Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • When “going viral” makes gold, he has the Midas touch

    If you want to understand how to make your message go viral, get to know Emerson Spartz. The 26-year-old CEO closed an $8 million financing round last week for his Chicago-based company, Spartz Inc., which simply launches websites that go viral.

    Since age 12, when he created a Harry Potter fan website that, at its peak, relied on a staff of 120 and attracted 50 million page views per month, Spartz has made a career of “pioneering a model that uses predictive science to measure the viral potential of websites and apps.” His Spartz network now includes 18 websites ranging from OMG Facts, GivesMeHope, DailyCute (created by Spartz’s wife and business partner Gaby when she was 12), and his original MuggleNet. They boast 160 million page views per month and employ 30 people.

    The wunderkind’s unique bio has been widely reported: He home-schooled himself while spending 10 hours a day running MuggleNet, which won him a trip to Scotland to interview JK Rowling; he supplemented his Notre Dame

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  • Workplace revolution: Is your business ready for the Fifth Age of Work?

    Interested in keeping your Millennial workforce happy, or at least productive? Andrew Jones says if your business is still running in old-school all-hands-on-deck-9-to-5 mode, you should rethink things. There’s a workplace revolution afoot, he says.

    Jones, who teaches management and organizational behavior at the Texas State University business school, says cloud-based technologies and the expanding “human cloud” of freelancers are changing where, how, and when work is getting done. The what and why of work are changing too, he says.

    Jones’s new book, The Fifth Age of Work: How Companies Can Redesign Work to Become More Innovative in a Cloud Economy, shares what Baby Boomer and Generation X bosses need to know about running a business when your workforce is comprised of the Millennial generation. A management consultant and expert in the history and future of work, Jones is also a partner at Conjunctured Coworking, a members-only home/office in Austin, Texas, where his interactions with

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  • Footvote: A directory to support shoppers who want to buy American-made

    For Laura Lucas, “buy American” isn’t just the movement of the moment. It’s a value that was instilled by her father, who spent his career in manufacturing. “From a young age, I heard at home all the time that we have to make things, we need manufacturing in America,” Lucas says.

    As an adult shopper, Lucas has always had an eye out for Made in the USA products, but is dismayed by how rare they are in stores. So, she left her job as a worldwide Kindle product manager at Amazon to start her own business that would help people find and buy American-made.

    Lucas recently launched Footvote.com, an online platform featuring a directory of nationally known brands and handcrafted products made by American manufacturers. The company, based in Seattle, where Lucas raised a seed round of funding from the local angel investors, also provides information and insights on American manufacturing and companies.

    To be sure, several online directories already point shoppers to U.S. manufacturers. Those

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  • Bill seeks to kill the (patent) trolls that plague tech startups

    For technology startups, there is a worse breed of troll than the one that posts nasty comments at the end of Yahoo articles. “Patent trolls”—people and organizations that make their livelihood collecting licensing fees or settlements by filing patent infringement lawsuits—are considered increasingly problematic to business and innovation in the U.S.

    As the Washington Post noted recently, “When you're targeted by a patent troll, the rational thing to do is to capitulate. Defending a patent infringement lawsuit can cost millions of dollars, and trolls carefully calibrate their settlement demands so that it will always cost more to fight than to settle.”

    “Any company that uses technology in its products or services today faces a steadily increasing threat of patent litigation,” according to RPX Corporation. The company, which attempts to reduce patent headaches for its clients, says legal threats cost operating companies some $11 billion per year. The fact that some patent-troll defendants

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  • Empact: Spreading the culture of entrepreneurship to small communities

    Michael SimmonsMichael Simmons started a web development company at age 16 and earned $40,000 working 10 hours a week during his senior year of high school. He had watched his mother, a government employee, earn two percent raises annually. When he realized how much control self-employment gave him over his income, he says, “I was amazed no one else in my school had started a business.”

    Even once he arrived at New York University, he says, he was disappointed not to find many other entrepreneurial-minded people. The one he met during freshman orientation, Sheena Lindahl, became his business partner and wife.

    He published the bestselling Student Success Manifesto during college, and with Lindahl co-founded Empact, an organization that inspires other young people to explore entrepreneurship and strives to nurture a culture of entrepreneurship in struggling communities.

    Business Week named her a top-25 entrepreneur under age 25 in 2006, and he, now 31, has won entrepreneur-of-the-year awards from the

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  • 306 entrepreneurs, all 35-and-under, head to the U.N this week

    A platform for crowdfunding your medical expenses, a healthy foods vending machine company, and a no-contract wireless phone company approaching $100 million in revenues are among the more than 306 entrepreneurial ventures that will be celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this week. The third annual Empact Showcase, October 24-25, is the brainchild of 30-year-old entrepreneurs Michael Simmons and Sheena Lindahl who call the event “the largest showcase of the best companies founded by young entrepreneurs.”

    To apply to be featured in the showcase, entrepreneurs must be age 35 or under, with a business that generates revenues of at least $100,000. Simmons says the average annual revenues of companies featured this year are $4.5 million. The event is mainly about bringing young entrepreneurs together to network, share challenges, and “serve as consultants and champions for each other’s growth,” but it will also honor the top 100 business founders in the room.

    The

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  • Data shows that the future of the startup ecosystem is bright

    “It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur with a software company.” That’s according to Mark McCaffrey, whose company PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report today revealing that venture capitalists’ investments in software companies in the third quarter of 2013 exceeded $3 billion for the first time in 12 years.

    In addition, the fact that more than half of the quarter’s deals came from early and seed stage deals prompted McCaffrey to state, “There’s credible reason to be optimistic about the future of innovation and the vibrancy of the startup ecosystem.”

    All told, VCs invested $7.8 billion in 1,005 deals in the third quarter of 2013, representing a 12 percent increase in dollars invested and a 5 percent increase in the number of deals over the last quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report from PwC and the National Venture Capital Association, which is based on data provided by Thomson Reuters. McCaffrey predicts that at the current pace of investing, “total venture capital

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  • Fundable: A website that generates $1 million a week in startup funding

    Uncharted Play, developer of the Soccket, raised $500,000 on Fundable

    While crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were transforming the way artists, dancers, filmmakers, game and app developers, and other creative types get project funding, Eric Corl saw a need for a similar platform that could help everyday small businesses raise capital.

    He’d already had experience at a company that connects entrepreneurs with investors online: as an Ohio State University freshman in 2004, Corl had served on the founding team at Startups.co.

    Corl’s idea eight years later was that, similar to the way projects on Kickstarter and other popular platforms reward funders with branded t-shirts, coffee mugs, and cameos in films and books, businesses could raise money by taking pre-orders for products in development. He would provide the platform for offering pre-orders, as well as for conducting equity crowdfunding with accredited investors (individuals with an annual income of $200,000 or a net worth of $1 million). Businesses would offer shares of company stock

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  • Backblaze: Backing up should not be hard to do

    Gleb Budman is one of those techie types who is religious about backing up his computers. So, a few years ago, when he found out how his girlfriend was backing up the gigabytes worth of photos that she stored on her laptop, he was dismayed. “She had a COB flash key,” Budman says. “I said, ‘that’s only 1 gig. There’s no way all your stuff fits on it, you’re probably not backing up to it daily, and you keep it in your laptop bag, so your backup drive would go with the laptop if it were stolen’.”

    It might seem obvious, but most of us are doing even less to protect our data than the woman who became Budman’s wife. Many people he encounters are uncertain whether their data is backed up or not. “There are a lot of things out there that seem like they’re maybe taking care of it,” Budman says. A reporter he spoke to, for instance, had a vague notion that her iMac was automatically backing itself up to iCloud for free. He set her straight: iCloud’s free storage limit is 5 gigs, and it only

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  • Angie’s (List) lessons for building a great team

    Had her co-founder not noticed her strengths when she was just 22, Angie Hicks might not be the multimillionaire she is today at age 40. Hicks was just out of college when venture capitalist Bill Oesterle offered $50,000 to get her to move from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio, and work for a year on his idea to create a neighborhood publication that aggregated reviews of local plumbers, electricians, landscapers and other small service businesses.

    Hicks had interned in Indianapolis for Bill Oesterle the year before she graduated from DePauw. She impressed him as an intern, not just because she was smart, but because, in his words, “She got things done.” He says there wasn’t a job he gave her that she didn’t give it her all – whether it was low level or high. The next year, he had moved to Columbus, Ohio and ran into trouble finding a local HVAC guy and looked around for a service he’d used in Indianapolis. That service didn’t exist in Columbus, and he thought it could work there just as

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