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The rise of the winged pink unicorn

21:33 | 20 February

Claire Diaz-Ortiz Contributor
Claire Diaz-Ortiz is an angel investor and bestselling author of nine books that have been published in more than a dozen countries. An early employee at Twitter, she was called “The Woman Who Got the Pope on Twitter” by Wired and holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford.

Like most investors, I am a little too obsessed with unicorns.

But not just the Silicon Valley kind. As the mother of a five-year-old daughter, my interests also veer in a pink, sparkly direction. So it should not be all that surprising that I recently found myself in a dusty corner of the internet where die-hard unicorn fans go to spread their wings.

It was there, deep in the My Little Pony forums, that one question stopped me in my tracks: “is a male alicorn possible in the future?1

An alicorn, for those uninitiated to the mythological particulars, is the rare winged, female version of a traditional unicorn.

My Little Pony popularized the term, and the fan forum on which user “Green Precision” asked his question back in 2015 had some interesting answers to the particulars of this philosophical dilemma.

Shadow Stallion responded immediately, “I don’t think a male Alicorn will be possible in the future. Not because its [sic] not wanted or because its [sic] not genetically possible…but generally when male characters are introduced to a show where female characters are prominent, things get ugly.”

Malinter posited, “they probably do but given the female-to-male ratio of Equestria2 they are probably exceptionally rare. The real problem for a male alicorn is not that they exist but where is their place in the world? …Our male alicorn has some pretty big hoof prints to fill in while at the same time not make a trainwreck of established lore.”

Wind Chaser went straight from unconscious bias to conscious bias in their response: “aesthetically a male alicorn just wouldn’t look right, because their bodies are already naturally larger than females, thus the wings would cause an imbalance to the design.”

But it wasn’t all bad news.

“Until it’s proven otherwise, it’s safe to say that something like a male alicorn is possible,” responded Geek0zoid. Crysahis agreed. “Overall yes, I believe there could be a male alicorn it may just take a while to actually happen!”

It doesn’t take a PhD in philosophy from Stanford or the one lone female investing partner at Sequoia3 to posit that these same conversations were probably happening all over Sandhill Road in December of 2009, as male VCs discussed whether female unicorns could actually happen4.

As we move into 2020, though, we’re about to see a pink, winged stampede.

Just look at the recent trends. In 2019, more female-funded unicorns were born than ever before.5 And things are only looking up. (I’m looking at you, ClassPass!)

Public opinion agrees. Alongside TruePublic, where I am an advisor and angel investor, I ran a study asking if people believed we would see more female-led unicorns in the 2020s.6 At the time of this article, 68% of the 6,500 respondents said they believed we would see more, with 30% of women responding “many more” (as opposed to only 16% of men). Only 4% of women, but 9% of men, responded “no, not a chance.”7

Kaben Clauson, founder and CEO, says “to represent Gen Z, Millennials and Gen X, TruePublic needs a weighted sample of roughly one thousand Americans to represent that population of the USA.” This particular study already has 6,500 respondents, making it statistically significant.

In fact, female-founded and female co-founded companies are actually over-indexing for unicorn status despite a lack of investment dollars.

Shelby Porges, co-founder of The Billion Dollar Fund for Women, explains: “Recent tracking has shown that female-founded companies represent 4% of all unicorns. That’s astonishing considering that in the past couple of years, they have gotten only slightly more than 2% of all venture funding.” Porges, whose group has mobilized more than 80 venture funds to pledge to invest over a billion dollars into women-founded companies, continues, “It demonstrates why we say, ‘when you invest in women, you’re in good company.’ ”

Here are the three reasons I believe a herd of winged female unicorns (OK, alicorns) is coming down the pipeline in the 2020s:

1. Women invest in women at 3x the rate of men

New data reveals that women invest in women at nearly three times the rate that men do and with the (slow) rise in the number of female investing partners at VCV firms, we are poised to see more and more gender-balanced founding teams getting funding.8 Like one male GP at one of the world’s top VC funds said to me when discussing one of the few female partners at his firm, “she always brings us parenting companies.” It might be cringe-worthy if TechCrunch hadn’t declared 2020 “a big year for online childcare” and that same female partner weren’t about to make a big chunk of cash thanks to all the upcoming parenting alicorns she was smartly funding.

Sophia Bendz, a partner at Atomico who also leads the Atomico Angel Program, said, “I’m confident we’ll see more female unicorns in the next decade because there’s a growing wave of ambitious female founders building incredible products and services. There are also more women in VC now and I’ve seen first-hand the impact having female investment partners can have on increasing the amount of investment into female-led companies. The data shows that women invest in women at three times the rate as male investment partners.”

My study at TruePublic coincided with these findings. When asked if a female investor was more likely to invest in a female entrepreneur, 64% of people responded affirmatively (64% of these individuals were women and 63% were men).9

Jomayra Herrera agrees. An investor at Cowboy Ventures (which thanks to Aileen Lee coined the term “unicorn” in the first place), and a volunteer with AllRaise, a nonprofit promoting women in VC, she says: “As the venture industry continues to diversify, especially as it relates to gender and race/ethnicity, I am optimistic that we will see more female-led and people of color-led unicorns over the next decade. We know that diverse teams not only function better, but they are able to see areas of opportunities that more homogenous teams might miss. I think the next generation of investors are more likely to question conventional wisdom, forms of pattern recognition that may lead to bias, and other structural barriers that have historically left out promising entrepreneurs.”

Camila Farani is a well-known investor in Brazil. As founder of G2 Capital, former president of Gavea Angels and a personality on Brazil’s “Shark Tank,” she says “having diverse points of view at the table makes the decision clearer and more certain. People who think differently than you and have other visions of the market, sometimes can show you what you can’t see by yourself.”

She also reminds us not to forget the impact that angel investors can have. “The investments market is still made up mostly of men, but this landscape is changing gradually. It is interesting to see that angel investing is being the most common choice for women who want to make their first investments.”

This trend of investing more in women isn’t just limited to female investors. Susana Robles has spent two decades leading the charge to invest in women in Latin America and alongside Marta Cruz of NXTP Labs is co-founder of WeXchange, a platform that connects women entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean with mentors and investors.

As Robles says, “I think the world is finally waking up to the fact that there is serious research proving that startups with women co-founders win in all aspects: profitability, as well as greater social and environmental awareness. Investors should want to have this triple win.” She continues, “women tend to return money to investors faster than men, and at the same time, they obtain higher returns. Women are in charge of 64% of all global purchasing decisions on products and services, so having women on C-level positions increases the chance that a startup [will] be highly attractive to a massive market and become a unicorn.”

It also extends to the LPs in the funds. “I also think many investors in funds (mostly DFIs [development finance institutions] but not exclusively) have become more vocal in stating that they don’t want any more to invest in teams led by an all-white, all-male cast who choose startups with all-white, all-male founders.” Jennifer Neundorfer is the co-founder of Jane VC and an investor in Kinside, a parenting app that just raised a $3 million seed round. When describing her fund’s rationale for focusing on female founders, she drops the mic: “we’re going to invest in an under-looked asset class that is overperforming.” Boom.

2. Female founders are creating new billion-dollar markets

Another reason we’ll see more female-founded “alicorns” in the 2020s has everything to do with the new markets that female founders are creating. Hunter Walk of Homebrew was one of the initial seed investors in Winnie, an online marketplace for childcare that recently raised a $9 million Series A. At the time, he saw something that others investors didn’t. Winnie co-founder Sara Mauskopf explains, “Four years ago when we started Winnie, parenting and especially child care were not hot investment areas. This has been changing. It certainly helps that more investors are women and are in the thick of their child-bearing and rearing years.”

Part of what Walk says he recognized was the clear founder-market fit displayed by Mauskopf and her co-founder Annie Halsall. As Mauskopf says, “With Winnie, we saw an opportunity to solve the child-care crisis that other founders either did not recognize or did not care to solve. While everyone else was starting crypto and scooter companies, we were building the first-ever tech platform for $57 billion child care industry. Lack of access to quality child care disproportionately impacts women, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it took a female led team to capitalize on this opportunity.” Expanding on the concept of founder-market fit, Walk says, “I love to come away thinking, these are the absolute right founders to build this business.”10

Bendz, the Atomico partner who specializes in femtech and is also an avid angel investor, agrees. “Often I meet founders that you can tell are at the right place at the right time with the right mindset and the right team. It’s almost like all of the experiences they have had prior to launching a company have been preparing them to create that business at that time. These are the kind of founders who I know are in it for the long haul, and who are going to weather the ups and downs.” As a woman who uses the products and services she invests in, Bendz is also an example of investor-market fit, which I believe will open new markets in the decades to come.

Something else investors like Walk and Bendz believe in? Outsized opportunities. And the potential for outsized opportunities are especially ripe in untapped markets. The rise of femtech is yet another example of how the intuitive success of the concept of founder-market fit ultimately needed more female founders for certain markets to blossom. As Bendz explains, “Throughout a woman’s life there are many big events that have a big impact on our overall health — from childbirth to menopause. I know all women are tired of poor or non-existent solutions for women surrounding those life events, and that’s why we are seeing so many companies launching to better serve women’s needs. When you think about the fact that women have only had the right to vote and educate themselves for 100 years, it’s mind-blowing how long the world was operating with only 50% of the population in control. That’s reflected in the products and services we as a society have funded.”

Women’s consumer products are another area. Ornella Moraes is one of four female co-founders of Brazilian-led Sousmile, which recently raised a $6 million USD Series A led by Kaszek Ventures. “Our brand is a woman,” Moraes says of her dental beauty startup that retails throughout São Paulo. And so are the leaders of the company. At Sousmile, there are four female co-founders and two male co-founders. “More dentists in the world are women than men, so it’s been critical for our team to have more female founders,” she says. In this way, the rise of female founders and co-founders can completely change markets. “We believe this will fundamentally create a different type of product,” says Walk.

3. Emerging markets will take the lead

Finally, certain emerging markets pose a particular opportunity for female founders by over-indexing for both large IPOs and female founders. 2017 was the first year that more of the largest IPOs in the internet sector globally came from emerging markets. Nazar Yasin, founder of Rise Capital, which invests in emerging markets, says “This trend isn’t going away.” After all, most GDP growth comes from emerging markets, where most global internet users live. As he explains, “the future of market capitalization growth in the internet sector globally belongs to emerging markets.” And yet this type of innovation takes resilience. “If you’re a startup in one of these markets, it’s like trying to grow a plant in the desert.”11 In an environment that demands more daily resilience, there is a different appetite for risk and innovation. (I call this resilience innovation.)

Perhaps the easiest example of emerging market innovation fueled by resilience is fintech. Emerging markets and their often unstable economies boast a much higher number of frustratingly unbanked individuals. This brings about innovation. Hanna Schiuma, the Brazilian-born fintech founder of ElasBank, where I am an angel investor and advisor, explains how ubiquitous such fintech innovation is becoming.

“Soon all finance will be tailor-made and fintech will be common ground because all financial services will be technology-intensive.” She also argues that the nature of such an innovation allows the industry to become more innovative, and thus inclusive, which is exactly what is happening with her own women’s bank, launching in 2020. “That means great opportunities to better serve women’s financial needs to offer dedicated products, and to gather female talent to build those products from a diverse and innovative perspective.” Ultimately, “resilience is key for us to build that pool of talent and open the doors for gender balance and financial inclusion.”

Furthermore, data shows Africa and Latin America both beat global averages for percentages of startup female founders. Laura Stebbing is co-CEO of accelerateHER, a global community of leaders addressing the under-representation of women in tech through action. Raised in Southern Africa, Stebbing is passionate about Africa’s rise as a hub of female entrepreneurship.

“Africa has both the highest proportion of women founders at 26% [Latam comes in second]12 and a $42 billion funding gap. There’s clearly no lack of talent across Africa’s 54 countries, so for the investors, corporate executives, policy makers and established founders that aren’t moved by the moral arguments for gender parity, notice the enormous business opportunity. We will start to see a higher volume of resilient, scalable companies emerge as leaders build more diverse networks and ecosystems that support women to unlock their entrepreneurial potential.” Nathan Lustig, founder of Magma Partners, a VC firm in Latin America which invests in female founders above the regional average, explains, “investing in and empowering resilient women entrepreneurs is just good business, and is one of the biggest investment opportunities, especially in emerging markets.”

I believe Latin American can have an edge. I am a Silicon Valley-born investor now living in “Silicon Aires,” where I have been thrilled to see exciting numbers of female founders in Latin America. Susana Robles agrees, and says the reason is in part due to the nature of a committed ecosystem to support one another. “It’s the sheer need that forces you to collaborate.” An ecosystem like Silicon Valley doesn’t have the same need to do so. Of Latin America, Robles says, “In 10 years, we will have created a much more collaborative market than the developed ones.” And that collaboration is leading to great female founders. 2019, in fact, saw more funding going to female co-founders in Latin America than in Europe or the USA.13

This will lead to future alicorns. Ann Williams, COO of Creditas, a Brazilian fintech currently closing in on its own unicorn status, says “the conversion funnel for unicorns works just like any other selection process. We fill the top with a bunch of great women in supporting roles in emerging market startups, these women take their experiences and found rocking new companies. A percentage of these will convert to scaleups raising Series C and D rounds with valuations at $1 billion or higher. And voila! we get women-led unicorns.” She continues, “the odds are with us and I am sure the talent is too!”

Juliane Butty, startup head at Platzi and former regional manager of Seedstars, one of the leading accelerators and investors fostering female entrepreneurship in emerging markets, joins Williams. “We have definitely seen the rise of female founders and investors in emerging markets in the last decade. One supports the other. And we know that success breeds success.”

Perhaps My Little Pony fan Malinter said it best when he suggested how a male version of the alicorn could finally emerge in such a female-dominated space: “The simplest way they could probably add one in would be to make said alicorn the ruler of a neighboring nation.” In the same way, emerging markets may just hold the key for female unicorns.

No matter the region, Robles says “if we keep opening doors to women entrepreneurs who are as ambitious as men in growing their companies, we’ll begin to see many more unicorns with gender diversified teams.” Hanna Schiuma, the Elasbank founder who just might be building the next female-founded unicorn, agrees. “The alicorns are coming. And we’re ready to fly.”


2Equestria is of course where the My Little Ponies and their assorted unicorns, alicorns and friends all live.
3Go Jess Lee!
4Yes, Aileen Lee of Cowboy VC first invented the term in her 2013 TechCrunch piece, but we’re in a unicorn-fueled time machine, people.
8“Do Female Investors Support Female Entrepreneurs? An Empirical Analysis of Angel Investor Behavior,” Seth C. Oranburg, Duquesne University School of Law, Pittsburgh PA, USA and Mark Geiger, Duquesne University School of Business, Pittsburgh PA, USA
12Forthcoming research from TechCrunch/Crunchbase
13Forthcoming research from TechCrunch/Crunchbase

 


0

Voodoo Games thrives by upending conventional product design

03:17 | 18 February

Will Robbins Contributor
Will Robbins is an early-stage investor at Contrary.

Voodoo Games is one of the most interesting startups alive today. In mid-2018, it had 150 million MAUs and raised $200 million from Goldman Sachs, yet I’ve never heard anyone mention the company. That might be normal for an obscure enterprise SaaS play, but Voodoo is consumer-facing through and through.

Quantitative success aside, Voodoo upends much of the conventional thinking about product design and gaming. If it can do it, how can similar strategies apply to other products?

But first, some background: What is Voodoo Games?

Voodoo is best described as a product conglomerate. Take a look at its App Store page. It has dozens of generic-looking apps. The basic playbook is:

  • Quickly build a relatively low-quality, single-purpose game.
  • Make sure one mechanic is really fun. It doesn’t matter if users churn 20 minutes after downloading it.

 


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Leveraging TikTok for growth

23:07 | 17 February

Geneviève Patterson Contributor
Dr. Geneviève Patterson is co-founder and CSTO of TRASH.
Hannah Donovan Contributor
Hannah Donovan is the founder and CEO of TRASH.

Once you have a product, distributing it becomes the next challenge for any entrepreneur. At TRASH (one-tap video editing), we looked to TikTok as a potential marketing channel. As early learnings started to roll in, we decided to share what’s going on inside this exploding and mysterious beast.

Part 1: Leveraging TikTok for growth

The advantage of having a deep tech company that uses AI to help speed the process of editing video is that we can do it for “free.” This is pretty cool when you consider that editing a semi-pro video will run you a minimum of $1,500 and six hours in post-production. When we started working on distribution and how to hack our CAC (customer acquisition costs), TikTok was first.

When posting to TikTok, there are three key areas to pay attention to:

• What contributes to your authority score
• The review process and making it to the For You Page
• Making better content (and what you might be doing wrong)

The most critical part of posting to TikTok is your authority ranking, which is: “how much of an influencer are you?” Your authority ranking is directly tied to your verticals (the styles you’re making videos in).

What contributes to your authority ranking

  1. New accounts. Like your Uber five-star passenger rating, every post you make contributes to your score.
  2. Multiple accounts. TikTok allows for multiple accounts, but pro tip: multiple accounts from one phone will flag you as a business account and like many platforms, they’ll de-prioritize you unless you’re a paying advertiser. If you’re giving some of these things a try, limit your account login to one device.
  3. The first five videos you post. TikTok wants you to create types of videos that stay in the same vertical. So if you are making meme videos in your first five, TikTok will basically say, “this is a meme account.” So, the first five are critical: you need to have a plan and focus.
  4. Verticality. TikTok doesn’t want you being experimental. Pick a content vertical and stay with it. Content that varies or doesn’t have a specific theme won’t weigh well. If you start to make videos that fall into a different category, it’s like starting over because you don’t have authority on that vertical yet.
  5. Views. If your videos get 100 or fewer views, you’re going to have a zombie account, so delete and start again. Videos that get between 1000–3000 views mean you have a mid-tier account. Videos that get 10,000+ views mean you have a “head” account.
  6. Viewing completion. This is one of the most important factors. Your video needs to be viewed from start to finish to count for this metric. The key things that help with this are:
  • Short videos. Videos can be up to 60 seconds long, but TikTok recommends to their advertisers that they be 9–15 seconds (the internet thinks the average length of a TikTok is 30 seconds).
  • Looping videos. If the video is watched repeatedly, then its Completion Ratio will be over 100% and will increase the overall performance rating of the video. A common practice is to create seamless loops in the video so that viewers are tricked into watching it multiple times.
  • Format. Often there will be a challenge format with a punchline at the end. People understand this format so they’ll stick around to see the punchline.
  • Matching action to music. Always more satisfying to watch.

The review process and making it to FYP

So, now that you know all the ways you can eff up your authority score, have a plan for the type of account you want to create and created five killer videos, you’re ready to start posting. Here’s what happens next, including how to get coveted FYP (For You Page).

  1. Authority-based automatic distribution. Based on your score, your video goes out to a geo-local network of about 300–500 viewers. At this point, there are no real checks on your content.
  2. Integrity-based AI review and data collection. Shortly after this initial fan-out to a few hundred people, it’s being checked frame-by-frame by an AI for inappropriate content, copyright issues, etc. It’s then given a new weighting (integrity rating) and is either de-listed or distributed again.
  3. Delayed explosion. This is one of the biggest differences between TikTok and other platforms and where you have a second chance of getting onto your FYP. Delayed explosion is why you should carefully consider deleting old content, regardless of how well or poorly it did before. Periodically (it’s unclear what timescale this happens on, it could be weeks or months), TikTok hides the publish date of content on the FYP. TikTok will test your older content and restart a cycle that looks something like: a small batch of content for about two hours; then a medium batch where the AI is looking at the key metrics that feed into your authority rating; finally a large batch that includes your integrity rating (no “bad” content or content they consider “bad”). At this point, it shows something like, “hey, we’re a top 5% video.”
  4. Human review. A human reviewer will see the video with these scores and decide if it has the potential to be a super-viral video. They’ll also double-check for copyright and “bad” content that may have slipped past the AI in step two. To be promoted to the FYP, the content must fit TikTok’s (and as a Beijing-based company, inevitably China’s) idea of what is nice and popular in the geo-local region. Common things that have been noticed are people who represent conventional beauty standards (though this may also be algorithmic bias trained on human bias), no strong political opinions (unless they’re joking or meme-y in nature in certain countries only… though probably not Winnie The Pooh) and no violations of the most reactive local social norms. There’s definitely a degree of… homogeneity going on here. This might offer some insight into why TikTok wants you to create content that’s based on copying? It makes it easier to review and stick to the format of not just what “works” (ie. is going viral) but what aligns with their opinions of what is okay.

This vid says it all.

@dupreedotexeLet me know if this is on your fyp #differentbreed #BestThingSince #fyp #foryou♬ original sound – r_tista7

Making better content (and what you might be doing wrong!)

Pick a format. Because verticalization is key to your authority score, you need to pick a format and work within it. If you want to have different personalities, use different accounts. This will boost your authority score as well as help with gaining followers because their expectations will be set for the type of content you make. Examples of vertices that do well are comedy, memes, dance, vlogs, creation/DIY and hacks.

Copy the format. TikTok encourages many forms of co-creation such as reactions, collaboration/remix and mimicking. This has created formats, trends and memes throughout the platform. Rather than seen as ripping off other creators, audiences enjoy trends and become inspired to create their own version. TikTokers like Charli D’amelio create unofficial choreography for pop songs and just copying those dance moves can send a song to the top of the charts. The next iconic dances like “Thriller,” “Single Ladies” or “Gangam Style” will be created by someone who may have no real connection or ownership to the original song.

In general, Gen Z is known for being less “solo” in their pursuits than Millennials. We think this collaborative approach to creation is a sign of the times not just for social entertainment, but the next wave of creation tools and platforms. Know your music: songs are one of the best ways to get people to understand your meme content. A lot of viewers will already know what your content is going to be about just based on the song, so picking the right song for the format you want to copy is key — this can’t be an afterthought and might be a place you’re going wrong!

Get ready to sell. If Instagram is QVC for Millennials, TikTok is the line outside the Supreme store for Gen Z. Instead of glossy, in-your-face advertisements for fitness and beauty, the shopping is going to be more “authentic” and narrative. Shoppable video is already a major thing in Asia and it’s reportedly being tested on TikTok to come to the rest of the world soon.

We suspect Gen Z will simply treat Amazon like the Google Search of Stuff & Things and the new social platforms become the virtual mall. We also suspect TikTok will weigh shoppable content more highly in the FYP algo because money.

What’s it going to look like? We don’t know, but maybe something like this:

Mockup of what we might be in for (this is not real!)


Read the conclusion to this post, “How TikTok decides who to make famous,” on Extra Crunch.

 


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Is tech socialism really on the rise?

18:53 | 16 February

Greg Epstein Contributor
Greg M. Epstein is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT, and the author of The New York Times bestselling book "Good Without God." Described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement” by The New York Times Magazine in recognition of his efforts to build inclusive, inspiring and ethical communities for the nonreligious and allies, Greg was also named “one of the top faith and moral leaders in the United States” by Faithful Internet, a project of the United Church of Christ and the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.

In Part 1 of my conversation with Ben Tarnoff, co-founder of leading tech ethics publication Logic, we covered the history and philosophy of 19th century Luddites and how that relates to what he described in his column for The Guardian as today’s over-computerized world.

I’ve casually called myself a Luddite when expressing general frustration with social media or internet culture, but as it turns out, you can’t intelligently discuss what most people think of as an anti-technology movement without understanding the role of technology in capitalism, and vice versa.

At the end of Part 1, I was badgering Tarnoff to speculate on which technologies ought to be preserved even in a Luddite world, and which ones ought to go the way of the mills the original Luddites destroyed. Arguing for a more nuanced approach to the topic, Tarnoff offered the disability rights movement as an example of the approach he hopes will be taken by an emerging class of tech socialists.

TechCrunch: The Americans with Disability Act has been a very powerful body of legislation that has basically forced us to use our technological might to create physical infrastructure, including elevators, buses, vans, the day-to-day machinery of our lives that allow people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go places, do things, see things, experience things, to do so. And you’re saying one of the things that we could look at is more technology for that sort of thing, right?

Because I think a lot about how in this society, every single one of us walks around with the insecurity that, “there but for the grace of my health go I.” At any moment I could be injured, I could get sick, I could acquire a disability that’s going to limit my participation in society.

Ben Tarnoff: One of the phrases of the disability rights movement is, “nothing about us without us,” which perfectly encapsulates a more democratic approach to technology. What they’re saying is that if you’re an architect, if you’re an urban planner, if you’re a shopkeeper, whatever it is, you’re making design decisions that have the potential to seriously negatively impact a substantial portion of the population. In substantial ways [you could] restrict their democratic rights. Their access to space.

 


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Silicon Valley Community Foundation challenges donors to address local problems

20:48 | 15 February

Scott Bade Contributor
Scott Bade is a former speechwriter for Mike Bloomberg and co-author of "More Human: Designing a World Where People Come First."

Over the last decade, Silicon Valley Community Foundation has become one of the favorite destinations for tech philanthropy.

Counting Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Reed Hastings among its donors, SVCF has quietly become a philanthropic powerhouse. As a community foundation, it made $126 million in grants in 2018 in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties (the latest year for which numbers were available), but its true power comes from the nearly $9 billion in donor-advised funds (also known as DAFs) it oversees.

DAFs have become popular among wealthy donors in recent years because they carry the tax benefits of a donation without requiring that an immediate donation be made. They also courted controversy, with critics accusing them of being a vehicle for tax sheltering.

Not so, says Nicole Taylor, SVCF’s CEO and president. Appointed a year ago after her predecessor was ousted in scandal, Taylor is working to change the image of DAFs while challenging her donors to take on the Bay Area’s unique challenges, like housing, inequality and transportation. I spoke to Taylor about how the tech sector can do better with its giving.

TechCrunch: Let’s start by explaining how a community foundation works?

Nicole Taylor: Community foundations are a vehicle for people who want to give that come with a far better tax advantage and advising advantage than setting up private foundations [whose] overhead is costly. Most people don’t want to go there; they want a place that helps them with their giving and they want to have that connection back to their local community.

Community foundations were started in the Midwest and are over 100 years old. There are over 800 of us. We serve particular geographic areas. Our core focus [at SVCF] is the Silicon Valley region, the two counties here – Santa Clara and San Mateo.

 


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‘Capitalism generates a lot of wealth depending on the situation’

18:15 | 15 February

Greg Epstein Contributor
Greg M. Epstein is the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT, and the author of The New York Times bestselling book "Good Without God." Described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement” by The New York Times Magazine in recognition of his efforts to build inclusive, inspiring and ethical communities for the nonreligious and allies, Greg was also named “one of the top faith and moral leaders in the United States” by Faithful Internet, a project of the United Church of Christ and the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.

Ben Tarnoff is a columnist at The Guardian, a co-founder of tech ethics magazine Logic and arguably one of the world’s top experts on the intersection of tech and socialism.

But what I think you really need to know by way of introduction to the interview below is that reading Tarnoff and his wife Moira Weigel might be the closest you can get today to following the young Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in real time.

In September, Tarnoff published a Guardian piece, “To decarbonize we must decomputerize,” in which he argued for a modern Luddism. I’ve casually called myself a Luddite online for many years now:

But I wouldn’t previously have considered writing much about it online, because who in this orbit could possibly identify? Turns out Tarnoff, a leading tech world advocate for Bernie Sanders, does. Which made me wonder: Could Luddism ever become the next trend in Silicon Valley culture?

Of course, I then reviewed exactly who the Luddites actually were and thought, “aha.” Maybe I’ve finally found the topic and the interview that really truly will get me fired from my role as TechCrunch’s ethicist-in-residence; talking to a contemporary tech socialist about the people who famously destroyed machinery because they didn’t feel that it was ethical, humane or in service of their well-being doesn’t necessarily scream “TechCrunch,” does it?

So I began my interview by praising not only his piece on Luddism but several other related pieces he’s written and by asking (with tongue only semi-in-cheek) to please confirm that at least it’s a peaceful Luddism for which he is calling.

Ben Tarnoff (Photo by Richard McBlane/Getty Images for SXSW)

Tarnoff: Thanks for reading the pieces. I really appreciate it.

 


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Getting tech right in Iowa and elsewhere requires insight into data, human behavior

01:58 | 14 February

Hollie Russon Gilman Contributor
Hollie Russon Gilman is a Fellow at New America's Political Reform Program, Lecturer at Columbia University, a Non-Resident Fellow at Georgetown's Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and is the co-author of Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of Crisis.
Tara Dawson McGuinness Contributor
Tara Dawson McGuinness, a former senior advisor to President Obama, is a Senior Fellow at New America and teaches public policy in the McCourt school at Georgetown University.

What happened in Iowa’s Democratic caucus last week is a textbook example of how applying technological approaches to public sector work can go badly wrong just when we need it to go right.

While it’s possible to conclude that Iowa teaches us that we shouldn’t let tech anywhere near a governmental process, this is the wrong conclusion to reach, and mixes the complexity of what happened and didn’t happen. Technology won’t fix a broken policy and the key is understanding what it is good for.

What does it look like to get technology right in solving public problems? There are three core principles that can help more effectively build public-interest technology: solve an actual problem, design with and for users and their lives in mind and start small (test, improve, test).

Before developing an app or throwing a new technology into the mix in a political process it is worth asking: what is the goal of this app, and what will an app do that will improve on the existing process?

Getting it right starts with understanding the humans who will use what you build to solve an actual problem. What do they actually need? In the case of Iowa, this would have meant asking seasoned local organizers about what would help them during the vote count. It also means talking directly to precinct captains and caucus goers and observing the unique process in which neighbors convince neighbors to move to a different corner of a school gymnasium when their candidate hasn’t been successful. In addition to asking about the idea of a web application, it is critical to test the application with real users under real conditions to see how it works and make improvements.

In building such a critical game-day app, you need to test it under more real-world conditions, which means adoption and ease of use matters. While Shadow (the company charged with this build) did a lightweight test with some users, there wasn’t the runway to adapt or learn from those for whom the app was designed. The app may have worked fine, but that doesn’t matter if people didn’t use it or couldn’t download it.

One model of how this works can be found in the Nurse Family Partnership, a high-impact nonprofit that helps first-time, low-income moms.

This nonprofit has adapted to have feedback loops from its moms and nurses via email and text messages. It even has a full-time role “responsible for supporting the organization’s vision to scale plan by listening and learning from primary, secondary and internal customers to assess what can be done to offer an exceptional Nurse-Family Partnership experience.”

Building on its program of in-person assistance, the Nurse Family Partnership co-designed an app (with Hopelab, a social innovation lab in collaboration with behavioral-science based software company Ayogo). The Goal Mama app builds upon the relationship between nurses and moms. It was developed with these clients in mind after research showed the majority of moms in the program were using their smartphones extensively, so this would help meet moms where they were. Through this approach of using technology and data to address the needs of their workforce and clients, they have served 309,787 moms across 633 counties and 41 states.

Another example is the work of Built for Zero, a national effort focused on the ambitious goal of ending homelessness across 80 cities and counties. Community organizers start with the personal challenges of the unhoused — they know that without understanding the person and their needs, they won’t be able to build successful interventions that get them housed. Their work combines a methodology of human-centered organizing with smart data science to deliver constant assessment and improvements in their work, and they have a collaboration with the Tableau foundation to build and train communities to collect data with new standards and monitor progress toward a goal of zero homelessness.

Good tech always starts small, tests, learns and improves with real users. Parties, governments and nonprofits should expand on the learning methods that are common to tech startups and espoused by Eric Reis in The Lean Startup. By starting with small tests and learning quickly, public-interest technology acknowledges the high stakes of building technology to improve democracy: real people’s lives are at stake. With questions about equity, justice, legitimacy and integrity on the line, starting small helps ensure enough runway to make important changes and work out the kinks.

Take for example the work of Alia. Launched by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), it’s the first benefits portal for house cleaners. Domestic workers do not typically receive employee benefits, making things like taking a sick day or visiting a doctor impossible without losing pay.

Its easy-to-use interface enables people who hire house cleaners to contribute directly to their benefits, allowing workers to receive paid time off, accident insurance and life insurance. Alia’s engineers benefited from deep user insights gained by connecting to a network of house cleaners. In the increasing gig economy, the Alia model may be instructive for a range of employees across local, state and federal levels. Obama organizers in 2008 dramatically increased volunteerism (up to 18%) just by A/B testing the words and colors used for the call-to-action on their website.

There are many instructive public interest technologies that focus on designing not just for the user. This includes work in civil society such as Center for Civic Design, ensuring people can have easy and seamless interactions with government, and The Principles for Digital Development, the first of which is “design with the user.” There is also work being done inside governments, from the Government Digital Service in the U.K. to the work of the United States Digital Service, which was launched in the Obama administration.

Finally, it also helps to deeply understand the conditions in which technology will be used. What are the lived experiences of the people who will be using the tool? Did the designers dig in and attend a caucus to see how paper has captured the moving of bodies and changing of minds in gyms, cafes and VFW halls?

In the case of Iowa, it requires understanding the caucuses norms, rules and culture. A political caucus is a unique situation.

Not to mention, this year the Iowa Caucus deployed several process changes to increase transparency but also complexify the process, which needed to also be taken into account when deploying a tech solution. Understanding the conditions in which technology is deployed requires a nuanced understanding of policies and behavior and how policy changes can impact design choices.

Building a technical solution without doing the user-research to see what people really need runs the risk of reducing credibility and further eroding trust. Building the technology itself is often the simple part. The complex part is relational. It requires investing in capacity to engage, train, test and iterate.

We are accustomed to same-day delivery and instantaneous streaming in our private and social lives, which raises our expectations for what we want from the public sector. The push to modernize and streamline is what leads to believing an app is the solution. But building the next killer app for our democracy requires more than just prototyping a splashy tool.

Public-interest technology means working toward the broader, difficult challenge of rebuilding trust in our democracy. Every time we deploy tech for the means of modernizing a process, we need to remember this end goal and make sure we’re getting it right.

 


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Will Apple, Facebook or Microsoft be the future of augmented reality?

02:41 | 13 February

Apple is seen by some as critical to the future of augmented reality, despite limited traction for ARKit so far and its absence from smartglasses (again, so far). Yet Facebook, Microsoft and others are arguably more important to where the market is today.

While there are more AR platforms than just these companies, they represent the top of the pyramid for three different types of AR roadmap. And while startup insurgents could make a huge difference, big platforms can exert disproportionate influence on the future of tech markets. Let’s see what this could mean for the future of AR.

 

Facebook: The messaging play

Facebook has talked about its long-term potential to launch smartglasses, but in 2020, its primary presence in the AR market is as a mobile AR platform (note: Facebook is also a VR market leader with Oculus). Although there are other ways to define them, mobile AR platforms can be thought of as three broad types:

  1. messaging-based (e.g. Facebook Messenger, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Line)
  2. OS-based (e.g. Apple ARKit, Google ARCore)
  3. web-based (e.g. 8th Wall, Torch, others)

 


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FAA’s proposed remote ID rules should make compliance easy

02:13 | 13 February

Jon Hegranes Contributor
Jon is the CEO and co-founder of Kittyhawk, the leading provider of unmanned software and airspace systems.

When Josh, my co-founder, and I founded Kittyhawk, we saw the need for a new way to aviate with the demands and opportunities that unmanned systems would create. We set out to build the future of programmatic aviation, yet to enable this aviation renaissance we also knew that pragmatic innovation was key.

We didn’t rush into building cool but ineffective technologies. We ignored the lure of flashy solutions looking for problems. We started from day one working, learning and engaging directly with our customers, who are now some of the largest users of aviation. Unless our customers — operators of some of the largest manned and unmanned fleets in the U.S. — can leverage a piece of technology today, its usefulness is muted. Unless our platform can make the entire National Airspace System (NAS) safer for all stakeholders, the effectiveness is diluted.

Our DNA is built on skating where the puck is going, innovating at the edge so that we can move fast and deliver actual capabilities that are impactful from day one with the potential to accrue more value and evolve over time. There’s no better example of this than Remote ID.

More than two years ago, we released our real-time telemetry and tracking of aircraft. Not simple representations of a flight icon on a screen, but live data of aircraft that businesses, governments and public safety workers utilize every day. How we view the future of Remote ID is based on our experience of powering live-flight data and the feedback and learning that we’ve received over the last two years of enabling Remote ID across our user base. We’ve incorporated all of this data and practical experience — along with all of your feedback from our NPRM survey results — to inform our approach to Remote ID.

Below, we’ve attached the full public comments that we’ll submit to the FAA’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on Remote ID, but first, let’s begin with a few of our core beliefs that are central to how we operate as a company and the voice that we strive to give all of our users who fly with Kittyhawk:

  • We believe that technology and software innovations should enable flight.
    • Any rules, technologies or regulations that curtail or disenfranchise flight are not well-thought out and fail to appreciate what technology can solve.
  • We believe that technology should be adopted based on its merits and its core utility.
    • Regulating technologies based on the potential for misuse is unprecedented in our nation and has no place in the adoption of unmanned systems.
  • We believe the future of aviation requires new ways of thinking to accomplish scale requirements and the need for mass adoption.
    • Rules or processes that start and end within a traditional mindset are flawed and will fail to result in meaningful impact.
  • We believe the future is now.
    • Safety and speed are not mutually exclusive and there are ways to create a safer NAS today that all aviation users can adopt immediately.

On November 21, 2019, the FAA was rolling out a new batch of LAANC-enabled airports, including Washington Dulles International Airport (KIAD), which represents a huge swath of airspace in the security-sensitive area of Washington, DC. To give you a sense of how excited our users were for this, we began receiving support requests shortly after the strike of midnight as people were anxious to comply and fly in this airspace. Their initial authorization requests, however, were receiving errors, as it wouldn’t be until later that day that the FAA would officially flip the switch for these new airports and we could begin accepting LAANC requests for KIAD.

Moral of the story: If you give operators an easy way to comply, they’ll move faster than regulators to do everything they can to get in the air compliantly.

High-level comments on the NPRM

The current draft of the NPRM is overly complicated, presenting solutions for problems that don’t exist and introducing complexity that won’t solve the problems that do. We can create a baseline for Remote ID today that opens airspace and impacts safety. We can create a system that demands compliance without creating privacy black holes. There is a better way and we can do it in 2020.

No. 1: Leave OEM certification out of the picture completely

There is absolutely no reason that OEMs should be involved in the NPRM on Remote ID. The role of an aircraft is to reliably fly based on the controls it receives, not the other way around.

We do not require DVRs to prevent you from recording the Super Bowl on the off chance that you might redistribute it. We do not require cars to prevent you from driving if you don’t have validated licenses and registrations. Just because a piece of technology has the potential for misuse, it’s unprecedented and un-American to restrict capabilities at the hardware level based simply on what-ifs.

Any hardware requirement for Remote ID introduces unnecessary security concerns and also adds unnecessary time to the path to adoption. The thought of giving this much power to hardware manufacturers to control access to the NAS should scare everyone, and I’m surprised the FAA failed to consider this. OEM control of airspace access via Remote ID greatly expands the target landscape for hackers and data breaches.

By removing OEM requirements and proposals around things like new serial number systems, all current unmanned systems and models alike will not be relegated to the scrap heap. All current recreational and commercial operations will not need to buy new drones or worry about costly retrofits with untold timelines for potential compliance.

Recommendation: Put all the responsibility on the Remote Pilot In Command (RPIC). Delete all OEM manufacturer requirements from the rule.

No. 2: A logical, tiered approach is the only way

A tiered approach to Remote ID makes a lot of sense, but the proposed tiers in the NPRM are misguided and disjointed.

Remote ID tiers should account for different types of flight by different types of operations in different types of airspace. The more timely and rich the Remote ID data, the more freedom to the sky should be enabled, but there should be more tiers with a lower bar to simply get in the air.

To this end, there should be a tier that includes a volume-based Remote ID (like we have in the ASTM and like we’ve already developed and showcased in the open-source InterUSS Remote ID platform). Think LAANC reservation, but for Remote ID, where a user can announce a time/place of flight. This would require no new hardware and no new technology. Every operation from model aircraft to routine Part 107 commercial flights could adopt and comply with this, effective immediately at zero cost.

Additionally, there should be more privileges for sharing real-time data and having a connected operation that can communicate and deviate if required. If Remote ID is going to unlock BVLOS, then the highest tier of Remote ID operations should do just that.

Recommendation: A tiered system that creates a low-friction, zero-cost ability to comply with Remote ID, extending to a more demanding requirement that results in BVLOS without a waiver.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Ceiling (Uncontrolled Airspace) Up to 200ft Up to 400ft Up to 400ft
Ceiling (Controlled Airspace) Up to 100ft* Up to 400ft* Up to 400ft*
Range VLOS VLOS BVLOS
Remote ID Requirements Volume-based reservation of a time/place.

Can be done remotely, up to 90 days in advance.

Volume-based reservation of a time/place.

Plus live sharing of telemetry via broadcast or network.

Volume-based reservation of a time/place.

Plus live sharing of telemetry via broadcast or network.

Plus network connection for aircraft or control stations to send and receive real-time messages.

Process Submitted and processed like LAANC to a USS. Submitted and processed like LAANC to a USS.

Broadcast or network to meet data requirements (see below).

Submitted and processed like LAANC to a USS.

Broadcast or network to meet data requirements (see below).

*Or lower if flying in controlled airspace and LAANC ceiling is lower than the corresponding tier.

No. 3: Tier-based Remote ID data

Remote ID data for public consumption should be separate from law enforcement use cases that may come in the future. Conflating public use cases with law enforcement use cases adds unnecessary complexity and sacrifices privacy.

The objective with Remote ID data is that it’s actionable for other aircraft and flights in the area — and for the public — to understand what is buzzing over them. Yet, the public needs only a few data points to share with law enforcement who can then put the pieces together. The “license plate” is all law enforcement really needs to take action.

Anything else is a bonus and should be optional based on the tier of the flight you want to execute.

In our experience with customers who want to early adopt into Remote ID and from what we’ve seen in our Remote ID survey, people will gladly share more information with law enforcement. People will also gladly share more information if it results in more access to the air. Just as it is the RPIC’s responsibility to comply with Remote ID, it should also be up to the RPIC to control her data.

Recommendation: Fewer data requirements with more optional fields at lower-tier operations, with more demanding data sharing and real-time communications at the highest tier to enable advanced operations.

Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3
Aircraft Identity serial number or anonymous session ID** serial number or anonymous session ID** serial number or anonymous session ID**
Aircraft Location N/A real-time LAT/LONG real-time LAT/LONG
Operator Identity optional FAA registration number or anonymous operator ID** FAA registration number or anonymous operator ID**
Operator Location N/A N/A real-time LAT/LONG
Operator Contact Information optional optional required
Flight Plan optional optional Submitted with takeoff, landing, route and emergency landing points.

Updated in real time.

**Generated and stored by a USS.

The FAA remarked in the NPRM at the successful private-public partnership that is LAANC. Let’s build on that infrastructure. We don’t need a new class of USS but simply to extend where and how we announce flights in the NAS. We already see that behavior today where users want to create polygons and announce flights in uncontrolled airspace.

At Kittyhawk, we’re going to continue building this concept of Remote ID into our platform for all of our users and we welcome other USSs and partners who want to join us and bring an actionable form of Remote ID to the NAS.

If you share our vision, please let us know and also let the FAA know with comments on the NPRM. There is a simpler and more effective path to Remote ID and we can do it in 2020.

 


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Peru’s startup scene is ready for more

22:55 | 12 February

Greg Mitchell Contributor
Greg Mitchell is regional director of Angel Ventures, a startup investor and advisor and is the creator of the blog Ruta Startup.

Funding of Latin American startups has doubled each year over the past two years.

And while most of this capital has been directed toward Brazil and Mexico, this surge is starting to have an effect on startups in the region’s smaller markets. The increased availability of capital for later rounds is creating more opportunities for startups to scale both regionally and globally. And while it may not be one of the largest countries in Latin America, Peru continues to have one of the best-performing economies and fastest-growing startup scenes.

In 2019, a new record was set for the amount of capital invested into Peruvian startups, at least $11 million, a 24% increase compared to 2018. Most of the money went to fintech (47%) and edtech (37%) startups. Over the past four years, more than $22.7 million in public funds went toward startup-related projects as well.

The government-backed program Innóvate Perú awarded approximately $13.8 million of its total investments almost exclusively to startups. Total venture capital investment will likely exceed US$25 million in 2020, doubling what was achieved in 2019, and will continue to grow from there.

In 2019, Peru’s development bank, COFIDE, announced a new fund of funds to invest in venture capital firms, mirroring similar entities such as Chile’s CORFO, Colombia’s Bancoldex and Mexico’s NAFIN. While there are plenty of opportunities to secure seed-stage capital in Peru, many startups still have to look abroad for growth capital. Keynua, Xertica, Turismoi and Runa are just a few of the Peruvian startups that sought international investors to lead their rounds over $1 million. Following in the path of similar funds, the fund of funds will invest $20 million in half a dozen venture capital firms, which would in turn invest in approximately 120 startups.

As government support for entrepreneurs continues to pour in, the Peruvian startup ecosystem is entering a new phase. More and more startups are launching, graduating from accelerator programs and seeking ways to reach their next milestone. Local early-stage investors are stepping in to fill the financing gap and have teamed up to form the Peruvian Seed and Venture Capital Association, PECAP, to share investment opportunities and lay a strong foundation for venture capital in Peru. Here’s a look at just a few of the opportunities for more venture capital to step in.

Fueling Peru’s growing fintech sector

A massive fintech boom is playing out across Latin America, with the size of the industry expected to exceed $150 billion by 2021. Peru is home to an estimated 120 fintech startups actively tackling the issues of financial inclusion and better servicing the region’s small and medium-sized businesses. Peru’s economy is still largely informal, with approximately 14 million people underbanked. In 2017, María Laura Cuya started Peru’s Fintech Association to work alongside regulators, academics and other organizations to improve financial literacy and access to financial products, with a focus on Peruvian SMEs.

A few of Peru’s fintech sectors stand out, including factoring and foreign exchange, where a number of startups are quickly gaining traction and already branching out to neighboring markets. Innova Funding, Innova Factoring, Facturedo, Kambista and Rextie are just a few examples. Peru’s membership in the Pacific Alliance also makes it an attractive initial market prior to launching in other Pacific Alliance countries.

In 2019, Peruvian fintechs Keynua and Apurata were selected for the Y Combinator accelerator program, putting them on the international radar. Traditional banks in Peru are also shifting their mindsets and warming up to fintech partnerships. The publicly traded Peruvian bank, Credicorp, for example, recently set up a corporate venture fund called Krealo. The bank made its first investments in Culqi, a local payments gateway, and Independencia, a lending platform.

Impact investing opportunities

Latin America is a top destination for impact investment capital, outpacing many other regions in the world, with a 15% compound annual growth rate over the last five years, according to the Global Impact Investing Network. Edtech represents a rising entry point across the region for impact investors thanks to its potential for both financial and non-financial returns.

According to an OECD report, approximately 30 million young people in Latin America are not participating in any form of education, training or employment, and 76% of this total are women. Laboratoria, co-founded by edtech thought leader Mariana Costa Checa, helps women develop technical skills and has expanded across the region from its headquarters in Lima to train more than 1,000 women so far. The startup has received praise from global companies, including Walmart and Facebook. In 2019, the skills development platform Crehana raised the largest-ever round for a Peruvian startup ($4.5 million) from both regional and global funds.

Peru attracted more impact investment capital than Mexico, a longtime leader in the region, for the first time in 2018. Much of this investment is focused on improving Peru’s education system. Local startups are addressing everything from early childhood education to workforce training, and as more success stories emerge, more resources will be needed to fully tap into Latin America’s large markets for these solutions.

Supporting long-term startup growth

The government-backed program Innóvate Perú has financed more than 3,400 entrepreneurial projects to date, and more than 25 private institutions are now accelerating, incubating and investing in Peruvian startups. New startup creation is at its highest rate ever; however, these companies are outgrowing their angel and seed-stage supporters and are now seeking ways to take their ventures to the next level.

Over the past few years, Latin America has proven that it is a place where startups can scale and succeed. Now, with more startups coming out of the region’s smaller, underserved markets, like Peru, there is an opportunity to deploy capital effectively and bring impactful solutions to millions of people across the region.

*Angel Ventures was an investor in Culqi before it was sold to BCP. Neither Angel Ventures nor Greg Mitchell currently hold any shares.

 


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