Open government innovation from NASA fuels launch of OpenStack and Nebula

Earlier today, a new startup emerged from stealth at OSCON in Portland, Oregon. Nebula looks to democratize cloud computing with open source hardware.

Nebula appliance As Venturebeat reported, by combining OpenStack with Facebook’s OpenCompute project, Nebula could bring cloud computing to everyone with a cloud appliance.

It’s going to be a while before we’ll know if this bold vision comes to pass, but it’s important to be clear: this private sector innovation and startup is the outgrowth of one of NASA’s open government initiatives, where a technology developed by the government was released to the public to innovate upon.

That outcome can be at least partially attributed to Nebula CEO Chris Kemp, the former NASA CTO for IT, built a cloud “dream team” for Nebula’s launch from Kleiner Perkins’ basement. Nebula has the potential to bring cheaper private clouds to enterprises and small to medium-sized business to government, which could stand to leapfrog a generation of technology. (Putting a cloud behind an organization’s firewall could also address the security and compliance challenges that have hampered adoption of public cloud by enterprise and government users.) You can watch the announcement of Nebula at OSCON in the video below:

I talked with Kemp yesterday about OpenStack, his new startup, enterprise IT and innovation in government. “I am just unbelievably excited about all of the innovation that’s going to happen, he said. “When I left NASA, there was an open playing field. Citrix has bet their company on a tech that emerged out of NASA. Rackspace has incorporated it as well. Dell and HP are working with OpenStack too.”

Kemp, at least for now, doesn’t appear to be looking towards acquisition as his exit strategy. “We’re building a whole new company,” he said. “It’s not going to acquired by Dell or another large vendor. It’s too important to be lost in a big organization. The opportunity here is to build a lasting company that plays a key role in how computing unfolds.”

It’s the potential to change the world that seems to have brought a glint to Kemp’s eye. “This is why I left NASA,” he said. “I had this idea, this concept, I knew it had the potential to change the world, I knew it was time to build that. There are things you can only do inside of government, and there are things you can only do outside of government.”

In at least one sense, this outcome is about Gov 2.0 versus the beast of bureaucracy, once again. “The thing I learned at NASA is the biggest barrier to this stuff is the culture within the organization,” said Kemp. “It’s people. In a federal agency, people have been there forever and have spent tons of money on tools. What we’re doing with this appliance will disrupt a lot of that.”

Kemp also offered a suggestion to government agencies with innovators trying to make a difference. “The real shame is that you take the most risk-averse people in the world – government civil servants – and make them take the most dangerous leap, to end their careers, to be entrepreneurs. Imagine if government allowed people to take one year without pay, try to create something, and then return to public service.”

While that may be an unlikely dream, Kemp has left government himself, jumping to an endeavour that has the potential to disrupt the future of computing. “We want people to build on a platform that isn’t unnecessarily expensive or reliable,” he said. “We’re selling a little box that creates an infrastructure service and supporting it. You plug it in at the top of the rack where basically joins ‘the collective.’ It becomes part of a massive compute and storage cloud that’s compatible with Amazon and allows anyone to use a cloud that based on standards.
And they can do it with the cheapest hardware.”

Open source has been a key component of NASA’s open government work. Now one of its open source projects may become part of the work of many other people in industries unrelated to aerospace. With the launch of Nebula, an open government initiative looks set to create significant value — and jobs — in the private sector, along with driving open innovation in information technology.

Insight on what’s next from Bill Gates: mHealth, mCommerce and robots

“People underestimate the amount of innovation going on,” said Bill Gates at the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. today. “They assume tech remains the same.” Given the thousands of attendees walking around the floor to see the mobile technology on display, there will be more awareness of what’s happening by the end of the day. Those listening to Gates in person or online could take away a few more lessons as well.

First of all, the key applications in the mobile health world are those that are tied to better outcomes, said Gates. Metrics like the number of children dying is one such metric, he said, and could be mitigated by mobile apps that register every birth on a cellphone to track vaccine coverage. Tracking supply chain for medical supplies and online medical records also can lower key metrics like child mortality, said Gates. Highlights from Bill Gate’s keynote conversation with Dr. Kristin Tolle are embedded below:

“In general, the world underfunds research because the person who takes the risk doesn’t capture the full benefit,” said Gates. “Government comes in for things the market doesn’t work well on.” Some research and development simply won’t get funded otherwise, in the absence of a strong profit motive. That’s likely one reason the Gates Foundation has focused on malaria, a disease that big pharmaceutical companies haven’t put significant resources behind.

“As the world goes from 6 billion to 9 billion, all of that population growth is in urban slums,” said Gates. That context provides a target for innovation in mobile healthcare technology, particularly given the increasing penetration of cellphones. Improving mortality rates is also relevant to that burgeoning population, he reflected. “Within a decade of having better health outcomes, people decide to have less children,” said Gates. citing the research of Han Rosling. Rosling’s TED Talk is below:

What’s the medical challenge for the aid community to target? “Funding vaccines is so clear,” said Gates. Polio may not get eradicated because of a  lack of funding, he said, reflecting on “going begging” around the world to try to get the last $800 million dollars for vaccine.

What’s next? Where will innovation be happening and change how societies work? “Now the idea is to do digital transactions where you don’t use currency at all,” said Gates, pointing to M-PESA in Africa and the huge growth in mcommerce.

Those changes may not be proportional to the greatest needs, however, nor grounded in the traditional frame of ‘first world vs developing world.’ According to Gates, “middle income countries are where the most innovation in healthcare is going to happen.” The poorest countries need to address the true basic for survival before mhealth can make progress.

In richer countries, meaningful change is already happening because of mobile apps. Some of those innovations are just beginning to filter in. “What percentage of people have to be put in longterm care, versus have someone stop by?” asked Gates. Cellphones already enable new monitoring capabilities for seniors, children and caregivers; he anticipates better sensors and connectivity to change how we communicate and watch one another even further in the decades to come.

In a bid for the hearts and minds (and perhaps wallets) of the entrepreneurs present, Gates observed that conditions like obesity, diabetes and smoking cessation are good candidates for mobile health technology to address in rich countries.

He also appealed to officials making decisions on government policy and funding decisions.  “The degree that health and education go together – I don’t think that’s surprising,” he said. “We should invest in both.”

Asked to reflect upon where to invest next, Gates was clear: “If you just pick one thing, it’s got to be robots,” citing improvements in robotic mobility, dexterity, productivity and the growing needs of both an aging population and childcare.

He also reflected upon the future hinted at by the increasing use of big data tools to deliver insight. “Our ability to discover drugs using computation – that is changing,” he said. “In a ten to fifteen year period, it will be utterly different.”

Data BBQ features District tech entrepreneurs, passion and tasty open data.

Get off your index and build your Rolodex,” read the invite to last night’s Data BBQ in Washington, D.C.

And last night, that’s exactly what over a hundred people from around D.C.’s growing tech scene did, spilling out of the revamped officers of Insomniac Design in Bladgen Alley, near Mount Vernon Square.

The crowd was leavened with many attendees from the ongoing mHealth Summit 2010, manyof DC’s open data geeks and supporters and. Expert Labs’ Gina Trapani and Waxy.org’s Andy Baio came by from the FCC’s Open Developer Day to mix and mingle too. The highlight of the Data BBQ was the lightning talks, where attendees pitched projects, ideas, jobs or even spare rooms to the crowd. The talks are embedded below:

Many of the mHealth conferees no doubt know about the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge from the Department of Health and Human Services, where health data is being mashed up into new applications.

And, judging by the show of hands, many of the Data BBQ’ers had also heard about the World Bank’s Global Apps for Development Competition, which is looking to the development and practitioner communities to create innovative apps using World Bank data.

What might have been new to a few, at least, was the upcoming Apps for Army competition for the public, where the successful apps competition that Peter Corbett and iStrategy Labs helped the Army run will be rebooted for wider participation.

Open Government and Civic Innovation on Display at Portland’s CivicApps Awards

What does the innovation on display at the Civic Apps contest by developers in Portland, Oregon mean to the city’s mayor?

“It’s bringing to the world knowledge of what exists in the real world but is so often unknown,” said Mayor Sam Adams in an interview at the awards ceremony for the winners of the contest.

“In Portland, like I think most cities, when people are armed with knowledge, they make wiser choices,” he said, pointing to applications like PDX Bus as examples of innovation that actually help citizens to navigate the city better.

Does open data lead to more economic value creation in the private sector and metropolitan areas alike?

“We are seeing folks that are sole proprietorships hire folks to help them build their business, their app business, their online business with our data sets.” he said. “For us, data has always been there, in some cases for decades. Putting it to use for the public and help people make money while they do it – we intend to be the open source capitol of the nation – and this is one contribution we can make, with our data sets.”

What’s next? “What CivicApps is about in part, providing the data, is sparking relationships, relationships which lead to economic opportunities,” he said. “Webtrends, Microsoft meets the local hacker or coder tonight at this event, who knows what will happen. Our job is to provide the data, provide the opportunity for relationships to occur, provide what in comparison is a tiny litte bit of money, a little incentive for people to keep going. And it’s also fun. It make the city more fun to live in, because you know what’s there.”

That incentive, incidentally, amounted to $1000 for each of the winners of the second round of Civic Apps awards, with another $3000 going to the Best of Show winner, Loqi.me. This afternoon, Skip Newberry, economic development policy advisor to Mayor Adams, congratulated the winners of CivicApps on Twitter.

Congrats to @caseorganic @elsewisemedia @pdxmele @maxogden & John Mosser for their award-winning @civicapps! #opensource #gov20 #teamadamsless than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Most Useful App and Best of Show

Amber Case for Loqi.me

As Mayor Adams mentioned later in the program, this Web app could be useful in a snowstorm in Oregon or, if adapted more broadly, for crisis response around the country or world.

App description: “This application is a resource for citizens, medical teams and governments before, during and after disasters. Loqi.me allows mobile users to send an emergency GPS beacon to a real-time map. Crises responders can view all of the help requests on the webpage, along with hospitals and fire stations, real-time 911 calls related to natural disasters. Ground teams can easily use Loqi.me on their mobile phones to send notices of supplies and terrain reports in real time. Remote helpers can easily see the whole picture on the website’s real-time map, handle help and information requests, and send messages to the network. Loqi.me supports subscription to group messages via SMS, AIM, Jabber and Twitter. No application installation is required. Location beacons can be sent simply by going to http://loqi.me on a mobile phone.”

Most Appealing

Matt Blair for PDX Trees.

App description: “PDX Trees is an app for iPhone and iPod Touch devices that makes it easy to find and and enjoy them. With this app, you can:

  • Search for nearby trees and see them on a map.
  • Tap a pin to see the name and view details for that particular tree.
  • Take and upload a photo of a Heritage Tree you’re visiting.
  • View photos of the tree taken by other tree enthusiasts.
  • Email a friend about the tree (includes tree name and location where available)
  • Read more about a type of tree from Wikipedia, without leaving the app.”

Most Original

Melelani Sax-Barnett for Portland Bike to Transit.

App Description: “This is a simple, handy web map that helps you figure out how to ride your bike to transit. It lets you choose from a variety of base layers, and toggle transit stops, routes, and current bike routes. You can also query transit stops and routes for basic information. I made this for a Web GIS class at PSU and I’m a total beginner (with some code thanks to Professor Percy and OpenLayers).”

Best Use of Data

Max Ogden for Civic Apps Data Previewer

“This helped make our data useful to a lot of other developers and the general public,” said Mayor Adams. “Why take it on?”

“I saw all of this great data at the core when civic apps launched,” said Ogden. “When you get data into the Web format, you get Web developers who are really used to making human interfaces for things make them.”

App Description: “A web application to preview any of the public geo data on CivicApps from your web browser. You can choose a dataset and view that data on a map. Individual objects are clickable and can provide details (metadata).”

Civic Choice

Joseph Mosser for PDXTrian

App Description: “Pdxtrian is a simple utility for riders of Portland’s excellent mass transit system, TriMet.

  • Uses GPS to find nearby transit stops
  • Displays a map of the stop location
  • Displays a list upcoming arrivals
  • Allows you to save stops and look them up anytime”

The livestream of the awards ceremony is embedded below:

Brad Feld on the gap between Washington, VCs, entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley

How important is the disconnect between the Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C.? As the United States transitions from an industrial economy into the Information Age, the importance of Washington securing legislation and regulations that promote security and innovation has perhaps never been greater. Small businesses are the source of many jobs, and yet the barriers that entrepreneurs face in getting startups off the ground are legion. Stimulating open government entrepreneurship is a key issue for the Gov 2.0 movement and yet the examples of successful startups are dwarfed by the pages of the regulations that govern them.

I spoke with Brad Feld about all of these issues at the Gov 2.0 Summit earlier this month. Feld has been an early stage investor and entrepreneur for over 20 years. Prior to co-founding Foundry Group, he co-founded Mobius Venture Capital and, prior to that, founded Intensity Ventures, a company that helped launch and operate software companies and later became a venture affiliate of the predecessor to Mobius Venture Capital. Our interview is embedded below:

Those concerns where voiced yesterday by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman this week, who told Hillicon Valley that entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley could benefit from a stronger lobbying presence in Washington D.C.:

“I realized one of the paradoxes of the entrepreneurship ecosystem that is so important to society is: We don’t have an entrepreneurship lobby,” he said, “because entrepreneurs are off doing it.”

Policymakers tend to ignore start-up concerns, according to Hoffman.

“The natural process of ‘oh, I’m responding to these lobbies, I’m responding to old political interests’ tends to always drown out the entrepreneurs,” he said.

It’s easy to ignore the concerns of newer companies, according to Hoffman, a partner at Greylock Partners, a venture capital firm in California.

“Some folks are trying to [help] but people are like, ‘OK, I can deal with that later; I don’t really care,'” he said.

Stimulus funding is a key example of startups getting government short shrift, according to Hoffman.

“The way this is described is ‘shovel-ready jobs,'” he said, arguing that kind of funding would not benefit new companies who are “key to our future.”

“It’s much easier when you’re embedded in the political infrastructure to respond to immediate things” such as the stimulus package, he said.

StartUP Visa

Another issue of critical importance to entrepreneurs is top technical talent. That’s why Feld and others have been advocating for a “startup visa.” In the video from Gov 2.0 Summit below, he talks about the startup visa legislation and why it matters to VCs and the innovation economy.

According to the website supporting the legislation in the Senate, S. 3029, the StartUP Visa Act alien entrepreneurs who have received significant capital from investors to establish a business in the United States. Specifically:

  • Have a required amount of financial backing from a qualified investor or venture capitalist
  • Have a commercial business that will generate a predetermined level of employment, revenue or capital investment
  • The goal of the StartUP Visa legislation is to create an alternate visa system to the H1B program, in which temporary visas are granted to immigrants working in specialized fields including the high-tech industry. Currently, there are 65,000 HIB visas awarded to immigrants and an additional 20,000 H1B visas awarded to individuals who hold an advanced degree. Additionally, this legislation would create a new set of visas that require immigrants to invest at least $1 million dollars in the US and employ at least 10 people.

    One hundred and sixty venture capitalists and angel investors support the bill. According to the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), 25 percent of America’s venture-backed and publicly-traded businesses, including: Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Intel, Pfizer, DuPont and Procter & Gamble are examples of American success stories founded or co-founded by foreign born residents. Further, in 2005, these companies netted more than $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers. In 2006, 24% of all filled patents had foreign residents listed as the inventor or co-inventor.

    To date, the StartUP Visa Act has not advanced beyond committee.