Lightweight startup ideas for new entrepreneurship course

I will be co-teaching, with Parand Darugar and Paul Kedrosky, a course on starting a company. This 10 week course requires each team to develop a real project, to the level that they can test it with potential customers. (Beta test, approximately.)

Doing this in 10 weeks can be daunting, but it can be done. I used to teach a course on hardware product development, which required working physical prototypes and 2 long reports in 10 weeks. This year we expect little or no hardware. Instead we are looking for web-enabled, mobile-enabled, or other service ideas with little or no associated hardware. What you will sell is some form of a system that fulfills a need.

Part of entrepreneurship is looking for, and “sensing,” unmet needs. Do this in your everyday life, in your courses, as you watch people on screens. Here are a few ideas to suggest how little is needed. Please, add your own. It’s ok to list an unmet need without saying how to solve it.

Classroom feedback using sheets of paper

A visual barcode based version of the teaching “clicker” that many classrooms use to gather real-time student feedback. Students hold up a piece of cardboard, which the faculty member scans with a phone. Why didn’t I think of that?  Get rid of the student-purchased hardware, and probably increase reliability at the same time. (Although I’m sure it sacrifices some capabilities of the electronic clickers.)plickers2

Search my many sources of free books

My wife and I read a lot of books, still. In the last 5 years a number of access methods for e-books have come along. I can buy ebooks from Apple, Amazon, or others. I can also borrow them free from my local library, Amazon Prime, scribd,  my employer (UCSD’s library) and probably some other services. Each service has its own catalog and its own ways of searching. Checking each of the free services is time consuming, and half the time none of them has what I want. Solve this pain! There are many ways to solve the pain, and the concept could be integrated with existing book services/systems in a variety of ways.


Hollywood as a model for academic research

Academia has a problem: the value, necessity, and practices of collaboration are increasing, but the system of giving credit is inadequate. In most fields, there are only 4 levels of credit:

  • None at all
  • “Our thanks to Jill for sharing her data.” (a note of thanks)
  • First Authorship (This is ambiguous: it may be alphabetical.)
  • Listed as another author

In contrast to this paucity, modern empirical paper writing has many roles. Here are a dozen roles. Not all of them are important on a single paper, but each of them is important in some papers.

  • Intellectual leadership.
    • Source of the original idea
  • Doing the writing
    • Writing various parts, e.g. literature review
    • Doing the grunt work on the stat analysis. (Writing and running the R code)
    • Doing the grunt work of finalizing for publication. (Much easier than it used to be!)
    • Dealing with revisions, exchanges with editors, etc.
  • Source of the data.
    • Funder of the data
  • Raised the funding;
    • Runs the lab where the authors are employed
    • Source of the money: usually an agency or foundation, but sometimes the contracting author is listed as a coauthor.

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Is high-speed Internet pointless​? No.

A contributor to Dave Farber’s IP (“Important People” list) recently stated that 1 Megabit per second  (Mbps) is adequate bandwidth for consumers. This compares to “high speed Internet” which in the US is 20 Mbps or higher, and Korea where speeds over 50 Mbps are common.

My response: 1 Mbps is woefully low for any estimate of “useful bandwidth” to an individual, much less to a home. It’s risky to give regulators an any excuse to further ignore consumer desires for faster connections.  1 Mbps is too low by at least one order of magnitude, quite likely by three orders of magnitude, and conceivably by even more. I have written this note in an effort to squash the 1Mbps idea in case it gets “out into the world.”

The  claim that 1 Megabit per second is adequate:

>From: Brett Glass <>
>Date: Sun, Dec 31, 2017 at 2:14 PM

> The fact is that, according to neurophysiologists, the entire bandwidth of
> all of the human senses combined is about 1 Mbps. (Some place it slightly
> higher, at 1.25 Mbps.) Thus, to completely saturate all inputs to the human
> nervous system, one does not even need a T1 line – much less tens of megabits.
> And therefore, a typical household needs nowhere near 25 Mbps – even if they
> were all simultaneously immersed in high quality virtual reality. Even the

My response:

First, I don’t know where the 1Mbps number comes from, but a common number is the bandwidth of the optic nerve, which is generally assessed at around 10Mbps. See references.



An American Scientist article on “How the Retina Works” is available here.


Second, a considerable amount of pre-processing occurs in the retina and the layer under the retina, before reaching the optic nerve. These serve as the first layers of a neural network, and handle issues like edge detection.

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Irrational tax cuts won’t raise long term economic growth

I recently received the following on a Dave Farber’s “Interesting People” list, a collection of techies with interest in Internet policy issues. Why discuss it now, since the tax bill has been passed? It is important for all to realize how much the Republicans in Washington no longer believe in basing their decisions on  reality  (“facts”). It is very hard to believe this, but the evidence is now overwhelming, and the consequences will continue to be grave. I wrote the following quick response.

It seems completely reasonable and even desirable to take actions such as lowering corp taxes,  lowering taxes on productivity and reducing regulation to get the economy growing at the 3-4%  range.

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Some of my harder to find papers

Accelerated Learning by Experimentation


In most technologies and most industries, experiments play a central role in organizational learning as a source of knowledge and as a check before changes are implemented. There are four primary types of experiments: controlled, natural, ad-hoc, and evolutionary operation. This paper discusses factors that affect learning by experimentation and how they influence learning rates. In some cases, new ways of experimenting can create an order of magnitude improvement in the rate of learning. On the other hand, some situations are inherently hard to run experiments on, and therefore learning remains slow until basic obstacles are solved. Examples of experimentation are discussed in four domains: product development, manufacturing, consumer marketing, and medical trials.

Keywords: Learning, Experimentation

Full published version:    Bohn Accelerated Learning by Experimentation.    in Learning Curves: Theory, Models, and Applications  edited by Mohamad Y. Jaber, CRC Press, 2011.
Preprint version, through SSRN:

This is a rewritten version of my 1987 paper about manufacturing. Although I never published that paper, it was very influential in the 1990s, including becoming the (plagiarized) framework of a book and several articles by Stefan Thomke.  This book chapter expands and extends the original concepts, including new material from Michael Lapré.