Tag Archives: Small Business

Loom Decor Puts Professional Design Materials in Your Hands

Fabric-store

The Fabric World Interiors store in London.
Image: Flickr, Herry Lawford

During her time at a top New York City interior-design firm, Ashley Gensler became frustrated by the exclusivity of the industry; most products are available only “to the trade,” and high fees limit access to great design. Armed with an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a background in design, Gensler set out to change this industry standard, launching Loom Decor in 2012. She and co-founder Nichole Ocepek have built Loom into a comprehensive online resource for high-end custom textile furnishings at prices accessible to customers and designers alike.

Gensler talked with us about why they started the business and what technology made it possible.

BND: What problem were you hoping to solve with your business?

A.G.: Fundamentally, I believe DIY decorators like me should have the same access to gorgeous, high-quality decor as professional designers do, and at an accessible price. Unfortunately, the traditional interior-design market is highly exclusive, offering most products only through professional designers. Antiquated supply chains and structures make most of those products, especially fabrics, too expensive for 99 percent of homeowners. So, I set out to make custom home decor accessible to the masses. Combining easy-to-use online configuration tools, complimentary design assistance, and access to more than 400 designer-quality fabrics and customizable products, Loom offers the same high-end custom textiles highlighted in the professionally designed homes of shelter publications, but at a fraction of the cost.

BND: Could your business have existed 20 years ago?

A.G.: Not in terms of the ease of service and experience we provide, nor to the market we serve. There have been workrooms doing custom decor for interior designers for a hundred years, but empowering consumers to design their own decor was not an option 20 years ago, for several reasons.

The technology for dynamic visualization and online configuration, which is key to customers’ ability to see what they are about to purchase, was not available (at least not at a cost that would have made sense).

Consumers’ interest in personalization and DIY was just evolving at the time. The expectation back then was that you would hire an interior designer (if you could afford it), and if you couldn’t, then you would just have to settle with what was available in stores. Thus, the mentality to want to purchase custom decor specific to your style and vision was not in the consumer psyche. Now, we have a plethora of blogs, DIY shows and online resources that not only educate and empower, but encourage the average homeowner to want to take on their own decorating projects.

While you could likely access some of these services in stores or by calling someone (in which case you would have to know a lot about what you wanted), an online experience 20 years ago would have been so clunky that nobody would have wanted to use it. After all, most people didn’t even like to shop for basic items online 20 years ago, let alone be involved in the design process.

BND: What modern technology (or technologies) has made your business possible?

A.G.: Dynamic visualization software is the No. 1 technology that has enabled our business. This technology is at the crux of the experience of creating or modifying your own furnishing. These are big purchases for homeowners, and they live with them for a long time.
Most people have a very hard time visualizing the choices they are making — like what a certain print will look like as a curtain — and dynamic visualization software allows us to show them exactly what their product will look like before they buy it — not just some unrealistic rendition, but with photorealistic quality. This also allows us to show a catalog of thousands of furnishings. Each product silhouette is available in hundreds of different fabrics. We don’t even need to take inventory or photograph all of those items individually, which would be cost-prohibitive, knowing that we would have to keep up with the latest trends and carry more unique, chic styles than a mass-market ready-made approach can allow.

BND: Is there a technology you can’t live without?

A.G.:My iPhone. As an entrepreneur, I’m so busy that I feel like I have to make use of every little moment. So, I have my smartphone out on my commute into work, emailing away and planning out my day before I ever step foot into the office. Plus, it’s great for jotting down ideas when I’m out and about, and for browsing design mags and Pinterest for creative inspiration. And, let’s be honest — who doesn’t love the games (when I have five minutes to play them)?

BND: If you could hire one extra person right now, what would you have him or her do?

A.G.: Marketing, marketing, marketing. The hardest part of starting up a business is getting in front of your potential customers and breaking through all the noise. Not only are we up against large, established retailers, but as a new company, we don’t have a long history with Google or with the industry, so we have to build credibility to jump-start our SEO, increase our press coverage and build an email list, among many other things. It’s starting from ground zero, and you don’t have a business if you don’t have customers.

BND: What technology do you wish existed?

A.G.: We would really like to be able to show our products in our customers’ homes. I wish there were a much more sophisticated way for users to take photos of their rooms and, with just a few clicks, make a 3D model that they could then start “modifying” as part of their decorating process.

The basic technology exists — larger companies are already using apps and programs that allow them to create 3D modeling and use augmented reality. But it’s the user experience that is still clunky. The imagery is often unrealistic, which can sometimes be a turnoff (for the furnishing you are considering).

BND: What app are you relying on most right now?

A.G.: My Measures & Dimensions on the iPhone and iPad. My husband and I are house hunting, and it’s coming in very handy for recording dimensions during open houses. It lets you snap a picture using your camera and write dimensions directly on the image. Plus, our stylists swear by it for measuring windows for drapery.

BND: What technology do you think is most overrated?

A.G.: Google Glass. First, it kind of freaks me out. Someone once showed me how it works and said, “See? I just blinked and took your picture.” I mean, at least with a cellphone, you can see when someone is being creepy! Second, it’s already bad enough that we are glued to our phones half the time when we are out with friends (me included). Imagine if everyone were staring off into “Terminator” space. Talk about impersonal!

BND: What’s the most valuable non-tech skill an entrepreneur needs?

A.G.: The ability to communicate a vision. As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to not only envision what you want to build (or, better yet, what your customerswant to build), but also describe it in a compelling way not only to investors, but literally everybody you encounter in business. That includes your customers, to get them to purchase and advocate for you, as well as your partners and vendors, to get them to work with you and believe in your concept. And, most importantly in my mind, you need to communicate your vision to your team, not only to convince great people to come work for you, but also to get them all aligned to work toward a common vision.

This article originally published at BusinessNewsDaily
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/03/03/ashley-baker-gensler-loom-decor/

40+ Events in 3D Printing, Entertainment Tech and More

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Mashable‘s Events Board is a great place to find the leading conferences in your industry — whether that’s advertising, technology, media or public relations. This week, we’re highlighting five events that we think can help move your career forward. Our picks below include events in New York, Chicago and London. If you don’t find something that’s a fit for you, you can check out more than 40 events in our complete listings.

On the Events Board, you can sort listings by date added, get discount codes for Mashable readers and, in some cases, watch a video of a past event so you can know what to expect. You can also follow our events account on Twitter so you’ll catch the best events before they sell out.


Inside Bitcoins
Date: July 30
Location: New Yorker, New York City

Virtual currencies are taking off, as platform and processing systems become more reliable and traditional merchants begin to adopt new forms of payment. The Inside Bitcoins conference and expo on July 30 will explore key issues including the future of currency, FinTech business trends, investment strategies and opportunities, and more. The program is designed to provide an overview of where the virtual currency industry is today and what business opportunities are on the horizon.


Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo
Date: July 10 – July 11
Location: McCormick Place Convention Center, Chicago

Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo has rapidly become the B2B tradeshow for the 3D printing industry. The recent New York City conference attracted more than 3,000 attendees and had significant 3D printing organizations as exhibitors, including 3D Systems, MakerBot, and Stratasys. The summer edition, programmed by Hod Lipson, takes place in Chicago. The program is geared to provide attendees with a strong foundation and understanding of where the 3D printing industry is today and what business opportunities are on the horizon.


Augmented Reality Summit (AR Summit)
Date: June 20
Location: Altitude London, London

Now in its 3rd year, the AR Summit, a one day conference & expo is set to return in 2013, providing a unique insight into the capabilities, innovations, successes and future direction of AR. This platform is designed to bring together the industry advocates, leading technology providers and innovative companies/brands looking to discover, explore and embrace the concepts AR brings.


Content Summit for PR, Social Media and Marketing Professionals
Date: June 24 – June 26
Location: Gleacher Center, Chicago

Master the most critical element in PR and marketing today: Content. 17 speakers will discuss the ROI of developing irresistible content, and how to get your staff excited about writing narratives that help employees and customers solve problems and share knowledge.

Mashable readers save $200 by using the code MASH12.


Entertainment Technology in the Internet Age
Date: June 18 – June 19
Location: Stanford Graduate School of Business, Knight Management Center, Stanford

Through a series of panel discussions and presentations, with ample opportunity for audience participation, the ETIA conference will examine topics within the areas of Internet-focused content creation, distribution, and monetization, as well as technical tools and solutions for shaping the user experience.



Visit our full list of upcoming conferences and events here.

Want to promote your event on Mashable‘s Events Board? Submit it here.

Image via Mario Tama/Getty Images

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/05/30/events-3d-printing-entertainment/

Bitcoin Millionaires Become Investing Angels

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Early investors in Bitcoin got rich. Now they are the cryptocurrency’s most powerful gatekeepers.

Every time you spend bitcoins to buy a drink at Evr, a swanky bar in midtown Manhattan that accepts the digital currency, you make its co-owner, Charlie Shrem, a little bit richer.

And that’s not only because a chamomile sour costs $17 (or 0.16 bitcoins). It’s because whenever someone new uses bitcoins, the electronic currency’s value tends to increase. Shrem has bought thousands of bitcoins for about $20 each, starting in 2011. Since then, the digital coins have soared in value to $109.

That’s turned the 23-year-old into a millionaire and into one of a handful of early bitcoin investors who’ve decided to sink their windfalls back into the bitcoin economy — starting their own companies and investing in others.

“Infrastructure is what we need,” says Shrem. “We’ve gotta build, build, build — financial software, exchanges and different payment products.” In addition to his investment in the bar, Shrem founded Bitinstant, a company that makes it possible to buy bitcoins at Kmart and 7-Eleven, and is a member of BitAngels, an investment group created this year to help Bitcoin startups evolve from garage operations into real companies.

Bitcoin angels like Shrem don’t have pockets nearly as deep as entrepreneur-turned-investors who’ve made it big in Silicon Valley — some of whom, like Steve Case and Vinod Khosla, have net worth in excess of $1 billion. But their influence is substantial. As conventional investors begin to show interest in Bitcoin startups, it is small-time tycoons like Shrem who are acting as gatekeepers and ambassadors.

“The early guys are the ones that run everything,” says Shrem. “In this space, how long you’ve been around matters.”

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Bitcoin originated in 2009, when its source code was posted online by persons unknown. Despite its mysterious origins, the way it works is transparent: The currency is produced when people carry out difficult cryptographic operations on computers, and then it’s exchanged over an open-source peer-to-peer network. Bitcoins are immune to counterfeiting and don’t rely on any central authority. Image courtesy of Bitcoin Charts

Initially, Bitcoin was mostly a curiosity. Among the first businesses to accept it were gambling sites, narcotics delivery services and a farm selling alpaca socks. Yet Shrem and others have been thinking strategically, creating companies that comply with the law and intend to make Bitcoin a widely used form of money.

One reason to do so is that the number of bitcoins is limited; there’s a theoretical maximum of 21 million, and 11.3 million have been “mined” so far. That means the more people buy and use bitcoins, the greater their value becomes. Anthony Gallippi, CEO of Bitpay, an Atlanta company that helps online stores accept payment in bitcoins, says one reason early buyers are reinvesting in the technology is to “ensure future returns” on the currency’s value.

“You didn’t get that dynamic in the dot-com days,” says Gallippi, who claims that he and business partner Stephen Pair are sitting on “thousands” of bitcoins they purchased for $1 or $2. He reasons that anyone who now buys even one bitcoin is in effect betting “on the whole space.”

The easy windfalls earned by Bitcoin’s early promoters are attracting interest from mainstream venture capitalists. In May, Shrem’s company received $1.5 million from the investment firm of the Winklevoss twins (who famously sued Mark Zuckerberg over the idea behind Facebook). Also last month, the venture fund operated by Peter Thiel, Facebook’s first major investor, invested $3 million in Gallippi’s company.

Those deals have been important endorsements for the online currency (see “Big-Name Investors Back Effort to Build a Better Bitcoin”). Yet what they mean for the philosophy at the heart of Bitcoin isn’t as clear, says Roger Ver, an important early investor.The 34-year-old electronics entrepreneur says he sank his life savings into the currency and has used the gains to invest more than $1 million in more than a dozen Bitcoin startups, including Shrem’s. “The typical investment size has been around $100K USD,” Ver wrote in an e-mail from Tokyo, where he lives. “I’m motivated by the positive ways in which Bitcoin use being widespread will make the world a better place.”

Like many early enthusiasts, Ver, who once ran for the California senate and later spent 10 months in prison for selling fireworks on eBay, was attracted to Bitcoin because of his libertarian, antigovernment views. He believes such currencies, if they replaced national ones, could make it impossible for governments to “finance their wars” by printing money.

With mainstream investors arriving, Ver says, the Bitcoin economy could become a lot less idealistic. Yet these new investors may be unwittingly boosting the political and economic implications of the decentralized currency, not just its face value. “I don’t think they fully understand how revolutionary Bitcoin will be,” he says.

Composite by Mashable, images courtesy of Bitcoin and Vyacheslav Argenberg/Flickr

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/13/bitcoin-angel-investors/

Randi Zuckerberg: Stop Being the Crazy Cat Lady and Other Facebook Don’ts

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Randi Zuckerberg — Internet entrepreneur and sister of Mark — discussed during a conference in Australia things not to do on Facebook, from bragging about your accomplishments and taking pictures of food to posting about your cats.

According to the Melbourne-based Herald Sun, Zuckerberg offered tips on what people should avoid doing on social media sites that could prevent them from growing their networks. Also on her list: posting cheesy motivational posters, humble bragging and depressing messages about being tired, sick or stuck in traffic.

Zuckerberg is the former chief marketing officer at Facebook, but left the company last August to pursue other projects. She is an executive producer for Silicon Valley, a Bravo reality TV show that follows inspiring entrepreneurs in the tech industry.

Hinting at sibling rivalry, Randi told conference attendees that she was reluctant to join Facebook in its early start up days. Her brother even sought help from their mother to help convince her to join.

“I graduated from Harvard University in 2003 and the only reason that I mention that is that I have a sibling who did not graduate. So I always have to take that one,” she said.

Randi and Mark aren’t the only Zuckerbergs in tech. Their youngest sibling Arielle is now a Google employee, following a recent acquisition the search engine giant made of Wildfire Interactive, a social media management company.

As for what not to do on Facebook, Mashable also recently compiled a list of things that annoy us the most on the site. Check out the gallery below and let us know what you think your Facebook friends should stop posting.

Image via Facebook

BONUS: 20 Things Your Most Annoying Friends Do on Facebook

Micro-Lending Is an Alternative to Payday Small Business Loans

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Image: Mashable Composite, Getty Creative, Kathy Konkle

Every day, 10% of Claudia Diniz’s sales disappear. Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit lender, siphons off the money and treats it as payment on a $35,000 loan Diniz used to stock the shelves of her Los Gatos, Calif., clothing store. Diniz, 37, loves how easy the process is. “We have months that we sell and months that we struggle,” she says. “So I say, when I sell well I pay more — and when I’m struggling I pay less.”

Opportunity Fund developed the EasyPay loan in order to serve businesses who don’t qualify for regular term loans. The organization also hopes the loan will prevent entrepreneurs from turning to merchant cash advances, a similar but much more expensive form of credit. “It’s just ridiculous, how much money they pay,” Diniz says of friends who are paying off cash advances from private companies.

Although she’s never had to resort to high-interest loans or merchant cash advances, Diniz knows what it’s like to be desperate for credit. She decided to open a store after her son was born, figuring that owning her own business would allow her to control her hours. Envisioning a rival to Lululemon Athletica, an upscale chain, Diniz — who is originally from Brazil — called her store Viva O Sol Brazilian Fitness & Fashion.

“It was five years ago. The market crashed, people were losing stocks and houses, and everybody in my town was closing their doors,” Diniz says of other retailers. She needed a loan, but after the financial crisis, banks were much warier about lending, especially to brand-new businesses. A retired business adviser in town recommended she contact Opportunity Fund, one of the largest micro-lenders in the state.

Opportunity Fund has provided micro-loans (from $2,600 to $10,000) and small-business loans (from $10,000 to $100,000) to California entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. The average small-business owner who works with the organization has an annual household income of just $22,000. Clients own dry cleaners and restaurants, trucking companies, and daycare centers. Most are Latino or African-American, and many are recent immigrants who don’t speak fluent English.

Diniz’s financials were strong enough that she qualified for a small-business loan right away. But many entrepreneurs who were coming to Opportunity Fund were unable to qualify for loans, even if they had strong sales. An entrepreneur might have a poor personal credit score, for example, or run a highly seasonal business, like a flower shop.

So the organization decided to create a loan that could be repaid through automatically deducting a small share of credit- and debit-card sales. The technology wasn’t new — it had long been used by merchant cash-advance providers. “The intention of EasyPay was: How can we look at this business a little differently? How can we give more weight to the cash flow side of the business?” says Alex Dang, a business development officer.

The automatic daily payments decrease the risk of lending considerably, allowing Opportunity Fund to serve more businesses and to extend larger loans than it would have otherwise. Established business owners, like Diniz, like the product because it’s convenient. EasyPay loans have a fixed interest rate of between 8.5 and 15 percent, typically have longer repayment terms than cash advances, and take a smaller share of sales — usually about 6 percent. Like payments on any other loan, payments contribute to a borrower’s credit score.

Opportunity Fund has lent $5 million through 250 EasyPay loans so far. (In February, Opportunity Fund was awarded a $50,000 grant from Wells Fargo, a sponsor of National Journal‘s Next America project.) Meanwhile, merchant cash-advance providers lend about $2 billion to small businesses nationwide each year, says Janinne Dall’Orto, senior manager at First Annapolis Consulting, a consulting firm that studies the payments industry. Merchant cash advances aren’t regulated, so there aren’t legal limits on the fees companies can charge. A typical $10,000 advance, due in six months, might carry a $3,500 fee.

One reason Opportunity Fund can afford to charge low rates is because it’s a nonprofit and a community-development financial institution, or CDFI: it’s partly supported by philanthropists and the government. It’s a lender out to charge borrowers what they can afford, not to deliver big profits. “One question that we ask every borrower is: What is a comfortable payment for you? And then we work around that,” Dang says of EasyPay loans.

In its bid to provide an alternative to merchant cash advances, Opportunity Fund is something of a David competing against a Goliath. The merchant cash-advance industry is expanding rapidly, fueled by private investment and demand from business owners like Diniz’s neighbors in Los Gatos. Dang says some of his clients report fielding repeated calls from marketers within the merchant cash-advance industry, and some have taken out several cash advances — a second to pay off a first.

But Mark Pinsky, president and CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, a network of CDFI’s, says that EasyPay loans still have the potential to scale — through Opportunity Fund, other CDFI’s, or other kinds of lenders — and make an impact. “I think it’s going to put a lot of downward pressure on merchant advances,” he says. Savvy business owners always look for the best deal. In California right now, the best deal might be with Opportunity Fund.

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/27/manageable-small-business-loans/

6 Posts That Build Engagement on Facebook

6-posts-that-build-engagement-on-facebook-7136113865Aaron Lee is the social media manager at Binkd Promotion, a comprehensive platform for social media marketing through digital promotions and contests. He also writes social media tips on the Binkd Blog. Follow him at @AskAaronLee.

When Mark Zuckerberg ?rst built Facebook, the purpose of it was to keep people connected with their friends. That was its ?rst purpose. And it worked well.

As Facebook grew, its purpose grew to accommodate businesses. Hence the addition of Facebook pages for brands. But many brand page admins make the mistake of thinking of Facebook users as “friends” who will look at company posts simply because a company posts them.

That’s not true, and it’s not true because not all posts are created equal. Think of it this way, your business is not automatically friends with your audience. That only changes if you engage with them. Engagement on Facebook is re?ected in three forms: likes, shares, and comments. Here are six ways to create the right type of engagement via posts for your brand.

1. Photos

We have all heard “A picture is worth a thousand words.” On Facebook, a picture could be worth a thousand likes. That’s because a picture is one of the simplest ways to catch someone’s attention, as it is more visually appealing than the average post. Think of it this way, when you are scrolling your news feed, isn’t it usually the large, colorful, images that get you to stop?

When it comes to brands, a familiar image is also key. Familiarity in an image is as simple as including your company logo or a face that’s tied to your brand. Including a shortened link for readers to click on, is also useful when it comes to engagement.

Social Fresh fully utilizes this to their advantage, as their pictures often come with shortened links. This helps to keep the focus on the interesting art, while also providing a way for the audience to get more information, if they want.

2. Fill in the Blanks

Fill-in-the-blank posts are great at sparking engagement. The blanks are essentially ‘platforms’ for people to share their creativity. These types of posts often garner fun and short comments, which then encourage your audience to react and interact.

Fancy Feast — a gourmet cat food brand — regularly creates these posts. The post in the image above received more than 170 likes, 407 comments, and twelve shares. Notice how the comments outnumber the likes.

3. Photo Captions



Photo captions bring the best of the two items above. All you have to do is post a photo and ask fans to come up with a caption.

The above is an example from National Geographic’s Facebook Page. They asked their audience to create a caption for this photo of a baby orangutan. It received more than 27,800 likes, 11,700 shares and 3,700 comments.

4. Questions

Most page admins make the mistake of updating their wall without putting much thought into adding a description or ending the description with a question. Asking questions is probably one of the easiest methods to get fans to comment and share their thoughts. Without asking a question, people might just read the article and move on.

Inc. Magazine posted an article with a question as its headline. In this case, the question requires that you give your feedback in the form of a personal story.

Alternatively, you can also ask simple questions. Questions that requires the audience to choose — which would you prefer? Left or Right? — are able to generate comments because its simplicity means that people would not need to spend much effort or time to comment.

Here is an example from Ideeli, a web retailer that specializes in ?ash sales.

5. Tips

Tips are ideas that fans are able to consume and implement easily. A tip is engaging because it gives value to your audience and therefore makes them more likely to react.

Here is an example from Mari Smith, a Facebook expert who shares great ideas and tips that add value to her community. Her tips are structured to help her community and are often written in a step-by-step process.

6. Quotes

Quotes are one of the easiest and most popular ways to get likes and shares on Facebook. They tend to get more shares and likes compared to comments because quotes are often inspirational, making it personal in nature.

Here’s a great example from from Carol?s Daughter, which received more than 7,910 shares and 22,141
likes. Inspired yet?

How are you currently engaging your audience on Facebook?

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Aaron Lee

Aaron Lee is the Social Media Manager at Binkd Promotion, a comprehensive platform for social media marketing through digital promotions and contests. He writes more social media tips on the More

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/05/facebook-build-engagement/

Is Thin-Film Solar Dead?

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When the Chinese energy giant Hanergy decided last week to buy Miasole, a Silicon Valley-based thin-film solar company, at less than a tenth the amount venture capitalists had invested in the firm, it could have been making a savvy move. Though it seems as if thin-film solar panels have no hope of competing with conventional silicon ones under today’s market conditions, the technology might still have a strong future.

In recent years, the price of conventional silicon solar panels has fallen far faster than expected, and once-promising thin-film startups are going bankrupt, delaying manufacturing plans or being bought by Asian companies for pennies on the dollar. (In addition to Hanergy, TFG Radiant, SK Innovation, Taiwan Semiconductor and a few others have bought or taken large stakes in such companies.)

Some analysts think the companies that have been snatching up these bargains know what they’re doing. The poor market conditions that have kept thin-film companies from competing may not last: When demand increases and it comes time to start building solar-panel factories again, the argument goes, the technology might have a significant advantage, because for comparably sized plants, it could cost far less to build a new thin-film factory than a conventional one.

A gigawatt-scale thin-film plant would cost $350 to 450 million, versus $1 billion for a conventional silicon plant, says Travis Bradford, a professor at Columbia University’s school of international and public affairs and president of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, a nonprofit research firm. (The cost estimates will vary depending on what’s included in the plant. For example, if you add the cost of producing polysilicon, the equivalent to the raw materials that thin-film solar plants use, the capital cost for a silicon plant goes up to $2 billion or more, he says. But most plants buy silicon from large suppliers.)

So far, the companies with the potentially cheapest thin-film technology have built only relatively small factories that cost far more per watt than large ones, and building larger plants doesn’t make sense in the current market. (Solyndra, the failed thin-film company, was building a large plant, but it had notoriously expensive technology, including unusual tube-shaped solar panels. First Solar, by far the most successful thin-film company, has built large plants, but newer types of thin-film technologies may prove cheaper and more efficient.)

Startups can’t afford to wait until market conditions get better. But large companies like Hanergy might be able to bide their time until the market improves and then build a large plant that could compete with conventional silicon. “Hanergy spent $30 million to get Miasole,” Bradford says. “It will take them a few hundred million dollars to eventually build a large factory and launch the technology. But if they’re right, they’ve got assets that will be worth billions of dollars later. That’s the bet they’ve made.”

Waiting for market conditions to turn, however, is a risky strategy. The market is currently flooded with solar panels — current manufacturing capacity is more than enough to satisfy demand, and that’s driven down prices to the point that many manufacturers are selling at a loss. It’s not clear how long it will take for this situation to change.

Timing the construction of new thin-film factories will be difficult. In the meantime, manufacturers of conventional silicon technology continue to lower the cost of their solar panels and improve their efficiency. And there’s no guarantee that new thin-film panels will perform as expected when produced at a large scale — or that cost targets will be met.

One option could be for large companies to develop and build their own solar power plants. That’s the model used by First Solar, and it seems to be the model Hanergy is adopting.

But many analysts remain skeptical that thin film can compete with silicon, given silicon’s overwhelmingly larger scale of production. Thin film may have had a chance once, but it’s taken it too long to reach large-scale production and lower costs, according to Jenny Chase, manager of the Solar Insight Team at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “That ship has sailed,” she says. She expects that thin-film companies might succeed only in niche markets, such as applications where very lightweight or flexible solar panels are needed.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/10/thin-film-solar-dead/

Ormr Does What You Wish Photoshop Could

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As graphic artists and designers, we end up redoing a lot of work— over and over and over again.

For example, have you ever edited an image and later realized you initially resized it too small? Or built a custom shape that later needed tweaking? It’s impossible to go back to a larger image size without losing all your adjustments. It’s a frustrating point in any artist’s workflow and can tack countless hours onto design projects.

Now Ormr, a project currently campaigning on Kickstarter, seeks to eliminate that hassle by saving the actions performed to each layer so they can be adjusted later, without affecting other adjustments.

So, why doesn’t Photoshop already work this way? “It sounds like a simple idea,” says Oleg Samus, Ormr’s lead developer at Sad Cat Productions. “But it’s actually quite difficult to implement.”

Masks and smart objects can only take you so far. Because of the power required to store and run all that information in the background, if Adobe were to add this capability to Photoshop, Samus says it would have to be redesigned from the ground up.

On the surface Ormr looks like most standard image editors, except when you open a layer you’ll be able to see all the actions and change everything you’ve done to that image.

The team at Sad Cat Productions has been developing and tweaking code (for both Mac and PC) that is meant to tackle this huge technical hurdle, striving to make it appear and feel like the same image editors artists are already comfortable using. “We came to the central idea that you want to be able to change what you’ve done before but you don’t want to think about how to construct that history,” says Samus. Functionality is key. As an artist himself, he says it’s imperative.

After starting out six years ago making a vector editor called “Organic Studio,” when the iPhone was first released the team at Sad Cat Productions got excited and began to develop games for the new platform. It was while designing graphics of trains for one particular game that the idea for Ormr was born. After the team had to start from scratch and make adjustments to 15 separate trains that appeared in the game, they started thinking about a better way. “With Ormr, all those changes would have been easy to go back and make,” says Samus. It’s a process he guesses might have saved him up to 50% of his art production time.

Using open-source libraries as a resource, Sad Cat Productions’ long-term goal is to create a platform for artists and developers to modify the software, creating their own image editing tools they can sell to other artists.

“We so want to do this,” says Samus. “All the points in the industry are coming together to the point we can do it right.”

Check out the video below to hear more about how Ormr works. With only 19 days to go, the project still has a healthy climb to meet its $50,000 goal.

What do you think of Ormr? Would you find this image editing software useful? Let us know in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/10/ormr/

10 Bizarre Businesses You Didn’t Know Existed

Cheese-sculptor

People find all kinds of weird ways to make money, from carving giant hunks of cheddar cheese to making bacon-flavored… well, everything. Read through our list of
strange small businesses, and maybe you’ll feel inspired to start your own.

1. A Furniture Business for Slobs

Have an incontinent cat, or a spit-up-prone baby? You might be interested to know that there’s a company devoted entirely to helping people like you.

Slobproof!, a Maryland-based furniture and design company, builds custom chairs, sofas and ottomans with specially engineered fabric that withstands spills and other messes without staining.

Debbie Wiener, the company’s founder and CEO, said she started the company after marrying a slob, having two sloppy babies and acquiring a few messy pets. Wiener said her design style marries the “common sense of a Jewish mother with the muscle of a professional wrestler.” Sounds like a winning combination.

2. Retro-Arcade Manufacturer

Ms. Pac-Man

Image: Rob Boudon/Flickr

What do you do when your sweetheart asks for a Ms. Pac-Man machine for Christmas? If you’re Michael Ware — founder of Dream Arcades, a California-based company specializing in recreating vintage arcade games — you just build her one.

Dream Arcades’ machines use Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) software to take retro-gaming enthusiasts back to the glory days of Pac-Man, Asteroids and Dragon’s Lair.

The company, which says it’s the world’s largest manufacturer of noncoin-operated arcade games, delivers premade machines as well as DIY kits. Dream Arcades has even delivered an arcade to a U.S. research center in Antarctica. At least those researchers’ thumbs are warm.

3. Cheese-Sculpting Business

Do you love cheese? Bet you don’t like it as much as Sarah “The Cheese Lady” Kaufmann, who makes her living as a traveling cheese sculptor.

She creates cheddar cheese carvings for grocery stores, sporting events, festivals, photo shoots and any other business or event that needs a giant hunk of cheese. Kaufmann has carved everything from a scene of the first moon landing to the Chicago skyline.

Though she makes most of her money carving cheese, Kaufmann also hosts seminars, where she informs audiences about the art and traditions of cheese making.

4. A Business Devoted to Bacon

J&D’s Foods makes a huge variety of edible products — mayonnaise, popcorn, croutons — and all of these products have one thing in common: They taste like bacon.

Founded in 2007, J&D’s was started by two friends whose mutual love of bacon led them to the logical conclusion that everything in life should taste like this savory meat product.

bacon

Image: cookbookman17/Flickr

They started by creating a bacon-flavored salt that could be added to nearly any food to lend it that distinct, cured meat flavor. Since then, J&D’s has expanded its offerings to include much weirder products, such as bacon-flavored lip balm and, of course, its highly popular Mmmvelopes. (That’s right: bacon-flavored envelopes.)

5. Maker of Wearable Human Remains

Why leave the remains of a loved one in an urn, gathering dust, when you can wear them around your neck instead? Purple Cloud Studio, an art glass studio in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., creates custom keepsakes using the ashes of beloved family members and pets.

Michele Palenik, the artist behind this unique business, asks clients to ship her half a teaspoon of remains, which she then seals in glass pendants, bowls and paperweights.

Palenik also creates ash-free pieces using recycled pieces of antique glass scavenged from shipwrecks.

6. Soap Bakery

Want a perfume that smells like freshly baked cookies? Wish your hair could smell like a slice of lemon pound cake? Mrs. Brown’s Bath Bakery understands these olfactory cravings and satisfies them with a line of bakery-inspired bath products.

Nadine Brown, founder and owner of this Arizona-based company, has created an entire line of soaps, scrubs, toothpastes, hairsprays and other products that look remarkably like real baked goods.

Luckily for unsuspecting cookie thieves, all of Brown’s bath products are made with 100 percent organic, food-grade ingredients.

7. Fantasy Dating Service

Are you a (slightly competitive) single gal seeking a more interesting love life? This next weird business is for you.

Fantasy Dating Game is like a grown-up version of “Truth or Dare,” and it’s way more interesting than your last boyfriend’s fantasy football league.

Fantasy Dating’s creator, Suzanne Casamento, said she built her business, in part, because she was sick and tired of hearing her single girlfriends complain about their lackluster love lives.

Much like fantasy sports leagues, the Fantasy Dating Game allows single women to earn points by flirting with guys at Starbucks, slipping their numbers to cute bartenders and going on actual dates.

Casamento said her site empowers women to take charge of their own love lives and gain confidence through dating.

8. Posthumous Memory Deliverer

Losing a loved one is difficult, no matter how you spin it. But Immortum, a virtual “memory box” service, tries to make the pain of death more bearable for those left behind.

By recording the memories of the elderly and those with terminal illnesses on audio and video, Immortum helps people remember their loved ones, even after they have died.

Immortum customers can specify when they want their “postlife chronicles” delivered to loved ones, be it immediately following their deaths, several months after or 50 years later.

The company also offers a free, Web-based version of its “postlife chronicles” service, as well as free e-tributes and digital obituaries.

9. Mobile Wedding Chapel

Need to get hitched on a budget? The Wedding Wagon may be able to help. This unique mobile company founded in Las Vegas provides a full wedding ceremony out of the back of a van for just $129.

You choose when and where you want to get married — by the colorful fountains of the Bellagio, for example — and the wedding wagon will meet you there with a minister, a witness and a fully decked-out mobile chapel.

For an extra hundred bucks, the Wedding Wagon will even arrange to meet you at some truly beautiful venues, such as Tahiti Village’s 10th floor dining patio or Red Rock Canyon State Park.

10. ‘Sympathy food’ Delivery Service

What do you give to those who have recently lost a loved one? You’re probably thinking flowers. But although flowers are pretty, they’re ultimately useless to mourners. This is why David Storke, a former funeral director from Virginia, founded Sympathy Food. Storke’s company delivers family-style meals to grievers all over the U.S. So, if you want to send a little comfort food to someone far away, there’s no need to cook and ship your famous lasagna. Whether it’s a full pot roast or some vegetable stir fry, Sympathy Food delivers all the goodness of a home-cooked meal without any of the home cooking.

Image: Dennis D/Flickr

This article originally published at LiveScience
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/07/19/10-weird-businesses/

Challenge Your Favorite Athletes to Video Game Battles With OverDog

Overdog

Tackling NFL running back Adrian Peterson in real life might sound like a pipe dream, but you just might be able to take down the actual Minneapolis Vikings star in a game of Madden.

That’s the concept behind new gaming platform OverDog, which connects major athletes across the NFL, MLB, NHL, WWE and other leagues with fans through console-based video games. That’s right: Peterson is just sitting on the couch waiting to play you in a round of Call of Duty.

“The name OverDog – which is a play on ‘underdog’ – lets any sports fan tackle Adrian Peterson, dunk on Roy Hibbert or race against a NASCAR driver… and win,” said co-founder and former Chicago Bears player Hunter Hillenmeyer. “That’s not possible in the real world, so we’re leveling the playing field for a new kind of competition.”

The startup launched in April around the concept that athletes can challenge to fans to video games supported by PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

“There are countless services that try to connect fans with their favorite athletes in ways that feel a lot more like work than fun — like waiting in an autograph line — but the beauty of OverDog is that we’re making that same connection possible in a way that’s fun for everyone,” Hilenmeyer said. “Athletes are already playing tons of video games, so we are just providing them with the tools to play those games with fans.”

After downloading the OverDog app for iOS or Android, users program their favorite games, console of choice and set up time periods — such as 6:00 p.m. to midnight – when they might be most up for a challenge. When an athlete is in the mood to play, app users who fit the bill are put into a lottery system and sent a push notification that a specific athlete wants in on a game.

OverDog

Those who are selected are then placed into a real-time match. Some games such as Call of Duty: Ghosts can take on five players at once.

Following eight years in the NFL and serving on the NFL Players Association for five, Hilenmeyer is relying on his personal network of athlete relationships to get the platform underway. The majority of the 310 involved athletes stem from the NFL (60%) and range from modern greats such as Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson to icons like Randy Moss and Ray Rice.

OverDog

“By and large, our athletes love first-person shooters like Call of Duty, Halo and Battlefield and sports games such as Madden, FIFA and NBA2K,” Hillenmeyer said. “We have some guys who play PC games, but they are the exception. Right now our most active gamers are MLS guys and MLB guys, mostly because it’s their offseason.”

NFL athletes tend to play OverDog on Mondays and Tuesdays, which are often off days, Hillenmeyer added.

Gaining Traction

From a business model standpoint, OverDog is still small, but its network of athletes has tremendous reach.

“The tie in to their social streams is a very important part of the allure for brands who are trying to get in front of sports fans in a less pitchy way,” Hillenmeyer said. “Most of these guys are super passionate about gaming, so our job is really just to try not to get in the way.”

Athletes typically get paid in swag, which includes free gear from sponsors, free games, early access to games and headphones.

“When we pay athletes real money, its usually because they are doing something more than just playing video games. That means scheduling a game, letting us record it, or creating content we use in some promotional capacity.”

From there, a brand – most likely a video game publisher or one that wants to specifically target sports fans – can use that athlete’s reach in an organic way. Call of Duty: Ghosts — which launched in November — was OverDog’s first official sponsor.

“We partnered with them around the launch of Call of Duty: Ghosts and used our platform and distribution channels to help promote the fact that many of our athletes are huge fans of the Call of Duty franchise,” Hillenmeyer said. “That sort of promotion would have otherwise cost a brand millions of dollars, if they wanted to work with such big name athletes.”

Although the number of gaming challenges varies each day, the platform benefits from the fact that many athletes play several games in a sitting. But for those who can’t get into a live match, fans can challenge other fans too, adding a layer from their rooting interests in the sports world to the gaming experience.

“Who knew Bears fans would love shooting up Packers fans in Call of Duty so much?” Hillenmeyer said.

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