It's easy to be a reporter in good times. Stories just bite you on the butt (or call you on the phone) and say "we're here." It's tougher to find the good news in hard times. You have to dig for it. You have to put on a suit and go where it's happening.
At First Tuesday mixers, everyone is easily identified by the lanyards they wear name tags on. Green for entrepreneurs. Red for venture capitalists. Yellow lanyards represent service companies (lawyers, accountants, etc.). Reporters wear black, so everyone knows they talk to you at the risk of publicity.
All evening, I heard great new stories about great new businesses that could help jumpstart a recovery and that might (soon) need your help in coming to market.
Martin Spencer, for instance, runs GeckoSystems Inc., which makes personal-care robots. They don't look like Robbie, the protagonist in Isaac Asimov's 1940 robot story, which took place in the "far future" of 1997. This robot is a post festooned with cameras, monitors, a PC with text-to-speech technology, and sensors. It can follow an aged relative around the home, remind him to take his medicine, and allow family to "visit" via a Webcam. It helps the elderly or handicapped to remain at home and autonomous whiling costing a fraction of what a nursing home or live-in care would.
I wrote about having just such a system 30 years from now in my book "Living on the Internet." But Spencer, a soft-spoken man with a graying ponytail, has an early version right now. Most of the parts were bought off the shelf, and the software is Windows-based. He said it's designed to sell for just $3,000.
Joseph Lias runs Carina Networks, which is working with The Southern Co. to build power line-based Internet services serving small businesses. He's got hardware costs down to $375, even before mass-scale manufacturing -- which beats out the cost of DSL. He's offering two-way, 20Mbps service that can be shared by customers, and he's looking for resellers. Mainly he's thinking of cable guys, but why not wireless ISPs, I suggested? He thought that was a good idea.
Wells Burke runs Synthis, whose project management package, Adalon, combines analysis, modeling, and design for software projects and generate XML code quickly. The code describes the software architecture and documentation. He's already got 39 big customers.
KnowMetrix sells the Thinking Engine, designed to help teams create strategies and plans. Monumental sells a content management system called Trampoline. Bandlink is working to solve music's business model problem. They already have a PR lady.
These were just a few of the stories spinning around one room, on one night, in one fair-sized American city. Multiply that by a hundred, and you see potential everywhere.
Recessions are like a hard winter, but spring is coming. There's new growth bursting to get out, to challenge, confound, and amaze. Get out and find some of it. It's a wonderful world.
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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.
March 19, 2014