Tech startups bring fun and excitement back to hardware

By Dennis Clemente

Hardware is having a renaissance.

Imagine this. Imagine being able to control everyday things like your lights, fans, heaters and disco balls from your mobile device. It’s here, thanks to smartthings.com.

Imagine growing your own veggies in your cramped New York apartment. No need, it’s here, thanks to windowfarms.com.

Imagine using the world’s largest 3D printer, one that can create entire Flintstone-like structures. It’s big enough to notice, so yes, it’s here too, thanks to d-shape.com.

Everything, it seems, can be imagined and made, physically made as we witnessed in the lively presentation of these startups on January 15. Welcome back, hardware.

“It’s a cycle,” sys Roman Fichman, general counsel to tech start-ups, referring to how the industrial revolution started with hardware, shifted to software, and back again to hardware.

What is driving its resurgence? Aditya Bansal, one of the attendees at the fifth Hardware Startup meetup last January 15, says open source and cheaper (technology) make all the difference.

“It was one of the best meetups I’ve been to in a long time,” says attendee Maurice Bey. Add the free pizza, beer and a convivial atmosphere and you have a hit meetup.

Nothing gets people excited more than a demo and SmartThings founder Alex Hawkinson showed us a thing or two about how you don’t need telekinetic powers to move objects with his hardware.


Britta Riley, CEO of WindowFarms, received an enthusiastic applause when she mentioned that her hydroponic system, the system where her greens sprout, is on exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History.

Growing interest in the business simply answers what studies also point out: A large percentage of grocery shoppers, reportedly 78%, wonders where the heck their food comes from. With WindowFarms, you’ll know for sure where it’s coming from–your apartment.

But guess where these two companies got their initial funding? Kickstarter. However, Hawkinson is quick to caution people about trying to source funds only from that site, only because of the possible delays you may incur, especially when everybody else is going there now.


The last presenter went for scale and it showed in his animated presentation. Sameer Ajmera, business development manager of DShape, showed furniture, sculptures, even houses printed on its 20 x 20 ft 3D printer, claiming the company is “turning science fiction into reality.” It plans to set up shop in New York.

But for those of us who want to come back to earth and print 3D on a much smaller scale, Hack Manhattan at 14th St between 6th and 7th Avenues has an open house next Tuesday.

Indeed the physical world is merging with the technology world. Here’s an opportunity to make this happen for you: New York’s Next Top Makers Challenge http://nexttopmakers.com. Earn a chance to win $48,000+ in cash and prizes (including studio space, mentorship) when you join and create the best commercial product.

Anthro-tech: Programming Jane Austen is here

By Dennis Clemente

Last Thursday, January 10, the NYU Kimball Hall was packed for the tech meetup called “AnthroTech Meetup: Education and Technology.” The wines on display were more than fitting for such a heady topic and of course, it doesn’t hurt to feel slightly inebriated if we’re talking about how to make Jane Austen relevant to the times. How’s this for a mind-bender—Pride and Prejudice anthropomorphized?!

Austen’s staple characters and mannered comportment were brought back to stick-figure life by erudite Ken Perlin, director of NYU’s Games for Learning Institute, an NYU Professor of Computer Science, and the winner of a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for his work on procedural texture.

He demo’ed how multiple developers can collaborate on programming Austen in Google Docs.  For OCD scribes, his attempt at improving eBook writing using an ingenious “copy- and paste-like” programming method takes the cake.

Next to the Powerpoint floor was the more accessible Ricki Goldman, an NYU Professor of Educational Communication & Technology, a digital ethnographer and leading theorist on learning and media. She discussed “Gen-E,” or “Generation Ethnographers” — the emerging generation of people who use social media to document their world. She also showed some digital video analysis tools designed for use in ethnographies in school settings.

People complained that they didn’t see the event streamed live as promised, but for those who were at NYU, comments streamed about how the speakers gave “thought experiments that are cool within some academy paper-writing circle, but don’t address the wider relevance to the public.” Ouch!

A call for less academic jargon in the next meetup was raised. Justin Petrillo, one of the attendees, has this to say: “It’s a great idea to integrate programming through understanding of stories and actually creating narratives. But, for an entrepreneur, these ideas must be taken a step further.”

Perhaps when most people learn how to code (a seeming inevitability for Perlin), it will be easier for people to understand. Before that happens,  there will always be a stumbling block toward understanding what Perlin and Goldman are trying to say.  Practical minds need to intervene, so this can all be relevant to the critical mass.

Search and SharePoint 2013; Social, next?

By Dennis Clemente

If you’re going to talk about the product you’re championing, you might as well do it in your own backyard, right? Last January 9, the SharePoint MeetUp group covered the topic, “Search-Driven Design Patterns for SharePoint 2013” at the Microsoft office at 1290 Avenue of the Americas.

For the uninitiated, Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 is about how organizations work together and optimize how people work. Essentially, it’s a collaborative platform. The goal: to run your business more efficiently.

The group tackled search queries from a design pattern perspective. Comparing the 2010 with the 2013 launched a healthy exchange of ideas about SharePoint2013 helps in idea sharing, organizing teams and projects, and discovering people and information. In many of these classes, though, you just hope there was a brand it could have talked about as an example; Home Depot was mentioned albeit briefly.

Nicholas Bisciotti, one of the attendees, liked the topics that were raised, but he thinks it would be good to “resolve” them in the next session
• Role-based search solutions based on job function, where person is, who they are (possibly with rank profile)
• SharePoint 2013 Search with non-SharePoint UI
• SharePoint 2013 Search for mobile
• Leveraging geographical data in Search

It’s also good to know SharePoint has gone social—and it would be great to watch that tackled by a group already immersed in the SharePoint platform in the next meetup of this solemn, more studious group.

Raking in awards, $135M earnings–who knows Yodle?

By Dennis Clemente

Yodle, the online advertising company for small business, expects its 2012 revenue to reach $135 million. But how come nobody has heard of it? Has the industry grown that much? Or should the question be, Is it too different to be under an entirely new category other than advertising? People don’t know where to place it.

Still, you got to give it to Yodle is raking in the awards. It was cited as one of the “Best Places to Work For,” “Fastest Growing Company” and “Most Promising,” as brandished by Forbes and other biz pubs.

Still doesn’t ring a bell? How about its projected 2012 revenue of $135 million?! It may even be more mystifying that in 2008, only three years after it was founded, the company’s annual revenue was a “measly” $18.8 million.

Which is why is not unusual why it has won several honors. The money’s there.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, The Charlotte Business Journal cited Yodle as “The 13th Best Company To Work For;” with The Phoenix Business Journal in Arizona going as far as naming us one of the “Best Places to Work for In The Valley.” In Austin, Texas, Yodle was cited by the Austin-American Statesman as one of the “Top Workplaces” and the Austin Business Journal “The 2nd Best Medium-sized Company To Work For.”

Yodle was also recognized as a great place to work for. To cite an example, Inc. magazine’s Hire Power Awards placed Yodle 33rd among the top job creators in America.

From 10 employees in 2007, Yodle now has 850 employees claiming it gives a cost-effective way for local businesses to connect with consumers using online methods. It has put more than 30,000 local businesses on Google’s top pages.

Still, people I’ve asked don’t know Yodle from its business model. I guess that’s how the Internet has become such a vast landscape. Or it could be just how a Yodle insider simply puts it: “It’s not Pinterest.”

How to Wix and Yodle together to SEO success

By Dennis Clemente

Wix Lounge, through its Digital Creatives Meetup group, held another well-attended class on Search Engine Optimization(SEO) billed “How to be found on Google” at its Chelsea office. It’s certainly an effective way to sample its website builder, Wix.

If it wants to expand its reach in no time, a block away to its New York office is Yodle, an online advertising company for small businesses that is looking at $135 million in revenue for 2012. A collaboration of some sort may be in fine order.

On the topic both love talking about: SEO, as discussed by Ariele Krantzow, Training & Support Manager of wix.com last January 8.

Freelancers and small business owners in the hour-long class learned about the importance of using the most relevant keywords for their websites. Krantzow emphasized the importance of “having 10 keywords” defining your site, “listing all the services/products you are offering and more important, “not to forget (mentioning) your location.”

Krantzow also tackled content to a great degree, making sure the attendees understood the difference between relevant and fresh content—all crucial to being found by Google, as its title event addressed.

When attendees asked the use of photos or images, Krantzow showed its much-talked about Wix website builder to explain how one must at least have “three keywords to describe” them.

It was refreshing to see how Krantzow used Wix layouts not to promote it but merely to make her case about SEO. She pointed out how you can test keywords on Wix at promote.wix.com.seo (make sure you’re logged in to see this), which should convince anyone a good product can speak for itself.

Wix’s “design suggestions” tool is one of many website builders, of course, so it remains to be seen how it will evolve in a very competitive field. But it may just leapfrog over competitors like squarespace.com and drupalgardens.com if it also remains “absolutely free,” simple to create—and if it can really answer the needs of small business owners–in SEO, for one.

Or they can yodle to Yodle for help.