If you’ve studied Walt Disney or read The Disney Way, you know that his four guiding pillars were: Dream, Believe, Dare, Do. What great advice for entrepreneurs. What’s important is clarity about what phase we’re in and making sure we launch (Do) after we’ve dared (ask for funding). SafetySpan and Trunity were our entrepreneurial stars at last month’s Entrepreneur Forum and found themselves in different phases of Disney’s famous continuum.
SafetySpan’s dream is to change how we construct buildings, one floor at a time. Doug Leonardi, CTO explained that the SafetySpan Building System is a mesh-like, modular, flooring construction system designed to offer affordable alternatives that reduce waste and lower carbon emissions. Why brand “safe” in the name? For a couple of reasons. For one, they claim to be collapse resistant, meaning that if an earthquake hits, or some other disaster, the floor flexes rather than cracking and collapsing, bringing the entire building down with it. (Does the World Trade Center come to mind?) Secondly, by using a more sustainable material than concrete, emissions are significantly reduced. Third, a flexible, light weight, honeycomb-like spaceframe can be assembled between steel beams or wall mounts of a building’s interior construction frame. The magic is in the geometric shape, designed by nature for phenomenal strength.
Today, most buildings are created with concrete flooring which is heavy, expensive, and
inflexible if the earth shifts. On the upside, concrete is strong, but has a hefty environmental emissions consequences. SafetySpan’s design replaces concrete flooring altogether. Same strength at half the weight. It’s modular so that makes it easy to install, manufactur, and recycle. Each component is based on human scale making it easy to pack, ship, and install. No mixing required. SafetySpan’s targeted applications are commercial, residential construction in addition to temporary buldings for military installations, emergency response shelters, and interium housing for victums of earthquake and natural disasters. SafetySpan’s solution helps architects and civil engineers gain LEED accrediation, based on its sustainable nature (see USGBC United States Green Building Council www.usgbc.org). It’s also a great solution for datacenters with raised floor requirements. Think crawl space for cabelling.
Our distinguished panel consisted of Lester Hensley, CEO & President of EMSEAL Joint Systems, Wayne Siladi, PE, Associate Principal, Weidlinger Associates, and Andrew Connolly, Director of Finance for R.R. Keller & Associates. Andrew observed, using the Walt Disney vernacular, “You’re in the dare phase. You need to have more guts and ask for more money.” He applauded the concept, but felt that they should be more bullish and launch SafetySpan boldly. Most entrepreneurs we’ve seen underestimate what they will actually need and tend to be overly conservative financially.
Wayne Siladi, PE shared his firms impressive experience in vulnerability assessment; risk analysis; forensic, earthquake, wind, and blast engineering; soil/structure interaction; and sustainability. Weidlinger Associates’ portfolio includes marquee projects like the Shanghai Port’s International Cruise Terminal (80,000 ton capacity), the Georgia Dome, Jacob Javitz Center, and The World Trade Center Forensic Study after 911. He said, “Interesting product.” He referenced the Buckminster Fuller Institute that published an authoritative article written by SafetySpan’s experts where they noted that earthquake loads in particular raise havoc on large buildings, especially where concrete floor comprise 70% of the building’s dead weight. Seismic activity distributes tensile loads across rigid membranes or concrete floors. When dead weight swings and sways, buildings collapse taking human lives. Ideally, design engineers want seismic activity to “pass through” the building. SafetySpan just might be the conduit seismic experts are looking for.
Lester Hensley, President of EMSeal Joint Systems provides structural and architectural sealing products for construction projects such as span bridges, sports stadiums, high rise buildings, and parking decks. His advice was for SafetySpan to complete all testing of the product. This way ratings and results can be provided to civil engineers and architects. Concrete has been used for commercial flooring for decades; introducing new fabric will cause a seachange and shake up the entire building industry. Once embraced by the engineered product space, LEED savvy civil engineers, and architects, this could be the wave (pun intended) of the future. He felt the number one selling point is that SafetySpan prevents progressive collapse, something concrete can’t do. Like a spider web in a wind storm. (Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.)
Our second entrepreneur, Terry Anderton CEO of Trunity, introduced their knowledge-sharing platform which leverages crowd sourcing, or community based design, knowledge, and problem solving. This approach is trending in e-learning empowering virtual publishing, dynamic textbooks, rich content (video) and breaking news. Trunity has harnessed 1500 scientists to contribute to textbooks delivered on-line through Trunity’s Virtual Classroom. Furthermore, Trunity has been awarded several NSF grants to develop this disruptive solution and is partnered with NASA, The National Academy’s of Science, The Encyclopedia of the Earth and the National Foundation for Science and the Environment. Now the “Do” part. They are working with IBM to deliver a commercial solution.
Our distinguished review panel consisted of Ben Bassi, CEO of CommonPlaces e-Solutions, Bill Horn, Executive and Advisory Board Member of the RIMA Foundation, and Yvonne Simon, Chief Executive Officer, Southern New Hampshire University Online. Ben Bassi kicked-off the panel’s comments by recommending that Trunity focus on a 50:50 educations vs. commercial ratio for applications. He raised the question of “are you selling to universities or professors?”. Remember, universities are in the business of generating revenue for textbooks. Ideally, Trunity and Terry must find a way to make this a win-win for educational institutions, partner with publishers, or compete with them.
Bill Horn suggested that there may be wisdom in approaching new commercial markets such as bio/medical and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Both publish volumes of information that need to be made available world-wide. He also brilliantly suggested approaching LexusNexis, the global source for legal research data now expanding to universities (law schools) and corporations. The challenges are data related – unstructured data content can have legal and compliance exposures and who is responsible for managing it? These challenges might be overcome by Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that “develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.”
Finally, Yvonne Simon suggested that Trunity would really make their mark if they focused instead on becoming the replacement for Blackboard, the defacto standard for educational tracking and on-line learning today. She noted that professors need a way to contribute content quickly and Blackboard doesn’t allow this easily, is also not a social learning platform, or open.
Yvonne brought to light a progressive initiative led by Cable Green, Director of eLearning & Open Education for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC). They just adopted an open licensing policy for the competitive grants they administer using “An Expectation of Sharing: Guidelines for Effective Policies to Respect, Protect and Increase the Use of Digital Educational Resources” and “An Evaluation of Private Foundation Copyright Licensing Policies, ... Cable’s passion started as an initiative to drive down the cost of textbooks, many of which are sold in bundles, if you need them or not. Legislation followed and is moving state-by-state in favor of students who can’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars they don’t have.
Do these trends democratize content, or create a via business model that Trunity can capitalize on? The Dream part is real – now students in Africa can have access to the same information that students in Boston, Manchester, or Durham have. All they need is a cloud and a dream.
In closing, you might enjoy finding out what “Dream, Believe, Dare, Do” blossomed into Disney Corporation - their 10 guiding principles. Or stars to sail by.
10 Disney principles*:
*The Disney Way, by Bill Capodagli & Lynn Jackson, McGraw Hill, 2007
See you at the next Entrepreneur Forum!
Catherine Blake, President
Sales Protocol International