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Startups Can Start Over… And 5 Other Lessons from Techweek Chicago

• Jun. 27, 2014 • Special FeatureComments (1)2481

When tech startups, innovators and entrepreneurs descend on a city, people assume they are about to be inundated with gadgets, software, hardware, buzz words and (a lot of) drones.

And while each has already made an appearance at Techweek Chicago, so far it’s the startups’ creative ingenuity that’s really been showcased. Startups are finding new approaches to getting around old, seemingly resolute roadblocks and their persistence is paying off.

Here are 5 Lessons from Techweek Chicago (so far): 

1.   If you’re cooking, they will come. In 2012, when Chicagoan Jay Savsani started Meal Sharing, a platform that connects guests with home cooked meals, there were roughly 250 users. Today there are meal sharers in over 425 cities around the globe.  Jay was inspired by his first meal share in Siem Reap, Cambodia where he was introduced to new customs, new food and new people. Jay had such an enriching experience that he decided to create a platform for other people who may also enjoy cultural exchange.  On Meal Sharing, users can sign-up to host a dinner party featuring any sort of cuisine, and potential guests can RSVP to a dinner they’d like to attend. 

2. Stealthy. When there’s an obstacle in your way, circumvent it.  Drones are everywhere these days. But the engineers at SkySpecs began honing their technology as early as 2009 at the University of Michigan. There they developed a prototype for an autonomous drone that did not need a pilot. Since 2012, SkySpecs has been developing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) systems. Recently however, the government mandated that all drones have a pilot, and no drone operate unmanned. So SkySpecs made their drones semi-autonomous and called it a day. While the drones have pilots, they are basically fool-proof. A pilot couldn’t fly the drone into a structure if they tried, Danny Ellis, CEO of SkySpecs said. The technology takes over if the pilot makes a mistake and accidentally steers the drone toward a structure. Today SkySpec drones are being used to inspect commercial infrastructure such as wind turbines.

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Danny Ellis, CEO of Skyspecs, explains their drone technology at Techweek Chicago 2014.

3.  If you can’t afford a 3D printer, 3D print a 3D printer. Ingenuity at its finest. Paul Kim, lead engineer at Inbox 3d printers, had always been fascinated by how things worked and reassembling technology. He recognized the potential of 3D printers, but realized they were too expensive for most people. But he also knew that the more people who have 3D printers, the more innovation would spread.  So his team built a 3D printer that prints 3D printers in hopes of getting the devices into the hands of more educators and everyday people. Inbox wrote on their site, “Our primary goal is to provide anyone and everyone with a 3D printer that is affordable, functional, reliable, and accessible—a truly personal device!”

RELATED: Startups Breaking Boundaries and Revolutionizing the World

4. When bureaucracy has you feeling blue…circumvent it. The education world is full of bureaucracy and so much rigamarole that it can be challenging for a fast-paced startup to find its place. Some startups don’t know if they’ll be around for the next month, so they can’t afford to wait 6 months for a definitive answer. That’s why many startups in educational technology are finding a way to circumvent the problem by going directly to the source. Both Mike Shannon, co-founder of Packback Books, a site that allows college students to rent eTextbooks for as little as $5, and Christopher Klundt, president and founder of Study Blue, a site that crowdsources learning tools such as flash cards, both said the key is to go right to the students. The tools and technology the students gravitate towards will speak for itself, and the schools can then choose whether or not they want to get on board.

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Inbox engineer Paul Kim (left), and business analyst Frank Lee, stand next to their 3D printer at Techweek Chicago 2014.

5. What happens when a startup CEO, starts over? Magic. Jon Schepke, CEO of SIM Partners, an online platform for local marketing, was an early adapter of interactive online marketing. He founded an online marketing startup in 1998 (before startups were even fashionable). At the end of his 7 year run, Jon found himself wondering, ‘What next?’ He thought that was it for him and contemplated a career in firefighting out west. But he persevered, gathered the lessons he’d already learned, and started SIM Partners, a flourishing marketing agency in Chicago. As an entrepreneur, you’ve got to know a few things, Jon said. First you’ve got to know how to spell entrepreneur. But most importantly, “Define the moment,” he said. “Don’t let the moment define you.”

Featured photo via: TechWeek 2012

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One Response to Startups Can Start Over… And 5 Other Lessons from Techweek Chicago

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