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

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.)

Starting a lemonade stand out of lemons: Entrepreneurship and the Economy by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credit: gabe mulley

flickr photo credit: gabe mulley

I’ve written about how recessions are great catalysts innovation and entrepreneurship, since tough constraints force new ways of thinking about problems.  A job loss is one of the toughest constraints of all, so as a Plan B to finding new positions, many think about starting their own businesses, converting that daydream of being one’s own boss into an true option worth considering.

With the city’s financial sector and the businesses around it in turmoil, Gov. Perdue recognized that Charlotte is ripe for entrepreneurs, and she is funding programs to encourage displaced talent to stick around and try their own thing.  One is the Fast Trac New Ventures Program, a class developed by the Kauffman Foundation, delivered free through the Small Business & Technology Development Center recently graduated its first two classes targeting downsized workers.

George McAllister, SBTDC’s regional director, is no stranger to entrepreneurial thinking in this economy.  In a conversation with him, I learned how he and his team “made a village come together” to get this special program up and running quickly.  He says many candidates that have been through the course saw niches and new opportunities because of all the layoffs.  This gives them the kick in the pants they need, arming them with tools to evaluate the feasibility of their business plans (as well as lifelong skills and professional networks.)

Here’s a few more local entrepreneurship resources I’ve come across this summer:

2-minute mindmap: Consumption Smoothing by Nheeda Enriquez

I’m just now catching up on some back podcasts on Business Week, and I caught a curious phrase from an cover story from a few weeks ago that I hadn’t heard in a while: Consumption Smoothing.  It’s a strategy rooted in retirement planning, where you try to balance saving and spending behaviors over a lifetime so that when retirement comes, you can enjoy a lifestyle that’s on par with what you’ve averaged over the majority of your working years.

In the spirit of the 2 minute mindmap, I played with the notion of how this concept could apply in lots of different places that we consume.


click for full mindmap

A viewpoint about Charlotte by Nheeda Enriquez

flickr photos combined: ioupioute & jameswillamor

flickr photos combined: ioupioute & jameswillamor

“Wow! You’re practically a native,” is a phrase I’ve heard (and stolen) about the few individuals that have lived in this transplant town for over five years.  Natives have seen Charlotte’s role as banking center transform the city, and they often describe Uptown as a center of crime and tumbleweeds just ten years ago.

I assign the “Native” label to Charlotte Viewpoint, an arts + culture publication where a smattering of leaders and local visionaries contribute thoughtful columns and stunning photos.  It definitely stands out in an era of fragmented new media and 140-character upstarts.  CV’s founder and publisher Mark Peres says this is intentional:  “When everyone else goes wide, you have to go deep.”

The magazine’s mission is to spread ideas so that Charlotte leverages its own creative class to define its future, rather than continuing to consume the outputs of other cities.  We’re all wondering what lies ahead in the next chapter: will we fall into secondary-city status or become a new hub of energy/medicine/transportation/new business model innovation?

Bank of America looks to prototype the future by Nheeda Enriquez

bofa_branchI recently posted about Bank of America and its innovation activities and I’m about to do it again.  One reason is because I’m a long-time customer and I’m intimately familiar with their products, and another is because I’ve was an innovation consultant for the other bank in town and I can’t legally write about those.

BofA’s got an interesting (and public) relationship with MIT’s Media Lab called the Center for Future Banking where they can experiment with the shape of banking as we are yet to know it.

On a recommendation by David Phillips, a Senior Designer on BofA’s Innovation Enablement Team, I took a stroll over to a special BofA branch over at the Epicenter in Uptown where two Microsoft Surface units are installed.  Phillips mentioned how their development teams ultimately hope to use them to prototype interfaces and mini applications.  In fact, the entire branch is meant to be a test lab of sorts, allowing the bank to test different service concepts within a real-life space.  I even saw Xit poll stations (photo inset) to collect data about your experience.

There’s another Surface installation in a branch in Bryant Park in NYC.  Catch a video of the action here.

How is a spaceship like an elephant? Analogies in innovation by Nheeda Enriquez
flickr photo credits: serendigity and Matthieu :: giik

flickr photo credits: serendigity and Matthieu :: giik

On Wednesday, I attended the NCTA Emerging Trends and Technologies Breakfast Series over at the NC Research Institute (where I also found out that NCTA is pronounced “en-see-ta” by those in the know.)  Prime speakers, good info, and primo networking opportunities abound.

This particular event was about Biotechnology, but one thing stuck in my mind – Mike Luther, president of the Research Institute, mentioned how the bioscience community looks to Wall Street to find ideas (and not just for funding.)  They wanted to know how to efficiently sort through massive amounts of data (think genome sequencing) to find meaningful patterns.

I am a huge advocate of using analogies in ideation, because there’s many an idea to be borrowed from one industry to solve a problem in another.  To practice this, use a simple exercise: “How is a _____ like a ______?” to start thinking about how two seemingly different things might actually be similar.   Finding analogies on a daily basis is surely an innovation muscle that’s worth strengthening.