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.



If innovation were steak…(Part 3) by Frank Blair
November 9, 2009, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Charlotte, community services, innovation | Tags: , ,

If innovation were steak… (Part 3) – by Frank Blair

If innovation were a steak you were ordering at Longhorn’s or Morton’s, how would you place your order?  Just like steak, innovation can be well-done, medium or rare.

Rare?

A rare steak is warm all the way through, but still bright red in the middle.  This is innovation for those who want to try what hasn’t been tried before – the original idea that really has no precedent.  This grade of innovation is truly rare, and does involve risk in the sense that things may not turn out as expected.  Course corrections will have to be made to the project plan along the way in order to account for unforeseen consequences.  You will likely have to create the design or workflow specifications yourself, because the idea has arisen of its own accord, and there are no models elsewhere.

Benjamin Franklin had a knack for this sort of innovation – he invented the concept of a lending library open to the public.  In his time, only the wealthy had any sort of access to large numbers books.  Benjamin Franklin recognized that for a community to be truly creative, everyone had to have access to the resources needed to create new ideas.  In his time, that meant books.

Flash-forward more than two centuries.  Now the resources needed to create new ideas aren’t just books anymore…it’s music, and it’s animation; it’s video and it’s the computer; it’s the Internet and it’s digital books..  All of these serve the same purpose as the quill pen and the printed book did in Benjamin Franklin’s day.  And the library is still the place to go when you want to create new ideas.

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flickr photo credit: gregor bug

At Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, we recognize this by providing space and resources for people to create, not just consume, content.  Whether it is the Studio I animation studio, the “little playwright” desk at the Spangler Library in  ImaginOn, or the upcoming Job Help Center at Main Library, we provide access to the resources needed by teens, children and adults to innovate.

How do you like your steak?



If innovation were steak… (Part 2) by Frank Blair
November 6, 2009, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Charlotte, community services, innovation, innovation trends | Tags: , ,

If innovation were steak… (Part 2) – by Frank Blair

If innovation were a steak you were ordering at Longhorn’s or Morton’s, how would you place your order?  Just like steak, innovation can be well-done, medium or rare.

Medium?

This steak has not been cooked through yet; it’s still a little bit pink.

If you are interested in this grade of innovation, look for a practice, technique or product that may be new to your industry or profession, but it is common somewhere else.  There may be only one vendor offering the service, or the practice or technique may never have been implemented in your industry before

So, for example, at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, an example of “medium” innovation would the recent introduction of the new ‘enhanced’ catalog we debuted on August 8, 2009.  Our customers had asked us to bring their experience into the 21st century by adding features (like relevancy ranking) that they were used to from other search engines and web portals.  They wanted the ability to create and retain their own book lists, to tag books and movies, and to write reviews and rank the books and movies they are borrowing.  All of these are possible from our enhanced catalog.  You can check it out at: http://catalog.plcmc.org – create a “My Discoveries” account.

Want more medium innovation?  Try benchmarking your products or practices against what occurs in an industry with a completely different business model.  At the library we do this when we compare ourselves to retail outlets and bookstores.

How do you like your steak?  Check back Monday and we’ll take a look at Rare.



If innovation were steak… (Part 1) by Frank Blair

Over the summer, I met Frank Blair, the Director of Research, Innovation, and Strategy at the Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenberg County (PLCMC.)   His background in Linguistics has taken him to many parts of the world, and he’s weaved his experience in IT and Innovation to make the city’s libraries a critical partner in our community.  Frank’s an extremely engaging personality, and this week, he’s a guest on this blog to share a lesson of innovation in 3 parts: Rare, Medium, and Well-done.  Enjoy!

If innovation were steak… (Part 1) – by Frank Blair

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flickr photo: nathanaelb

If innovation were a steak you were ordering at Longhorn’s or Morton’s, how would you place your order?  Just like steak, innovation can be well-done, medium or rare.

Well-done?

This steak has been thoroughly cooked.  Some believe it is the hardest kind of steak to cook, and that it is the steak for people who don’t like steak.  If you are in an environment that doesn’t care for (or is hostile to) innovative practices, techniques and products, then this is for you!  Of course there are people who just like their steak well-done for health reasons, or even just for the taste (go figure).

If you are interested in this grade of innovation, look for a practice, technique or product that is common in your industry or profession, but just hasn’t been implemented in your workspace yet.  There will likely be several vendors to select the product or service from, or perhaps alternative procedures or manuals to choose from.  The innovative thought comes from seeing the possibility of a practice, technique or product in another area or profession and realizing the possibilities inherent in customizing it for your particular niche.

So, for example, at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, an example of “well-done” innovation would the recent use of on-line whiteboard and chat technology to provide homework assistance to school-age students.  Nothing is new about providing access to resources for homework in our libraries…we’ve been doing it for over a hundred years.  But our environment has changed, and many of our customers, especially students, want to use our resources on-line from home.  We partnered with tutor.com to provide free, online live homework help from 2PM until 10PM on school nights.  If you don’t have a computer or Internet access at home, you can use a computer at the library for the same purpose.  An existing service partnered with an existing library to create an innovative service for our county.  You can learn more about the service from this WBT News story.

Want more well-done innovation?  Try benchmarking your products or practices against others providing a similar service or product.  At the library, we do this when we compare ourselves to other libraries.

How do you like your steak?  Check back on Friday and we’ll take a look at medium.