Case Studies

Forward Thinking

By David Downs, Bobbie Hartman, Chris Null, Kate Pavao, and Joe Shepter

August 2010

Your Genes at Work
If one of your parents was an entrepreneur, you are more likely to be one too. Could your genes have something to do with it?

According to Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University, there is definitely a genetic connection. Shane says it’s not a specific gene but rather how certain genes work together to influence personality traits, such as risk taking. When these traits are aggregated in a certain way, an entrepreneur may in fact be born.

By doing behavioral genetic studies on twins, Shane and his colleagues have found enough evidence to keep their research funded. The next step: probing the correlation between specific genes and behaviors.

For more on Shane’s work, see his recent book, Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Work Life (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Internet 3-D: Ready to Break Through You’re tramping through a swamp, hunting rats so you can fight and save the world. Then you remember that you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, so you switch from the application to call your spouse.

The game is Ravensword: The Fallen King, made for the iPhone. Its 3-D environments depend on a technology called Unity, which can turn Web browsers and smartphones into game consoles.

3-D technology has proved unsuccessful on the Web and mobile devices. But Unity has an advantage because it directly accesses a computer or device’s hardware, allowing it to quickly render what makes a 3-D world realistic.

Jeff Lin, chief creative officer at the Visionaire Group, sees potential. “If you’ve got a naturally 3-D property, like Shrek,” he says, “it makes perfect sense.” For more information, visit

Rescue Roach The Biomimetic Millisystems Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, works to reverse-engineer evolution’s tricks and put them into lifesaving robots. In 2008, the lab discovered and patented the gecko’s method for walking up smooth walls and hanging from ceilings. The gecko’s trick: millions of tiny hairs on its feet.

Next the lab made DASH, a robot that looks and runs just like a roach. The hexapedal bot exploits the structural stability of a cockroach, and DASH can be dropped from five stories without damage. The lab is also working to combine the sticky-gecko-feet technology with DASH to engineer a tiny bot that can run up vertical surfaces. One day, such cheap, versatile legged bots will perform reconnaissance for special forces teams deep behind enemy lines on the battlefield and search for survivors in collapsed buildings.

Dr. Robert Full, professor of integrative biology at U.C. Berkeley, says footage of the Loma Prieta earthquake jump-started development of the bots. They need to be as agile as their cockroach counterparts, so lab staff run actual bugs on treadmills, use ultrasensitive force sensors to precisely measure movement, and film the activity in slow motion for further study. With research from millions of government dollars flowing to the lab and the field of biomimetics, Full says the age of flying, crawling, and swimming robots is upon us.

U.C. Berkeley graduate student Paul Birkmeyer envisions pouring a garbage can full of DASHes into wrecked buildings, where they can rapidly swarm the debris. These small robots could carry sensors for detecting telltale carbon dioxide exhalations from survivors. Learn more at

Renewable Amusement The Giant Wind Turbine may sound like the name of a new white-knuckle ride, but for Tivoli Gardens—Denmark’s famous amusement park—the thrill it offers is green electricity.

The wind turbine is the result of a partnership with Danish Oil and Natural Gas. Located off Copenhagen’s coast at the AvedørePower Station, it produces 8.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, enough to power Tivoli’s rides, illuminations, and concert venues.

“It is providing all the electricity that Tivoli needs,” says Ellen Dahl, communications consultant for the park. “We are the first amusement park in the world to run on wind power. We’re quite proud of that.”

Today, Tivoli continually works to make improvements in energy efficiency and recycling. These efforts include installing LED lights in the Chinese Pagoda, Hanging Gardens, and other attractions.

One of the park’s rides has been redesigned to produce (as well as consume) electricity. The high-flying Vertigo twists and turns in the air, but when it comes down and brakes, it generates enough electricity to power the other arm of the ride.

“Tivoli is an important part of Copenhagen’s cultural heritage,” sums up Dahl. “So, we feel an obligation to do all we can to reduce our energy consumption. We want future generations to continue to enjoy the park.” For more information, check out

Social Intelligence There is life beyond Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Not IRL (geek speak for “in real life”), but in
niche social networks— sites that focus on communities related to a specific topic and deliver a deep social experience. You just can’t find the proper level of fanaticism over the fundamentals of AAPL stock on Facebook or the ins and outs of the Astros’ batting lineup on Twitter. True obsessives turn to networks like these, where the commentary simply doesn’t stray from the issue at hand. If you’re looking for some specialized socializing, below are five niche networks that might be worth a registration.

A social network for serious sports nuts
Sure, you can chatter about the Chargers with your friends on Facebook until you’re blue in the face. But Spanatix Founder Marlon Sullivan believes that for many, the real fun of talking sports comes from interacting with relative strangers—hence the popularity of sports bars and sports talk radio. Indeed, team affiliation can unite (or antagonize) strangers who’d otherwise never socialize in a semisober frenzy of fandom (see: World Cup). “At Spanatix, sport enthusiasts will be able to express their passion, competitiveness, and experience with others,” says Sullivan.

The Motley Fool’s CAPS
The world’s greatest investing community
Financial message boards are commonplace—and studded with spam, shills, and outright scams. The Motley Fool, a legendary finance Website, brings in Wall Street experts to interact with amateur moneymen in what CAPS Senior Vice President for Community Intelligence John Keeling calls “a massive database for aggregating stock ideas. It’s a great resource for finding stock ideas as well as getting a second opinion on stocks you’re following.” It’s less about being social, Keeting says, and more about helping you make money. Just as it should be.

An online community for movie nuts
As Flixster President Steve Polsky notes, there are a lot of movie nuts out there, with 20 million people part of the Flixster community and another 7 million accessing the site via mobile applications. Flixster is plenty engaging on its own, but the site’s real value, says Polsky, is its integration with other sites, including Facebook, Yelp, Netflix, iTunes, and Rotten Tomatoes, making it a true “one-stop destination for movie fans.” It’s the ultimate way to get a line on what’s worth seeing at the theater or on DVD every week.

For fitness freaks only
Getting in shape, staying on a diet, committing to a fitness routine—these are not simple tasks. It helps to have a buddy to support you along the way. FitTogether is a community that offers training buddies, fitness classes, and even a fitness dating system for the health conscious. As CEO Scott Bowen notes, “Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks like to keep you in front of a computer screen all day. FitTogether is a tool that hopefully gets you off the couch and back into the world of being active and social outside of cyberspace.”

A one-stop shop for anything travel
“The anticipation of travel can actually make one happier in the moment than the act of traveling itself,” says Tripwolf Site Editor Adena Harford. Tripwolf brings that excitement and enthusiasm into one place, combining travel tips from professional travel writers with personal experiences, and reviews from a worldwide community of thousands of travelers. Regular users on the network can solicit advice in real time, and casual users can access virtually all of the site’s content without even registering for an account.

Photography by Shutterstock