MICHELE NORRIS, host:
While the U.S. economy sheds hundreds of thousands of jobs, maybe now is the time to be your own boss. At least that's the theory behind a weekly open mic night in Southern California for would-be entrepreneurs. It's called Bloblive.
NPR's Ina Jaffe had a front row seat for one recent gathering at a Santa Monica comedy club.
INA JAFFE: The blob in Bloblive is your business idea when it's just beginning and so hard to describe. Steve McQueen did his best in 1958 when "The Blob" made its screen debut.
(Soundbite of movie, "The Blob")
Mr. STEVE MCQUEEN (Actor): (As Steve Andrews): Well, it's kind of like a, it's kind of like a mass that keeps getting bigger and bigger.
(Soundbite of music)
JAFFE: But remains terrifyingly formless until you get some feedback.
Mr. ERICK BROWNSTEIN (Host, Bloblive): Welcome, everybody. Welcome. Welcome. My name is Erick Brownstein and I am your host for the evening.
JAFFE: Brownstein is not only the emcee of Bloblive, he's a business consultant who works with the credit card company Advanta, which funds Bloblive and a Web-only version called Ideablob. The live stage version has been going on for just a few months in Santa Monica and in Philadelphia. It's a work in progress, so Brownstein explains the rules for this particular night.
Mr. BROWNSTEIN: You're going to have a chance to come up on stage, take 90 seconds to share their ideas and get feedback and advice from our esteemed panel of judges here, as well as everybody in the room.
JAFFE: Ninety seconds is not very much time to tell several dozen strangers who you are and why your idea might change the world or make you rich. So sometimes the pitch sounds like this.
Mr. BRIAN BENTOW (Contestant, Bloblive): I work for Microsoft, Northrop Grumman. I've done a lot of projects on my own. I've been the lead developer at startups the last four and a half years. I've started companies on the side, (unintelligible) Ruby on Rails.
JAFFE: That was Brian Bentow, who says he eats, sleeps and breathes computer code and wants to make a business out of that. Often, the first questions from judges or the audience run along the lines of…
Unidentified Man: I don't quite understand what the commercial model is. How are you actually making money from it?
JAFFE: Some of the other presenters, a solar-powered DJ and a guy with a line of eco-friendly products that devotes a percentage of profits to the developing world.
Mr. BROWNSTEIN: And I'm being told that we've got a winner of - what were we giving away again?
Unidentified Woman: (Unintelligible)
Mr. BROWNSTEIN: Oh, a (unintelligible). Right, just to make it interesting.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BROWNSTEIN: Solomon Rothman, ladies and gentlemen.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
JAFFE: Rothman's idea is something called open source filmmaking. It lets people collaborate on a movie, even change the final product and then show it on the Web.
Mr. SOLOMON ROTHMAN (Winner, Bloblive): It's not set up like Wikipedia where everyone can contribute equal amounts. You still have to have some type of tools to make films and people work together on what they can. And yes, there is opportunity for people to retake that work and make their own versions, just like in open source software.
JAFFE: And after interviewing Rothman and hearing his pitch, I'm still not sure how this film thing works or makes any money. But he comes to Bloblive every single week and he says it's definitely improved his presentation skills.
Another entrepreneur, Chris Easter, says the connections he made at Bloblive gave a boost to a business he and two partners had already started, a Web site for bridegrooms called The Man Registry.
Mr. CHRIS EASTER (Co-Owner, The Man Registry): We've gotten PR out of it. We've gotten interest in financing out of it. You can't put a price tag on what goes on here.
JAFFE: Even the people who just came to watch had ideas, plans or products. Vicky Kisella invented these lacy mini-socks that peeked out around the edge of her shoes.
Mr. VICKY KISELLA (Inventor): Aren't they darling? They're fashionable and they are functional.
JAFFE: But Kisella didn't have the nerve to get on stage.
Mr. KISELLA: Whether I present it or not, it was about getting inspired and being with like-minded people.
JAFFE: Another onlooker inspired by Bloblive was TV producer Garry Grossman.
Mr. GARRY GROSSMAN (Television Producer): We think there may be a TV show in this. It's a great thing to see people with ideas up on stage, trying to explain why they may have the million-dollar idea or an idea that could help a million people.
JAFFE: So whatever happens to the individual presenters here, Bloblive itself could be the next big thing.
(Soundbite of song, "Beware of the Blob")
THE FIVE BLOBS (Singers): (Singing) Beware of the Blob. It creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor…
JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
THE FIVE BLOBS: (Singing) …right through the door and all around the wall. A splotch, a blotch, be careful of the Blob.
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