Clouds gathering

Clouds Along the Road Photo by Reini68

Charles Cooper has an interesting post about cloud infrastructure and the impact it has on developers and IT professionals.

"So you’ve got a whole generation of start-ups that are basically just a couple of programmers with a couple of laptops, and they upload everything into the Amazon cloud. It’s pay-by-the-drink like utility. So all of a sudden, you have this whole new wave of Internet start-ups getting started for practically no money, right? So there is a level of innovation."

Amazon has done a fantastic job of building the foundation for the next generation of software infrastructure. Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides basic services in the cloud. EC2 for computation on Windows, Linux, and OpenSolaris. Database support including Oracle, SQL Server, MySQL. Application development in .NET, Java, Ruby. The AWS platform includes computation, storage, querying and indexing, queuing, payments, and a basic CDN. More importantly, AWS is the beginning of how the next generation of developers and IT professionals will build and manage applications in the cloud.

Dana Gardner explains why the IBM-Amazon deal is about enabling the best enterprise IT channel. For IBM it’s the perfect combination of services, technology and deployment. For Amazon, it provides an additional way to monetize their investment in infrastructure for their retail business. Brilliant!

Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Mozilla and Apple are fighting for the client. Microsoft, Linux and Java are fighting for the server. Oracle, Microsoft, MySQL and PostgreSQL are fighting for the database. Amazon is not alone, there are competitors including GoGrid, RackSpace, ElasticHosts, Google and others (MediaTemple and Joyent come to mind).

One small step for…

Where is Microsoft in the fray? Microsoft building Azure (my previous post on Azure). Azure is interesting because like Amazon’s AWS to get the most out of the platform, you have to architect applications for the new services provided by cloud providers. Azure unlike EC2 does not have an easy way to upload your existing applications onto cloud/virtualized hardware. The real benefit of the Rackspace/GoGrid/Amazon infrastructures are the ability for developers to very easily move their applications to the cloud offering at a reduced cost without having to re-write, re-architect everything from scratch.

I wonder if this transition state for developers and IT professionals is the real innovation. Being able to adopt the cloud as a lower cost infrastructure alternative is extremely compelling. The opportunity to optimize your application, learn new development tools, application design patterns and underlying architecture that provides an ongoing personal investment in bettering your application and your skills.

Change, health behaviour

Earlier this week, IBM & Google announced a software platform for connecting at-home medical devices automatically to Google Health (Microsoft’s HealthVault has a list of supported devices). ReadWriteWeb and medGadget have great coverage of the announcement. Having a set of open standards for data sharing between health devices is a powerful start to allow people to start to collect, monitor, analyze and act upon their own personal health data. I’ve started thinking more about using data to change behaviour, in particular personal health data to inform and change exercise and health care behaviours. After reading Joshua Rosenthal’s summary of SxSW 2008’s Health 2.0 panels I was hopeful that there would be some coverage in Austin. The current panels and core conversations look like there are 2 sessions including Melanie Rosenthal’s Killing Us Softly: The Failure of Technology in Health Care, John Grohol’s Social Networking in Health: e-Patients, Data & Privacy;  Thor Muller’s Welcome to Your Posthuman Future and Keely Kolmes Therapy 2.0: Mental Health for Geeks

I’m looking forward to learning and discussing patient privacy and cloud storage. Devices and data to modify behaviour. Business models for small care givers. The new found federal support in the US of future health care including education and prevention, along with the systems overhaul are really exciting. Ontario has been on the eHealth bandwagon and published their 2009-2012 eHealth Strategy. There are private-public partnerships like The Centre for eHealth Innovation that should develop a few key local companies and technologies.

Questions for most promising startups

logo-tia BCTIA has published their criteria for the 2009 Technology Impact Awards. The submissions are due on March 13, 2009. As a start-up there are tradeoffs about participating in these award programs. Depending on the program there might be a cash prize, introductions to funding sources, press opportunities, etc. Or it could be a giant waste of time. You have to evaluate each program individually. I think the BCTIA program is a good balance of Recognition and Exposure. It is really about growing and supporting the local technology ecosystem.

My favourite part about the TIA awards is the submission criteria. I think every start-up should be able to answer these questions [PDF 48.9kb]. 

Summarize why this submission should be considered for Most Promising Start Up Award category and explain the relevancy of the business concept based on the following four equally weighted criteria and using the listed questions as a general guideline:

  1. Value proposition
    What problem are you solving?
    For whom?
    How will you make money?
  2. Competitive differentiator
    What differentiates your product, service or technology from alternative solutions?
    What is your sustainable competitive advantage?
  3. Market opportunity
    Please be specific as to the addressable segment of the market you are targeting.
    How large is your market?
    What is the nature of the competitive landscape?
  4. Management team
    Who are the key team members and board/advisors?
    Why does your team have the ability to execute on the business plan?

The questions are perfect for early-stage companies to identify the problem, how you’ll make money, the market opportunity and the differentiators. (The application puts a further limitation of 2000 words).

Why not give it a try?

If you’re a Canadian start-up write a blog post that is less than 2000 words that answers the above questions. Send me an email or a tweet, just @reply me, with a link containing your answers to the question. I’ll retweet the submissions and see if I can share some recognition and exposure.

Independent’s Day

Microsoft is hostingxna an free evening event at Fed Hall at UWaterloo talking about gaming, XBox Live Community Games, and entrepreneurship. The event is looking is scheduled to have a series of short presentations about how to build a gaming studio. It will feature folks from Microsoft, Frozen North, Infusion Development, and KPMG.

XNA Community GamesMicrosoft has been criticised about the need for a App Store for Windows Mobile (it’s coming). While the story on mobile is emerging, the story for gaming launched in November 2008. Xbox Live Community Games and XNA Creators Club allow designers and developers to create, share, and play games created by others. The FAQ has details about who can submit games and how you can make money. There is additional support for students and startups in getting access to the tools. Students can full access to developer tools at DreamSpark: Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition, SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition and XNA Game Studio 3.0. Startups can join BizSpark and gain access to MSDN Premium for almost free (it’s a $100 after 3 years or an exit event). If you are a startup, there are additional benefits in the BizSpark program including access to Network Partners like nGen – Niagara Interactive Media Generator, Communitech and others across Canada that can help support your business development and growth. You don’t need to be in BizSpark to access the services of these groups and others. And there are other fantastic resources like York Technology Association, MaRS, Interactive Ontario, and others.

Kudo One of the most exciting tools that will be release in the Spring is Kodu (formerly Boku) from Microsoft Research. Kodu is programming environment and language designed for kids. The programming environment runs on the Xbox and is built in XNA. It was shown as part of the keynote at CES 2009 (750Kb).


The conversation on January 29, 2009 won’t be focused on the technology. It will focus on the mix of technology, business development, and programs available to Canadian video game entrepreneurs to help them get started.

To register, visit or send Kayla Spiess an email with your name and other contact details.




What: Independent’s Day
When: Thursday, January 29, 2009 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Where: Fed Hall

University of Waterloo
Waterloo, ON   Canada

2009 Canadian TMT Predictions


Deloitte has made their Technology Media and Telecom Predictions for 2009. The session was streamed on The photostream is up on Flickr. You can find feedback on Twitter. The predictions aren’t really all that insightful, they don’t prescribe any solution or advice for companies whether they be large, medium or small. It’s a very good job summarizing the weak signals and trends from 2008 moving into 2009.

The most interesting commentary (other than Simon Avery inappropriately calling for the demise of the National Post before 2010) was during recessions that larger companies look strongly at ROI (Return on Investment) and that because of zero-based budgeting that companies are looking at spending $0 on innovation and research. Given the history of big companies failing on their investment on innovation, there is a huge need to change innovation by building a culture of execution, aka, getting shit done. And for startups where the investment in the right thing is even more important.  

  1. Make every electron count: the rise of the SmartGrid – Transforming our electrical network to be as smart as our telecommunications network.
  2. Disrupting the PC: the rise of the netbook – They’re cheap, they’re small, they’re cute…did we mention they’re cheap.
  3. Downsizing the digital attic: when infinite storage is a bad thing – Don’t hit that save key…when cheap storage ain’t so cheap
  4. Social networks in the enterprise: Facebook for the Fortune – Enterprise 2.0 is affordable and no training wheels are required
  5. Putting print out of peril may require stopping the pressess – 4 sale: 1 major city nwspaper – $20 obo (or best offer)
  6. Rising stars take on the megastars: Indie is the new mainstream – Be like Feist: 1, 2, 3, 4…smaller acts pack the floor
  7. The dawn of WIFI radio: 10,000 radio stations in your pocket – It lets you listen while you travel, but knows where you are.
  8. Mobile advertising finds its meaning: cell phone ads are the new billboards – Monetizing the screen you look at 50 times a day.
  9. Smart phones: how to say clever in a downturn – It’s not dumb to pay a premium for a smart phone.
  10. Digital communication loses its message: no email Fridays – When a productivity tool starts impairing productivity.
  11. The mobile broadband accident in slow motion: traffic jams on cellular networks – Netbooks and smartphone are chewing up bandwidth.
  12. One for all and all for one: no more redundant fibre optic network – Sharing the cost of fibre means more speed sooner.
  13. The browser becomes the operating system: changing of the guard? – Better living through better browsers.

The reports are available for perusal:

Software, support & visibility

microsoftbizspark It’s funny, I’ve asked about startups building on .NET in the past. And with the development of programs like BizSpark the continued support of events like StartupCampMontreal and Founders & Funders, and yesterday’s funding announcement at Xobni, there a number of new opportunities for startups to get access to free software and exposure.

Microsoft Blue Sky competition for the so-many startuppers using MS technology” – Heri

BizSpark is a program aimed at providing startups with access to software, support and visibility. Startups need to meet the following requirements:

  • Is in the business of software development,
  • Is privately held,
  • Has been in business for less than 3 years, and
  • Has less than US $1 million in annual revenue

There are no initial costs. At the end of the three years there is a US$100 fee. Startups can participate in BizSpark for up to 3 years, (assuming they haven’t changed ownership or gone public in years 1 or 2). The program includes Visual Studio Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN Premium for development, testing and demonstration purposes. There are also production licenses for Windows Server, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, and Office SharePoint Server. It’s a pretty complete package for startups looking to gain access to the tools for design and development.

How do I sign up?

First you need to find a Network Partner.

What is a Network Partner?

“Network Partners are active members of the local software ecosystem engaged with high-potential, early stage Startups. They are organizations specifically focused on supporting software entrepreneurs and Startups, or whose activities include a focus on promoting and supporting software Startups, through programs, mentoring, networking, business advices, financial and legal assistance or similar services and activities.” – Network Partner Program Guide

Basically, these are the folks supporting startups. In Canada today, there were over 20 Network partners including:

I keep looking for Network Partners to join the program. I’ve been working on folks in Alberta, British Columbia and on the East coast. Turns out there is a lot of ground to cover in this country. If you have an organization that supports start-ups in Edmonton, Calgary, Sudbury, Charlottetown, Halifax, Dartmouth, St. John’s, Quebec City, Yellowknife, drop me a note and I’ll do my best to get them to register. Or if you think you should be a Network partner, sign up using the Champ ID = davcrow.

If you can’t find a Network Partner, drop me a note.

Other Programs

If you don’t meet the requirements for BizSpark, there are other partner programs. I’m not an expert here, I find that most early stage companies are limited due to the “being in business for less than 3 years”. The other program is Empower for ISVs. I’m not entirely sure where you fit if you’re offering a SaaS solution outside of BizSpark. But there are programs that can help, check out the SPLA and SaaS On-Ramp Programs

BlueSky & Ignite IT

blueskyThere are 2 programs that offer developers and ISVs an opportunity to showcase their products and solutions. The Microsoft Blue Sky Innovation Excellence Award offers Canada ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) a way to gain access to product experts and members of the Emerging Business Team Portfolio Managers (think Christopher Griffin, Don Dodge, Cliff Reeves and others), exposure on MicrosoftStartupZone and a case study, access to new technologies and architectural guidance, software tools, among other things.

igniteitawardsThe Ignite IT Awards are a Microsoft Canada awards program aimed at celebrating the problems that were solved through IT solutions. There are both Developer and IT Professional stories. There are 2 prizes of $5,000 along with exposure. These aren’t primarily startup focused, however, since a lot of startups should be using technology to solve a problem and the Submission Form is nothing more than your elevator pitch. It’s should be good practice to practice giving your pitch and creating a 60 second video demonstrating why your solution is valuable. Think demo or clip of happy users. My thought is that this could easily be repurposed to help explain to your potential customers the power and benefit of your solution.


IAF announced funding 8 companies

The Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation announced funding of up to $500,000 in 8 companies through the Investment Accelerator Fund. I’ve talked about how I think this program is AWESOME for early stage entrepreneurs, it provides access to capital for companies creating technical innovations that need with commercialization and getting to market. The program is not the only path for entrepreneurs but it is a good program that supports Ontario entrepreneurs. As Paul Buchheit at FriendFeed says, “overnight success takes a long time”. Many of these companies have used more than one OCE or IRAP program to get to this level.

The distribution of the companies is interesting. Six companies in Toronto, one company in Kanata, and one company in Hamilton. Spectrum of solutions covering optical crystal chips for a new generation of laser displays (C2C Link Corporation), water leak detection (Echologics), WAN QoS (IPeak Networks), marketing performance (Kneebone), wireless controller for energy reduction (Regen Energy), in-vehicle sensors (Skymeter) and social media monitoring (Sysmos).








Love starting off 2009 with a funding announcement in a down market.

Facebook and Canadian Innovation

Albert Lai sent me a link to his blog post about 60% Facebook Fund Phase 2 investments being Canadian. Each of these “winners” recieved US$250,000 with “no strings attached” (the initial US$25,000 grant as part of the Phase 1 finalist selection; and an additional US$225,000 as part of the user selection. The Canadians in the group include: Kontagent, MouseHunt and Wedding book.

  • GroupCard – GroupCard lets users rally their friends to sign the same printable online card to celebrate any occassion. Each friend can add a message, upload photos or audio, and even make a gift contribution. GroupCard started at Stanford, and is already used by thousands of groups worldwide.
  • Kontagent – Kontagent is a “leading viral analytics platform for social network application developers. Kontagent analytics provides deep social data visualization and analysis that delivers actionable insights delivered via a hosted, on-demand service.”
  • MouseHunt – “MouseHunt, a HitGrab creation, is a game of epic proportions. Players are hunters, hired by the king to trap mice that infest his kingdom. For each mouse caught, users will find a reward, bringing them closer to being the best MouseHunter in the land.”
  • Wedding book – “WedSnap created Wedding book, a social network on Facebook for those preparing for a wedding. Brides and grooms meet on Wedding book to get advice, support, and inspiration during their engagement and wedding planning process.”
  • Wildfire – “Wildfire enables consumers to discover, share and engage with interactive promotions like contests, sweepstakes and give-aways and enables companies to easily create their own attractive, branded promotions that are automatically integrated with Facebook’s social features.”

Jevon provides coverage on StartupNorth and it will be interesting to see if Facebook will continue to be a viable social media platform or if it is indeed dead. It always helps to have an additional $250k ($313,925 according to the Bank of Canada daily rate on December 10, 2008).

Where are the RIM alumni?

GigaOM has a great story about "The Growing Ex-Amazon Club and Why It’s a Good Thing”. This is essentially an extension of the Fairchildren model for seeding companies and talent. Jevon has placed MaRS in the deadpool. Austin, Joey and I have wondered about the role of early employees from successful companies at leaving to start, build and grow new startups.

It leaves me to question where are the RIM alumni? Where are the startups being started by ex-RIM employees?

You can find startups with founders from PixStream or Workbrain. You can see startups with DNA from Zero Knowledge Systems. The only RIM alumni founded startup I can find is Metranome.

Founders Wanted

I hadn’t realized how strong the motto at Reactivity was in our recruiting. We were looking for founders. John wrote about Reactivity’s beginnings back in 2004. I was lucky enough to join Reactivity as an early employee. I think I was employee number 12 and the third employee of Reactivity Austin (after Bryan Rollins and Andrew Willis). Reactivity was trying to build

A metastartup (this is a temporary name only–trying to think of a better one) is a company who’s mission is to foster a community of talented engineers and business people, with the goal of spinning off startup companies from that community, as well as to build a loosely coupled network of those companies.

It was a kieritsu, but not of businesses but of the individuals that build businesses. In recruiting new talent, whether on the design, business, marketing or engineering sides of the house, was to find founders. People that you wanted to leave Reactivity to start a new company. It meant that the goal was to develop every hire into a potential founder. You can see the alumni network of Reactivity designers, engineers and entrepreneurs around the valley. John Lilly is the CEO of the Mozilla Corporation. Mike Schroepfer is the director of engineering at Facebook. Graham Miller is the CEO of Marketcetera. Lynn Pausic runs Expero Inc. Ellen Beldner is the UX Designer for YouTube. Lynn Gabbay is the founder at Novod. Andrew Nash is a Senior Director at PayPal. Bryan Rollins was VP of Product Management at MessageOne before the Dell acquisition. The Reactivity alumni can be seen around Silicon Valley, Boston and New York.

A Magical Legacy – How these guys engineered our world

Fourteen years ago, a company called General Magic promised a handheld device that would make calls, send email, play music, and do almost everything else that makes today’s iPhone so drool-worthy. “Bill and Andy’s Excellent Adventure II” (April 1994) was about the two Macintosh vets – Atkinson and Herzfeld – leading the project. Unfortunately, they were far too early. General Magic sank in 2002. But its legacy lives on, in part because the effort was a formative experience for a team of brillant young engineers. Pierre Omidyar went on to start eBay. Tony Fadell heads Apple’s iPod hardware group. Kevin Lynch cooked up Flash. And Andy Rubin created the Sidekick and Google’s Android mobile platform. Not too shabby. As for Bill and Andy, they are still adventuring excellently: Atkinson works with the artificial intelligence startup Numenta, and Hertzfeld codes for Google. – Steven Levy, Wired 16.12 December 2008

Where are all the startups founded by RIM alumni?

Ten New Gurus

The November 24, 2008 issue of Fortune has an article about the Ten New Gurus You Should Know.

  1. BJ Fogg, Founder and Director, Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University
  2. Patrick Lencioni, Founder, The Table Group
  3. Rakesh Khurana, Professor, Harvard Business School
  4. Valerie Casey, Leader, Digital Experiences Practice, IDEO
  5. Don Sull, Professor, London Business School
  6. Joel Podolny, Former dean, Yale School of Management/VP, Apple University
  7. Nouriel Roubini, Professor, NYU Stern School of Business
  8. Janine Benyus, Co-founder, Biomimicry Guild and Institute
  9. Dan Ariely, Professor, Duke University
  10. Niko Canner, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Katzenback Partners

Great list of leading thinkers about the changing world of business. They have also written a number of books that are worth spending a couple of flights or evenings reading. These are more inspirational reads than practical hands on advice for entrepreneurs. But they can begin to help entrepreneurs understand the literature that senior executives at companies are reading and how to frame their products and offerings.

Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature
Bailouts or Bail-Ins?: Responding to Financial Crises in Emerging Economies