VLAB January 2015: Transforming Entrepreneurship - Women Under 30It’s incredible to think that this blog post on a fascinating VLAB event on crowdfunding in June 2012 was the first connection point with VLAB. Fast forward two-and-half years and it’s been continually enriching to become immersed in disruptive technology, learn about emerging trends, and—especially for our work in exploring social innovation—better understand those points of nexus that connect the vast potential of entrepreneurship with impact.Tonight’s VLAB event featuring five accomplished entrepreneurs and skilled moderator was no exception. The theme of this evening was “Transforming Entrepreneurship: Women Under 30” and featured the Founders, Co-Founders, or CEO’s of tech startups TRUSTe, Entefy, Revel, BitWall, Enplug, and Locket.Here is a social media recap of the event that features posts about the panel, advice shared by the panelists, soundbytes, and reflections from attendees and organizers. Enjoy :)



On the third Tuesday of September, as on many 3rd Tuesdays of most months, MIT-Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) hosted a panel on an emerging, disruptive technology. On the docket for the month of September—and fittingly nicely with back-to-school overtures at your favorite retail outlets—was titled “Education Technology Tsunami: Common Core Disrupts K-12”.The event focused on education technology opportunities and innovation (edtech) geared toward students in grades K-12 amid widespread adoption of Common Core standards.Now, in the off chance that the preceding sentence contained multiple words with which you are not used to seeing in the same sentence—you’ve come to the right place. This post is just the trampoline to provide both a soft landing and willing launch you deeper into this expansive field.

VLAB Edtech panelThe event took place on the Stanford Graduate School of Business School, in the expansive Cemex Auditorium. It brought together over 400 educators, entrepreneurs, developers, investors, students, and those simply interested in learning about the topic—and, as you might suspect there was a broad spectrum of familiarity with the topic.

This talk was a perfect opportunity to seek depth by gaining introduction to key concepts, topics, questions, and challenges in the edtech space.

Instead of providing a summary—this post outlines a few recommendations, factoids, and topics imparted.


The Panel


1. Buzzword: Common Core Standards

As explained in the introduction, and in the brochure, “The Common Core Standards, adopted by 45 US states imposes learning and testing which adapts to a student’s ability in real time.”

You can read the full Common Core curriculum requirements here:


2. Issues with Adoption of Common Core Standards

Moderator Tina Barseghian outlined a few issues with the adoption of Common Core that have been raised:

  • Some schools don’t have the necessary technology to implement it.
  • Some teachers don’t want to be held accountable for its implementation.
  • Some question its adoption saying that teachers weren’t part of designing it.
  • Conservatives say its a liberal conspiracy.
  • Some call its adoption a “Trojan horse” introduced in order to let corporations profit

She also articulately noted that the merits of Common Core as a concept were not necessarily the focus of the panel discussion. But hearing them helped add depth and color to the conversation.


3. How will Common Core Impact Edtech?

One statistic presented estimated that $60B will be spent on edtech by 2015. This slide provided a helpful, visual overview of current players in the edtech space:


4. Book suggestion: One World Schoolhouse

This book by Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, was mentioned a few times throughout the evening. It was brought up in the context of Benjamin Bloom (see below for more on Bloom’s Taxonomy) and the effectiveness of “mastery learning”. Washington Times did a review of Khan’s book last year, here.


5. Buzzword: Formative Assessment

The panelists easily agreed that trendy buzzword “formative assessment” has multiple definitions. One definition presented seemed to appease and empower, was that formative assessment is “actionable assessment happening in real time.”

The New York City Department of Education dedicates a page of their website to formative assessment strategies, and this is a topic that a number of edtech startups (including panel startups MasteryConnect and Illuminate Education) are focusing on.

6. What do Large Education Companies like Pearson look for in edtech startups?

Panelists Scott Drossos (Sr. VP at Pearson) and Karen Lien (from Imagine K12) were on-hand to provide a perspective on acquisition and funding potential for edtech startups.  It was mentioned that Pearson actively seeks to partner and invest in promising enterprises that address needs in the education space. In evaluating edtech startups, large education companies like Pearson evaluate factors such as:
  • Is the business sound?
  • Is the leader stable, driven?
  • Has the startup addressed monetization?


7. Buzzword: Bloom’s Taxonomy

For those unfamiliar with the study of education and teaching theory, the work of Benjamin Bloom was referenced. He led groundbreaking work in the field of education and mastery learning over the expanse of five decades up until his death in 1999.  One topic that was raised during the panel discussion was “Bloom’s Taxonomy”. Here are brief descriptions and depictions of this concept:

Wikipedia: Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of learning objectives within education. Bloom’s Taxonomy was created in 1956 under the leadership of educational psychologist Dr Benjamin Bloom in order to promote higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating, rather than just remembering facts (rote learning).

image credit: PSA-NW

[full disclosure: I serve on the Executive Team of VLAB as the Outreach Chair. Fuller disclosure, I became involved as a VLAB volunteer after covering an event for Innov8Social!]

On June 18th, MIT-Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) hosted its monthly event on virtual currencies, titled “Virtual Currencies: Gold Rush or Fools’ Gold. The Rise of Bitcoin in a Digital Economy” at the Stanford Law School campus, Munger Conference Center of Paul Brest Hall.For social entrepreneurs, virtual currencies represent new potential for the democratization and distribution of funds to further local and international work. As startups such as Coinbase, Ripple, and dozens of others, are building payment rails & making math-based currencies more accessible and usable for a broader base of users—there is a real opportunity for social enterprise to take notice and action as early adopters. This can be through accepting funding via bitcoin or other math-based currency, transacting via virtual currency, building crowdfunding sites that allow portions of raises to be made in bitcoin, and/or at the least become knowledgable about the topic and exploring its potential.To crowd of standing room only, the panel explored the topic of virtual currencies through various vantage points, with a focus on actionable discovery for entrepreneurs, technologists, and investors. The panel, pictured below, from the left included: Chris Larsen (CEO and Co-Founder, OpenCoin, the company developing the Ripple protocol), Fred Ehrsam (Co-Founder of Coinbase, a digital Bitcoin wallet), Wendy Cheung (Director of Compliance and BSA Officer, Silicon Valley Bank), Cameron Winklevoss (Principal Investor at Winklevoss Capital) and Tyler Winklevoss (Principal Investor at Winklevoss Capital)

VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrency

VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrencies



Event brochure

Virtual currencies (aka math-based or digital currencies or cryptocurrencies) are emerging forms and units of digital transaction, outside the realm of government regulation (so far, anyway). They usually can be transacted with virtual anonymity, and be transacted globally fairly quickly.

VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrency

Infographic, adapted from Visual Capitalist, on Bitcoin

Bitcoin is the first such digital currency to gain traction. Created by a developer or group of developers named Satoshi Nakamoto (pseudonym) in 2009, today there are 11M bitcoins in circulation and the current market for Bitcoin already tops $1.5B. The currency itself is quite unique. Bitcoin are created (or “mined”) by computers completing complicated algorithms. The first to solve the algorithm and achieve the closest answer effectively claims an allocation of bitcoin. This goes on until the outer limit of 21M bitcoin are mined.

VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrencies

VLAB Executive Chair, Ron Chavez, welcomes the audience 

VLAB is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit comprised of volunteers who pitch topic ideas that span innovation and disruptive technology and work in small teams to understand the space, identify controversies, and form an engaging panel.
VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrency

Featured speaker, economist, and Stanford Business School professor Susan Athey introduces virtual currencies as an economic concept.

Professor Athey focused on four unique uses of virtual currencies as: a way to store value (especially in light of inflationary currencies); as a ledger; as a method of making anonymous transactions, and possibly as a basis for government monetary policy.

VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrency

Moderator & Forbes Online Sr. Editor Kashmir Hill introduces her unique experience with Bitcoin, sushi, and cupcakes

Hill, whose work has lately focused on digital privacy took on a unique challenge in early May. She lived only on bitcoin for one week. She recapped challenges such as finding retail food locations beyond Cups and Cakes Bakery and Sake Zone sushi in SF. She recalled how things got interesting when her landlord didn’t accept rent in Bitcoin, causing Hill to have to find BTC-friendly housing for a few days.


Founder/CEO Chris Larsen (OpenCoin, Ripple) explains  math-based currencies and their potential to disrupt payment processing, exchange, and currencies


VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrency

Panel discusses various topics related to virtual currencies, with questions posed by Moderator Kashmir Hill

VC’s Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss commented on the scope they see for math-based currencies as a disruptor to industries such as remittance. They own approximately 1% of bitcoin in circulation, and most recently funded a Bitcoin startup called BitInstant.

Wendy Cheung of Silicon Valley Bank spoke about state and federal compliance concerns relevant to bitcoin and math-based currency startups. SV Bank currently works with a number of startup companies in this space.

Fred Ehrsam (second from left) touched on unique challenges as a startup in the space. He co-founded Coinbase after noting efficiencies of current systems  as a foreign exchange trader on Wall Street. Coinbase  has had to navigate through the compliance and regulatory requirements and is poised to become the leading bitcoin wallet on the market.

Audience members could text in questions that were fed to the moderator’s iPad. Kashmir selected a few to ask to the panel and noted common questions. Of these a few popular questions were—directed to the Winklevoss investors—whether their firm would ever fund a startup using Bitcoin. Other questions asked about how mining for bitcoin actually works, and yet others touched on inherent limitations of a finite curency (i.e. There will be a total of 21M bitcoin available to be mined).

VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrencies

You can view the video of the virtual currencies event when it is posted here

Events in the past year have included: the Founders’ Series, Collaborative Consumption, The Future of Diagnostics

, Commercial Drones

, Young Entrepreneurs

, Synthetic Biology

, Grid Energy Storage

, Software-Designed Networks

, and Gamification


VLAB Virtual Currencies #VLABvcurrency
[photo credit J. Fuqua]
A few of VLAB event team members with moderator Kashmir Hill

It was a wonderful experience co-chairing the event team for the virtual currencies panel with Frank Martinez (far right). A huge thank you and recognition to event team members including Edward, Jerry, Richard, Jenny, Tony, Lisha, Chethana, Prashant, Geeta, Luca, Jeanne, Michelle, and marketing team Siejen, Chitrak, Tom, Jae and the broader VLAB community.


Under the umbrella of social innovation are the many emerging technologies that have the potential to create a meaningful, positive impact on society and the environment. Synthetic biology falls squarely into this category.

A Steve Jobs Perspective

“One of the very few silver linings about me getting sick is that Reed’s gotten to spend a lot of time studying with some very good doctors…His enthusiasm for it is exactly how I felt about computers when I was his age. I think the biggest innovations of the twenty-first century will be the intersection of biology and technology. A new era is beginning, just like the digital one when I was his age.” – Steve Jobs

These words, captured by Walter Isaacson and said in a moment of reflection, are both profound and prophetic.

So what would Silicon Valley luminary and chief innovator, Steve Jobs, have said about a room full of the sharpest, brightest, most innovative minds in the field of synthetic biology talking about the future of the field?

MIT/Stanford VLAB Hosts “Programming Nature”, a Panel Discussion on Synthetic Biology

That is what the scene was this week at the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) event titled, “Programming Nature” held at the Stanford School of Business Knight Center.  Hundreds of attendees filled the auditorium to listen in on experts in the field share their insights and predictions.

VLAB: Programming NatureYou can check back on VLAB’s YouTube Channel to watch the entire event once it is posted.

A (R)evolution?

The discussion was moderated by Megan Palmer, Deputy Director of the Practices Thrust at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), which is housed within the Stanford University School of Bioengineering. At SynBERC, a multi-university initiative to promote synthetic biology, Megan recently organized the Synthetic Biology Leadership Accelerator Program (LeAP).

Beyond organizing and creating opportunities for others in the field, she is herself a tried and true synthetic biologist. She holds a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT and a B.Sc.E. in Engineering Chemistry from Queen’s College in Canada.

Megan provided an effective guided tour into the field of synthetic biology, highlighting the key features that make it applicable across sectors. She introduced synthetic biology as a disruptive technology—asking the audience about what the potential could be if biology could be programmed just like computer program code.

She posed the advances in synthetic biology as a either an evolution or revolution since the field has been active for some time. And, Megan spoke to her experience of spending 6 years to test one single aspect of a hypothesis as an example of how the lengthy life cycles of bioengineering can impact the time it takes to see results. Synthetic biology seeks to make the design, build, test cycle for bioengineering faster, cheaper, and better.

VLAB: Programming Nature
An Infusion of Innovation

The panelists provided unique perspectives and infused the discussion with examples of innovation in the field.

Panelist Dan Widmaier, CEO and Founder of Refactored Materials in San Francisco, spoke about his company’s project of simulating spider silk fibers and mass-producing. The fibers, known for their strength, durability, and extensibility, have the potential for building cars and airplanes that are aerodynamic and light, creating durable  performance apparel and gear, developing medical devices that the body may be more apt to accept, creating new offerings in cosmetics, and revolutionalizing entire industries.

Other panelists included:

Nathan Hillson, Chief Science Officer and Co-Founder of TeselaGen Biotechnology. While at Berkeley Lab, Nathan was on a team that developed j5 software, which uses advanced sythetic bioogy techniques to support DNA design and efficient assembly instruction generation. TeselaGen has licensed j5, and according to BerkeleyLab News, has over 100 scientists and companies in its beta.

Alexander Kamb, Senior VP of Research at Amgen. Alexander pointed out that DNA sequencing has had the fastest rate of change of output of any bioengineering process. He noted that the first genome sequence cost in the range of $1B, the next iterations were in the range of $100M, and now a complete genome sequencing can be completed within a few thousand dollars. To illustrate the point, shows a table of cost per Mb of DNA sequence and cost per genome.

Warren Hogarth, Partner at Sequoia Capital in addition to being a chemical engineer. He brought to light how the long cycle of bioengineering can impact the kind of investment sought. Rather than depending on manufacturing deadlines or coding restraints, bioengineering is based on the lifecycle involving designing, building, and testing.

Interestingly, the requirement that venture capitalists look to the long term is akin to the “patient capital” aspect of social impact investing, which also generally involves longer life cycles for return.


Soul Searching

While the panelists displayed genius and creativity in sharing their views on the potential reach of synthetic biology, the night would have been even more meaningful if they also revealed its soul.

Just because we can program nature and synthesize biology, should we? In food nutrition just as there is movement to continue innovating in food synthesis, there is an equally robust movement to avoid genetically modified foods.

If biology can be programmed, so too can viruses, mutations, and destructive traits. Additionally does cloning or creating entire organisms through bioengineering create new life or is it am emulation of life?

The VLAB event, as always, was an amazing meeting of the minds—a braintrust of its own.

During this event, for those of us outside of the field who may conjecture about moral considerations of bioengineering, it would have been insightful to hear about how thought leaders in synthetic biology traverse the murky ethical dilemmas they must face at every turn.

#VLABsynbio Tweets

  1. . talks about open source as a foundation for hacking & research, with proprietary systems being for enterprise
  2. “It’s very hard to compete & scale a product when you’re trying to do something as a $1/lb commodity.” 
  3. . of sequoia notes, when starting a company you don’t really want funding, you want a company that pays for itself
  4. At  event at Stanford, good discussion with startups @refactoredmaterials chaired by SYNBerc’s Megan Palmer 
  5. : “DNA sequencing may be the fastest change rate of output of any technology in human history.” 
  6. Synthetic biology is notorious for having very, very, very unreliable timelines & failure rates. –  
  7. Curious to see if the panel will address the potential of destructive as well as constructive use of synthetic bio…solutions? 
  8. “Unlike electronics  doesn’t have good predictive tools yet so our design-build-test cycle is very empirical.” 
  9. “When thinking about  remember timelines are long & capital requirements are not small.” 

  10. @refactored_mat addressable mkts include performance, cosmetics, biomedical, aerospace, automotive, industrial industries
  11. Learning about synthetic biology tonight 
  12. Excited to be at the  event on  in synthetic biology 
  13. MTJoin  &  & learn how entrepreneurs are transforming  in two biz ventures 
  14. Discussing the endless possibilites of synthetic biology in the cloud at  tonight w/   
  15. Where will synthetic biology lead us?  Programming Nature  on Tues Jan 22 Register at: 

VLAB gamify everything panelMIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) hosted its first event for Fall 2012 yesterday, September 18th 2012. The topic on tap was gamification.

“Gamify Everything: from Monetization to Social Benefit,”: The Recap

The event brought together start-up entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other tech, media, social/mobile types against the backdrop of a sunset at the Stanford University’s Graduate School of business.

Panelists from successful gamifying endeavors provided their insight, points, and counterpoints on topics ranging from the term ‘gamification’, to its actual meaning, to what makes a game successful.

Though the event was geared to address the general practice of gamification, i.e. applying elements of game design to non-game processes, there were some tactile takeaways for social entrepreneurs.


So, what do social entrepreneurs need to know about gamification?

VLAB gamify everything program1. Gamification is a relatively new, debated, and trending term.  Considering that Panelist Rajat Paharia spoke about coining the phrase “gamification” in 2009, a few years after founding Bunchball—it may seem like the term is still a toddler. But, as moderator Margaret Wallace of Playmatics pointed out, according to the 2012 Gartner Hype Cycle, the term has nearly reached its peak.

Panelist Amy Jo Kim of ShuffleBrain expressed some pushback to the term, saying that it has rubbed her and others in the field the wrong way because of its attempt to suggest that the concept of adding gamelike elements to non-games is new, and one that has not been in existence for much longer.
Key takeaway here: agree to disagree about the roots of the word, and be aware that the term has proponents and detractors.
2. You need to think hard about what the core purpose of a game is and what the end value of playing it will be for the user. With social entrepreneur objectives, there are creative and unique ways to implement gaming because the desired outcomes for gaming go far beyond purchases and engagement—and extend to societal, environmental, health, education well-being. For example, gamifying literacy, hunger, or clean energy can be compelling reasons to play and the end value for the players can be tailored differently to reward social change behavior. Panelists cautioned start-up hopefuls about trying to gamify before having a core business idea.
Key takeaway: don’t let friends gamify without a point.
3. How do you want to measure success. Onboarding? Retention? Mastery? Build games accordingly. One panelist pointed out the sheer success of FourSquare in onboarding new gamers. The easy to use UI, accessibility, and social aspects lead players to “check-in” to places, even become “mayor” and be active with the game. However, he noted that there has been a customary dropoff after some time. If their measure of success is onboarding, they are successful; however, if retention is the end-goal, they may have to determine other strategies to keep gamers playing.
For social entrepreneurs, ‘touches’ to a game are important. However, determining measures of progress will likely be more important. The game may be engaging users in a topic but to impact greater change, the collective gaming may have to seek some broader end-goal.
Key takeaway: measure with purpose.
4. Gamifying healthcare has proven to be difficult (in other words, big opportunity for social innovation!) Answering a question from the audience, Panelist Rajat Paharia noted that healthcare games (seeking to help patients get faster sooner, or help individuals lose weight or be more healthy) have traditionally faced challenges in keeping players motivated long enough to achieve the desired results.
It looks like the code to improving health through gamification hasn’t been cracked yet, and is a huge opportunity for social entrepreneurs.Key takeaway: design for health
5. Create incentives, rewards, and recognition that make sense. Panelist Joshua Williams of Microsoft talked about the effectiveness and equal non-effectiveness of leader boards. Knowing who is #1 may motivate the top players but may deter those who are new or far behind. Instead, he outlined ways to ‘abstract’ the leader boards to show ranges of top players, as well as to pit players against their own progress rather than others.
Additionally, panelists talked about creating real-life rewards for virtual engagement. Discounts, freebies, and special invitations were mentioned as ways to fire up the (gaming) base.
Key takeaway: If no one really wants it, it’s not a prize.
6. Gamification 2.0 has been about making non-game processes feel more like games, i.e. making them fun to play. Panelist Amy Jo Kim spoke about the shifting emphasis of gamification from adding game-like elements to non-game functions, to actually making non-games feel more like games. The distinction is about creating an experience rather than a game-like UI.
This can be key for social innovators as it can make difficult, complex subjects feel more handleable and addressable through play.
Panelist Courtney Guertin of Kiip mentioned a and referenced these two videos showing how successful gamification can make a task fun and engaging, and can inspire behavior such as throwing away trash in a trash can and taking the stairs instead of an elevator.



Key takeaway: fun may be the key7. There are different paths for monetizing gamification–and room to be creative. Some of panelists noted that their companies charge for each user engagement while others billed for licensing and users of the game. The diversity of ways to monetize shows that there is no single effective method.
Social entrepreneurs seeking double or triple bottom lines may find ways to create and generate value through what happens after a player engages in a game. Additionally, social innovators may be able to partner with foundations and government to subsidize game-creation costs for industries such education and health.Key takeaway: understand your game’s value, then devise a cost structure
8. CodeforAmerica is one way gamification elements are being created in conjunction with government activities. When asked whether IRS activities can be gamified, Panelists talked about gamifying for social good. Code for America was mentioned as one attempt to unite gamification and government. And Panelist Andrew Trader spoke about his focus on finding new spheres of intersection between gamification and social benefit.Key takeaway: seek to create unlikely partnerships to achieve far-reaching results
9. Education + Gaming + Mobile = massive potential. While the panel did not specifically address the growth of gamification in education, the sheer number of apps and start-ups in this space shows growth and opportunity. Panelists discussed increasing demands by consumers that they learn something new from games or understand a topic better.
Combine the needs of consumers with the handy smartphones likely in their back pocket, and there is a ready path for quick, bite-sized learning that can add up to meaningful mastery over time.Key takeaway: The way we read, communicate, and buy is changing because of apps and sites, why shouldn’t we learn differently too…

10. There is growth in non zero sum games through social and mobile apps. Panelist Amy Jo Kim discussed the rise of non zero sum games, i.e. refocusing the spotlight from winners v. losers to win-win situations, where users can share their experiences and guide others as they start their experience with a game.Key takeaway: win-win gives you two ways to win

Meet the Panelists

Margaret Wallace (moderator): CEO/Co-Founder of Playmatics | @MargaretWallace
Courtney Guertin: Co-Founder/CTO of Kiip | @courtstarr
Rajat Paharia: Founder/Chief Product Officer of Bunchball | @rajatrocks
Amy Jo Kim: Founder/CEO of ShuffleBrain | @amyjokim
Joshua Williams: Senior Software Design Engineer Microsoft Corporation | @joshuadw
Andrew Trader: Venture Partner, Maveron


VLAB crowdfundingThere was standing room only at June 19th 2012, “Crowdfunding: Disrupting Traditional Funding Models”panel hosted by MIT/Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB). The event was held on the Stanford campus at the Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge.The talk centered around the passage of the federal crowdfunding legislation as part of the JOBS Act, and its implications.

Agreeing to Disagree

Berg Hall, StanfordThe panel was moderated by the founder of, Carl Esposti and featured players with  unique perspectives associated with the field. The main points of distinction between panelists had to do with the benefit (or proposed detriment) that is to come part and parcel with the new crowdfunding legislation. And while each panelist had significant experience and perspective on the topic, the opinions clashed on key points, making it all the more interesting to listen in on.
The evening also included a video message from Senator Scott Brown who introduced the crowdfunding legislation as a way to fund innovation. He noted that the SEC is reviewing the legislation and is accepting comments at
Below are some main points raised by the speakers.


Moderator: Carl Esposti, Founder at <<@crowdsourcing_>>

Mr. Esposti gave a little background on his experience in crowdfunding, which he began exploring 4 years ago. He entered the field to determine the ‘why’ of why bets are placed on whether companies succeed and to dive deeper into determining if crowdfunding companies would eventually lead to job creation. Since his entry into crowdfunding he noted that crowdfunding has taken on larger platforms and payment systems. conducted a survey which found a growth in the number of crowdfunding platforms from 450+ as of April 2012 to a projected 500+ by the end of 2012. He noted that the steep expansion of platforms is partially attributable to the ‘low cost of admission’ since there is often not much required in the way of setting up a crowdfunding platform.

He highlighted the U.S. as home to the greatest number of crowdfunding platforms, but noted that Europe is on the heels, and there are increasing efforts in Britain, Brazil, Netherlands, Australia, India, and China.

A key point Mr. Esposti set forth is the impetus behind crowdfunding as a way to support and grow entrepreneurship. He stated that crowdfunding is largely grounded in our desires for social experiences, to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

4 Types of Crowdfunding Platforms

Mr. Esposti outlined four distinct types of crowdfunding platforms, and noted that over $1.5 billion have been raised through all four types, and that reward-based platforms are the fastest growing ones.
  • equity-based crowdfunding (incl. revenue + profit-sharing)
  • reward-based crowdfunding
  • lending-based crowdfunding
  • donation-based crowdfunding

Panelist: Slava Rubin, CEO & Co-Founder at Indiegogo <<@gogoslava>>

Mr. Rubin started his talk on a very personal note, sharing the story of his father’s passing when he was only 15 years old. Ten years later Rubin decided to start a charity for cancer and used online platforms but noted that the process, in his words, “sucked”. He launched Indiegogo on January 17th, 2008 as an alternative to existing crowdfunding platforms.
He talked about how crowdfunding is not a new concept, noting that a version of it was used to raise funds for the base of the Statue of Liberty.  He shifted into explaining the concept of Indiegogo, namely   to be a global crowdfunding platform where anyone can raise funds for anything. In 2009 Indiegogo was open to all, and today hosts 70K campaigns, in 200+ countries, with millions of dollars raised, and a contribution happening every 55 seconds.
Mr. Rubin underscored that Indiegogo is a “no judgment platform” that does not filter the kinds of campaigns created. He noted that successful campaigns have had good pitches, have been proactive, and have been able to find an audience that cares about the campaign.
He also spent a few minutes dispelling myths related to starting a company:
  1. startup myth: there’s a right time to start a company—Rubin said there’s not. His team started in 2008, he noted that perseverance is a key trait for startup success.
  2. startup myth: you need a lot of initial funding to start—Rubin said Indiegogo bootstrapped for a long time.
  3. startup myth: you need a business plan—Rubin dismissed this myth saying, instead, that you need a 1 pager with your idea
  4. startup myth: it’s all about the idea—Rubin stated that while ideas are interesting, its actually about the expectation created from the idea.

Panelist: Ryan Caldbeck, CEO & Founder, CircleUp <<@CircleUp>>

Ryan Caldbeck recently founded CircleUp as a platform to present investment opportunities to investors. He explained that investors visit the site, read about various new companies, invest in them, wire funds over, and become an owner in the company.

Mr. Caldbeck expressed his skepticism about the new federal crowdfunding legislation which opens investment to non-accredited investors in addition to accredited investors (the current rule). He is concerned that venture capital (VC) firms will just make a decision to pass on companies seeking crowdfunding.

Panelist: Daniel Zimmermann, Partner, WilmerHale <<@WilmerHale>>

Mr. Zimmerman is a partner at WilmerHale, a corporate law firm with offices in a dozen cities across the globe. His specializes in corporate and transactional law. Regarding the new crowdfunding legislation, he said it would be interesting to see what specifics the SEC arrives at with regards to implementation and compliance.

He provided a background explanation of the crowdfunding legislation stating the JOBS Act laid groundwork for the bill. Mr. Zimmerman mentioned that where existing crowdfunding efforts and platforms are aimed at simplifying the raising of capital through loans and donation, there is a possibility that the new legislation may complicate the process.

Panelist: Don Ross, Managing Director/Founder and Board Member, HealthTech Capital and Sand Hill Angels <<@Sandhillangels>>

Don Ross provided a venture capital perspective to the conversation. In addition to being the Founder and Managing Director of HealthTech Capital, a funding group made of private investors supporting startups at the intersection of healthcare and technology, Mr. Ross is also a Board Director of Sand Hill Angels. Sand Hill Angels is a consortium of successful Silicon Valley tech professionals who are dedicated to supporting formation and growth of startup companies.

Mr. Ross stated that rewards-based crowdfunding has generally been ‘totally embraced’ by the VC community and noted that equity-based crowdfunding models may have hidden ‘landmines’ and issues, especially with regards to the how the new crowdfunding legislation may be implemented. He pointed to messy capital tables, liability issues, and requirements for public disclosure of business plans (eliminating the ‘stealth mode’ advantage most startups aim for) as issues that could become further complicated by legislative requirements.

He also stated that allowing non-acredited investors could raise accountability issues, increase responsibilities of entrepreneurs, and may even create situations ripe for abject fraud.