By 2001, writer, educator and entrepreneur Robert Romano had already developed and sold a successful educational software company when he refocused his attention on raising his kids and writing a novel.
Meanwhile, as any parent can attest, the technological environment our kids are growing up in is radically disrupting the way they perceive the world around them, and changing the way they learn.
With his background in literature and writing, Romano found it difficult to see his son put off his summer reading (which included Walden) in favor of movies and video games until it was almost time to go back to school.
So he decided to try and do something about it. The result is a brand new educational product called StudySync, which is, in essence, a collaborative social learning tool that uses high-end videos and other interactive multimedia features to make books like the 19th-century classic by Thoreau more accessible to a 21st-century kid on his iPhone.
Clustered around South Park in Soma are hundreds of companies in the forefront of the city's latest tech boom, occupying blocks where disruptive innovation has been a way of life for decades.
Just a few doors down from the old 70s Rolling Stone office on Third Street, for example — and across the street from where HotWired aka Wired Digital operated in the 90s — sits the Founders Den, a shared office space and private club for serial entrepreneurs.
Co-founder Jason Johnson, at 40 himself a serial entrepreneur with four startups in his past, had left his job at Dolby Labs in spring 2010 and was working out of his home on Potrero Hill, when he realized he missed the comraderie of hanging out with his former colleagues and geeks. So he sent out an email inquiring to a bunch of them whether anyone would like to share some office space with him downtown.
The response was positive and immediate, and three of them became his co-partners in launching Founders Den this past January. The well-designed space does not serve as an incubator, or a mentoring lab, but as a co-working environment for those companies with seed funding but not yet ready to get their Series A round of funding.
You know that the number of startups has reached a critical mass of sorts when academic studies start appearing in an attempt to document the "science" of entrepreneurship, as opposed to its "art."
Another way to put it might be "data replacing anecdotes."
Which brings us to the recent study called the Startup Genome Report: Cracking the Code of Innovation, coauthored by a team of professors from Stanford and UC Berkeley.
The report was based on surveys of over 650 Internet startups and identified at least 14 key factors that help determine success, including the finding that balanced teams of one business founder and one technical founder raise 30 percent more money, experience almost three times greater user growth, and are less likely to scale "prematurely" than unbalanced teams.
One way to breathe new life into an old brand is to aggressively leverage social media technology, and that's exactly what Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC, a startup launched (at a tech conference) in San Francisco three years ago is doing.
The company, which is headquartered in Parsippany, New Jersey, licensed the right to use the household name of the magazine founded in 1922 from media giant Meredith. The license runs for 100 years.
"On the one hand we had to overcome the stigma of 'that's a magazine my grandma used to read,' " explains BHGRE's president and CEO Sherry Chris. "But on the other, it's got 97% brand recognition. Now we're building it out on a social platform to reach out to the next generation of buyers, sellers, agents and brokers."
As of two weeks ago, the company became the only real estate franchise whose content appears on Flipboard, the fast-growing Palo Alto "social magazine" that aggregates content (without ads) on the iPad.
In the midst of a recession that seems to never end, there are plenty of people who need to find new ways to put some cash in their pockets.
Meanwhile, those lucky enough to have jobs often feel like they have to work so hard just to stay employed that they no longer have enough time or energy to take care of the routine tasks of daily life outside of the workplace.
To Michael Peggs, those two economic realities describe an online marketplace waiting to be born.
Meet Peggsit, a startup so young that you if you move quickly enough you could be one of the first 50 people to use it.
One of the hottest debates inside newsrooms and media studies programs the past few years is whether journalism itself has any real future left, given the widespread disruptions sweeping through the traditional media industry, including the massive layoffs of newspaper reporters.
In light of this, the 45-year-old Knight Fellowship Program at Stanford has transformed itself from a mid-career sabbatical opportunity into an incubator of entrepreneurial ideas that just might help journalism better adapt and survive.
The current 20 Knight Fellows, 12 of whom come from overseas, presented their visions late last week at an event called "Re-Engineering Journalism."
Jigar Mehta, a video journalist affiliated with The New York Times, created a crowd-sourced, interactive documentary called "18 Days in Egypt," which encouraged Egyptians to contibute videos, photos, e-mails and tweets from their cellphones during their historic uprising earlier this year.
The same week that industrial designers and roommates Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky quit their day jobs back in 2007 to try and become entrepreneurs, the landlord of their SoMa apartment hiked their rent.
Faced with a sudden need to make some extra cash, they hit upon an idea. They knew that a major design convention was opening in town and that the hotels were fully booked. So they contacted the attendee list to offer airbeds in their apartment for people having trouble finding a place to stay.
The response was overwhelming and they quickly booked three guests, which netted them $1,000 or so, and in the process Airbnb was born, a community marketplace for people to list and find unique places to stay around the world.
Fast-forward to today, and Airbnb (which is headquartered in SoMa) is truly global in scope and has reached what Gebbia calls a "tipping point," with over 60,000 active listings in 12,663 cities in 181 countries. And just yesterday, it was announced that actor/tech fanatic Ashton Kutcher has invested a significant amount of money in the company and signed on as an advisor.
Fed up with how long it takes to get a doctor's appointment? With long waits in a room filled with sick people? With brief checkups resulting in a prescription for a marginally effective drug?
One Medical Group says there is a better way.
Founded in San Francisco by Dr. Tom X. Lee in 2007, One Medical is a radically different kind of health service, completely digital and interactive in ways that take much of the pain out of the entire experience for both doctors and patients.
"The way we look at it," says Lee, "is that we are trying to redesign the primary health care environment from the old model centered around the doctor's office to one where we work with patients in the digital realm, allowing the office to becomes simply an extension of our relationship with the patient."
Last Friday afternoon, a big, wind-driven fire broke out in the Mission, heavily damaging two houses. Like many of my neighbors, I walked over to watch the firefighters at work and snapped a few photos, which I later posted to Facebook.
There, a few people commented, but inevitably, those shots pretty much got lost in the stream. Just another little local story, partially told and easily forgotten -- one among many.
Well, Luke Stangel and his team of 10 would like to fix that. They are building a mobile photojournalism platform that may help photos like those of the fire find a more useful home -- as part of crowd-based news photo network in real time organized by geo-coded location.
The first iteration of their platform, which is called Tackable, has been around since last October in beta, including a live iPhone version for the Spartan Daily at San Jose State University, just down the road from Tackable's offices in the cavernous (and now largely empty) Mercury News building off of Highway 101 in San Jose.
The first fatal shooting ever to occur in the school's history happened earlier this spring, and students were posting photos and comments to Tackable almost immediately afterward, whereas the Mercury News was able to publish its story about the tragedy only the following morning.
A few years ago, when orthopedic surgeon Dr. David Chang was opening his Bay Area Sports Orthopaedics practice in Oakland, he tried to go "paperless."
"I figured that as a young guy, tech-savvy, and being a small practice, I could do it," he recounts. "But I was wrong."
After a number of attempts, including purchasing a $20,000 electronic records system that was so bad he had to quickly shelve it, the Stanford grad returned to the "old-fashioned way -- paper and pen" to do his work.