Former Comcast exec, Microsoft advisor Kunkel has new Philly startup

Tom Paine

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Gerard Kunkel / LinkedIn 

Former Comcast exec Gerard Kunkel, who most recently served as an advisor to Microsoft, has a new Philly area startup, Multichannel News reported. It will focus on technologies for the media & entertainment user experience.

In addition to serving as Senior VP of user experience and product design at Comcast, he also was president of GuideWorks LLC, a joint venture between Comcast and what is now part of Rovi, which has since left the joint venture. He also served time with WorldGate, Bensalem's long-running but ultimately failed internet TV and videophone startup.

At Microsoft, he was a strategy advisor to Microsoft on its interactive media explorations, which were at one point broad but ended up focused on its Xbox platform. His tenure with Microsoft ended in November, according to his LinkedIn

In the 1990's he led the company that designed, developed and deployed the network and customer management software for use in Bell Atlantic’s pioneering Toms River, NJ switched digital video service, sort of an early version of FiOS.

His new startup, which is still in stealth mode, is called SHUX App.

Multichannel News quotes Kunkel as saying SHUX will feature a "highly sharable user experience targeted at a young, mobile, and extremely interactive audience.”

No word yet on financing.

Philadelphia & Drexel Take Center Stage as Growing Hacker and Maker Movements Link Tech Heavyweights With Disruptors

Philadelphia, PA 
Sunday, January 11th 2015 - 1:54 AM | BY Brendan Kaplan

It's two in the morning and while most of Philadelphia sleeps, Drexel University's Sorbonne Center is abuzz with activity as over 120 techies gulp coffee from behind soldering irons, keyboards, sensor arrays, and drone controls. While this might not surprise the casual observer during finals season, bear in mind it's still currently winter break.
The driving force behind this unusual state of affairs is DragonHacks 2015, a hardware hackathon presented as a collaboration between Drexel's schools of Engineering and Computer Science, several corporate sponsors, and Major League Hacking (MLH). For the uninitiated, a hackathon is an event, usually running between 24 and 48 hours, during which competitors vie to create the most innovative, technically elegant, captivating, or just downright fun projects using only sanctioned tools and materials.
Typical Hackathon setup with student co-working and collaboration space combined with free access to host location buildings for breakaway groups - this particular one at Drexel Dragon Hacks 2015 | Photograph © Brendan Kaplan

Over the past several years Hackathon events have continued to play an increasingly major role in the trajectory of technology due to their ability to connect existing tech heavyweights like Microsoft and Intel, which were represented at the event, with untapped populations of talented, passionate, and creative people. Indeed, corporate hiring in the tech field is now beginning to eschew traditional hiring practices like career fairs and headhunters, instead opting to interact with talent directly. Combined with an explosion of next generation technologies like IoT (Internet of Things), 3D printing, and other trends that are being pioneered by enthusiasts as much as professionals, Hackathons represent a genuinely new format for innovation that is driving ideas and economics alike. As one representative, Steve Xing from Intel put it:
"Over the past decade, we didn't capitalize as much as we could have on tech trends like mobile due to our dominance in the areas that came before. Fortunately, as markets evolve more frequently, we've been able to use events like this for the dual purposes of snapping up the most cutting edge talent while they are still young, and getting our products into the very groups that are driving this evolution." It only seems appropriate that Steve was hired by Intel as an intern at just such an event, and is now helping drive product line development for IoT sensors and controllers.
In fact, in response to the growth of this ecosystem, Hackathons now have an official accreditation body, Major League Hacking. At the time of this article, MLH is entering its 4th season, each of which corresponds to a college semester. Jonathan Gottfried, one of MLH's cofounders and Vice President of Sponsorships, as well as Aziz Ramos, Creative Director, were on hand to provide guidance to the organizers, ensure the Hackathon adhered to the MLH code of conduct, and support individual participants.
Jonathan described how the organization he helped found was created to fill a void that was apparent to him and several friends who were active in the nascent Hackathon culture years ago. "We got started by attending other events and realizing that everyone kept coming to us for help... We would get questions ranging from 'How do I use this technology?' to 'How can I meet others who want to collaborate?' Every time this happened, we were more convinced of the need for the type of lifestyle organization that could cater to this unique group."
Speaking on his own background and process, Aziz Ramos said, "I came to MLH by participating in Hackathons throughout the country, especially at HackRU, which was hosted at Rutgers where I attended college. I kept working with the founders on different projects at different events, and as I began looking for a job, I reached out to an MLH founder who also attended Rutgers. They hired me because they felt I embodied the quintessential hackathon lifestyle and that I would be perfect to disseminate this culture throughout the community at future hackathons."
When asked whether MLH is the driver or beneficiary of the Hackathon culture, Jon responded by indicating that the community is more tightly knit than to allow such distinctions. "We really work in a mutually reinforcing way. Our company was founded to better serve Hackathons, so in a sense, we are beneficiaries of their existence. However, we've been able to help to increase both their quality and quantity by helping collate best practices and providing some structure. Our growth is only accelerating, which indicates that we are providing some real value to the national hackathon scene. Last year, our spring season had roughly 30 events, this spring, we're on track to support 80. You don't get that type of growth without bringing something to the table that wasn't there before."

Brendan Kaplan, representing sponsor Addteq, hangs with Diaz Gotoma, one of the student organizers of Dragon Hacks 2015. | Photo © 2015 Andrew Pellegrino

The national increase in the number of hackathons also corresponds to some local trends in the Philadelphia economy. One of the organizers of DragonHacks 2015, Diaz Gotoma, recently graduated from Drexel and has spent the past 5 years at the University, and seemed sure that the innovation economy and tech go hand and hand in Philly. He says that the maker/hacker culture in Philadelphia is quite strong, crediting a few factors with local success.
"The low cost of Philadelphia real estate as compared to other similarly educated metro areas is a real strength. Where $10,000 might buy you 2 - 3 months of living in New York, in Philly one could live for almost a year. This flexibility combined with the strong intellectual and educational resources provided by University City have gone hand in hand with the exciting startup culture Philadelphia is increasingly known for." It seems this view has paid off, at least for Diaz, who traded hi-fives and hugs with fellow DragonHacks 2015 organizers at the end of the event as he left for the airport to start a new job at Microsoft in Washington.
While it is difficult to draw a 1:1 comparison, one can't help but notice the strong correlation between student participation in Hackathons and job offers that occur immediately upon, or even before, graduation. Although only a graduate for a few weeks, Diaz's job offer meant he had to leave the hackathon he helped create only 15 short minutes after it ended in order to catch a plane.
Diaz's notions of the connectedness of Hackathons and Philly's innovation economy aren't off base either. The rise of Hackthons over the past 5 years has coincided with the blossoming of many hacker/ maker spaces in Philadelphia such as Hive76, NextFab, and The Department of Making and Doing, which have all popped up in a similar time frame. While all different, each subscribes to an exploratory, experimental, and creatively driven process the founders of Major League Hacking have captured wonderfully with their sanctioned Hackathons.
During judging, each team got the same three minute time frame in which to demo their hack. Although some projects barely made it out of concept while some teams were able to complete several fully functional systems, each got the same time, the same applause, and the same respect. A large portion of the teams were comprised of students who had never met previously, with several having international participants who travelled from all over the world to attend the event. Like Philadelphia's startup community, the common languages of a quintessential hackathon are technology and creativity. Dragon Hacks 2015 was no different, embodying both the local startup revolution and the values of tomorrow’s tech leaders all at once.
For more information on Hackathons, readers can check out Major League Hacking (MLH) at, or to see more on Dragon Hacks 2015,

About the author:
Brendan Kaplan has worked at the intersection of technology and human interaction for the past decade. He has authored award nominated research on similarity between brain development and city development, consulted for several Fortune 500 companies, and facilitated multiple sales of software technology intellectual property rights. He is currently a senior marketing consultant for Addteq.

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