Core Team To Connect NE Wisconsin Disruptive Innovators

Build Core Team

step 1On Friday I detailed my plan for connecting disruptive innovators in NE Wisconsin. Today’s post will elaborate on the first step of that plan:

Recruit a couple more people for the core team connecting NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators.

One of the things I’ve learned working on major, participant-driven, grassroots projects over the past ten years is that there needs to be a well-aligned core team of six to eight people (minimum) if the project is going to have long term success. One person can get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. But if one or a couple people try to provide all the skills and energy needed to launch, grow and maintain momentum for the project, the odds will not be ever in their favor.

colleges and universitiesI’ve recruited one person who tentatively agreed to work on a part of this project which focuses on area colleges and universities. My primary challenge in making the overall project a viable long term effort is finding three or four more NE Wisconsin people who want to put a decent amount of time and effort into the early stages of the project. Those three or four core team members can then help me recruit a couple more, and voilà ⇒ critical mass for the core team! 🙂

Ideal Core Team Members To Recruit

Below are descriptions of people I’m working to recruit for this project’s core team.

  1. Lead person on a recent disruptive innovation.  To bring credibility and legitimacy to this project, the top priority for additional core team members is someone living in NE Wisconsin who was the lead person on a recent disruptive innovation (regardless of where the innovative work was done). If we can’t get a lead person, we should at least recruit someone who worked on a recent major innovation that happened in this region. Recent is a relative term, but the goal is to have someone who was involved in an innovation project during the past five years.
  2. Emerging technology company innovator.  Another NE Wisconsin person who would bring tremendous credibility to the project is someone who works at a company focused on an emerging technology. This could be someone who lives in NE Wisconsin but works remotely, but it would be best if the emerging tech company is located in this region.
  3. Emerging technology specialist.  Some people’s primary job is working with an emerging technology at a company which is not focused on an emerging technology and has not had a recent disruptive innovation. Another person we could use on this project is an emerging technology specialist, someone highly knowledgeable about a tech like 3D printing, robotics, microelectronics, photonics, etc.
  4. College faculty, student or administrator.  Because a high probability source of innovators is colleges / universities, it would be great to have a college innovation rep on the core team. That rep could be a faculty member, student or administrator, but an instructor who deals with innovation topics would be best for several reasons. Whoever the core team college rep is, they should be involved with some aspect of innovation.
  5. Regional investors representative.  Investors can be very helpful to kickstarting entrepreneurial swarming if they’re willing to provide pre-seed stage incentive money to encourage launch of new startups or to invest moderate amounts of money in tech startups and other seed stage companies for minimal amounts of equity. Having an investor representative on the project core team will be helpful not only because of support funding from that investor, but also because the rep can likely build strong relationships between the core team and other investors.
  6. Liaison for major supporters of innovation community.  Another person to recruit for the core team is someone to be the liaison for major supporters in NE Wisconsin. Ideally the liaison will be a supporter or member of a supporter organization. But the core team member could also be someone who has strong relationships with potential supporters in the region. Supporters include both partners and sponsors. Partners are NE Wisconsin organizations which officially endorse the innovation community and encourages or enables members of the organization to participate in that community. Sponsors are organizations or people who make the innovation community activities financially possible with donations of money or in-kind products or services.
  7. Regional mainstream media representative.  Regional media isn’t required for connecting and building the innovation community, but their involvement could be helpful. Positive media coverage will help this project by educating the general public, by making more disruptive innovators aware of the growing community of innovators, by bringing more credibility to the community, and in other ways.
  8. Social media and communications.  A core team lead person for social media is another not-required-but-very-helpful position. Not all disruptive innovators will spend a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, but some will. And many bridge connectors who know disruptive innovators will be on social media. Having an effective social media campaign for this project will help general public awareness and will also build awareness in potential supporter organizations.
  9. Website developer.  At some point it will become very important for the innovation community to have a high quality website. In the early days of organizing this project and getting things moving ahead, I will do a free blog website (already on my to-do list). But after we’ve built a reasonable amount of momentum and the project has become a viable long term project, a much better website to facilitate innovator interaction and collaboration will become crucial.
  10. Videographer.  In the world of the internet, digital communications and 21st century marketing and promotion, video production capability is increasingly important. Having a videographer on the core team will be a tremendous asset. If we can’t recruit a videographer, then next best choice would be having a rep from a NE Wisconsin videography company.
  11. Grant writer.  I don’t know of any grants designated specifically for building a region’s community of disruptive innovators. But if a grant writer joins the team, they may know of that type of grant or they may be able to work effectively with grant organizations to get related grants awarded to NE Wisconsin for improving the region’s disruptive innovation and entrepreneurial swarming.
  12. General proponent of disruptive innovation.  If you are not one of the above core member types but are passionate about disruptive innovation, consider getting involved in this project to connect the region’s innovation community.

As the project moves forward and different priorities become apparent for the core team, I’ll update this post to reflect those changes.

If one or more of the above descriptions fits you or someone you know, and you want to help connect and build the NE Wisconsin innovation community, please contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.


Connecting NE Wisconsin Disruptive Innovators

Connecting Disruptive Innovators

The recent posts I’ve written about innovation and entrepreneurism in NE Wisconsin have got me thinking about all the good things and interesting times that could result from a wisconsin red NEwell-connected regional disruptive innovators network. That train of thought led me to write this Friday evening post about actively working on connecting disruptive innovators in the region.

Connecting those disrupters will lead to increased innovation in the region, new worthwhile personal relationships, fun and productive activities, and a plethora of other possibilities. I’m looking forward to the challenge of connecting these like-minded people because it will pay dividends for the region, for the disrupters and for me.

Connection Plan Next Steps

So today’s post is a brief look at my current plan for connecting NE Wisconsin’s disruptive innovators. I’m just getting started, and the plan is sure to change with time, but as of August 5, 2016, my Next Steps are:

  1. Recruit a couple more people for the core team connecting NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators.trough of disillusionment
  2. Define disruptive innovation and give a broad outline of who a disruptive innovator is.
  3. Define where and what “NE Wisconsin” is.
  4. Build a website for NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators.
  5. Do extensive online research to identify as many of the region’s disruptive innovators as possible. Make a list of disrupters and people (bridge contacts) who might know disrupters. Use a Google doc to organize the results of my research and to create a background document about NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators.
  6. While doing above research, also gather and organize information about what’s happening in other regions with TIE communities, disruptive innovation, and entrepreneurial swarming. Also gather info about how these issues impact a region’s economy.
  7. Develop an outline of topics and questions to discuss with the disruptive innovators and people who might know of innovators in NE Wisconsin.
  8. Talk with people who might be disrupters or bridge contacts.
  9. Connect all the people who are interested in being part of the NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators network, as well as the larger NE Wisconsin TIE community (tech, innovators, entrepreneurs).

Three requests for readers of this post:

  1. If you’d like to discuss this NE Wisconsin innovation project, or you know you’d like to help connect the region’s TIE community and disruptive innovators, please contact Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.
  2. If you’re a tech, innovator, or entrepreneur type person and want to be connected with other people in the NE Wisconsin TIE community (especially if you’re a disruptive innovator!), please contact me.
  3. If you know of any NE Wisconsin tech, innovator, or entrepreneur type people, please let me know who they are. In addition to their names and other details like companies or projects they’re involved with, if you have contact info you can share, that will be fantastic!

Thank You!


Social Capital, Disruptive Innovation, Entrepreneurial Swarming

Short post tonight. I had hoped to write a longer introduction to social capital and its interaction with entrepreneurs and disruptive innovation.

However, after several hours of reading and trying to connect the dots so they create a clear picture, it seems the Polaroid photo is still developing. I don’t yet have the words all lined up to explain how identifying and effectively connecting and developing social capital in NE Wisconsin will enable the region to facilitate entrepreneurial swarming and disruptive innovation.bowling alone

Social capital is defined as “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.” Robert Putnam popularized the term in his book Bowling Alone, published in 2000. One of the issues discussed in the book was the difference between bonding social capital and bridging social capital. The Wikipedia entry for social capital also discusses bonding and bridging types of social capital.

I had a long and interesting discussion today about disruptive innovation, entrepreneurs, and social capital. During our conversation, we developed the vague outlines of an approach to improving disruptive innovation in this region by focusing on the appropriate type of social capital. Over the next couple weeks I will develop, in collusion with a fellow proponent of creative destruction, a proposed action plan to identify NE Wisconsin individuals and organizations social capital 2with high amounts of bridging social capital (as opposed to primarily bonding social capital).

The plan we’re developing will clarify the why and how of connecting with people who have the ability to be disruptive innovators, or who may already be innovating below the radar. After we’re satisfied that the plan clearly presents the basic elements of our vision, we’ll work with the appropriate group of NE Wisconsin people and organizations to refine the plan and identify how to connect with the right resources to successfully kickstart a new level of disruptive innovation in NE Wisconsin. If you’re interested in facilitating this type of activity in our region, keep an eye on this blog.

Now it’s time for me to get back to researching and working on our first draft of the proposal…


MIT Energy Monitoring System & NE Wisconsin Innovation

In a post earlier this week, “MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program,” I said NE Wisconsin tech innovation could benefit greatly from participating in the MIT REAP initiative.

New MIT Energy Monitoring System

A new MIT energy monitoring system for consumers that was in the news this week points to one way NE Wisconsin could work with MIT on disruptive innovation. This system is 10X innovative in estimated cost ($25 – $30 per home) and in design (simple MIT energy sensorinstallation, self-calibrating, OwnYourData IoT philosophy).

“…soon, there could be a much easier way to figure out exactly how much power is being used by every appliance, lighting fixture, and device in your home, with pinpoint accuracy and at low cost…the new MIT system has some key advantages over other approaches. First, it involves no complex installation…the system is designed to be self-calibrating. Second…the sensors can pick up enough detailed information about spikes and patterns in the voltage and current that the system can…tell the difference between every different kind of light, motor, and other device in the home and show exactly which ones go on and off, at what times. Perhaps most significantly, the system is designed so that all of the detailed information stays right inside the user’s own home…

Other groups have attempted to use wireless sensors to pick up the very faint magnetic and electric fields near a wire, but such systems have required a complex alignment process…The MIT team solved the problem by using an array of five sensors, each slightly offset from the others, and a calibration system that tracks the readings from each sensor and figures out which one is positioned to give the strongest signal.

“A bunch of major players have gotten into, and out of, this field,” says Leeb, including giants like Google and Microsoft. But now, he says, the MIT team has solved the key issues and come up with a practical and very powerful system…Once the system is developed into a commercial product, Leeb says, it should cost only about $25 to $30 per home…”

NE Wisconsin Innovating With MIT Technology

If NE Wisconsin participates in REAP, one of my recommendations is to work with MIT on developing niche areas of disruptive tech innovation activity. This new consumer energy monitoring system could fit in one of those niche areas.

The NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators could collaborate with the MIT REAP team and the MIT faculty and students developing relevant new technology. In the case of the energy monitoring system, maybe we could get 50 beta systems (costs covered by NE Wisconsin disruptive innovation supporters) and install them in area homes. We could then work with MIT to fine-tune the systems and maybe develop add-ons, related resource-monitoring devices, or a whole slew of other innovation ideas that might come from Canary Instruments energy monitor 2working on these systems.

I worked on a startup company in northern California that made an energy monitor with similar goals — to measure the electricity being used in a home or smaller living units such as apartments. The competitive advantage of the Canary Instruments monitor was using color feedback to indicate energy usage level, rather than using numbers to show how many units of electrical power are being consumed by all the devices in your home.

The sensors we used to measure electricity usage for the Canary Instruments energy monitors were current transformers, or CTs. The MIT sensors would be easier to install than CTs and are designed to monitor the power differently. It would be fun to use the MIT monitoring system with the Canary Instruments consumer feedback approach.Nexi energy monitor

[Since I left the startup, they’ve developed a new consumer feedback interface called Nexi, still using the color feedback concept, but with a different form factor. I’m not sure which style I like better. Would have to use both of them to see which one appealed most to me over a period of weeks or months.]

The new MIT energy monitoring system is only one of many thousands of disruptive tech innovations being worked on right now at MIT. I guarantee you I could easily find ten or twenty other MIT research projects that could lead to worthwhile NE Wisconsin niche disruptive innovation projects…


The Need For A NE Wisconsin Reboot (Take 2)

Reboot (Take 1) was presented in “Reboot, Part 1: NE Wisconsin 3.0.” Today’s post takes a slightly different approach in explaining why I think a Reboot is needed.

Technology Is Relevant

As technology becomes more relevant to disruptive innovation, the national economy, and the global economy, NE Wisconsin becomes less relevant to disruptive innovation, the national economy, and the global economy. That trend is shown in the chart below.

Reboot, NE Wisc chart

Factors For Thriving Regional Disruptive Innovation

Nobody has yet figured out a repeatable formula for building a region with fast adoption of emerging technologies, a high level of disruptive innovation, and ongoing creation of new high-paying jobs. But some of the factors which appear to help a region’s disruptive innovation emerge and continue to grow in impact are:

  • Tech industry clusters and ecosystems.entrepreneurship factors
  • Research universities and exemplary education systems.
  • Risk-tolerant regional culture.
  • Unique regional resources and competitive advantages.
  • Strong network of highly successful entrepreneurs.
  • Favorable government policies and regulations.
  • High population density and many creatives.
  • Diverse population, including motivated and educated 1st-gen American immigrants.
  • Uniquely attractive weather, geography and terrain.

Disruptive Innovation Rating For NE Wisconsin

The above list of factors favorable for thriving tech entrepreneurism and disruptive innovation is not definitive or complete, but these are relevant and important issues. Therefore, it seems useful and instructive to look at NE Wisconsin and do an informal rating for the region on each factor.

  1. Tech industry clusters and ecosystems. NE Wisconsin does not have any tech industry clusters or significant ecosystems. Historically strong industries are paper and forest products, dairy, agriculture, and traditional heavy manufacturing. Technology in NE Wisconsin primarily means IT and MIS, rather than CS, coders, developers, founders and emerging technologies such as nanotech, photonics, microelectronics, robotics, 3D printing or wearable computing.
  2. Research universities and exemplary education systems. NE Wisconsin does not have any major tech research universities. The overall performance of the region’s education system is good, but there are few if any exemplary schools or school districts that attract families with high potential youth to relocate to their area because of educational opportunities. Nor do the school systems have extensive collaboration with the NE Wisconsin TIE community (Tech, Innovators, Entrepreneurs). Contrast that with Joseph Schumpeter’s education* and the opinion of GE’s CIO, Jim Fowler**.
  3. Risk-tolerant regional culture. NE Wisconsin has a risk-averse culture. Launching a startup here that does not give you an income equal to or greater than a good-paying “normal” job or having to shut down your startup means you failed, rather than meaning you may have learned how to do better on the next startup. Most potential investors for startups in the region want a guaranteed return that is higher than investing in the stock market or other traditional investment options. They are not interested in investing in startups if only two or three out of ten will be successful. And they’re highly unlikely to invest in pre-seed stage startups as part of a serious effort to improve the entrepreneurial culture of the region or to kickstart entrepreneurial swarming.
  4. Unique regional resources and competitive advantages. NE Wisconsin has only two truly unique regional resources which are known nationally and globally — the Green Bay Packers and the Experimental Aircraft Association. Neither of these are a compelling source of regional disruptive innovation or tech entrepreneurism, although they do present intriguing opportunities that I’ll discuss in a future post.
  5. Strong network of highly successful tech entrepreneurs. NE Wisconsin does not have a strong network of highly successful tech entrepreneurs (as far as I know) who are actively working to expand the tech entrepreneur community and improve the startup communities brad feldregion’s culture. I’m not even aware of very many highly successful tech entrepreneurs in NE Wisconsin. It’s possible such a network exists, and my lack of knowledge about it is due to me not being a highly successful tech entrepreneur and not being seen as useful to the people in that network. And there may be many highly successful tech entrepreneurs in the region, but they just prefer to stay under the radar. Brad Feld of Foundry Group views a strong network of entrepreneurs who lead programs to be the key to building a highly entrepreneurial region.
  6. Favorable government policies and regulations. Wisconsin and NE Wisconsin government policies and regulations are generally not strongly supportive of disruptive innovation and tech entrepreneurship.
  7. High population density, many creatives. NE Wisconsin does not have a high population density, even in its larger cities. The region is not an immigration destination for creatives and does not have a widely connected community of creatives or wide-based regional support for creatives.
  8. Diverse population. NE Wisconsin’s population is not highly diverse. And the population of the region’s TIE community is even less diverse, being mostly white and male.
  9. Uniquely attractive weather, geography and terrain. NE Wisconsin does not have any uniquely attractive weather, geography or terrain. It gets very cold in the winter, but there is not enough snow to build a strong snowsports industry. The region does not have mountains or ocean beaches, and it doesn’t have any other spectacular geography that might draw entrepreneurs, creatives or other potential disruptive innovators.

If you add up all of NE Wisconsin’s factors favorable for disruptive innovation, you won’t get a large number. We don’t have critical mass and aren’t at a tipping point for a significant increase in disruptive innovation. That doesn’t mean we can’t have disruptive innovation–it just means we have to approach the topic differently than other regions.Prophet of Innovation

*   “…[Schumpeter’s mother] wanted an even larger stage for her talents and her son’s…she arranged for the new family to move to Vienna…a far cry from Graz, or even Triesch. In Vienna she entered [Schumpeter] in a renowned preparatory school…The Theresianum was one of the best and most demanding schools of its kind…His family had leased an entire floor of one of the luxurious apartments situated near the famous Ringstrasse…Schumpeter’s daily walks took him past places steeped in history, and where history was still being made…He did this from the ages of ten to twenty-three…The Theresianum required far more rigorous work than most high schools do today…As at high schools everywhere, then and now, many students tried to idle their way through, doing as little work as possible. But Schumpeter–playful and outgoing as he was–had the true intellectual’s curiosity about the world…For a diligent student like Schumpeter, an education at the Theresianum followed by a degree at the University of Vienna conferred priceless intellectual assets…Both the Theresianum and the University of Vienna emphasized what today would be called “networking.”…In the early stages of his career, Schumpeter was to discover that he too needed noble patronage…”

**   “…Kids are the ultimate beta testers…There is a lot of talk about the lack Jim Fowlerof STEM education in America, and we absolutely have to make a formal, concerted effort to get more hard science into our classrooms. But we also shouldn’t overlook the many things outside the classroom that might kick off an active, lifelong interest in technology…that engage young people with technology in ways that draw on their natural independence and creativity…”

Realistic Expectations For Next 20 Years

With the programs and activities currently in place and likely to develop in NE Wisconsin, realistic expectations for technology, disruptive innovation, and entrepreneurism in this region over the next 20 years are:

  1. Technology, innovation and entrepreneurism will continue to improve in NE Wisconsin, but at a slower pace than on the West Coast, the East Coast, and in many other regions not on either coast. Examples of non-coast regions where innovation is ne wiscimproving faster than NE Wisconsin are Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis, Austin, Kansas City, Chattanooga, Ann Arbor, Champaign, Fort Collins, and Provo.
  2. Very few scalable tech startups will launch in this region and very few successful ones will stay in NE Wisconsin as they grow.
  3. Minimal and non-coordinated support for technology, disruptive innovation and tech entrepreneurism will be provided by NE Wisconsin corporations, influential individuals, investors, regional governments, or state government.
  4. There will be minimal NE Wisconsin participation or notable achievements in emerging technologies. There will be few NE Wisconsin ventures leveraging emerging technologies for competitive advantage.
  5. There will be minimal disruptive innovations developed in NE Wisconsin. Few NE Wisconsin companies will effectively leverage disruptive innovations for competitive advantage.
  6. The NE Wisconsin TIE community will continue to not be widely and deeply connected, resulting in infrequent opportunities for like-minded people to interact, discuss, collaborate, or cofound startups. The lack of wide and deep connections also results in much less disruptive innovation and hinders the entrepreneurial swarming necessary for creative destruction.
  7. Most people, especially young people, who passionately want to participate in disruptive innovation will move from NE Wisconsin to another region more supportive of disruptive innovation.

Bottom Line ⇒ NE Wisconsin gradually improves but continues to fall behind other regions.

These expectations might seem overly harsh. Most people in NE Wisconsin do not care about disruptive innovation. Nearly all people in the region who do care about innovation will disagree with this post and point to what they see as examples of improvement and disruptive innovation. Or they will say that this region doesn’t need disruptive innovation to have the best possible regional economy, one that is sustainable and resilient and leads to a bright future for our children and for their children. I respectfully disagree and say significant changes are needed to achieve the regional economy and brighter future we steps

The Next Step for Reboot is to connect people interested in disruptive innovation and a thriving, resilient, sustainable regional economy and have the conversations needed to develop a plan for change.


If you know of examples of disruptive innovation in NE Wisconsin, please send information and links to Bob Waldron at bwaldron (at) gmail [dott] com.

If you are interested in discussing and working on disruptive innovation, contact me.

If you know of NE Wisconsin people potentially interested discussing and working on disruptive innovation, please connect them with me, or send me info about them.


MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program


While reading various online and offline resources about disruptive innovation, I came across the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT REAP).

According to their website:MIT REAP

The MIT REAP is a global initiative designed to help regions accelerate economic growth & social progress through innovation-driven entrepreneurship (IDE) built upon a region’s unique history, capacity and comparative advantage. Partner regions form stakeholder teams and commit to a two-year learning engagement working with MIT faculty and the broader REAP community through a series of action-learning activities to assess, build and implement a custom regional strategy for enhancing IDE ecosystems.

MIT REAP admits 8-10 partner regions annually to participate in the two-year engagement. Each partner region has a team comprised of 5-7 highly driven and influential regional members and is headed by a regional champion. All 5 major stakeholder groups are represented in an MIT REAP team: government, corporate, academia, risk capital, and the entrepreneurial community.

MIT REAP involves four action-learning cycles over a two-year period. These cycles involve highly interactive workshops every 6 months, which are interspersed by action phases:

(1) A typical workshop is 2.5 days and consists of lecture & discussion, case study analysis, ecosystem engagement tours, programmatic deep dives, group work report-outs, and preparation for action phases. 2 workshops are hosted at MIT and 2 workshops are hosted by selected partner regions.

(2) Action phases are active time between workshops where teams return home to deepen analysis, validate assumptions with a broad network, and implement new programs and policies.

Why Consider MIT REAP For NE Wisconsin

MIT campusI’ve interacted quite a bit over the last ten years with the MIT Club of Wisconsin (MIT alumni who live in Wisconsin). They are a fantastic bunch of people, smartest bunch of interesting geeks I ever met. I haven’t had the opportunity to visit MIT yet, but hope to one day.

If I could chose one university to work with on a wide variety of technology issues, MIT would be my choice. MIT is considered the best technology university in the USA, and is considered by some to be the best in the world. It was the source of many innovations in computer science, and an almost endless list of new technologies have come from, and keep coming from, MIT.

StanfordIf I could chose one university to work with on a wide variety of entrepreneurship issues, Stanford would be my choice. Stanford University has a better reputation than MIT in terms of tech entrepreneurship and being the source of highly-scalable startups. But MIT has also been the starting point for many startups and tech entrepreneurs.

In terms of which of the two would be my top choice for working with NE Wisconsin to leverage emerging technologies, disruptive innovation and entrepreneurial swarming, I would have to pick MIT. They definitely have the edge on emerging tech, they’re definitely behind on entrepreneurial swarming, and they seem slightly behind on disruptive innovation.

But the reason I’d choose MIT is because their culture is probably closer to that of NE Wisconsin than Stanford is. Even though Stanford would probably have better suggestions for our region for disruptive innovations and entrepreneurial swarming, those suggestions would be based on what’s happening in California and other tech hotspots around the world. Those suggestions might be actionable in five or ten years in NE Wisconsin, but not in 2016 or 2017. I think it would be too challenging for Stanford, based on what they know and where they see things going over the next ten years, to figure out innovation improvement recommendations that are appropriate for NE Wisconsin.

wisconsin red NEI think MIT’s recommendations would be a lot more in line with how the companies, universities, government, and investors in this region think. Unfortunately, NE Wisconsin is not ready for Stanford recommendations.

In addition to our area being able to act more effectively on MIT’s recommendations, I think MIT can help NE Wisconsin develop some awesome niche emerging technology specialties. If we can have a few disruptive innovation wins in niche areas, that gives us a base to launch more scalable tech startups, and that will be the beginning of entrepreneurial swarming.

Questions About MIT REAP And Similar Programs

Even if MIT was willing to accept NE Wisconsin into their program (no guarantees about that), there are lots of questions about the MIT REAP opportunity.

  • questionsWho would the region’s representatives be on the MIT REAP team of 5 – 7 members? I’ve got a list of the people I would put on the team.
  • Who would pay for the MIT REAP team’s expenses (MIT fees, travel, lodging, etc)?
  • Why would the MIT REAP improve the region’s tech entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation more than the current NE Wisconsin programs, people, and organizations will without MIT?
  • What are the MIT REAP deliverables or realistic expectations for NE Wisconsin at the end of the two year program?
  • Are there other programs outside NE Wisconsin for improving a region’s disruptive innovation and tech entrepreneurship, and might one of those be better than MIT’s and better than our homegrown bootstrapping efforts?


PS — Iceland is one of the regions that will be in the next MIT REAP class starting in October 2016. That would be soooooo cool to be in the program and get to know the people from Iceland, as well as all the other teams (I don’t know what other regions will be in the Fall 2016 class). And I’m betting that one of the 2.5 day workshops hosted by partner regions will be done in Reykjavik! 🙂


Reboot, Part 1: NE Wisconsin 3.0

Regional Economic Reboot

innovators dilemmaThis post is the first of a series about Reboot, an initiative to improve the regional economy of NE Wisconsin.

I love technology, especially emerging technologies. I’m intrigued by the way emerging technologies cause disruptive innovation (Clayton Christensen), or vice versa. And I’m a true believer in the capability of emerging technology and its innovations to cause entrepreneurial swarming and creative destruction (Joseph Schumpeter).

Small problem, though. I currently live in NE Wisconsin. A region far removed from the centers of emerging technologies, disruptive innovation, creative destruction, and entrepreneurial swarming.

here comes everybody, clay shirkyHowever, I believe in the organizing power of the internet (Clay Shirky). Although the mostly-non-tech regional economy, low population density, and conservative culture of NE Wisconsin do not combine to create a real-world critical mass of disruptive innovators, I do know those disrupters are out there. So what we need to do is connect those disruptive innovators, build a team of future-focused supporter organizations, and create a virtual critical mass of like-minded and complementary-minded people.

Then, voilà! Let the fun, and a regional economic reboot, begin…

Where NE Wisconsin Reboot Came From

NE Wisconsin’s “New North” regional economic initiative was launched a couple years after the 21st century became a reality. I’m considering the New North launch to be NE Wisconsin 2.0.

10X innovationWhat I’m proposing is to take a brand new look at disruptive innovation and creative destruction as applied to this region. The existing programs for innovations, entrepreneurs and technology can continue, but let’s incorporate a new approach that focuses on disruptive innovation and startups with goals of delivering 10 – 20X improvement rather than 10 – 20% improvement.

Incorporating that new approach will be NE Wisconsin 3.0.

The “Reboot” title for this initiative to improve the region’s economy, innovation and entrepreneurism comes from the procedure of rebooting a personal computer when you make major changes on it, or when the computer isn’t working exactly the way it should.

From my perspective, NE Wisconsin would benefit from making major changes, sort of a reboot. Those benefits were spelled out in my earlier post “TIME Community Events: Benefits Of A Regional TIME Community.” Read that post for more details, but the benefit bullet points are:

  • Source of potential employees.benefits
  • Increased job creation in your region.
  • Increased retention and immigration of TIME people (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs).
  • Building the culture for a resilient and sustainable regional economy.
  • Opportunities to invest in disruptive innovation and startups.

The Reboot concept started out as a personal project to connect with a few people in NE Wisconsin who are highly interested in working on disruptive innovation. Before I spent most of 2014 working on a startup in northern California, we had several years of biweekly coffee shop meetups in NE Wisconsin called the Friday Disrupters. I decided to work on connecting another group of disrupters, but a slightly larger one with more focus on driving change in the region. As I worked on connecting that disruptive innovation network, there was a need to answer three questions.

  1. Who would be good people to have in a network of NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators?
  2. What would be the goals of a small network of NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators?
  3. What would be the benefits of a network of disruptive innovators (to the innovators and to their region)?

Those three questions sequentially led me to think about the following increasingly larger regional networks.

ne wisc

NE Wisconsin

  • 12 – 20 people. I began working on connecting a network of 12 – 20 disruptive innovators who live in NE Wisconsin.
  • 500 – 5000 people. Discussions about a small network of disruptive innovators highlighted the value of connecting 500 – 5000 NE Wisconsin TIE people (Tech, Innovators, Entrepreneurs).
  • 8000 people. Thinking about the TIE network led me consider the value connecting a larger network (~ 8000 people) who are committed to actively improving the NE Wisconsin entrepreneurial and innovation culture; not just TIE people.
  • 12,000 people. One of the benefits of improving a region’s entrepreneurial and innovation culture is improvement of the regional economy. That larger goal of regional economic improvement would add more people to the group working on entrepreneurial culture — with a resulting objective of connecting 1% of the region’s 1.2 million residents.

The Reboot initiative will start out with a small group of committed people but is intended to lead to much bigger things. Sound like a challenge? As Margaret Meade said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Long Term Commitment: 50 Years

After a small group of committed people is connected, the first step on the Journey of 10,000 miles to an improved regional economy is reaching a consensus that the Reboot partners and sponsors 2initiative will establish realistic expectations rather than over-promising when recruiting program partners and sponsors.

It’s essential for supporters of Reboot to agree that achievable short and medium term goals are worth the budgeted resources. If there are questions about that, a conversation is needed about why improvement will only happen if there is long term commitment. If that long term vision and commitment are missing, there is no point in launching Reboot. Without that supporter commitment, the smaller group of disruptive innovators should just focus on a more limited vision of enabling 10 – 20X improvements in projects in which they are direct participants.

When I say long term vision, I’m referring to 50 years, not 5 years. Stretch objectives are helpful. Optimism and a desire to change the world, or at least the region, are good attributes. But Silicon Valley didn’t spring up in the 70s, 80s or 90s, much less in the past 50 yearsfive or ten years. MIT and Stanford didn’t become world-leading engines of innovation in ten or twenty years.

No matter what potential supporters for the Reboot initiative want to hear or want to have happen, it will take many years to achieve the goal of a big improvement in the region’s innovation, entrepreneurism and economy. The “Start-Up New York” entrepreneurism program was just launched in 2013, but political opponents are already campaigning to end the program because they say it hasn’t created enough new jobs in its first three years. Other entrepreneur and economic accelerator programs have suffered similar fates because they created unrealistic expectations or did not have long term commitment from supporters.

Realistic expectations. Long term vision and commitment. Table stakes.

Seven Step Reboot Plan

In the expectation that three key objectives will be achieved, a seven step Reboot plan has been developed. The three key objectives are:

  1. A small group of thoughtful, committed NE Wisconsin disruptive innovators is connected.
  2. The disruptive innovators group reaches consensus on realistic expectations for the Reboot initiative.
  3. Reboot partners and sponsors with long term vision and commitment are recruited.

seven step planThe seven steps for the Reboot program are listed below. This is a draft blueprint, v.0.1, intended to be talking points for discussion after the disruptive innovators are connected. The Reboot v.1.0 proposal that is used for recruiting partners and sponsors will be developed by the disruptive innovators group. The Reboot v.2.0 that is funded and launched will be based on customer feedback using the Lean Startup methodology. Reboot’s seven steps are:

  1. Connect the TIE community (Tech, Innovators, Entrepreneurs).
  2. Build effective communications and events system for TIE community.NE Wisc Reboot Roads, red, green
  3. TIE community facilitate disruptive innovation; develop program for launching disruptive innovation startups.
  4. Improve NE Wisconsin 3.0 main roads to 4 lane minimum (see map).
  5. Develop and implement plan for Top 5% schools.
  6. Expand TIE community into a 21st century regional economy network.
  7. Develop and expand culture-building regional events.

I’ve seen and heard NE Wisconsin people talking about technology, innovation, entrepreneurism, and change for more than twenty years. People in NE Wisconsin are working on technology, innovation, and entrepreneurism. And change is happening. But…

While NE Wisconsin is moving ahead and improving its regional technology and innovation, other regions are moving ahead faster. And they were ahead to begin with. I don’t think NE Wisconsin isn’t catching up to them. I think it’s falling further behind.

“Reboot, Part 2” will take a look at Next Steps and a recommendation for Reboot discussion events in cities around NE Wisconsin…


EAA AirVenture 2016

Oshkosh AirVenture

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that the Solar Impulse project was a featured part of the 2010 Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) World Symposium on Electric Aircraft. Theairventure 2016 logo symposium was one of the many aviation activities happening during that year’s EAA AirVenture, a weeklong gathering of aviation enthusiasts from around the world.

AirVenture happens every summer in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA, and it’s a great example of an event with huge impact that can help build a regional culture. It happens to be going on as I write this post, with this year’s event running July 25 – 31. If you’re in the Midwest and enjoy any aspect of aircraft, other than just flying on commercial aircraft as a passenger, you should drop into Oshkosh this week while the airshow is on. If you can’t make it this year, consider attending in 2017.

airventure aircraft campingIf you don’t live in the Midwest, but have your own plane, consider flying to Oshkosh next year. In 2015 over 10,000 aircraft flew in for AirVenture. Many owners camp right next to their plane.

Speaking of events wrangling, how’d you like to coordinate AirVenture? The event runs for a week, has 10,000 aircraft flying through the skies above your event, has an attendance of over 500,000, has visitor from 80 countries (try getting translators for all those in a small city in NE Wisconsin!), and has most of the activities run by or coordinated by 5400 volunteers (2015 statistics).

Electric Aircraft Symposium

airventure electric aircraft symposium

EAA World Symposium on Electric Aircraft, 2010

I was involved with AirVenture for a number of years when I worked for EAA on aviation innovation. The absolute best part of that job was the electric aircraft symposiums, especially the fantastically interesting people who were involved with all aspects of electric aircraft.

Other Memorable Moments At AirVenture

I met so many great people and saw so many cool aviation displays, it’s hard to pick which experiences rank next after the electric aircraft symposiums from past AirVentures. The most memorable ones that come immediately to mind are:

  • Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This humongous commercial airliner had just recently gone into production and AirVenture was one of the first places it was flown in public. One of the Boeing test pilots was an EAA member, so that probably helped. You had to be there to believe it, but this lumbering monstrosity looked like an aerobatic jet when the pilot took it up for a demonstration flight. He was doing maneuvers that would have been impressive for a single-passenger jet. I hope I never fly on a jet that climbs as steeply, dives as quickly, or banks as sharply as that test pilot did with the 787.airventure 787
  • Martin Jetpack. The Martin Jetpack made a totally unexpected public demonstration one of the years I was at AirVenture. A huge crowd gathered when the word spread about a working jetpack. It made chills run up and down my back watching it take off and fly around the demo area. Because they didn’t have FAA clearances yet, the ground crew guys had to hold the jetpack down while the pilot stayed only a few feet off the ground (see inset picture below of the white jetpack). The best thing about the jetpack was talking with Glenn Martin, the New Zealander who spent over twenty years designing, building and testing various versions of the “personal aircraft.” The red one below is their current design. According to their website, they even have a “golfcart jetpack” now!airventure martin jetpack
  • Red Bull Aerobatic Helicopter. This helicopter did absolutely incredible and unbelievable flying stunts. He went straight up. He went straight down. He even flew upside down. I have no idea why that helicopter didn’t drop out of the sky. Amazing, but scary!airventure red bull helicopter

If you’ve never been to AirVenture, give it a try. You don’t have to go every year for thirty or more years in a row like some dedicated enthusiasts have, camping out for a week or two. Just give it a try one year — it will be a memory you’ll have for the rest of your life! 🙂

In closing, below is an aerial view of the main square on a day during AirVenture 2010.

airventure aerial view


Total Potential Participants For NE Wisconsin TIE Events

TIE Community

TIE is an acronym for Tech, Innovators, and Entrepreneurs.

Many posts I’ve written have mentioned the TIME community (tech, innovators, makers, entrepreneurs). In addition to the TIE member types, TIME includes makers. The reason this posts is only discussing the TIE demographic is because some makers are not strongly focused on innovation. Those makers are fine using traditional methods, materials, and equipment to “make” traditional products. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This post just doesn’t apply to them.

Other makers love innovative technologies, like 3D printing or microelectronics. This post does apply to many of those types of makers. And they are covered by tech and innovation, even if entrepreneurism is not of high interest to them.

Connecting The TIE Community

community connectingAn email conversation I had last week discussed software patents, technology innovation, and the TIE community in NE Wisconsin. Part of our discussion related to building more connections between people in this region who are highly interested in tech innovations, emerging technologies and entrepreneurism related to those topics.

Our email discussion didn’t get into specifics of exactly what types of people would fit into the innovation community we were thinking about. Today I decided to put my thoughts on cyber-paper to help organize those thoughts. It’s also a way to continue the conversation, and, I hope, move it closer to action. That action being to start connecting more people in the TIE community.

Size Of NE Wisconsin TIE Community

One of the ways to help build a community, as I’ve mentioned before, is to have various types of community events. When thinking about or organizing those events, one of the pieces of information that’s helpful is how many people might be involved in the events. Coming up with an estimated audience, or total number of potential participants, for the TIE events does two things.

  1. Gives the core organizing team a feel for venue sizes, event budgets, communications needed, etc.
  2. Gives potential community and event supporters (partners and sponsors) a feel for how much support is needed and how big an impact a strong TIE community might make.

The population used below for NE Wisconsin is a recent and probably accurate number. Percentages I used to convert total regional population into the size of the TIE community are strictly estimates. If and when we work to connect the TIE community and have a significant number of events, we’ll find out how accurate the percentages below are.

TIE Community Numbers

  • ne wisc1,200,000 = population of the 18 counties of NE Wisconsin (The New North region)
  • 840,000 = target age, people 13 – 80 yrs old, in relatively good health (15% under 13, 15% over 80, or over 60 and in poor health)
  • 588,000 = people who will hear about TIE community if well publicized and promoted (70% of target age)
  • 11,760 = people who would say they’re very interested in TIE activities (2% of people who are target age and hear about TIE community)
  • 5,880 = people who will actually get involved with community (50% who indicated interest will be too busy or have other reasons not to participate)

Based on my 10+ years of organizing events and projects, I’ve developed a 1 / 9 / 90 rule for medium and large groups (more than 20 people). I’ve also seen similar numbers applied to levels of participation in areas other than events wrangling. From my perspective, 1 / 9 / 90 means that the 5880 (NE Wisconsin people I estimated will get involved to some degree in the TIE community) will include:

  • 59 potential leaders and initiators of events, projects, ventures, startups.
  • 529 active and contributing community members.
  • 5,292 potential participants for selected TIE events, but not generally active TIE community members.

Of the 5,880, 50 to 150 people (~ 1% – 3%) will want to actively discuss, work on, and facilitate disruptive and destructive innovation with goals of delivering 10 – 20X improvement rather than 10 – 20% incremental improvement.

My view of disruptive innovation as being 10X – 20X improvement or change, comes from (my incomplete understanding of):

Innovator's Dilemma

Innovator’s Dilemma

  • Schumpeter’s creative destruction and entrepreneurial swarming.
  • Christensen’s innovator’s dilemma.
  • Kevin Kelly’s technium, described in What Technology Wants.
  • Steve Jobs 10X principle (my imperfect memory says I first got that from Jobs, although it could have come from reading about Larry Page or some other tech entrepreneurial leader).

There you have it. An estimated six thousand people in NE Wisconsin who have a reasonable chance of getting involved in disruptive innovation in the next few years. And over five hundred people who have a very high probability of being active in broad-focus innovation events in the region. It seems a worthwhile number of people to connect from an events wrangler’s point of view and from a supporter’s point of view.


NE Wisconsin TIME Community Road Trip

TIME Community Road Trip

Yesterday’s post talked about using events to build regional culture. When I saw the three articles below about tech-focused road trip events, they started me thinking about how a tech building cultureroad trip event might be used to connect and highlight the TIME community (Tech, Innovators, Makers, Entrepreneurs) of NE Wisconsin and help build the regional culture.

3D Printing

The first article, “3D Platform Takes the 3DP Workbench on the Road for the 3DP Roadshow,” deals with an advanced manufacturing technology that an increasing number of companies are using. 3D printing is an amazing process that’s being used in a wide range of business sectors, from medical and automotive to metal fabrication and architecture. The 3DP Workbench looks like a useful setup, and it would be awesome to have that or other 3D printers demonstrated during a road trip to cities around NE Wisconsin.

3DP Roadshow“…The 3DP Workbench is an industrial printer with, as its name suggests, a full workbench attached, complete with ample storage in the form of drawers and cabinets, as well as a large workspace…unlike most industrial 3D printers, it’s very portable, with wheels and a folding gantry that make it easy to relocate…Starting today and rolling out over the next six months, the 3DP Roadshow will travel to dozens of locations throughout the United States…

“We are taking the 3DP Workbench on the road,” said John Good, 3D Platform Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “When the 3DP RoadShow rolls into town, we bring live demonstrations of large-format 3D printing, expert tips and tricks, examples of what 3D printing can do for companies, and answers to your 3D printing question. And we can bring it all directly to a customer…”

Software Development

The second article, “VictorOps DevOps road trip will bring practical tips to a city near devops road tripyou” covers a road trip event focused on software development.

Looking to help spread the love and joy that is DevOps agile incident management company for DevOps teams VictorOps Inc. last week announced its DevOps Roadtrip. The road trip will bring expert knowledge to cities around the U.S…
“DevOps can be an intimidating topic to many in IT. VictorOps wanted to create a welcoming forum where technology professionals can engage with DevOps experts in the industry…Throughout the country, we’ll spotlight notable speakers in an effort to share DevOps wisdom…Our hope is that attendees can head back to their teams with actionable tactics to not only improve their organizations, but also simplify their own lives…”

Including software development topics and companies in a NE Wisconsin TIME community road trip event would help promote the region’s coders and companies that do custom software development. The road trip event would probably include NE Wisconsin colleges to make students more aware of computer science educational opportunities in this area.

Demo & Testing: Road Trip Tech Devices

The last article, “Lifehacker’s Samsung TabPro S Roadtrip Challenge: Can A 2-In-1 Do All I Need?,” talks about testing a tech device by using it on a road trip.

digital nomad backpack

Digital nomad road trip devices

2-in-1 laptops are supposed to provide the best of both worlds. The ability to change into a tablet offers a level of flexibility that standalone laptops can’t match — especially if you’re frequently on the road. Last week, I put this concept to the test by travelling to Melbourne, Brisbane and then back to Sydney armed with nothing but Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S. Along the way, I visited interesting Aussie tech hubs and startups to see how they work. I’m Chris Jager from Lifehacker, and this is the Roadtrip Challenge…”

For a NE Wisconsin tech and entrepreneur road trip, we’d definitely want to try for a few sponsored tech devices, both for event goers to try out and for the road trip crew to test out under real-world road trip conditions.

If we can convince a few major organizations in NE Wisconsin to partner with and help sponsor a TIME community road trip with weekend stops in major cities and weeknight stops in many of the smaller cities and towns throughout the region, it would provide a tremendous boost to the visibility of technology and entrepreneurism in our area.

The next step toward organizing this road trip is finding a company or organization who thinks this is a good idea and will agree to be the first official partner or sponsor…