November 19, 2012
Thought Leaders, Technologists & Academics Re-Imagine Global Health
I'm a huge supporter of TEDx events given their goal to make the world a better place and because I know how much time and effort goes into each one since I'm a co-curator myself of the annual TEDxBerkeley event.
Organizers need all the help they can get since the success is based on the work, effort and love from volunteers...in other words, everyone works around the clock without getting paid.
TEDxSF (San Francisco) recently had their event in conjunction with UCSF, around health, a critical topic on everyone's mind in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Their theme was 7 Billion Well: Re-imagining Global Health."
They brought together thought leaders and emerging pioneers in academia and technology to discuss the latest multidisciplinary ideas around the most pressing health issues of our world today.
Christine Mason McCaull, Kunal Sood and their team did a smashing job with an incredible line-up of speakers, which included more women across the board than any other event I can think of outside of BlogHer. Hear hear. It's also Christine's last year curating the event, a huge loss for the TEDxSF team.
Speaker's topics included the Bay Area as a Global Health Hub by Jaime Sepulveda, issues around bleeding from Suellen Miller, embracing your children from Dr. Shefali Tsabary, investing in health markets from Yasmina Zaidman and corporate games for change from Adam Bosworth. (below)
Dean Ornish (below) always has such a wonderful presence on stage. He shared his take on Dis-Ease and how lifestyle, diet and mental attitude is critical to avoiding disease and reversing problematic issues in order to bring the body back to its natural state.
Ankur Jain and Vinod Khosla took on investing to expand health globally, Sam Hamner talked about 1000 knees, Piya Sorcar addressed the tough issues around HIV education, and Patrick Lee explored primary care and what the U.S. can learn from Liberia. Yes, Liberia.
Then there was Kumaré, a film which also played at the recent SAND Conference (nonduality - where spiritualty and science meet) which I attended recently.
Director Vikram Gandhi (above), who grew up consuming equal parts ancient Indian mythology and American movies, was incredibly amusing on stage as he uses satire to talk about his journey as a 'false prophet' to shoot the movie.
We then dove into the mobile world with Sandeep Sood, Montana Cherney, Michael Blum and Jeff Tangney and heard from David Bolinsky, an all time favorite, who never falls short of presenting beautiful information in a way that is both compelling and moving. (below)
Then there was a treat...a very special treat. Lebohang "Levo M" Morake from South Africa flew over to sing a song he arranged for the infamous Lion King: He Lives in Me.
This song is not a favorite of mine, but for anyone who has lost someone in their life, the words will resonate with the pain you felt when you first realized the moment that you called upon your deceased loved one for guidance and comfort.
In other words, the spirits of our ancestors watch over us, protect and guide us on our life journey. Did I cry? Yes. It was truly beautiful as was meeting Lebo after his performance.
November 07, 2012
Science & Nonduality: Where Data & Consciousness Meet Puppets and Tea
After a few days filling my head for ten hours a day at the Singularity Summit, to then spend a few days filling my head with discussions on nonduality had a weird rewiring effect on my brain. This happens often however given I'm such a sponge for all things 'possible' and both groups believe that all things are possible. One believes that technology will make all possibilities happen and the other is a bridge to "it," but with spirituality leading the way. Sort of.
Nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental intrinsic oneness.
I recently had the opportunity to attend an event that integrates both worlds: the SAND Conference or its longer known name: Science & Nonduality Conference. It's tagline: The Nature of the Self of course.
An annual event stateside and in Europe, it is held in San Rafael California in October and in the Netherlands in May. Nonduality is the main thread throughout however within that eye's view, people from all walks of life come together to discuss 'its' meaning and explore what is emerging in consciousness.
From scientists, philosphers, physicists, spiritual healers, sufi and zen teachers, yogis, and anthropologists, to musicians, artists, film producers, academics and psychotherapists, the conversation is a rich and rewarding one.
I spent ten days or so in Fiji a few years back learning the 'ins and outs' of the "oneness movement" (some people see it as a cult) and in the process, I became certified as an official Deeksha Blessing giver.
What does that mean exactly?
A Deeksha Blessing is a direct transfer of intelligent sacred energy and in this "transfer," people may cry or laugh as their heart opens in small or big ways. Inside this opening, everything from small shifts that can modify the dynamics of a relationship to transformations that can alter lives forever, erupt.
It can also bring about clarity or quiet a busy mind in a similar way that meditation achieves. What it doesn't promise to do, but can do, is open the door to higher states of awareness and initiate awakening...an awakening where there's a feeling of oneness and not a sense of separateness.
Their goal is to raise the level of consciousness globally through a "ripple effect that goes out to all of mankind." My personal experience with it was mixed.
In both giving and receiving a Deeksha Blessing, I did experience higher levels of awareness and it was evident to me at least, that a powerful energy exchange is not only possible, but it can move you into a different state.
In most cases, it's a purer stage of being where your awareness is elevated and your heart is more open. I saw some powerful things happen as a result of this energy exchange over time...in Fiji, and later in the states.
That said, I believe most of our spiritual growth comes from within ourselves, deeksha blessing or not, as powerful as it may be. It happens when we let go of our fears.
A feeling of oneness in its truest sense comes from a place of unconditional love for everyone around us, not just our immediate family. This includes self love, which more people have a hard time with than loving others.
It's also about getting out of our own way and most importantly, letting go. Letting go, silenting the mind and being present is when I go to a higher level of consciousness and the beauty about it, is that its consistent.
When I truly turn off the brain and stop my over processing which I do often (aka a state of being paralyzed by "thought"), then magic begins. This is hard work or so we think it is. That's the paradox. Once we stop fighting our mind's paralyzed state, then things move as smoothly as a light airy tube flows down a river.
Once we are transformed ourselves, we can transform people around us, including the planet.
The cool thing is that while spiritual teachers and philosophers have been writing about the concept of oneness and higher consciousness (and living it) for centuries, western scientists are now arriving at the same conclusion:
"The universe does indeed comprise of a single substance, presumably created during the Big Bang, and all sense of being - consciousness - subsequently arises from it. This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another, we are all drops of the same ocean."
Eastern Mysticism is now meeting Quantum Mechanics. If both the left brains and right brains are starting to agree that we're all drops of the same ocean, why is it that we beat ourselves up and continue to live our lives from a place of fear rather than love and acceptance?
Like so many, I'm often hard on myself (note: that's "thought" speaking) and so it was no surprise that I was hard on myself several times throughout the weekend. This was the kind of conference where you 'shouldn't be' hard on yourself, I thought. (there's "thought" speaking again).
Ever have one of those "be damned" conversations inside your head that goes nowhere?
Ginu Yu writes in a blog post on nonduality: "nondualists often resort to the metaphor of a movie that's being projected on an infinite screen. Even though the characters and the scenery appear to be separate and interactive, the only thing that's really real is the white, seamless screen that's accepting the melodramatic and illusory story that's being projected upon it. Nondualists claim that, instead of you being just a small and limited character playing a part in your life's story, that, in truth, you're actually the entire infinite screen itself. From their point of view, you are the very context in which ALL of life itself is showing up in."
There are obviously people playing and working at various levels of consciousness and when you find yourself face-to-face with a really quiet soul, you become even more aware of the chatter going on in your head. This happened to me on a number of occasions at the SAND event including the brief exchange I had with Francis Lucille, an Advaita Vedanta (non-duality) teacher, who was respected by pretty much everyone I spoke to.
Even when we know its absurd to compare our states of being with others around us, it happens. For a moment in time, we return to a high school mentality and create a reality that may or may not be true.
Most of the time, the reality is in our heads and when we create that reality, the world mirrors that reality back to us. And so, suddenly what is a perceived illusion does in fact become a reality of sorts, something we have the power to change instantly...in the moment of "decision."
Rather than be effected by the noise, become the noise, let it diffuse around you as you become 'it' and suddenly the voices of that unremarkable high school playground will eventually disappear.
One of the things I loved about the event was the diversity of minds at the table...when science gets a seat at the spiritual table and both sides can respect each other and move mountains together, then oneness starts to take on a new meaning. It becomes Global. Cultural. Intellectual. Spiritual. Psychological. Scientific. And all of it ends at the same place: nonduality. We are one.
On the path to a so called golden age for humanity like everyone else there, I found beauty, purpose and deeper understanding in the simplest of things.
Although the sessions were led by respected speakers who flew in from around the world, it was the conversations in the hallways that moved me the most, sitting down in a circle, listening, asking questions and then just not doing anything at all. Well, maybe nothing at all over a cuppa tea.
I was taken in on more than one occasion with welcoming smiles by two guys obsessed with tea more than life itself. Almost. There were two round tables set up with short backless chairs surrounding them.
They led tea ceremonies all day, every day and to participate, all you had to do was take a seat at the table. It was called the OmShanTea Lounge.
Sitting was always a treasure because it meant meeting a new soul every time; sometimes it was someone at the middle of his or her journey who was struggling with one thing or another and sometimes it was someone you felt never had to struggle at all. Miraculously, they had arrived on this planet inherently and quietly knowing all the answers by the age of ten.
When we let go of our stories, I find that just when I think I'm the teacher, I'm actually the student and vice versa. More often than not, we are both in every encounter. Awareness of that exchange even if we don't necessarily understand it, is such a beautiful thing. And, the whole conference was a bit like that.
There were too many sessions and speakers to list since the event is four days (and nights) long but you can get a glimpse of this year's schedule here. Topics I expected to see included sessions such as: The Practice of Selflessness, The Self and Non-Duality in Sufism, Closing the Gap Between "I" and my "Self", The Art of Being Present and the Poetry of Infinite Belonging.
But, there were also sessions on health and disease, spiritual ecology and a response to our present ecological crisis, getting the same result through magic mushrooms and meditation, psychedelic research, revealing the self through Kabbalah & Alchemy, theta consciousness and the heart of quantum phsyics. John Hagelin gave an inspiring talk on Higher States: The Neurophysiology of Enlightenment.
A few sessions I missed but would have loved to be sitting front row center for, included the Yin-Yang Theory for Transformation: Applying Feminine and Masculine Principles for Awakening by Mukti, An Integral Approach to Dreams by Fariba Bogzaran & Daniel Deslauriers, Unmani's Unravelling the great pretence of who you think you are and Adyashanti's Mystery of Being.
Since I am so physical and being in a creative state through my body is at my core, my favorite sessions were those which involved elevating 'self' through movement and music. They had daily activities in a space they referred to as the Experiential Room.
Other opportunities included the energy of sound and Shamanic Practice, African drums, TransDance with Heather Munroe Pierce and a very cool session called the Fusion of Opposites in the Circular Portal, a hoop-dance exploration with Stefana Serafina.
I also had a lot of fun meeting (and then kissing) Puppetji, a puppet who enlightens you through simple reminders of what's real, and Meriel Gold's drawing class.
Muriel's drawing class seemed to be popular since it was sold out when I arrived. Graciously, a man gave me his seat and announced he was off to carve pumpkins with a two year old. I didn't know anything about her except that she had an English accent, was from Scottish descent and had that dry sense of humor that only someone who was born there or who has lived there can truly appreciate. I loved her energy immediately.
Scrolls of large paper hung off long wide tables and next to each sitting space was a round block of brown clay, a feather, and a couple utensils that could be used to scatter wet clay or ink on the paper.
Since I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I didn't realize until after I soaked my hands in water and bathed them with clay, that I'd be drawing nudes, but without my eyes. Well, sort of.
Her intention was for us to draw with our hands while feeling what we saw rather than putting 'thought' into what we saw. As my creative busy brain started to take over, Muriel came straight for me, grabbed my hands and softened them over the paper as they were but an airbrush and the paper was but a cloud.
Alas, I "get it" Muriel, I "get it." Pure, simple, musical and divine, my hands don't want to think as much as my brain doesn't want to really think. "Thought" so often gets in the way of us doing our best work....our most divine work.
I didn't want to leave the room but eventually afternoon turned into evening and I found myself covered in wet clay from head to toe. Little did I know that I'd still find clay stains on my body and clothes days later even after showers and laundry.
Senegalese musician Youssoupha Sidibe is a Kora player who performed for us. His music fuses traditional West African sounds on the Kora, with the Sufi devotional chanting of the Senegalese Baay Faal community. (see video)
Films also played throughout the conference including Kumare, Neti Neti, Nataraja (The Dance of Life), The Unknowable Reality of Things, and others.
Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo produce and run the conference and being around them is pure joy. If you have an opportunity to attend one of their events, I'd strongly recommend it.
If you want to transform your life, engage with some of the world's leading thinkers and nondoers in the world of consciousness and join a community that bridges the best of the spiritual world with the best of the scientific world, SAND is an incredible journey.
Besides, where else do you have an opportunity to sip transformative tea, kiss a puppet guru, meditate, do yoga, and African dance in the same morning? OR, watch spiritual films, finger paint and grow from some of the most respected spiritual and scientific leaders today in the same afternoon?
Thank you to Maurizio and Zaya for an opportunity to spend time with so many beautiful souls, Ginu Yu who introduced me to their world and Nick Day for his patience and support while I went off target, back on target and then off target again.
We are all on our own journey. It's important to recognize this and move the needle forward one step at a time until we are free from the thought (and thoughts) that bind us from living a remarkable life every minute of the day.
Photo credits in order of apperance, IAwakeBlog, HolyBooks, BeforeGlow, Unknown, Unknown, Renee Blodgett (Francis shot), Lands of Wisdom and Renee Blodgett. For more on spirituality on WBTW, go here. Read my latest tweets @magicsaucemedia and @weblogtheworld.
November 05, 2012
The Singularity Understood & Misunderstood
I've been attending Singularity events since they started having them, before people really knew what singularity meant.
Frankly, most people still don't.
Outside high powered technology circles and intellectuals, singularity isn't a topic that is discussed on dates or at the dinner table, even in Silicon Valley where technology and deals are sexier than toned women in miniskirts.
According to Wikipedia, "the technological singularity is the theoretical emergence of greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood."
Advocates talk about an "intelligence explosion", where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, AND most importantly, that they won't stop until the cognitive abilities surpass the human mind.
Whoah Nellie! That's what I said when I first read Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near and on many occasions since being involved in "singularity circles" since then. It's a scary concept for mere mortals to comprehend, at least until you better understand the landscape.
The term was popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who I had an opportunity to hang with at the latest Singularity Summit in San Francisco in October. He argues that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement or brain-computer interfaces might be possible causes of the singularity.
Think of it as an era in time where civilization as we know has dramatically changed. The Singularians (yes, that's what they call themselves), believe that this era will "transcend our biological limitations and amplify our creativity."
I love that but wonder if technological singularity is the only way (or the best way) to transcend and amplify humans.
There is a group of spiritual and creative types like me who are intrigued by the singularity. We find some truth to it and while some of it sounds attractive and appealing, there's a whole subsection of the singularity world that takes me back to "Whoah Nellie" again and again.
When you sit on the right brain side of the fence for most of your life, you find yourself arguing (oops, debating) with scientists and technologists about all the issues that are often left out of the discussion, like emotions, love and feeling. Oh yeah, and intuition, something women have notoriously 'owned' because we're so damn good at it.
One could argue that in this new era, things like emotion and love will be transformed also, so how we view matters of the heart will not be the same way we view them today. In other words, there's no point trying to figure out how they'll matter in this new era because everything will be transcended: our intelligence and our emotional states.
What I love about singularian culture (if there is such a thing), is the commitment to progress, technological advancement (largely for positive change) and the ongoing, intriguing debate about the future and where we're heading. And, oh btw, it's an opportunity to learn from some of the greatest minds who are pushing the needle forward today.
If you have a discussion with someone about singularity who knows what they're talking about, you shouldn't be too far along in the conversation before the phrase exponential growth comes up, a phrase referred to by Moore's Law as a logical reason why we can expect the singularity to happen sooner than some believe.
So, who's among this circle aside from respected futurist Ray Kurzweil (below) and scientist fiction writer Vernor Vinge? It's broad and growing every day.
They've even formed a university around it, whose mission is to assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.
Hans Moravec and Eliezer Yudkowsky are also cited as singularity theorists and the circle is expanding as "its" tentacles dip into other industries.
Speakers at the recent Singularity Summit included thinkers and entrepreneurs such as Julia Galef who spoke on rationality, cognition and the future, Linda Avey who addressed personal genomics, and professor Steven Pinker (below) who took us through a history of violence. (video here)
We also had an interactive dialogue with Daniel Kahneman, heard about artificial intelligence and the barrier of meaning from Melanie Mitchell, and our 'viral' future from Carl Zimmer. (below)
A quest in metaphysics was explored by Jaan Tallinn (below), Robin Hanson's topic was: A Tsunami of Life: The Extraordinary Society of Emulated Minds and Stuart Armstrong discussed how we're 'predicting' AI.
Temple Grandin who has done a lot of work with autism spoke to us about different types of thinking. There's the photorealistic visual thinker (poor in algebra), the pattern thinker (poor at music & math), the verbal mind (poor at drawing) and the auditory thinkers (who are poor at drawing). She brought up the power of bottom up thinking rather than bottom down, where you learn by specific examples. In other words, get out and discover things, citing travel as a great educator. Hear hear.
She says, "many talented, quirky and gifted students are going nowhere because they have no mentors to help them through their quirkiness." So right. While I received emotional support from my grandparents along the way (they raised me), I received more emotional support from random mentors who fell into my life path, amazing accidents in time I thought as a child.
Pinker, who took us on a journey of violence, talked about its connection to literacy. Much of his research wouldn't surprise anyone since its logical: literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the equation, winning over superstitious thinking.
Literacy is also a mixture of cosmopolitanism, where you increasingly consume fiction, drama, journalism and the arts.
The implication of this over time resulted in the need to redefine modernity...what culture means: our tribes, family, community and religion.
Like Kurzweil, I always love hearing Pinker speak. My brain is better off at the end of it.
So, if singularity thinking is drawing some of the best and the brightest, what's the real controversy aside from fear of the unknown, which is inevitable?
Carl H. Flygt quotes Bill Joy in a paper he wrote in 2005 on singularity theory:
“A traditional utopia is a good society and a good life involving other people,” says Bill Joy. “This techno-utopia is all about: ‘I don’t get diseases; I don’t die; I get to have better eyesight and be smarter’ and all of this. If you described this to Socrates or Plato they would laugh at you.”
But the paper goes on to say, "But Socrates or Plato would not laugh at the idea of pure conversation, which cuts off the me-talk before it can start and puts the human being directly in community with the reality of his (her) cosmic consciousness, of his (her) ontological impulses and of his (her) capacity for self-control and settlement into the higher bodies given human nature by its cosmic mereology."
I have no clue whether this paper has any credibility and note that it's also now seven years old...but, it was and is a viewpoint. Naysayer LogicPriest who calls himself an atheist, skeptic, anti-authoritarian and crazy person who likes cat and among other things, science, doesn't discount that AI isn't possible because any system of enough complexity can emerge into intelligence. He feels we may have very little to say to it however.
He writes: "we would need to emulate much of ourselves in an AI. We would need some pretend body and environment, some emulated limbic and nervous system (the brain is only PART of the nervous system, something most futurists forget). We would also need to build a completely different type of computer, one where the architecture is structurally tied to certain actions, one with DNA instructions, separate abstracted layers like our 'reptile' brain to work it's normal, computer functions and higher order processors for complex thought."
Regardless if you're an outside observer who is merely curious, a student of science, or writers like those I discovered in my search who have strong opinions on the topic, technology is accelerating with a force that's hard to deny. It is working its way into our every existence.
Consider that we use it get directions, read digital books, buy products and communicate to the outside world not to mention the people who email a loved one in the very next room rather than have a "human" conversation with them.
We use it for voting, research, asking questions on the most basic things like how to start a lawnmower or how to cook a turkey, sending photos to grandparents, watching a movie and monitoring our diets. We even use it to virtually talk to doctors about our health, consultants about our finances and teachers about our children's education. There's no end to how and where we use it or will use it in the not too distant future. Augmented reality is here and expanding.
The real question is a moral and ethical one. How conscious, present and aware are those who are building and executing the stuff that brings us into the next era, the one singularity promises is nearer than we think? What is their mission for "it" and for "us" as a species?
How will this explosion impact life as we know it? And, for women, artists, creative right brains and expressionists of the world, how will it impact things we hold so dear like love, emotion, physical relationships and our identity around spirituality?
What do you think?
Note: Twitter handles of some of the people either in this world or who talk about it from time-to-time: @raykurzweil2035 @labenz @lukeprog @laurademing @sydney_uni @ricolution @Sydney_ideas @jayrosen_nyc @biotechbusdev @elonmusk @robertwrighter @stephenfry @edge @rkurzban @temple_grandin @laurademing @lindaavey @sapinker @melmitchell1 @carlzimmer @robinhanson @wilbanks @ch402 @magicsaucemedia @noorFSiddigui
November 5, 2012 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Robotics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 04, 2012
Steven Pinker Speaks on Violence in San Francisco
His topic amongst a large group of singularians, scientists, authors, thinkers, students and technologists? Violence.
He took is on a journey of the decline of violence over time as a persistent development, showing methods that showed prehistoric violence versus the modern violence of today aka life before states and life after states.
It's obvious that literacy matters for a decrease in violence since it brings reason into the conversation ruling out and winning over superstition, which is still alive in a lot of more primitive cultures today.
See my latest write-up on singularity and the future of technology based on my most recent experience at the Singularity Summit. Below is a short video excerpt from his talk.
Video and photo credit: Renee Blodgett.
November 02, 2012
Crowdfunding: A Conflict for VCs or a Path to Economic Recovery?
I attended an event on crowdfunding recently. Entrepreneurs are dabbling in anything and everything "crowd" lately - from attracting vendor and engineering talent to volunteers and now, funding. I've had friends test out Kickstarter which is an interesting model if you don't need a lot of cash to jumpstart your project.
It's easier to get low-level investors on board since the commitment on the part of the 'investor' is minimal (mostly zero) and there's a reward kick back. I've contributed as little as $5-50 to a Kickstarter project and did it because it was a cool idea and just wanted to help. You'd need a helluva lot of "me's" to make it worthwhile at that level but there are others who will invest $100, $1K or $10K into the pool depending in their interest and wallet size.
Other reward based crowdfunding platforms include IndieGoGo and RocketHub, all of which are operating in the new paradigm without a lot of rules and regulations, aka pre the implementation of the 506c Act.
In a conversation on crowdfunding and alternative funding for start-ups, below are two videos (Part I and Part II) that discuss the pros and cons. Note that it IS a VERY Silicon Valley viewpoint and I haven't met a whole lotta venture capitalists from major firms who want to deal with the aftermath of early investors no longer being one or two angels but being 25 random no-names instead. There are complications AND implications.
On the panel included Gerd Goete, Siemens Venture Capital, Partner, Don Ross, HealthTech Capital, Managing Director and Founder, Sand Hill Angels, Board Director and Life Science Angels, Member Carol Sands, The Angels' Forum, Managing Member, Graham Burnette, SBV Capital Partners and Red Planet Capital, General Partner and Royse Law's Roger Royse.
I didn't get the sense that VCs (or at least traditional VCs) would be in full support of coming in after crowdfunders, largely because of what's involved: complicated, too many heads at the table, dillution and more. Silicon Valley focused, their mantra was more around the traditional tools that make a startup successful in the long term: domain expertise, access to the right people, advice and coaching and the amount of due diligence that goes into a deal.
There's no question that access to the right people and being 'aligned' with the right people accelerate deal flow and increase the likelihood of a successful exit. If you're Kleiner backed, your chances of success go up regardless of what kind of "useless" app you have.
There are the notorious three risks, which include:
1. Technology Risk - do you have a kick-ass technology? (my words, not theirs?). Can it do what it says it will do? Will it live up to the promise?
2. Market Risk - is there a big enough market for your products?
3. Expansion Risk - this comes into play as you start to scale. Can you make a big enough return that is attractive for YOU and for them? (aka, your investors)
Their argument was that dozens or possibly hundreds of 'crowdsourced' investors can't help with 1, 2 or 3. That said, my argument would be that there are a ton of businesses who don't need to go through the traditional Silicon Valley funding route and while crowdfunding may not give them millions, they still may be able to find advisors for a point or two who can leapfrog them into the right 'tribe' so they can be successful without giving away the store to a traditional VC firm.
It is indeed an alternative and some business models and businesses will work and some won't.
Points for considration include: public solicitations and use of social media, advertising terms of offer being restricted to the fact that the issuer can only direct investors to a broker/funding portal, the additional costs invovled with disclosure and reporting, use of an intermediary, risk of fraud (goes up as this model expands), and the point that the VCs and angels on the panel referenced again and again: the high number of unsophisticated investors (which leads to fiduciary duties to all investors and as our Silicon Valley finance pals pointed out, all of "it" a concern for VCs for future fundraising rounds).
We learned a bit more about new guidelines under the proposed 506 regulations.
For example, it would allow for public advertising and general solicitation in Rule 506 offerings, provided that the issuer takes reasonable steps to verify that potential investors are accredited, and all investors are accredited (or the issuer reasonably believes they are) at the time of the sale of securities.
This results in all sorts of issues we haven't faced before under traditional models, including the nature and terms of the offering which are unique. Is it a low verus high investment? What are the terms? Who has a voice and doesn't? And of course bearing in mind that there will be more steps needed to verify 'accredited' status.
Proposed crowdfunding regulations are slated to be released in January 2013. Videos below in Part I and 2 of the panel (roughly 20 minutes for each video - feel free to view the whole thing or catch snippets in stages to get an overview).
The event was part of iHollywood Forum, and their new brand Angel Launch, which produces dinners, venture forums, and seminars for entertainment, Web, Internet, mobile and tech ventures and startups.
Also refer to a Forbes article on crowdfunding where they also talk about the above legislation and a bill that had full bipartisan support this year called JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act, which is a series of 6 bills tied together designed to make it easier for startups to gain access to capital.
Photo credit: Forbes.
October 23, 2012
SXSW's New Event V2V Aimed at Entrepreneurial Innovation
They'll have panel discussions, workshops, mentor and coaching sessions, pitch events, rapid-fire presentations, and networking opportunities.
SXSW V2V is an extension and re-imagining of the legendary SXSW experience with an emphasis on the creative spark that drives entrepreneurial innovation. This event brings the startup and venture capital communities together with creative industries.
They plan to cover the following markets: technology, music, film, fashion, health, education, sustainability, and others. The price to attend is $695 through December 14, 2012.
October 22, 2012
New England Venture Summit in Boston
Now in its 7th year, the Annual New England Venture Summit, held on December 5, is an opportunity for start-ups and small businesses to connect with early stage VCs.
VCs and Experts confirmed to speak include:
- Zaid Ashai, General Partner, Point Judith Capital
- David Audibert, Managing Director, Investments, Connecticut Innovations
- Daniel Behr, Senior Vice President & Founder, Access Bridgegap Ventures
- Michael Bishop, Senior Associate, Black Coral Capital
- Nathaniel Brinn, Principal, Vital Financial
- Jason Caplain, General Partner, Southern Capitol Ventures
- Andrew Clapp, Managing Partner, Actaris Capital Partners
- Mark Peter Davis, Venture Partner, High Peaks Venture Partners
- Teodoro Forcht Dagi, Partner, HLM Venture Partners
- Brian Duncan, Venture Partner, Arboretum Ventures
- Steven Dupree, General Partner, Richmond Global
- Patrick Eggen, Senior Investment Manager, Qualcomm Ventures
- Amy Errett, Partner, Maveron
- Peter Feinstein, Managing Director, Bioventures Investors
- Guy Fish, Vice President, Fletcher Spaght Ventures
- Paul Flanagan, Managing Director, Sigma Prime Ventures
- Jonathan Fleming, Managing Partner, Oxford Bioscience Partners
- Stan Fung, Managing Director, FarSight Ventures
- Alexander Galitsky, Managing Partner, Almaz Capital Partners
- Sean Glass, Venture Partner, Novak Biddle Venture Partners
- Mark Goodman, Founder, Terawatt Ventures
- Matthew Growney, Managing Partner, Rudyard Partners
- Krishna Gupta, Founder & General Partner, Romulus Capital
- Bosun Hau, Partner, MVM Life Sciences
- Mahesh Konduru, Principal, Potomac Energy Fund
- Ben Lin, Managing Partner. Great Oaks Venture Capital
- Alexander Lloyd, Managing Director, Accelerator Ventures
- Peter Longo, President & Chief Investment Officer, Connecticut Innovations
- Nick MacShane, Senior Managing Director, Progress Ventures
- Dhiraj Malkani, Partner, Rockport Capital Partners
- Corey McCann, Principal, MPM BioVentures
- Vincent Miles, Venture Partner, Abingworth
- Ira Nydick, Senior Technology Analyst, Panasonic Venture Group
- Patrick O’Neill, Director, Investments, Connecticut Innovations
- John Onopchenko, Managing Director, Synergy Life Science Partners
- Alessandro Piol, Partner & Co-Founder, Vedanta Capital
- Kathleen Regan, Venture Partner, Radius Ventures
- Bill Reichert, Managing Director, Garage Technology Ventures
- Cynthia Ringo, Managing Partner, DBL Investors
- Gary Rubinoff, Managing Partner, Summerhill Venture Partners
- Praveen Sahay, Founder & Managing Director, WAVE Equity Partners
- John Simon, Managing Director, General Catalyst Partners
- Richard Steubi, Managing Director, Early Stage Partners
- Yanev Suissa, Investor at NEA, New Enterprise Associates
- Jeanne Sullivan, General Partner, StarVest Partners
- Anthony Sun, Partner, Aisling Capital
- Roger Sun, Principal, Baxter Ventures
- Markus Thill, Managing Director, Robert Bosch Venture Capital
- Mark Wright, Managing Director, Blue Chip Venture Company
October 09, 2012
TEDxFillmore: From Politics, Democracy & Jazz to Hip Hop, Eastern Europe & Burning Man
TEDxFillmore just had their event at Yoshi's along San Francisco's Fillmore Street this past week.
Director, Producer & Writer Thomas Simpson (left), was the emcee and the theme was "Passing the Baton."
While this may mean different things to different people, typically, batons are passed in relay races. The intention is to hand off the batons from one person to another while attempting to cross the line. The baton in the case of this TEDx theme is meant figuratively and can mean past to the future, old to young, young to old, teacher to student, student to teacher and so on...
The event, curated by Chris and Moki Evans brought together six speakers to a stage set up on the main floor of Yoshi's Jazz Club, a renowned music venue designed by award winning architect Mori Moto that features the best of local, national and international performance artists.The line-up included founder of The Jazz & Democracy Project Dr. Wes Watkins, Catholic Roman Catholic Priest Dr. Victoria Rue, travel writer & adventure seeker Francis Tapon, poet and arts educator Dyanna Loeb, entrepreneur Harley Sitner and poet Zienab Abdelgany. All of them interesting, all of them engaging, all of them inspirational.
"Jazz is a shared democracy, a shared experience, a shared leadership," he says. Jazz musicians improvise and from that perspective, they live on the edge nearly all the time. They trust that you'll go on a journey with them and you trust that that improvisation will just work and it almost always does.
The question of "who am I" is so paramount fo jazz musicians, just as much as the interaction with the audience is. "Who am I" he says, is what the musician shows us through his or her music. "Democracy is the same way," he exerts.
"Democracy has a certain tension, created originally by our forefathers when they set up checks and balances to keep different branches of government in place. The way jazz musicians create that tension is to listen and respond." He quotes Miles Davis who had often said, "first listen and then play." His belief is that government can learn a lot from jazz masters and that understanding jazz at its core can show us the way forward in American politics today.
He pointed to a few observations:
- New technologies in play where everything is open.
- There's a transparent government. Bear in mind that if government transparency is only about management of mistrust, then we start to face 1984 in reverse.
- Any unveiling is also veiling. Read what you will from this statement, but it's profound. Just go there in the context of his thinking.
My favorite quote all night? In America's earliest days, Black African Americans were in the shadow of the country's "light." MUSIC reflected that light says Watkins. He added, "Embedded in the music was the very core and essence of who we are."
GOD, I loved that and it made me think of a personal guru of mine Frankie Manning (now deceased though I took more than a dozen classes from him), other jazz and dance training and experiences and over the years, and I thought how true that was/is and I'm not even part of that old Jazz era where they faced anything and everything and yet the purity of that golden age Jazz culture thrived.
Watkins never made this (aka, the above) correlation to democracy and jazz but I thought of it hours later after meeting him for the first time: Flexibility and adaptability is in the heart of every American immigrant. Jazz represents 'that.' Jazz resprents 'creation' on-the-fly and innovation in the moment, I thought, and isn't that everything this country stands for (or stood for....see my book review on Rescue America: What Made This Country Great).
Then, Francis Tapon took us on a journey that started with a question about how do you evaluate your life on a scale of 1-10?
Through travel, he claims that you can move that number from perhaps a 5 or 6 or even an 8 to a ten.
Okay, so it's not easy for most of us to take off six months or even one or two months (or even weeks), particularly if we have a family we're supporting in some way shape or form. His take away is "just get out there and do it - get present with nature and the environment, even if its 48 hours...."
In other words, transformative life experiences result in just taking the chance. AKA - seize the opportunity, whether it be hours, days, weeks, months or years. We all have our own thresholds and we likely all have a handful of dreams we're not turning into reality.
BTW, while it is very un TED-like to give a book a plug, I'm actually in the process of reading Tapon's latest book: The Hidden Europe (behind the scenes of Eastern Europe).
Like Francis, I spent time backpacking through Eastern Europe in the late eighties and early nineties, a volatile and pivotal time for the region. He brings us a step further and cites cultural, language and anecdotal references throughout.
While I'm not finished with the book yet, I can't wait to plough through the cultural nuances of every Eastern country one page at a time. The reading is great so far - am loving it! From history, hiking (suck it up babe, if it ain't a 1,000 mile trail then...) and cultural insights learned to language faux pas and sexual encounters, he keeps you engaged throughout. I plan to do a book review once I have finished the delicious 736 page book.
Below is the video of his TEDx talk:
Dyanna Loeb aka Dyna*Mic is an MC, poet and arts educator who started performing with Youth Speaks in 2001.
She has shared her words and music for international audiences, at venues including the San Francisco Opera House, the Nuyorican (NYC), and Project HeartBeat Jerusalem.
What's eerily odd about listening to her is her conviction to Judiasm and yet she's kinda rapping -- poetically so -- in every number she performs.
If I didn't know she was Jewish (in advance), it would make more sense listening to her work knowing that 'she is.' (Trust me, I met her mother and meeting 'a' mom on any first encounter adds a lot of data does it not?)
After listening to several excerpts and looking at the way this woman dresses, you find yourself thinking "this doesn't add up." Stereotypes be GONE is the lesson of the day. Even when we don't have them or think we have them or think we think that we don't have them but do have them, we do. We're human after all.
Despite how talented Dyanna is (and she TRULY is btw), this juxtoposition, the one that doesn't make sense to any viewer upon first glance, is her biggest gift in my humble opinion...
Even though her poetry and songs have been featured on several releases through Youth Movement Records, where she co-founded a writing workshop for incarcerated youth in Alameda County Juvenile Hall and she has performed around the country, her work isn't nationally known...Widely so anyway.
YET, this woman has a command of poetic language in a way that tells the traditional and the untraditional stories not to mention the hopes and fears of the Jews through rap (and poetry). All of it is so deliciously unrefined while being refined, and energetic and cool at the same time.
She has toured the Pacific Northwest to perform for Amnesty International's Make Some Noise for Darfur benefit. Her first chapbook, "Birkat HaGomel: A Survivor's Blessing" was published in 2010.
A snippet below of her work:
Victoria Rue wanted to make sure we understood that women priests were not copies of 'male priests." "We're not interested in brocades," she says. "Women and 'feminine' priests are interested in understanding that it's not just about adding 'women to the mix' and calling it 'a day.'
Rue has studied liberation, feminist, and even lesbian theology. She likes to call her degree an M-Diva degree. Still, not commonplace! (not even close)
She reminds us that the female body has been put in the closet by the Roman Catholic Church for centuries and being 'proud of it' as a women' is still discouraged today. It's 2012. Women's bodies have repesented lust and sex for decades (okay, centuries) which .... she says, "must have been an embarrassment to a patriarchal God."
She continues, "Feminist patriarchal Gods don't believe in that kind of God, a kind of God that excludes. We believe in a God that embraces equality for all." Asserting that langage is a critical component in life (loved her btw), she cites example after example of phrases that support movement and ones that don't -- from historical times to present day.
Bulgarian-born Ivan Krastev 'showed up' on video only...aka, we never met the man. He humorously reminds us that the Bulargians are one of the most depressed cultures on the planet. I looked over at Francis during his talk...he smiled while I remembered stats that supported the 'same' in his Hidden Europe book. (I'm currently on Croatia, about half way through the book - meaning I finished the chapter on Bulgaria).
He started and has subsequently led a sub-community at Burning Man called "Hippo Campus."
What was refreshing was the reminder that despite how 'plugged in' we think we are, we're not all that plugged in.
In other words, we're all islands within our own micro-communities and while they may grow to be thousands in numbers, still....only a small number of people know who we are, what we do, why we're valuable and a step further, why contribute in a way to accelerate that community or group?
Harley talked about group behavior. Crikey, I live in Silicon Valley and on many levels, feel as if I know every "Burner -- aka term given to a Burning Man attendee" on the planet....AND YET, I had not hard of Hippo Campus, a community which given the talk, would appear to be infamous worldwide.
Despite the fact that its not on my radar, according to Harley, the community not only exists, but it's thriving and renowned. In the passing of baton-theme, he talked about how they consciously created 'shared experiences' as they grew in size.
KEY? Highlighting the fact that everyone has a 'unique gift' and that it's up to the community to identify each person's unique gift and to help manifest that 'gift' -- to the world.
He notes an observation that pertains to every organizational culture I know of on the planet - transitioning a personality-led culture to an organizational-led culture is really hard....more often that not, it simply fails. Lessons learned, he cites among others, these cores:
- Have No Drama.
- Have Radical Accountability.
- Identify Sexy Projects...Sexy = Helpful and Authentic. It's All in the Terminology. (I added that part).
- Fall Without Fear.
- There is no Perfect Way.
- Surface Area for Participation and Experimentation.
- AT the end of the day, Harley reminds us that "culture transcends EVERYTHING. Culture is the DNA of the organization." Hear hear.
- This couldn't be further from the truth in my own experience over the years, whether it was the size of a company like Computer Associates or Novell in its heydey or one of the umpteen start-ups I've launced over the past 15+ years.
Egyptian Zienab Abdelgany surprised and delighted me. While she grew up in Irvine and went to UC Berkeley, she has always been heavily involved in organizing the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities.
Currently, she is researching Pro-Palestine communities and effors and has been writing poetry that spans across all of these issues.
Her sweet spot? She speaks on identity and the politics of personhood.
Her energy and authenticity were wonderful. I loved her encouragement is to ask away despite how stupid and culturally ill-fitting the question may appear. Asking and being genuine and authentic in your ask regardless of what it is, is the first step.
Additionally, musicians Therese Taylor and James Whiton played. Below are the hands of Whiton as he played a follow up jazz number appropriately following Watkin's talk on "Where Jazz Meets Democracy." My title, not his, but you get the point.
Below is a group shot of 4 out of the 6 speakers, the two curators and both musical performers.
All photos credits by Renee Blodgett.
October 08, 2012
Don't Die a Slow Death in a Mountain of Business Cards: Try inTooch!
When I learn about new products or services, these are my two go to questions: would I use this today and does this solve a real problem that I've had for awhile?
When inTooch co-founder and CEO Julien Salanon gave me his pitch and suggested we work together, I was at first skeptical about their promise: to eliminate the business card problem.
While it's too early to tell since there are so many variables in this business not to mention human behavior, as a fellow entrepreneur, I couldn't help but be intrigued by his idea. And besides, Julien has one of those personalities that is impossible not to like.
He shared a story with me as we sipped tea at one of my favorite haunts in San Francisco's SOMA. Nearly ten years ago, he was at an important conference and forgot his business cards and a result, important connections were lost.
Over the last decade, he said that he tried several apps to solve this business-card issue, but none of them worked. They still don't. Don't even get me started with BUMP btw, an app that peer pressure forced me to download yet it only worked one out of ten times I tried it. And, frankly, the whole concept of crashing two phones together doesn't quite gel with me.
Julien said, "whenever I didn't have a business card or they didn't, I ended up calling the other person to leave my mobile number. And, that’s when I got the idea to enhance those natural connections with inTooch.”
While I may not call every person I meet at a conference, when I do meet someone I want to stay in touch with and we don't have a pen or card, what happens? They call me so the number is saved in my phone. What I don't have in that scenario of course is their name or email automatically, but it's a process that works in a pinch.
inTooch takes it a step further allowing you to email or call them on the fly which automatically sends a link: this link is the conduit which allows that exchange of information to happen. The beautiful part about the app and why it stands a strong chance of taking off, is that both parties don't need to have the app to work.
Intrigued that perhaps I'd soon have a client with a product I'd ACTUALLY USE, I decided to be the evil dragonness to avoid any surprises later on, so I started drilling him with questions.
What about categorization I asked? Not in the first version he said, but it's coming. What about social networks? Built in he said. What about privacy and personalization? Built in he said. Hmm, I wanted categories of course given that I have nearly 100,000 contacts in my database, but also realize that I'm not your average Nelly when it comes to contact management.
As my friend Steve said, "you're not normal, you're in the business of needing to mate with the world. In fact, you love to mate with the world." I had to laugh. He's right. I love meeting people and no one seems to come home from an event with more business cards than I do.
AND, he said, the ability to add contacts to categories is coming. They already have the ability to separate personal and business contacts.
I'm a realist. Anyone who works with early start-ups needs to be a realist. Rome wasn't build in a day and most apps when they first go to market don't have every single detail or feature you want built in in their first version. As long as the team has it on the roadmap or thinking about it, it's good enough to give it a shot. If we didn't trust that process, real innovation wouldn't happen and we wouldn't be where we are today.
Unlike so many social apps that are Web 2.0 features rather than solutions to problems, I thought to myself, "inTooch would actually take care of a huge pain point in my life."
And so, we embarked on a journey in early September. Forward wind the clock. Julien took People's Choice Award at GigaOm's Mobilize in mid-September when he pitched a panel of VCs on stage.
Then, he officially launched inTooch on the DEMO Stage on October 3 with Dave Mathews in an amusing skit that included the duo tossing 2,000 business cards into the DEMO audience as they shouted FREEDOM, FREEDOM, FREEDOM.
At one point, I thought Julien might start dancing when the music came on. OR, maybe it was one of those Halleluja moments.
Consider this: did you realize that of all the people you meet at a conference or even in a personal situation, you won't stay in touch with 85% of them? Without sounding too trite - inTooch to the rescue.
Trust me, I want to be rescued and I think most of us do. I can't keep up with the volume of contacts and there are always people to want to follow up with and just don't have the time. There are also people's contact information I'm trying to locate months later and realized I didn't have time to enter their data.
There are 4 cool features I personally love about the app:
1. The Mobile Geo-Location Piece: since I travel a lot, I often think about people (and their faces) based on 'where' I met them. Oh yeah, that was John who I met at this festival in Louisville Kentucky, or that was Jeannie something and we hung out at CES in Las Vegas. Using geo-tagging, inTooch lets you search for people by location and their photo appears as well to jog your memory. Sweet!
2. Seamless/Fast: additionally, if I don't want to call the person or they don't want me to, I can shoot them an email and the inTooch connector still works. The other cool thing is that both parties don't need the app for the exchange to happen. Obviously the process is even faster if both people DO have the app, so I'd encourage everyone to download the app. Let the seamless exchange of data begin!
3. Social Network Exchange. So many people I meet under the age of 30 either don't have a business card (even in a business setting), give me their Twitter handle or say connect with me on Facebook. (as if I'm going to remember their name or handle the next day or a week later when I'm back home).
I'm always amazed that they think I'll take the time to jot down their data with a visual queue of our conversation. It's too much work. What's great about inTooch is that you can opt to include the exchange of your social network information as well. It currently supports LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
I've known Chris Taylor from Mashable for years and for some odd reason, didn't know he was @FutureBoy on Twitter. Ever try to Google a "common name's" Twitter handle and not get so frustrated by the fifth click that you finally give up? Don't get me started on the poor search functionality within Twitter itself although I know they're improving it all the time.
4. Augmented Reality: for personal encounters, inTooch brings augmented reality to your connections, alerting you to all the things you have in common with another person (friends, places you visited, music, movies you like, social network info, check-ins, interests you share) so you can instantly engage in mutually interesting conversations.
Bottom line, it's been a fun ride so far and we're only a month into it. Free to use, the app is available now for iPhone (except iOS6) and alive and ticking for the Android as well.
Support for iOS6, other platforms and mobile devices are also coming later this year.
So, give it a try. Don't die a slow death in a mountain of business cards like poor Matt Marshall here! Everyone has their limits.
Below is a video shot by Jean Baptiste Su of their demo presentation.
October 8, 2012 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Client Media Kudos, Conference Highlights, Events, On Mobile & Wireless, On Social CRM, On Technology, Social Media, Videos, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 05, 2012
Ray Kurzweil on Ethics & Natural Language Processing
Kurzweil, known for his work in voice recognition, natural language processing, singularity and future predictions, I'm always curious to hear what he's going to share, especially when he moves onto the brain.
Says Ray in a response to the question of why natural language processing has taken so long to advance, "you have to take a hierarchial approach just like human language - you have to build it that way. We learn things layer by layer and we have to educate our synthetic neocortexes too."
When you start to dive deep into a discussion about synthetic neocortexes, where do you go from there, particularly when the majority of the audience are Web 2.0 and mobile geeks not scientists or researchers. Venture Beat's Matt Marshall interviewed Ray, his next to last stage interview before leaving the DEMO Conferences as producer.
Matt asked about ethics, which was a perfect segway into artificial intelligence. You can't have a discussion with Ray without artificial intelligence coming up at least once.
"Technology has always been a double edged sword," says Ray. "Just like fire has been used for good and evil, AI can be as dangerous as fire when put in the wrong hands." He reminded the audience that AI is already widely distributed however and that it's not just being used in a dark lab in some government building.
And, look how far we've come. A kid in Africa now has access to more knowledge and information than the President of the United States did 20 years ago. If that's not an example of exponential growth, I don't know what is...
See below for the interview on video. Even though it is a HD video clip, bear in mind that the sound quality may not be crisp.