The Conveners team believes it is critically important that people come together to address the greatest challenges facing the planet. Conveners host events, connect businesses to accelerators and gather technology tools to help impact companies navigate the changing economy.
We talk to Executive Director Avary Kent about their organization for catalyzing collaboration. In this episode, we talk about:
What is Conveners.org and what are you set out to solve?
Why are these different components important to an ecosystem?
What are some of your favorite accelerators?
How do you address Global Goal #17?
Can you share the business model?
How do you see the future of partnerships playing into getting these goals done?
What’s next for Conveners.org?
See their top recommended accelerators, hear about their platform for finding accelerators, and experience a mindset-shift around collaboration for impact businesses.
What is Conveners.org and what are you set out to solve?
Well, I would say we’re the meta-meta. We are a global association of impact-focused conferences, accelerators, and mappers. So, anybody who is trying to build a more robust ecosystem, we love to build peer networks to serve them.
There are 3 major segments:
Accelerators and Incubators
Why are these different components important to an ecosystem?
Group 1: Conveners Events
So when we see the conveners, these are the folks who aren’t doing conferences, they’re doing gatherings, they’re doing dinners, they’re doing meetings. But at the end of the day, they believe it is critically important that people come together, oftentimes in person to be able to address the greatest challenges facing the planet. And so, we think this is absolutely critical because every challenge we see from hunger to education, to poverty, to climate change, these are all really complex issues, which means that there’s a lot of pieces that are moving. You don’t know what they all are. And honestly you can only predict cause and effect in hindsight.
And so no one person, organization or even country is just going to fix these things overnight. It requires all of us to come together and to work together and to collaborate.
And so conveners believe that bringing people together is a critical ingredient to achieving their mission.
Group 2: Accelerators and Incubators
These are organizations that are enhancing the ability of enterprises and entrepreneurs to build organizations that are both doing well and doing good at the same time. Especially with social entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of help you need from your business model to your product market fit, how you’re going to run, how to grow your team and build your organization, and how to scale.
The incubators and accelerators have different curricula and most importantly relationships that they bring to the table with mentors and potential teammates and investors. We bring program managers together to learn from each other, share best practices, and hopefully identify ways that they can enhance one another’s programming and skills.
Group 3: Mappers
The third group are mappers, some of whom are incubators and accelerators themselves. Some are research institutions, some are conveners, but these are our people in organizations that are building tools and resources that help people navigate the impact ecosystem. It can be really hard to find your way around!
Can you share with us the background of how you got started?
I was working at SoCap at the time and co-founding what became Impact Alpha and impact space, the media site and was just really shocked by the number of accelerator program folks who didn’t already know each other.
I had been really inspired by Ian Fisk, the Executive Director of the Mentor Capital Network and the work he’d done on ecosystem building. I took the banner from him to help bring together program managers from incubators and accelerators around the world to help create a common application and create a cross promotion directory.
So when Topher (CEO of Opportunity Collaboration) and I teamed up after an Agora meeting, he was showing his new conversations with conveners. I was exploring my years of conversations with accelerators and we realize that we were serving different audiences who are doing the same thing, which was building peer circles and pure connection for communities that are oftentimes really isolated. At the time I was exploring what to do next and had left my last startup, but Topher really didn’t want to leave Opportunity Collaboration. So conveners.org was born a few months later.
We focused on what happens when you listen to the communities that need help and design your programming to be really responsive to that.
The Accelerator Selection Tool
An Accelerator Directory was one of the collective impact projects that came out of conversations with Ian Fisk of Mentor Capital Network and Andy Lieberman from Miller Center for social entrepreneurship. Uh, and I worked together to start to map out like what are the fields, what does the information that people actually need to make these kinds of decisions? And at the time enable impact, uh, actually was building an accelerator directory.
However, the problem was that the data was out of date all the time, and the platform would be expensive to run and offer it we kept it up to date. So The Accelerator Selection Tool works a little differently in two main ways:
They don’t list individual programs, but list groups that have websites. That way, the company’s website will be adding updated information on its own.
They offer an embed code for websites to offer for free, to outsource distribution.
What are some of your favorite accelerators?
I would say Miller Center for social entrepreneurship, as they have incredible longevity. They’ve been going for over 15 years. In terms of working in emerging markets, they’re amazing and they have a great mix of both virtual and in-person programming, especially around investment readiness.
Mentor Capital Network is also exceptional. Anyone who applies is going to get an incredible amount of feedback from hundreds of mentors from all over the world, if not thousands.
I would say Unchartedis also incredible. You may have known them as the unreasonable institute in Boulder back in the day, but they had a rebrand last year and they are really at representing the next iteration of impact accelerators. So they’re really focused on solving a specific problem.
What do you think the role of an impact ecosystem plays into a city?
I actually love the metaphor of ‘the roadies who make that awesome concert a reality.’
It’s the folks behind the scenes who are connecting the dots who are helping you see and meet the people that you might not otherwise have access to, and to gain the answers to your questions. I mean, Google is awesome. Obviously, they’re gonna rule the world one day, but at the end of the day that’s not necessarily how you’re going to find, not just the answer to your question, but the person behind it who you can really build a relationship with.
I think especially when you look at how silo-ed government is from everything else, how siloed corporations are from everything else, how siloed corporations are internally, how hard it is for universities to connect across things. These that were coordinators are the glue that’s holding things together, and they are the catalysts. From a true chemistry sense of the word, they are speeding up the reactions that are creating an impact because they’re connecting pieces more quickly.
How do you see Global Goal #17 going?
“So, partnerships for the goals (SDG #17) is obviously what we think we embody the most. There’s a lot of money and time and energy and focus going into ending hunger or improving education or fixing climate change and partnerships, many argue, is the most important ingredient.
You’re not going to achieve any of the other SDGs without it. And yet, there are very few funders and very few folks who are actually really prioritizing #17. It is overhead: it is salaries, it is people’s time. That is at the heart of the program that’s being delivered and it’s really hard to measure. You cannot attribute your impact nearly as easily as when you say, “Oh look, we, you know, sold x number of copies of this app serving x number of customers or we’ve delivered, why gallons of clean water to z communities.”
But there are metrics for it. They exist. They’re just much harder and take a lot more time to measure. We’ve been really focused on SDG 17 through our initiative convening 17 and this is bringing all of the parts of our work into one coherent strategy.”
“We’re a 501C3 nonprofit, but it’s the first nonprofit I’ve run. Everything else has been for profit. So, no surprise, about 75% of our income is actually earned at revenue level.
We do a mix of a lot of training, a lot of capacity development, working with foundations to help improve the capability of their team to facilitate a very participant-focused design with many of these folks and over time we also designed and ran full events for them that use this methodology.”
How do you see the future of partnerships playing into getting these goals done?
“I think we need to get ego out of the way.
There is a lot when you look at collaboration, there are a lot of challenges that honestly emerge because people need the credit and they think they can do it better than anyone else. And I think to some extent that’s true. Kickstarter is always going to go faster and be able to do more because they don’t partner. They just know what they do, they do it well and that’s the thing that they’re going to do.
But when you are trying to tackle a complex challenge, you can’t go it alone because too often the intervention that you’re trying to have is going to have unintended consequences and you can’t predict what those are going to be in advance. Then, the only way to address them is through relationship.”
What’s next for Conveners.org?
Avary talks about partnerships and building their accelerator pipeline moving forward.
“I think doubling down on how to build collaboration between conveners and how to really catalyze action. On the collaboration side we are working on a number of core partnerships for 2019 and 2020 that will enable us to take on more SDGs like SDG 2, hunger, and SDG 5, gender equality, and start really building the playbook so more folks can leverage conversations or cost conflicts to achieve really specific and measurable outcomes.
We’re also really excited to be doing more to integrate the accelerator community into that process because they are such a valuable pipeline partner in this.
MIT solve has been doing incredible work for the last few years in identifying core challenges and connecting to a global network to find solvers from around the world, and we’re excited to be talking to them about ways we can connect into the accelerator network that we’ve built.”
~ Digital Pass Experience offers live community connections and insight into what is working in social impact today during Social Capital Markets influential annual conference~
San Francisco, CA – Social Capital Markets(SOCAP), dedicated to accelerating a new global market at the intersection of money and meaning, will livestream all mainstage content from the 12th annual SOCAP19, October 22-25, 2019 at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture in San Francisco. The influential four-day conference convenes more than 3,000 impact investors, social entrepreneurs and innovative cross-sector practitioners committed to increasing the flow of capital toward social good.
FEATURE IMAGE: Lindsay Smalling, CEO of Social Capital Markets, last year addressing audience at SOCAP’s annual impact investing conference at Fort Mason in San Francisco.
“Anyone from around the world can join the SOCAP19 Digital Experience and watch livestreamed sessions of leading perspectives from across the global impact ecosystem,”
said Lindsay Smalling, Chief Executive Officer of SOCAP. “Our mission is to unlock the potential of markets to accelerate impact. By offering free digital access we expand this community to those who are unable to make it to Fort Mason this year. It will take all of us exploring ideas and solutions, to solve the world’s toughest problems and participation shouldn’t be limited to only attendees.”
Signing up for the SOCAP19 Digital Experience will grant full access to online coverage of the conference including:
All SOCAP19 livestreams – including all plenary sessions and main stage breakout sessions happening on the Cowell Theater stage at Fort Mason
Exclusive interviews and coverage of the conference from our impact media partners including NextBillion, Devex and ImpactAlpha
Curated recaps of conference sessions and major takeaways
A digital SOCAP19 program book
A list of all companies and organizations represented at SOCAP19
Post-event, pass holders will receive an email with links to the full SOCAP19 video and online content library
Here are more details of the livestreamed sessions during SOCAP19 plenary sessions from 4:00-6:00pm Pacific:
On Tuesday, October 22:
“A Global Movement that Matters to Millions,” explores solutions to solve the world’s toughest problems from feeding 10 billion people by 2050 to pursuing equity and justice for all. Highlights include:
💥 Nick Glicher, COO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, reveals surprising results of second global survey of the “Best Countries for Social Entrepreneurs.”
🔥 Jennifer Schorsch, President of Water.org, and Tom Ferguson, Vice President of Programming of Imagine H2O share their work on accelerating solutions in water and sanitation.
🔥 Rodrigo Villar, Founding Partner of New Ventures, and Raúl Pomares, Founder of Sonen Capital, discuss opportunities and challenges of the emerging impact investing landscape in Latin America.
🔥 Marcos Gonzalez, Founder of Vamos Ventures and Rod Robinson, Founder and CEO of ConnXus highlight the business case for leading with a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Lens, moderated by Andrew Brower, Program Officer, W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Wednesday, October 23:
“New Approaches to Expand the Impact Economy,” brings a range of experts explaining new approaches to strengthen and expand the impact economy. Highlights include:
📈 Neville Crawley, CEO of Kiva, is interviewed by Helen Avery, Sustainable Finance Editor for Euromoney, on the expanded mission of Kiva and the Refugee Investment Fund.
📈 Mega-panel on the maturing landscape of Impact Measurement and Management with Ben Thornley of Tideline; Elizabeth Boggs Davidsen of UNDP; Diane Carol Damskey of IFC; Leticia Emme of IRIS; Sasha Dichter of 60 Decibels; Maria Mähl of Arabesque S-Ray; Cathy Clark of Duke University; Adam Heltzer of Partners Group; Lauren Booker of Jordan Park; Kate Cochran of Upaya Social Ventures and Andrew Lee of UBS.
🔥 Morgan Simon of Candide Group discusses building a movement with recently retired NFL player and impact investor Derrick Morgan of KNGDM Impact Fund.
🔥 Bonnie Glick, Deputy Administrator of USAID, and David Bohigian, CEO of OPIC in conversation on government agency-led efforts to catalyze economic development in emerging markets.
“The Numbers Matter,” offers leading researchers showing how data reveals hidden patterns and truths; evidence supporting what is working and the essential guideposts for directing the passion and persistence of this field. Highlights include:
🔥 Rip Rapson, president of The Kresge Foundation, and Susan Taylor Batten, president and CEO of ABFE, talk about Kresge’s “25% by ’25” commitment to diverse managers.
Interviews and talks:
📣 Marjorie Kelly, Executive Vice President & Senior Fellow, and Ted Howard, President and Co-Founder of Democracy Collaborative, interviewed by Oscar Perry Abello, Senior Economics Correspondent at Next City, on their proposal for a new democratic economy to address deep, systemic economic inequality.
📣 Lynne Twist, Founder of The Soul of Money Institute and early pioneer of thinking differently about money, takes the SOCAP stage for the first time.
📣 Brent Kessel, CEO of Abacus Wealth Partners on eight financial archetypes that shape our relationship with money.
📣 Neil Buddy Shah, CEO and Founding Partner of IDinsight, on the appropriate role of rigorous impact measurement in the context of impact investing.
📣 Closing: Kate Byrne, President of Intentional Media, the purpose-driven media platform whose brands include SOCAP, Conscious Company Media and Total Impact, speaks to the future of the impact space and announces upcoming initiatives.
Overview of Social Capital Market’s SOCAP19
SOCAP19’s 12th annual conference of influential changemakers, which features over 500 speakers contributing to more than 150 sessions, is organized into 12 themes: Catalytic Capital, Future of Work, Impact Investing, Impact Tech, Indigenous Communities, LatAm, Meaning, Opportunity Zones, Power of Story, Racial Equity, Refugees and Sustainable Agriculture.
SOCAP19 is made possible with the support of the following partners in change: Bush Foundation (Success Partner); Prudential, The Rockefeller Foundation, Korean International Cooperation Agency (Investment Partners); MacArthur Foundation (Presentation Partner); Autodesk Foundation, Bain Capital Double Impact, e180, JB Media Group, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Tides, Walton Family Foundation (Innovation Partner); Big Path Capital, Capital Impact, Celo, Domini, ImpactAssets, Kate Spade, Korn Ferry, Korean Delegation, Powering Agriculture, REDF, SoPro CFO, Working Capital (Pitch Partner); Aeris, Avivar Capital, Blue Shield of California Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, Cooley, DAI, Oweesta, Fondo de Fondos, Schwab Charitable, Rockies Impact Fund, Seeding Sovereignty, Sonen Capital, Stasher (Idea Partner); Alliance Partners, Asian NGO, Conscious Company Media, Corporate Knights, Devex, Dumbo Feather, Impact Alpha, Karma, Next Billion, Stanford Social Innovation Review, The Plug, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Wharton Social Impact Initiative (Media Partner)*.
SOCAP is the largest and most diverse impact investing community in the world. We convene a global ecosystem and marketplace – social entrepreneurs, investors, foundation and nonprofit leaders, government and policy leaders, creators, corporations, academics and beyond – through live and digital content experiences that educate, spur conversation, and inspire investment in positive impact. Our programming includes the annual SOCAP conference, SOCAP 365 regional events, SPECTRUM conference, and Money + Meaning podcasts. For more information, go to SocialCapitalMarkets.net; follow on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube; as well as #SOCAP19 for this year’s conference. SOCAP19 is an Intentional Media company, the purpose-driven media platform whose brands include SOCAP, Conscious Company Media and Total Impact.
About Intentional Media:
Intentional Media is a purpose-driven media and events platform, catalyzing our transition to an economy that ensures that social, environmental and economic systems thrive together. Home to properties including SOCAP, Conscious Company Media and Total Impact – through the power of storytelling and networks, we connect, educate, and inspire people, transforming moments to movements, thoughts to action. For more information, go to https://intentional.co/; follow on https://intentional.co/social/
About the Thomson Reuters Foundation:
We are the corporate foundation of Thomson Reuters, the global news and information services company. Established in 1982, the Foundation has 100 staff members in 17 locations around the world, and works to advance media freedom, raise awareness of human rights issues, and develop initiatives to support more inclusive economies. We believe in the power of information and collaboration to shape a more fair and equal world. Through global news coverage, media development, free legal assistance and our convening authority, we seek to inform, connect and empower people around the world. Our mission is to inspire collective leadership by building global awareness of the challenges facing humanity, and empowering others to shape free, fair and open societies.
Photos of SOCAP18 are by sreel photography, courtesy of Social Capital Markets (SOCAP)
In the SU series, we heard from some of the top minds at SU on how to leverage exponential technology and incorporate it into your own business. We saw some of the implications that exponential technology will have on our futures, and we saw the impact this technology will have in solving the Global Goals. Listen in to hear more about Chandler’s 5 biggest takeaways from the SU series.
In this podcast, our goal is to uncover some of the most innovative companies leveraging leading-edge technology, like Singularity University. Companies like SU are taking on the global goals with social-impact driven business models.
We want this podcast to be a resource for you to learn about the innovative tech of our time and integrate it into your business model.
Top 5 SU Series Lessons
Take Away 1: Start by Building a Regular Company… Then Go Exponential
When you’re building out an exponential technology business, one of the best ways to start is just to focus on building a regular company and focusing on solving a problem that you think that you’re uniquely good at that you will be able to specialize in in the marketplace and watch how that company develops organically.
Take Away 2: Bring in an Outside Specialist to Integrate Exponential Tech
One of the best ways to bring technology into your business is to hire someone that specializes in the technology that you want to leverage. Then, they can help you gauge the timing and success rate when you’re building an ‘exponential’ solution… since solutions like these often seem slow to start, and then make great leaps in traction. Only a specialist would be able to gauge whether your pace is a problem or if you’re just days away from the next quantum leap.
Take Away 3: Learn About Exponential Tech Across Industries
Once you get into the technology game, it’s advantageous to actually study all the different kinds of exponential technologies so you can stay on top of the marketplace. The nature of exponential technology is that industries across the world will be disrupted more and more quickly, and you’ll need to keep your eyes on the horizon to keep up and innovate.
Take Away 4: The Data Will Tell You Where to Start Innovating
You don’t have to be a technologist to get into the business of exponential technology. The best way to start is just to become more data-centric. When you start to see patterns in buying habits, online habits, and gaps in the market, you can begin to innovate solutions.
Take Away 5: Seeing The Innovations in Tech and Business Through Singularity
Chandler says, “Maybe I’m a little bit biased on this, but I really enjoyed getting the inside scoop of the latest and greatest of what singularity is up to in the world and their game plan over the next 10 years.” Singularity has been collecting the most innovate companies and technologists all over the world, so following their work will keep you up to date on upcoming opportunities and trends.
We will be taking a short break and when we come back we will start a series Impact Venture Capital, Private Equity Firms and how to measure impact with your portfolio companies at scale. Stay tuned!
Listen in to hear more about my 5 biggest takeaways from the SU series.
In the next 10 years, you will be able to fly above 700mph between cities in a levitating pod. In this episode, hear how the Hyperloop works and what this technological innovation means for city life in the 2020s.
With fast-moving pods magnetically propelled through tubes, people will be able to get to work in places hundreds of miles from where they live… and save time and costs in transportation.
1:30 How the Hyperloop works
7:15 How the project started
14:30 The business model – a tech IP provider
22:00 Is it safe?
37:00 Less stress more opportunity
40:00 Global Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities
45:00 The vision: making cities a wonderful place to live
Listen in to hear how transportation innovation will transform cities as soon as 2028.
The Mission & Mechanics
1:30 The mission of Hyperloop is to create “effortless journeys that expand possibilities.” Leslie says,
“So what that means is that we’re taking a look at mass transportation where we haven’t seen a whole lot of innovation since rail or the interstate. Things that are decades old. We’re thinking, how can we disrupt those systems and innovate? How about mass transportation that is three times as fast as a train? All electric, on demand, direct to destination, and the idea is that we’re really trying to build this system that can give people back time and connect to cities like their metro stops.”
“So we’re looking at speeds that are up to 600 miles per hour where you can get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.”
It works in a few basic steps:
A tube is built between two cities, and all the air is sucked out.
Electric copper wires line the bottom of the tube to create a magnetic field that will propel the pod
A fusilage just like an airplane – but without wings – goes into the tube
Since the air pressure in the tube is the same as thousands of feet above sea level, and the tube levitates in the tube with little friction.
How did it get started?
Elon Musk was stuck in traffic in 2013, and an idea that was first introduced in 1913 became a new challenge for him to tackle. Virgin Hyperloop One was founded in 2014 and has been testing and gaining investment ever since.
“We’re looking at the end of the 2020s to get this tech to market,” Leslie says. By 2023 they’re looking to get safety regulations approved, and then by 2028-29 they plan to open the travel to the public.
This means a New York to DC trip will take about 30 minutes on the Hyperloop, and one-hour total accounting for door to door. That trip is usually 4.5 hours if you take a flight door to door, and 4.5-8 by car.
The team is looking at cities that have local desire and momentum for transportation innovation – so, Colorado, Texas, California, etc.
The Business Model
14:30 Hyperloop One doesn’t plan to own all the construction and distribution and setup in cities. They plan to own the IP of the levitation technology and let regional companies manage setting it up with their support.
“When you’re looking at local governments who come to us, who want to see a hyperloop within their region, part of the reason they want to do this is because they see hyperloop as something that’s going to bring in an enormous amount of investment. They see it as a kind of fourth industrial revolution, with new jobs and innovation and things like that. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to leverage local expertise, local firms as much as possible to build these routes, which is really a win-win situation.”
Governments that request the project or make it possible as a civic engineering innovation
The passengers creating demand
Shipping initiatives during downtimes or off-hours
“The system is built to support 16000 passengers per hour per direction.”
Is it Safe?
22:00 “The truth is, is that about a third of all train accidents have to do with track failure. And about a third have to do with human failure. So together that’s two thirds. Our system is fully autonomous, meaning we don’t have human error and we also don’t have mechanical switches so nothing has to be pulled, nothing moves for our pod to be able to switch at high speeds. And that’s due to our proprietary limitations system.
So already we’ve kind of designed out a lot of the safety concerns with rail and obviously a lot of the questions that we get when it comes to safety. People say, “I saw this crazy YouTube video and if there’s one hole in the tube then the whole thing is going to collapse like a coke can or something!” Um, and the truth is that that’s not the case.”
What’s the difference between The Boring Company and the Hyperloop?
27:00 “We’re really focused on inter-city travel. So if they’re multiple stops within a city or going to an airport, and also connecting with other cities, that’s where we really see our value proposition.”
The Boring Company is more like highways in-between cities for ultra high-speed travel. Also, the method is more individual or small group travel instead of 16,000 at once.
Less Stress and More Opportunity
More than 2/3rds of the population will live in cities in the near future. This means there’s an urgent need to create transportation for people. One of the benefits of the Hyperloop is that a once dense city can spread out over hundreds of miles, lowering the cost of living and the cost of transportation.
Also, the idea is to have less stress and more convenience. You don’t have to spend a ton of money and plan ahead to live somewhere other than where you work.
37:00 “With Uber, you know that when you click the button, when you click pick me up and you see the price, it’s within a predictable range. It’s somewhat reasonable. I don’t even look at the price anymore. I know that the car was going to come to me. I know that the person is going to care about actually trying to find me, so I don’t want to have to fight to find them for example.”
Global Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
40:00 Here are some of the ways Hyperloop One helps us envision a more sustainable future…
Allowing people to live outside of the city easily, lowering cost of living
Reducing transportation stress
Lowering transportation costs
Using electricity and sustainable materials
Opening up jobs for people who don’t live in cities and have not been able to commute
45:00 “We want to see thousands of kilometers around the world with national hyperloop networks. We’re seeing thriving megaregions that allow people to make the choice for themselves: Where do I want to live? Where do I want to work? If I’m starting a small business? Is there a market opportunity in a city that’s 300 kilometers away? What we really want to support is this future… one where we’ve transitioned off of fossil fuels, where we’re employing highly efficient transportation, and where cities are really just a wonderful place to live.”
1. The business model – Hyperloop One wants to be the best in the world at their tech IP. They’ll build on that IP with partnerships, and let others own the implementation while they own the levitation & tube propulsion technology.
2. The partner economy- That’s how businesses will work in the future – we’ll specialize in what we’re good at and partner with others to implement.
3. The future of cities – What will it be like to live our lives? The job market will open up, real-estate will change… we’ll have more options for our lifestyle as transportation becomes easier and faster.
Dr. Radhika Dirks’ mission is embodied in the organization she’s been building called XLabs. Simply put, the mission is to unleash Moonshots and change the perception of what people think is possible. “Moonshots” are the kind of goals and projects that invent a new era… the kind of projects that will usher in the intelligence age.
3:00 What is a “Moonshot Factory?”
9:00 Inventing the AI mothership, Seldn
15:00 Radhika’s story
21:00 How does AI work?
28:00 Tech that can amplify humans
36:00 How can we understand the exponential?
50:00 The 2 steps to begin designing your moonshot.
The Main Players in the Intelligence Age
XLabs is “a place that can harness the genius of people like Tesla in the 20th century.” His moonshot was a quesiton… how do you capture lightning? This question spurred the invention of electricity as we know it, and prepared the way for Edison after him. The difference between Tesla and Edison though was that no one took Tesla seriously. XLabs intends to prevent that disbelief.
Radhika saw the kind of business and funding going on in Silicon Valley didn’t particularly favor moonshot ideas. Only a specific type of proven-concept startups are favored in the tech hubs of the world, she observed, and so the idea for XLabs was born to give room for unconventional innovation in tech hubs like Silicon Valley.
XLabs spins out 3 companies a year out of the exploration that happens in their research and team-building facilities.
The AI Mothership
9:00 Radhika talks about the gap her team has been addressing in AI… why hasn’t AI totally disrupted business and technology yet? How can we create a company that works like an AI works?
The team started asking questions about the nature of AI to mimic its function in building a company. The company they’re building now learns and grows naturally as their research grows, and therefore informs how AI works. This company became Seldn, which could predict anything from labor strikes to currency changes. Because it was learning from financial models and social occurrences, the company surpassed its 3-year goals in 6 months.
Then… they started looking at what would happen if they opened Seldn’s learning across genetics, culture, media, and geological changes.
15:00 Radhika decided to come to the US at 17 years old, and “I was obsessed with learning about the Universe. How does society work? How does this instrument work?” She wanted to become a physicist and engineer, but she wanted the exposure to research and physics that was available in the States.
She attended Purdue University for physics but wanted to learn engineering to build things people can use. She studied nanotechnology for her masters, and then realized she wanted to learn to build revolutionary ideas, not incremental steps. So, she studied quantum computing for her Ph.D.
Midway through graduate school, Radhika realized that the kinds of people who can build these revolutionary technologies are not the ones who know how to build a business. So, she built a basic business to get the experience to build her first “real” company with a co-founder after grad school.
Then, Shell Oil brought her on, she founded a VC group inside of Shell and eventually moved to San Fransisco to begin building Seldn.
How Does AI Work?
21:00 Radhika distinguishes that AI is a specific kind of software that can mimic the intelligence of a human being. That means it can learn according to an objective, and alter it’s functioning based on what it learns.
Check out this video to see how Dr. Dirks describes AI.
She talks about areas of AI to mimic human functions. For example, “computer vision” to recognize and identify images, and language technology to mimic human intelligence in language. This kind is called “natural language processing.”
The moonshot for AI is to supersede mere automation of things humans can do… Radhika is interested in inventing technology that can do things that humans can’t even do very well. Like financial predictions, causation of societal problems, and creating systemic solutions.
Can we create intelligences to find the origin of diseases?
Can we find drug market sources and address them?
Can we increase safety in volatile cities or countries?
How can we use AI to amplify humans?
28:00 Here’s the matrix Radhika describes to rank different types of AI:
Things that come naturally to humans
Things that are difficult for humans
Things come easily for humans but are difficult for computers
Traditional AI is in this quadrant
Image recognition, language,
Things that are easy for computers today
Things that are difficult for humans but easy for computers
Marketplaces, mapping, problem solving, computation
Things that are too complex for computers
Humans and computers cannot do these tasks well
Predictions, socioeconomic problem solving
Starts with the question, “What is possible?”
What’s the blueprint for the future that we want to see?
36:00 Radhika introduces a though problem to demonstrate how counter-intuitive exponential growth is.
“Imagine you are filling a glass with the bacteria penicillin, which doubles every second. You start at 8:00 am. It will be full by 12:00 noon.
How full is the glass one second before noon? It’s half full.
5 seconds before 12:00 noon, the glass is only 3% full.”
So, we’re often tempted to cut off resources or measure our growth and very discouraged by what we find. But this is how moonshot-exponential growth is happening.
Non-linear frameworks for allowing exponential growth
Most companies and projects build in a linear way, with deadlines and goals. But exponential breakthroughs don’t occur that way. They often arise by accident, in solving a different problem or exploring a solution with a particular constraint.
Leaning into interesting-ness or pursuing novelty
Allowing total freedom to explore, and build solutions on top of one another
So, in order to discover something new, your team will need a lot of freedom, a few purposefully chosen constraints, and a mindset of unattached curiosity… what’s possible?
How do we prepare for change and contribute to the growth as entrepreneurs?
50:00 Radhika gives her top 2 tips for how to make a difference in bringing about the intelligence age:
“More social entrepreneurs need to start adopting this mindset. The mindset that our lives are completely going to change… and starting with creating meaning instead of creating money.
Think about – if you had all the data you could possibly need, what would you build? Start designing it. What would you create in the world with that mindset? Give yourself whatever time frame. Now, come back and ask what is possible for that vision today.”
Then, she says, you will start designing the product that will automatically collect the data you’ll need. Then, you’ll design the incentive for people to share the data that you need to fulfill that vision.
“Here’s what NOT to do… don’t try to become an expert in AI! Don’t compensate for your weaknesses. Build your strengths, and build a team.”
The exponential growth model… how long will it take for our product to be ready? Well, how do I get a specialist on my team so they can tell me how fast things are doubling? Am I 5 seconds from my 12:00 goal of a filled penicillin cup, or 4 hours away?
Do you have someone on your team to understand your timeframe, and stay on the leading edge?