Monday, September 17, 2012

12 "Must-Watch" TED Talks for Entrepreneurs

By Mark Hayes
TED is a circuit of highly popular conferences that present "Ideas Worth Spreading" - which have quickly grown to become some of the most well known conferences around the world. TED has attracted presenters such as Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Larry Page, and a large handful of Nobel Prize Winners.  Many of the presentations, known as TED Talks, present ideas that are particularly valuable to entrepreneurs. I put together a collection of TED Talks that all entrepreneurs should find interesting and worthwhile.
Entrepreneurs can learn a lot by studying behavioral economics. Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather (one of the biggest marketing/advertising agencies in the world), makes the assertion that a change in perceived value can be just as satisfying as what we consider “real” value. The idea that intangible value can strongly influence opinion (and purchase decision) is evidenced in Sutherland's humorous and deeply insightful presentation that every entrepreneur - certainly every marketer - should watch.
People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Simon Sinek is an author, motivational speaker, and strategic communications professor at Columbia University. Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership that starts with his famous "golden circle of motivation" and the question "Why?" 
The decisions we make are not only inevitable, but they're also extremely predictable. Dan Ariely is a behavioural economist, professor, and author. He uses his own shocking research findings to show how we're not as rational as we think when we make decisions. 
Be remarkable. Safe is risky. Being very good is one of the worst things you can do. Everyone has heard the expression "The best thing since sliced bread" but did you know that for 15 years after sliced bread was invented it wasn't popular? The success of sliced bread, like the success of anything, was less about the product and more about whether or not you could get your idea to spread or not.
Marketing guru and author Seth Godin spells out why, when it comes to getting our attention, bad or bizarre ideas are more successful than boring ones. Godin has published almost a dozen best-selling books, some of the most popular being: "Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable,"  "All Marketers Are Liars,"  "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?"  and "Poke The Box."
The food industry used to determine what people want to eat by asking them - as you may have seen in the focus groups portrayed on Mad Men. Fact is, people don't know what they want. Ask people what kind of coffee they like and they'll say a "dark, rich, hearty roast" - in fact, most people actually want milky weak coffee.
Malcolm Gladwell, author, journalist, thinker, gets inside the food industry's pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce, and makes a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness. 

Unilever (they own 400 brands, including: Dove, Lipton, Becel, and more) hired some of the most brilliant engineers in the world to design the perfect nozzle to squirt out laundry detergent. No one could get it right. So they used trial and error instead. They created ten random variations of a nozzle, and kept the one that worked best. Then they created ten variations on that one, and kept the one that worked best, and so on. After 45 generations Unilever developed a perfect laundry detergent nozzle with absolutely no idea why it works.
In this TED talk, economics writer Tim Harford studies complex systems and finds a surprising link among the successful ones: they were built through trial and error. He asks entrepreneurs to embrace our randomness and start making better mistakes. Check out Tim Harford's books "Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure" and "The Undercover Economist."

Entrepreneurs often credit their ideas to individual "Eureka!" moments. Steven Johnson doesn't think it's that simple and shows us how history tells a different story. Steven Johnson is a best-selling author of seven books all on the intersection of science and technology woven together by personal experience. Johnson's book, "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" digs deep on the topic introduced in his TED Talk above. Also check out his most recent book which is only available for pre-order "Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age."
Cameron Herold thinks weekly allowances teach kids the wrong habits - by nature, they teach kids to expect a regular paycheque, something to which entrepreneurs usually don't get. Herold's two kids don't get an allowance. He's taught them to walk around the yard looking for stuff that needs to get done, then they negotiate a price. In his TED Talk above, Herold makes the case for a new type of parenting and education that helps would-be entrepreneurs flourish.
Cameron Herold is an entrepreneur through and through. He's been building businesses since he was born - moved on to create 1-800-GOT-JUNK, now he coaches CEOs all around the world. His book "Double Double: How to Double Your Revenue and Profit in 3 Years or Less" came out last year, and is a step-by-step guide to grow your business.
Physics and marketing don't seem to have much in common, but Dan Cobley (one of Google's marketing directors) is passionate about both. Using Newton's second law of motion, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the scientific method, and the second law of thermodynamics, Cobley explains the fundamental theories of branding.

The office isn't a good place to work, meetings are toxic, and ASAP is poison. In Jason Fried's TED Talk, he lays out the problems with "work" and offers three suggestions to fix a broken office. 
Jason Fried is the co-founder and president of 37signals, a company that builds web-based productivity tools. Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote the book REWORK, which is about new ways to conceptualize working and creating. 

Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think. Sometimes using money as motivation does more harm than good - and people perform far worse when motivated with cash. Daniel Pink is a best-selling author, journalist, and the former chief speechwriter for US Vice President Al Gore. If you enjoy Pink's TED Talk, check out two of my favorite books by Daniel Pink, "Drive: The Surprising Truth Abou What Motivates Us" and "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You'll Ever Need."
Why do people succeed? Is it because they are smart? Or are they just lucky? The answer is neither. Success Analyst, speaker, and author Richard St. John asked over 500 extraordinarily successful people what helped them succeed. He analyzed their answers and discovered eight traits successful people have in common. His book "The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common: 8 to Be Great" goes into further detail on each of the traits that are briefly outlined in his TED Talk above. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

EngenuitySC Coordinated with the Governor's School for Science and Math to Host the First "Columbia Experience"

EngenuitySC recently partnered with the Governor's School for Science and Math to host the first "Columbia  Experience Day" for 60 talented juniors and seniors.  This day was part of a  program organized by GSSM in order to highlight the entrepreneurial spirit of Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, and Lake City.  The objective was for each student to develop an appreciation for the innovative and progressive spirit that is alive and well at home in South Carolina, and to inspire them to stay here after college.

Students who visited Columbia were given a tour of the city that included a stop at the Midlands IT-oLogy facility.  At IT-oLogy the group heard presentations from local leaders and entrepreneurs about why our community is so special.  Highlights of the day included: a visit from Mayor Benjamin, a presentation from the Executive Director of EngenuitySC, Neil McLean, a presentation from the creators of 52 Apps, and a special viewing of the Ignite! promo video.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fuel Cell Challenge - What can we do for you?

What's the Fuel Cell Challenge?
Simply put, the Fuel Cell Challenge is a chance for you to win up to $75,000 in research funding. Interested in learning more? Keep reading...

The Fuel Cell Challenge, in it’s fifth year, is a competition for USC students aimed at showcasing fuel cell and business expertise right here in Columbia. To do this, we have developed two separate competitions that you can participate in:

1. The Industry Challenge

Starting in June, we began talking to fuel cell companies around the country and around the world, and we discovered that they all had unique R&D issues that the smart folks at USC could help solve. So, we began looking into ways to connect those companies and their problems to experts in Columbia, and that’s how the Industry Challenge evolved.

Through the Industry Challenge, we will fund student teams at USC to solve real world technical and business challenges companies face in developing and deploying hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Whether it's work on the next catalyst for a fuel cell, mapping their regional hydrogen and fuel cell value chain, or marketing their product, the Industry Challenge is here to help. Industries submitted their challenges to us, and now we’re letting you read them and compete to solve your favorites.

2. The Innovation Challenge

Think you’ve got a big idea, but need a little cash flow to get it off the ground? That’s what the Innovation Challenge is here to do. We will provide seed money to help your team develop a prototype or investigate and prove the concept for a unique technology. The end product will be a business plan featuring your product or concept - presented to potential investors. Because we love entrepreneurship around here, we wanted to give students the ability to compete for funding without the specificity of the submitted Industry Challenges. Thus, the Innovation Challenge was established, and it could be the big break you’ve been searching for!

Who should apply?

Any team of USC students (undergraduate or graduate) can compete. All you need is a faculty advisor and the right teammates from various disciplines to collaborate and participate.

If your team has the brains and talent to solve challenging problems faced by companies engaged fuel cell market, apply to the Industry Challenge.

If your team is ahead of the curve with a next-generation fuel cell product no one's thought of yet, then apply to the Innovation Challenge.

Either way, get involved and apply for a piece of our $75,000 grant to make your ideas reality.

Want more information? Have questions?

We really want you to participate, and while we think a chance at $75,000 is pretty nice, we aim to impress. So get this...
  • We know applying for money can be time consuming and tricky, especially when you're a full-time student working in labs, reading 150 pages each night, trying to meet deadlines for your professors, and attempting to squeeze 5 minutes into your day just to relax and breathe. So we've limited the application to ONLY a few pages. Totally doable. 
  • We’ve also got a thorough website with an awesome FAQ page that will answer all of your questions on eligibility, selection and judging criteria, what to submit, how funding works, what your team should look like, deadlines, etc. 
  • Finally, we’ve posted this little blog to help answer any specific questions you have. If our website didn’t answer your question, we'll take it here, or via email at

Here's what you do:

  1. Submit your question as a “comment” at the bottom of this blog post. 
  2. We'll receive notices that you left a question. We'll take it back to our Management Team and get an answer back to you on this blog ASAP. 
  3. We'll post the question and answer up here in a running list for everyone to see. 
  4. If we don’t respond fast enough, or if you prefer the non-public route, email us directly at
How's that for customer service during a grant application?