The Best Conference for Orlando Problem Solvers… EVER!

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Entrepreneurship. A buzzword that either inspires like a life changing lecture or spooks like a perfectly executed Halloween prank. But what does it really mean? Can it be experienced without risking it all? And what would happen if a variety of fields came together to innovate? In 2007 the brainchild of the Kauffman Foundation, Global Entrepreneurship Week, was announced as the world’s opportunity to celebrate the entrepreneur in every person so they could provide solutions to the world’s problems. At this time, 77 countries have officially joined the movement. For the first time, Orlando, FL will be joining with a collaborative week long un-conference and partnership events called: The BIG Exchange.

How It Started in Orlando

Co-organizers Shea Glenny and Ryan Mickley attended a conference together and walked away, well, yearning for a bit more substance. Discussing it at a local coffee shop, Shea and Ryan identified that they wanted to host their ideal conference. It’s mission would allow anyone to explore their entrepreneurial spirit while addressing some of the community’s most pressing problems. Encouraged by a neighboring customer, Ryan and Shea discovered they were on to something pretty big. Less than a year later, the duo have pulled in 4 other millennial visionaries from a variety of fields to pull off this year’s celebration of entrepreneurship. With a focus on the power of bringing the unique gifts of each participant, the ultimate goal will be to create a sort of cross-synergy that allows true innovation to occur.

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The Run Down

Once registered, participants will self identify as Makers, Artists, Thinkers, or Educators. Then at the kickoff, participants will form groups of 8-12 and creatively solve a problem during the week. In addition to problem solving, participants will have access to workshops held throughout the greater Orlando area and partnership events throughout the city. At the Friday Showcase, teams close out the week with a presentation of their solutions and be in the running for a $30,000 prize pack.

Why you NEED to be there

First, just to meet the organizers and the people they have brought together. Aside from the fact that the Vision Board has developed into a close knit group, every sponsor they approached loved the idea and have found a way to support them. Second, the format of the conference will allow participants to come out with as Christa Rensel, a Vision Team member, stated, “A healthy rolodex of some of the most amazing people in Orlando.” Third, being an entrepreneur is risky business. Participants can try it out in a safe environment while learning processes on how to build something from a tangible idea. As Shea has been known to say, “you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to use entrepreneurial principles.” And if nothing else, $30K of prizes are at stake here. That’s better than any costume contest.

What if you can’t be there?

The whole week is being recorded, live-streamed, and live-tweeted. Also, anyone can submit a pressing problem that they believe should be addressed by November 10th. Get ahead of the game by following @Big_Exchange on Twitter and liking Big Exchange on Facebook.

If, somehow, you aren’t convinced check out the video below or peruse their website.

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A Life Changing Experience that Gave This Founder His Most Important Skills

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Mack Profile

Ask Mack Kolarich about his most significant memory of his time as a backcountry ranger in Washington state and you’ll hear the torment in his voice as he debates between two of them. The first, a hazy smoke filled sunset walk in the woods and the eerie howl of the not so distant wolves, the terrifying beauty of it being something he’ll never forget.  The second, was a trek to Horseshoe Basin where a couple thousand waterfalls, snowpacks and glaciers provided the most incredible connecting to nature experience.

Cascades Park Photo credit: Mack Kolarich

Cascades Park
Photo credit: Mack Kolarich

Embarking on 8-10 day long treks to maintain a national treasure, is something Mack’s dad always wanted to do. In true millennial fashion,  Mack took the hint to avoid living life with regret and spent a college summer putting out fires (literally) and underwent worldview shift that resulted in a stronger sense of self reliance. That self reliance has served the Political Economy major from Carleton College as he is now building his third startup company, Scenesquid a D.C. based company that handles posting event information on the behalf of its clients.

The founding organizer of DC Start Up Weekend, is by far one of the greatest advocates for young people striking out on their own and starting their own business. As we have seen how “the man” has become increasingly less reliable and less caring of their employees, starting your own business has become somewhat more reliable. In a world that is becoming more competitive as exceptional talent from other countries come online, having the control of your own destiny is becoming increasingly necessary.

scenesquid landing page

Although a stress inducing idea, Mack is optimistic about the outlook for millennials. “The number one edge millennials have is growing up in the digital world. It’s important for our generation to grab onto tech skills, know basic coding. We need to have that baseline of tech savvy as that is where our world is heading. As they say in hockey, don’t skate to the puck but skate to where the puck is going.” With those skills and flexibility, no matter where the economy goes those skills build much needed resilience.

However, millennials face several serious challenges. Student loan debt increases the perceived risk for an already risky endeavor and motivates many to find more stable jobs until they can pursue other projects. Competition is only going to become harder as India and China produce more graduates than ever before. Short attention spans and armchair activism generates a level of complacency that could impede creativity.

But, for all of these drawbacks millennials possess several qualities that are creating a demand for a drastically different lifestyle from our parents. The insatiable curiosity and willingness to try new things will naturally push our generation to constantly innovate and allow for new companies, products, etc. gain traction much faster than in the past. As Mack said, “that is our most valuable edge.”

Would you agree with what Mack has to say about Millennials? Post your comments below.

Cornerstone Investments for Central Florida’s Start up Community

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Since returning to my hometown of Orlando, I have been trying to check out all of the resources available to startups and enterprising individuals. Earlier this week, I participated in the Melrose Center’s General Orientation to gain access to their video editing resources and what I found literally blew my mind. Made possible by an extremely generous donation by Dorothy Lumley Melrose and her family, the Orange County Library in Downtown Orlando was able to build a $1 million tech facility for it’s patrons.

From the second you step onto the second floor, you are drawn to the smiling face of Dorothy Lumley Melrose and the inviting glass wall behind her. Once you step through the glass doors to the 26,000 square foot space, you forget that you are in a library and get the bug to build something. With your Orange County Library Card, or for a small fee, members have access to a live recording studio, a professional television studio with green screen, sound booth equipment, a photo studio, an impressive array of classes, a simulation room, and, my personal favorite, a 12ft by 8ft interactive media wall.

Although the specifics of what they offer is impressive, the fact that all of it is free (aside from the conference room) is game changing for startups in the area. Equipment and collaboration space are some of the highest barriers to entry when starting a business. Having free access to both? It’s a life saver. This access, in addition to a GoFundMe campaign to address Orlando’s seed fund problem, are crucial pieces building explosive growth in Downtown Orlando’s startup sector.

Are there any other tools that you believe are necessary to build a thriving startup community? Do you know of any other areas that I should feature on my quest to find some of the best resources for entrepreneurs? Post in the comments below or email me directly at marissa@millennialtakeover.com.

Want to help build Orlando’s Startup community? Donate:

For access to equipment and classes, the Friends of the Orange County Library provide financial support to make it happen.

To provide critical seed funding for Orlando startups, go here.

How to Improve Access to Energy in Haiti One Finish Line at a Time

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A little while ago, I had the chance to meet up with a new friend Bradley Bulifant. This business management major from the University of Florida has had quite the adventure. From being a recording artist to managing large scale events to finally, developing The Solar Games; a mobile racing game aimed at supporting solar panel grids for rural villages in Haiti. But how does one go from majoring in business to launching a triple bottom line mobile app? By paying very close attention.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Once Bradley left his band, he went to work providing reconstruction solutions in the wake of national natural disasters, like Katrina in Louisiana and Charley in Florida. In between disasters, Bradley capitalized on the free time to pursue other projects. First, it was aiding the development of a sister city relationship between Gainesville, FL and Jacmel, Haiti as a response to the 2010 earthquake. Over time, Bradley became increasingly involved with all things Haiti with somewhat regular travel and interacting with the artisan community. When he was state-side he began to notice that apps and websites were making some serious money through ads and partnerships. Seeing the desperate need for energy paired with incredible revenues generated from mobile business, Bradley with some early members of Grooveshark began to pursue a mobile game that could connect a player to solving a social problem.

Since 2010, the development of the startup has faced many challenges. But the dominant issue, as it is for any startup, has been funding. Without a salaried team, Bradley has relied on help from friends and students who were looking for real world experience, and bit by laborious bit, the Solar Games is becoming a reality. Tapped to be a member of the Clinton Global Initiative with their commitment to action, Bradley’s work with the Solar Games is truly a disruptive way to funding development projects.

As any founder can attest to, you cannot come away from building something without a few nuggets of wisdom. In Bradley’s case, planning and goal setting have been crucial to his success. He urged that it doesn’t have to be a 50 page document, but rather a realistic timeline to keep the project on track. Developing a community to market your project too has to be included in that planning process. That community is what will help you during crowd funding, constructive feedback, and the marketing phases. In addition to community, having a solid pitch, and putting your ideas into concise wording will only help you refine what you are looking to achieve.

GoodXGames photo

GoodXGames photo

With the formal launch around the corner, Bradley and his team are racing to meet their goals. If you are nearly as excited about this game as I am, like their page on Facebook to keep up with the team and get an exclusive look at what goes into building this app.

Showcasing How Orlando is Growing from Tourism to Tech

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Growing up in Orlando always had it’s advantages. School field trips to Disney and other amusement parks, just starts that list. But, one thing that ALWAYS annoyed me was that whenever I met anyone new, inevitably they would ask, “So let me guess, you go to Disney, like everyday? Right?”

When I returned home I expected to see an Orlando wasting away in the shadow of the Mouse, with few opportunities to be a part of something bigger than a paycheck. But in the last two months I’ve discovered this, this incredible burgeoning tech industry. Who knew that the land of rest and relaxation could possibly be home to a growing number of tech startups?

OTW_Logo_FINAL_Yellow_Background canvs-logo-resized 1MillionCupsOrl EnvyLabs-logo-color-medium-transparent-300x159 This weekend, kicks off the first annual Orlando Tech Week, where a collaboration of events will be showcasing what this startup tech industry has to offer. I will be tweeting throughout the week so follow my handle @theMTakeover and will be providing a recap at the end of next week. If you are within safe travel distance it is not to late to get your tickets to hear from senior level execs from Mashable, Priceline.com, ESPN, Code School, NBC Universal, and many many others. Below I’ve pasted the Agenda as seen on Orlando Tech Week’s Website where you can get the most up to date information and buy tickets. See you there!

Agenda

September 27, 2014
BARCAMP ORLANDO
9:00 am – 5:00 pm, Church Street , Cheyenne Saloon
September 29, 2014
8:00 am – 1:00 pm 
September 30, 2014
8:00 am – 3:00 pm
ISUMMIT
Church Street
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
PROCESSING ORLANDO: ART, GADGETS, AND TECH

Church Street Exchange
Nathan SelikoffNathan Selikoff                 Orlando TechOrlando TechMore info
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
SCHWARTZ TECH AWARDS

Orchid Garden
October 1, 2014
9:00 am – 11:00 am
1 MILLION CUPS ORLANDO

Rollins College
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
EQUITY CROWDFUNDING
Church Street Exchange
Ryan FeitRyan Feit                       Orlando TechOrlando TechMore info
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
STARTUP SHOWCASE
Ceviche Tapas Orlando
Orlando TechOrlando Tech                 IndienomiconIndienomiconMore info
October 2, 2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
LOWCOUNTRY BOIL & TECH MEETUP

Lake Eola Amphitheater
October 3, 2014
7:00 pm – 10:00 pm
T-PARTY

The Veranda

Millennial Interview: Luxury Boutique Hotel owner in Haiti.

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When you first think of a hotel in Haiti, something like this might come to mind:

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Although similar places can be found, a visit to Haiti could land you somewhere like this:
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Starting a boutique hotel in a poverty stricken country takes serious guts, commitment, and a stockpile of patience. I found these qualities in Lorraine Hudicourt owner of La Lorraine, the most recent addition to Port-au-Prince’s luxury hotel scene. Lorraine’s laid back ambition and perfectionism boasts from every detail.

Beyond the open walkway encased in linen drapes, you will find the popular restaurant Cafe 36, where I met with Lorraine.  Every inch of decor adds a sense of privacy and a sense of protection from the harsh realities of living in Haiti. All of the daily stress melted away once I arrived at the dining area that provides a Caribbean urban oasis.

The after work crowd starts to settle in as a popular D.J. sets up his kit on the humble stage. I look around for Lorraine and catch her as she is attending to the needs of an ongoing conference and smoothly transitioning the dinner crowd to the happy hour that’s about to begin.

Nothing alters a plan quite like a 7.0 earthquake.With a crushing demand for hotels in the area, Lorraine stayed on to manage the hotel. Coincidentally, a parcel of land that Lorraine had dreamed about for years also came onto the market. With encouragement from her mother, Lorraine did the crazy, risky thing and bought the land to achieve her dream of owning a hotel.  After three years of negotiating, patience, and perseverance, La Lorraine opened her doors in November 2012.

After a little over a year, the wild success experienced by the hotel has encouraged Lorraine to think of how to improve and expand. Although being a millennial hasn’t been a challenge, what has been difficult has been finding quality employees. With a significant portion of the population unable to read or write, finding people who will at least meet expectations can be extremely difficult. But ask her about her big travel dreams, she laughs and responds with: “They are extinct, but I’m happy here.” As Lorraine has shown, life has a funny way of changing our plans, often for the better.

 

ECSSA: Turning Haiti’s Trash into an Economic Lifeline

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ECSSA Operation Center

When visiting Haiti as a child, I was always baffled at how the streets housed so much trash. It seemed like every side road had a mountain of garbage where just about anybody had to pick their way around. Many years later, though trash heaps still fight to claim areas where creeks or rivers once were, the roads are becoming cleaner and the cleanup has created hundreds of jobs that were not there before. How did Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, turn their massive trash problem into a treasure trove? One millennial, Edouard Carrie of Haiti, took on the challenge while studying entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa. As a student he asked the question: how can we employ local people while clearing the streets of Haiti? Well as they say, timing is everything and as Edouard was developing his business plan two key events took place: the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and an internship.

While the 300,000+ population of Port-au-Prince was stunned by the havoc left by the earthquake, Edouard immediately started crafting ways to help his country work its way out of the rubble. Initially, he considered cement recycling. There was so much rubble and it needed to be cleared before recovery efforts could be pursued. It proved to be too big and too complicated, especially with experienced companies already working in the area. That’s when Edouard started to look at recycling other materials, specifically plastic.

How It Started

With Haiti on his mind, Edouard networked his way to an internship at a recycling facility in Connecticut. As an intern, he interacted with leaders of the recycling industry who came to know about Edouard’s desire for recycling in Haiti. Moved by his determination, a mentor discounted his extra compactor to help bring Edouard’s dream to a reality. Paired with an old generator from his dad’s factory, Edouard had the machinery needed to found Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A. (ECSSA). But, as any entrepreneur knows, getting the equipment was just the beginning of the challenge.

Post-earthquake Haiti was flooded with businesses, non-profits, governments, and individuals all trying to help with the effort; creating very confusing market conditions. Banks weren’t lending and donations were earmarked for immediate relief items like tents and water, not capital for aspiring businesses. Not to be deterred, ECSSA quilted together capital from international grants and other funding sources to open their doors in the fall of 2010. After opening day, it has been a roller coaster for ECSSA. Success has been celebrated by earning Entrepreneur of the Year Awards every year they have been in business from his alma mater, University of Tampa (2010, 2012) and mega cell phone provider in Haiti, Digicel (2011). Challenges have arisen in the form of accessing equipment and handling supply. Through it all Edouard has built a social venture in a very risky market and made an impact in his community.

Nuts and Bolts

ECSSA aspires to do three things:

1) Eliminate waste in Haiti

2) Teach the Haitian community the value of waste

3) Educate the community about the importance of recycling

To achieve these goals ECSSA has developed a process where collection centers around the country weigh and pay those who bring in a variety of plastics and aluminum. Then the supply is sorted, processed, compacted into bales, and then shipped to international buyers.  ECSSA covers the transportation of the material as well as the collection bags to encourage as much participation as possible.

Such a logistics heavy operation requires the help of a dedicated staff. In Edouard’s case, the help of an assistant and his family are doing everything from logistics to keeping up the motivation despite the various challenges that arise in Haiti. Going forward Edouard is leading ECSSA as the largest plastic collector in the country and has learned a couple of life lessons. So what is Edouard’s biggest piece of advice? “Luck is a huge part of starting a business, but you have to go out and create your luck. Don’t get discouraged, because there will be good times as well as bad, but as long as you focus.”

If you want to learn more about ECSSA and the work they are doing in Haiti check out their website at: www.ecssahaiti.com.