• Facebook features: Innovation for the sake of innovating?

    In the technology sector, if you are not innovating, you are letting opportunities slip away to your competitors. This thought process has led some companies to make questionable decisions in the name of innovation. Most recently we can look at Snapchat adding “Snapcash”. Snapcash was good for a laugh, but I haven’t talked to anyone who seriously considered using it.

    The company who had tried to acquire Snapchat before that announcement, Facebook, just announced a new feature that was added to its social networking platform. The feature sounds kind of scary at first, but the more I think about the new feature, it seems more like a natural evolution.

    What is this new feature you ask? Facebook now allows you to list items for sale. It is like Craigslist but more personal. Sounds kind of scary, right? But hear me out, Facebook’s feature has one thing that Craigslist doesn’t have: accountability. I think the fact that you know nearly everything about the person who you are going be meeting in real life would discourage any funny business. Over the

    I also think that this feature is a very natural evolution for Facebook for two reasons. The first is that people are already selling things on Facebook and this just makes it more streamlined. The second reason is that this is a perfect entry to the eCommerce category. What is one of the most valuable assets in the eCommerce sector? Information about your customer. Facebook arguably has one of the most organized database of customer data out there. Utilizing this data can help Facebook get a foothold in the eCommerce sector, which looks a little bit less daunting after news of the Ebay layoffs.

    The more that I contemplate this feature, the more I begin to wonder how this didn’t happen sooner. This feature has a really natural feel to it, but it is also a bold step by Facebook into the world of eCommerce. I like it, it makes Facebook more tangible.

  • Jason Topp | TEDxCountyLineRoad

    TEDx Countyline Road Indiana

    Innovative ideas often begin on a small, local scale, such as that of Northwest Indiana. Next week, several innovators local and otherwise will be gathering in the Region to share their visions and ideas.

    TEDxCountyLineRoad is set to take place on November 12 at Hobart’s County Line Orchard. 

    The popular TED conference series lends its name to many local TEDx conferences all over. However, TEDx events are completely independently organized by members of that community, who then reach out to the company for the TED branding.

    Several individuals in the Region came together to do just that in 2014, putting together the first TEDxCountyLineRoad. Among the original curators is Jason Topp, a Northwest Indiana native currently residing in St. John, and a member of the event’s speakers committee.

    TEDx Countyline Road Jason Topp“It’s been one of the most exciting things I’ve been a part of,” Topp said. “It’s inspiring to see driven people laying aside their own ambitions to work as part of a team and bring something really special to the area. It’s great group of people who have grown to become friends.”

    The second TEDxCountyLineRoad will feature six speakers, one more than its inaugural event last year. The theme of the conference will be “A Revolution of Sorts.” The gist of the theme is thinking outside the box and taking a new, or revolutionary, approach to one’s field.

    “Each speaker is going to be related to a revolutionary idea or talk about a revolution,” Topp said.

    The six speakers cover several different fields, such as business, media, charity, and the arts. Most are from within the state of Indiana, although the organizers managed to secure a speaker who does TED events on a national circuit in Lloyd Reeb, a North Carolina former-real estate developer-turned-author and lecturer.

    Finding speakers who covered relevant and useful topics, under the event's umbrella of revolution, took quite a thorough search, according to Topp.

    “It’s a pretty long process, identifying and making sure we get some talented speakers for the day,” he said. “We’ve been working on that for pretty much the whole year.”

    Topp and his fellow organizers saw the inaugural TEDxCountyLineRoad last year as a success. Their aim with this year’s sophomore outing isn’t just to repeat themselves, but to establish the conference as a yearly event.

    “We were definitely delighted by the success last year,” Topp said. “I think the end result was something great for the region, something we’d like to do again and continue to do.”

    Tickets for TEDxCountyLineRoad are available for $75. The event will begin at Noon Central Time on Nov. 12.

  • Notre Dame Innovation Park

    Photo from ND Park Web

    The Park provides entrepreneurial consulting and business networking opportunities to regional, domestic, and international clients. The 55,000 sq. foot main structure was  completed in 2009, though the entire site is spread across 12 acres and accessible from the toll road in South Bend, Indiana. Businesses that take up residence have access to collaborative areas, conference rooms, and lab space.

    Geared as an "engagement vehicle", facilities are shared though unique and in some cases would be too expensive or unrealistic for a single entity to maintain. Start-ups will find the tools necessary to convert ideas in the fields of pharmaceutical research, nanoelectrics, biomedicine, aerospace, and imaging to commercial viable projects.

    Launched as an independent 501c3, the goal is to bridge to bridge the gap between the academic sphere and the professional business community. After seeing similar by other universities efforts take off statewide Notre Dame undertook this expansion to bolster their standing as a world class research university. This folks operating the Innovation Park are well qualified for the task with years of experiences to draw from to keep it first class.

    Photo from ND Park WebDave Brenner, the President and CEO, has 35 years in start-up culture experience. After graduating from Notre Dame he went on hold management positions at Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. He also founded IdeaWorks, a Michigan venture firm, and has been active with the Irish Angels since it began. Sound Qualified? 

    Theresa Sedlack, another Notre Dame graduate, teaches a MBA course on venture capital within the Mendoza College of Business and helped with the formation of the Irish Angels. She serves as the Private Sector Engagement Officer in the office. If your business wants to hit the ground running, this might be the place to start.

    In addition, the City of South Bend has sponsored a sister project name Ignition Park. It serves as a landing point for those companies looking to make a move into the Michiana area or leaving the incubation period at Notre Dame facility.

  • Richard Marrell | RLM Prosthetics

    Preparing the deceased for services and visitations can be very sensitive work. But like any occupation, the purveyors of this craft seek to do their job the best and most efficient way, as well as the most respectful.

    One such individual in Northwest Indiana is Richard Marrell, the owner and founder of RLM Tissue Bank prosthetics. Based in Valparaiso, Marrrell’s company fills a specific need in the process of preparing a body for a funeral and cremation. And his products have changed the process, as well as this specific industry, worldwide.

    These products specifically target tissue donors. Like organs from organ donors, tissues such as bones, skin, heart valves and other tissues are collected from tissue donors at their death for use in various medical procedures. RLM manufactures an array of pieces to replace the tissues that are taken out.

    Richard Marrell in the RLM workshop“Our parts help reconstruct the body so they’re stable from the trip from the hospital to the funeral home,” Marrell said. “Also, they make them viewable at the funeral.”

    Marrell got the idea for his products while working for Gift of Hope, then known as the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois. It was his job to collect tissue from donors at hospitals in Lake County, as well as Northern Illinois. At the time, parts used in this process were not environmentally sound.

    “We were using a plastic product which was clogging the crematory system,” Marrell said. “Burning them also gave off a dioxin, which is toxic. People were starting to go for crematories on an increasing basis. So I thought why not make cremation-friendly parts?”

    RLM manufactures bone pieces—everything from arms and legs to pelvises—out of wood, which burns naturally through cremation. Additionally, all the sawdust is collected in combustible bags, which are placed in spots of the body where tissue has been extracted.

    “It’s not just a crematory friendly product,” Marrell said. “We make sure to not waste anything. We go through about two miles of wood every month and we don’t waste any of it.”

    After Marrell left Gift of Hope, they became RLM’s very first customer. Now, RLM employs over 60 transplant teams and ships over 5000 pieces around the world every month.

    The demand for his products has led to the emergence of competitors with similar products. However, to their customer base, RLM is still the most trusted name.

    “We have such a great relationship with our customers,” Marrell said. “They know they can call me, say they want X amount of product, and can have them by tomorrow.”

    Away from the job, woodworking is still a hobby of Marrell’s. His love of the craft led him to another, more personal business venture: a vintage wooden ski shop set to open in Valparaiso.


    “I always wanted to do a local business,” Marrell said. “I make furniture once in a while, but I like functional things that people can use, and skis are perfect.”

  • Tesla taking charge at home

    Battery technology, it isn’t the sexiest tech subject but it is impactful on our daily lives. The battery life of smartphones is certainly one of the most important aspects of any new device that we are looking to purchase. But is battery life going to be something that we will soon be researching when we purchase our next home? 

    The Tesla Powerwall is a home battery and solar panel that interfaces with a home’s existing electrical box through an inverter. The battery unit itself is roughly the size of a car door and mounts directly to the wall. The Tesla Powerwall stores energy generated by the solar panel and uses it during peak demand hours when energy providers tend to charge more. That is the real genius behind the Tesla Powerwall and it is incredible that someone hasn’t created a solar panel/battery tandem system like this before, right?

    Just like Apple didn’t make the first smartphone, Tesla isn’t the first to make a home battery. But Tesla, like Apple, is great at marketing their technology. The Tesla name has quickly become one of the most prestigious names in tech. I would say that they are the Apple of big high-tech automobile purchases. Plus, Tesla has a focus on sustainability, which is something that all consumers should be looking for in the products they buy.

    What is really exciting about the Tesla Powerwall is the pairing of the solar panel with the home battery. Though solar energy isn’t the most most viable energy source for those in northwest Indiana, I believe that options for wind and other sustainable energy sources will be available in the future. And once they do become available, I envision a completely sustainable northwest Indiana where everyone’s power comes from their backyard or roof.