Forget QR codes, hello Highlight. Tech entrepreneur Sarah Prevette, founder of Sprouter.com, a web resource for startup companies, told a roomful of students and representatives from the province’s technology sector that technological innovations have made it easier than ever for a person with an idea to build it into a business — or to come up with a solution to global problems such as climate change or poverty.
“‘The power of invention can transcend human limitation,’” she said, quoting entrepreneur Peter Diamindis, best known for his X Prize Foundation, a non-profit institute that aims to create breakthroughs that benefit society.
“Where we have screwed things up immensely, and where we’ve got a planet that really needs a lot of help, people who are going to think differently, people who are going to wonder ‘What if?’, people who are willing to dig into problems and find solutions, are going to pave the way to the future.”
Creative ideas are the ultimate resource, said Prevette — speaking Wednesday morning at the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries’ Solutions Summit — and pointed to sOccket, a company founded by two students who created a soccer ball that is also a portable generator that stores kinetic energy as the ball is bounced or kicked.
Small electrical appliances can be plugged into the ball — 30 minutes of play produces three hours of light from an LED lamp, for example.
“Being distributed currently in Africa, these balls are tossed into villages, people play with them, they take them home, and they can plug in devices. That is game-changing, especially for a group of people that need to boil their water to be able to drink it. Amazing invention, invented by first-time entrepreneurs and students. So now you have no excuse,” she said, pointing to the students in the room at the Delta Hotel.
Prevette also spoke about the difference of technological trends and technological shifts.
“We talk about shifts as things that have fundamentally consumer expectation,” she said, breaking them down into community, collaboration, curation and customization. “Community — that’s obvious. Look at Facebook. Look at Twitter. We are the oversharers of the world. We can’t stop sharing — what I’m doing, here’s a photo of me doing it. Isn’t it exciting? I’m guilty of it, trust me.”
Collaboration includes seeking feedback or validation online or working on collaborative sites like Wikipedia. Curation involves sites like Pinterest, which collects people’s interests in a single online location, and customization means the personalization of technology to reflect a user’s specific needs and interests — not just online, but everywhere, from medicine to television.
“These have fundamentally shifted our expectation of how we exist and interact with people, and now we’re going to build off these foundations,” said Prevette.
As for trends that take advantage of those shifts, Prevette says QR codes — the square, fractured barcode-like pictures on ads that, when scanned with a reader on a smartphone, take people to a website with more information about an event or product — are on their way out.
“QR codes were really, really trendy. Turns out it was just trendy with marketers and, strangely, people in Japan. QR codes are completely working in Japan. It just missed the boat here.”
Prevette said the proliferation of daily deals — services which offer discounts through bulk buying on a variety of products and services — are also causing consumer fatigue.
So what’s next? Prevette said skill-sharing and “enhanced serendipity” will be huge. Skill-sharing is the gathering of experts or knowledge in a central location.
“You can go to Skillshare.com, where you can say, ‘I’m an expert on this, and I’d like to host a talk on this.’ Or you can do it offline: there’s a site called Uniiverse, where you can say, ‘You know what? I make the best martini in the world. If you come to this bar on such-and-such a night, I will teach you how to make the best martini.’ And you can charge people for it.”
Enhanced serendipity encompasses sites and applications like Highlight, which connects people via GPS, as well as common interests and mutual friends. “What are the implications for something like Highlight for dating? What about being able to say that I’m a 29-year-old woman who is looking for love in Boston, and walking around and having that ping other people who are nearby and qualify for the credentials that I put up? There’s probably money in that, by the way,” she said
Enhanced serendipity will only grow, thanks to the way our smartphones are connecting us to the world around us, said Prevette.
“Because you’re already being programmed right now by your interactions on the web to forgo privacy and give more data, you’re going to make it possible,” she said.