Friday, March 28, 2008

Entrepreneurial investors

It's a common refrain for people in economic development to complain that "if only we had more capital in our region, we'd be able to create more opportunities". Similarly, entrepreneurs complain about the lack of seed capital, that good deals that don't get funded. The refrain from the investor side--and one that I often repeat--is that it's not a question of not enough capital but of not enough good deals. This is particularly well articulated by someone I've recently gotten to know, Paul Hudnut, in a post last year (LINK). In his post Paul talks both about for-profit businesses and about social entrepreneurs who create non-profit businesses. He says that in the past he has played an experiment with people to test the assertion that good deals get passed over, asking them for specific examples. "In close to 10 years, I never got an example."

I think this is sort of true but also misleading.

The reason it's misleading is that angel capital, venture capital and indeed foundation capital for non-profits is far from passive capital. Investors are also entrepreneurs. And as such, they don't just sit passively and wait for the deals to come to them. They make deals happen. Without them as active players, certainly some deals wouldn't happen. I can trace a long line of companies in our local region that I do not think would exist today if it weren't for the efforts of certain investors who helped put the companies together, brought in new management, introduced the company to key customers, and were instrumental in creating the opportunity in partnership with the business entrepreneur.

As I've begun to dip my toe into the water of social entrepreneurship, and in particular opportunities to create market-oriented solutions to poverty, I've started to wonder about the role of investors in this world.

In the VC world, it's become of late a standard refrain to say that venture funds are getting larger, moving further away from early stage, and that even angel investors are moving up market. The broad data bears this out. But the broad data misses the trend of some large funds investing more dollars at earlier stages, especially in green tech. And it also misses some new innovations in "entrepreneurial investing", in particular TechStars (LINK) and Y-Combinator (LINK). Are there opportunities for similar such activity in the social entrepreneurship space? Is there an opportunity to create some sort of BOP-targeted incubator for-profit ventures? Or as a neophyte in this domain, does such activity already occur and I don't know about it?


This blog has too much tech . . . for some people. As I look at my web traffic, it's clear that there is a demarcation between the people who are looking for articles on BlackBerrys etc. and could care less about my posts on the environment, cultural issues etc. and visa versa. So, I'm splitting my blog. For those of you interested in tech questions and my general obsession with things like BlackBerrys, CRM and so on, you can go to my new blog "2muchtech" (LINK). For other, stay right here!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lenovo X61s vs X60s monitor resolution

A little tidbit of interest only to a very few. I looked and looked and couldn't find this anywhere: the X61s will allow you to drive an external monitor at a higher resolution with extended desktop. The X60s requires the screens to be the same resolution, limiting the external monitor to the 1024 resolution of the notebook. My external only goes to 1280 but I think you could go higher with a different monitor.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Social enterprise business matrix

Here's a 2x2 matrix from Paul Hudnut at CSU that may be helpful in identifying the right business model for entrepreneurs creating new businesses that address social problems. Paul's full post is here: LINK.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

So bad? A diesel R8? Can't I have one?

Is it so bad when you can run a gorgeous sports car on biodiesel? In other words, does it provide absolution? (Answer: yes, sadly it is "so bad"; no, Audi doesn't do absolutions.)

via Winding Road: LINK

Blackberry Basics

Although the iPhone is definitely ascendant, I find myself getting frequent requests from friends for information on how a BlackBerry works and how they can share calendars etc. Here's a basic tutorial.

If you buy a BlackBerry as a consumer user, it will be configured with the Blackberry Internet Service. This service allows you to direct a copy of all your e-mails through the Research in Motion servers (the company behind BlackBerry) so that they can be "pushed" to your device. Calendars and contacts are synced only when you connect your computer with a cable (or bluetooth) and use the BlackBerry desktop software.

But if you want wireless sync, there are several options.

The easiest is to use Google Calendar and wirelessly sync that calendar with your BlackBerry calendar. You do this by downloaded a sync software from Google to your Blackberry (LINK). After you set it up (really easy) it will sync your Google and Blackberry calendars. I have found that it works seamlessly but it is Beta so your mileage will vary. Also, I suspect but am not sure that it's this sync function that periodically slows my BlackBerry to a crawl, especially right after I turn it on. Not too much of a bother but annoying nevertheless. But the main trouble with this solution is no sync of contacts.

A partial solution to syncing contacts--at least if you use GMail--is to download the GMail for BlackBerry application. There's a new BlackBerry ap from Google that lets you not only download that ap but also others such as Google maps (LINK). This application allows you to use GMail directly from the Blackberry and also access contacts stored in GMail. Challenge is that it's quite slow. I use it mostly to lookup e-mails from my Blackberry that are stored in GMail. (Note that if you use GMail for Applications, rather than the standard GMail, there's a separate application for that that looks and works identically, except that the icon on the BlackBerry is blue rather than red.) An additional component of this solution, if you want to sync your calendar back down to Outlook, is to use the Google Calendar to Outlook sync (LINK). But if you go this route, make darn sure that when you sync your BlackBerry using the BlackBerry Desktop software, that you do not re-sync the calendar or you'll be getting duplicate entires.

The full solution is BlackBerry Enterprise software (LINK). If you install this, you'll have full wireless sync of calendars, contacts and task items. Whether you go for an installation of this software on your own Microsoft Exchange server or make use of a hosted version of the production (LINK) like the MailStreet service (LINK), this requires a person with a decent understanding of Exchange servers. Setup will require them on site with your Blackberry devices in hand. The base level version of this solution is about $500.

A solution that BlackBerry has been talking about but isn't out yet in the United States (though it is out in Spain) is BlackBerry Unite! (LINK). Unlike an Enterprise software installation, it's free and setup is on a desktop machine rather than a server. Designed for up to five users in an office or home environment, it seems to provide the core wireless sync benefits of the Enterprise server. But I'm not certain if it really will provide full wireless calendar and contacts syncing. And I don't know when it will be more widely available and which wireless carriers will allow the product.


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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Can India Save the World?

"A favourite American expression is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. There is also no such thing as cost-free cynicism." LINK

via Bruce Sterling: "It would serve me right if I ended up as a really old 90+ wrinkly Arthur C. Clarke style figure living under a Global Indian Raj. I'm up for that, fellas, really -- a corner by the fire, some vintage Bollywood tracks, a few easily digestible papadams, everything's hunky-dory." LINK

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Design Matters

I'm always fascinated by the attachment we have to physical objects. Objects aren't always objects but sometimes direct extensions of ourselves. This is particularly true for tools of the trade, whether a favorite woodworking tool, a backpack that has traveled the world, or most especially a laptop computer. A laptop has one of the most complex relationship to the user of any tool. Certainly for someone like me who spends easily half of every working day pecking away at the keyboard, a laptop is as close as I get to that cybernetic future when our physical bodies are extended through a merger with technology! So, it's no wonder that people get attached. Directly related is the question of how a brands connects emotionally to people. The Lenovo (nee IBM) Thinkpads may have the most brand loyalty outside of Apple. A recent post to the Lenovo design blog is anecdotal evidence (LINK). The post talks about a customer who mailed back their 1995 ThinkPad because they were unable to put it out to pasture themselves. First, do Dell, Sony, HP HAVE a design blog? I don't think so. And have you ever heard such a story about other laptops? Doubt it. And certainly attachment to an object by a user is directly related to the attention its designer gave it.

The primary reason I can't switch to Apple from Windows is because of the ThinkPad. The keyboard and that nubby little red eraser device ("TrackPoint") that functions in lieu of a trackpad are where my biological body meets the laptop. To me that's as important as any software user interface. Will laptops ever become like cars, collected for their aesthetic rather than simply discarded after their utility has waned? Can a laptop ever make the same emotional connection to the user that, say, an early Jaguar can?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Kleiner Perkins + cellulosic ethnaol = iFund

Interesting take on the new iFund, launched by John Doerr, targeting companies making iPhone aps. The take is that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has been ignorning Web 2.0 in favor of greentech. But other vc's have made big exits on Web 2.0 while Kleiner has been stuck with greentech that's consuming cash with no end in sight. Therefore, iFund is John Doerr's way of getting back into a shorter time horizon investment game. Not sure if A+B=C but interesting connecting of the dots. LINK

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Fake Steve about the iPhone announcements today. "BlackBerry is dead. Microsoft is dead. Windows Mobile is dead. Amazon is dead. Kindle is dead. Nokia is dead. Motorola was already dead but now they are even more dead. Google's Android is dead. Samsung is dead. LG is dead. Sony is dead. UTStarcom is dead." LINK

iPhone for enterprise with MS Exchange support

Apple has just put a big nail into Blackberry (RIM). Maybe not into their coffin, but they'd better get busy. The iPhone and the Blackberry have essentially carved up the North American smartphone market, but Blackberry still commands the attention of the enterprise smartphone market. Not much longer. With the announcements underway by Apple as I write this, Apple has just added MS Exchange support, which means a major uptick in use of iPhones within the Enterprise--wireless calendar, contact syncing and push e-mail sounds like it will be happening momentarily across the country with iPhones instead of Blackberrys. More amazing stuff about the application development environment, games demos, Salesforce and other business aps demos here: LINK

Research in Motion has got to be getting the chills and popping the pain killers. I look down at my lovely Blackberry sitting beside me and wonder how much longer he is for the world. Should have thought to short RIM today.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Does anyone else hate grease cars, even more than too much perfume?

You know that perfume has been banned in many workplaces and even in some outdoor venues? So many scents co-mingled can set the sensitive among us gasping. But what about grease cars? You know, those old diesel Mercedes that have been retrofitted to run on fryer grease swiped from the local fast food joint? A friend of mine runs one of the premier companies supplying the car conversion kits (LINK) but I wish they were all banned from the roads. Why? Being behind one of those things is like being forced to stick your head up the grease hood of a fast food chain well below the quality level of McDonalds. People say that they smell like french fries. No. They smell like what they are, which is old burning grease. I have to perform dangerous maneuvers on the road to avoid being stuck behind these things. And where we live, there are more and more of these retrofitted cars every day. The smell is just nauseating. Give me lots of women with cheap perfume any day.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Airborne: who would ever believe? Not the courts!

As the NYTimes says:

"Who would ever believe that “an effervescent dietary supplement that was created by a school teacher” could cure the common cold?"

And their answer: lots and lots of folks.

As I've blogged before (LINK), and as well articulated by David Cowan (LINK), this snakeoil as at least been taken down a notch via settlement of false advertising claims.

Unfortunately, only consumers can fully take Airborne down.

NYTimes posting: LINK