Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Theses 2012 - first part

the academic year is slowly ending. It was very busy, I have been supervising twelve MSc. and BSc. theses. My students are preparing to defend their work and take the state exams. This was the main reason, we got together and rehearsed the presentations. Let me give you an idea about the first four projects in this blog. 

As in all my work at the university I try to split my attention between education, research and business. This is reflected in the diploma problems formulation. Every project has to solve some real problem. Some of the theses turned out more research oriented and some led to pilots of real products.

In total I was leading twelve theses and it is a lot of work. I tried to spend at least a hour with each of the students every week. To be effective I have followed a simple development process. The work on the diploma problem has been always started with an essay. Half of A4 page with high-level description of the problem. Students were not allowed to describe the technology the key is the added value. They had to conclude with an explanation of what is being developed and what will be the benefit for users. I think, the full understanding of the project benefits is the key for motivating students.

Next, they had to set a blog for weekly progress reports. Some inclined more to a shared Google Docs document, some used github, but each of them was keeping track about the development. I used the blog during the weekly meetings. The first step was to review what has been done since the last meeting. Second I tried to understand what needs to be done next and set the follow up tasks.

CTU is offering a dissertation Latex template, with a standard theses structure. All of the students were using it and we have shared the pdf version in Dropbox. Blog, Google Docs, Dropbox and other tools enabled me to be constantly in touch and help when required. What are the result? Let me describe the first batch of theses.

Martin Prokš has designed a helpdesk application. The dissertation title is RESTful Helpdesk Application (in Czech). It sounds simple there are many implementations of helpdesk in shareware, but he has taken a very difficult path. The app is implemented in Java and Spring. As part of the solution he has developed simple templates for implementing REST API. The server part is hosted on Google App Engine. For client he has chosen Google Web Toolkit. The development was not exactly smooth. Martin had to solve many little problems because of documentation details etc., but he is a real programmer spending major part of the day next to his machine. Since we have been sharing the source, when I touched some of mine computers I have been observing new files being updated to my Dropbox. The application is almost ready.

Petr Michalička was also dealing with the web. His dissertation “Automatic Deployment to PaaS Cloud” helps users install and configure popular open source PHP packages to PaaS environment. Currently his application supports Cloud Foundry, AWS, and Eucalyptus. The UpCf SaaS application enables simple deployment of several popular shareware applications to cloud. It is designed for users with no programming skills. The thesis also summarizes in general the main steps in migrating PHP apps to PaaS cloud. It suggests solutions for future integration of more packages.

Ondřej Šťastný has submitted the “Rapid Application Development of RESTful Servers” theses. His main idea was to help developers rapidly create server part of web applications. His approach allows designers to use only declarative client-side code. Ondrej has formalized the process introducing a novelty approach Schema-Permissions-Data (SPD) schema for defining data model and server interface. His approach is also minimizing number of protocols used in order to simplify the design and development. There are two reference applications in his theses.

Tomáš Tunys wrote the “Gestures detection for Android” theses. He has put together a complete system for collecting mobile devices gestures including a management system. The gesture is defined as a device movement, hand-drawn shape on a touch screen, or a movement captured by a camera. They all generate time series characterizing the movement. The main part was design and implementation of all basic algorithms for training and recognition. The gesture recognition deploys vector quantization and Hidden Markov Models. To collect the data and test the reco he had to design and implement an Android application. Nice job. Tomas applied for a PhD program. Even better!

This is the short description of the first four theses. I'll describe all theses and I will try to put the pdfs on web, wait for the part two of this blog. Keep the fingers crossed for my students, while defending the theses next week.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

eClub winners

the eClub winners of the summer 2012 competition were announced yesterday. The winning teams are Techambition, BabyWebik, and CitySmartGo. Congratulation to all winners. Great job!

We have met last time in this season yesterday and we have announced the winners. The winner is the Techambition team (Jakub Stránský, David Pokorník, Jan Stránský) students of the Faculty of Civil Engineering of CTU. This time again the top team is not majoring in programming or application design. This is proving the trend that the understanding of the application, the expertise in the field is more important for designing the application than the top programming skills. Jury had in this case awarded more the vision than the business potencial. The application focus is very ambitious and I am looking forward to see the first version.

The second winner is the Babywebik team (Martin Falta, Jakub Kucera, Zuzana Lehmanova, Ondrej Fabian) designing an application for young parents. Users can upload kids pictures in various modes to the portal annotate them, share them etc. Great idea, I think this service will be very successful. I hope the team will also prepare an English version for global market, unfortunately they also need to change the name. Rumors has it they are close to start the pilot version.

The third winner is the CitySmartGo team (SmartGoJan Zikeš, Martin Matyášek, Anna Pecková) with a very interesting idea to bid for the nearest available taxi. The assumption is commuters and the taxi drivers will bid for the best price based on location and time. The idea still needs to be tested, but the initial business analysis shows both the commuters as well as the drivers are interested.

Congratulations to all winners and I wish them a productive summer. They will receive the seed money as well as a mentor and I am looking forward to see the best pilots as soon as possible. We are also ready to work with the teams who had not made it to the top places.

I also would like to say thank you to all jury members. Thank you goes also to all our current and the future mentors, their help is really important for us. I would like to say thank you to all of you who were joining us in this semester and helped to make eClub successful.

This round is finished and we need to prepare for the Winter part of eClub, it will start end of September. We will continue in what the members liked and we are looking for new attractive speakers and events. We need to work on improving the streaming and come up with new ideas how to better engage the out of Prague teams. I hope, I'll bring some more surprises for the next season.

If you have any wish or idea to suggest get in touch with me. We are looking for all active people! If you liked the eClub meetings or competition bring your friends for the Winter version. Have a productive summer.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The final day and new summer competition

We will announce the winners of the Summer 2012 eClub competition tomorrow at 18:00 at CVUT, Karlovo nam. 13. Teams have presented their projects two weeks ago and the competition was awesome. 

This time we were very lucky and put together a great jury. As witnessed by several jury members they had a hard time to decide the winners of this round of eClub. We have seen several very good teams. You can check by yourself, all presentations are on line now. Every member of jury was assigning 3 points to the best, 2 points to the second and one point to the third team. I have then summed the points to find out that the jury really liked the top three teams. They are only one point of each other only. The votes were quite decisive, since the top teams are pretty much ahead from the main pack. Only two out of the nine teams did not score at all. I can't disclose the winners, you need to wait till tomorrow. Great competition!

I will also kick-off a new eClub Summer 2012 competition, which is designed for the summer weeks. The winners will be selected in September. The competition is organized jointly with Samsung and Node5. It focuses on application development for the new Samsung tablets and the Galaxy Note. Wait for the detail till tomorrow.

Come and join us this Wednesday at 18:00 for the eClub winners announcement and find out what you need to do to win nice sum of money and Samsung mobile devices.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cambridge Innovation Center

I am again enjoying the smooth ride going down from Boston to NYC. I have visited the Cambridge Innovation Center. It is located next to the MIT campus. It occupies seven floors and the owners are describing it as a startup hotel. Indeed, it is hosting five hundred companies.

The proximity to MIT is attracting large number of technological startups. They share huge high-rise building. CIC provides the full infrastructure, furniture, electricity, connectivity, printers, free coffee, and snacks. The working open space offices are surrounded by meeting rooms of different sizes starting with one man calling booths. All are equipped with tables, phones and connectivity. Next to the door of each of the meeting rooms is an iPad for scheduling. Very useful, it allows you to find who is coming for the meeting, how long it is scheduled for etc. The cheapest space in the co-shared office costs $300 a person a month. The CIC managers do not need to advertise the demand is high. They are looking for extra space to accommodate even more companies. When the dot-com bubble burst the MIT owned building was almost deserted. This was the best time to rent the space at a great price and it is how the CIC started, twelve years ago. This was also the time when the new startups were emerging.

The attraction to build startpus is not only the Boston genius loci and the closeness to MIT. It can also be attributed to the technological advances. It has never been so easy to shoot a movie in HD professional quality. A band can put high quality recordings on the web and avoid the big labels to become popular. Everybody owns a PC and all the rest what you need to create an application is almost for free on the Internet. The easy access to technology is giving chance to everybody, it is democratizing, it is enabling and motivating to create something new. Of course everybody has the chance but not everybody will win, you need more than just the technology. The trick is to find the right idea to find the best strategy, be inventive, innovative. CIC is a good place to meet many people pursuing this path and start to socialize with them. This not only motivates but also helps to find new angles and views. Discussion and inspirational spirit this is the generic essence for making progress.

Jan a representative of Czechinvest for the east coast has arranged for me a meeting in CIC. The contact person was Christa, who takes care about the Czech starups coming to CIC. I was expecting a girl in oversized t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. To my surprise walked in through a glass door a real lady with an aristocratic touch. And I was right, I have discovered later during our long discussion that Christa is of an Austrian origin a descendant of the Czech kings. She gave me a very insightful introduction to the MIT business, what is behind the enormous success. First of all it is the concentration of the best professors. They can choose from the best students. The alumni are the best paid in the field and they are getting the top positions in the best companies. Also the MIT research results are attracting industry. Many worldwide companies are looking for the MIT researchers. MIT became an icon of the high technology design and many companies advertise their presence in MIT. The moguls buildings are nicely surrounding the campus. The top know-how and the concentration of the best researchers is attracting lot of funding. The large investments are visible everywhere in the campus. May be, the most amazing is the Gehry deconstructivistic building, very colorful and flashy? The building is also hosting the department of artificial intelligence with large spaces for experimenting. After that I had a lunch in a cafeteria. Inside is the building offering great space it is very fragmented with a lot of detail but very comfortable.

It was very valuable to see how many people try to create their own companies, what the spirit is and how it works around MIT. We are lucky Czechinvest has found Christa, the best person. The only thing remains, to get as many Czech companies to CIC as we can.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NYU-Poly Varick Street Incubator

I am sitting in a smoothly moving Amtrak between NY and Boston and it is a great time to share what I saw during my visit in the Varick Street incubator, NY. Beside offering space for startups, they do very similar things as we do in eClub. What is the difference: they are much more experienced, they have accumulated lot of know-how, they have developed the startup ecosystem with lawyers, mentors etc. Great place to learn how to proceed with eClub.

I have met with Steven who is running the NYU-Poly Varick Street Incubator. The incubator shortens the time from innovation to impact, and provides the guidance, expertise, and resources that start-ups need to grow into scalable ventures that bring economic growth to the greater New York area. Steven is running the incubator for eight years. They have two locations and all together they provide space and services for about 30 companies. I have visited the Varick Street part. The space is large and cheap and this is the main differentiators between the university and other pro profit incubators. One workstation place costs $400 a months. They allocate astonishing 100 square feet (10 square meters)  per person. The incubator was launched by the NYU-Poly and the City of New York. The initial grant was only $100K. The university does not take any equity in the companies, but still financially supports the whole operation. I have asked Steven why the university is not taking share. The situation is surprisingly very similar to our university. It seems to be too complicated to deal with university, we just operate as non-profit organization and it works well. Varick Street has many more companies requesting to joint than they can accommodate and this is their success metric. They also have to search for the industrial partners in the future to secure the future funding ads Steven. Very similar to eClub, we are also dependent on the industrial support.

As well as eClub they organize competitions. One of the very interesting forms is a short competition lasting for one week only. It is organized for students with one condition, there have to be students with technical as well as with business background in each of the teams. They face the same problem as us. Technical students love the technology but are weak in the business development. Business people are not that much emotionally attached to technology but have strong business drive. We need to learn how to combine these two worlds.

It is great to be located in NYC, says Steven. Compared to Silicon Valley NYC offers massive market opportunities, it is the main center of various businesses. What more once you get out of the building you are only few minutes away from Soho one of the most lively parts of NY.

It was a great meeting, I have seen the rooms filled with many geeks and I had a long talk with Steven. He had promised to serve in our jury in the next run of eClub. We have also discussed a possibility to Skype some of the presentations they give in NY to eClub in spring. We definitely will connect and discuss further possibilities. This visit was very interesting and motivational. Let's stay in touch with one of the busiest cities in the world.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

eClub Demo Day

nine new teams have presented their business projects in eClub last Wednesday. The jury is selecting the top three projects. The winning teams will receive a scholarship and a mentor to jump start their business during this summer.

I have reported about the teams in one of the previous blogs. In addition we have welcomed also Babywebik team. This team has entered the competition in the last minute. They are together already for quite some time and based on the presentation they are getting close to start real business. I will not go to details about the projects and presentations in this blog, because jury is still working ...

Generally speaking the presentations got better. All the teams were much more focused. They had better explained the business ideas. The organization improved, we became also more efficient, everybody sticked to the time limit. The jury was giving great questions and comments. Overall the atmosphere was cheerful and productive. Lot of people interested in presentations joined us and they were discussing long after the end of the Demo Day.

We have started in 2011, it is only a short time. But I'd like to review how are we doing in the eClub? All together we have seen thirty teams and projects. We have prepared around forty presentations delivered by the top entrepreneurs in the country. We have started to stream to nine universities in the Czech Republic this summer. We have almost eighty recorded sessions in the video archive. We have attracted numerous students to the startup movement. Around 250 people were watching Karel Janecek, the most visited presentation. We have healthy number of visitors on our eClub portal and it si constantly growing. In cooperation with the Czech MediaLab Foundation we have provided financial support to wining teams in a total of almost one million Czech crowns. We work with several donors and I hope, the number will grow. I believe this is only the beginning. Tell your friends to join us too and enjoy the great spirit!

And how about the alumni? The first winner EasyWall did not survive too long but the members of the team created a new company MetaTV. After returning from Silicon Valley they have stepped on gas pedal and they really do good job not only recording the eClub meetings but helping other groups too. They are step by step building their startup. The next round winner Avocado is still pivoting the original idea in slightly different direction. The team is really dedicated to make things happened and I am sure, we still will see some good outcomes. City adventures is another team still hard working on their idea for taking tourists through cities and entertain them with short movies about the points of interest. I have heard a rumors: investors are interested in acquiring the them. Another interesting startup twist: the MallMania team. They have developed the original MallMania application but still trying to make it simpler before they get to the market. Alas, in the mean time they have derived from the MallMania a new mobile service for the portal. This app is in pilot testing getting nice attention. I must not forget the InstantStorm duo, they have launched new free version of their product and they work hard with their mentors to offer payed version. They are great team counting the number of downloads in millions. Yes, we still have not generated a prosperous company, but we have set a trend and given the short track record I am sure we will soon see some of our alumni to perform well, creating new companies and new jobs.

The interest in startups movement is grooving in the Czech Republic and there are other signs about eClub securing its place in the newly forming startups landscape. First of all the media are interested to talk about us. Yes, startups are getting in and we have to take advantage of it. Try to search on google for CVUT eClub.

We have managed to attract an interesting bunch of experts to our jury and this is another proof of doing well. It became already a tradition Ondrej Bartos (Credo Ventures) is the chairman of the jury again. I am glad we were able to get to the jury some of the most startup influential people. Actually we were lucky Hubert Palan (Gooddata) and Jakub Nesetril ( were in Prague and generous enough to help us. We also attracted the banking startup gurus Ladislav Dvorak (Sporitelna) and Petr Jaros (CSOB) who are both visionaries focusing on future solutions including startups. Pavel Zima (GM and Stepan Burda (CTO were representing the major Czech portals. We were also very happy to bring to the jury Radek Sazama (GM Fujitsu GM) and Zdenek Paskevic ( representing the large global companies. Karel Obluk and Petr Ocasek ( represented the startup enthusiasts and business developers helping generously to all teams. Dusan Senkypl ( represented the Internet business segment. Nice team! Some of the jury members are helping us with funding and I am hoping other will chip in with their contributions too.

We are all waiting for the results. If you are interested join us on Wednesday May 23, we will announce the winners. Soon we will put the final presentation videos on the eClub pages, give it a try.

Monday, May 7, 2012

eClub Demo Day

We will run the eClub Summer Demo Day this Wednesday (May 9th). Teams will present their business projects and will compete for awards: scholarships and mentors. We managed to get together stellar jury and we are looking forward for this top event.

The presentations will take place as usual at the Czech Technical University at Karlovo nam. 13. See below the General rules and the Jury  rules for evaluating the projects. Currently, we have thirteen teams registered. Let's hope they all will show up and present great ideas.

How are we going to organize the event? First we will welcome jury and introduce all members. Then we will draw for the teams presentations order. Each presentation will be max 10 min and we will insist on being punctual. Few jury questions will be allowed but we will be strict in pushing all fast ahead. I am requesting all teams to show up well ahead and install the presentations on the local computer to save time while switching the teams. We need to keep jury busy! This time I am also hoping to have the results fast. We have larger number of jury members. Therefore the system will be simpler. Each member will select top three teams. The first team will get three, second two and third one point. The team with the largest number of points will be the winner. In case of a draw Ondrej the jury chairman will decide.

If you have a team, which satisfies the below conditions and you want to compete you still have a chance to register and join us. All of you who are interested in watching the competing teams come and join and bring your friends with you. Everybody is welcomed!

General rules

eClub is planning to award the first three teams with a three months scholarship for the academic summer semester 2012.

  • Student members of the winning teams will receive a monthly scholarship of between 5-15 thousands Kc. 
  • There has to at least one student of a Czech University or high school in the team.
  • Maximum two students in the team will be awarded. 
  • We will not allow winners of other startup competitions (1-3 place).
  • eClub will try to get a mentor for each of the winning teams. 
  • The scholarship is awarded to support work on the proposed project during summer. The mentor and the eClub will monitor the progress. 
  • Teams receiving the scholarship must document the progress (github,, blog, ...)
  • eClub reserves the right to suspend the scholarship if the awarded team will stop or suspend the work on the project.
  • The scholarship suspension will be a joined mentor and eClub representative decision.

Jury rules

The jury will evaluate the proposed projects based on the 5 P of an investment rules:

  • Quality of a problem: how big is the market need of the proposed idea
  • Potential: how big is the potential target market size
  • People & Passion: who are the founders, what are their abilities and how big is their commitment
  • Payment: how well is defined the monetization of the proposal
  • Prove it: how well is defined the basic idea, what are the essential steps to turn the idea to a business, presentation quality.