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innovation DAILY

Here we highlight selected innovation related articles from around the world on a daily basis.  These articles related to innovation and funding for innovative companies, and best practices for innovation based economic development.

Consumers are flocking to smartphones and the downloadable software that runs on them as fervently as mobile-technology investors had hoped. But so far, iPhone, BlackBerry and Android users have shown a preference for applications that extend well-known Web properties, rather than apps that have appeared for mobile devices only.

Associated Press
Mobile application Shopkick, which allows consumers to check in with retail stores for coupons

In a recent report by The Pew Research Center and Nielsen Co., the most popular apps on all platforms are those made by Facebook Inc., the Weather Channel, Google Maps and Pandora Inc. – all mobile versions of well-traveled Web services and sites.

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lazy bearsThe universal challenge of every startup founder is to get everything done that needs to get done, and still have a life.

Even outside of business, everyone wants to accomplish more, while working less. I’ve been a student of these techniques for some time, but recently I saw a great summary that seems to pull all the key principles together.

Steve Robbins, known on the Internet as the Get-It-Done Guy, just published his book “9 Steps to Work Less and Do More,” which outlines his strategies. These are not aimed specifically at entrepreneurs, but certainly can be applied there as follows:

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slingshot_sept10.jpgAs promised, open source social network and Facebook alternative Diaspora released its source code yesterday. And while it's a developer release meant to be hacked on and is by no means a finished, there are already of plenty of predictions that Diaspora will fail - or at the least, that the project represents no threat to Facebook.

Diaspora is hardly unique as a startup that faces major challenges by entering into a market or an industry where big companies are well-established.

On a recent TechZing podcast, for example, hosts Jason Roberts and Justin Vincent asked Gabriel Weinberg, founder of the search engine DuckDuckGo if being in the same realm as Google "isn't that, like, crazy?" But as Weinberg points out, he's able to "do things that Google can't copy easily." For example, DuckDuckGo is able to delivery more satisfactory search results than Google, contends Weinberg, because he can actively address questions of spam without facing charges of censorship or anti-trust - something Google can't do because of its size.

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boots bootstrap shoesProbably too much ink is spilled over VC funded companies. It’s curious… given that these companies represent such a small minority of the entrepreneurial activity in this country.

Perhaps it’s because the stories of ambitious entrepreneurs pitching their dream to mysterious VC’s make for good, sexy fodder.

It’s great to celebrate startups, but the imbalance of press received by VC backed companies misguides some first-time entrepreneurs into thinking that the only path to success is through institutional funding.

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Yep. I’m going there again.

When I looked at the “Summer Davos” program, the panel I was most excited to attend was about the role of women in Asian workforces. The role of women in China is fascinating: Despite real problems of gender equality issues—not to mention the role karaoke bars play in business negotiations – women have also helped power China’s rise, migrating en masse to factories and aggressively learning new skills to climb their own socio-economic ladders.

And new research by the World Economic Forum shows that for the first time women and men are entering college at the same rate in China. And while only 20% of leadership roles in China are held by women, it does better than many Asian neighbors. In terms of professional equality, Japan lags far behind and India ranks as one of the worst. I was fascinated to talk about these differences, hoping maybe there was some sort of gender-equivalent of the “greenfield advantages” emerging markets face over the developed world.

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Do We Get Less Creative As We Age?In an earlier blog post, I included a quote from Voltaire. He once said, “Man can only have a certain number of teeth, hairs, and ideas. There comes a time when he necessarily loses his teeth, his hair, and his ideas.” This quote sparked a small debate between two blog readers.

Dr.YKK chimed in with, “I don’t agree with Voltaire on the ideas part. As Einstein says, ideas are unlimited. I would like to add, ‘at whatever age.’ We don’t lose ideas, we gain ideas and wisdom with age.”

Gareth Garvey responded with, “Maybe the number of ideas we can have is unlimited. Our problem can be that as we get older we can find it harder to accept new ideas and end up rejecting our own ideas before we have voiced them. We need to remind ourselves to think young, at least some of the time.”

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I am often asked if I have found a secret - or at least a consistent answer - to successfully building businesses over my career.

So I’ve spent some time thinking about what characterizes so many of Virgin’s successful ventures and, importantly, what went wrong when we did not get it right. Reflecting across 40 years I have come up with five “secrets.”

No. 1: Enjoy What You Are Doing.
Because starting a business is a huge amount of hard work, requiring a great deal of time, you had better enjoy it. When I started Virgin from a basement flat in West London, I did not set out to build a business empire. I set out to create something I enjoyed that would pay the bills.

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In the beginning, there were angel investors. And it was good. As individual angel investors made more and more investments, they became super angels. One day a super angel woke up and thought to himself, “Gosh, I could do a lot more investments if I had a fund.” And so the super angels became micro-VCs (or “institutionalized super angels”). Everyone was excited and on the seventh day they did another deal instead of resting.

I’m a huge fan of the super angel movement. Some of my best friends are super angels and

I’ve put my own money where my mouth is in funds like Chris Sacca’s, Dave McClure’s, Jeff Clavier’s, Roger Ehrenberg’s, and David Cohen’s. Not only am I an investor in these super angels, I love to have them on board with our investments at Foundry Group. And whenever they bring me something they’ve been working on, I always pay attention–as I know they know what I like to invest in.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA and KANSAS CITY, MO--(Marketwire - September 15, 2010) - Astia, a premier business accelerator that works with women-led start-ups, today announced it has received a $500,000 grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The grant represents a commitment from both organizations to strategically work together to advance the participation of women in high-growth entrepreneurship.

The Kauffman Foundation is the world's largest foundation promoting entrepreneurship. Its research, expertise and programs provide critical support to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"Entrepreneurs are arguably the most important actors in our economy: the creators of new wealth and new jobs, the inventors of new products and services, and the revolutionizers of society and the economy," said Lesa Mitchell, vice president of advancing innovation at the Kauffman Foundation. "Our commitment to Astia is to ensure that women are encouraged to participate in entrepreneurial endeavors and given the tools to succeed, which is essential to our national economy."

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 economic stimulus was an unfocused series of compromises that had a modest stimulative effect on economic activity. Indeed, no matter how haphazardly you dump a trillion dollars on the US economy, it will goose employment, industrial production, retail sales and GDP. Its hard to spend that much money and not have an impact.

The limitation of most of these spending increases and tax cuts was that they had a temporary effect: As long as the money flowed, they were stimulative. Once the spending stopped, the stimulus stopped also.

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Don DraperProposals can make or break a sales deal; a well-written proposal can help cinch the deal. The proposal should absolutely be used as a selling tool. It is your opportunity to demonstrate that you truly understand your prospect's needs, you have listened intently and that you will provide a compelling solution.

Notice I used the word "compelling."

Not only do you want your proposal to give your prospect details of the solution and pricing information, it is also your final chance before asking for the order to make a lasting impression on your prospect. So you want to be sure it's a good one.

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This is the second article in a series on what it takes to be a great angel investor (and why this should matter to entrepreneurs).  Part 1 – Access to Great Deal Flow – is here.

I have talked extensively about “social proof” in fund raising in the past.  But the problem is that most deals – even really promising ones – fail.  Just ask the people who poured money into once “hot” companies like RazorGator or Friendster.  And we all know that Ron Conway is considered the savviest of angel investors and yet by definition not all of his investments succeed.

So being buddies with “all the right people” clearly isn’t enough to be successful.  AngelList – as great and innovative as it is – does not guarantee success for investors.  Obviously.  In fact, sometimes seeing social proof (e.g. lots of brand names piling on) can lead to group think and price creep.  I personally try to avoid many of these club deals.  I like to invest where I have a personally strong connection with the entrepreneur and/or a strong intuition on the market from prior experience.  I like to be early – usually first or near enough to it.

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