Mark Soper
Software Engineer
Cambridge, MA

Top 10 TED Talks of 2011 To Inspire Tech Startups

Startup folks, looking for inspiration for 2012? TED talks are an awesome source of inspiration. I listen to them on road trips while the kids are sleeping, and I started keeping a list of the talks that were most inspiring to me as an entrepreneur.

10. Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education

Khan recounts his story: recording math videos to tutor his cousins, he stumbles upon an opportunity to change the future of education. Inspires us to believe that there is great latent opportunity in everyday situations and that by being creative, working hard, and focusing on helping people we can capitalize on it.

9. Tim Harford: Trial, error and the God complex

This talk covers complex systems that evolve through trial-and-error. Though you don't often hear much about trial-and-error in the creation mythology of a successful company (there's more mention of cocaine in The Social Network), trial-and-error development is the process of doing a startup. What can you learn about it from Tim Harford?

8. Harald Haas: Wireless data from every light bulb AND Cynthia Breazeal: The rise of personal robots

These talks independently cover two technology ideas awesome enough to deserves mention for of the awesomeness of domain creativity alone. Want to do a startup? Give Haas a call - he's asking for help to productize his core technology that allows normal light bulbs to become a communication network. Or Breazeal - she's looking at ways to put a more human face (and body) on the machine-learning driven interaction that's at the heart of so many tech startups.

7. Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies

An MIT B-school professor once told a story about a former student who had a big startup exit. The professor went to see him to ask for a donation to the university. "Sorry, finances are a bit tight right now", was the response he got, after hearing some enthusiastic stories about the what the guy had been up to on his new yacht. What are you going to do with your startup success?

6. Lee Cronin: Making matter come alive AND Skylar Tibbits: Can we make things that make themselves

Cronin and Tibbits give independent talks about how lessons from the natural world can be used to establish systems that create and evolve themselves. I included them here together because startups face a similar challenge of creating and evolving products (and organizations) through trial-and-error. What can we learn from this kind of science about how to better automate the startup process?

5. Morgan Spurlock: The greatest TED Talk ever sold

Would you spend $7K to sponsor a TED talk, to have the filmaker behind Super Size Me pitch your company in front of a bunch of influential people and to hundreds of thousands online? Spurlock should have talked to more startups - nearly every established company laughed at the idea. What can you learn about how to be creative in marketing your startup?

4. Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

Crowdsourcing, Wisdom of Crowds, Collective Intelligence, etc. - call it whatever you want, motivating individuals to work together in networks to produce valuable stuff is the prototypical internet startup mission. CAPTCHA creator Luis von Ahn goes from a annoying text entry box to motivating a 100 million people to translate the web for free.

3. Stefon Harris: There are no mistakes on the bandstand

Stefon Harris says that "a musician's idea can only fail if his bandmates allow it to fail". This holds true in jazz where the band doesn't know in advance what it's going to play. Can the early stage startup, which also doesn't know in advance what it's going to build, learn a lesson from this?

2. Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement

For many of us, doing a startup is akin to pursuing a dream that many well-informed and well-intentioned people think is foolish. Bunker Roy inspires you to keep going, that it can be done.

1. JR's TED Prize wish: Use art to turn the world inside out

Come up with a great idea that helps people and make sure that the product is the marketing. JR tells you how to do it here.

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