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.



(A small version of) TED is coming to Charlotte! by Nheeda Enriquez

How excited was I when I learned about this?!  Looks like details are still being formed, but a local version of the knowledge phenomenon that is TED will take place at the NC Music Factory in September.  You need to apply to attend, but admission is free if you are one of the chosen.  The RTP version is in just a few days.

Until then, here’s one of my favorites from Dan Pink talking about the topic of his most recent book, Drive, which is all about human motivation.  A wonderful lesson for service designers everywhere.



3 great places to host an ideation session in Charlotte by Nheeda Enriquez

Innovation experts stress the value of conducting ideation sessions offsite, where participants focus on the task at hand and are removed from their day-to-day distractions.  Brainstorming in a unfamiliar, yet relaxed environment really gets those alpha brain waves moving.

The economy undoubtedly presents a cost challenge, and it may seem like a luxury to whisk away your most productive employees for a day.  However, I’ve seen dramatic differences in idea quality when teams downgrade to ideating in an internal conference room.  In light of that, I suggest a few affordable creative spaces in Charlotte, all of which cost far less than a boring hotel ballroom and worth the investment for results.

photo via Magellan/IMR

The Best Buy:  Magellan Idea Center
Located just outside Uptown in the Atherton Lofts, this space was designed with ideation in mind.  (They also use it for focus groups and other types of market research.)  It’s a huge space packed with creative stimuli (magazines, toys, and local art) and has smaller spaces ideal for breakout exercises.  Lots of amenities are included, like coffee, snacks and tech equipment.

The Local: Imaginon
One of the benefits of having a session in a children’s museum is that it encourages your participants to think like kids again.  Frank Blair of PLCMC suggests choosing one of the round rooms, adjacent to the courtyard, to have a session outdoors.  Note that meetings technically have to be open to the public, so it may not be ideal for super-secret topics, but would be a nice place for brainstorming with potential customers.
Runner up “public” space: The Green at Wachovia

The Extra Sensory Experience: Amelie’s French Bakery
Though I haven’t had a workshop here myself, I imagine it would be a lovely place to host one, especially with the tasty treats so close by.  And it would be a neat option for teams who are most creative during non-business hours, since they’re open 24/7.
Runners-up: The galleries at the Light Factory or the studios at Area 15 in NoDa (site of local meetups and barcamps.)

I’d love to hear about spaces that other folks in the area have tried.  Post them in the comments!



Charlotte Restaurant Week, revisited by Nheeda Enriquez

logo via Queen's Feast

For some reason, my mindmap over the summer about Charlotte Restaurant Week got lots of hits, so I thought I’d revisit the topic.

The winter version of the event is here once again, and like many Charlotteans, I will put my New Year resolutions on hold to participate.  Why is it so successful?  It’s great for restaurants because it fills empty tables during a slow period.   The scarcity of a $30 deal at a fancy restaurant will sucker any diner into trying something new.

Personally, I like it because it’s another reason to bring people together.  But it also cuts down the number of decisions I have to make when ordering off of a menu.  This reminds me of a little publicity blitz by Menu Engineer (that’s right, an engineer) Gregg Rapp went on last fall.  His interviews with Time and the Today Show reveal all the tricks he teaches restaurants as they redesign their menus to get you to spend more on your meal, including using center justification and taking out dollar $igns.  He also uses fanciful descriptions that make their popular dishes hard to resist.

You don’t often get to read a person’s mind as he/she processes a menu to see if these tactics work.  This Charlotte Loafing blogger shares her mental gymnastics on one of Restaurant Week’s participants, Liberty Gastropub, and it looks like the tasty descriptions work on her.



Copenhagen winds of change blow through Charlotte by Nheeda Enriquez

flickr photo cred: andjohan

I was lucky to catch up with Tracy Russ, a Charlotte-based marketing consultant, just before he took off for the global climate change negotiations this week in Copenhagen.  He talked about his most current project, The Copenhagen Story, which is a storytelling initiative in collaboration with former Sierra Club president, Lisa Renstrom.

Russ sees a big hole in the issue:  positive inspiration for change.  His innovative solution: get away from “scare tactics and gloom-and-doom scenarios” and give people a platform to see and hear about the future that carbon reduction efforts will ultimately provide.  And not merely from an environmental standpoint, but he hopes to collect stories about the economic and societal benefits as well.

After the conference, I believe the team is rebranding the project under the name “Convergence.”  Follow his progress here.



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.