August 5, 2009

Final reflections on the Traveling Geeks trip

Craig & Karyn

JD LasicaIt has been one month since the Traveling Geeks kicked off our trip to London and Cambridge with a Tweetup at JuJu in Chelsea. (I was the chief organizer of trip.) From this distance and vantage point, here are a few random impressions:

• I think too much can be made of the differences between entrepreneurship in the UK and in the United States. While it’s true that Silicon Valley nurtures a spirit of innovation marked by the mantra “Fail often, but fail fast” — an axiom that permits experimentation without demanding an immediate return to investors — it’s even more true that the businessmen and entrepreneurs I met along the way have the same fire in the belly — a burning desire to build something of great value.

SeedCamp was a high point of the trip to many of us, and apart from the well-done, compact presentations, it was fascinating to watch tomorrow’s young business leaders mingle with each other and exchange ideas and contact information. Cross-pollination at its best. Spotify, Huddle, Skimlinks, Zemanta — these are names that may grow into notable consumer brands in the coming years, and Moo arguably already has. (Here’s my writeup; and here’s my video interview with Skimlinks founder Alicia Navarro.)

• Appreciated the free exchange of ideas at the Econsultancy Roundtable, including London2012 director Alex Balfour’s frank take on the give and take between broadcast television and new media at the London Games.

• Enjoyed getting to know all of the geeks better: Meghan Asha, Sarah Lacey, Sky Schuyler, Susan Bratton, Craig Newmark (pictured above), Robert Scoble, Ayelet Noff and especially Howard Rheingold, who rarely travels in a pack despite his book Smart Mobs. See my short video of Howard in front of King’s College discussing the themes of his closing keynote at Reboot Britain, an event that provided a perfect kickoff to the week.

• The Monday morning roundtable with Tristan Wilkinson, Intel UK’s Director for Public Sector, nicely framed many of the week’s discussions, with a thoughtful exchange about a social media literacy gap taking the place of a hardware digital divide.

CapturaTalk• I had the good fortune to be seated, during a dinner in one of Cambridge’s historic colleges, next to two fascinating entrepreneurs: to my left, the founder of mobispeech, maker of CapturaTalk (“take a picture, hear the word and understand,” a mobile OCR technology app particularly useful for people with disabilities such as dyslexia and those learning English as a second language). Download a free 30-day trial of CapturaTalk here. I’ve lost the fellow’s name — he didn’t have a business card, alas — but I found his sense of humor captivating. “We practice what we preach and hire dyslexics. Almost everyone on staff. Honestly, proofing our marketing materials has been a problem,” he said with a laugh.

• To my right was seated William Tunstall Pedoe, founder-CEO of True Knowledge, which is about to make a splash in the search marketplace. (Enter a question, get an answer back.) Here’s Renee’s video interview with William.

• Did you know that Cambridge is celebrating its 800th birthday this year?

• I think we were all enthralled by the stunning landscapes throughout our journey, from the fabulous view atop the BT Tower (thanks again to JP Rangaswami for the fabulous dinner) to the historic architecture of Cambridge. Here are my photo sets of London and Cambridge. Is there a more civilized way to top off a business-heavy day of appearances in Cambridge than with punting on the Cam while sipping champagne? I think not.

• An afternoon at Cambridge Consultants proved what I’d long suspected: that Europe is ahead of the United States when it comes to marketplace efficiencies and government incentives to reduce our carbon footprint, as the demo of a green kitchen with smart metering amply demonstrated. (The U.S. needs to play catch-up — fast.) Too, the glimpse we got into the future of wireless medical devices was especially illuminating.

• The technology piece of the trip came off better than I expected, thanks to the generosity of our sponsors (BT, Intel, NESTA, East of England, Nokia, Skype, Pure Digital’s Flip); here’s my debriefing with our tech lead, Sky Scuyler, who made the week go smoothly.

• Another highlight came with a light-night game, led by Susan Bratton, that stripped away social conventions and laid bare some of the secrets we carry with us. Thank you, Sarah, Robert, Susan, Ayelet, Rocky and Paul Carr of the Guardian for a memorable evening.

• Jane Austen jokes aside, Craig Newmark is a very fun guy to travel with.

• Had a rollicking good time at the Guardian podcast with Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones and the Guardian’s Emily Bell and Matt Wells. Here’s my writeup.

• We do owe one final shoutout to our sponsors for making this trip happen, in particular Ken Kaplan of Intel (with Christine Ngo also of great help), Roland Harwood of NESTA, Karyn Barnes of East of England International (pictured above with Craig) and JP Rangaswami of BT. We owe you our everlasting gratitude.

• Also a big thank you to my partners in crime, Traveling Geeks co-founders Jeff Saperstein, who brought a welcome calmness to the proceedings, and Renee Blodgett, who produced a big chunk of the media and brought in some needed sponsors at the end.

• I owe a debt to the Malmaison hotel, which shipped the sport coat I left in my room, and to Clare of Econsultancy, who made sure my LP-Micro strobe was sent back across the pond. Now if I could just locate my wits.

Cross-posted to the Traveling Geeks site.

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JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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  • Hi JD,

    Thanks for the nice words on Capturatalk. I was the fellow you sat next to at dinner in Cambridge. We have a great bit of video from the BBC of kids using capturatalk on our home page now.