May 2013

Science & Technology
  • The New York Times ran an interesting article on new technologies in lighting, while  Japanese scientists announced that they are developing Toretter, an earthquake warning system based on Twitter content.
Business
  • Change.org raised $15m in a round led by Omidyar Network and involving Uprising. The company, which was founded in 2007 and has 35m users,  makes it easy for people to create online petitions and is a good example of a socially-driven but for-profit company.
  • ConsultingMD, which connects patients with experts in order to deliver quick second opinions, raised $10m from Venrock. The company claims to be able to aggregate patient records in digital form within 48 hours, assign each patient to the most relevant expert and present information to health care professionals so that they can quickly and accurately provide a diagnosis. More.
  • Edukart, which delivers online education to India, raised $500k from investors including Kima Ventures. Unlike other MOOC providers, the company charges for courses but provides phone/email support from paid subject matter experts and access to an alumni group.
  • Curious.com, a knowledge exchange marketplace offering short video lessons on a wide range of skills, launched fully (more details here). The company has received $7.m from investors including Redpoint Ventures.
  • PopExpert, which connects students with experts for one-on-one chats, raised $2m from investors including Learn Capital and Expansion VC. Interestingly, the site focuses on development of EQ rather than IQ.
  • Captricity, which is developing technologies to turn handwritten forms into structured data, raised $4.5m in a round led by Social+Capital Partnership  and involving Atlas Ventures, Founders Fund, Greylock Partners and Kapor Capital. The solution has applications in resource-constrained organisations reliant on data to solve development-related issues. More.
  • Mindmixer, which helps organisations to source suggestions and feedback from their user bases, raised $4m.
  • The Economist ran an interesting article on use of mobile phones to improve service delivery in emerging markets. The full article is available here. Similarly, an interesting article from the BBC looked at the opportunities for services delivered through ‘feature’ phone apps within emerging markets. As the articles points out, while this market is relatively under served, sales of such phones still exceed those of smart phones (254m compared to 208m in Q412, according to Gartner, although the balance is likely to shift in 2013) with cost, resilience and battery life making them better suited to many contexts. One example given is ForgetMeNot Africa, which has developed a platform to enable users to send emails or update social networks via SMS or a feature phone app. The article also highlights the point that the technology sector often focuses on areas that are new and exciting, in the process potentially overlooking attractive opportunities or making these hard to market.
Other

In an event marking the launch of the University of Salford’s Social Business Center, Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, gave an interesting talk on the benefits of social business. Grameen defines social businesses as those following seven central tenets:

  • Business objective will not be profit maximisation but rather to tackle a problem, such as poverty, which threatens people and society
  • Financial and economic sustainability
  • Investors receive no return beyond the money originally invested, with no dividends paid thereafter
  • Once investors are repaid, all profits reside within the company to expand/improve activities
  • Environmentally sustainable
  • Market wage and good working conditions for employees
  • Social businesses make the world a better place, so activities should be done with joy

While social businesses can be more effective than charities as a result of their self-sustaining nature and ability to harness the energy of profit-making to the objective of meeting social goals, Professor Yunus was keen to stress that his approach provides a solution for a specific type of problem, and that he would not advocate adoption of this over other models in many other settings. He was also keen to stress that benefits of simplicity in a society trained to think in a complex way, where ‘people get suspicious of simplicity and use complexity to prove their own self worth’.