Excelerate Labs and ScaleWell: New Chicago Incubators

Chicago has always been less than stellar in self-promotion when it comes to our entrepreneurial community. It’s not like there’s a lack of capital, nor a lack of talent. There’s a ton of opportunity, and there’s a ton of great work going on here. It’s not nearly as networked as it should be, and it’s often under-reported. That seems to be changing with the introduction of two new seed capital incubators, Excelerate Labs and ScaleWell.

See coverage of Excelerate Labs in TechCrunch, and coverage of both Excelerate and ScaleWell in Crain’s Chicago Business.

Excelerate Labs is an entrepreneurial incubator program, similar to TechStars, which offers seed capital (in the low five figures) and mentorship to new startups. It’s well-connected to some of Chicago’s leading entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. ScaleWell, the brainchild of Sean Corbett (HaveMyShift.com) and Andy Angelos (GetTalkedAbout.com) is a much more organic and grassroots effort, offering $1,000 and office space. Both occupy a much needed space in the Chicago entrepreneurial community, alongside the more established organizations like the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center.

I’m honored to add my support to Excelerate Labs as a mentor for the Summer 2010 session.

Word from Troy Henikoff is that the participants will be announced very soon, and I’m extremely excited to meet and begin working with them.

I’ve also reached out to Sean Corbett of ScaleWell to see about helping there as well.

It’s good to give back.

Leapfrog Online Profiled in Chicago Tribune

From the February 1, 2010 Chicago Tribune:

Culligan turned to Leapfrog Online for help about a year ago because it liked its quantitative approach. “Finding our target consumer can be difficult,” Rosenthal said.

Leapfrog creates Web pages with specific promotional offers, tracks results and handles search engine keyword buys.

“They report back weekly on, ‘Here’s where we are having success and here’s where we’re not,’ ” Rosenthal said.

The relationship works best through collaboration. Clients must trust Leapfrog Online with their brands because the agency works as a mini-marketing department for them.

Full Article: http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-0201-mon-minding-leapfrog–20100129,0,3879233.column

Initiating Name Change

It appears that I may have more to say at some point, so making some visual and verbal preparations. Minor facelift, and new title, intended to describe the goal I often find myself driving towards these days. That goal is helping people get to the point where they can see the solution to a particular problem as requiring little further effort and consideration, and merely a series of well-understood steps. Hence: relatively trivial exercise.

Leapfrog Online Makes the Crain’s Fast 50

From Crain’s Chicago Business:

Business is booming at Leapfrog as the popularity of the Internet continues to rise for everything from shopping for shoes to reading the news. In March, 188 million Americans visited Web sites, up 6% from the same month last year. And the marketers are following: Online ad revenues reached $21.1 billion last year, a 25% jump over 2006.

“The online space is growing, and that’s the space we occupy,” says Scott Epskamp, Leapfrog’s president.

Making it happen.

StickerShield on Cool Tools

From Cool Tools:

Sticker Shield is a static adhesion sheet that surrounds a decal or sticker, making it easily removable and transferable from one surface to another. I’ve always had a problem with parking stickers. External stickers are easily scraped off during Chicago winters. Internal stickers are weatherproof, but can only be removed destructively from your windshield. Unlike the previously-reviewed Un-Du and Grip Solvent, which can ostensibly remove decals easily, Sticker Shield allows you to avoid the hassle altogether and preserves the sticker for re-use.

Major (entire) thanks for this go to Nick Markos, who was kind enough to mail me a StickerShield sheet when he felt the pain of my parking sticker situation.

Keith Instone Podcast about UXnet

Fellow UXnet Local Ambassador Keith Instone delivers a podcast interview on UXnet. A great introduction.

“Live from Internet User Experience 2006, Tim & Tom interview friend and fellow usability professional Keith Instone about his work with User Experience Network. What is UXnet, and what do they want from us? How about this: ‘UXnet was formed to help make connections between the people and organizations that represent User Experience disciplines, and to encourage interchange and cooperation.’ Sounds good to us. In a field so widely interdisciplinary, we could use a big tent like UXnet to convene under. Attend the tale of UXnet!

http://www.designcritique.net/index.php?post_id=63511

Go Keith!

UXnet Event with Lou Rosenfeld

Great event yesterday for the Chicago UX community. Thanks to the sponsorship of VSA Partners, we had an afterparty cocktail hour for Lou Rosenfeld after his seminar with Steve Krug.

Lots of great conversation, cross-pollination, and networking. A great time was had by all.

It was great to meet Lou in person, after having worked with him on UXnet for so many months. Definitely looking forward to the opportunity to work with him in the future, on UXnet or with Pivotal Click.

CHI-Squared Presentation

I gave a talk last Wednesday night at CHI-Squared, the local ACM SIGCHI (Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction) group.

The talk was about Design Hermeneutics, a subject I’ve spoken on twice now. The first time was at the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design’s “about, with and for” conference last year. It’s also a longish article and a proto-book.

From the Abstract:

Hermeneutics is the interpretive study of texts, a method originally used for generating insight through iterative engagements with religious writings, and later applied to critical social inquiry. Applying the hermenutic approach to the design process offers an intersubjective view of designed experiences as a continuously updating hypertext describing the conversations between designers, experiencers, and the context in which they communicate.

The hermeneutic method interprets texts and artifacts through iterative examination of their specific details and general context, linking those interpretations to the investigator’s own knowledge. The approach starts from the notion that the way we understand things is always shaped by the personal, historical context in which we live, and that this ‘shaping’ is not always obvious. Far from preventing understanding, this ‘shaping’ in fact is what produces knowledge – each person’s process of fitting things into their own set of experiences.

This presentation attempts to provide a framework for discussing how hermeneutic considerations might inform or change the way we conduct design practices, particularly research and prototyping. Hermeneutics suggests we should not concentrate on detecting an objective “right” way to respond, but instead around mediating – making the possibility of mutual understanding through conversation. Accordingly, we suggest a focus on dialogue that carefully breaks some of the fourth wall between end-users and designers.