Four from the future of social media

The website of BabbaCo says its products are “Simple, functional and super cute.” And guess  what — they are.

The judges at TechWeek in Chicago also found BabbaCo investment worthy.  They awarded founder Jessica Kim $100,000 to help grow BabbaCo through the next phase.

BabbaCo’s business is a series of products for baby that  Kim has been inventing since her daughter was born four years ago.

Unlike many of the apps and gizmos on sale to investors at Tech Week, Kim’s product is physical and it is manufactured. But Kim won the award as much for her artful  branding through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube social media  channels. In fact, she introduces her new products through the BabbaCo Facebook page. Kim is also artful at selling her simple, functional and super cute blankets, baby mats and other gizmos through events at participating local retailers.

I like the local retail combined with the web connection.  It’s all about community building. And everything Kim does feels authentic.  She states her case for her products persuasively. It doesn’t feel like a push. Take a look. Let me know whether you agree.

Kim says she was totally surprised that she won the TechWeek prize, outshining 4 other finalists.

“I was on the panel speaking about women entrepreneurs [a SPARK], and a friend said  “You have to leave.” Kim says. “I thought I had done something wrong, so I asked,  ‘What do you mean, what did I say?’ ”

Nothing wrong. She just needed to leave the panel and collect her $100,000 check from the judges.

The current BabbaCo site reflects only a few of her products, which are all geared to moms, dads and their kids five and younger.  But Kim has a new line that will be sold monthly by box for $29.99.

“ The new line is a box of new products that comes to your house geared to two-to-five year olds,” she says. “It’s interactive. There’s a digital component to every aspect of the box.”

Kim says BabbaCo will be releasing the line in the next few weeks to a beta group of “Babba” moms. Follow Kim on Twitter to learn about the special sign-up.

“Like it or not, moms are attached more to their mobile than to their baby now,” she says, laughing. So, that means each box will have a mobile aspect and a community aspect as well.

Kim was studying anthropology at Brown University when she started her first business — specialty baked goods  called Jessica’s Wonders, which she grew to $3.5 million in revenue before it was bought by an investor.

Kim says her anthropology background is all about closely observing, which is what inspired her first baby products. As she developed more products she employed her highly attuned listening skills in conversations with her Babba Moms to get feedback, improve and co-create.

This iterative development was the main theme of TechWeek. Time and time again we heard stories of the cycle that’s enabled by the social web where product meets customers and success is co-created through feedback loops.

TechWeek and the TechWeek Expo were held for the first time in Chicago this year. It’s a convention, trade show and innovation space where Fortune 100 companies exhibit their newest tech products alongside early-stage start-ups. More than 1,000 people attended.

Events  like TechWeek help me keep tabs on what’s coming up in social media, so I can name a trend when I see it and understand how it can be useful for business.  If you enjoy that kind of thing, you can watch videos recorded at Techweek. Here’s sampling of a few other start-ups I talked with at TechWeek.

A hot topic was group messaging apps, which allow you to select a group of people you want to talk with immediately, send them a message and when one replies, alert everyone. These could prove to be significant for building neighborhood businesses.  One CEO I talked with was [above left] Rene Pinnell, co-creator of Forecast, which allows you to let your friends know what you are doing in the near future so they can join you. Watch a video.

Pinnell’s company is called Hurricane Party, which connects people instantly in  real life and was a hit at South by South West this year.

Another topic was digital book publishing.

Demibooks says it is:

bringing the publishing world a user-friendly, affordable way to create interactive books for the iPad, right on the device itself. Demibooks™ Composer is an iPad-based software platform and authoring tool (patent pending) for book apps. Authors and publishers can heighten the experience and enjoyment of reading by transforming a book into an animated, visually-engaging book app.

Rafiq Ahmed, formerly of Motorola and [above middle] Andrew Skinner,  a creative technologist, have created this app that allows you to write a book on  your Ipad. If you watch this video, you’ll see that the app is a bit like a fluid, full color Etch-a-Sketch.

Self publishing is big on the iPad – who knew?

And last, I talked with PreScouter, a network that will allow corporate research and development labs to connect with reasearch emerging from universities.

PreScouter connects you to cutting-edge academic research relevant to whatever it is you’re working on. It’s like hiring a private investigator to scout out new opportunities from academia.

I thought that was a pretty cool idea and universities looking to connect their expertise might want to check out PreScouter.

PreScouter is a product of Northwestern University’s Media Management Center. [above far right] Dinesh Ganesarajah, founding partner, and Ashish Basuray, a nanoscientist.

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