Robb Myer was excited when, as an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon in 2005, he heard that Google (GOOG) was opening an office on campus. Nine years later, Google has almost 400 employees working in Pittsburgh’s rapidly gentrifying East Liberty neighborhood and plans to take two floors in a tower under construction. Myer went on to found app maker NoWait and is no longer thrilled to have a tech titan for a neighbor. “I remember getting introduced to a great engineer through our investor, Birchmere Ventures, but I didn’t get too far with him,” he says. “He received an offer from Google’s expanding office in Pittsburgh before we had a crack at him.” Myer, whose app allows people to get onto restaurant wait lists without having to set foot in the door, says he’s lost at least one other job candidate to the search giant.

When big tech companies set up shop in an emerging tech hub, they’re typically welcomed by universities, politicians, and business leaders thankful for the jobs and validation that marquee names bring to local efforts to foster engineering talent. In Pittsburgh, Walt Disney (DIS)Apple (AAPL)Microsoft (MSFT)Oracle(ORCL), and Yahoo! (YHOO) have also opened small research centers or offices in recent years, while Intel (INTC) has been in the city since 2001.

But those heavyweights’ demand for talent, entrepreneurs say, has made it much tougher to recruit. Audrey Russo, president and chief executive officer of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, says there are “a ton of examples” of big tech companies poaching from local startups. “My heart goes out to these companies,” she says…

What happens when Mike Judge turns his sardonic comedic vision—that same one that brought us Office SpaceKing of The Hill, andIdiocracy—toward the tech industry of Northern California?

We end up with an HBO show called Silicon Valley that you could describe, in one way, as the late HBO show Entourage (about a band of 20-something wannabe actor dudes in Los Angeles) meets Sex in the City (about a band of single, middle-aged, man-hunting women in New York), The Social Network (a film about Facebook by Aaron Sorkin) and Girls (an HBO series about 20-something millennial-generation women set, largely, in Brooklyn).

Except Silicon Valley is about a tribe of nerds: math-minded, socially awkward, mild-mannered computer guys. In other words, these guys have the discipline, talent, and particular skill set to become exceedingly wealthy in our modern times and successful beyond their wildest imaginations…

Leaving China and heading to Japan today. No better way to celebrate that than by listening to The Flaming Lips’ “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.” Looking forward to using Twitter and Facebook again in the Land of The Rising Sun (and land of the no censorship). Wonderful experience of learning in the middle kingdom. My outlook on China is very mixed, though, after spending two weeks here. I’m too big a believer in Liberty as a fundamental, best practice… and a keystone to any success in technology, media and other creative fields. 

Dear Friends, 

I was thrilled to report this piece for the Elements (science and technology) web channel at The New Yorker. The editing process at this magazine (and it’s web site) is extremely thorough and the staff-wide attention to language is second to none.


Blue hill farms

Blue hill farms

How A Social Entrepreneur Created A Sustainable Business In Keeping Politicians Accountable

By Paul Glader

BONN, Germany – With the federal election season in full swing in Germany, social entrepreneur and Ashoka Fellow Gregor Hackmack is busy preparing his online portal, ParliamentWatch, to host a variety of special online forums with German media partners and to connect citizen’s questions to candidates.

“It’s all about bridging the gap between citizens and politicians,” Hackmack said at the recent Ashoka Globalizer event in Bonn, which the Ashoka Germany office organized to piggy-back on the larger Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. “We need to build that bridge.”

Hackmack and his team. who are based in Hamburg, have built a sustainable model for their ParliamentWatch (“abgeordnetenwatch” in German). The site has grown into a fixture of the German political and media scene. It’s a forum where citizens can ask direct questions of political candidates and elected officials in Germany and for Germany’s delegation to the European Union.

Roughly 95% of federal parliament members participate with the site, answering 80% of the 150,000 questions that have poured in from voters. The questions are stored in archives as a public record, which voters can use to later hold politicians accountable. The site can also sort and slice data and responses. For example, it shows, graphically, how responsive each of the major parties in Germany is to questions.

“We try to provide as much transparency as possible,” Hackmack said. “It’s one thing what people say they will do and another thing to see how they vote.”

The forum has proved popular, generating 350,000 unique visitors per month. It has partnerships running with several media including Süddeutsche Zeitung, broadcaster NDR, Spiegel Online (see Spiegel’s profile of Hackmack here) and more than 40 other local newspapers, which help draw questions from voters to the site and use some of the answers and data in news reports.

Because of the site’s popularity, lawmakers are essentially forced to answer the questions and maintain a basic profile on the site. Those who want a premium profile with a picture and integrating the platform into Twitter or Facebook FB -2.2% must pay €179 (€149 for signing up early).

“That’s how we get politicians to contribute to the project,” Hackmack shared. “If there is competition before the election, there is a clear incentive to buy the premium profile.” The rest of the finances come from donors and partnerships. And of the 50,000 people who subscribe to ParliamentWatch’s newsletter, 1,500 donate on a monthly basis.

Hackmack and his team have made the platform open source on Drupal and work with entrepreneurs and organizations in other countries who want to replicate ParliamentWatch, inviting them to pay a minimal membership fee to Hackmack’s team to help with technical support, site upgrades and consulting.

So far, partner sites have started in Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria, Tunisia and, most recently, France. Hackmack is in touch with people who want to start versions of the platform in Greece and in Pakistan as well.

Antonis Schwarz is busy at work to launch the site in Greece. “The severe economic crisis in Greece has compounded the distrust that many Greek citizens hold opposite the current political class,’’ he says in a statement on hiswebsite. He believes a breakdown in communication, a lack of transparency and one-dimensional media coverage (focusing on political decisions rather than the process) is causing a growing divide between politicians and citizens in the financially-troubled country. “In Greece, the birthplace of democracy, the involvement in party politics is decreasing, severing the limited tradition/culture of civic participation in politics and creating a detached democracy.”

Another Ashoka Fellow, Klaas Glenewinkel, helped Hackmack find funding and media training to open the site in Tunisia, which Hackmack and his team help support more fully. Otherwise, Hackmack says he doesn’t strive to find donors, partners and expansion countries. Rather, he lets the motivation bubble up in the right places and helps people once they are ready.

“If we don’t care who is running or who is representing us, why should we be surprised if they fail?” he said. “These are the world’s most important jobs! We should be investigating who is taking them.”


This post was written by Paul Glader, a journalist, professor and entrepreneur. Paul is currently a European Journalism Fellow at Free University in Berlin, Germany, and co-founder of @WiredAcademic. He spent a decade as a staff writer at The Wall Street Journal and has written for dozens of publications including The Washington Post, BusinessWeek,, USA Today and The Associated Press. 

USA Today founder Al Neuharth has passed away at age 89.

I read his auto bio, “Confessions of an SOB” at age 16 and wrote him a letter after I discovered he was from Eureka, South Dakota, same as my mom and was a 2nd cousin of my grandfather, the late Edwin Hoff. I asked for advice in newspaper work. The self-described SOB never wrote me back. But a few years later, I received a scholarship in his name from The University of South Dakota (his alma mater) and was driving him around campus when he was in town for DakotaDays (homecoming).

I respect what he did in American journalism, seeing the future before many others did, growing the Gannett company and creating another national newspaper. And I greatly appreciate his commitment to the 1st Amendment (by setting up the Freedom Forum). I’m personally grateful for the scholarship he set up that helped dozens of us midwest journalists attend the University of South Dakota tuition free. I’m sad I wasn’t able to make it back to Vermillion for one last Steak Dinner with Al during DakotaDays. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family (which, in some ways, is my family too).

The video here is 30 minutes worth watching. Neuharth made many prescient statements, warning against media companies being taken over by purely financial owners. He also suggests that the American public is too smart to allow media companies to become too one-sided in their political agenda. The later prediction seems to have been a bit wrong, unfortunately.

Here’s my story out in BusinessWeek this week… 

Carlsberg Taps The Next Big Beer Market (Really): Women

Carlsberg Taps The Next Big Beer Market (Really): Women

Carlsberg Group CEO Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen says in spite of gimmicky “innovations” in beer marketed to women, they remain a huge untapped market. But catering to them requires a new approach in management, strategy, and product innovation.

COPENHAGEN—Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen, the CEO of brewing giant Carlsberg Group, says the big beer industry has grown stale when it comes to innovation, and altogether too comfortable with its staple consumer: sports-loving dudes.

“The beer category has been suffering in terms of image. In the last 10 to 15 years, it is often connected with drunken people on the street sitting with beer cans,” he says. While the craft beer trend has been injecting new life into the beer market, it is also still too male-oriented. Men still buy 74% of lager beers, according to Datamonitor. For Carlsberg, men buy 80%. “We can and we must come up with more products that are appealing to females,” Rasmussen says.

That task is first product development, followed by smart marketing, he believes. And neither of those are easy, as women have traditionally been more interested in wine than beer-style brewed drinks. So Carlsberg is dipping its toe in the market, inventing a few new female-friendly products and marketing them carefully and organically in small, highly developed markets like Sweden and Switzerland.

The alternative drink laboratory is sticky-sweet and littered with failure. Beer companies have tried beer in slim-line cans, light beers, and beers so fruity they might as well be wine coolers. Brewers have tried low-carb, low-calorie, and caffeine-fused drinks. Some “malternative” and “alcopop” brands like Coors’s Zima were hot for a time, but ultimately discontinued. Some wine coolers switched from wine-based drinks to malt-based mixtures and took a precipitous slide in sales in the 2000s. The Alizé cognac-based liquors became an urban product rather than high-end.

But beer industry veterans haven’t given up hope completely. Rasmussen and others still think product innovation and marketing brewed drinks toward women is possible. Increasingly, women know about different, palate-friendly beers like Abbey Ales, fruit lambics, ciders, ginger beers, and dark stouts—as well as about the more varied glassware they require and how to pair them with foods. Women want “a less bitter, non-bloating beer that does not give you a malty/hoppy aftertaste and breath,” says Carlsberg spokesman Ben Morton. “Flavor proliferation has become a key feature of beer innovation.”

Furthermore, it’s a key way forward when sales and profits in mature markets like the U.S. and Western Europe have plateaued and Carlsberg and the other top 4 beer companies in the world are facing competition on all sides from rival beverages ranging from Red Bull to wine to whisky. “If you look back at the last 10-20 years, and you think about what has been done in terms of innovation in the beer category, yes, you have some but not enough,” he says. “We are focused on doing more innovation to make this category more attractive and to get more consumers to engage.”

Rasmussen thinks a future round of innovation should start with product innovation rather than marketing the same old stuff in a different way. As CEO, he centralized innovation at Carlsberg, combining the R&D center with consumer insights and innovation marketing teams. The company doesn’t disclose R&D figures. But he has made “female drinks” a platform inside the company, identifying it as a major initiative on par with “health and wellness” innovation. He’s recruited female executives, researchers, and marketers to lead the brainstorming for these new “brewed” drink categories.

The idea, he says, is not to create wine coolers or non-beer products geared to women. Rather, he wants to come up with new types of drink recipes that can be made in Carlsberg-owned breweries but are lighter in alcohol, refreshing in taste, and perceived as healthy enough to take on wine, champagne, and other drinks vying for women’s dollars. “In a brewing facility you can do non-alcoholic products, sweet products, color products,” he says. “You can do more or less everything. It’s a very obvious question leading to a very obvious opportunity: We must be able to come up with more ideas and concepts for women.”

Instead of rolling the new drinks out worldwide, Carlsberg is testing beverages in small, trend-setting markets such as Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark. If successful with women in some of these most developed countries, the theory goes that the drinks might work in other larger markets.

Carlsberg has developed several concepts, launching one called Eve, a light, fruity, sparking alcoholic drink that is low in alcohol and calories but beer-based. It has expanded Eve’s launch market of Switzerland to Russia. Company marketers say the drink should be served “in a Champagne glass to emphasize its aspirational qualities.”

More recently, Carlsberg launched BEO, a healthy, juice-like drink low in alcohol content. It’s “a brewed soft drink” based on natural ingredients but made with brewing equipment. It was tested in Sweden this year and the company plans to roll it out nationally there in 2013, expanding more broadly if sales perform well.

A third attempt by Carlsberg is on a minimalist, design label for a light beer called Copenhagen, a name intended to evoke fashion and design. “Many young people aren’t keen on the bitter aftertaste of beer,” said Kirsten Ægidius, VP Marketing. “We have created a highly drinkable beer with a balanced taste, a real alternative to white wine and champagne.” The product and brand is being tested in Nordic markets.

Several other companies are also working on products. Molson Coors Brewing Co. launched a BitterSweet effort in 2009 aimed to “remove the gender imbalance that exists around beer consumption” and boost its sales to women, which amounted to a meager 17% of sales in the past. Its U.K. and Ireland offices launched the Animée drink last year, which has 4% alcohol and is a lightly sparkling, finely filtered brewed drink in three flavors: crisp rose, zesty lemon, and clear filtered. The company’s marketing says it is aimed to “dispel the perception among women that all beers look and taste the same.” It said 79% of women in the U.K. never or rarely drink beer and, after many surveys, they hope Animée changes that objection without being patronizing.

Rasmussen, who spent most of his career at consumer products companies such as Duracell, Gillette Group, Mars, and Unilever before joining Carlsberg, wants to re-balance the customer gender base from 80% men and 20% women toward a 50%-50% split. When he oversaw Northern Europe for Gillette, he observed the brand bending of shaving products into the female market. That move helped expand the overall market for shaving products as women started buying more expensive, heavy-duty shavers (the type that men normally bought for their faces) to use on their legs instead of cheap plastic ones. Similarly, he remembers supermarkets 20-30 years ago only selling personal care products like lotions to women, while men just bought deodorants and shaving products. “Now, when you go into a supermarket, the number of products for male personal care is enormous and a fast-growing category.”

“We don’t know where it is going to end,” Rasmussen says. “I think with any piece of innovation, sometimes you get it exactly right to begin with. But, more often, you have to go back and do some more work and rework until you finally have the successful product.”


Greek specialty foods hot commodity for economy

By Paul Glader, Special For USA Today

Some in Greece believe entrepreneurs can help save the Greek economy in ways bailouts and austerity programs cannot by selling to the world what only Greece can offer — the Aegean diet.

Published Dec. 9, 2012

CHIOS, Greece — Four years ago, Evangelos Xydas decided to leave his job at a hotel to open a small specialty food company on an orchard on the Greek island of Chios.

He knew he was taking something of a risk given that Greece was entering an economic downturn and debt crunch that would make it the epicenter of the current European financial crisis. But the hotel offered work only in the summers and was vulnerable to the ups and downs of the tourism industry.

"This is year-round work," he said, leaning against a lemon tree in a courtyard in the village of Kambos.

Today his company Citrus produces 120 products, including delicacies such as almond delights and smoked feta. And some in Greece believe entrepreneurs like him can help save the Greek economy in ways bailouts and austerity programs cannot by selling to the world what only Greece can offer — the Aegean diet.

That means focusing on specialties that have been part of the Greek culture for millenniums, including olive oil, citrus products and mastica, an evergreen resin used to make strong drink and other products.

Inspired by the global success of Greek yogurt brands such as Fage, Athenians are leaving urban life, where opportunities are getting scarce, and moving to rural towns and island villages to start an agrarian lifestyle as farmers, factory workers and food entrepreneurs.

Some believe Greeks haven’t aggressively pursued an unmet global demand for their food and drink. Derided by northern Europeans for an alleged lack of ambition and work ethic, Greek Mediterranean culture is prized in the minds of many as simple, healthy and pleasant.

Food and agriculture are two of five Greek industries consulting firm McKinsey & Co. highlights as having greatest potential for future growth.

The firm predicts food manufacturing and agriculture in Greece could go from $27 billion in revenue and 710,000 jobs in 2010 to $42 billion and 970,000 jobs by 2020.

That has potential to make a big impact in a small country of 11 million people, more than 25% of them unemployed (a rate that is double among the younger labor force age group of 15 to 24-year-olds). Xydas employs 12 people, up from four in 2008.

"We didn’t grow but we didn’t see revenues go down — so we feel good about it," he says, giving a tour of the kitchens where workers are rolling out massive sheets of dough to make almond cookies. "We think our future will follow Greece’s future."

Xydas had to drop prices 20% in 2012. And the kitchen is operating at 70% capacity. But he says he plans to expand capacity so he can export to other countries.

This orchard, like others in estates in Kambos, was planted by Genovese settlers from Italy in the 14th century. Oranges from Kambos were once sold as exotic delicacies, wrapped in gold-embossed paper and exported to Europe.

But Chios’ merchants withered with the invention of the telegraph, which improved communication between the United States and Europe and led to an influx of citrus products from America to Europe.

Chios’ oranges became commodities rather than luxury goods, and many of the roughly 200 citrus estates became hobby groves. Xydas and others are trying to revive the industry.

Chios Fruits was begun in 2009 by Chios Citrus Cultivators, an association of growers who bought a juice factory from a shipping family and modernized it to make premium juices marketed as coming from the one and only Kambos orchards.

Ariousios, a winery, opened near the Amani village in Chios in 2008 with modern wine-making facilities and tasting rooms. Four years later it is producing 150 tons of wine per year and plans to expand its production to 300 tons per year.

Farmers and industry associations for dairy, yogurt and olives, are jumping on the trend as well.

Greeks here also see a big chance to market mastica, the sap from the Pistacia lentiscus. The small evergreen grows almost exclusively on the southern coast of Chios, and its resin has been used for centuries in foods, soaps, chewing gum, medicines and liquor.

Ancient Greeks are said to have chewed a gum derived from the tree’s bark, and the Chios Mastiha Growers Association is working to find markets for the product worldwide.

Ilias Nik. Smyrnioudis, a production manager for the association, said more Greeks are moving back from Athens to cultivate the mastic trees of Chios, and that mastic production has been steadily increasing 15% a year and is up to 150 tons annually.

The association aims to expand exports in the Middle East for its gum. It’s funding medical research that purports to show that mastica is good for the digestion and dental health. And it’s expanding product lines in mastic soaps, sweeteners, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and as an ingredient in foods and liquors.

MastihaShop boutiques have opened in New York, France, Saudi Arabia and Cyprus, and others are being considered for Dubai and London.

The store, in which the association is part-owner, “is designed to make mastica known around the world,” Smyrnioudis said.

McKinsey says world markets are primed for the foods of Greece, so it may just be a case of improving capacity as well as better marketing and distribution to grow an economy that has been in recession for years and hampered by growing public sector employment over private.

"Local conditions (weather, soil) contribute to the production of very flavorsome products of high demand in international markets," says Peggy Velliotou, a partner at KPMG in Athens.

Greek food companies such as Vivartia, dairy company Fage S.A., and mineral water company Souroti say they are forecasting strong growth. Greek Yogurt in particular is growing much faster than other yogurt brands, so much so that some say their brand is being subjected to competition from knockoffs. Fage has sued U.S.-Turkish rival Chobani to bar it from using the “Greek Yogurt” label in its marketing.

Seeing the trend, food entrepreneurs in Greece are developing wine, beans, pea lentils, chickpeas, even snails.

"Small entrepreneurs, farmers, and co-ops are and will be a key part in the recovery and growth of this industry," Velliotou says.

Gregory Antoniadis, president of the Greek Olive Oil Packers Association, said olive farming in Greece generates $1.3 billion of income in rural areas and has an effect on 350,000 farming households. But one problem is that nearly 150,000 tons of the highest-quality extra-virgin Greek olive oil is exported annually to Italy and Spain where it is remarketed as Spanish or Italian olive oil.

"Greece is the third-largest olive oil producer worldwide and exports 60% of its output to Italy in bulk, yet in doing so allows Italy to capture an extra 50% premium on the price of the final packaged product," the McKinsey authors noted.

Antoniadis’ olive organization is stepping up marketing in the Americas, North Europe, Russia and China to take a greater share of the high-quality olive oil market. He says they have seen annual growth of about 15%. The group doubled its exports in the past seven years and aims to double them again in the next five years.

"We have quality in excess but a gap in marketing," he says. The key he says is not expanding production but hiring marketers to brand more of the product as "Greek Olive Oil" rather than selling it to Spain and Italy.

"As a society, we did not capitalize on the benefits of entrepreneurship and globalization — quite a few of us relied on the state or European Union support and lost touch with what was happening in the markets," Antoniadis said.

The painful economic situation may help Greeks “restructure our economy, regain competitiveness and re-establish our entrepreneurial mindset,” he said.

"We shouldn’t forget that this nation has based its economic existence and prosperity along the centuries by being good traders, sailors and visionary entrepreneurs."

(Source: USA Today)