Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CurbTXT Gives Drivers a Chance to Correct Their Parking Mistakes

In a city where it can be a challenge to drive and park, a group of young San Franciscans have started a service that lets people anonymously text drivers if they've done something wrong, such as parking in a tow zone or blocking someone's driveway. Because leaving notes under windshields is so low-tech – and by the time the owner returns, their car may have already been towed.

Launched in September of last year, CurbTXT encourages neighborliness in a time when passive-aggressive parking notes have become common. If you see a car that's been left with its lights on, for instance, you can send a text to CurbTXT with the vehicle's license plate and a message, which the startup will pass along to the driver. The service is free to use and you don't need to register to send a message. And unless you identify yourself in the text, the recipient will never know who sent the benevolent note. Drivers have to register their car to receive texts, though, as well as place a small CurbTXT sticker on the back of their vehicle to indicate their participation in the service.

“We were just trying to solve that problem, how do you communicate to someone you don't know, but you know their car is there and you want to reach them,” says Alex Maxa, one of the co-founders of CurbTXT. According to him, San Francisco's board of supervisors has expressed interest in the service. The city doesn't make money from towed cars (that goes to the towing company), and if CurbTXT does get integrated into the city's parking management system, parking enforcement officers can text car owners, who will likely move their car out of the way faster than the towing company. As for the potential problem of getting unwanted texts from spammers, simply texting “#block” will take care of it.

Udemy: Online School Democratizes Education

Since 2010, Udemy has helped half a million students from all over the world learn everything from cake decorating to programming. With a mission to democratize learning, the online platform offers a broad selection of courses taught by industry experts. Whether you want to start a business, get promoted, or just learn a new hobby, Udemy has over 5,000 courses that can help you accelerate your life. If you already have something in mind, just type the topic into the search bar and browse the results. Or you can check out the popular courses and see if something grabs your attention. Course fees range from free to $500.

Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Udemy was co-founded by Eren Bali, Oktay Caglar, and Gagan Biyani. Last year, the company released an iPad app, allowing students to learn even while they're on the go. Udemy is backed by Lightbank, Insight Venture Partners, 500 Startups, and MHS Capital, among others.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Smartboard: Real-Time Collaboration for Smartphones and Tablets

Founded by University of Southern California alums Elliot Lee and Thuy Truong, GreenGar Studios makes fun, simple, and useful mobile apps in several categories, from games to productivity. So far, the startup has released about a dozen apps for the iOS and Android platforms, surpassing 12 million downloads in June of 2012. With offices in Ho Chi Minh City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, GreenGar makes some of the most popular apps on the Apple App Store and has users from all over the world.

Recently, GreenGar announced its latest application, Smartboard, which the company claims to be the best real-time collaboration app for mobile devices. A spin-off of its popular Whiteboard app, Smartboard allows cross-platform collaboration, letting iOS and Android users work on the same project in real-time. Up to five smartphones and tablets on the same Wi-Fi network can collaborate on a Smartboard canvas. Whenever someone draws on their device, the changes they make will be reflected on all collaborators' devices instantly.

Smartboard also comes with plenty of handy features such as undo, redo, a color picker, quickly starting over with a new canvas, and opacity and width adjustments for each stroke. Users can save their notes and drawings to various cloud storage services including Evernote, Google Drive, and iCloud, ensuring that their ideas are never lost and can be accessed from any device. The iPad version of Smartboard is equipped with special features like text, layers, and natural markers. And with social integration, users can show off any artworks they're particularly proud of by submitting them to the Smartboard gallery, sharing them on Twitter, or posting them to Facebook.

Smartboard was one of the 10 finalists selected among 290 applicants for the 2013 Women 2.0 Pitch SF Startup Competition. Co-founder Thuy Truong presented the app onstage at the Women 2.0 Conference, where Smartboard was named the runner-up.

Maker's Row Keeps Manufacturing in America

Founded in 2012, Maker's Row is an online platform that aims to make factory sourcing easy for designers, small business owners, and large corporations. The website gathers America's best factories in one place, providing easy access to industry-specific manufacturers and suppliers across the nation. The domestic sourcing platform is the brainchild of Matthew Burnett and Tanya Menendez. Maker's Row currently lists factories that specialize in producing apparel and accessories, with more industry categories coming in the future.

As a designer or organization, you can search for a factory based on how far you are in your project, whether you're in the ideation, pattern-making, materials, sample-making, tooling, or production stage. You can also narrow your search by product category and location. Maker's Row will then show you all the factories that match your criteria, and you can check out their profiles (complete with video) and contact potential manufacturers or save their profile for later.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bliu Bliu: Language Learning Without Flashcards and Textbooks

How many of us have attempted to learn a new language and failed to master it, despite all the classes attended, the online courses purchased, and the hours spent on grammar exercises? Lithuanian startup Bliu Bliu promises to give language students a better way to become fluent in French, Japanese, or whichever language they're learning. That means no traditional methods such as flashcards, textbooks, and boring rules and lessons. 

Currently in private beta, Bliu Bliu helps you learn a foreign language naturally, just as how you learned your native language. The startup doesn't believe in lessons, classes, or any “artificial” materials that have been created to teach language. Instead, Bliu Bliu adapts to you. First, it shows you the most frequently used words from the language you're studying to determine how much or how little you know about it. Then, the website presents a list of actual texts taken from the Internet for you to read, based on your knowledge. It also gives you challenge texts, which contain mostly familiar words and a few unfamiliar ones. You can likely guess the meaning of these words since they're used in a specific context.

In addition to text, Bliu Bliu gives you audio recordings and videos that you can understand. Because Bliu Bliu knows exactly which words you know, it only shows content that is tailored to your level. You can also talk to native speakers on the site, and Bliu Bliu will let them know which words you're already familiar with so you'll feel like you're communicating well with them.

The startup was founded by Claudio Santori, an Italian who moved to Lithuania and found it difficult to learn the local language. Bliu Bliu won the recent TechChill Baltics competition and is slated to launch this year. Meanwhile, you can get an invitation here.

Adam D'Angelo Wants to Organize the Knowledge of the World

Recently named to Business Insider's 2013 Silicon Valley 100 list, Adam D'Angelo is the chief executive officer of Quora, a question-and-answer website he co-founded three years ago. D'Angelo started Quora as he himself enjoys reading books and learning new things. Seeing how there wasn't a good solution that organized the world's knowledge, he was inspired to launch Quora as a platform where people can access and share knowledge easily. “I think if you look, a lot of the knowledge is decentralized and we wanted to build a core place oriented to knowledge,” he says. D'Angelo believes that the future of information is about quality, not what's first and what's new.

Prior to co-founding Quora, D'Angelo served as Facebook's first chief technology officer, in which role he supervised the engineering team and oversaw new product development. He was also responsible for directing the social network's infrastructure and architecture to ensure scalability as the site grew.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

WishPop: A New Wishlist App for Kids

Buying gifts for kids – your own kids, your friends' kids, your kids' friends, your nieces or nephews, or your grandkids – isn't always easy. For one thing, you have to keep track of all their birthdays and other special occasions. Additionally, it can be tricky to figure out what they like (as kids' tastes change a lot) and what they already own, especially if you live far away.

Robert Ross, an Apple engineer turned startup founder, had that same dilemma with his 10-year-old daughter. Despite knowing her very well and talking to her all the time, Ross often had difficulty knowing what she'll like. It was only when his daughter made a wishlist for the holidays last year that he found out what she was currently into, and that inspired him to create an app that would help kids and grownups become better at wishing and gift-giving.

Launched this week, WishPop is a free iPad app that lets kids easily create a year-round wishlist of things they'd like. In WishTown, kids can choose from thousands of products such as toys, books, e-books, electronics, jewelry, apps, extracurricular activities, subscriptions, and even charitable donations. They can browse the kid-friendly catalog for items that interest them or use the search feature to find things that they already know they want. Kids can also read stories and play educational games, actions that are rewarded with wish points that can later be exchanged for the items on their wishlists. Meanwhile, grownups can view the wishlists of the kids in their life and never forget another birthday, holiday, or special event with WishPop's reminders.

One feature that the grownups will appreciate more than the kids is the thank you feature, where youngsters can design their own thank you cards and send them to the friends and family who bought them gifts.

Plant Link: Smarter Gardening, No Green Thumb Required

Eduardo Torrealba wasn't gifted with a green thumb and kept killing his plants. Deciding that there had to be an easier and more enjoyable way to garden, he came up with a solution that would prevent over and under watering, which are the top killers of house plants and gardens. After building a prototype, he recruited some of his friends from the University of Illinois and they co-founded Oso Technologies.

Oso's first product, Plant Link, promises to make unintentional plant killers like Torrealba better gardeners. Developed over the past year by Torrealba and company, the system tells you when your garden, lawn, or house plants need to be watered. Place a link next to your plant or in your lawn and log in to Oso's website to specify what type of plant you have. The link then monitors the amount of water in the soil and alerts you when your plants are thirsty via email, text message, or push notification. If you opt to get a smart valve, which can control the water flow to your hose, Plant Link can even do the watering for you.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Deena Abdulaziz’s D’NA, Where Cultural Understanding and Ideas Meet Innovative Fashion, Fine Art, and Film

At D’NA in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the innovative boutique’s owner, Princess Deena Abdulaziz, makes a real fashion statement. Resembling a museum or intimate upscale theater, the salon brings the Saudi Arabia native’s love of beauty to life. The loft-y gallery space at D’NA includes mannequins decked out in custom creations by cutting-edge designers from around the world, unique pieces of furniture, and paintings and other art objects, all arranged in groupings to tell a story. Luxurious coffee-table books and the screening of classic movies featuring bold points of view in fashion complete the atmosphere of intrigue and education. Deena Abdulaziz opened her masterpiece in 2006.

In her quest to keep D’NA, fresh, interesting, and unique, the Saudi entrepreneur seeks out designers globally. She watched Haider Ackermann for two seasons before inviting him to join the members-only club’s stable of artists. Her goal, to provide a fashion perspective not found anywhere else in the world, means going with her heart, not her head, when a designer’s line speaks to her. The boutique’s international stable of designers brings a sense of cultural understanding that enhances the shopping environment. Other fashion artists featured at the gallery include Tina Maristela-Ocampo, who creates fine jewelry and handbags from organic materials found in her native Philippines; and French footwear designer Christian Louboutin, who named a shoe after Deena Abdulaziz.

The well-known fashionista keeps the ideas flowing at D’NA through art and fashion exhibitions. From September 2011 to February 2012, she presented Parveen Shaath: The Legacy of a Saudi Fashion Icon. A pioneer in the industry, Shaath opened one of the first fashion boutiques in Saudi Arabia in the 1950s. D’NA also exposes talented designers with trunk shows and recently provided a bespoke program that enabled members to order haute couture created by Giambattista Valli. Deena Abdulaziz is toying with the idea of placing D’NA collections into a few top boutiques globally and plans to expand the brand to other locations in the Arab world.