Cork Guru: Danielle Gillespie builds a company based on her passion for wine and technology

Danielle Gillespie of Cork Guru.

Danielle Gillespie of Cork Guru.

CorkGuru’s Danielle Gillespie admits it… She loves wine and technology.

“By saying this I do not mean guzzling wine for the sake of it,” she said. “When I think of a bottle of wine I think about gathering with friends and/or family, sitting around a table and talking, laughing and reminiscing and cooking or sharing a great meal.”

With 20-plus years as a software developer, Gillespie has tech chops with all aspects of development, spec writing, problem solving, architecting solutions, developing, and in-field deployment. She has also worked closely with start-up tech companies to define their technology roadmap.

She had the idea to create electronic wine software more than five years ago when the cheapest tablet was $2,000.

“Regardless of this barrier, I still thought that with more information about a wine (a picture, anecdote, pairing information), the novice would be more interested in trying wine and the connoisseur would be more willing to try something new,” she said. “When the iPad was announced, I knew it was the platform that would help me bring the wine to the table.”

So Gillespie founded CorkGuru to develop and sell a wine menu app for restaurants and country clubs. Gillepsie approached the development of the product from the restaurant guest’s point of view and interviewed countless people on their wine buying fears and wishes. The result is a product that is appealing to all people from wine fans to those who aspire to love wine.

 

CorkGuru provides robust browsing capabilities, including sorts for varietal, vineyard and price. Further resolution for each wine entry includes a label picture as well as tasting notes and potential food pairings.

CorkGuru also incorporates a locker feature that private/country clubs can use to track individual locker inventories. The locker feature adds value to the club because it offers an additional level of service for members.

“The hardest part of growing this business is that it is a niche that is still in an infancy stage, so there is a ton of education that needs to occur,” said Gillespie.

In the next six months, CorkGuru plans to grow its base of Pittsburgh customers and will hire a dedicated sales executive to help place product into both restaurants and country/private clubs.

Tis the Season: Jason Wolfe is Mr. Gift

Jason Wolfe is CEO of GiftCards.com.

Jason Wolfe is CEO of GiftCards.com.

Chances are you are one of the millions of people around the world ready to give a gift card this holiday season. Safer and more thoughtful than cash, gift cards have become a popular way to present the perfect gift. Did you know that a driving force in the $110 Billion gift card industry calls Pittsburgh home?

As a child living on welfare, Pittsburgh-based GiftCards.com CEO Jason Wolfe grew up with few gifts. Yet, what affected him the most was not the lack of toys in his attic, but the pain and embarrassment generated by his inability to give to others, he said.

One cold Christmas morning in 1978, Wolfe sat huddled under a blanket with his mom and siblings with no heat, electricity, or gifts to be had – the  holidays looked bleak. But a knock at the door, the scuffling of footsteps on the porch, and a bounty of gifts left behind anonymously, brought a big smile to his face. Though his home life deteriorated further, and he spent the remainder of his childhood in the Milton Hershey School, Wolfe never forgot how wonderful that simple act of kindness made him feel. From that day forward, he has strived, through personal and professional endeavors, to make other people smile.

As founder and CEO of GiftCards.com, Wolfe heads up the highest-ranking and most-trafficked gift card website on the Internet. With the company slogan “make ‘em smile : )”, Wolfe is on a mission to bring about at least two smiles – one for the giver and one for the receiver – through the act of gifting.

 

Creating a Gifting Empire

A serial entrepreneur, Wolfe started, developed, sold, and even reacquired a variety of high-tech and/or dot-com companies in Pittsburgh. In his current and most meaningful project, GiftCards.com, he is attracting top talent from many corners of the world. In addition, he recently agreed to acquire the San Francisco-based tech startup, Giftly. 

 

The Future of Gifting

Wolfe sees gifting going digital in the future, and is determined to lead the way.

  • When homemakers were clipping coupons out of Sunday papers, he launched MyCoupons.com in 1995, releasing a wave of daily online discounts.
  • When Madison Avenue was searching for a paid-for-performance model, he launched Direct Response Technologies in 2002, one of the first affiliate network tracking solutions.
  • In 2003, when retailers were selling paper gift certificates, he envisioned a thriving gift card market, and bought the domain name ‘giftcards.com.’

Today, Wolfe has his eyes on the future of gifting. Surrounded by senior talent from AT&T, AOL, Viacom, and SkyMall, he is building a digital gifting powerhouse around online and mobile commerce.

Today, Wolfe employs 100 people in a company poised to multiply in size, thanks to the thriving gift card industry he helped build. One of his primary objectives in giving back is to create jobs in the city that is his home.  The gift card industry accounts for $110 billion of consumer spending, and the general gifting market surpasses $500 billion. He is determined to position the city of steel as a major hub in the gifting map.

“I find it ironic that outsiders often see more value in Pittsburgh than the locals,” explains Wolfe. “We have a world class university like CMU, great quality of life, and a growing tech community valued by the likes of Google.” But he claims Pittsburgh locals suffer from a bit of an underdog complex.

An underdog himself, Wolfe grew up in the Milton Hershey School (an orphanage school for significantly poor children) and graduated high school with a small suitcase, and $100. After paying his way through college, he suffered another blow, literally. Laid in a hospital bed, Wolfe taught himself how to program PERL, and coded what became his first startup: MyCoupons.com.

Having overcome poor odds a number of times, Wolfe is convinced Pittsburgh can do the same, and is determined to lead the way.

Elissa Ashwood Builds Truly Accomplished to Address Work/Personal Effectiveness

Elissa Ashwood has overcome many obstacles to launch Truly Accomplished.

Elissa Ashwood has overcome many obstacles to launch Truly Accomplished.

No one knows better than Elissa Ashwood that the life of an entrepreneur can be fraught with twists, turns and surprises — some even life threatening.

Deep in the throes of starting her software company Truly Accomplished, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With determination and courage she stepped back from the day-to-day operations of the startup to concentrate on her full recovery.

“Things happen!” said Ashwood. “What can you do to deal with it?”

As a cancer survivor, Ashwood is even more committed to and convinced of the difference Truly Accomplished’s Trueprint software and methodologies can provide to improve the quality of people’s lives.

Trueprint helps individuals, companies and programs focus and follow through to accomplish goals.

The software and methodologies are based on 30 years of award-winning research and a powerful measurement and feedback system. Ashwood said it creates on average 150 percent increased effectiveness with organizations using it to increase productivity, retain talent and motivate action.

For leaders wanting to help their team members combine personal success with company success, Truly Accomplished developed Trueprint PRO. The software is used for leadership development, retention pilots, organizational change and widespread employee engagement efforts.

“Our mission is to use the most effective, relevant, motivational self-management solutions to help you do the things that matter to you,” said Ashwood. “Learning to think about your priorities in this new way is game-changing. Business-changing. Life-changing!”

Her “can-do,” never give up attitude started at a young age where she admits to “always being fascinated with figuring out what you want.” At the age of 27, Ashwood was VP of finance at Citibank and a mom.

Her leadership experience includes roles as a Finance and HR executive at Fortune 100 companies, including McKinsey & Co. and Strategy 42. She quickly found success in developing leaders and improving the performance of some of the best organizations in the world. At the same time, Ashwood mastered the work-family balance, rethinking how to achieve career success without giving up the best parts of personal life.

All of these factors led to her quitting a lucrative corporate career to build a new company that helps people and business improve their happiness and, ultimately, effectiveness with technology as a driver.

“I loved corporate life. I worked with some amazing people. I was doing the best work of my life,” Ashwood admitted. “But I wanted to concentrate on that one small slice of my work.”

Learn more at www.trulyaccomplished.com and www.33dresses.com.

MAYA Design Launches MakerSwarm

MAYA Design launches MakerSwarm

MAYA Design launches MakerSwarm

MAYA Design just launched their first Kickstarter campaign and it’s focused on building the first authoring tool for the Internet of Everything. Think of it as a roll of virtual duct tape and a pair of X-ray goggles to help you build a 10,000 device app in 10 minutes or less.

Imagine what the next generation of dreamers will do! If you’re old school think of MakerSwarm as HyperCard for the IoT.

Check it out, watch the video, place a bet, and share.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/202240847/makerswarm-an-authoring-tool-for-the-internet-of-e

Hmm… imagine a startup hackathon for pervasive computing …

SMARTSolutions Open House Draws 150 Business Leaders

SMARTSolution Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based audio-visual systems integration company, introduced decision-makers from Greater Pittsburgh’s corporate, healthcare, professional and business services, and technology sectors to its new Briefing Center at an open house held on the evening of Tuesday, October 15 at the company’s headquarters in the renovated Hipwell Flashlight Factory at 831 W. North Avenue. The building is located in Pittsburgh’s Allegheny West neighborhood on the historic North Side.

Mitchell Schwartz (left), president and founder of SMARTSolution Technologies hosts John Weinstein, Allegheny County Treasurer, at SMART Solution Technologies’ launch of the company’s Briefing Center.

“Flash Forward in the Flashlight Factory” gave attendees the opportunity to get hands-on experience using videoconferencing, data conferencing and interactive touchscreen solutions. Many of these collaboration tools are designed exclusively for smaller meetings (huddles) and meeting rooms (huddle stations). Attendees also saw the latest in digital signage, video walls and control systems. Going forward, the Briefing Center is available for individual and group training sessions.

“I am extremely pleased with the number of people who attended,” says Mitchell Schwartz, president of SMARTSolution Technologies. “The enthusiasm of our guests was a reflection of the hard work and dedication of everyone on the team before and during the event.”

With increases in dispersed workforces, cross-organizational teaming and new models for dealing effectively with customers, patients or clients, Mr. Schwartz believes that technologies which make it easier for small teams at multiple locations to collaborate with each other are becoming more important than ever. He also believes that organizations which embrace these workplace trends will thrive while those that resist them will have a difficult time competing.

Adds Mr. Schwartz, “We are at the dawn of the digital sunrise. Devices that use analog or VGA (video graphics array) technology are being replaced by HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface). Our open house gave decision-makers throughout the region an excellent opportunity to learn how they can use state-of-the-art technology to improve productivity and morale.”

About SMARTSolution Technologies

SMARTSolution Technologies is a Pittsburgh-based audio-visual systems integration company that customizes presentation, teleconferencing and data conferencing systems for clients

Guests at the open house demoed SMART Solutions technologies.

Guests at the open house demoed SMART Solutions technologies.

in the corporate, healthcare, professional and business services, and education markets. The company’s most popular solution is the SMART Board interactive whiteboard from SMART Technologies.

In establishing SMARTSolution Technologies 17 years ago, Mitchell Schwartz introduced the SMART Board to Pennsylvania schools and businesses. Since 1996, he, along with a talented staff of technical and sales professionals, has grown the company around the integration of the SMART Board and other leading-edge presentation and training products. SMARTSolution Technologies performs projects regionally, nationally and internationally, including development of interactive conference rooms, videoconferencing systems, digital signage networks, video walls.

In March 2012, the company re-located to the Hipwell Buildings complex, a former flashlight factory, on Pittsburgh’s historic North Side. Mr. Schwartz and his wife, Elaine Stone, purchased the factory’s five buildings in November 2010. The company uses for office space 15,000 of the structure’s 60,000 square feet. Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Stone are planning to convert the remaining 45,000 square feet to rental units called Flashlight Factory Lofts.