Wednesday, August 13, 2008

John Metcalf of Startup District talks about creating a community for entrepreneurs in Austin

John Metcalf of Startup District talks about creating a community for entrepreneurs in Austin

What is your background?

I grew up in San Antonio. I was homeschooled. I've been getting in trouble on the Internet since AOL days.

I came to UT in 2002 as an undergrad. I was excited about Austin being a startup city but when I was at UT I didn’t really feel like it was a part of a startup community. About halfway through school I started working with a Silicon Valley company called They were angel funded by Joi Ito and Reid Hoffman and later found funding with MDV & DFJ. When they asked me what I'd be up to after graduation, I told them and everyone else I didn't want a job. I wanted to startup in Austin. I prefer to work for myself.

What is the Startup District?

To bring startups and people with a startup-mentality in proximity -- concentrating us.

While I was in school I kept looking for the tech community I thought was here. I went to all the tech events I could and while there was a community there, it wasn’t the same kind as I found in Silicon Valley. The people I met were talking about different things. I finally found a glimpse of what I was looking for when Dusty Reagan started a Jelly in Austin.

What is a Jelly?

It’s a concept that started a year and a half ago in New York, where some independent folks used a wiki to organize their meet ups in coffee shops so they could work together as a group. It's called a Jelly because they came up with the idea while eating Jelly Beans. The idea is to co-locate entrepreneurs or freelancers so they can work, collaborate, and learn from each other. Austin was one of the first cities to have an extension of that. There’s one that meets every Friday at CafĂ© Caffeine on South Congress. At these Jellys, I found a good group of young, progressive entrepreneurs.

So how is the Startup District going?

We've place an anchor.

The group I met at Jelly, Dusty Reagan, David Walker, Cesar Torres, and I realized after a couple weeks of Jellying that this was something special, and we could benefit from this type of environment everyday.
With the community's support, the four of us opened a coworking space called Conjunctured on East 7th.

How much does a membership cost?

There are three levels. The top level is $425/month and gives the member unlimited access. Then there are lower levels at $325 and $125 per month.
The people who join are interested in working around other people.

How did you come up with the name for this?

My friend Dane Hurtubise said “Startup District” first. We were talking about Austin's Warehouse District. Dane said "what Austin needs is a district for startups, not clubs."

Why did you start it?

I felt the type of talent in Austin that would thrive in a startup was leaving town for one of the coasts or going to work for a large company. UT is breeding people to enter into the corporate work force. There needs to be an alternative place for these people to go work.

What is your goal for the Startup District?

To build a community of entrepreneurs who build startup companies and eventually, they could act as an incubator for future startups. In addition, the city could recognize it as an economic zone as an incentive for startups to stay here.

It sounds a little like a YCombinator program. How does the Startup District compare?

I had the opportunity to join Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston at YCombinator in Cambridge last week for dinner.

I think we need to build the community first and then we can start a program similar to YCombinator or TechStars.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Jonas Lamis of Scivestor talks about New Application Areas of Moore’s Law.

Jonas Lamis of SciVestor talks about new application areas of Moore’s Law, the coming of the Semantic Web, and a startup workspace called Tech Ranch Austin.

What is your background?

I come from the enterprise software arena. Back when I started you could put your arms around what is software. Today it’s much more diverse. I helped launch three Austin Ventures backed software companies. The first was called Ventix that was an enterprise software knowledge management play. When Ventix was acquired by Motive, we spun out that was also acquired, and most recently I spent six years growing Troux Technologies. A year ago I left Troux and started SciVestor to create research into new technology areas that are going to change the world.

I see you have artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and robotics as target areas for your company which provides research. Why did you pick those areas?

If you look at Moore’s law with exponential growth curves, it applies to those areas just as it did software. We’re at a point now that there’s so much processing power available that the second wave of industries will start to take advantage of it. Robotics is starting to see significant returns in medical applications and more. The power that Moore’s law brought to the software industry will now amplify these other areas. While software changed the way we lived, these other areas have the potential of making an even more dramatic change to the way society operations in the decades ahead.

How did you get into these areas?

Ray Kurzweil’s writings were very influential to me. The book called The Singularity Is Near encouraged me to look at these new technologies. That led me to the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence in the Bay area which is a non-profit where I serve as the Director of Partnerships. The Semantic Web space is very interesting because it will lead to the next generation of artificial intelligence.

What is the Semantic Web space about?

It’s about understanding who I am, my context, and what I want to accomplish and using that information and the Internet to deliver results. It could use my speech, gestures, or whatever I offer to help determine what I want. The Semantic Web space is a precursor to the next generation artificial intelligence effort. As an example, Microsoft recently acquired virtually unheard of Powerset for $100 Million – an emerging semantic technology company. They developed a search engine that would parse through Wikipedia and be able to answer questions like, “Which Presidents died in office?” Semantically it would start to understand what you are talking about and give you answers.

What do you think about nanotechnology?

There are again fundamental underlying technologies that will be powerful in the decades ahead. Moore’s law, that exponential growth, sneaks up on you and you don’t know it’s coming for a while and then it pops up. Nanotechnology is coming but is still below the radar.

What about robotics?

One area I’m interested in is the autonomous vehicle space. It’s come a long way in a short amount of time. In the first DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005 – a competition for demonstrating autonomous vehicles hosted by the Department of Defense, the first competition, the lead vehicle only went 11 miles in the 100 mile race. In the 2006 event, 22 of the teams got further than the lead vehicle from the competition a year and a half before. I recently gave a presentation at the Robobusiness Conference on the topic. It’s a pretty interesting space for me because it’s been a sleepy space for so many years with manufacturing robots and now with the emergence of iRobot--the vacuum cleaner, and the use of robots in the military for autonomous vehicles, and the use of robots in the healthcare space. There’s a good chance that a decade from now most people will have some kind of robot in their house providing value for them.

My wife wants an iRobot. I didn’t think she would go for it.

Our Robot Central blog has done some research on the anthropomorphism of people taking the iRobot and dressing them, taking them with them on vacation, and more. One guy would clean the room first before turning on the iRobot because he didn’t want it to work too hard.

What other trends do you see emerging?

Locally here in Austin, I’ve noticed that there are so many groups forming around different technologies. Meetups if you will. For example, I was at a meeting of Semantic Web that came together through Twitter spontaneously. I find these groups want to socialize and share information. I now see people wanting to share workspaces to collaborate, bounce ideas off each other and have a physical business social network. I have an idea called Tech Ranch Austin that is part co-working space and part technology incubator space. I have companies that want office space but not at A-grade real estate prices. Right now, I’m identifying several anchor tenants. My ultimate goal is to have a space here in Austin for every technology group to share ideas and work together.

Best regards,
Hall T.