Category Archives: Education

Make stuff

Maker Faire

I’m really looking forward to Maker Faire Toronto. It is happening Saturday and Sunday, September 21-22, 2013 at the Wychwood Barns. This is an amazing opportunity to celebrate the Maker Movement. I’m excited to see the inventions, the creativity, the resourcefulness of people to solve problems, to inspire. To be proud of the things they’ve built.

“That is, no matter what the thing is you’re building, it’s deeply gratifying and incredibly educational to perform the act of creating something, anything.” — Christopher O’Brien

I am really excited about the opportunity to bring my kids. I’m excited to teach them about entrepreneurship. But even more importantly, I’m excited to provide them access to learn and to explore technology. My friends Tara Brown and Sean Bonner opened LA Makerspace focused on providing a kid-friendly space. My kids have asked me about building robots, making candy and taking apart their toys.  The eldest is now 6 years old, and her problem solving skills and attention are developing where this will be a transformational experience.

“We are making the tools for passion. When I look around, I don’t see any apathy here.” — Nolan Bushnell

Much of the DIY culture emerged out of the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley. And while not directly responsible for the success of many of the companies that emerged, it seeded a culture and the connections between folks that started Apple Computer, Osbourne Computer and others. This is the ground floor, the Mechatronics department at UWaterloo accepted their first class in 2003.  Bufferbox was started in 2011 and sold to Google in 2012. This is a very interesting space if you look at the emergence of other area startups like InteraXon, Thalmic LabsUpverterMatterform, Bionym and others. 

Bring your kids. These are very interesting times indeed.

A Perspective on Investor/Mentor Whiplash

CC-BY-NC-ND AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by nocklebeast
AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by nocklebeast

The other day Fred Wilson posted an opinion and some tips on Investor/Mentor Whiplash. He took the position that that is a big problem for accelerators as well as early stage and seed environments. Brad Feld took this as a bit of a misunderstanding on accelerators, he insists that TechStars creates an environment where early stage companies can learn to manage the whiplash. Brad Feld states:

I disagree with Fred. It’s not a big problem. It’s the essence of one of things an accelerator program is trying to teach the entrepreneurs going through it. Specifically, building muscle around processing data and feedback, and making your own decisions.

On the surface this seems correct. A problem (one of many) new founders face is the overwhelming barrage of mentorship (good and bad) and information mixed with the inability to filter. An accelerator should be able to provide the environment where a strong group of peers with some guidance can help to build the “muscle around processing data and feedback.” In the last 6 years I have noticed that is a common problem founders face and their ability to manage it is important to their success. It wasn’t until I experienced the whiplash myself a 2nd and 3rd time that I fully appreciated the damage it can do even if you are prepared for it.

Generally what I tell early stage founders:

  • Only talk to customers once you have something to show them — but that shouldn’t take you a long time, don’t go heads down for months. Asking people what they want and not focusing on something specific they can touch/feel is a path to busy work and infinite sadness.
  • Avoid the mentor parties/socialization. Find two (or three) good people with opposing views and bounce specific data off them but only when you have done something that requires fresh eyes to advise you how to interpret the results.
  • Focus on what isn’t working when getting feedback from mentors. Founders need to be positive but you need to focus on the bad things when talking to your close mentors that have been through it already. If they can’t help you with the tough stuff why are you spending a lot of time with them?
  • Don’t expect a direct answer. Experienced mentors know you are the best person to run your company, not them, and they have developed a way of not telling you what or how to do things but instead challenge you to figure it out in a positive way.

Whiplash from mentors doesn’t just happen in startups, it happens everywhere people are giving you advice or have something to gain by influencing the decisions you are about to make or the opinion you develop on something.

Being prepared and learning to manage the whiplash isn’t just the essence of accelerator programs, it is the essence of education that culminates in the top level you can achieve to filter information – a phd program. At the phd level the filter muscle is almost too strong but that is a topic of a whole other blog post.

The scary thing for entrepreneurs is that accelerator programs are too often run by people that don’t know how to effectively educate people and/or they have something to gain financially by the decisions founders make.

I think this *is* a big problem in accelerators. I wonder if the ability to teach that skill to founders (or select founders that already have that skill) is the difference between a successful accelerator (which is really only TechStars and YC) and one that isn’t (pretty much everyone else)?

[Editor's note: This post was originally posted on Jesse Rodgers' Who You Calling a Jesse blog on July 31, 2013.]

It’s not like it’s rocket science

All rights reserved by Cmdr Hadfield

Toronto Space Apps Challenge, April 19-21, 2013

Oh wait, it is!

NASA and the European Space Agency are hosting a hackathon in 75 cities around the world. It includes Canadian events in Toronto and Winnipeg.

“The International Space Apps Challenge is a technology development event during which citizens from around the world work together to solve challenges relevant to improving life on Earth and life in space.”

The Toronto event is focusing on 24 of the challenges provided by NASA (the full list of challenges is 50 large). The challenges provide a diverse set of skills and participation. Skills include software, hardware, strategy, and design. There are a number of challenges that include the interpretation of economic data and others that involve air traffic control.

With the amazing photos that Commander Hadfield is publishing on Twitter. Hopefully there is a renewed interest in the Canadian space industry. (We did build the Canadarm…) And the commericalization of space exploration with the X PRIZE and SpaceX Dragon spacecraft. It’s an amazing chance to participate in a grassroots exploration of space technologies and data.

List of Challenges in Toronto Space Apps Challenge

ESA 3D Printing Contest
Create an open source 3D model of space hardware that can be generated by a 3D printer.
My Space Cal
Combine the past and future time schedules of satellites into a common calendar that the world can easily access.
Wish You Were Here
Develop a compelling representation of weather on Mars.
Tour of the Moon
Enable humans worldwide to take an interactive tour of the Moon.
The Blue Marble
Rethink space-based Earth imagery and make it more accessible to a broad audience of space enthusiasts.
Solar Flare
Visualize invisible (to the human eye) phenomena that can affect so many vital terrestrial activities.
Seeing Water From Space
Create a visualization of Chile water resources, showing how they have changed over time relative to changes in climate.
SCISTARTER Citizen Science
Help humans understand and analyze microbial communities and compare with microbes on the International Space Station.
Renewable Energy Explorer
Create an app that integrates wind, solar, and geothermal energy data to show where combining them would have the greatest potential.
Incentives Tied to Utility Rates
Help consumers find relevant incentives, tax rebates, and savings for their energy efficiency and renewable energy efforts.
Earth Day Challenge
Explore the history of Earth Day using environmental data since 1970.
Aligning the Stars
Match and align the stars in Aurora imagery taken by Astronauts on the International Space Station.
“Catch a Meteor” Tracker
Create an app that would allow observers of a meteor shower to trace the location, color and size of the shooting star.
Database of Near Earth Objects
Create a platform to enables citizen astronomers to register, submit findings, and help rank the findings of other citizen astronomers.
CubeSats for Asteroid Exploration
Create a CubeSat design for a mission to astroids near Earth.
Deployable Greenhouse
Develop a deployable greenhouse that could be used on a space mission to the Moon or Mars.
Hitch a Ride to Mars
Design a CubeSat for an upcoming Mars mission.
My Virtual Mentor
Expand the online presence for the NASA GIRLS program to mobile and/or tablet platforms.
“No Delays” Air Traffic Management
Create a visualization that increases understanding of the problems of our current air traffic control system.
Space Station Benefits to Humanity
Develop a tool to improve the understanding of the incredible benefits that International Space Station is delivering back to Earth.
Spot the Station
Extend the functionality of the Spot the Station site that allows you to share your sightings of the International Space Station with others.
Syncing NASA’s Open Source Projects
Create an application that mirrors changes to NASA’s github presence.
NASA’s Impact on the Economy
Share the story of NASA’s economic impact in a new and compelling way.
Adopt-a-Spacecraft: Voyager 1
Humanize the Voyager mission through the creation of a data visualization, app, or even a physical object.

It’s an amazing time to be interested in space exploration. Plan on exploring at the ROM on April 19-21, 2013.