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Ben Franklin Technology Partners and The Importance of Funding


@bftp_sep

Last Thursday, Mark DeGrantpre travelled to West Chester to speak on behalf of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of South Eastern Pennsylvania. The topic of the briefing was commercialization and investment. As Mark spoke, there appeared to be a hunger in the room. The large crowd that had assembled sat tentatively and eager to devour any information Mark divulged about his company.

Ben Franklin talkAs their website states, “for over 30 years, Ben Franklin Technology Partners has been the leading seed stage capital provider for the region’s technology sectors, investing over $175 million in more than 1,750 regional technology companies, many of which have gone on to become industry leaders.” A partnership with Ben Franklin can make a huge difference for a new or established business. In the last three months Ben Franklin has invested in BioBots and ROAR, both of which had their founders speak at WSL as part of the “Startup Meetup” series.

“Are they doing something new in science, engineering , or technology, and would our money be used to help grow the top line? If those two things are yes, then you’re automatically a company that could be right for us,” Mark DeGrantpre stated when a member of the crowd asked what qualified a company.

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Even if an inventor or entrepreneur has a revolutionary idea that doesn’t ensure a fitting monetary reward; the most recent Startup Meetup speaker, Rob Morris, is a perfect example of such an entrepreneur. Rob developed the first multimedia program with his partner. The program was well received and even attracted the attention of Microsoft. However, Mark’s development team consisted of just two people, and because Mark lacked the capital to expand his team he was unable to create a working version of his program, thus destroying a possible connection to Microsoft. Rob’s story serves to highlight the importance of Ben Franklin’s investments and what a huge difference funding can make.

“If you come to us I hope that you understand the process, how to get through the process, and the time it takes.” Mark DeGrantpre said as he finished his presentation. Anyone interested in utilizing Ben Franklin as a source of investment should take a look at the slide presentation below to learn about the fine details of the program. You can also watch Mark’s full presentation here.

3D Printer Bootcamp v1 Wrap-up

@Cwingrav
@WalnutStLabs

We sat down with Dr. Chad Wingrave and interviewed him on his experience of facilitating our first build-your-own 3d printer boot camp. Here’s what he had to say:
Sign up for Boot Camps v2 or v3 (Aug 1 & Aug 29)

Q: Who showed up to v1?

“Five groups of makers showed up today and walked out with five new 3D printers. There were techies and father-son teams, even someone that wanted to do the build with one arm (they have two arms, but had a broken collarbone). Needless to say, we had a blast: built a lot, learned a lot and even had some pizza.”
— Dr. Chad, Chief Tinkerer

Q: What was the rollout like?

“The bootcamp started with a box of parts from PrintrBot and a goodie bag from Printed Solid. The PrintrBot Play was chosen for its quality parts and semi-ease to assemble. While it has a small build area, it is a solid 3D printer that should be able to support a budding 3D printer.”

“We got started with a quick overview of the day and introductions. We talked about why each person wanted to have a 3D printer an let them know about our plans for developing a community of innovative makers in Walnut St Labs. Then, we started to build. We had great support from two interns, Peter Terjanian and Andrew Telepak. Their efforts putting together a printer for Walnut St Labs enabled them help our makers avoid those ‘gotcha!’ moments that waste time and cause confusion.”
— Dr. Chad, Chief Tinkerer

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Q: What did they learn about 3d printing?

“At lunch, we paused for a quick bite to eat and some instruction about 3D printing and how to use the printers. It was quick and we dovetailed back in to the build process. The topics covered included workflow, types of 3D printing, materials and other vital concepts. Its important to mention that all the participants for this bootcamp and future bootcamps will be onboarded to opensource software. The opensource component is central to our access-based mission. We’re excited that the opensource community is growing in so many different directions.”
— Dr. Chad, Chief Tinkerer

Q: So, how did we do?

At the end, we had a great photo op with the new printers and the smiling faces. While some had more time to configure and play with their printer, all walked out with full assembled printer (except for the group with one arm that had to finish up at home). Additionally, all joined our new Makerspace community hub and plugged in to the continuing activities here at the labs.”
— Dr. Chad, Chief Tinkerer

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Q: What’s next for the MiniMakerSpace at WSL?

“To support our group, we are rolling out Wednesday meetups, which co-exist with our Night Owls event and are planning two more Bootcamps, this time on Saturdays (August 1st and August 29th). We hope you are able to join in at these events! We also plan to expand on workflow (the process of creating 3D models capable of being printed on a 3D printer) in upcoming iSchool Classes out of Walnut St Labs focusing on the available open source software.”
— Dr. Chad, Chief Tinkerer

Sign up for Boot Camps v2 or v3 (Aug 1 & Aug 29)

Walnut St. Labs Dives into the Hardware Space

Walnut St. Labs initial run of the 3D Printer Boot Camp was a complete success. We’ve been updating our progress along the way, and everyone’s hard work paid off. 5 local innovators walked in last Friday 6/26 and each one of them walked out with a 3D printer they built themselves with the help and support of one another and the resident Maker Technicians at WSL. This was one of our most exciting events I’ve witnessed here. I sat down with Ben Bock, one of the leaders of the project, to discuss more about the program, the goals, and the journey leading up to Friday. (more…)

The Brutally Honest Entrepreneur: SEER Interactive’s Wil Reynolds

Wil Reynolds, Founder of SEER Interactive

@wilreynolds
@Seerinteractive

“I am really brutally honest about how tough the entrepreneurship journey has been.”

Normally, brutal honesty might be off putting to an audience, but it’s hard not to be dazzled by SEER Interactive founder Wil Reynold’s infectious charisma and fearless self disclosure. He notes, “I fired myself as the CEO from my own company…twice.”

Wil started his professional life on the teaching path, loving the kids in his high school economics classes, but not the red tape and overbearing parents. It didn’t take long for him to strike out in a new direction. 

Changing Gears

“I wasn’t a big fan of resumes—I liked to put on a suit and go visit the place in person.”

Wil suited up and hit the streets in Philly. He scored a job offer at NetMarketing, the first place he visited, provided he could build web sites. So he went home and built his very first project, a Geocities site all about his Jeep Wrangler. “I was proud of it, but when I rolled in the next day, all my images were x’s because I had not FTPed them.”

His new employer wasn’t worried. “They told me, ‘you’re our first employee. We don’t need somebody who knows everything. We need someone who wants to learn. We like that you took the initiative to learn what you need on your own.’”

The company was growing, and soon a shower was installed in the office. “Because that’s how many all nighters we pulled. My girlfriend at the time dumped me,” Wil says. “And then one day, I got the call that it was over—the company was done.” 

Striking Out

Out of a job, he did what had worked before. “I put on a suit and started going to all the Philly companies I wanted to work at.” During that same period, he started volunteering at CHOP, an experience that shaped his approach to professional life. “I started a company because no one would hire me and because I wanted to continue my volunteer efforts too. I’m an accidental entrepreneur. I never wanted to start a company.”

Meaningful relationships with people in the company were paramount to Wil. “I wanted to deeply know the people I work with. For the first 2 years, we turned away over 80% of our leads because I wanted to cap the company at 10 people. I wanted to be able to make those people super rich.”

The Epiphany

“I love my job, and there’s only been one day I didn’t want to go into work.”

It was the day after bonuses were given out, a day to share the bounty of a good year. Wil’s unsolicited offer of a partial bonus to an employee who had left 4 months earlier stung him unexpectedly when the former employee decided she warranted a full bonus. “That took a chink out of my armor that couldn’t just be filled. If that happened in a company with only 10 people, what could happen in a bigger company? I realized that being in a tight-knit family environment is only one part of what keeps people at a company.”

“When you’re CEO, everyone brings you their bad day. And it’s your job to deal with those bad days,” he offers. “So the bigger your company, it’s more and more dealing with everybody’s bad day. How do you deal with that? For me, it meant I stopped running my company.”

(Read Wil’s blogpost about the experience here.)

Evolution

Wil flew to Seattle for a weeklong “job swap” with Moz CEO Rand Fishkin, a story they chronicled in a YouTube video and which was compelling enough to capture the attention of Wired magazine. “It’s very exposing to run someone else’s company for a week. Within 6 months, we both stepped down as CEO of our respective companies. We both realized that we liked experimenting and playing around with stuff.”

He put SEER in capable hands to focus on his passion. “I’m a maker. I like to make stuff. As your company grows and scales, you watch yourself grasping for that thing you started out doing.”

Over the past 6 years, SEER has grown from 10 to 106 employees. 

Putting it Out There

Volunteering is critical in both Wil’s and SEER’s missions. He walks the talk and encourages employees to do the same. “I don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t volunteer. We started building volunteer opportunities into the company. If I don’t have something else going on, I’ll go on a volunteer assignment with my employees.”

Giving back applies to ideas, too. “Being open about my ideas makes me go back into the lab and learn some new shit when no one else is looking. I’m doing that right now, in fact. I’ll be talking about it in July, which means I don’t know what I’m going to be doing in August.” 

The Future

“Vision doesn’t guarantee success. Vision plus operations is how you become successful.”

“I want SEER to be a great company to be from. People don’t have to be here forever, but they should be really proud of their time here.”

WSL’s Incubating Big Data Technology, MongoSluice, to Participate in Phorum Philly 2015

We are proud to announce that our incubating company MongoSluice, will be included in this year’s Phorum Philly event. MongoSluice streams MongoDB to any RDBMS. Simply point MongoSluice to a MongoDB collection and any RDBMS data store and hit enter: watch data stream from MongoSluice to SQL — all data types preserved.

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Phorum’s website: “Phorum is a technology conference, for business and technology executives, which focuses on how enterprises can maximize the business value of specific technologies. Phorum 2015 features leading industry experts, business executives, and cutting-edge technologists who will examine how emerging technologies such as big data, mobility and cloud strategies factor into the integration of systems, technical support and global security policies.”