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Meet U.N. Foundation's entrepreneur in residence

Sun, 22 Sep 2013 23:34:51 UT

[...] the U.N. Foundation, an organization that "brings partnerships, ideas and resources in support of humanitarian work of the U.N.," says Elizabeth Gore, the foundation's first entrepreneur in residence. [...] Kathy Calvin, a former senior vice president at AOL who went on to be the president of AOL Time Warner Foundation, spearheads UNF. Given that entrepreneurial flair is embedded in the history of the U.N. Foundation, the Washington, D.C., organization decided it was time to have a home in America's most entrepreneurial city, San Francisco. [...] Gore would be its ambassador to engage with the tech giants of Silicon Valley, building partnerships for "good." Or as Gore put it, "We wanted to put a stake in the ground, tell the world that we are going to bring new innovations to the U.N." In particular, for-profit companies in Silicon Valley have brought not just Web 4.0 and R&D for new innovations but products that have transformed lives. What sorts of companies and organizations in the Bay Area have you already built relationships with to pursue these ideas? [...] there are schools such as Stanford's d.School and the Hult Business School in San Francisco where we've done business competitions with students and built an innovation platform. There's a strong focus on getting the participation of young people around the world, using technology and social media. Not merely for funds, but also for employee talent, intellectual capital, and their research and development capacity. Loon, for instance, is Google's project to connect the world to the Internet using a network of balloons. [...] you're quite passionate about public health. Do you want to look at public health in Silicon Valley and the role of technology in health? The Bay Area has an important role to play in public health, given the hardware and software that comes out here. A huge positive impact can be made if we think about how technology can be used to improve health campaigns. [...] the mobile phone has made it easier to do data collection in the field, track viruses and monitor campaigns in developing countries. [...] there are a number of startups as well as big companies in the area who are interested in this - not just from a profitability angle, but also in terms of creating impact. [...] a growing group of venture capital firms are investing in companies that are developing these technologies to benefit society.

Talking with American Bar Association president

Mon, 5 Aug 2013 23:51:22 UT

The American Bar Association, which describes itself as "the national voice of the legal profession," has nearly 400,000 members, of whom 8,000 are expected in San Francisco beginning Thursday for the ABA's annual meeting, held here every three years. Chicago attorney Laurel Bellows, winding up a one-year term as ABA president, provided an overview of the organization and its agenda in an interview with The Chronicle. To provide lawyers with a place to go for their continuing legal education, where they can learn about the newest cutting-edge Supreme Court decisions and share conversations about some of the larger issues ... everything from employer and employee rights, the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act decision to Syria and Egypt, national security, privacy, individual liberty, human trafficking. ... Courts are literally closing, or in some states they choose to try only criminal cases because they're mandated, and don't try civil cases for a year. In gender equity, our task force has published guides ... to make sure women, especially women partners (in law firms) are compensated adequately and have an opportunity to participate in significant cases. Law students are graduating with big debts and uncertain employment prospects. The fact that large firms are hiring fewer lawyers should not discourage people from attending law school. When we speak on gun violence or cybersecurity or criminal sentencing or overcrowding of jails, it's unpopular to some, popular to others. (But) people touch the legal system in traffic courts, divorce, and personal injury, where there's generally a winner and a loser, so 50 percent of the people are going to walk away unhappy. ...

Funding solutions to world problems

Wed, 31 Jul 2013 23:17:40 UT

Early in his career, Alex Dehgan spent three years living in a tent in Madagascar and studying lemurs, the furry, bug-eyed mammals made popular by the animated film "Madagascar." [...] Dehgan is overseeing an ambitious push by the government to fight poverty, hunger, water shortages and other international humanitarian problems through new technology. Among the agency's Silicon Valley partners is the Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, which is helping to underwrite some of its initiatives. The USAID is also pumping $20 million into UC Berkeley to create an engineering lab that will design and develop new technology, such as mobile apps that could improve health care or provide clean water in the developing world. [...] it has dedicated $25 million to Stanford, along with partners Tulane University and Makerere University in Uganda, to develop ways to make African communities more resilient to challenges such as civil conflict and disease. During a recent trip to the Bay Area, Dehgan discussed how the USAID is tapping into the region's technology sector. Couple that with energy demands, climate change, environmental degradation, water scarcity issues - these are pretty wicked problems. Very simply it is acting as a fund to provide opportunities for people to take on some of these problems. What we find is there is plenty of money out there for people to invest in developed world situations, but many of those technologies could be adapted or applied to address problems in the developing world. When I was given the chance to help write the transition papers for the new administration, I was able to think about how to re-empower this agency using the power of science and technology. If we can develop a device, for instance, that is a cell phone-based microscope that allows us to detect malaria and tuberculosis at low price points, then not only can we solve problems abroad, but we can also reduce health care costs in the United States. Chief scientist, head of the Office of Science and Technology, U.S. Agency for International Development.

WordPress celebrates 10 years of growth

Fri, 26 Jul 2013 02:40:04 UT

Free blogging tool that started as an open source project has grown to become basis for nearly 20 percent of the top online destinations Initially a free blogging tool, it has since become the backbone for many of the Web's most popular sites. WordPress began as an open source project, a free publishing tool that people could adopt, use and tweak as they wished - and still can. About eight years ago, Mullenweg founded Automattic in San Francisco, the parent company for, which helps hosts WordPress sites, and other services for WordPress such as an antispam service. Over the years, it's seen its share of rivals, from Xanga, Google's Blogger and, most recently, Tumblr, which Yahoo acquired in May for more than $1 billion. Mullenweg spoke to The Chronicle just before the start of the annual WordCamp San Francisco conference this weekend, which is expected to draw more than 1,000 WordPress devotees to programs at the Mission Bay Conference Center. The big shift has been how it's changed from being just something that people used just for blogs to being something that they build entire websites or applications on top of. The result of this has been that because there's so much more flexibility and so many more options for customization, it started to gain some significant market share of the top websites in the world, actually over 18 percent now. Some say that there are more voices now but others complain that the Internet is just filled with cat videos. What I've been most excited about in the intersection of blogging and journalism is how it has shifted more power to the individual voices, to the writers. [...] I am a big fan of anything that shifts the balance of power back to the people actually doing the work. What do you make of Yahoo's acquisition of Tumblr? Shortly after the news came out, Mullenweg said on his blog that 72,000 blogs were imported from Tumblr to WordPress in an hour.

StartX accelerator taps into Stanford

Mon, 17 Jun 2013 02:54:34 UT

Supported by grants, nonprofit StartX gives startups practical help to get their businesses off the ground Over the years, Stanford University has educated more than its share of tech entrepreneurs, including Yahoo's Jerry Yang and David Filo and Google's Sergey Brin and Larry Page. [...] tech founders looking to get their starts have been turning to a new resource, StartX, an accelerator tapping into the Stanford community. Just down the street from the campus, the three-month program nurtures emerging entrepreneurs, partnering them with mentors and offering them free office space, financial aid, and legal and tech services. StartX is part of a boom in tech accelerators and incubators such as Y Combinator and TechStars, where startups spend an intense few months learning the ropes and getting their businesses up and running. StartX is targeted at the Stanford population, requiring at least one of its founders to be a Stanford student, professor or recent graduate. Supported by $1.65 million in grants from the Kauffman Foundation, Cisco, Intuit and others, it's already produced 125 startups - and counting. Last week, its ninth class of startups took the stage before an audience of Silicon Valley investors and media. In an interview, 24-year-old founder Cameron Teitelman talked about how he came to launch StartX and how it distinguishes itself from the growing crowd of tech incubators. Stanford was great for an incubation experience in the sense that you get to meet your team members, you get to build technical skills, you get to be inspired. [...] when people got down to the actual building of the company, the resources were too inefficient to help them in a more practical and guided sense. (If) I need to figure out how to hire this person and create their employment contract next week, I can't sit through a three-month employment law school class. [...] having a group of peers going through the same thing is really helpful to keep you positively motivated. The third part of the peer community is peer education, everything from fundraising to how do I set up QuickBooks (accounting). The culture of people sharing information and the collective intelligence you can create around that is incredibly powerful.

Tumblr founder Karp discusses Yahoo deal

Sat, 1 Jun 2013 02:15:49 UT

In a discussion about that decision, Karp talked about his thoughts on Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, how Tumblr came about, and how he and Yahoo will make money. What made you decide that this was the right time to sell - and that Yahoo was the right buyer? If it was an instrument I wanted to learn, my dad would get me lessons; if it was robots, he'd take the train up to Boston and we'd go see the MIT robot competitions. [...] as soon as my dad got the sense that I was curious, he showed up with a stack of books this tall of every Web development language he could find. [...] I found myself increasingly frustrated with the direction that the technology was going, which was less and less creative. It was more and more about these restrictive tools, where you put your photos in this directory, you put your articles over here. Hopefully it's an increasingly large, flexible, creative canvas for some of the most creative people in the world. Every day find new ways to stretch that canvas and give people more room to make their best work. Just think about the role technology has played in enabling creative people and pushing art and media forward.

Rosie Branson Gill shares food philosophy

Wed, 22 May 2013 23:46:40 UT

Director of 18 Reasons outlines her philosophy on food dynamics before heading to new pastures The new operation will continue under the name 18 Reasons, but one key element of the old 18 Reasons won't be coming along: the nonprofit's director since 2010, Rosie Branson Gill. [...] for the last three years, she's dedicated herself to teaching the art, economics and politics of food to Bay Area residents across the economic spectrum. With catchphrases such as sustainability, localism and seasonality, and concerns over fair wages for workers and farmers, animal welfare, the industry's carbon footprint and nutrition, the political environment that has grown around food might just be as intimidating as the conceptual art movement. In a recent conversation, Branson Gill talked about demystifying the jargon, bringing families back to the kitchen table and making smart food choices with which consumers can live. Red wine smells like red wine without hints of strawberries and after notes of caramel and coffee (laughs). [...] there are a lot of people who can't afford to shop at Bi-Rite, or just feel that the message of the San Francisco market as well as other specialty grocers is too highfalutin' for them. How do you support both sides of the equation: pay the producer or farmer a fair wage and keep the prices low for customers? For someone with a limited income, it's a big risk to buy something new that their kids might not like. How do you try new ingredients - sometimes pricey ingredients - on a fixed income?

Piggybackr helps kids fundraise online

Tue, 21 May 2013 02:47:06 UT

A former Girl Scout who sold her share of Thin Mints, Andrea Lo remembers the challenges of fundraising as a child. A few years ago, she also saw it firsthand with her then-11-year-old sister, who wanted to sell handmade bracelets to raise money for an environmental nonprofit. Through e-mail outreach and a website created for her fundraiser, her sister ended up raising more than $400 for her nonprofit. The experience with her sister sparked Lo to launch Piggybackr, a crowdfunding site for students to raise money for their school, sports teams, extracurricular activities and other causes. A Kickstarter for the younger, still-in-braces set, the San Francisco startup aims not only to help kids raise funds online, but also to teach them about money, marketing and building relationships with donors. Students create a dedicated page for their project, set a fundraising goal and explain why they're asking for money. Piggybackr guides students through the process, rewarding them with badges as they take key fundraising steps such as e-mailing potential supporters. A lot of kids didn't know what to say or how to tell their story, so we offer a lot of guidance around teaching them to talk about what they're doing and how to tell a compelling story. No one necessarily wants to buy (candy bars, gift wrap, cookies, etc.). How do you keep kids safe online? Do you worry that fundraising online makes it too easy for kids, since they need to learn how to deal with face-to-face rejection?

Kno leading shift to digital textbooks

Mon, 13 May 2013 03:12:38 UT

Startup Kno seeking to lead the shift in education from traditional paper and ink to interactive digital Just as more and more people are reading books on their tablets, so are students turning to digital textbooks to learn. Kno co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Osman Rashid hopes to be at the front of the line as students and teachers begin making that shift. The CK-12 Foundation, for instance, a nonprofit in Palo Alto led by Neeru Khosla, is developing digital textbooks that teachers can customize and use for free. The Twenty Million Minds Foundation in Southern California is using crowdsourcing - tapping the collective minds of researchers, professors and other experts - to produce free digital textbooks for college students. Kno is working with traditional textbook publishers to create digital textbooks that students can use on their smartphones, tablets and computers. Today in the market you can get a digital version of the same book at almost half the price, so the books are getting cheaper and the prices are continuing to go down. The publishing companies are also rolling out digital textbooks and their own learning software and services. A student wants all of their content from different publishers in one spot, to use in a consistent fashion. If you take a look at UC Berkeley, all the courses for the freshman class are covered by 29 different publishers. There's a whole thing going on with the consumerization of education, with parents and students going into the classroom and showing their teachers textbooks on their tablets and saying, Why can't I use this one? No. 2, you need publishers to deliver digital content, which can be made interactive, which is also happening. Two years ago, schools, parents, teachers and professors would say, What is a digital textbook?

Skout introduces people via smartphone

Tue, 26 Mar 2013 01:54:56 UT

App allows people nearby, far away to chat, flirt and meet Skout is betting that people are turning more and more to their smartphones to help them meet new people. The mobile app lets them see people nearby and start chatting and flirting. A new feature, called "Shake to Chat," makes it even easier to start a conversation. Today, Skout draws 1.5 million new users a month who check in to the app an average of nine times a day for short bursts of time. In separate incidents, three teenagers had started chatting with adults through its location-based social networking app, arranged to meet them in person and were sexually assaulted. A month later, it began to allow teens to sign in again, but under tighter rules and increased security and monitoring. In a recent interview, Skout CEO Christian Wiklund discussed how the startup, which has raised $22 million in funding and employs 100 people, responded to last year's incidents, and the future of location-based social networking. The component where you were connected to your friends didn't really take off. [...] no stand-alone company seemed to make it happen. The main activity of our users was they were reaching out to people locally and around the world. There is a real need out there for meeting new people, and this is one of the big unsolved social categories out there. What is the appeal of meeting new people through an app? Do people worry about meeting someone posing as someone else? (In the real world), you have these artificial boundaries, people you identify with. There will always be risks involved in any activity you do, so then it comes down to the education of users and taking appropriate safety measures.

Tucker Fish, 13, sells candy for college

Sun, 13 Jan 2013 00:51:01 UT

[...] the Santa Rosa eighth-grade entrepreneur - he attends Rincon Middle School - doesn't let age define him. [...] he's making candy bars to sell, because no one knows more about sweets than a kid, he says. Under the new California Homemade Food Act (Cottage Food Law), which went into effect this month, he can make the candy in his home kitchen as long as he follows county regulations and health codes as mapped out by the legislation. Celebrity chef Guy Fieri, who also lives in the area, has looked over Tucker's business proposal and is spurring him on. After 11 tries and a little help from his uncle - "he's a really good cook" - Tucker has his recipe down pat. The candy, called College Bound Bar and made from chocolate, toffee, graham crackers and a few secret ingredients, is his own invention. Tucker has exceeded his goal of raising $3,000 through Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, to buy ingredients and equipment. [...] the place turned out to be a giant money pit. [...] I really love the business and want to go to college to study it. Do you think people take you less seriously as a businessman because you're 13?

Personal satellites that fly into space

Tue, 25 Dec 2012 00:09:32 UT

Unwrapping devices like smartphones and tablets is sure to bring people joy on Christmas Day. Free software and plummeting hardware costs have made designing and building new gizmos that were once the fantasies of "Star Trek" a reality. Search around the Internet and you'll find guides and instructional videos on how to build everything from automatic plant waterers to remote-controlled drones. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and his company SpaceX, along with countless researchers and weekend warriors, have stepped in to fill the void left by NASA's closure of the space shuttle program. [...] working out of NASA's Ames Research Center, Manchester decided to finance his project through crowdsourced funding site Kickstarter. The little gizmos are comprised of a radio transceiver, solar panels for power and a very small computer to store information and operate the sensors - all crammed onto a surface the size of a small cracker. On this mission, the Sprites will carry gyroscopes and magnetometers (a fancy compass) so that we can measure their spin and orientation relative to the Earth's magnetic field. A big part of what SpaceX is doing is trying to reduce the cost of putting things into space by bringing mass production into the launch vehicle industry. NASA has closed its space shuttle program - what does that mean for do-it-yourself space exploration? Q: Besides your research, what's your favorite example of DIY space travel?

Auberge Resorts CEO Mark Harmon

Wed, 19 Dec 2012 23:10:28 UT

ON THE RECORD Mark Harmon, Auberge Resorts From cuisine to personal trainers, guests want more custom experiences Too hipster, says the co-owner and CEO of Auberge Resorts, which was just ranked the No. 1 hotel brand by business travelers surveyed by Conde Nast. "The people look really cool, but there's not a whole lot of service," he said about the boutique hotel concept pioneered by Ian Schrager in the 1980s. Outside of California, Harmon has resorts in Colorado, including the newly opened Hotel Jerome in Aspen; Esperanza in Los Cabos, Mexico; and the Inn at Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina. The company is family owned and operated, and Harmon's brother, Tim, serves as CEO of Auberge's affiliate, Moana Hotel & Restaurant Group, which includes Piatti Ristorante and Paragon Restaurant and Bar. Guests want to build their hotel stays around things like culture, adventure, cuisine. We want to be more environmentally responsible, reduce our carbon footprint, by building greener, using recycled materials. [...] our most challenging guests are the ones who don't say anything. Rates will be lower and we'll often offer upgrades and spa treatments. In Colorado, ski season and summer are our busiest times, but in fall you can get good deals.

Tiffany Shlain: Net's growth like brain

Mon, 19 Nov 2012 04:36:11 UT

"Brain Power," which is also launching as an e-book, looks at how the Internet is still very much in the early stages of growth and, much like a young child's brain, needs nurturing to reach its full potential. Shlain founded the Webby Awards before returning to her roots as a filmmaker in recent years, so it's no surprise that technology is something she thinks about constantly. Lately, she has been experimenting with "cloud filmmaking," creating films such as "Brain Power" that weave together footage crowdsourced from people around the world. In a recent interview, Shlain talked about cloud filmmaking, her next project, and how she gets away from technology once a week. The film looks at the history of connectedness, from the Big Bang to the Industrial Revolution to today. What's the potential of everyone on the planet being connected online? There's so many ways that crowdsourcing (has been used for) scientific breakthroughs, fundraising and idea sharing, but what we were really interested in was, could we collaboratively make a film with people from all over the world? People that I'll never meet send artwork and videos that they've often recorded on their cell phones. Again, we'll ask people from around the world to contribute. With crowdsourcing and the Internet, there is some grumbling from writers, artists, photographers, musicians, filmmakers and so forth about ownership and copyright and people stealing their work. "Connected" has been used at 200 universities around the world, and people pay to screen it at conferences. The other side of the company is making these cloud films, so I just feel like our model right now is working well. For these cloud films, we're not making money from them. With each release, more people are understanding what we're doing. People know we're not making money from them, and we're giving them away for free. People love to participate and everyone is so creative, so we're creating a framework for everyone to make something together. With these films, I'm still directing them, and we still have a lens in which we're making it, but the power of the films come from the fact that so many people are contributing. Originally the film was about child brain development. [...] as I was talking to these neuroscientists, the language they were using about the brain development, it was like I was talking to all my colleagues about the Internet. [...] we get all the different parts of the world connected - there are about 2 billion people online and there are 7 billion people on the planet - we're still at the stage where we won't see the full potential of the Internet. Ellen Lee is a freelance writer.

Gurbaksh Chahal turns RadiumOne to gold

Mon, 5 Nov 2012 22:47:18 UT

RadiumOne founder strikes gold for 3rd time with online ads When Gurbaksh Chahal was 16, he dropped out of high school to focus on his online advertising startup, ClickAgents. BlueLithium, his next startup, also focused on online advertising and sold for $300 million to Yahoo in 2007. [...] the serial entrepreneur is deep into his third online advertising startup, San Francisco's RadiumOne. RadiumOne began as gWallet, its a loyalty and rewards program, which allows Internet users to receive virtual currency for doing things such as answering advertising-sponsored surveys. Along the way, Chahal also wrote a book and appeared on Oprah Winfrey's show and on the reality television show "Secret Millionaire." [...] people go less and less to GM's website, and they interact with brands on Facebook and Twitter (and other social media sites such as YouTube). If you're interested in a movie because you just clicked on the trailer, chances are your close circle will also have the same affinity toward it. If you're an American Express cardholder, your close friends are likely to be candidates for an American Express card too. The premise is to look at raw social activity on the Internet, and take the right data from there to make advertising smarter. There's been a lot of discussion about online privacy and proposals such as "do not track," which would prevent advertisers from tracking consumers' Web browsing activity. If the economy is already bad, the last thing you want to do is to put a recession behind the most growing sector. Everything is derived from the method of cookies (software used to track the websites a person visits). The reason (the company launched as gWallet) was when we started, my non-compete didn't expire until a certain time, when I could get back into display advertising.