looking to change (hopefully for the better) how they address handling the intellectual property produced in a university setting.  Dale Yarborogh, coder and a Junior at ASU, talked about his product that will be a game changing transparency and funding tool for non-profits.

The next Silicon Hollar Startup Social will happen on January 14th, at 5:30pm in the Greenhouse. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

The need for technological agriculture

One of the things that excites us most about building a thriving startup scene in the high country is the passion our community has around sustainability and good stewardship of the planet. The piece you're about to read was written by one of our bright young minds, Matt Zothner, who is a Junior at ASU.  

To many, the idea of sustainable farming doesn't immediately generate thoughts of software and hardware, but the landscape is changing rapidly. Agri-Tech has come of age, and it's becoming big business with big promise for tomorrow. 


A Perspective, Written by: Matt Zothner, Junior at Appalachain State, Focusing on Enterpreneurship and Technology

 

 

Before the Industrial Revolution, most people farmed for themselves. When the Industrial Revolution occurred, we were able to produce a hundred times more food than previously expected.

 

Nowadays, a tiny fraction of the population feeds the whole. Because of this, the food industry is getting more difficult to manage and is terribly unsustainable.

The farmers of today have to keep up with the growing demand of food due to rising population numbers, and the technology to help them do this hasn’t really caught up. There are some major problems that farmers and agriculturists are facing, and the world needs to act quickly.

The solution could be the rising agri-tech industry.

The industry of agriculture technology, or agri-tech, has been recently making headlines for a few reasons. One reason is that companies like Agrilyst, the intelligence platform for indoor farms, are changing the way small farms do business. They harness data from all farm sensors, equipment and lights to let farmers know how to get the best yield on their crops.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it means changes for both the small scale and bigger picture. Better yields on crops means more food from smaller farms and a more sustainable food industry as a whole — something we must focus on to keep the planet healthy.

Farmers are now becoming more tech-savvy, utilizing IoT, or the Internet of Things, devices to monitor farm equipment, water levels, soil conditions and much more.

“The world is digitized, and we’re going to see the same digitization on the farm,” according to Michael Stern of Climate Corporation.

The trend is known as precision farming, and it will disrupt traditional farming practices as we know them. This is great news for those with sustainability in mind, because now every farmer can produce the best crops with less cost and better productivity.

In addition, modern practices like vertical and urban farming are helpful because they eliminate the need for a vast amount of land. The food grows in vertical greenhouses in or around cities, which reduces transportation costs to those cities (where nearly 80 percent of the population will live in 2050) and promotes “farm-to-table” lifestyles.

The real problem is less common in the United States.

Many farmers in this country sell their crops to big distributors, but farmers in developing countries don’t have the same access to technology as we do. Information from their crops is much harder to obtain, increasing the difficulty of farming in other developing nations. We need to focus on farmers and growing the agri-tech industry elsewhere in order to achieve a truly sustainable food industry for everyone.

With the advance in precision farming and harnessing of big data, startups focusing on agriculture technology can really make a profit and benefit the world in the process. But more than ever, the focus should be on the farmers. If we focused on farmers in the High Country, the local food industry would grow tremendously. Without local farmers, in our hometowns and across the world, there would be no food.

Technology needs to help those in need, and tech-savvy farmers, with the help of agri-tech, could be the solution for a prosperous and sustainable world.

 

Sources:

 

http://www.rcrwireless.com/20151008/internet-of-things/iot-wireless-set-to-revolutionize-farming-tag15

http://www.agriculture.com/news/technology/digital-agriculture-future-is-now_6-ar50669

 

Silicon Hollar Entrepreneur Profile - Zak Ammar, Vixster, CEO and Founder

Written by: Dave Walker, Program Manager for Ascent Business Network

Do you live in an area that doesn't have trash and/or recycling pickup? Do you have trash piling up in your garage and wish it would suddenly disappear? Do you want the time that you spend at the county convenience center sorting your recyclables, back in your day? If you have trash collection services already - how about getting that monthly bill reduced? This could be a your reality and the service (currently in open beta) is already available. This month, we'll take a look at what Zak Ammar, from Vixster, has up his sleeve and how he plans to change the way we dispose of trash and recycling in the High Country.


What does Vixster do?

Vixster is a trash and recycling service company operating in “The Sharing Economy” that facilitates a peer-to-peer removal service for commercial and residential customers.

Why did you decide to locate Vixster in the High Country?

I moved to the High Country from Texas to pursue a MBA with a focus in Supply Chain Management at Appalachian State University. I was born in New Orleans, raised in Texas. The mountains here are great! There’s so much to do. I enjoy fishing, cooking, and raising chickens. Compared to Texas, having four seasons is fantastic. In Houston, it’s hot, hot, hot, and even more hot. The High Country has become my new home, and I am excited to continue growing roots up here.   

IMG_7196.JPG

How does Vixster solve a community need?

There are over 20,000 residents in Watauga County, who do not have waste & recycling removal services. At least sixty other rural counties in North Carolina have this exact problem. People drive past the landfill and convenience centers every day, but the waste centers’ hours are inconvenient with our busy schedules. Once you get to the waste centers, recyclables must be separated by the residents themselves, and this has contributed to an even greater problem – 60% of Watauga County’s landfill waste is recyclable material. Vixster delivers an efficient and manageable waste disposal system for businesses and citizens.

Why is business planning important and who helped you along the way?

Business planning is important because it allows you the opportunity to map out your vision and goals so that you can effectively execute them. Erich Schlenker, the Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Appalachian State has been pivotal in my growth process, specifically as a mentor, advisor, and coach. The Center for Entrepreneurship offers several great services for students looking to launch a business. They have a mentorship program, an accelerator program, space to collaborate, advisors, coaches, affiliations with SBTDC, and legal/accounting/etc contacts/resources. All of these have been invaluable to me through my businesses launch.

What’s next for Vixster?

My vision is to change the way people to trash and recycling in the high country - to create jobs, solve the need for trash and recycling in rural areas, and to reduce the overall amount of recyclables in our landfills. I am actively partnering with web developers, and designing a marketing campaign. Check out Vixster at http://www.vixster.com/. We’re looking forward to a complete reconstruction of our webapp platform, with a January 1st launch date. Vixster is the beginning of a new era for how our community manages trash and recycling in the High Country.


Credit: Interview conducted by Dave Walker, Program Manager for Ascent Business Network, a program of High Country Local First.

vixster logo.jpg

Nov 12 Silicon Hollar Startup Social Recap

If you weren't able to attend last Thursday's Silicon Hollar Startup Social, at the Greenhouse in downtown Boone, do not fear - here's the recap and you can join us for the next event on December 3rd.

First off, thank you to everyone that contributed and attended! A big shot out to Danny Wilcox from Appalachian Mountain Brewery, and Tim Herdklotz from Booneshine, for supplying cold beverages for the evening. Once again, we had a great turnout, with over 35 coders, local entrepreneurs and high country residents who work in, and have a desire to contribute to, high growth technology in Boone. 

We were fortunate to hear directly from some of the local startup entrepreneurs including: Zak Ammar from Vixster, James Wilkes from Hive Tracks and Sam Glover from PickSix. Each of these companies is in a different stage in the startup lifecycle, so it was great to see a nice cross section of our current startup activity. Exciting things are happening in each of their businesses and I would encourage you to reach out to them directly if you want to learn more.

You can find their contact info in the partners section of our website.

The next Silicon Hollar Startup Social will happen on December 3rd, at the Greenhouse. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

What's a startup community?

By: James Bance

If you search “Startup Community” on Google, the search results will direct you to Brad Feld's work. Brad is an entrepreneur guru, venture capitalist and author from Boulder, Colorado. Over the last 10 years, the term Startup Community has become synonymous with places like the Silicon Valley, Austin, Seattle and Boulder. More recently, startup communities have been popping up all over the U.S., thanks in part to the good work of folks like Brad Feld, David Cohen, Steve Case and many others.

Since the United States was first settled the entrepreneurial spirit has been part of what it means to be American. I’m not going to get into a history lesson here, but one could argue that the US has been one big startup community since the day we broke away from the British Empire. Some of the greatest entrepreneurs in history got together on July 4, 1776 and took action; since then the entire world has never been the same.

So what does a startup community look like today? You don’t have to go far to find one. Drive down the mountain to Durham and you’ll find one of the most vibrant startup communities in the country, centered around facilities like the The American Underground. The Underground provides a place for entrepreneurs to get their companies up and running. It’s a small network of startup companies housed in a single physical location which fosters collaboration. Each startup feeds off each others ideas, expertise and enthusiasm, a byproduct of co-housing companies in one space. For a reasonable fee, there’s space to work, infrastructure to run businesses and mentorship from seasoned entrepreneurs that can accelerate growth. The Underground is just one piece of the startup community eco-system in Durham.

The cornerstone to a vibrant startup community in any city is a group of active and engaged entrepreneurs driving innovation and creating businesses. But they can’t do it alone. They need to be supported by a strong network of service providers including investors, CPAs, attorneys, universities and sometimes government. In Brad Feld’s book, Startup Communities, he asserts that there are 4 basic principles of a thriving startup community: (I’m not going to unpack each one of these points in depth, but if you want to dig in more right now, check out Brad’s blog)

  1. The community must be led by the entrepreneurs. The community can’t be led by the service providers, or the “feeders” as he describes them. Entrepreneurs naturally operate in a network, which is the best structure for a thriving startup community. Feeders, typically, operate in a hierarchy which is counterproductive to the growth of a startup community.

  2. The members of the community must have a long-term vision - typically 20 years, or more. And this commitment resets everyday. Basically, it takes a long time to realize the benefits so you better be in for the long haul.

  3. The community should be inclusive of anyone that wants to participate. Those that cause friction, or are energy vampires will be naturally “selected out”, kind of like a T-cell removing a pathogen from the body.

  4. The creation of activities and meetings that engage the entire “entrepreneurial stack.” Check out our events page to see what activities are available in the High Country.

One of the most important themes that weaves throughout his book is “give before you get.” As a person who is most happy when serving others, this is one critical aspect of a startup community that I feel is imperative to success. If the members of a community with the good ideas, the capital and the connections take a protectionist stance, or wall themselves off because they “want it all to themselves”, the community can’t grow. It’s that simple. The community needs to work together, collaborate and develop a sense of transparency that may not feel comfortable right away. I’m not talking about sharing every trade secret and giving away intellectual property. That’s just dumb. What I am suggesting is that we do the things that strong communities have done for thousands of years - seek opportunities to help each other - don’t just wait on the sidelines hoping someone will come to you looking for the help they need. Take action.

If you’re reading this right now, and are interested in starting a company here in Watauga County, then here’s a few practical things you can do right now to get started:

  1. Get out and meet as many people as you can. Look for those that are in technology and exhibit the qualities of entrepreneurs. The key is “get out” - don’t hide behind a computer, or a phone. You need to meet people face to face. And if you don’t already know 3, or 4 entrepreneurs, ask the people you do know, “Who should I talk to?”

  2. Get on Linkedin and do a keyword search for people in the Boone and Blowing Rock area. Use some of these terms in your search: high tech, technology, developer, software, coder, entrepreneur, mobile programmer, investor or founder.

  3. Contact the Ascent Business Network. They have classes on things like writing business plans, how to organize and how to manage a P&L. They’re here to help get people pointed in the right direction.

  4. Attend one of our events and get plugged in to our work. When you come, of course tell people about what you’re working on, but make sure you’re asking others, “How can I help?” If you give first, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding in your endeavor because your success, suddenly becomes the community’s success. And that’s the real power of the startup community.

We’re all working towards different personal goals in business, but when we step back and look at the aggregation of each of our successes, all of a sudden we move from a bunch of silos of knowledge and incremental gains, to a place where huge gains are possible because of the network effect of the startup community. That is what will lead to more jobs (and higher paying ones), more investment opportunities, more excitement about our careers and a stronger, more connected community.

 

#firsthursday October 1st recap

Thanks to everyone that came out to the #firsthursday tech and entrepreneur meetup last night! This was our first event held at The Greenhouse, and definetely the first of many. Thanks to Jeffery Scott, Chris Graysinger & company for hosting everyone. 

The focal point of this week's event was to give the entrepreneurs, investors and coders in the area a place to meet and connect with each other. We had over 30 people attend: students in computer science, local high tech founders, ASU partners, lawyers and more. 

The next event is going to be bigger and better. We'll hear from several local founders as they talk about their high tech companies and about the problems they're trying to solve. So, mark your calendar for November 5th!

 

Welcome to the hollar

It's been over a year in the making, but the vision has taken form and the work behind siliconhollar.org is in motion. 

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
— Mark Twain

This work started last July when I met my friend and co-founder (of PickSix), Sam Glover. We quickly discovered we had a lot in common - we were both co-founders of startups, were currently working in high tech and had big dreams of helping to grow a startup community in the Boone area. We both love working for smaller, nimble, high growth companies that are doing big things and thought why isn't anyone driving a startup scene in Boone and Blowing Rock right now?

Fast forward to September 2015, and Startup High Country (SHC) and Silicon Hollar was born. (We can't take credit for the name Silicon Hollar. James Bauler, a friend and colleague gets credit for that one!) 

Come back and visit - starting next week we'll be adding to the Startup Space often. Who knows, maybe you'll be inspired to start the next high flying technology company in the high country.