Category: Philanthropy

May 11 2018

Boulder Startup Week 2018 Non-Profit Pitch Contest

It’s awesome how Startup Week and Weekend have grown from an experiment here in Boulder into a global set of events that are now housed under the Techstars umbrella.

I’m not doing my usual crazy schedule of running around to panels and events as I’ll be out of town for most of the week but wanted to highlight a few events I’m especially excited about.

Amy and I supported the Pledge 1% Colorado Nonprofit Pitch contest last year with a $10,000 grant through our Anchor Point Foundation and are happily doing it again this year. This and other Social Impact Track events are working to engage the broader startup community and expand Startup Week beyond just high-tech startups.

You can view the schedule and RSVP for the Social Impact Track events and P1% Nonprofit pitch contest 5/15 here and here. And, if you’re so inclined, you can promote with a click to tweet as well!

If you are around Boulder next week or want to see the Boulder community at it’s finest, check out the BSW schedule and join in on the fun.

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Jan 9 2018

Supporting Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund

Yesterday, my partners at Foundry Group announced financial support for the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.

We strongly believe that sexual harassment is unacceptable in any form. While there can be a debate about whether sexual harassment is about sex, power, or something else, there’s an additional pernicious element of it when the harasser threatens to sue the person being harassed. This extends the harassment and reinforces the issue around the power dynamic, especially when the harasser has much more financial resources than the person being harassed.

My partners and I were considering establishing a VC / Entrepreneurs Sexual Harassment Legal Defense Fund. When we saw the launch of Time’s Up and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, we decided to financially support this activity and try to create a sub-group for the tech industry. As a starting point, Foundry Group is contributing $100,000 to the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund and Anchor Point Foundation is contributing $100,000.

In addition, we are reaching out to VCs and Angel Investors that we know to see if they will join in our effort. If you are a VC or Angel Investor who wants to financially support this effort, please email me. And, if you are an individual who wants to directly support the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, please do so on the Time’s Up GoFundMe page.

Finally, for some inspiration, watch Oprah Winfrey’s powerful speech at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards.

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Dec 22 2017

Defy Colorado – Feb 8th With Me and Governor Hickenlooper

As we start spinning up Defy Ventures in Colorado, we are doing a Business Coaching Day at the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility in Ordway, Colorado. It’s one of our first Defy Colorado events and Governor Hickenlooper will be joining us for the day.

There will be around 80 Entrepreneurs-in-Training. While we were planning on having spaces for 50 volunteers, we’ve already filled over 40 of them before even talking about the program so there are only a few spaces left.

If you are interested, the event is happening on February 8th, 2018 from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm. Contact Melissa O’Dell to sign up or get on the list for the next Defy Colorado event.

For a taste of what the experience is like, watch the video above or go to my post Understanding Privilege – My Experience in Prison.

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Dec 16 2017

Ending My Service On Non-Profit Boards

I’ve decided to stop serving on non-profit boards.

I used to have a rule that I’d only serve on three non-profit boards at a time. I let this get out of control and found myself on eight non-profit boards with a commitment to join a ninth one.

During our Q4 vacation last month, Amy and I talked a lot about this. I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the non-profit board service, even though I deeply enjoy my personal engagement and support of the organizations I’m on the boards of.

There was an intellectual conflict here that Amy and I spent a lot of time discussing. Our philanthropic work is important to us. However, the actual board service part of it, while fulfilling to Amy, is not fulfilling to me.

It’s also very time-consuming. While most of the boards only meet four times a year, each board meeting is three hours long. If I include another two hours for reviewing materials in advance and travel, that’s 20 hours per year per board. For eight boards, that’s 160 hours/year. If I only worked 40 hours/week, that’s four weeks of work. While I work a lot more than 40 hours/week, the five hours per board meeting is probably low, especially if I physically travel to a board meeting.

My conclusion was that I could be just as impactful to the non-profits we support – and in some cases even more so – without being on the boards. Instead of consuming my time with board meetings, I’ll engage directly with the CEOs and Executive Directors of these non-profits in ways that are specifically helpful to them. I’m already doing this in many cases, so it’s not a direct re-allocation of time, but rather a huge time saving on my part, which allows me to more focused – and more enthusiastic – about the work I’m actually doing.

I’ve now talked with all the CEOs/EDs of the non-profit boards I used to serve on. They all understand my perspective and, in most cases, are supportive and excited about the change in my involvement. As my goal is not to withdraw from the things I’m involved in, but to increase my impact by shifting my focus and activities, the feedback was good positive reinforcement to me.

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Nov 11 2017

CO Impact Days: Unicorns, Zebras, Ponies, and Donkeys

VCs love to talk about Unicorns, where a giant return is possible. Some friends in the impact investing world have recently started talking about generating giant returns by investing in Zebras (such as a nonprofit building in rural Colorado) and Ponies (an immigrant restaurant in Seattle currently using payday lending at 35% for their working capital). While these returns have an economic component, they can also have dramatic impact on our society.

If you are interested in impact investing, I encourage you to join the Impact Finance Center (IFC) and presenting funders The Anschutz Foundation, Zoma Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, Colorado Health Foundation, and Gary Community Investments at CO Impact Days 2017, Nov 15-17, in Denver, Colorado.

CO Impact Days is a three-day experiential executive education conference that teaches investors and philanthropists how to make their investments more effective and their philanthropy more efficient. It also will connect attendees to one hundred of the Rocky Mountains’ most exciting social ventures – projects, nonprofits, for profits, and funds.

CO Impact Days’ Founder Dr. Stephanie Gripne (recently written up in Forbes, Is This Wildlife Conservation PhD The Steve Jobs Of Impact Investing) points out that we need to stop bifurcating our philanthropy from our investing and start treating our philanthropy as an investment.

Gripne and a growing number of her colleagues are taking Emerson’s quote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” to heart. They are working on figuring out a new investment model where we can start investing in the companies, nonprofits, projects, and funds that society needs.

Another voice in the movement is Ross Baird in his new book, The Innovation Blind Spot: Why We Back the Wrong Ideas―and What to Do About It. Ross makes a strong case that we are missing many of our innovations because of an outdated, obscure, misaligned investment model. According to Baird,

“While most communities across the US think in two pockets – the business and philanthropy communities don’t intersect – Colorado is leading the country in one-pocket thinkers. From the way we invest and support startups, to how employees can own and build wealth in companies, to how finance can be used to reshape traditionally philanthropic sectors such as the environment and early childhood education, Colorado is leading the way.”

An article by Jennifer Brandel, Mara Zepeda, Astrid Scholz & Aniyia Williams, Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break, introduces Zebras as an alternative to to Unicorns. And Gripne’s paper, Laying the Groundwork for the National Impact Investing Marketplace, makes the case that the reason we do not have $1B impact funds for nonprofits, immigrants, and women, is not because we do not have $50M of institutional quality of deal flow. Rather, it’s because there is no incentive to create the infrastructure to do the necessary capacity building to find and scale up these investments. Gripne and her team are also working on a new paper to be introduced at CO Impact Days, inspired by the Zebras article mentioned above, “If Angels Invest in Unicorns, do Heroes Invest in Zebras and What About Ponies and Donkeys?”

This conference is not just about Coloradans. CO Impact Days was designed to expand regionally and replicate to up to five other regions throughout the U.S. creating the National Impact Investing Marketplace. Indiana is bringing a cohort of ten community leaders, Washington is bringing five, and Maryland is bringing three. CO Impact Days is the first statewide marketplace for direct investing, and is just Phase 1 of the national model. Gripne and her team (which Andrew Currie, Kathy Merchant, who led Greater Cincinnati Foundation for 20 years and wrote the book on Community Foundations and Impact Investing, and Nicole Bagley, trustee on Arca Foundation, Brenn Foundation, and Sapelo Foundation) have their sights set on a national marketplace, and they want to invite you in on the ground floor.

Last year’s inaugural CO Impact Days led to over 20 impact investments from first-time, direct investors. They included Nicole Bagley’s investment in Silvernest (a tech platform that provides a matchmaking service for the aging population to find housemates and additional income, companionship, or help around the house) and the Kenneth King Foundation’s investment in Colorado Lending Source’s Main Street Character Loan Fund (providing up to $50K loans to Colorado for those of who have a good idea and good character), among others.

In addition to producing CO Impact Days, IFC is also rolling out a new tool, impact investing giving circles, to catalyze new investors and source Zebras, Ponies, and Donkeys. Impact investing giving circles will provide philanthropists and investors with a low-cost, low risk, first safe investment opportunity by using a donation in a pooled donor advised fund (to be hosted by a community foundation, thus supporting their work as well).

IFC plans to pilot these impact investing giving circles in Colorado in the areas of Conservation & Water, Women, Rural Community Investment. Its Food Impact Investing Giving Circle will be piloted in multiple cities including Chicago, Boston, and Denver, with Chef’s Collaborative and an Immigrant & Minority Impact Investing Giving Circle is being launched in Seattle in partnership with Ethnic Business Coalition to refinancing payday loans for restaurants.

To Get involved in CO Impact Days 2017

Register as an Investor: http://bit.ly/2vMVtFb

Register as Community Attendee: http://bit.ly/2gIgQSf

Volunteer to be a Social Venture Judge: http://bit.ly/2gN41tO

Donate to support CO Impact Days & Initiative: https://goo.gl/3282Tg

Join CO Impact Days & Initiative Mailing List: http://tinyurl.com/y76n29ma

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Oct 18 2017

Hope Is The Consequence of Action

Last night Amy and I hosted an event at our house for the ACLU and Earthjustice, two organizations we are significant supporters of. If you told me 20 years ago that I’d be spending a lot of my philanthropic energy supporting lawyers, I would have aggressively rejected the notion. But if you had described what is going on in the US right now, I would have also aggressively rejected the notion.

Since the election, Amy has had a great tagline for me.

Action is the antidote.

She’s amazing and the energy she puts behind this is unwavering. I’m extremely fortunate to have her as my life partner – it buoys me up regularly, especially around things that I might otherwise just ignore.

Last night’s event was great. We heard from David Cole (the ACLU Legal Director) and Patrice Simms (the Earthjustice VP of Litigation). Like me, they are each long-term optimists so their perspective is not just about tomorrow (although much of their focus is on today and tomorrow).

In the middle of the discussion. David mentioned a quote that he attributed to Cornel West and Roberto Unger from their 1998 book titled  The Future of American Progressivism. The quote, which is the title of this post, is “Hope is the consequence of action.” I believe, but am not certain, that it comes from this passage:

“Change requires neither saintliness nor genius. What it does require is the conviction of the incomparable value of life. Nothing should matter more to us than the attempt to grasp our life while we have it, and to awaken from the slumber of routine, of compromise and prostration, so that we may die only once. Hope is not the condition or cause of action. Hope is the consequence of action. And those who fail in hope should act, practically or conceptually, so that they may hope.”

David deconstructed this to explain that action doesn’t come from hope, but hope comes from action. Chew on that for a bit – it’s important in every context, not just politics. Apply it to any situation – work or personal; exogenous or endogenous; positive or negative. Take action, which will generate hope, rather than use your hope to generate action.

When I think about my life and my work, it applies. I take action all the time, and that’s what creates hope and makes me optimistic.

If you are inspired by this, I’ll leave you with a recent Cornel West talk at the most recent Harvard Divinity School’s Convocation address.

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Jul 18 2017

Legitimate Front’s She on Rock Band

Readers of this blog likely know that my partners Jason and Ryan have a band called Legitimate Front. You also probably know I’m on the board of Defy Ventures. And it’s likely you know that we are investors in Harmonix.

When you mix all three, you get a new DLC for Rock Band from Legitimate Front. Their song, She, is now available to play on Rock Band. And, all proceeds go to Defy Ventures.

I’m proud of a bunch of people involved in this. Yes, I smiled today when I saw how it all came together.

As a bonus, if you want to see Jason and Ryan (and Legitimate Front) IRL, take a look at the video from a recent Techstars FounderCon.

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Jun 27 2017

Women Forward in Technology Scholarship Program

Are you a woman who is an undergraduate or graduate student enrolled full-time at an accredited university in the US, in a STEM field? If you are, you now have an opportunity to apply for a Women Forward in Technology Scholarship.

Distil Networks just led a group of us, including Foundry Group, Techstars, Cooley, Yesware, Help Scout, Cloudability, Kulesa Faul, FullContact, and Anchor Point Foundation, to raise $50,000 to advance female representation in technology.

We will be awarding multiple scholarships of $3,000. The first deadline to submit is August 1st, 2017, and winners will be announced on September 1st, 2017. Interested applicants must complete a 1,000-word essay, present educational transcripts and deliver one letter of recommendation via the Women Forward in Technology application site.

I would love to see many more women involved in computer science, technology, and entrepreneurship. I’m hopeful that the $50,000 we raised for these scholarships is the start of something that can grow much larger. If you are interested in learning how you or your company can contribute to the scholarship fund, email me.

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Jun 13 2017

Global EIR and Silicon Valley Bank Funding Match

Today Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) announced their support for Global EIR, a cause for which I care deeply. As you may know, over breakfast in 2015 Jeff Bussgang and I launched Global EIR with the hope of advancing the startup visa effort on a local and state level after it stalled in Congress.

Global EIR Performance

Since then, Global EIR has grown to 13 university programs across the country, helping 42 international founders start companies. These companies have created 123 new jobs and raised $29.9 million in investment for the US economy. And there is still an overwhelming demand of visionary international founders that want to start companies in the US. If Global EIR can raise $300,000 this summer, they can scale rapidly over the next 18 months, with an ultimate goal of helping over 10,000 founders per year.

In response to this opportunity, SVB is joining Amy and me in a match challenge to raise $300,000 for Global EIR. For every $1 you donate up to $100,000, Amy and I will donate $1, and SVB will donate $1 on top of that. So – your $1 donation gets a $2 match.

I’m grateful that SVB sees in Global EIR a way to unlock the potential of the next generation of great founders, no matter where they were born. The entire team at SVB is unique among banks in their willingness to make bets on behalf of founders and startups and are often the first stop when a startup needs banking services. What makes this even more impressive is how quickly and consistently the startup community reinvents itself, yet SVB is always there to make a good first impression on new founders.

For these new founders, many were born in other countries and came to the US for a variety of reasons. For some, education brought them here. Others came to turn a great idea into a startup and ultimately into a world-changing company. Like SVB, the world’s founders know that the US has the right ingredients of capital, talent, and a culture that celebrates risk-taking. However, despite over a dozen countries creating visas to attract international founders, the US still does not have a startup visa.

When I reached out to long time friends at SVB, including Pamela Aldsworth and John China, they immediately were supportive of the idea of Global EIR. SVB had previously supported the Global EIR program in Boston with the University of Massachusetts, so I was delighted when they jumped on the opportunity to join a fundraising match with me across the entire country. It turns out that SVB’s general counsel, Michael Zuckert, is passionate about this issue and will be joining the Global EIR board.

Through Global EIR, universities run programs that help international founders obtain a visa, stimulate entrepreneurship at their universities, and unlock economic development in communities across the US. Global EIR supports programs throughout the US, currently ranging from Anchorage to Boston and seeks to expand to everywhere in between. We want to ensure that the world’s best and brightest founders continue to see the US as the best place to build their businesses and create jobs.

As many of longtime readers know, I’ve long been supportive of the startup visa. In 2009, I was inspired when two of the ten Techstars Boulder companies that year had international founders. With a startup visa, their promising companies would have an easy immigration pathway to create American jobs. Without one, they struggled to manage their visa status while also building their businesses. It should have been trivial for them to stay in the US; it wasn’t.

As with the entrepreneurs Global EIR helps, the organization began as a chaotic startup with Craig Montuori and Chris Nicholson leading Global EIR over the past two years. They learned a ton with our pilot schools UMass, CU Boulder, and SJSU. We were fortunate to have great partners in Bill Brah, George Deriso, and Anuradha Basu to help us figure this out to the point where we are now ready to scale to all 50 US states.

When we decided to have Global EIR go through the Techstars Boulder earlier this year as a non-profit, our goal was to get them ready to scale up. The experience of Techstars Boulder exceeded all expectations, and it’s great to see the Global EIR team start to take things to the next level.

For my VC friends, every time you invest in a brilliant immigrant founder, consider joining me and SVB in supporting Global EIR so that the next immigrant founder can have the chance to pitch to you. Email me and let’s talk about how to partner together in this work.

If you are a foreign entrepreneur who wants to build your company in the US, also email me, and I’ll connect you to the program.

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Jun 11 2017

I’m Proud of Our Community

I woke up this morning to see the following on our Human Utility monthly match Crowdrise campaign.

It blew me away. I’m proud of our community. Y’all are awesome. THANK YOU.

I then poked around to see how we got there and saw Fred Wilson’s blog post on the wrap up of the #GiveWater campaign. We crossed $20k last night so our $20k (Fred/Joanne/Brad/Amy) was released. And, Jessica Livingston matched the $20k again, so that was another $20k. Thank you, Jessica. Super awesome.

But we aren’t done. When we started this project, we decided we’d run things through Sunday night. So, if you want to help people in Detroit and Baltimore who are having trouble affording their water bill get water, jump into the #GiveWater fundraiser!

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