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StudySync, An "MTV Meets Yale" Social Learning Tool Being Evaluated by SF Unified School District

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.

StyleSeat: A Social Network For The Beauty and Wellness Industries

There is an abundance of services in San Francisco: restaurants, music venues, bike shops, bars, boutiques, dry cleaners, Starbucks. Such is big city life. But there are also tons of hair salons and exercise studios. When seeking a new look, or workout, I turn to referrals. That is, my social network of the fabulously coiffed and fit. Enter StyleSeat.

Founders Den Partner Says Angels May Supplant VCs in Current Tech Boom

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.

Jawbone Promo Video Pokes Fun at SF's Start-Up Scene In Another Viral Success for Portal A Interactive

Here's an amusing one making the rounds this week: Another video produced by Portal A Interactive, the digital media and production company behind last year's omnipresent Giants Don't Stop Believing video. Portal A hosted a Viral Video Summit last week at Public Works to discuss how brands can get better exposure via video. This one for Jawbone's JAMBOX release (where ASHKON makes a cameo in a taco truck) is yet another example of a success — it was posted within hours of its release on Techcrunch last week and has been enjoying some more exposure on The Bold Italic.  Happy Wednesday. 

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Try Out Square's Card Case at Sightglass, Smitten Ice Cream, Pinkie's Bakery, Devil's Teeth, and 10 Other Bay Area Merchants

It's easy to imagine some things of our not-so-distant past — land phones, Myspace, headgear — being studied in history courses or ending up as set pieces in period theme parks. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey's new(ish) venture Square, headquartered in the Chronicle Building in SoMa, may soon add cash registers to that list. The company is moving towards a near billion dollar funding round and its Square Credit Card Readers now process more than $3 million per day in mobile payments. The Card Readers fit into mobile devices to allow merchants to process credit card transactions (Square makes money by charging 2.75 percent per transaction fee) on-the-go or without a register.

And just last month at TechCrunch Disrupt in New York, Square revealed the latest in their register-busting product fleet, The Square Register for the iPad, which is currently being used by 14 "beta" merchants around San Francisco, and the Square Card Case for consumers, which is essentially a virtual wallet. After a first credit card swipe, participating merchants can send customers a link to download the Square Card Case app (for both iPhone and Android), which allows you to open a "tab" at a vendor and then pay straight from your phone for all future purchases. They'll send you a receipt via mobile text to approve, which will then go into your payment history at the vendor.

Art, Science, and Story-Telling in the Age of Entrepreneurship

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.

Highlights from Last Night's SVNewTech Meetup

Silicon Valley NewTech, the Bay Area's largest and oldest tech meetup group, gets together every month inside a conference room at DLA Piper in Palo Alto to eat pizza, drink some beers and listen to presentations from startups. At nearly 7,000 members strong, SVNewTech chooses four startups every month to showcase their product through a 15-minute demo and presentation, followed by a rapid-fire question and answer period from the audience. Joe Robinson, the organizer of Silicon Valley NewTech, will be bringing us the highlights from these meetups, reporting on some of the most promising ideas presented. Below are his notes from last night.

Optimizely

Most businesses and organizations have websites, but very few have any idea what's working and what's not. Optimizely wants to change all of that through their incredibly simple A/B testing platform. The service is easy enough for anyone to use, and coding is limited to copying & pasting one line of code to the page you want to test.

The Optimizely co-founders, Pete Kooman and Dan Siroker, are great examples of how persistence and experimentation are key ingredients to startup success. They worked together at Google as Product Managers, co-founded a previous company together called CarrotSticks, and are now applying their learnings to Optimizely.

How Real Estate Brand BHGRE Became a Publisher Featured on Flipboard

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.

New de Young Museum App Gives a Virtual Tour Through the Eyes of the Artists

Anyone who's ventured through Golden Gate Park and into the gorgeous de Young knows it sports world-class art, artifacts and exhibits of the mind-blowing caliber. The savvy museum has revealed a glittering new app for iPhones and iPads that takes viewers through the museum using world-renowned artists as guides to the collections, the museum's history and even the building itself.

Transported: A Car That Parallel Parks For You

Depressing fact: the average San Franciscan wastes almost a full work week and $1,100 worth of gas in "idle time" — meaning in traffic or circling for parking — every year. But before you get too down, look forward to this: a new arsenal of car technology, demo-ed by Ford this week at AT&T Park, is working to alleviate parking woes and the road rage associated with sitting in traffic.

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