B Lab’s Innovative Tools to Help Impact Companies Grow Sustainably

B Lab exists to support the cultural change happening around business: How can we create social change with business? And how can we operate sustainably, from sourcing to selling?

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Episode Summary

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In this episode, we talk with B Lab executives Laura and Amanda to find out:

  • What is the mission and vision of B Lab?
  • Can you give us a quick background of B Lab and why you got involved?
  • How does the ecosystem work?
  • What stage of business would you recommend to take the assessment?
  • Why should people measure their impact? What are the benefits?
  • Can you share more about B Analytics?
  • What kind of companies are signing up to use this tool?
  • Can you share with us how you integrated the Global Goals with B Lab?
  • How can we get involved?

Tune in to discover how you can use the Impact Assessment as a guide for your own business growth, and how you can use the B Lab Analytics to inform your investments.

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What is the mission and vision of B Lab?

“B Lab is a nonprofit. We’ve been around for about 12 years, and our mission from the beginning has been to serve people using business as a force for good.

What we see our organization contributing is infrastructure primarily to make the cultural shifts that are happening in the nature of business become long-term changes. Also, we are recognizing companies that exemplify what this redefined for social environmental good looks like, which are called certified B corporations.”

Can you give us a quick background of B Lab and why you got involved?

“It must have been 13 years ago! It started with three friends from college who had all gone into the private sector. One of them was more on the investment side of things in private equity and the other two as entrepreneurs. They were growing a company in the apparel industry and sensing that there was something deeply flawed in business.”

“As they tried to run their business with a social conciousness, environmental purpose, and logic, they found barriers. They identified two main flaws in the system. One was legal – a legal definition of maximizing return for shareholders in the short term. The second was a general question: what is a good decision from the social and environmental perspective as you’re running a business? That was the beginning of it all.”

Laura: “I’m Colombian, so I started out as the executive director of the Labs to partner in Colombia. That was about five years ago. As of two years ago, I’ve been based in New York with Amanda working primarily on newer initiatives. We’re trying to sta ahead of the game and moving the market forward. What about you, Amanda?”

Amanda: “I’ve been with B Lab for about four years now. I came to this work after having spent some time in the federal government, really thinking and working on policy and federal initiatives that we’re about promoting economic development.”

“I think one of the things that was lacking for me was the pace in which the government was able to move around supporting sustainable business.”

“But the pace in the private sector was responding much more quickly. So, there I was after about three and a half years in Washington, deciding to leave because I really wanted to be on the cutting edge. I have seen B labs push the conversation forward and provide real solutions for businesses, for investors and stakeholders (not just shareholders), and redefining what the success of a business can look like. I’ve also seen B Lab being progressive about how we spread that change and make it actionable for all businesses.”

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How does the ecosystem work?

Amanda: “When we think about the role that the Lab plays in this work, we see ourselves as one actor in this broader ecosystem of people using business as a force for good. We can take no credit for being the only actors in and thinking about the role of business and how it is changing and how it’s evolving.”

How it Works:

  1. Identify Leaders “Where we see our work really playing out, as Laura said, within the identification of business leaders that have put in best practices around their social environmental management. 
  2. Systematize Best Practices and Get Certified Companies have to go through a process to become a certified B Corp to systemetize those best practices. The first step is actually taking an assessment that assesses those policies and practices in place in that business. For example:
    1. Are you producing a certified organic product?
    2. Are you involved in fair trade
    3. How are you treating your workers?
    4. What’s your governance structure?
    5. How are you engaged with their community?
  3. Change the Legal Structure to a Public Benefit Corporation: Then we create a legal structure that allows companies to account for those shareholders, or excuse me, their stakeholders, not just their shareholders. And as they’re growing their business, as they’re making real business decisions in thinking about how they as a business can grow in the long term.”

Check out this video to see what it means to be a Certified B Corporation

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Can you share the origin of how you developed the assessment?

“The impact assessment has always been the cornerstone of our work around impact measurement, and a first point of entry for a lot of our companies. The first version of it was on an excel sheet. It was like an MVP, but it was about discovering those aspects of the business that we can measure and specifically asking, “how do we identify metrics that are objective and observable that a company can see where they are as an organization?”

At bImpactAssessment.net you can take the assessment. It’s a cloud-based, totally free tool that a company can register for, and as the buusiness goes through that assessment, we ask questions organized around specific stakeholder groups for a company.”

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What stage of business would you recommend to take the assessment?

We got asked that question a lot about five years ago, so we started this new category of B groups, which is called pending B Corp. The pending B Corp group gives entrepreneurs clarity from the beginning: they take it as a learning experience and it’s only a year after they’ve been in business that they actually have to go through the verification process that the B Corp does go through. So they do have a year from the moment that they decide, ‘okay, I want to be a pending B Corp. I want in a year’s time to really understand what the B Impact Assessment calls for. I want to achieve that minimum threshold within a year.’ Then, they have that time to build the elements that they may be missing.

So, my general answer about the business stage is… as early as possible! There’s no cost involved, it’s a login. And no one needs to know what your score is.” 

“We are hoping that companies use the impact assessment as a tool for their development and growth. That way, they can build a sustainable company from the beginning.”

How many companies have taken the assessment?

Great question. So we have 55,000 companies globally that have registered and started the B impact assessment.

I think that’s because there’s a broader consciousness happening in the business community. We’re now at over 2,700 certified B Corps globally, and there’s been companies that are leading the way for others: “Hey, if that company can do it, I can do it.” Or, “I really believe in that company. I want to be just like them in the business I’m building.” So we’re seeing that community as a whole movement, which is exciting.

Why should people measure their impact?

First and foremost it’s important to have visibility onto those aspects of your business that are not just about financial performance.

Laura: I think there’s an interesting opportunity here for companies to distinguish themselves in a marketplace to say, “This is how I’m doing compared to other companies.” That’s really important to us. I think people are demanding it. Customers are demanding it, investors are demanding it, employees are demanding it. And being able to respond to that demand is a critical and central part of a business being successful is being responsive.”

Are there any benefits to doing this?

Amanda: “I think employee engagement is one of the first things that we hear from companies; that either they’ve gone through it and now they’re seeing it as a mechanism through which to engage their employees. Some of it are doing the assessment as a response to their employees, to Laura’s point, as their workforce may be demanding it and wondering, “Are we amongst the leaders that are doing this?”

The political part of it in tracking your progress over time is important in the same way that you would track your balance sheet over time and your profit and loss statement. And, the certification process built in that consistent review.

For me, Patagonia is a great example of this. They have been a leader in sustainability long before B-Corp. Since getting certified, they’ve used the assessment and certification to improve their company and practices.”

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Can you share more about B Analytics?

“The data in it is by individual companies going in and filling out the B Impact Assessment. Then, B Analytics is a business intelligence tool that lets stakeholders actually engage with that data and understand it in a more in-depth way.”

“I think one of the things that we’ve seen is that there are a host of other stakeholders that want to be engaged in helping that business grow. Often it’s investors. Often it is supply chain managers. Understanding and having visibility into these nonfinancial performance metrics of a company can add value. We’ve had about 150 subscribers since we launched the platform, and it is about helping companies understand where they are today, then use that data to make better decisions and improve their impact over time.”

What kind of companies sign up to use this tool?

It’s a variety. I’d say investors are about half of our community and some of them are venture capitalists, some of them are sort of traditional private equity firms and some of them are debt funds actually that have engaged and invested in providing debt instruments to growing companies.

We also have non-investors who are using the platform. We have supply chain managers who have said “it’s really important to understand our impact, but we want visibility into our supply chain as well because we know that a lot of the value that we’re providing more broadly in the ecosystem is actually coming through our supply chain.” So they may be engaging with the companies that they source from in order to measure and manage their impact.

We also have business networks and local economic development organizations that are using the analytics tool to support sustainable business development in their communities.

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Can you share with us how you integrated the Global Goals with B Lab?

“It fits perfectly into this conversation because we’ll be beta testing in November and then launching in January, 2020. It will essentially be a module of the B Impact Assessment and a module of the analytics that bring the Sustainable Development Goals.

We really listened to many of the companies that use the B Impact Assessment, then so many of the partners that use the analytics and they’ve been saying to us for years that the SDG framework is incredibly helpful.

Anyone who knows the Sustainable Development Goals understands just how tangible they make humanity-wide challenges, but they were developed for countries and by countries.

What can we do to get involved?

I would encourage folks to be the change, which is what our newsletter and our content shows you how to do. Our content highlights the good work of the community and the companies that we have the privilege of working with and serving, and also the broader community of change agents that are driving a different system of capitalism.

So if you need some inspiration, if you’re looking for a mid-day, pick me up, check out Be the Change. It gives you an opportunity to sign up for our newsletter. That would be the best place to get updates on this new integration and the SDG work that we’re doing and to stay up to date on all things B Corp.

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Social Capital Markets Conference: Top Takeaways

Social Capital Markets Conference: Top Takeaways

Katy at SOCAP 2019 in San Fransisco

In this mini-episode, our Global Goals Project host Katy Ward shares her top takeaways from the Social Capital Markets Conference this past October.

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You’ll hear:

  • What were some of the hottest topics of conversation at the conference?

  • What was top-of-mind for impact investors at the conference?

  • Why was the storytelling track popular… and important?

  • What is the experience of attending SOCAP like?

  • Who should go next year?

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Below is the post-event press release with details to watch the digital experience recap for free and check out some of the awesome event highlights.

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Global Changemakers Gather at Social Capital Markets’ Influential Impact Investing Conference, SOCAP19

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SOCAP19’s Digital Experience will provide video recaps and an ongoing community for social impact leaders to collaborate and address the world’s toughest challenges.

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San Francisco, CA (October 25, 2019) – At the 12th annual SOCAP19 conference, more than 3,000 impact investors, social entrepreneurs and cross-sector professionals committed to increasing the flow of capital toward social good gathered for four days of convening, conversing, and collaboration, at the Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture in San Francisco.

The influential gathering that took place October 22-25, 2019 from  Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) — dedicated to accelerating a new global market at the intersection of money and meaning — featured 12 themes, over 150 sessions and more than 500 speakers. In addition, 130+ recipients of SOCAP’s Social Entrepreneur Scholarship attended SOCAP19.

“Since we began our conference more than a decade ago, what once felt like a secret — this vibrant place in between the nonprofit world and the finance world —is now woven throughout the global economy,” said Lindsay Smalling, Chief Executive Officer of SOCAP. “Despite the $500+ billion size of the impact investing market and the millions of lives that have been improved by social entrepreneurship, the potential of global markets to accelerate impact is largely unknown to most people. Beyond our flagship conference, SOCAP is driving growth of the global impact community by sharing these inspiring stories through year-round SOCAP 365 events in cities across America; through our podcast, Money + Meaning; and through offering the ‘SOCAP19 Digital Experience.’ In 2020 and beyond, we will increase our focus on accessible storytelling across live events and digital content to engage cross-sector changemakers across the globe to solve the world’s toughest problems.”

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The 12 themes explored at SOCAP19 included Catalytic Capital, Future of Work, Impact Investing, Impact Tech, Indigenous Communities, LatAm, Meaning, Opportunity Zones, Power of Story, Racial Equity, Refugees and Sustainable Agriculture. For additional details on the themes, visit https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/socap19/themes/

Highlights of the SOCAP19 plenary sessions livestreamed and to be part of the post “Digital Experience” footage included:

  • Tuesday, October 22, Nick Glicher, COO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, revealed results of its second global survey of the “Best Countries for Social Entrepreneurs”; The Rockefeller Foundation announced a new initiative on the future of food; Rodrigo Villar, Founding Partner of New Ventures, and Raúl Pomares, Founder of Sonen Capital, discussed emerging impact investing landscape in Latin America.
  • Wednesday, October 23, Morgan Simon of Candide Group discussed 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 on government agency-led efforts to catalyze economic development in emerging markets.
  • Thursday, October 24, Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford SPARQ, Ashby Monk of Stanford Global Projects Center and Daryn Dodson of Illumen Capital, discuss research on unconscious racial bias of investors; Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard of Democracy Collaborative on their proposal for a new democratic economy to address deep, systemic economic inequality; and inspiration from Lynne Twist, Founder of The Soul of Money Institute, an early pioneer of thinking differently about money.

Kate Byrne, President of Intentional Media, the purpose-driven media platform whose brands include SOCAP, Conscious Company Media and Total Impact, closed the last day of plenary sessions speaking about the future of the impact space.  Said Byrne: “Intentional Media’s purpose is the amplify the great work being done in the impact space, and help people understand how to participate and with whom. When SOCAP started 12 years ago it was a pioneer, now there are so many more organizations in the space. We take our years of experience and street cred and put it to work for the community. Programs such as our inaugural, When Women Lead: A World-Changing Women Workshop, expand the conversation and empower those hoping to play a bigger role in the years to come; while our Total Impact platform has helped further mainstream impact investing. SOCAP serves as the gathering space for all to learn, share best practices and connect. As a result, the Intentional platform serves the entire impact landscape.”

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SOCAP19 was 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).

The “SOCAP19 Digital Experience,” which anyone from around the world can still join for free, will give passholders curated recaps of livestreams all the plenary sessions and main stage breakout sessions. The pass includes exclusive interviews and coverage of the conference from SOCAP19 media partners including NextBillion, Devex and ImpactAlpha; a digital SOCAP19 program book; a list of all companies and organizations at SOCAP19; and links to the full SOCAP19 video and online content library. To sign up visit: https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/socap19/digital-experience/


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About SOCAP (Social Capital Markets):

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 LinkedInFacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube; as well as #SOCAP19 and #SOCAPStories 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 SOCAPConscious 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/

Catalyzing Collaboration Across the Planet with Conveners.org

Catalyzing Collaboration Across the Planet with Conveners.org

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.

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Episode Summary

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.

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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:

  1. Conveners Events
  2. Accelerators and Incubators
  3. Mappers

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!

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 Uncharted is 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.

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Other accelerators Avary recommends:

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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.

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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.”

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Can you share the business model?

“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.”

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SOCAP19 Feature: Global Changemaker Sessions Free Livestream

SOCAP19 Feature: Global Changemaker Sessions Free Livestream

OCTOBER 2019 PRESS RELEASE

SOCAP19 Livestreams Global Changemaker Sessions

Addressing Solutions to World’s Toughest Problems

 

~ 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.

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“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

To join in the SOCAP19 Digital Experience and sign up for a free digital pass, go to https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/socap19/digital-experience/. In addition, anyone can join in the online conversations during the conference on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn by using the hashtag #SOCAP19.

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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.”

💥 Roy Steiner and Sara Farley of The Rockefeller Foundation announce a new initiative on the future of food and host a panel with leading innovators in food systems and sustainable agriculture: Anna Lappé, Co-Director of Real Food Media, and Debra Eschmeyer, Senior Fellow and Head of Innovation at the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at the Arizona State University.

💥 Native Land Acknowledgement by Kanyon Sayers-Roods, CEO of Kanyon Konsulting

Fireside Chats:

🔥  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.

Fireside chats:

🔥  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.

🔥  Tim Freundlich, CEO of ImpactAssets, discusses donor advised funds and the role of policy and regulation for guiding impact in financial services with Kat Taylor, CEO of Beneficial State Bank, and Christie George, Director of New Media Ventures.

 

Thursday, October 24:

  • 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:

📊Research on unconscious racial bias of investors led by Jennifer Eberhardt of Stanford SPARQ, Ashby Monk of Stanford Global Projects Center and Daryn Dodson of Illumen Capital, discussion moderated by Miljana Vujosevic of Prudential.

Fireside chat: 

🔥  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.

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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.

For details on the themes, visit https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/socap19/themes/; for information on the first 50 speakers announced, go to https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/socap19/speakers/. Full schedule is available at https://socap19.pathable.com/meetings

Conscious Company Media is also partnering with SOCAP to produce When Women Lead: A World-Changing Women Workshop, an exclusive gathering of female investors and entrepreneurs, as a separate pre-event at Fort Mason on October 22.

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)*.

Tickets to SOCAP19 are $1,595 and to When Women Lead $199 (if purchased with the conference); $249 (workshop only). For more information and to register, please go to https://socialcapitalmarkets.net/register/

*List of sponsors as of press time

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About SOCAP (Social Capital Markets):

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 LinkedInFacebookInstagramTwitter 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)

Top Five Lessons Learned From Our Singularity University Series

Top Five Lessons Learned From Our Singularity University Series

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.

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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.

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Listen Now

Sustainable Transportation: Levitating at 700mph in the Hyperloop

Sustainable Transportation: Levitating at 700mph in the Hyperloop

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.

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Episode Summary

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.

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Full Post

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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:

  1. A tube is built between two cities, and all the air is sucked out.
  2. Electric copper wires line the bottom of the tube to create a magnetic field that will propel the pod
  3. A fusilage just like an airplane – but without wings – goes into the tube
  4. 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.

The Timeline

“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.”

Listen Now

The Infrastructure

The funding, or customer base, is comprised of:

  • DP world, Virgin and other investors
  • 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.”

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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

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What is the ultimate vision for Hyperloop?

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.”

Takeaways

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.

Listen Now

The Moonshot Factory: Building AI that Amplifies Humans

The Moonshot Factory: Building AI that Amplifies Humans

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.

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Episode Summary

  • 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.

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Full Post

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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.

Listen Now

Radhika’s Story

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?

Amplifying Humans

28:00 Here’s the matrix Radhika describes to rank different types of AI:

Things that come naturally to humans

  • (trivial quadrant)
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

  • Traditional computing
  • 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?

 

 

Listen Now

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How can we understand the exponential?

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.

  1. Leaning into interesting-ness or pursuing novelty
  2. 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.”

Listen Now

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Takeaways

  • 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?

Listen Now

Innovating AI to Protect Civilians in Warzones

Innovating AI to Protect Civilians in Warzones

“Since March of 2011, the Syrian Civil War has claimed the lives of over 500,000 innocent civilians, including 20,000 children and 13,000 women.*” Now, AI company Hala Systems has developed technology to sound air raid sirens and alert civil defense ahead of a bombing or conflict to protect the innocent in a warzone.

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This means that civilians living in warzones could evacuate and survive where they would have been impacted by surprise air raids before. In this episode, hear how Hala Systems founder John Jaeger became an “accidental diplomat” to grow funding and interest in this technology, and learn more about using AI to address Global Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.

*quote from Consensys Social Impact)

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Hala Systems is an Unreasonable Institute company

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Podcast Summary

  • 00:30 What is Hala Systems? What are you solving?
  • 10:00 The conflict and civilian protection industry
  • 15:00 The politics of protecting innocent people
  • 20:00 Saving lives success metrics
  • 24:00 How it works
  • 32:00 Adding magic to AI to protect a lot of people
  • 43:00 Global Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

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Dave Levin, John Jaeger and a Syrian computer coder founded Hala Systems, which warns Syrians of impending airstrikes. (Rena Effendi)

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Full post

00:30 Hala Systems is developing advanced solutions for civilian and asset protection accountability and the prevention of violence before, during, and after conflict. They aim to keep people in things safe in places where that’s very, very difficult.

“I spent about 20 years in the private sector, both in the technology and business leadership. Then I accidentally became a diplomat back in 2012, working for the US Department of State primarily on Syria. I recognized about halfway through my tour, but there was a fairly large problem that I didn’t feel as being adequately addressed by the international community.

Idiscriminate civilian bombings.

So I thought, we must be able to do more as an international community to help mitigate the effects of that horrible violence.”

 

Photo by Rena Effendi for Wired

When John realized his governmental department couldn’t support funding his research and tech development to solve the problem, John left and founded Hala systems with a co-founder and a developer. After little luck with venture capitalists and impact investors, he and his cofounders backed the project themselves to prove the model.

 

The conflict and civilian protection industry

10:00 A lot of money and a lot of resources and a lot of news coverage is spent on kind of the downstream effects of conflict, John explains. So much funding goes to things like national security spending and things like border security, refugees and asylum and all these other socioeconomic outcomes that start with people feeling unsafe or traumatized in their country of origin.

And while the world spends a tremendous amount of effort to deal with that situation, it comes across the border and affects our society. But we don’t seem to spend as much time trying to actually solve it closer to the source. This is what I saw in Syria. There are 11 million people estimated to have been displaced by the Syrian civil war. $5, million of those people have left Syria completely.

The politics of protecting innocent people

When alerting people of coming attacks, it can look like protection initiatives are “taking a side” in a warzone. So John and his COO are thinking about, “How do we bring solutions, how do we bring protection for civilians regardless of where they happen to live within a conflict space – regardless of what religion they are or what political party they believe in.

We’d like to say that we’re not on any side of a conflict. We are the side of the people who don’t get to pick a side, and those who are the innocent civilians that are caught up in this war and don’t really have another option.

17:00 John talks about the life of a civilian in a warzone is scary, for sure… and he also shares how moving it’s been to see human resilience in the face of danger and uncertainty.

“They can still tell jokes. They can still laugh. They could still sit down and have a cup of coffee with you and talk about the weather. Human beings are astonishing, astonishingly resilient.”

Saving Lives Success Metrics

20:00 So when the team imagines the impact they are creating, they have unique success metrics.

“So when we talk about what, why did we do this, what was the, what were our performance metrics are a success metrics. It was obviously how many lives can we save? How many injuries can we prevent, but maybe bigger than that is how much trauma we could help reduce.

Though it’s been very difficult to get specific numbers of lives lost in the Syrian war, Hala Systems is determined to gether the data of quantifying their impact. They’ve been collecting lots of survivors’ stories, and they were able to measure 20-30% reduction in the lethality of air strikes in areas the tech was set up. “And we think that’s a floor, not a ceiling if we make certain improvements. That was a profound moment for us.”

DIAA AL DIN/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

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How it works

24:00 The main product Hala offers is called Sentry. Here’s how it works:

“Hala’s warning system relies on both human observers and remote sensors to collect data on potential air strikes. The startup is working toward making its network more autonomous, the better to save lives. —­ Andrea Powell

  1. When observers near government air bases spot warplanes taking off, they enter the type of aircraft, heading, and coordinates into an Android app, which sends the info to Hala’s servers.
  2. Sensor modules placed in trees or atop buildings collect acoustic data, which helps Sentry confirm the type of plane, its location, and flight path.
  3. Software crunches all the data and compares it to past attacks, predicting the likelihood of an air raid, as well as when and where it might occur.
  4. If the potential for an air strike is high enough, the system generates an alert that’s broadcast via social media. Hala has also set up air raid sirens that Sentry can activate remotely. The warning system now gives people an average of eight minutes to seek shelter.
  5. Using a neural network, an automated system continuously scans Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram for posts that might indicate air strikes.”From “Saving Lives with Tech Amid Syria’s Civil War” by Danny Gold for Wired

Watch this video to see a walkthrough of the tech dashboard.

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Adding magic to AI to protect a lot of people

32:00 “The real magic is actually in the post-processing and so the trick is defined a high enough fidelity signal or a high enough fidelity set of information that you can then clean it up and do something with it using the software. And so we’re using machine learning on that front.”

The team developed a machine learning to survey across languages and gather only data that is relevant to danger of specific types in specific areas. It’s been a constant process to make it more accurate, automated and understandable. At the beginning they started with decision trees. The basics. Then, they would add more and more automated decision making processes in order to scale… and grow without resources.

“It’s great to hear for the listeners that you started with what you had… you didn’t jump into AI right away. You let it grow organically,” Chandler says.

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Photo by Rena Effendi for Wired

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The business model: a mission-driven for-profit

“It’s a for-profit social enterprise and that, that, that phrase sometimes makes people’s eyes crossed. But essentially what it means is that, oh, we have a double bottom line, right? Uh, so we have a mission, a mission-driven business. We’re registered as a c corporation and we are, we are a for profit.”

John talks about how great it is to get funding from governments – and, that beurocracy can change cashflow unexpectedly. “It takes time to work with governments to solve these problems,” he says, and that’s why they have their for-profit arm. They plan to explore more commercial opportunities as the tech scales and evolves.

“Part of our maturity as an organization is going to be focusing on a SMALL set of the opportunities we have commercially… we have a rich tech stack, here.”

Global Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

43:00 Hala Systems is taking on Global Goal 16 as well as the Global Grand Challenges with Singularity University.
“Security is the obvious one, right?” John says. “But you’ve also got disaster resilience. That’s aided by sensing and response coordination or even health, right? So using predictive analytics to help, uh, see outbreaks or help coordinate a responder, uh, action in the event of an outbreak.”

John says a geographic expansion is next, and also innovating other kinds of predictions and maturing their tech stack. A main goal will also be in assisting in cease-fire monitoring and peacekeeping practices.

“We would love to take a role and be supportive of efforts to actually end wars.”

Transformational Technology 

I think it’s important that we have these conversations and not just not just here, not just between you and me, but, but it’s important that we get the word out, right? We need to all be engaging in a dialogue about how as technology leaders we can use transformative technologies to solve the world’s hardest problems.

Check out the video below from The Unreasonable Institute’s page on Hala Systems, and see more of the impact they’re able to create in the world.

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Exponential Opportunities to Build a Better Future for All

Exponential Opportunities to Build a Better Future for All

By 2030, AI and robots will most likely take care of all of our day jobs. In this episode, CEO of Singularity University Rob Nail shares some of the most innovative technologies coming to market, as well as the mindset shift we will all need to approach those changes positively.

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Episode Summary

  1. 4:45 How Rob became CEO
  2. 6:45 The 10-year Tech forecast
  3. 18:45 We don’t have to fear the future
  4. 31: How to visualize the future
  5. 38:00 The new occupations for humans: Creating empathy, entertainment, and new exploration.
  6. 47:00 Choosing our careers and adapting our businesses

Rob’s main priority is to shift how people think about the future – to move away from the dystopian vision that’s so prevalent today and shift the story to be more positive. What if people could begin seeing the future in a utopian light?

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Photo Credit Ramin Rahimian

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Full Episode

“Making a Scene” with Tony Robbins to meet Peter Diamandis

Rob’s story is interesting – he moved from feeling like an expert as a successful tech entrepreneur to realize how little he know about his technology. Rob attended a week-long executive program at Singularity University and came away with two epiphanies:

4:45 “I like to describe that first week I walked in the door thinking I was the expert in robotics and biotech. In that week I discovered lots of stuff happening in both robotics and biotech I didn’t realize were happening. I was like, how do I think of myself as a geeky silicon valley tech guy!?

Then the second epiphany for me was that I discovered breakthroughs happening in neuroscience and narrative neurology that we’re converging to ultimately disrupt that robotics business that I built. So, it was a good thing I sold it when I did!”

Rob fell in love with the SU team after that, he had found his tribe. He pitched a bunch of ideas to Peter Diamandis and soon found himself on the SU team.

A 10-Year Tech Forecast

6:45 Cofounder Ray Kurtzwell wrote a book called The Singularity is Near, which goes over the “6 Epochs” of humans and technology evolving: 

  1. Physics and Chemistry Information in atomic structure
  2. Biology Information in DNA
  3. Brains Information in neural patterns
  4. Technology Information in hardware and software designs
  5. The merger of Technology and Human Intelligence The methods of biology (including human intelligence) are integrated into the (exponentially expanding) human technology base
  6. The Universe Wakes Up Patterns of matter and energy in the universe become saturated with intelligent processes and knowledge

*From The Singularity is Near Page 15

Now, that’s a lot to take in at once. Here’s how Rob summarizes:

“As technology becomes empowered with information layers, it can move at an exponential pace. So you can now take a digital photo, copy it, share it, and it never gets consumed.

So basically just builds exponentially. And that’s not just about computers and photos, but it’s also robotics and neuroscience in biology because we’re effectively digitizing these technologies. Right? So as we moved from analog to digital and we have language around the technology space, it can accelerate exponentially.

Rob mentions that this exponential creation and growth has an interesting way of devaluing the technology and products before it. Technology is outmoding itself at a faster and faster rate.

Did anyone imagine 10 years ago that we would have hundreds of free apps at our fingertips? We thought it might be a better camera and microphone… but not a teacher, a doctor, or a business hub.

Soccer tech?!

10:30 Twenty-five years ago the World Cup Robo Soccer League used these clunky big robots. It was like a lego project that can barely follow a team. You could find a goal with sensors and shoot balls. Today we have high school kids who can program bipedal robots to operate as strategic teams, kicking soccer balls against competitive players.

Robot Dogs… BigDog Robot to MiniSpot

Boston Dynamics came out with the first functioning 4-legged robot to leave the lab.

Check out this video… this robot duplicates a dog’s movement patterns.

 

Fertility

It is now possible to turn any female stem cell egg into a sex cell- an egg that could become a child. This means that women can have eggs when they need them… and increasingly we can edit and choose the traits given by the sex cells.

Changing the Narrative About the Future

18:45 When we think about it and where it takes us has to shift radically, or we’re going to just fight the change and be terrified and operate and vote out of fear. That is going to manifest these dystopian hunger games and Zombie apocalypse type movies that we’re watching Hollywood.

My goal is: we can change that narrative. We can see these technologies are actually going to help us solve the Sustainable Development Goals, right? This is the moment: we can achieve all of those goals by leveraging exponential technologies, but they’re not technology problems. They are social, political and individual courage problems.

We have to, we have to paint a vision of the future we want to create. And then having the courage to actually transform all of the systems to create it. Because the future that we’re talking about does not operate like the past.

How can we start to visualize this new, different future?

31:00 Rob says that the SU staff often read – and write – a lot of science fiction to envision what the future will be like. He suggests avoiding the depressive, “fear-mongering” or dystopian content and instead checking out the following resources:

  • Wired magazine
  • MIT Tech Review
  • Futurism
  • World Bank content
  • Big Management Consulting Firms… surprisingly these companies have insightful content on the future, since they have a bird’s eye view.

So… What is going to happen between now and 2030?

 “Every physical task we do will eventually be performed by automation robotics. Pretty much every cognitive task is going to be better performed by AI. …I do think that jobs go away.”

36:00 A lot of people find that possibility to be scary and challenging. But it doesn’t have to be. “Our identities are wrapped up in these things that we call jobs that we need to do to survive today,” Rob says.

“I do think that jobs go away. Those things that we need to do to survive, they go away because energy will be virtually free, which means then food, water, shelter, those will be virtually free. Everyone will be on the cloud and will be connected to the Internet’s information base, which means they will have access to the greatest education, healthcare, diagnostics in AI that has ever existed. It will be far superior to anything that the richest and the Western world has access to today.”

“I think that’s a brilliant, exciting, amazing future that we should embrace and raced with fast as possible because it solves a lot of equity problems and it allows humans to do more. I do not think humanity was created to toil over jobs and labor in mines… and other things that are, you know, stressful and painful and debilitating.”

“I think humanity has a bright star trek future to explore bigger questions.”

38:45 We’re going to shift from jobs to endeavors in the following 3 categories. Humans will work with technology on these types of task:

  1. Empathy tasks: Interacting with other humans in new ways
  2. Entertainment tasks: Finding new ways to have fun
  3. Exploration tasks: discovering how our brains work, how the universe works, and exploring questions like ‘Why are we here?’

How will education change?

42:00 Rob’s framework for teaching his two small kids focuses on the curiosity, critical thinking, and compassion as the top three. “It’s how they think and how they relate to the world. It’s how they’re going to be adaptable and able to continuously look at the world through new eyes. It is not going to be focused on becoming an engineer and all the engineer’s skills. It’s going to be about relating to technology and finding their passion. It is not going to be around becoming some specific career or job, because that is not going to last very long.”

How can business adapt now?

“Start thinking in a more data-analytical way,”

Rob says. He recommends reading the book Principles by Ray Dalio to learn thinking in a data-analytical mindset. He recommends small, incremental steps to integrate data is the first place to start. “Amazon web analytics gives you a good first pass.”

Say you’re 25 and you’re choosing a career. What do you do?

47:00 Well, Rob says, “The world has a lot of MBAs in it and not a lot of philosophers and not a lot of artists. So I think that those people who are following their creative pursuits and weaving in this data mindset are key. So I would spend a lot of time taking coding classes, statistics courses and some early sort of data analytics and data science courses.”

Rob emphasizes that with the mountains of data available now, the world will need creative people to interpret the data in new ways. He mentions the new fields of Design Thinking that will help us solve the world’s biggest problems.

“Setting your sights at moon shots and the worlds biggest problems is always the best way to navigate.” He also emphasizes that everyone will have a role in shaping the future… so look at your career and life as your unique contribution, and not how to make money. That will happen.

To summarize in 3 steps…

How to design your future-optimized career:

  1. Lean into creative and philosophical pursuits.

  2. Study data analytics to creatively interpret data in your field of interest.

  3. Set your sights on moon shots.

How is that for a challenge?

Takeaways

  1. Data is Key Every single business can start getting into the tech game by becoming more data-centric.
  2. Resources There are plenty of accessible resources you can use to start visualizing the future and planning your next steps.
  3. It’s not scary!! There’s a community of over 200k people leveraging technology and making these changes for good.
  4. Challenge: As the market and world changes, how will you change? What actions can you take in the next 30 days to start those shifts?
Digital Biology: Rewriting Life with Technology

Digital Biology: Rewriting Life with Technology

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We live in a science fiction world where we can grow human organs in pigs and very soon trust AI to diagnose cancer 12 years early. How will your business… and your body… adjust to the future?

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In this episode, we talk with Dr. Tiffany Vora, Head of Faculty at Singularity University, about Digital Biology and treating DNA like computer code.

  • 5:00 the global SU faculty
  • 11:00 Digital Biology
  • 17:00 Building DNA like legos
  • 24:00 Radical transparency and programming the future of life
  • 30:00 Bio Brokers… who owns your body’s data?
  • 35:00 Moving from sick-care to healthcare
  • 54:00 Developing your spidey sense

Tiffany’s mission is to boil down the education from the past 1000 years and only keep the good stuff. “And, to burn down the rest! That’s the moon shot, the meta-vision.”

Tiffany’s Journey

Tiffany started out studying chemistry but then quickly moved into genetics research under Dr. Jane Hubbard. She decided to go to grad school instead of med school after her undergrad at NYU. She worked for a pharmaceutical company for a bit and began learning about cutting edge medicine before starting her PhD at Princeton.

She then invented a genetics tech in her grad program that had 19 million datapoints.

She completed her PhD in molecular biology and then went to teach in Cairo, Egypt. After Egypt, she transitioned out of economics and started her science communications writing and editing business. She worked with Stanford during that time and connected with Singularity University through Stanford.

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SU Faculty

Tiffany talks about the community feel of the faculty who are mostly come-and-go mentors and teachers. “There’s just a handful of full-time faculty,” she says. The group is always working to generate more and more community and conversation in all the faculty. “I feel like I’m doing my job if I ask the one question that nobody has the answer to.”

Tiffany says the faculty experience is really fun, and each person has the expertise to challenge startups and ask the tough questions that spur companies forward.

SU has parters in 6 different regions who all have similar core values and understanding of technology. Tiffany mentions how much they all learn from each other by sharing expertise from region to region.

Where is Tiffany learning about tech innovation?

“My biggest bias is that I believe technology can be used for good. I don’t believe that the robot apocalypse is coming. …I have very strong positions about that!”

Tiffany is a biologist by training, but she watches space tech, blockchain and AI to look for convergence points. How will these fields come together to create new solutions?

Digital Biology

11:15 This field helps us conceptualize biology in the same way we think about tech. All life on earth stores life as “A, C, T, G.” So anything you can do with computer code you can do with genetic code.

  • If you want to move large chunks of code? That’s genetic engineering.
  • Want to write your code from scratch? That’s synthetic biology.
  • Want to debug the code one letter at a time? That’s genome editing.

So, we really can think as if the biology is the technology. This is the science that is most closely infiltrating our daily lives, Tiffany says.

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What do the next 5-10 years look like for business owners and the rest of us?

As information becomes digitized, a whole new landscape opens for people and businesses. Once it’s digitized, we can:

  • Turn it into AI
  • Track it and create patterns and trends to predict people’s needs
  • Fix problems in biology with tech
  • Locate where problems are coming from

The first time the human genome was mapped was hugely expensive – thousands and thousands. Now, you can get the same information at about $200. That’s a huge business opportunity!

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Writing Life

17:00 Now, you can build DNA molecules from scratch, like 3D printing. It’s becoming faster and cheaper, and you can create longer pieces. The longer the pieces you can create, the closer you get to writing full life programs.

I could then have the power now to program a bacterial species to eat the oil up after an oil spill. It’s like thinking about biological and life science problems with an engineering mindset. You can even make CBD and THC with yeast molecules!

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So, Tiffany says, “We think about, what am I trying to do that life has already figured out how to do? How can we learn from what the natural world is trying to tell us?”

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Crisper

“Anything I can do to a bacterium, I can do to a human. What we can do right now is use gene editing and a couple of other tricks to make sure that no mosquito on earth could give a disease like malaria or yellow fever. 

What that means is if you were to release these mosquitos into the wild you could probably affect every mosquito on the planet in about 18months. Now, we’re actually talking about what species we want to edit or wipeout.”

24:00 Tiffany talks about radical transparency and talking to the recipients, customers, and patients of any shift a government or corporation can make. “We need to be open, transparent, and honest and have as many eyes as possible on as much data as possible. That’s a new way to run a business.”

“Climate change is an existential threat to the human species and every other species on the planet. I don’t see another way that we’re going to get out of this… we can’t throw these tools away. Genetically Modifying Organisms is what humans have been doing for centuries, and it’s been hurting the planet.”

Who owns your Bio-Data?

30:00 Tiffany says she’s watching the field of Bio Brokers. This field is out to give your FitBit data and 23&Me data back to you to own and sell.

This way, individuals would:

  1. Know who has access to the information
  2. Know the value of that information and how to sell it
  3. Know who to sell it to and how they will use it.

Nebula Genomics, for example, has built a cryptocurrency-protected marketplace where you can have your genome mapped and then sell it to companies who need it to test their medical products.

Tiffany talks about tracking inequalities in different demographics- gender-based inequality in access to food and health opportunities. They figured out a way to design a city so that being fit and healthy had more to do with where you live and less to do with your gender.

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Moving from Sick-Care to Healthcare

35:00 Picture a future in which your toilet is looking for cancer DNA in your stool… moving to preventative care that is very accessible.

Also, giving you all the data and information to optimize your own health. There’s “all these misaligned incentives in healthcare… it’s not right that a hospital can order more tests that the patient doesn’t need in order to meet their profit margin.” Now, too, Tiffany says, doctors and nurses are treated as trusted consultants instead of authorities. Think too that instead of taking 8-10 years of training to make a doctor, it will take a few days to program an AI to diagnose more accurately than a doctor.

That’s an education problem… but it’s exciting to think about the health that could be possible for us.  And, it’s more about giving doctors a superpower.

Recommendations… are there living things in your supplies?

If we don’t have any more cows in the future because we’re growing beef in a lab, is your gelatin product going to be outmoded?

For real estate… is the house in a food desert? Is obesity more probable in your area? How is the water there? We’ll be thinking about these things in the quality of our daily life.

Future Implications Wheel…

In the example of growing human organs in pigs: what are the other implications?

Should I be able to smoke if I can just get a new pair of lungs?

Will we have less kids if we know we can replace organs in pigs and not through sibling organ transfers?

Where will we put all these pigs?

Will people try to replace their whole body and live forever?

“I do believe we are capable of building technologies and processes that point us toward a more positive future.”

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Developing your Spidey-Sense

54:00 Tiffany talks about the microbiome industry and the amazing new partnership available now.

“This is how you would write science fiction! It’s almost a wrong term… this is how I think the future is going to learn! Write science fiction for you business so you can let yourself play without rules!”

Dr. Tiffany talks on editing species in this awesome video:

 

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