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innovation DAILY

Here we highlight selected innovation related articles from around the world on a daily basis.  These articles related to innovation and funding for innovative companies, and best practices for innovation based economic development.

When in the course of business as usual, it becomes necessary for one people to dissovle the economic bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Natures and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of the marketplace requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the entrepreneurialism.

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Dear Mr. Bendis:

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence. Many people learned of the historic vote by reading their
The Pennsylvania Evening Post, Saturday, July 6, 1776
The first newspaper printing of
the Declaration of Independence
The American Revolution Center Collection
Pennsylvania Evening 
newspaper, the Pennsylvania Evening Post. A copy of this newspaper survived the centuries and is now a part of The American Revolution Center's collection.


Those that supported the Declaration put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor in great peril. Anticipating the impact of this revolutionary document, John Adams wrote his wife Abigail on July 3, saying "I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States."  Yet his belief in the successful outcome was resolute. In the same letter, he describes how future generations ought to commemorate the vote for independence with "Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."


As we prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the day that marks the birth of America, we invite you to visit our website, take a quiz to test your knowledge of the American Revolution, and explore our education and collection pages to learn more about this extraordinary period.  You can also read about the development of The Museum of the American Revolution-the nation's first museum commemorating the entire story of the American Revolution and its ongoing legacy. 


As we gather this weekend with friends and family, let's remember those past and present who have, and continue to toil and sacrifice so that we may enjoy peace, liberty and independence.

Thank you for your interest, we welcome your support.

Happy Birthday, America!

Bruce Cole signature
Bruce Cole
President and CEO
The American Revolution Center

altRaising Money During The Summer Slowdown

The streets are empty in NYC this July 4th weekend and it seems like everyone is at the beach. The Gotham Gal and I are getting ready to head to Italy for a week on Sunday night. Summer is here and I can feel the pace of work life and city life slow down.

Many of our companies experience a slow third quarter because people aren’t working at quite the same pace in July and August and it is hard to get it all back in September. And many entrepreneurs and investors I work with assume for the same reasons that the summer months are a bad time to be raising money.

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photoHow many times have you heard the expression: "good enough for government work?" Too often I am sure. Sometimes it may even apply to your business or other activities. Of course, that is not your standard of excellence. Most of the time you strive for better than 90 percent perfection. Don't you?

If the question were asked, many would say that they do much better.

What if we strived for 99 percent? Sounds good, doesn't it? No more than one error in a hundred. But how good is that really?

99 percent means the following: loss of power for 7 hours each month; 24 problem landings or takeoffs at O’Hare airport each day; 30 million incorrect drug prescriptions annually (2002 data); unsafe drinking water for 15 minutes each day.

Not a very pretty picture. 99 percent does not sound so good when put in terms we can understand. How many miss-billed invoices a month does that mean to you? What is the cost? How many shipments go out with the wrong product, the wrong count, or to the wrong address? How much does this cost the bottom line?

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With high-tech companies needing less capital due to advancements in technology, startup development methodology and online marketing, we have seen a Renaissance in angel investing. While angel investors participate in part for the excitement of engaging with entrepreneurs and placing bets on the future, they also do it for the expectation of significant financial returns. Various studies of angel investing published in the last decade estimate aggregate returns to angels on the order of 18-37% per year, well above market. The catch is that 50-70% of angels make less than what they invest. Returns are very unevenly distributed and this begs the question to what extent is portfolio theory fundamental to angel returns.

The best data set with detailed investment & exit information comes from the Angel Investor Performance Project by the Kauffman Foundation. The data was collected by surveying angels who belong to angel groups. Cleaning the data and restricting to the domain I was interested in—first round investments in early-stage high-tech companies—yielded a data set about the returns of 56 angels with exits from 112 companies. The data show the type of skewed distribution one would expect from early stage investing:

  • 75% of exits happened between 2001 and 2006. There is some reason to believe that the data may have a slight bias towards negative returns as 50% of investments happened between 1995 and 2000. Angels may have been buying high and selling low.
  • 3.2x cash-on-cash return for all investments put together (total dollars out divided by total dollars in). However, returns are extremely sensitive to big hits. A lucky angel put $600K in a software company in three rounds from 1988 to 1994. In 1996 the company went public and the person got a nice 55x return. Removing this one company from the sample drops the aggregate cash-on-cash return for all angels nearly in half to 1.8x.
  • Of the companies angels invested in, 63% were complete write-offs for the angels involved.

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Innovation Perspectives - Don't Be Michael JordanMichael Jordan failed at baseball because he tried to be something he’s not, a world class baseball player. Jordan is still considered one of the best basketball players ever, but he’s not great a baseball. So when a company decides it wants, or needs to be more innovative, it ought to look in the mirror and ask what it will take to start to be something it hasn’t been in the past, and wonder why it will succeed.

Before it does that though, there needs to be a conversation about why they want to be more innovative. Just because innovation is happening in a lot of places doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, which is true of most changes. Take Coke and Pepsi as an example. Pepsi changes their look and their motto all the time while Coke’s are much more enduring. It’s simply a decision of Pepsi to frequently make these changes, just as it’s Coke’s decision to not change and both organizations remain very successful.

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Oliver illustrationAmong business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the route to success. "Innovate or die!" goes one mantra, usually followed by a hackneyed reference to everyone's favourite innovator, Thomas Edison, whose persistence resulted in the invention of the lightbulb. (What appeared above his head when he got the idea?) Yet if innovation was a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world – or consumer capitalism, anyway – might look very different. If you're British, you're unlikely to have eaten a burger at White Castle, the chain that invented fast food; it's even less likely you've drunk RC Cola, the first cola, or paid for either with a Diners Club card: all were innovators, now long eclipsed. Nor, if you're wondering, am I writing this on a Remington Rand computer.

The cult of originality isn't restricted to the world of business, but that's where it's at its most acute: all that much-mocked talk of "blue-sky" thinking ism an ode to innovation. And it's in the world of business where one scholar, the management theorist Oded Shenkar, has begun to point out the elephant in the room, which is that innovation often simply isn't the key to success. McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Mastercard were all, to borrow the title of his new book, copycats – not primarily innovators, but imitators. There are countless other examples: Apple and Microsoft, for starters. Shenkar wants "to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance". Rather, it's a "rare and complex" capability, one we could all do with cultivating. Which is – yes – a rather innovative viewpoint on the matter.

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In a recent, thought provoking piece for the Harvard Business Review, contributor Timothy Ogden makes the argument that the United States is a laggard, not a leader in social entrepreneurship. The piece shares the humbling story of William Kamkwamba, a teenage boy from Malawi who homespun a ramshackle windmill out of scrapyard materials to provide power and running water for his family.

I have to admit, Ogden's argument is compelling. He proceeds to discuss how major social innovations like microfinance, mobile to mobile money transfer services and text message crisis response all have originated in developing nations; what he refers to as the "two-thirds world". It only makes sense that those whose lives are embedded into situations of poverty and disadvantage be the most likely to appreciate the innovation necessary to solve their most immediate concerns. Our strategic philanthropy through the likes of Kiva, just isn't as compelling as a story like Kamkwamba's.

Ogden proceeds to argue that the U.S. needs to concern itself less with incubating social innovation domestically and create more capacity to support innovation internationally. The most obvious asset we can provide to such a situation is financial capital. Additionally, unique programs like MBAs without Borders provide management resources help to entrepreneurs in the two-thirds world.

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investment_jul10.jpgAngel investors help bridge the gap between early funding generated from friends and family and from the venture capital you hope to secure down the road. Although angel investing is arguably more informal than professional venture capital, angel investors still look for startups that can give them a return on what is a high-risk investment.

For first-time entrepreneurs, then, seeking and securing angel funding is likely their first foray into the investment process. As such, there can be lots of questions about how to find, approach, and pitch to angels. And so we've rounded up some advice from other angels and entrepreneurs on how to proceed:

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Innovation ConfusionAt the recent E2.0 Forum, I described a particular dynamic I’ve found: there is no set definition of innovation. It’s a concept where everyone has an intuitive sense of what innovation is, but would have a hard time formalizing a definition. Much like the way U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described pornography:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"] and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

Sure there are dictionary definitions. Merriam Webster defines innovation as: “the introduction of something new.” But that’s really not satisfying. Just because something is new, is it really an innovation? If everything new is an innovation, nothing is.

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In a speech at the American University last Thursday, President Obama highlighted the incredible economic rewards that America has gained from its immigrants. He spoke of new waves of immigrants—from places like Ireland, Italy, Poland, and China—challenging the generations before them, and consequently being subjected to “rank discrimination and ugly stereotypes”.  Yet the immigrants kept coming to America. That’s because it was the only land of opportunity. The President wants lawmakers to fix the immigration system so that America can remain globally competitive. But I don’t think it’s that simple. America is no longer the only magnet for the world’s best and brightest. Fixing immigration policy is an important start, but it won’t be enough to stop the brain drain of highly educated and skilled workers that the U.S. is presently experiencing.

Just last week, there were two notable visitors to Silicon Valley—Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, and Chile’s minister of Economy, Juan Andres Fontaine. President Medvedev wanted the brilliant Russian-born and -educated programmers who write some of the Valley’s most sophisticated software to know that they are welcome back home and that he is setting up a science park for them. Minister Fontaine wants to turn Chile into a tech hub and is following my advice on how to make this happen: by attracting immigrants; building a diverse culture that encourages risk-taking and openness; and creating networks of mentors. Over drinks (some excellent Chilean wine), the minister told me of a new program that Chile is piloting to lure bootstrappers. Chile will grant $40,000 and provide some really cheap office space and accommodation to budding entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world. All they have to do is to build their products in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet. Chile is betting that once these entrepreneurs get there, they will never want to leave.

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