The $100K Award At The CU Boulder New Venture Challenge

In the fall of 2007, my friend Phil Weiser, Executive Director of CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons Center, convened 25 leaders from CU Boulder and the Boulder / Denver startup community. We spent an afternoon talking about the idea of an entrepreneurial university. Phil called the meeting a Roundtable, even though the table was long and rectangular.

The discussion that day was heated. Some in the room that day questioned whether entrepreneurship should – or even could – be a significant part of CU Boulder. Others made the case for entrepreneurship. Few of us anticipated the level of follow up from that discussion and the report that emerged set the stage for a lot of activity at CU Boulder over the ensuing decade.

One of my suggestions at the 2007 Roundtable was to borrow some ideas from the MIT 100K competition, which was started in 1989 as the MIT $10k. I got involved as a judge in 1993 and was active through 1997 with occasional visits to the finals in subsequent years when I was around Boston. When I reflect on my investment activity, including companies that went through the MIT 10K (NetGenesis, Harmonix, abuzz, and a bunch of others), I probably should have just invested $25,000 in every finalist company over the last 25 years.

In 2008, a group of student and faculty volunteers from CU Boulder launched the CU New Venture Challenge. Nine years later, the CU NVC today provides a platform for anyone – faculty, staff or student – who wants to start a company. The NVC integrates the campus by including all schools and departments. Mentors from the Boulder / Denver startup scene are deeply involved and many companies are emerging from the NVC, including Revolar, Pana, and Malinda.

Amy and I have decided to help take the NVC to the next level. Our foundation (the Anchor Point Foundation) is teaming up with the Caruso Foundation (Dan & Cindy Caruso) to offer a $50,000 investment prize offered to the “Most Fundable Company” at the 2017 NVC 9 Championships. This is in addition to the $25,000 prize money that the NVC already has available. Jason Mendelson will select and announce the Most Fundable Company winner, who can elect to take investment in the form of a convertible note, at the NVC 9 Championship.

So, the CU NVC is now is $75k competition. Next step, $100k … Finals are Thursday, April 6, at 5:30pm.

iOS Border Crossing Mode

Now that US Border agents are aggressively asking for your cell phone and passwords when you cross the border, it’s time for Apple and Google to add a new feature to iOS and Android. The feature is needed because it’s not enough to just lock your phone, or turn it off before you go through the border.

A while ago, to make it easy to comply with FAA regulations, which many believe to be unnecessary,  iOS airplane mode and Android airplane mode were created. I’ve always been mildly fascinated with the feature because it’s a good example of Apple and Google doing something clever to make the use of their product super easy in a particular context.

I’ve read a few articles that say you should delete all of the apps on your phone before you cross the border. Since most of your data is likely in the cloud, this isn’t a big deal in terms of data. But, it’s a huge hassle to delete the apps, reinstall, and then log in after they’ve been installed.

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a button that turned on iOS Border Crossing Mode? When you clicked this button (liked iOS Airplane mode), iOS would upload any local data to your iCloud account, delete all the apps on your phone, and lock your phone to only be used with your password. Even if border control forced you to enter your password, they would now be confronted with a phone that didn’t have any data on it.

Then, after you crossed the border, you could turn iOS Border Crossing Mode off and all of your apps and any local data would be restored.

Theoretically, you could be forced at the border crossing to deactivate iOS Border Crossing Mode. I have a feeling the ACLU would have a field day with this.

#EarthMatch – Supporting Earthjustice Because Our Planet Needs a Good Lawyer

Planet Earth needs a good lawyer.

If you are as appalled as I am by the hostility of the Trump Administration to climate change, clean energy, and what appears to be a systematic effort to dismantle the EPA, then please support this month’s #EarthMatch fundraiser that JoanneFred, Amy, AlbertSusan, and I are matching up to $30,000.

This month we are funding Earthjustice, which started in the 1960s as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. Since then, Earthjustice has been the legal backbone for thousands of environmental organizations. They leverage their expertise and commitment to fight for justice and advance the promise of a healthy world for all. Earthjustice’s courtroom fights remain the last lines of defense for many of our crucial public health protections and the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws.

What Earthjustice does – go to court to force government action, make polluters clean up their messes, and hold dirty energy industries accountable – is now more important than ever.

Here is how #EarthMatch works:

  1. Go to our EarthMatch page on Crowdrise and give any amount (minimum is $10).
  2. After you complete the donation, tweet your donation out using the blue Tweet button on the post donation page. That will register it for our match.
  3. If you don’t use Twitter, you can forward your email receipt by following the instructions on the post donation page. Tweeting is much better though as it will amplify the campaign.

Please join us in doing that to get the word out. And please donate to Earthjustice. We will match your donation up to $30k of total donations this weekend.

UCLA Depression Grand Challenge

As part of the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, I’ve been asked by them to be their first #DepressionHero.

Over 300 million people around the world suffer from depression. I’m one of them and have written extensively about my experience with it. The following 90-second video gives you a little more context on this.

April 7th is the World Health Organizations “World Health Day” and the theme of this year’s World Health Day is Depression: Let’s Talk. UCLA is engaging in a number of activities in commemoration of World Health Day. One of these activities is a social media campaign to publicly recognize a number of individuals who their campus has identified as a #DepressionHero. The UCLA Grand Challenge Facebook and Twitter accounts have been generating lots of content around this and I’m doing a public interview next week (I’ll post the details when I have the final information.)

I’m particularly tuned into this right now as I recently avoided a major depressive episode. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have picked up the tone of my increasing distress from posts in the first two weeks of February, including This Page Intentionally Left BlankGenerosity Burnout, and The Power Of A Digital Sabbath.

By Valentine’s Day, which corresponds to a low point in my depression of 2013, I realized I was heading for a bad place and I took a bunch of aggressive corrective actions, including shutting down all travel. Several of my close friends showed up quickly for me, including my partners who know me extremely well. Amy was clear thinking and awesome. We took a vacation for the first two weeks of March and by the mid-March, I knew I was fine and had dodged the depressive episode.

I’m fortunate that I’ve done the work, have professional help, incredibly supportive friends, and the universe’s best spouse to help me when the black dog shows up at my doorstep. Many are less fortunate, like the entrepreneur I didn’t know who unexpectedly to everyone around him committed suicide last week. I’m close with a colleague of his and the shock to the collective system is immense.

When I was in LA in February, I was at a group dinner with Dave Morin, a longtime friend of mine. A segment of the dinner was a discussion around depression among entrepreneurs which had some very difficult and challenging moments (on multiple dimensions). After the dinner, Dave and I had a brief conversation where he told me more about his involvement in the UCLA Grand Challenge on Depression. I told him that I’d be honored to help out in any way I could. I hope this is simply the first step of a long relationship with UCLA on this front.

The Generic VC / PE Reference Questions For An Executive Hire

I’m on the receiving end of a lot of reference calls. I try to be thoughtful and direct in my responses, but I’m increasingly annoyed by the generic nature of the questions. Over time, I’ve developed an approach to doing reference checks, and my approach actively avoids asking any of the following questions.

  • How did you get to know Person X?
  • What is your relationship to Person X?
  • What were Person X’s different roles?
  • How does Person X rank concerning leadership ability?
  • How does Person X rank concerning analytical ability?
  • What about Person X’s vision and ability to communicate it to others?
  • Was Person X well respected by the people he managed?
  • What are Person X’s strengths?
  • What are Person X’s weaknesses or areas for development?
  • Would you hire Person X again? If so, what size company?
  • What other questions should I have asked?
  • Are there any things you would want to know if you were me?

I don’t know which VC or Private Equity firm first came up with this list of questions, but like many elements of a term sheet, they seem to have been passed down from generation to generation.

My answer to the last question is “Do you ever get tired of doing reference checks this way?”