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Anyone who’s followed my thoughts would have deduced by now that I’m extremely passionate about GLOBAL innovation, and I vehemently disagree with insinuations that there’s a region in the world where people are particularly more innovative than others.

However, I do think that there are regions in the world where the social, economic, and legal infrastructures are more favorable towards fostering ideas and measuring the value of their intellectual property. Taking those latter points into consideration, the “Mecca” for such a place is the United States of America, where we are consistently within the top 3 patent holders, partly due to our somewhat lax patent laws, and many of the greatest companies in the world have their roots here. But let’s also keep in mind that, many of the founders of those companies immigrated from other regions of the world, many of them third world or developing countries.

That said, I’d like to introduce to you, if you’re still unfamiliar with it, the concept of “Reverse Innovation” which Vijay Govindajaran, Professor of International Business at Tuft School of Business at Dartmouth College, discusses in his book with Chris Trimble “Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere“. The strong point Mr. Govindajaran makes is that “Innovation is no longer the exclusive domain of the Silicon Valley elite”, that there’s a fundamental shift on the “dynamics of global innovation”. Simply put, the rest of the world is innovating and those ideas are impacting the West, instead of the way around.

Traditionally, innovation has been considered a Western asset to be imported by other countries, especially developing countries. However, this is increasingly changing – “no longer will innovations travel the globe in only one direction, from developed to developing nations” it reads. Professor Govindajaran provides a great example of a world-leading, portable, easy-to-use ultrasound scanner developed by GE in China in 2002 at an ultra fraction of the costs of the ones GE has developed here in the United States.

Mr. Govindajaran’s book has been a success – it’s a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon bestseller – and I’d like to applaud him for bringing this topic in the forefront of business and economic discussions.

However, I have slight reservations about a few statements made in the book. I also do realize that these may not necessarily be Mr. Govindajaran’s intended thoughts given that most things nowadays are pretty much left wide open for interpretation. But here I go.

Firstly, as I stated above great ideas happen everywhere and Silicon Valley, where I’ve spent a good deal of my time here in the U.S. is not and most importantly should not be thought as the “exclusive domain” of innovation. Making such arguments only reinforces those false beliefs – and I find them just as dangerous as flaunting the term “American Exceptionalism” – though that’s for another conversation and blog.

Secondly, “Reverse Innovation” is NOT a recent phenomenon. It’s been happening for centuries! There’s a track history of developing nations greatly benefiting financially and economically from innovations that took root in developing and third world countries. It’s the social and legal infrastructure in the West that has enabled them to benefit most often at the detriment of the other countries – these are facts and we should paint the entire picture.

This debate about innovation reminds me of another, property rights, and arguments made by the economist Hernando De Soto in his book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, where he asserts that the lack of a legal structure, unlike in the West, in the allocation and tracking of property rights in developing nations impedes with their ability to attract capital. Effectively, it’s this absence of legal structure in the development and protection of intellectual property rights in developing and third world countries that’s always been the problem.

The fact is, Western nations have been inspired by great ideas that originated in other regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America but the problem, or missed opportunity rather, is that these regions for thousands of years evolved as communities where everyone benefited from the contribution of others; people benefited from the inventions of inventors just as they (the inventors) benefited from the crops from farmers and the meat from hunters. It’s not easy to change thousands of years worth of that approach to life into one a capitalistic model where one person innovates and charges everyone else in the community a fee to access the invention. Times and laws have long changed but cultural behaviors have not.

Let me give you some examples. Did you know that the first condom, pen, shoe with heels (there goes one for the ladies) were invented by Egyptians? Now, how many condom, pen, and shoe brands do you know are owned by an Egyptian person or company.

Anyone who’s lived or spent a considerable amount of time in a developing country knows this or at the very least has witnessed great ingenuity that regrettably is either not fostered or shipped away to a country in the West.

I traveled to Africa in May 2013 to get a better sense of how people were innovating and see the extent of Internet penetration in some of those countries. On my flight, I sat next to one of the most invigorating woman I’ve ever met – Urginia Warwick. She lives in London but travels to Cameroon frequently to oversee a school and program she put in place to train teachers on how to work with special aid students in their classrooms.In Cameroon, you see, there’s no such thing as a special aid teacher, at least not in public schools. But Ms. Warwick was donating her time and money, traveling from London to Cameroon, four times or more a year to create that opportunity. That is inspiring! During our conversation she told me of a young man she met in Bamenda, a city in the North West of Cameroon, who invented an incubator for premature babies that worked better than the ones they had in the city’s General Hospital. Amazing! Is that something not worth encouraging? I’d planned to take a trip with her to go meet him but unfortunately those plans were derailed. Had it not been for Ms Warwick I would have most likely never heard of that young man. And had it not been for me, you’d most likely never heard about him too. There are great things happening far from our eyes and ears, as well as those of the wonderful writers and journalists at Mashable and TechCrunch.

Innovation is a wonderful thing and we shouldn’t leave it to chance to discover great ideas and people to foster, nor should we reinforce false beliefs that certain regions or countries have a monopoly on the best innovations.

We should work collectively on finding and introducing a globally accessible and scalable solution that allows innovators anywhere in the world to thrive by leveraging each other’s experience, savoir-faire, and the interest of the general public.

 

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Photo: Me in a village in Mali, drawing blood samples for malaria research.

I’m an introvert. Though I’ve changed over the years to be more of an extrovert, which to me feels extremely mechanical, a big part of me will always find refuge in being an introvert. It feels safe to me. I didn’t have the worst of childhoods but it was an unusual one. Whenever I feel down I travel back to one of my most fragile memories as a child, I was 9, and I’d come to the realization that everything I knew about myself and the people around me was a lie. I don’t think it destroyed me but it changed me dramatically, forever. Ironically, that fragility became a strength that I carry on until this day and will until I draw my last breath.

See, I was that kid that not many people thought would amount to much. My life prospect was pretty much ZERO. Most of my childhood friends today would probably agree. I have vivid memories of my dad telling me “why can’t you be like THAT kid?” and “THAT” referred to kids who were, I guess, better than me. By the way many of those kids are still my friends today. Sure I acted up but I wasn’t crazy – I just happened to live in a world where no one understood me – to be honest it was more like no one cared to understand me.

So from a young age, I developed the discipline to always understand and see the potential in people. And yes, many people have taken advantage of it but I can’t nor do I want to stop. I’ve changed my approach on how I deal with people but the goal hasn’t changed – I want to make more than a dent in this world and I want to help as many people as I can leave their mark too.

I tutored organic Chemistry at a junior college in my earlier years, Cosumnes River College in Sacramento to be exact, and it was not unusual for me to meet with students over the week-end to help them prepare for tests or complete assignments. Two of those students were Amir and Yassir from Saudi Arabia. One day, as I stood in my Physics class waiting for the instructor to arrive, Yassir, the older one, called me out of the class and told me the following words: “Hi Luc, I just wanted to tell you that I got my organic chemistry grades and I got a B+. I just wanted to thank you for all your help. I know we never paid you but I’ll never forget what you did for me. Even if one day something happened to my brain I will never forget you.” That to me was worth more than any money he could have ever paid me.

My chemistry professor, Dr. Montanez was the first man that ever showed belief in me and he’s shaped my life in more ways than even him can imagine. He knew nothing about me, he certainly didn’t know how terrified I was of Chemistry and that I failed it constantly in high school! But the first time he saw me, he told me “I think you’re going to do very well in this class.” I Aced every single chemistry class I took, won the top chemistry student award at the school, became a recipient of the American Chemistry Society Scholar award, and was one of the youngest student and the only one from a junior college ever selected by the University of Maryland School of Medicine to participate on an internship program with researchers developing an anti-malaria vaccine in Mali, West Africa.

This only goes to show the positive power we can have on each other as human beings. I am not special. I was just lucky to meet someone who saw a glimpse of potential in me and expressed it.

Everyone of us can make a difference and it doesn’t always have to be the most grandiose of acts. Sometimes just a little word of encouragement can change someone’s life. It’s happened to me and I’m committed to passing it on.

I hope you do too.

Luc Berlin, CEO at Miigle.com

“Together We Can Change The World” – This is a video we recently produced and featured on our homepage at http://www.miigle.com. The message we want to get across with this video is that with the power of our ideas, the diversity of our intellectual capabilities and resourcefulness as human beings, WE as a community of people and innovators/entrepreneurs can do amazing things in making our world a better place.

If you agree with us then please join our Beta at http://www.miigle.com and share this video. Thank you.

I’d like to think that it’s not by simple coincidence that the last post on my blog, which is nearly a year old, is about a young boy who’s fascinated me, brought me to tears, and most importantly fueled my personal motivation about improving how people innovate.

This young boy is Kelvin Doe and he’s from Sierra Leone. My serendipitous relationship with Sierra Leone started nearly a decade ago when I was introduced to their civil war through the hidden lenses of an undercover journalist.

In one of the scenes, a late teen is stopped by a group of men dressed in military uniforms and asked if he’d been part of the street kids shooting at them. The boy answers in Krio (a local language – pidgin english) that he wasn’t shooting anyone. If my memory serves me well, the men proceed to ask him what he was doing outside and he answers that he is out looking for some food. After a few more back and forth between them, they tell him to walk away and as he turns around to leave, one of the men pulls his machine gun and shoots him in the back. I can play that scene over and over in my head until I’m 90 years old and it’ll still feel like it was yesterday. I was scarred for life.

I was so moved by that image that I began writing a fictional novel about a young boy from Liberia who travels to Sierra Leone looking for his father only to get dragged into the war as a Child Soldier.

My relationship with Sierra Leone didn’t end there. A few years later I was approached by a producer to do a voiceover for the documentary Blood Diamonds by the History Channel. Diamonds from Sierra Leone have been called “Blood Diamonds” because their sale had been used to partly finance the decade long war that consumed the country. I accepted, of course.

Then earlier this year, I stumbled upon Kelvin’s story. I was moved to tears, not tears of sorrow but tears of hope. I’d been investing sweat, blood, money, and sleepless nights on Miigle for 2 years and while watching the video about Kelvin, I knew I’d found my purpose in life.

It was all worth it.

Yesterday, I got to borrow Kelvin’s story and shared it as part of my pitch for the NewMe Accelerator program LA Popup during Google for Entrepreneurs Week. Along with me was Josh Fester, my co-founding partner and CTO of Miigle. It was our first time ever introducing Miigle to an audience. We’d been working tirelessly for this moment and it was the opportunity we’d been looking for. I was a bit nervous but I knew I had to focus on the bigger picture – this wasn’t about me – this was about Kelvin and the millions of brilliant entrepreneurs here in the US and around the world who have the ideas and the will but are falling short in resources (intellectual, practical, financial, and even emotional) and are struggling to find the right people to help them pull through. THAT’S the core problem Miigle fixes.

After the pitch, the feedback from people in the audience and other entrepreneurs pitching was heartwarming. It made the past two years some of the best in my life.

I look forward to the next 60, hopefully. I can tell you one thing for sure, I’m ready.

A HUGE thanks to my friend Miyishia Slay for informing about the NewMe event as well as a LOUD SHOUT to William Ruiz, Miigle’s Director of Business and Legal Affairs who couldn’t be there with us!

Below is my 2 minutes pitch in its entirety.

Miigle Pitch – NewMe LA Popup

Meet Kelvin, he’s from Sierra Leone, a country ravaged by war for 10 years. At the age of 13, Kelvin wanted to become a radio DJ to give a voice to his community, but he couldn’t afford a radio. So he built one from trashed electronics he found on the streets.

Kelvin’s story touched the heart of a visiting MIT student who later became his mentor.

Hi I’m Luc Berlin. I’m a cofounder of Miigle and our mission is to simplify how people innovate.

Building a startup is exciting but the process sucks for most entrepreneurs because it’s difficult for them to connect with the right people for help.

And the solution to that is Miigle – a web platform that automates the connection between startups, entrepreneurs and people interested to help.

All it takes is 5 mins to create and post your project then Miigle automatically introduces it to people most likely to contribute whatever resources you need. We also provide a marketplace and analytics to measure your impact.

Our initial revenue streams are a subscription model at $20/year and advertising.

Miigle matters because there’re over 400 million entrepreneurs in the world and according to Gartner the social innovation industry will be worth $7 billion in 2 years.

Unlike AngelList and Kickstarter, Miigle allows you to proactively crowdsource different resources and market your products on the same platform.

Miigle will generate $67M in our first 3 years and will be profitable in each one.

Our team consists of a MBA Grad, a Computer Nerd and a Juris Doctor – for a combined 25 years of experience.

We’re very excited to be launching our MVP this month and are seeking $100K to invest in our technology and introductions to potential advisors.

So help us, give a fighting chance to entrepreneurs around the world, from people in this room to children like Kelvin.

Thank you.

Miigle Banner Don't Be Left Out

A couple of weeks ago, I had a delightful lunch meeting with Helene Vo from TechZulu. Helene is a good friend of mine, one that I admire tremendously I must add. Our meeting was a cozy interview where I got the opportunity to talk about what entrepreneurship means to me and explain my previous statements that the entrepreneurial process globally, yes including here in the U.S. not just abroad, is broken and needs fixing.

Nearly two years ago, I began working on a startup I called Miigle (www.miigle.com), which is a global social collaboration platform that allows people to develop their ideas or grow their startups by connecting with other entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, potential product users who share their interests and want to help. Miigle was my solution to the woes, many of them unnecessary, that entrepreneurs around the world faced or experienced.

While most platforms that foster innovation are placing their bet on the funding aspect (understandably so), I’ve decided to place my bet on the people, our diversity, and collective knowledge. Let’s just say I’m a fan of long term strategies.

Sure, money matters and by no means am I trying to diminish its importance but I didn’t find it to be the key piece in this puzzle. I think ideas or projects that are developed more organically, meaning through people, where money is not the primary catalyst not only succeed but also thrive and stand the test of time. Therefore, I came to the conclusion that WE needed to rewrite the human innovation equation.

What does this mean? To find out, read my response below to Helene’s question on how I came up with the idea of Miigle.

HV: Tell me about Miigle. How did you come up with the idea?

LB: The idea of Miigle was born when trying to solve two problems:

1) How can the process of turning ideas into something concrete be made easier and quicker?

2) How can we leverage resources as a community (by community, I mean a global community of people with different talents and interests) to help entrepreneurs grow their startups?

Coming up with an idea is relatively, easy. Anyone can do it. On the other hand, executing on one can be difficult, time consuming, and frustrating, most of it needlessly so. I want to change that.

What Miigle does is make it easier for entrepreneurs to grow their ideas and startups by connecting them with people including other entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, potential product users who share their interests and want to help.  Making these connections with the right audience is key to an entrepreneur’s success. In the real world it could take you months if not years, but Miigle makes it happen automatically, quite literally in seconds, thus making the process much simpler and faster.

It starts with recognizing that nurturing an idea requires more than just money and that people who can’t be financial investors may still have a lot to offer to an entrepreneur or startups. When people look at ways to introduce their ideas to the world, they think of investors and mentors, and rarely ask the general public for their feedback and ideas. Never mind that these are the people you expect to be using your product, yet they are the most neglected. And when I say neglected, it’s not so much in terms of ‘how can I make these products better so you can buy it? ’ No. You don’t address them that as potential consumers, but rather as peers, people who have ideas of their own. This can be done through Miigle.

Read the full interview on TechZulu: Miigle up! | Interview with Luc Berlin Founder/CEO & Netrepreneur

Miigle is still in its prototype stage but the response we’ve received from the global community has been resoundingly positive. We’ve received messages from people in Latin America,  Europe, and Asia saying how they love our vision of a place where people can collaborate and contribute in their own ways to the advancement of human innovation regardless of where it takes flight and have the ability to leverage other resources such as knowledge and talent as a global community of innovators.

Miigle’s full launch is scheduled for Spring 2013 (that is if the interpretation of the Mayan calendar proves to be off).

The Southern California Story Networking Event Poster

The Southern California Story Networking Event

This part Thursday, I was honored to be a guest speaker at a great networking event The Southern California  Story – A Narrative of Successful Networkers and Entrepreneurs alongside networking expert Mark Sackett. As I contemplated how to position my speech, I decided to look at my own networking experience and how my affinity towards EVERYTHING international has helped me make amazing professional and personal connections.

I focused my speech on the importance of networking beyond just around-the-corner Meetup events but really looking at the entire world as a networking community. As an entrepreneur and an avid traveler, I’ve personally benefited from this greatly. I explained how the world is changing and as more of us are “forced” (this is not a bad thing) to turn to our own creativity to create better economic opportunities for ourselves, many of the relationships we’ll need to foster to help us succeed will be with people not from our neighborhoods, cities, country, or even continents.

I have already experienced it with my startup Miigle, which is a global social network for established and aspiring entrepreneurs, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s one of the big reasons why I created Miigle in the first place. I wanted to empower people to materialize their ingenuity and I believed making it easier for people to connect globally based on their interests would be a great catalyst.

As a final take-away networking is extremely important but my recommendation is to find ways to expand those networks globally. The experiences you’ll gain will be invaluable and as the world continues to change you’ll find yourself at the forefront of it all. It’s a great feeling – Trust Me!

Thank you Helene Vo and Albert Qian for inviting me to your event!

Stay Driven.

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