It happens here: Consumer-centric Innovation in Charlotte and beyond


2 more local innovation events by Nheeda Enriquez

logo via charlotte startup weekend

Posts have been less frequent than intended as of late, but I wanted to post two events that are happening here in May.

The first is Charlotte Startup Weekend over at Enventys Friday the 14th through Sunday the 16th.   If you’re looking for an excuse to stop talking about your great business idea and actually start doing something about it, then this is for you.  Billed as a “un-conference,much in the same vein as Barcamp, this partners entrepreneur types with developers in teams to get pitches up and running.

Also affiliated with UNCC is a panel event on May 19th at the Levine Museum called “Charlotte’s Creative Class: How Innovation Can Lead the Queen City Beyond the Recession.”  Yet another discussion about this town’s identity post-financial  crisis, but this time through the lens of Charlotte’s creative class.



Charlotte gets a massive dose of design thinking in April by Nheeda Enriquez

photo via sirconferences

I wanted to quickly highlight a handful of design+innovation events in the Queen City before they sneak up on us!  Who knew we were such a hotbed?!



Local reporter traces that text donation to Haiti by Nheeda Enriquez

At this point, everyone’s heard about the new text-message way to support disaster relief in Haiti.  By making donations so quick and easy (literally 8 taps on my phone “Haiti” and “Yes”  It’s 10, if you count hitting “send”) wireless providers have raised record amounts for the Red Cross at unprecedented speed.

Local grocer Harris Teeter has also been using its lower-tech way to raise money at the register for the cause.

What these both have in common is that donations occur at the point of thought, removing the consumer’s barriers of inconvenience.  No need to sit down to write (and mail) a check or enter in a bunch of credit card information.

And today, local WFAE reporter Julie Rose told us how those donations actually make it to relief teams on the ground, disputing the myth that the money is taking 90 days to be useful.



NY Times Year in Ideas: Ideas to fuel other ideas by Nheeda Enriquez

photo via NY Times

I’m a few weeks slow on the draw this time around, but one of my favorite end-of-the-year things to do is pour through the The New York Times Magazine’s Year in Ideas issue.  In the past, I’ve used it for a brainstorming exercise (sort of like a word-association activity, but as stimulus to inspire new applications for their product using one of the featured ideas.)

One of these is called Subscription Artists, is another take on crowdsourcing, where a recording artist finances her work by soliciting pledges from fans.  The article mentions Kickstarter as the tool to collect the funds, but The Point also does the same thing (I think Kickstarter is focused on artists.)  The beauty of these sites is that participants actually commit money to ideas that they like, where as some other crowdsourcing mechanisms often turn out to be popularity contests.

How might a company use a Kickstarter-like tool to figure out what features their customers value?



Charities partner with retailers and help us deal with spending guilt by Nheeda Enriquez

flickr photo cred: nixter

I was walking down Tryon the other day and I noticed that a Wachovia branch was promoting their holiday gift cards and its program with Toys for Tots.  So, for every card you buy, Wachovia donates $1 to the charity. (Full disclosure: I used to work for the bank, but I didn’t know anything about this program, so I’m speaking purely as a consumer here.)

I’ve seen (and participated in) lots of local events tied with toy donations within the last week (here, here, and here.)  It made me stop to think about why these toy donation tie-ins are so appealing to everyone (aside from the assumption that the Marines do a bang-up job of getting their mission out.)  Here’s a few reasons:

  • The concept is dead-simple.  Bring a toy, get in for free or at a discount.  Make a purchase, a portion goes to charity.
  • Joy is involved.  Taking 30 minutes to run out and pick up a toy for a child sure beats doing laundry.  Not to mention the joy in store for the recipient.
  • Your dollars get more valueThis NPR Marketplace story captures this concept well.  In tight economic times, it’s hard to justify making a purchase that seems unnecessary or making a straight donation at a register.  By doing it this way, then the money does double duty.

A lil’ something for the tots, and a lil’ something for me.  And good karma for the sponsoring brand.  Everyone wins.

(Given that this is a seasonal post, no promises that the event links will work forever.)



H2 Workforce eases the pain of hiring the wrong people by Nheeda Enriquez

flickr photo credit: woodleywonderworks

As if small business managers didn’t have enough on their plates, local Charlotte firm H2 Workforce built a solution around a common pain in the hiring process.

After selling their previous company, WorkWireless, to its next biggest competitor, serial entrepreneurs James Gray and Austin Stonestreet translated their expertise from running their own business into a springboard for a new one.  H2 Workforce offers a lifeline to hiring managers in small businesses (who don’t have the luxury of a dedicated HR department,) by bundling a menu of services to screen potential candidates through drug screens, background checks, and even skills tests.

Sure, it’s not rocket science, but Gray understands how a simple solution like this can save customers tons of time.   He’s felt the challenge of finding the right candidates for a sales force himself.  He shared a story about a hiring mistake he made after overlooking some basic skills (I’ll have to leave the details out to protect the innocent!)

What’s next for them?  They want to tackle the pains in the rest of the process: managing documents and interview feedback amongst a distributed team.  Stay tuned for more innovations in their arsenal.



Agastha continues to improve the health care experience for all by Nheeda Enriquez
agastha

screenshot via Agastha

Last month, I connected with Mohan Korrapati of Charlotte-based Agastha to learn more about his quest to lead the field of electronic medical records.  The health care debate brought renewed focus on the category, but Agastha’s been improving their product for over 7 years, implementing their software in Charlotte practices and elsewhere.

5 minutes into a conversation with him, you realize that Korrapati has experienced the pains that patients face.  He just wants to simplify the complexities that make existing record systems annoying and inefficient.  At practices who use an Agastha solution, you probably don’t have to fill out forms over and over, or maybe you’ll get a message to let you know that an appointment is coming up.  And for the staff, the system might alert them if a patient has missed a critical appointment or has been prescribed a dangerous combination of medicines.

Where other major companies like Microsoft or Cisco have just been talking about electronic health records for years, Agastha credits their fast progress to its agility and a feedback loop from providers.  They seem to have built a culture of frequent prototyping and learning often found in truly innovative teams.