Tag Archive | Silicon Valley

Jamaica: hub of innovation in Caribbean?


4-day visit to Santiago on Innovation

A 12-person delegation, headed by Julian Robinson, minister of state in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, has just returned from a four-day visit to Santiago, Chile, to see first-hand how that country is developing a robust ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation.

The primary purpose of the mission was to visit Start-up Chile (SUP), a government-financed programme launched in August 2010 to attract early-stage, high-potential entrepreneurs to bootstrap their ventures in Chile, without taking equity in the firms.

Its goal was to convert Chile into the innovation and entrepreneurial hub of Latin America, akin to other centres of innovation in the world, particularly the Silicon Valley.

The Jamaican group was particularly thrilled to meet the founder of SUP, Nicolas Shea, a Stanford-educated entrepreneur who was recruited by the then minister of economy, Juan Andrés Fontaine, to join his staff as his entrepreneurship adviser. Only days after Shea relocated to Chile, a massive earthquake struck in February 2010, causing more than $15 billion in damages.

Today, after two and a half years, SUP is a highly successful programme that supports both foreigners and Chileans to create innovative ventures using much the same model as it did in 2010 with some minor changes to enhance its effectiveness.

Now, 40 per cent of the applications received are from Chile, but it is clear that the original objective of importing talent with a view to changing the entrepreneurial culture is still very much at the forefront of the programme.

To understand SUP innovative program

With a current budget of US$12 million per year, funded by Chile’s economic development agency CORFO, which is itself funded by a tax on mining companies operating in Chile, SUP can boast some impressive results.

Today, it has received 5,600 applications from 70 countries, admitted more than 1,000 entrepreneurs from 53 countries, and a host of social impacts – almost 600 “meet-ups” organised by SUP and participants or “suppers”, and 3,790 hours of mentorship provided by suppers. Additionally, there are all kinds of spin-off programmes supporting entrepreneurship and innovation and a global rush to emulate the programme’s design elements and impacts.

SUP has also created strong links to local and international companies and entrepreneurs, the global investor community, local and international universities and other programmes in Chile.

We visited one facility, Wayra, a tech incubator operated by Telefónica that incubates 10 companies for 10 months. The incubator manager, Claudio Barahona Jacobs said that Wayra wants to support international start-ups to capture the “winds of talent blowing” in its midst.

Coaching important

Wayra makes a direct investment of US$50,000 in each company in three parts: an initial sum and the other two tranches when agreed milestones are achieved. The investment is in the form of convertible notes. The incubator provides space and services, coaching in how to make a pitch to investors, how to run a company, to hire people and be a boss.

The entrepreneurs we spoke to said that the coaching was one of the most important elements of the programme, and they also participate in management courses run in collaboration with a local university.

Critical is making business links with Telefónica itself, using the company as a distribution channel or as a first customer, testing the applications developed by the entrepreneurs.

Telefónica has 11 million customers in Chile who have smartphones and 300 million business and consumer customers in 30 countries worldwide, so the company is a vital link to this huge market for mobile apps and business applications for its incubator clients.

Optimistic about Jamaica

SUP’s founder, Nicolas Shea, is optimistic about Jamaica and encouraged the group to adopt and adapt the best elements of the SUP programme. The World Bank and Minister Robinson plan to invite Shea and a number of the Chileans whom we met to Jamaica, later in the year, to continue discussions with a wider group of stakeholders.

Everyone on the mission agreed that Jamaica has the opportunity to replicate some of the successful elements of the Start-up Chile programme. Jamaica has talented and technologically savvy young people who are eager to tap into the global demand for creative applications that solve real-world business and social problems.

In so doing, they create their own employment. We have the interest and support of international development partners including the World Bank to finance initiatives that will support the growth of the Jamaican economy. It is an opportunity to forge public-private partnerships to provide early stage and venture capital financing for SMEs, mentorships and access to markets. But will our leaders champion such efforts to move us beyond mere talk? And will we collectively have the courage to act now to secure the future of our nation?

Homegrown Efforts to Recruit Women in Silicon Valley

Margit Wennmachers, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz

Language in job description to exclude women

When Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm, wanted to make sure its job postings were reaching the most diverse audience possible, its partners did what most people in Silicon Valley do when they spot a problem: they turned to software.

They used programs that analyze the language in job descriptions to catch phrases that might turn off certain types of applicants:

  • Looking for a candidate who is “off the charts”? Chances are, not that many women will apply.
  • “That’s just not how women talk,” said Margit Wennmachers, a partner at the firm: “They say, ‘Must be highly competent.’ ” .

It is an example of many homegrown efforts across the Valley to change the face of the tech industry. There have always been big organizations hosting conferences and networking events for women. But newer efforts are springing up from inside companies.

To coach women leaders in Silicon Valley

There are programs to teach girls to code, like Girls Who Code, for which companies like Twitter and Google lend office space and teachers. CodeChix, started by engineers at companies like VMware, hosts coding workshops that promise to be “non-alpha.”

The Club is an application-only group trying to provide an alternative to golf courses and men’s membership clubs by coaching women leaders in Silicon Valley. It was founded by Annie Rogaski, a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend, a Valley law firm.

Rachel Sklar, who started a group called Change the Ratio, is introducing an organization called The List where members who pay have access to other women for advice, financing and conference speaking gigs.

“It’s to achieve the function of the classic old boys’ club, which funnels very easy advice and access and opportunity,” Ms. Sklar said.

People to review all job descriptions

At Andreessen Horowitz, the firm asks real people, not just software, to review all job descriptions, too — so in addition to the hiring manager, people who are women, African American and from other minority groups in Silicon Valley have input.

The firm also has a partner in charge of diversity who helps acquire a broad set of candidates for the firm’s talent agency, which its 200 portfolio companies tap for engineering and leadership roles. Despite those efforts, all of the firm’s investing partners are men.

“There’s a huge talent war going on, so we are doing a lot of things to try to surface all kinds of diverse talent and bubble that up to our portfolio companies,” Ms. Wennmachers said.

See articles from Claire Cain Miller

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Prototype of Google Glasses photographed in NYC subway


When Google’s Sergey Brin was photographed on the NYC subway at the end of January wearing a prototype of the Google Glasses, who would ever have thought we’d seriously be talking about “wearable tech” as one of the biggest trends of 2013 without a trace of irony? But the whole notion of wearable tech is transitioned in the past week and seems ready to tip into the mainstream. While Apple toys with the concept of an iWatch, people are signing up to test the new Google Glasses the way they once raced to sign up for Google’s earliest product launches.

While the idea of wearable tech is not new, what’s different about the current iteration is that the fashionista crowd seems to have finally embraced the trend. It’s no longer considered awkward, strange or aesthetically unpleasing to integrate high-tech into clothing, which means it’s no longer surreal to see Google Glasses pop up at events like the Oscars. When Diane von Furstenberg decides it’s time to rock the Google Glasses look, you know that something very interesting is happening in the world of fashion.

The Google Glasses and (rumored) iWatch are not just smart phones in a new guise — they reflect a fundamental re-thinking of how we interact with technology. In short, there has to be a better way to get things done than to stare into a tiny screen and peck away with a makeshift keyboard with two very opposable thumbs. From this perspective, the Google Glasses are at the forefront of making technology seamless, omnipresent and available in ways never before possible.