Announcing the Agenda for Robotics & AI – March 3 at UC Berkeley

We’re bringing TC Sessions: Robotics + AI back to UC Berkeley on March 3, and we’re excited to announce our jam-packed agenda.  For months we’ve been recruiting speakers from the ranks of the most innovative founders, top technologists and hard-charging VCs working in robotics and AI, and the speaker line-up will capture the remarkable acceleration across the field in the past year. 

New for this year, we will be hosting our very first pitch-off competition for early-stage robotics companies. There is still time to submit your application. 

And one amazing fact: 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the first use of the word “robot.” What better way to mark the occasion than to grab an Early-bird ticket ($150 savings) right now and right here before prices increase.

We’ve still got some key guests to announce, and will be adding some new names to the agenda in the coming days. In the meantime, check out these highlights:

Agenda

10:05 AM – 10:25 AM

Saving Humanity from AI with Stuart Russell (UC Berkeley)

The UC Berkeley professor and AI authority argues in his acclaimed new book, “Human Compatible,” that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.

10:25 AM – 10:50 AM

Investing in Robotics and AI: Lessons from the Industry’s VCs with Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors), Kelly Chen (DCVC), and Eric Migicovsky (Y Combinator

Leading investors will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. The investors bring a combination of early-stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing.

10:50 AM – 11:10 AM

Automating Amazon with Tye Brady (Amazon Robotics)

Amazon Robotics’ Chief Technology Office will discuss how the company is using the latest in robotics and AI to optimize its massive logistics. He’ll also discuss the future of warehouse automation and how humans and robots share a workspace. 

11:10 AM – 11:30 AM

Innovation Break. Coming soon

11:30 AM – 11:40 AM

Live Demo from the Stanford Robotics Club

11:40 AM – 12:05 PM

Building the Robots that Build with Daniel Blank (Toggle Industries), Tessa Lau (Dusty Robotics) and Noah Ready-Campbell (Built Robotics

Can robots help us build structures faster, smarter and cheaper? Built Robotics makes a self-driving excavator. Toggle is developing a new fabrication of rebar for reinforced concrete and Dusty builds robot-powered tools. We’ll talk with the founders of these companies to learn how and when robots will become a part of the construction crew.

1:00 PM – 1:20 PM

Pitch-off 

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have 5 minutes to present their wares.

1:20 PM – 1:35 PM

Engineering for the Red Planet with Lucy Condakchian (Maxar Technologies)

Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades, and is about to send its 5th (!) robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian is general manager of robotics at Maxar and will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.

1:35 PM – 2:00 PM

Lending a Helping Robotic Hand with Vivian Chu (Diligent Robotics) and Mike Dooley (Labrador Systems)

As populations age in a number of countries, caregivers are turning to robots for assistance. We’ll discuss the role technology can play in helping care for and assist those in need. 

2:00 PM – 2:25 PM

Toward a Driverless Future with Anca Dragan (Waymo/UC Berkeley) and Jur van den Berg (Ike)

Autonomous driving is set to be one of the biggest categories for robotics and AI. But there are plenty roadblocks standing in its way. Experts will discuss how we get there from here. 

2:25 PM – 2:45 PM

Innovation Break. Coming soon

2:45 PM – 3:10 PM

Bringing Robots to Life with Max Bajracharya and James Kuffner (Toyota Research Institute Advanced Development)

This summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be a huge proving ground for Toyota’s TRI-AD. Executive James Kuffner and Max Bajracharya will join us to discuss the department’s plans for assistive robots and self-driving cars.

3:10 PM – 3:35 PM

The Next Century of Robo-Exoticism with Abigail De Kosnik (UC Berkeley), David Ewing Duncan and Mark Pauline (Survival Research Labs)

In 1920, Karl Capek coined the term “robot” in a play about mechanical workers organizing a rebellion to defeat their human overlords. 100 years later, in the context of increasing inequality and xenophobia, the panelists will discuss cultural views of robots in the context of “Robo-Exoticism” which exaggerates both negative and positive attributes and reinforces old fears, fantasies, and stereotypes.

3:35 PM – 4:00 PM 

Opening the Black Box With Explainable AI with Trevor Darrell (UC Berkeley), Krishna Gade (Fiddler Labs), and Karen Myers (SRI International)

Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UCBerkeley’s Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs, and Karen Myers from SRI will discuss what we’re doing about it and what still needs to be done.

4:00 PM – 4:20 PM 

Innovation Break. Coming soon

4:20 PM – 4:45 PM 

Cultivating Intelligence in Agricultural Robots with Lewis Anderson (Traptic), Sebastian Boyer (Farmwise), Michael Norcia (Pyka)

The benefits of robotics in agriculture are undeniable, yet at the same time only getting started. Lewis Anderson (Traptic) and Sebastien Boyer (Farmwise) will compare notes on the rigors of developing industrial-grade robots that both pick crops and weed fields respectively, and Pyka’s Michael Norcia will discuss taking flight over those fields with an autonomous crop-spraying drone.

4:45 PM – 5:10 PM

Fostering the Next Generation of Robotics Startups with Joshua Wilson (Freedom Robotics) and speakers to be announced

Robotics and AI are the future of many or most industries, but the barrier of entry is still difficult to surmount for many startups. These companies are helping ease the first steps into the wider world of automation.

5:10 PM – 5:35 PM

Robotic Surgeons (speakers to be announced)

Robots have been part of the operating room for well over a decade, but we’re still only scratching the surface. Leaders from a number of robot-assisted surgery companies will discuss the changing role of robots in the hospital.

Tickets are on sale now

Book your $275 early bird ticket today and save $100 before prices go up on February 14.

Student tickets are just $50 and can be purchased here.

Got a startup? Book a startup exhibitor package today and demo your company in front of 1000+ attendees. Each table comes with 4 attendee tickets so you can divide and conquer the conference.

Investors and utilities are seeding carbon markets with new startups

While most of the world agrees that carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are creating a climate crisis, there’s little consensus regarding how to address it.

One of the solutions that’s both the most obvious and, seemingly, the most difficult for the international community to agree on is establishing a market that would put a price on carbon emissions. Making the cost of emissions palpable for industries would encourage companies to curb their polluting activities or pay to offset them.

The holy grail of a global carbon market — or a collection of regional ones — has been on the agenda for climate activists and regulators since the Kyoto Protocols were ratified in 1997, but enacting the policy has proven elusive.

Now, as the results of climate inaction become more apparent, there appears to be some movement on the regulatory front and concurrent activity from early-stage technology investors to make carbon offsets more of a reality.

It’s still early days, but startups like Project Wren, Pachama and Cloverly prove that investors and utilities are willing to take a flyer on companies that are trying to enable carbon offsets for consumers and corporations alike.

These small bets for investors are complemented by the potential for outsized returns given the size and scope that’s possible should these markets actually develop.

After years of languishing in relative obscurity, global carbon markets rebounded with vigor in 2017 and into 2018, according to data from the World Bank.

Countries raised about $44 billion in revenues from carbon pricing in 2018, an increase of $11 billion, with more than half coming from carbon taxes. In 2017, the $33 billion raised by governments from carbon pricing was an increase of 50% over 2016 numbers.

However large that number may seem, it’s dwarfed by the figure required to make any real changes in industry emissions, according to the World Bank. The current pricing schemes that exist cover a small percentage of global emissions at a cost that’s consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, the latest international treaty around climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Prices need to rise to between $40 per ton of carbon dioxide and $80 per ton by 2020 and between $50 per ton and $100 per ton by 2030.

Finding the right reporter to cover your startup

Pitch the wrong reporter or publication, and your story won’t see the light of day.

Before you start seeking press, you’ll need to look for reporters who have reach, respect and expertise when you choose who to talk to. You’ll also need to be prepared to accept the truth about your business, even if it hurts. It’s critical that you find a writer who’s a good fit for the business you’re building and the audience you’re seeking.

If you don’t use a strategic approach when reaching out to journalists, you’ll get few responses, fewer meetings, and articles that either misrepresent you, shortchange you, or blow up in your face. The goal isn’t just to secure positive coverage, because no one will believe it; startups are tough. There are challenges and setbacks and scary looming questions. But an honest article from a respected voice with a big enough audience can legitimize a business as it tries to turn vision into impact.

Here we’ll discuss how to find the publication and reporter who understands you and can tell the story that aligns with your objectives. In part one of this series, we detailed why you should (or shouldn’t) want press coverage and how to know what’s newsworthy enough to pitch.

In future ExtraCrunch posts, I’ll explore how to hire PR help, formulate a pitch, deliver it to reporters, prepare for interviews and conduct an announcement. If you have more questions or ideas for ExtraCrunch posts, feel free to reach out to me via Twitter or elsewhere.

Why should you believe me? I’m editor-at-large for TechCrunch, where I’ve written 4,000 articles about early-stage startups and tech giants. For 10 years, I’ve reviewed startup pitches via email and Twitter, at demo days for accelerators like Y Combinator and on stage as a judge of startup competitions. From warm introductions to cold calls, I’ve seen what gets reporters’ attention and why stories become enduring narratives supporting companies as they grow.

Deciding which publications to target

Which publications do you currently read and respect?

Starting here ensures that you’re approaching PR from a place of knowledge with personal context rather than going by what someone else tells you. But you also have to consider which publications appeal in that way to your target demographic. For example, if you’re aiming to reach teens, parents, or Chief Information Officers, you’ll have very different target publications.

If you appeal to a niche audience aligned with a specific publication, you can definitely score some leads and installs, priming the pump so when users hear about you again, they already have a positive association for your brand. You can score SEO to help your get discovered when people search for keywords related to your business, but if you’re looking for user growth or SEO, be sure to work with a publication that links to the websites and apps they write about, as many don’t. But if you’re hoping for ‘the servers are on fire we’ve got so much traffic’ attention, you need to first build network effects and viral loops directly into your product.

Once you identify a realistic objective for gaining press coverage, you can figure out which reporters and outlets will best help you achieve your goals.

Typically, you’ll aim to work with more prestigious publications and writers first, as they can inspire other outlets to write up follow-on coverage. It rarely works the other way around, since top publishers want to be seen as first to a story and forging trends rather than following them with late coverage. These outlets often have greater reach in terms of home page traffic, social following, SEO and shareability.

The exception to this strategy: if there’s a specific writer at a less-prestigious publisher who’s renowned as the expert in your space whose word has more weight, or if that publication better aligns with your overall goals. For example, you might want to work with a transportation expert like Kirsten Korosec if you’re an electric car company, or a publication focused on startups like TechCrunch if you’re trying to stoke fundraising. If you’re a more general mainstream consumer business or are seeking maximum growth, you might instead choose a popular national newspaper with a big circulation.

Who should tell your story?

After you’ve set goals and have an idea regarding the kind of publication or journalist you want to work with, it’s time to build a ranked list of specific reporters. Here, expertise is key.

Lowkey.gg is an esports tournament platform for adult gamers

It’s tough to be a competitive gamer once you’re an adult. Simply fitting tournament time into a busy schedule is challenge enough, but even if you can make the time, where do you go to find other adults who are competitively playing the games you love?

That’s where Lowkey.gg comes in. Lowkey.gg is a tournament platform for adult gamers. The company is particularly focused on helping professional organizations set up their esports squads just like company basketball or softball teams.

One of the challenges here is that it’s incredibly difficult for adult gamers to find each other. Most of them don’t usually broadcast their affinity for video games. Searching for other competitive gamers who are above the age of 18 is a bit of a lost cause.

The hope for Lowkey is that they can connect adult gamers with one another to get the most out of their gaming experience. Everyone playing through Lowkey must be 18 years of age or older and have a full-time job.

Users can register as a solo gamer for $39, plus a subscription fee of $13/month, and get automatically matched with a team. Lowkey takes into account things like location, job, alma mater and other bits of information (all shown on your public Lowkey profile) to create teams with like-minded players. The company says this transparency reduces the toxicity around teammates. Conversely, users can also form a squad in real life and sign up as a pre-made team for $195/month.

Thus far, Lowkey has signed up teams from Google, Apple, Robinhood and Twitch.

Lowkey is launching with League of Legends as its first game, and Season 1 starts on January 13.

Seasons last a minimum of 8 weeks, with players scheduled to play for one hour one night a week. Lowkey has also built a relatively sophisticated Discord chatbot that lets users check-in to say they’re ready for a game and automatically puts the teams in a chat together to coordinate the match.

Like many startups, Lowkey is actually the result of a pivot. The company was originally called Camelot.

In March of 2017, Camelot launched out of YC to allow YouTube and Twitch audiences to pay to see what they want. Users could submit bounties to see their favorite YouTuber play a game with pistols only, or to play a game while standing on a skateboard.

Turns out, there were two big issues. Cofounder Jesse Zhang explained that it wasn’t sustainable to build a platform on top of a platform, particularly a platform that is incredibly top heavy and potentially overhyped.

“Sometimes hype can be misaligned with the size of the market, and it felt like streaming was one example of that,” said Zhang. “Even after we organically got several really large streamers using it, and the product performed almost perfectly, the volume is still not nearly the scale that you could turn into a real business.”

Which brings us to the second issue. The money that flows through Twitch from viewers to streamers is almost always based on altruism and emotion. It’s exciting to hear your favorite streamer thank you for a $5 donation or gifted sub. Viewers aren’t paying for the content; they’re paying for a connection.

So Camelot quickly went back to the drawing board and came out on the other side as Lowkey.gg.

Lowkey has raised capital but declined to share the amount. After the launch of League of Legends, the company plans to launch seasons for other titles including Overwatch, TFT, DotA, and Smash Ultimate.

Listen to top VCs discuss the next generation of automation startups at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI

Robotics, AI and automation have long been one of the hottest categories for tech investments. After years and decades of talk, however, those big payouts are starting to pay off. Robotics are beginning to dominate nearly every aspect of work, from warehouse fulfillment to agriculture to retail and construction.

Our annual TC Sessions: Robotics+AI event on March 3 affords us the ability to bring together some of the top investors in the category to discuss the hottest startups, best bets and opine on where the industry is going. And this year’s VC panel is arguably our strongest yet:

  • Eric Migicovsky is a general partner a Y Combinator. Prior to joining the firm, he co-founded Pebble. The smartwatch pioneer was itself a YC-backed venture, along with raising three of Kickstarter’s all-time top crowdfunding campaigns. Migicovsky joined YC following Fitbit’s acquisition of the startup in 2016.
  • DCVC partner Kelly Chen focuses primarily on the AI, robotics, manufacturing and work-related sectors. Her work is generally focused on the world of hardware, along with the transformations of populations and labor.
  • Dror Berman co-founded Innovations Ventures in 2010 with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. A key driver in the firm’s investments in Uber, SoFi and Formlabs, Berman also focuses on robotics, including companies like Blue River Technology and Common Sense Robotics.

TC Sessions: Robotics+AI returns to Berkeley on March 3. Make sure to grab your early-bird tickets today for $275 before prices go up by $100. Startups, book a demo table right here and get in front of 1,000+ of Robotics/AI’s best and brightest — each table comes with four attendee tickets.

Indian tech startups raised a record $14.5B in 2019

Indian tech startups have never had it so good.

Local tech startups in the nation raised $14.5 billion in 2019, beating their previous best of $10.5 billion last year, according to research firm Tracxn .

Tech startups in India this year participated in 1,185 financing rounds — 459 of those were Series A or later rounds — from 817 investors.

Early stage startups — those participating in angel or pre-Series A financing round — raised $6.9 billion this year, easily surpassing last year’s $3.3 billion figure, according to a report by venture debt firm InnoVen Capital.

According to InnoVen’s report, early stage startups that have typically struggled to attract investors saw a 22% year-over-year increase in the number of financing deals they took part in this year. Cumulatively, at $2.6 million, their valuation also increased by 15% from last year.

Also in 2019, 128 startups in India got acquired, four got publicly listed, and nine became unicorns. This year, Indian tech startups also attracted a record number of international investors, according to Tracxn.

This year’s fundraise further moves the nation’s burgeoning startup space on a path of steady growth.

Since 2016, when tech startups accumulated just $4.3 billion — down from $7.9 billion the year before — flow of capital has increased significantly in the ecosystem. In 2017, Indian startups raised $10.4 billion, per Tracxn.

“The decade has seen an impressive 25x growth from a tiny $550 million in 2010 to $14.5 billion in 2019 in terms of the total funding raised by the startups,” said Tracxn.

What’s equally promising about Indian startups is the challenges they are beginning to tackle today, said Dev Khare, a partner at VC fund Lightspeed Venture Partners, in a recent interview to TechCrunch.

In 2014 and 2015, startups were largely focused on building e-commerce solutions and replicating ideas that worked in Western markets. But today, they are tackling a wide-range of categories and opportunities and building some solutions that have not been attempted in any other market, he said.

Tracxn’s analysis found that lodging startups raised about $1.7 billion this year — thanks to Oyo alone bagging $1.5 billion, followed by logistics startups such as Elastic Run, Delhivery, and Ecom Express that secured $641 million.

176 horizontal marketplaces, more than 150 education learning apps, over 120 trucking marketplaces, 82 ride-hailing services, 42 insurance platforms, 33 used car listing providers, and 13 startups that are helping businesses and individuals access working capital secured funding this year.

The investors

Sequoia Capital, with more than 50 investments — or co-investments — was the most active venture capital fund for Indian tech startups this year. (Rajan Anandan, former executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, joined Sequoia Capital India as a managing director in April.) Accel, Tiger Global Management, Blume Ventures, and Chiratae Ventures were the other top four VCs.

Steadview Capital, with nine investments in startups including ride-hailing service Ola, education app Unacademy, and fintech startup BharatPe, led the way among private equity funds. General Atlantic, which invested in NoBroker and recently turned profitable edtech startup Byju’s, invested in four startups. FMO, Sabre Partners India, and CDC Group each invested in three startups.

Venture Catalysts, with over 40 investments including in HomeCapital and Blowhorn, was the top accelerator or incubator in India this year. Y Combinator, with over 25 investments, Sequoia Capital’s Surge, Axilor Ventures, and Techstars were also very active this year.

Indian tech startups also attracted a number of direct investments from top corporates and banks this year. Goldman Sachs, which earlier this month invested in fintech startup ZestMoney, overall made eight investments this year. Among others, Facebook made its first investment in an Indian startup — social-commerce firm Meesho and Twitter led a $100 million financing round in local social networking app ShareChat.

Coral raises $4.3M to build an at-home manicure machine

Coral is a company that wants to “simplify the personal care space through smart automation,” and they’ve raised $4.3 million to get it done. Their first goal? An at-home, fully automated machine for painting your nails. Stick a finger in, press down, wait a few seconds and you’ve got a fully painted and dried nail. More than once in our conversations, the team referred to the idea as a “Keurig coffee machine, but for nails.”

It’s still early days for the company. While they’ve got a functional machine (pictured above), they’re quite clear about it being a prototype.

As such, they’re still staying pretty hush hush about the details, declining to say much about how it actually works. They did tell me that it paints one finger at a time, taking about 10 minutes to go from bare nails to all fingers painted and dried. To speed up drying time while ensuring a durable paint job, it’ll require Coral’s proprietary nail polish — so don’t expect to be able to pop open a bottle of nail polish and pour it in. Coral’s polish will come in pods (so the Keurig comparison is particularly fitting), which the user will be able to buy individually or get via subscription. Under the hood is a camera and some proprietary computer vision algorithms, allowing the machine to paint the nail accurately without requiring manual nail cleanup from the user after the fact.

Also still under wraps — or, more accurately, not determined yet — is the price. While Coral co-founder Ramya Venkateswaran tells me that she expects it to be a “premium device,” they haven’t nailed down an exact price just yet.

While we’ve seen all sorts of nail painting machines over the years (including ones that can do all kinds of wild art, like this one we saw at CES earlier this year), Coral says its system is the only one that works without requiring the user to first prime their nails with a base coat or clear coat it after. All you need here is a bare fingernail.

Coral’s team is currently made up of eight people — mostly mechanical, chemical and software engineers. Both co-founders, meanwhile, have backgrounds in hardware; Venkateswaran previously worked as a product strategy manager at Dolby, where she helped launch the Dolby Conference Phone. Her co-founder, Bradley Leong, raised around $800,000 on Kickstarter to ship Brydge (one of the earliest takes on a laptop-style iPad keyboard) back in 2012 before becoming a partner at the seed-stage venture fund Tandem Capital. It was during some industrial hardware research there, he tells me, when he found “the innovation that this machine is based off of.”

Vankateswaran tells me the team has raised $4.3 million to date from CrossLink Capital, Root Ventures, Tandem Capital and Y Combinator . The company is part of Y Combinator’s ongoing Winter 2020 class, so I’d expect to hear more about them as this batch’s demo day approaches in March of next year.

So what’s next? They’ll be working on turning the prototype into a consumer-ready device, and plan to spend the next few months running a small beta program (which you can sign up for here.)

New tweet generator mocks venture capitalists

“Airbnb’s unit economics are quite legendary — the S-1 is going to be MOST disrupted FASTEST in the next 3 YEARS? Caps for effect.”

Who tweeted that? Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan? Homebrew’s Hunter Walk? Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham? Or perhaps one of the dozens of other venture capitalists active on Twitter .

No, it was Parrot.VC, a new Twitter account and website dedicated to making light of VC Twitter. Brother-sister duo Samantha and Nick Loui, the creators of the new tool, fed 65,000 tweets written by some 50 venture capitalists to a machine learning bot. The result is an automated tweet generator ready to spew somewhat nonsensical (or entirely nonsensical) <280-character statements.

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According to Hacker News, where co-creator Nick Loui shared information about their project, the bot uses predictive text to generate “amazing, new startup advice,” adding “Gavin Belson – hit me up, this is the perfect acquisition for Hooli,” referencing the popular satirical TV show, “Silicon Valley.” 

This isn’t the first time someone has leveraged artificial intelligence to make fun of the tech community. One of my personal favorites, BodegaBot, inspired by the Bodega fiasco of late 2017, satirizes Silicon Valley’s unhinged desire to replace domestic service with technology.

Toyota leads $50 million investment in autonomous shuttle startup May Mobility

May Mobility, a Michigan-based startup that is operating autonomous shuttle services in three U.S. cities, has has raised $50 million in a Series B round led by Toyota Motor Corp.

The funding, which comes less than a year after May Mobility raised $22 million, will be used to expand every aspect of the company, including its AV shuttle fleet as well as its engineering and operations staff.

May Mobility has 25 autonomous low-speed shuttles spread out between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan and Providence, Rhode Island — the three cities it operates in. The startup wants to build that number up to 25 vehicles per city, co-founder and COO Alisyn Malek told TechCrunch. That fleet size improves the economic picture for the startup and begin to meaningfully impact transportation in that city.

This latest round does more than provide May Mobility with capital. The startup, which launched in 2017, has has gained a customer as well. Toyota has picked May Mobility as one of its “autonomous driving providers for future open platforms,” according to the startup.

Toyota and May Mobility didn’t share specifics of about what this partnership will lead to. But it will likely pair the startup’s autonomous vehicle technology with the Toyota e-Palette, a platform the automaker unveiled in 2018 at CES, the annual tech trade show in Las Vegas.

The e-Palette was presented as a concept vehicle, but really it’s a platform that fits into Toyota’s vision for mobility ecosystem that will transition from a company that just produces and sells cars to one that handles all aspects of moving people and things from point A to point B.

The e-Palette is designed for flexibility. The platform, which theoretically will be outfitted with autonomous vehicle technology, could be used as a shuttle, for delivering packages to customers or even as a roving mobile shop.

May Mobility will be working with Toyota to identify market opportunities, Malek said, adding that the company will be one of the automaker’s primary partners in co-development to bring those platforms out to market.

“They really believe in the transportation-as-a-service work that we’re doing and want to support that,” Malek said.

Finding free money for your social impact startup

Congratulations; you’ve decided to launch a technology-enabled startup with a positive social impact! Nearly every major Silicon Valley venture-capital firm has now invested in a B Corp; maybe you will be one of them!

The bad news: some venture capitalists have a bias against startups with an explicit positive social impact on the grounds that they have a smaller addressable market, and that the founders are not sufficiently focused on creating shareholder wealth. And of course, effectively all venture capitalists are going to require some equity for their investment.

Fortunately, there are a wide range of organizations that specifically want to support you, not just the VC community. I’m now researching non-dilutive funding for Action Tank, a startup I’m gestating to “Make America Functional Again.” I worked with outsourced research firm Wonder* to identify all of the institutions we could who support tech impact startups with cash and community, and in many cases without dilution.  I emphasize my focus here is organizations which are backing for-profit companies and do not take equity. If you think I’ve missed any, please contact me.

I suggest start by looking at the many programs offered by the Fortune 500’s startup networks. In addition, there are many other groups will give you cash, training, and community with few or no strings attached:

Ashoka is a foundation that engages in scouring for and choosing the leading social entrepreneurs across the globe, who it refers to as Ashoka Fellows.

Aspen Tech Policy Hub. “Our program mixes the best of both Washington and Silicon Valley, bringing together stakeholders in policy and technology to train the next generation of policy entrepreneurs. The Aspen Tech Policy Hub is a West Coast policy incubator, training a new generation of tech policy entrepreneurs. We take tech experts, teach them the policy process through an in-residence fellowship program in the Bay Area, and encourage them to develop outside-the-box solutions to society’s problems. We model ourselves after tech incubators like Y Combinator, but train new policy thinkers and focus the impact of their ideas.

Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation (BHSI) Fellowship. Since 2011, the Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation (BHSI) Fellowship has supported the work of 36 innovators—representing the United States as well as 18 other countries on five continents—who address pressing global issues, from healthcare delivery to college persistence and sustainable construction in developing nations.  From the beginning, the BHSI Fellowship has created meaningful, customized experiences for Fellows with connections to influential business and civic leaders, exposure to a broad audience as a speaker at Chicago Ideas, and over $3 million in financial support and in-kind contributions.”

The Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Fund for Entrepreneurial Studies. “The Clayton, Dubilier & Rice Fund for Entrepreneurial Studies supports entrepreneurs attempting to build something that advances business and society in revolutionary ways. “

Columbia Business School Tamer Fund for Social Ventures. Requires Columbia affiliation.

Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation identifies entrepreneurs that display characteristics of “exceptional social leadership through discretion, influence, vision, ambition, intelligence, and follow-through.” 

DV Hacks, led by BCG Digital Ventures: “A 48-hour hackathon to improve how we live, work, collaborate, and learn.”

Echoing Green is a foundation that distinguishes transformational leaders via its fellowships. Their foci include addressing environmental sustainability, racial and gender equity, economic development concerns, etc.

Future Labs Flash Pitch. “For pre-seed and seed companies based in the U.S. and Israel with a focus on AI for social impact,” 

Google AI for Social Good. “Our 20 selected organizations will receive coaching from Google’s AI experts, Google.org grant funding from a $25 million pool, and credits and consulting from Google Cloud. They will also be offered the opportunity to join a customized 6-month Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator program, including guidance from our nonprofit partner, DataKind, to jumpstart their work. We looked for projects across a range of social impact domains and levels of technical expertise, from organizations that are experienced in AI to those with an idea for how they could put their data to better use. “

Google for Startups Accelerator. “Geared toward social impact startups working to create a healthier and more sustainable future, the accelerator provides access to training, products and technical support. Startup founders will work with Google engineers and receive mentoring from over 20 teams at Google, as well as outside experts and local mentors.  

J.M.Kaplan Innovation Prize. “The J.M.K. Innovation Prize seeks out innovators who are spearheading transformative early-stage projects in the fields of the environment, heritage conservation, and social justice. The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is open to nonprofit and mission-driven for-profit organizations that are tackling America’s most pressing challenges through social innovation. In 2019, we will award up to ten prizes, each including a cash award of $150,000 over three years, plus $25,000 for project expenses, for a total award of $175,000. 

Kairos Fellows. “The Kairos Fellowship is designed to build the next generation of leaders in the field of technology, analytics, digital campaigning, and online organizing.”

MIT Solve initiative. “MIT Solve advances lasting solutions from tech entrepreneurs to address the world’s most pressing problems. Solve is a marketplace for social impact: we find tech entrepreneurs from around the world and broker partnerships across our community to scale their innovative work — driving lasting, transformational change.”

Mulago Foundation Rainer Arnhold Fellowship. “The course brings Fellows and faculty together for an intensive week to work on design for maximum impact and scalability. Held in a retreat center on the coast in Bolinas, California, the course gives Fellows the rare opportunity to focus completely on their ideas and a systematic way to apply them.”

Bloomberg New Economy Forum Solutions. “Mike Bloomberg announces an open call for solutions to global challenges facing the new economy. Entrepreneurs, academics, founders, and big thinkers are invited to submit their solutions to societal problems that need momentum, support, and adoption from the private sector.”

Notley Ventures.Notley is a catalyst for social innovation unlocking opportunities with today’s impact organizations and changing communities.  Our mission is to scale and support businesses, nonprofits, individuals, and programs making positive change in the world.” 

Recurse Center. “The Recurse Center is a self-directed, community-driven educational retreat for people who want to get better at programming.”

Skoll Foundation. “The Skoll Foundation drives large-scale change by investing in, connecting, and celebrating social entrepreneurs and innovators who help them solve the world’s most pressing problems.”

Summit Fellows. “Through a series of invitation-only events, Summit fosters a global community of entrepreneurs, academics, athletes, artists, astronauts, authors, chefs, engineers, explorers, philanthropists, spiritual leaders, scientists, and beyond.”

Thiel Fellowship. “Founded by technology entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel in 2011, the Thiel Fellowship is a two-year program for young people [under 22] who want to build new things. Thiel Fellows skip or stop out of college to receive a $100,000 grant and support from the Thiel Foundation’s network of founders, investors, and scientists.”

Pioneer.app.Get funding and guidance for your project.  Pioneer is a weekly contest for creative people around the world making their ideas become real.  Winners get $7000, a round-trip ticket to Silicon Valley, access to world-class mentorship, and more.”

Roddenberry Foundation Catalyst Fund. “The Catalyst Fund awards small grants for early-stage, innovative, and unconventional ideas that address serious global challenges.“

SEIF Awards Tech for Impact. The SEIF Awards target European impact entrepreneurs who develop or make innovative use of technologies to tackle social and/or environmental challenges and contribute to the UN SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. Each Award grants the winners CHF 10’000. Together with our partners UBS and PwC we provide finalists a unique opportunity to increase their international awareness, gain reputation and present themselves to a top-class jury.

Three dot dash. “Powers the most influential social entrepreneurs between the ages of 13 -19, who have found a solution or innovation to address a basic human need.” 

YC120 (part of Y Combinator). “We’d like to find more curious, creative people who are doing exciting work in emerging fields and give them an opportunity to start building their network. “

VentureCrush FG.  Pando Daily wrote: “VentureCrushFG takes no equity, there is no co-working space, and no demo day. The application process is not advertised. Most applicants come from referrals.” “VentureCrushFG[‘s]…stellar reputation among founders and investors is due, in part, to the success of its most high-flying companies.” “If anything, it’s more of a community than an accelerator, a way to keep a strong network of alumni, mentors and investors connected. Between one and two hundred techies are part of the group, including founders, execs, 40 to 50 VCs and a few dozen angel investors.””

We Company Creator Awards. “This global competition is open to entrepreneurs, performers, startups, and nonprofits-anyone who embodies our mantra, Create Your Life’s Work.”

World Summit Awards for Young Innovators. “WSA Young Innovators is a special recognition for young social entrepreneurs under 30 years of age, using ICTs to take action on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). Together with the WSA winners of each year, they are honored as outstanding digital innovation with social impact.”

You may also want to look at product-based crowdfunding, e.g., Indiegogo*. Other traditional options for non-dilutive financing include grants, loans, SBIR, STTR, vouchers and tax credits, include:

You’re eligible for the many accelerators, as well as specifically the impact accelerators. See Conveners Impact Accelerator Selection Tool. Some specific accelerators:

There are many VCs who have a stated focus on social impact; for full lists see Impact Capital Managers and InvestorFlow. Oliver Libby, Managing Partner, H/L Ventures, notes, “it is important to remember that impact funders occupy the same spectrum of returns as regular investors.  From 100% loss capital (e.g. a grant) to shooting for massive returns (some impact VCs), an entrepreneur can unlock everything in between, including first-loss capital, impact bonds, patient capital from program-related investments and families, and more.  The market is also coming to understand that high impact can sometimes come with high returns too.”   

Rachel Butler, President, Cavendish Impact Foundation (where I’m an advisor), mentioned fiscal sponsorship as an option. “It’s an arrangement where an entity in need of funding (and it can be a for-profit, social enterprise) teams up with a 501(c)(3) that has an aligned mission, and money can be raised through the 501(c)(3) and used to support a specific project being done by the social enterprise.

So, for example, if the 501(c)(3) has in its mission to support improving education, and a for-profit social enterprise is developing an app to help improve access to better education for people in underserved communities, the 501(c)(3) could support that specific project. The 501(c)(3) does have to maintain discretion about how they use the funds (as a safeguard to just having it be an arrangement for funneling philanthropic funds), and there are some other stipulations, but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward.  The ‘Project’ can actually do the fundraising, as an agent of the 501(c)(3), and have the money directed to the 501(c)(3). The project is usually something that has a fairly short timeframe with measurable milestones that indicate progress. The 501(c)(3) also takes an administrative fee for their role in the collaboration.“

Bill Warren, CEO of Peeps Democracy, Inc., wrote, “another type of funding source for a social impact entrepreneur to think about is startup challenges/competitions at her/his alma mater. For example, Duke sponsors a $10,000 annual prize for students, faculty, or alumni working on a startup in the clean energy space. These prizes can be a great source of non-dilutive funding for early-stage ventures and also offer free exposure to academic thought-leaders and other alumni, who might support your startup via mentorship or investment. “

Emily Rasmussen, founder & CEO of Grapevine.org, suggests turning philanthropic donations into for-profit investments using Donor Advised Funds (DAFs), which are like Health Savings Accounts for charitable giving. You make a tax deductible donation into a DAF account, get an immediate tax deduction, and then donate your funds out to charities over time. In the meantime, your funds are invested to help grow your fund, just like an endowment. With some 501(c)(3) DAF sponsors (e.g Impact Assets), after making  a tax-deductible donation into their DAF account, donors can then advise the sponsor to invest their charitable assets into a specific social enterprise deal. These deals are sourced by the donor investor and any future returns go back into the DAF account and are available for future impact investments or charitable donations.

Lastly, I suggest reviewing these links on fundraising:

* I’m an investor in this company.

Thanks to Emily Campbell, Esq., of The Campbell Firm PLLC for helpful input; she has advised me on some legal matters in the past.