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Monthly Archives: December 2016

These 6 Women Undergrads At MIT Invented A Game Changer For The Blind

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Six women, all undergraduate students at MIT, have invented a text to braille scanner that significantly advances the state of the art for text scanners, most of which convert text to speech. The patent-pending device is not yet available in the marketplace, but the inventors are committed to the project, called Tactile, full time upon graduation in the spring. (Disclosure: My wife owns fewer than 100 shares of Microsoft.)

The team comprises three students in Mechanical Engineering, Jialin Shi, Charlene Xia and Grace Li; two students in Electrical Engineering, Tania Yu and Chandani Doshi; and Bonnie Wang, who studies Materials Sciences.

A spokesperson for Microsoft points out that women hold just 5.5 percent of commercial patents in the United States. The company is trying to change that by providing pro bono legal support to female inventors. Team Tactile has been accepted into this program.

Keely Swan, IDEAS Global Challenge Administrator at MIT, boasts, “The Tactile team won a $10,000 grant in last year’s MIT IDEAS Global Challenge, an annual innovation, service, and social entrepreneurship program run by MIT’s Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center. The program helps students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to real-world challenges. As one of our winning teams, Tactile received a 15-month grant, and we’ll work with them through summer 2017 as they refine their project.”

Team Tactile, six undergrads from MIT, are redefining what inventors look like. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Team Tactile, six undergrads from MIT, are redefining what inventors look like. Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Keely describes the team’s work ethic and effort on their winning project. “When I first read the Tactile project plan, it was clear that they had spent time working with people who are visually impaired to understand the challenges they face, and how a real-time text-to-Braille converter could help them read almost anything, from product labels to sensitive personal information like bank statements and medical paperwork. After developing a prototype at a hackathon, Tactile continued working closely with partners and prospective users to refine the concept and create a device they believe can significantly improve the quality of life for people with visual impairments.”

Paul Parravano, Co-director of Government and Community Relations at MIT, is visually impaired and has advised the Tactile team during their product development efforts. He says the market is full of devices, many of which are expensive. Braille display devices cost about $1,500 and they don’t scan documents at that price.

The team hasn’t set a price point, but they believe they can produce their device for just $100, giving them the opportunity to price theirs well below the price of competing devices that don’t provide scanning.

Parravano points out that pricing is key. Many visually impaired people are unemployed or underemployed and therefore don’t have resources for expensive technology. He says, if the team can price the product below $1,500 it could represent a real breakthrough.

With a target price approaching $100, this could represent a quantum leap forward for the blind community.

Team member Jialin Shi adds, “According to the National Federation of the Blind, only 40.4% of adults with significant vision loss were employed in 2014 and more than 30% live below the poverty line.”

Shi describes the team’s bold plan, “We want to make Tactile affordable and accurate. If we can do that, then we believe we will be able to increase the braille literacy rate, and in turn, increase the employment rate of adults with significant vision loss. We think it’s incredibly important to invest in technology that will enable, empower and allow people with disabilities to go and do amazing things. Getting Tactile to a point where we can sell it for $100 or less would be ideal, and would allow us to help many more people than the technologies that exist today.”

Team Tactile, working on their prototype. Courtesy of Microsoft.

Team Tactile, working on their prototype. Courtesy of Microsoft.

The device isn’t market ready, yet. Team member Bonnie Wang explains, “There is a lot of work we still have to do to refine our product. The largest roadblock is shrinking the size of our braille linear actuation mechanism to meet the size requirements of standard braille characters. We are continuing to make steps in decreasing the size of our device to make it portable for users.”

The biggest limitation the team faces is the state of optical character recognition (OCR) technology. “One limitation is the complexity of processing images of irregular surfaces. Especially with the limited processing power of our device, it is difficult to adjust for folds in the surface and distortions in text,” Wang says.

Despite the challenges and limitations, Keely notes that what they have accomplished is remarkable. “I have been deeply impressed by the team’s knowledge, passion, and ability to work together quickly and effectively. The IDEAS Global Challenge judges were also impressed by how much the team accomplished in such a short period of time.”

Shi explains the team’s vision for the product’s impact. “Ultimately, this will provide people with visual impairment access to information that they wouldn’t otherwise have. No more than 5 percent of books have braille translations. Tactile would allow them to read anything they wanted from text books and novels to food labels and mathematical equations. It truly would open up a world of opportunity for an entire community of people.”

The team’s efforts have impact beyond the community of people with visual impairments, Keely points out. “As an all-female undergraduate team, they are setting a great example for other young women and girls, demonstrating what they can accomplish in science, technology, and engineering.”

On Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 5:00 Eastern, all six members of the team will join me here for a live discussion about their project, their progress and their passion. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

New Partnership Seeks To Fund Artists’ Businesses With Impact Investments

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Upstart Co-Lab is a nonprofit that has partnered with the Calvert Foundation and Artspace Projects to facilitate impact investments that support artists.

Upstart Co-Lab is a startup itself, launching earlier this year. The Calvert Foundation is a leader in impact investing, making such investments accessible to ordinary investors–not just the wealthy. Artspace, also a nonprofit, develops live/work projects for artists around the country.

While not seeking to invest directly in works of art, the new partnership is intended to fund businesses that artists often own, being social entrepreneurs by nature.

Laura Callanan, Founding Partner of Upstart Co-Lab, says, art is a big part of the economy but not enough investment is being made there. “The creative economy is more than 4 percent of the US GDP. But JP Morgan and the GIIN report that art and culture are 0% of impact investing. There are currently no tools, funds or manager strategies enabling impact investors to align their capital with the creative sector.”

Laura Callanan, courtesy of Upstart Co-Lab

Laura Callanan, courtesy of Upstart Co-Lab

Callanan makes the case that artists are entrepreneurs who need access to the right kind of capital. “Artists are social entrepreneurs and innovators. They are starting B Corporations and other social purpose businesses. But they are not always recognized as the innovators they are. That means they don’t have easy access to patient and flexible impact capital to bring their ideas to scale. And it is challenging to build a sustainable creative life.”

Kelley Lindquist, President of Artspace, focuses on place. “The problem is that artists across America, and really across the world, consistently lack safe, affordable space in which to live and work. Artists are often low income and as the cost of housing increases, particularly in cities where artists live, they are increasingly priced out, leaving them with with two main unacceptable choices: to leave their homes and/or work space, often forcing the abandonment of their livelihood; or resort to living or working in spaces that are affordable but unsafe.”

These inadequate options can lead to tragedy, he adds. “We have recently–in Oakland–seen the dangers of this second path.”

Callanan explains what Upstart Co-Lab is now doing. “Upstart Co-Lab is looking to unleash more capital for creativity. We are exploring with strategic partners like Calvert Foundation, B Lab and Veris Wealth Partners how to adapt existing impact investment products, tools and approaches.” She see creativity as a drive of sustainability.

Lindquist says Artspace sometimes repurposes existing structures and other times builds from the ground up. “Artspace works with artists and communities to develop and operate buildings that are safe and appropriate for artists and their families. Our projects include both adaptive reuse and historic preservation of spaces such as former warehouses and schools, as well as new construction designed specifically for artists.”

Artspace, he says, is working to create multi-generational affordability. “Our solution is a long-term fix. Rather than moving artists from space to space, following the whims of gentrification, to provide permanent anchors that remain artist-centric and affordable over generations.”

Callanan says one of the biggest challenges she’s faced is bringing the naturally entrepreneurial artists together with the less entrepreneurial funders. “Cultural institutions, foundations making grants in the arts, and others who work in proximity to artists–but are not artists themselves–are often less entrepreneurial, less comfortable with harnessing the power of the markets, and lack basic investment literacy. There is effort required to build understanding and engagement among these likely allies. This requires time and patience. Their participation will help build the enabling infrastructure for artist-innovators.”

Lindquist notes that access to capital for funding their projects is one of their biggest challenges. Of course, that is the purpose for the partnership with Upstart Co-Lab.

Kelley Lindquist, courtesy of Artspace

Kelley Lindquist, courtesy of Artspace

He also notes that attitudes toward art have been a traditional challenge, but believes that is changing. “When we first started doing this work, it was a struggle to convince city leaders and others that artists are an asset to communities. That has shifted somewhat. One way of measuring that is that in the last year alone we received 170 calls from mayors, city department leaders, foundation staff and others asking for our help in stabilizing or growing their arts communities.”

Callanan says it is still early days for Upstart Co-Lab to see the potential limits of the work. “As our colleague Patricia Farrar-Rivas at Veris Wealth Partner has said, the conversation we have started about a creativity lens today is where the conversation about impact investing and climate change was 15 years ago.”

She adds, “We have set a three year schedule to implement five projects we think will prepare the system for a big shift. We are testing the potential and discovering the limits of our solution. The limitations of our approach will reveal themselves over the next few years.”

Artspace’s Lindquist notes with the benefit of more hindsight, that their work is primarily limited by their scale. “By some standards, we’ve created a lot of affordable space for artists and arts organizations, but the need is vast. In cities with high housing costs, such as New York, Seattle, Santa Cruz, and the D.C. metro area, we receive thousands more applications for live/work units than we can possibly provide.”

He notes that they are scaling up, but still can’t meet the need. “The process of developing a project can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years, and while we have grown from developing one project a year to now having a dozen in development at any one time, it still doesn’t meet the need nationally.”

Jack Meyercord, Head of Impact Investments at Bienville Capital, says the new partnership will have a positive impact. “Impact investing, at it’s core, is about generating a social return in addition to a financial return. Artists are innovators, social commentators and, in many cases, social entrepreneurs. Impact investing can unlock capital that allows artists to accelerate their creative endeavors, enhance the impact of their work and, in certain cases, create sustainable social ventures in the creative economy.”

Callanan remains optimistic about the impact of Upstart Co-Lab. “Upstart Co-Lab will chart its success through the new opportunities it opens for artist-innovators; the products, structures, and systems it puts in place to connect impact investors with the creative sector; and the engagement it fosters between social change makers and artists who share their goals.”

Lindquist, too, is upbeat about the future despite the challenges and limitations. “We know that the work we do has tremendous benefits to the individual artists and arts organizations for whom we provide affordable space. Artists are more productive and because some of the financial burdens are eased by the affordability, they are often able to devote more time and energy to their art and earn more of their income from that.”

On Thursday, December 15, 2016 at noon Eastern, Callanan and Lindquist will join me here for a live discussion about the partnership and impact investing within the artist community. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

Prudential Working To Double Impact Investing Portfolio Focuses On Newark

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.


In the Spring of 2014, Prudential Financial, Inc., announced a commitment in double its impact investment portfolio from about $500 million to $1 billion by 2020. Half way through that period, the financial giant reports it is making progress, with much of the investment going to redevelopment efforts in Newark.

Prudential was founded 140 years ago in Newark, New Jersey and remains there today. Lata Reddy, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, says that the decision to stay in Newark was not simply “inertia.” She says, the company has repeatedly decided to stay in the community and to invest in it as part of its social mission.

Prudential reports investing more than $400 million in Newark’s civic infrastructure, to help create new jobs and attract more consumers. Projects include:

  • The redevelopment of the historic Hahne & Co. building into a mixed-use development featuring street-level retail, which will include a Whole Foods Market, mixed-income apartments, and space for Rutgers University.
  • The revitalization of Military Park into an epicenter of Newark city life, complete with a café and a spacious lawn where community activities such as fitness classes, concerts and movie screenings now take place.
  • The development of free ultra-high speed Wi-Fi in Newark’s downtown district accessible to anyone. The WiFi is 200 times faster than public WiFi networks available in other cities including New York.
  • The renovation of the former National State Bank building into Hotel Indigo, one of the first new hotels built in Newark in 40 years.
  • The conversion of a former warehouse into AeroFarms, a next-generation urban farming hub. AeroFarms will help bring a new, sustainable industry to the city, create jobs, revive deteriorating neighborhoods, and produce healthy food for residents.

Jonathan Cortell, Vice President of Development for L+M Development Partners, says, “Lata and her team have been invaluable partners in our joint effort to restore the long vacant Hahne & Co. flagship building in downtown Newark. Our initial collaboration was to finance the property’s acquisition and it has steadily grown from there.  Vacant for nearly three decades, the acquisition was not the easiest transaction and I can’t imagine any other lender successfully pulling it off as Prudential did.”

Lata Reddy, courtesy of Prudential

Lata Reddy, courtesy of Prudential

Reddy, who rejoined Prudential in 2012 in her current position after a three-year stint as an independent consultant, sees Prudential playing a key role in addressing fundamental problems in Newark, which exist to a greater or lesser degree around the world. She worries that “too many people are excluded from the real economy.” She notes that some communities like Newark are “experiencing concentrated poverty.” This impacts women, veterans and people of color disproportionately.

Communities lose out when the upwardly mobile move out of the community, leaving the less fortunate to fend for the themselves. This impacts the city government, she notes, reducing the tax base and impairing the talent pool that government can draw from for leadership. Ultimately, however, Reddy says that Prudential sees these problems as opportunities for the firm to make a difference and a profit.

Reddy says, “Our goal is to create a thriving, walkable, 24/7 community.” She points out that Prudential is the largest company based in Newark, “the only Fortune 50 company headquartered here.”

Cortell agrees, complimenting Prudential’s work in the community. “Lata’s group consistently demonstrates flexibility and creativity well beyond what you typically see from lenders. Lata and her group encouraged us to raise the bar and actively engaged local institutions, like Rutgers University, that are helping to make Hahne’s a real resource for the City of Newark.”

Daryl Carter, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Avanath Capital Management, which has raised three funds to invest in affordable housing, says that Prudential invested in all three funds and provided debt financing on some of the projects as well.

Carter says, “Because of Prudential’s initial and ongoing investment in our funds, we have successfully acquired, renovated, and preserved over 41 affordable housing communities totaling more than 7,000 units throughout the United States.”

He explains the vital role affordable housing plays in building healthy communities. “For example,” he says, “providing resident services such as after-school programs for kids keeps them engaged and makes communities safer, and creating quality living environments that are also affordable contributes to the overall stability of a neighborhood. Prudential supports our vision and holistic approach in providing quality housing to a segment of the market that is often ignored by other investors.”

Reddy acknowledges that there are challenges. “Even with our resources, you can’t do it alone.” She says, attracting additional capital to support redevelopment has been a challenge. For some projects, the “capital stacks” are complicated.

There hasn’t, however, been a problem with finding good projects to fund. The scale of the problem–opportunity as she sees it–is massive, providing plenty of shovel ready project just waiting for capital.

She acknowledges that not all of the community’s problems can be solved by investments. Prudential also deploys some philanthropic capital to support job training and other programs in Newark.

Furthermore, the money presently allocated to philanthropy and impact investment is too small to solve the problems they hope to address. In order to actually solve the world’s biggest problems, “we need more capital,” she says. Traditional capital markets will have to be deployed with an eye toward impact to solve these problems.

In this regard, Prudential itself is a symbol of this problem. While building a $1 billion portfolio of impact investments by 2020 is a huge step forward, the firm has $1 trillion in total assets. The firm’s allocation of capital to impact is just 1/1000th of its total.

Reddy says that the bespoke nature of impact investing is part of the problem for achieving scale. She expressed hope that standardizing impact investment structures will make the market more efficient and attract more main stream capital.

The impact of the projects, however, is already being felt in Newark, she says. More people and companies are coming to live, work and do business in Newark. More amenities are being created. Prudential has catalyzed more capital by leading the way.

Reddy sees this work as being central to the firm’s commitment to the community and social impact. The firm was founded, she says, on the principle of helping people “achieve financial prosperity and the peace of mind at comes with it.” Impact investing is a contemporary way of continuing that legacy, she says.

On Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 11:00 Eastern, Reddy will join me here for a live discussion about Prudential’s investments in Newark and elsewhere on it way to building a $1 billion impact investment portfolio, Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

How Will President Trump Impact Solar Energy Development? The Answer Will Surprise You!

Clean Energy Advisors sponsors the work of the Your Mark on the World Center, including this publication.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

According to the Washington Post, the U.S. solar industry is expecting to shatter records for new solar power, with 4,143 megawatts of photovoltaic solar capacity added in the third quarter alone.

The Solar Energy Industries Association and market analysis firm GTM Research, just published its “U.S. Solar Market Insight” report. The executive summary is available for free here.

The summary notes, “Between Q1 and Q3 2016, solar accounted for 39% of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S, ranking second only to natural gas as the largest source of new capacity additions.”

Most of the growth, according to the report, is in utility scale projects rather than retail rooftop solar.

Clean Energy Advisors, or CEA, invests in small utility-scale solar projects in North Carolina.

Despite the rosy report, people reasonably wonder about the prospect for renewable energy under President-Elect Trump, who has appointed climate change skeptics to head both the EPA and the Department of Energy.

CEA CEO Chris Warren agrees. “The results of the U.S. Presidential election have undoubtedly raised some questions around the future of the renewable energy industry in America. Given President-elect Trump’s campaign rhetoric around support for coal, fracking, the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and his apparent belief that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, one might assume that the solar industry is in for a rough ride. If this was 2008 I would tend to agree with that assumption.”

He points out that the growth of the industry has been exponential over the past ten years and that portends continued growth.

He says, “This growth which was driven by institutional investor interest in both the stable cash flows and tax attributes available to real assets in the space has changed the landscape in which we operate. In 2008, the price per watt for a solar panel was around $4, today that number is around sixty cents. All of the other major costs associated with solar projects have experienced similar contraction. The net result is an industry that can support itself based on underlying financial returns and not government intervention or incentives.”

“Solar is now at grid parity with fossil fuels in many states across the country and the list continues to grow. While legislative changes at the Federal, state, and local level have in the past created challenges for renewable energy (and in some instances opportunities) the financial returns are driving growth today,” he continued.

Ultimately, Chris has faith that President Trump will make decisions based on facts, not fiction.

“Nobody can accurately predict how a Donald Trump Administration will initially approach alternative energy. What we do know is that once he looks under the hood he will find substance that he probably has no idea exists,” Chris says. “He will find an economic engine that is driving job creation and contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies. He will find an asset class that is widely accepted by the largest financial institutions providing above market rates of return. He will find public support among 90 percent of the American population for advancement in the amount of power we produce from renewable energy.”

“I believe that President Trump will appreciate the reality that renewable energy is here to stay and is indeed the future,” he concluded.

The report predicts that 2016’s expected total increase in solar capacity of 14 gigawatts will grow in future years, topping 20 gigawatts per year by 2020.

Chris Warren, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

Chris Warren, courtesy of Clean Energy Advisors

On Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 11:00 Eastern, Chris will join me here for a live discussion about the solar industry in the context of the coming Trump administration. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Clean Energy Advisors:

Twitter: @ceacleanenergy

Clean Energy Advisors is a private equity firm focused on creating socially and environmentally positive ownership opportunities for investors in utility scale solar energy projects that generate tax advantaged predictable income and preserve capital.

Chris’s bio:

Twitter: @ceocleanenergy

Chris Warren has over twenty-five years of experience in the financial industry and along the way he has acquired a unique set of skills and experiences through roles that include managing assets for high net worth investors, leading a major division of a Fortune 500 company, building three successful businesses from inception, and overseeing complex financial arrangements for over US $860 million in renewable energy assets. Mr. Warren is a graduate of Duke University. His technical training includes a Certification in Renewable Energy Management from North Carolina State University and training in Basic and Advanced Solar PV Design from Solar Energy International.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Singer, Speaker Helps Girls Develop Leadership Skills


You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Jessie Funk is one of those people that lights up a room by walking into it. She brings a palpable, positive energy to the stage when she speaks or sings. In recent months, I’ve heard her speak and sing to two different audiences, one of youth and another of adults, with equal brilliance.

Jessie’s message is as powerful as her personality. She helps people to see bullying through a clear lens and provides simple, easy to execute tools for coping with it.

She doesn’t stop there. Jessie is channeling her passion for helping girls into a nonprofit called Ivy Girl Academy.

Jessie Funk, courtesy of Ivy Girl Academy

Jessie Funk, courtesy of Ivy Girl Academy

She recognizes the full range of challenges that girls face today. She says, “The problem is that too many girls are anorexic, addicted to drugs or alcohol, are cutting themselves, or struggling with depression and anxiety.”

Jessie is working to help girls cope in healthy, constructive ways that will empower them as leaders. “Ivy Girl Academy offers workshops, summer camps, and a membership program that teach girls empathy, conflict resolutions skills, self-defense, self-respect, basic psychology, and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help them problem-solve more effectively,” she says.

Jessie acknowledges challenges in her work, noting that girls face head winds in overcoming their problems. “The challenge we are all facing is that girls still deal with fear, insecurity, negative stereotypes, and a lack of leadership skills,” she says. “Too many girls don’t raise their hand, start the business, share their opinions, or take the leap of faith.”

Not one to be bound by limitations, Jessie is frustrated by the scale of her nonprofit today. She wants to help more girls so she’s developed a plan to make that happen. “Our limitations are that we can only serve girls within a small geographic region. This is why we are getting ready to launch a membership program that can allow us to serve millions of girls worldwide,” she says.

Jessie has a big vision for Ivy Girl Academy. “Our mission is to empower girls with the leadership skills they need to be confident, happy, and have healthier relationships,” she says. “Through the power of knowledge and information, we can help girls overcome challenges and rock their universe.”

On Thursday, December 22, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Jessie will join me here for a live discussion about her work at Ivy Girl Academy and her mission to empower girls. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Jessie Funk, courtesy of Ivy Girl Academy

Jessie Funk, courtesy of Ivy Girl Academy

More about Ivy Girl Academy:

Twitter: @ivygirlacademy

We ignite personal & positional leadership skills in teen ladies through world-class workshops, summer camps, and certification programs.

The Ivy Girl Academy was created by Jessie Funk. Jessie has been a passionate advocate for teen girls since she was one herself. She has worked with, served and studied young ladies in many different capacities for the last eight years.

Jessie holds a leadership certification from the University of Notre Dame, she is a certified life coach and she has been a professional motivational youth speaker for a decade. Jessie has released five solo albums and has published five books including, “It’s Your Life…Own It. A Teen’s Guide to Greatness.”

Jessie’s Bio:

Twitter: @jessiefunksing

Jessie Funk holds a leadership certification from the University of Notre Dame along with a Bachelors Degree in Psychology. She has also been a professional youth speaker for twelve years, speaking for high schools and leadership conferences internationally. She is a “7-habits” facilitator for Franklin Covey, the most prestigious leadership training company in the world. She is a published author of two books for teens and she is also the Director of Education for the Utah Anti-Bullying Coalition. Her passion for empowering teenagers led her to start an international non-profit organization called “The Ivy Girl Academy,” a confidence and leadership- training program for teen ladies.

As a professional vocalist she has released five solo albums, has toured 36 states with the Broadway musical “Footloose,” has also been hired for hundreds of recording sessions as a studio vocalist including songs heard on TV’s “America’s Got Talent,” ESPN and “The Biggest Loser.” Jessie has walked away from three record deals unwilling to sell her soul for fame. She chooses to use her voice to lift and inspire in positive ways.

Jessie’s favorite role in life is that of adored wife and mother to two.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Multi-Generational Giving from a Silicon-Valley Tech Company with a Big Heart

This is a guest post from Kurt Klein, the CEO of DataEndure

DataEndure (formerly Computer Media Technologies) opened its doors in the heart of the Silicon Valley in 1983, just as the first rudimentary notebook computers were trickling into the marketplace and the 3.5-inch floppy disk was a novel idea, still a year away from introduction.

Kurt Klein, the CEO of DataEndure has kept the legacy of philanthropy within his company. For over 10 years he has made a yearly commitment to Second Harvest Food Bank and Pursuit of Excellence.

Along with volunteering his time, Kurt has inspired the entire team of 50+ employees at DataEndure with the passion to collect food donations for this fine organization. Every year the entire staff travel to the local grocery store just before Thanksgiving and each employee fills an entire cart of meats, dried and canned goods and everyone checks out and DataEndure picks up the entire tab. The whole team then loads up a truck with all of the groceries and deliver them to the food bank.

DataEndure and its employees provide food to Second Harvest Food Bank with an annual employee Thanksgiving food donation drive. Over the years, the event becomes an internal competition of sorts whereby the company tries to outdo its donations of the previous years. Just last year, the company sent over more than 4,000 pounds in total food weight in just one day. Imagine that happening each year for the past ten years the company has been doing this and it’s clear to see the commitment .CEO Kurt Klein sponsors the charity event and closes the office for two hours. In addition to the food donation, DataEndure matches cash contributions to provide to Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

As one of the largest food banks in the nation, Second Harvest provides food to an average of nearly one quarter of a million people each month. DataEndure’s efforts will support Second Harvest’s goals to mobilize individuals and companies, enabling community partners to connect people to the nutritious food they need.

“It’s firmly engrained in our culture to support community charitable efforts, and the Second Harvest Food Bank performs incredibly important work to combat hunger in our area,” Klein said. “We are honored to help Second Harvest assist those who are struggling to put food on their tables.”

Community outreach and giving back has been at the forefront of DataEndure’s culture for the last 30 plus years. Kurt is a mentor for an organization that is very near and dear to his heart, Pursuit Of Excellence.

Every new school year, Pursuit of Excellence brings in 30 plus teenagers and provides these motivated young people with tuition, room and board, even spending money for the time it takes them to take it to graduation. Klein, a CEO with a mission to motivate, takes on four mentees.

He contributes his time to helping these teenagers with whatever they may need to reach their goal of becoming a college graduate. And it’s more than money. The organization provides them with a support system that teaches them financial oversight and money management. Kurt even took his group on a tour of Facebook’s campus and comes to their holidays and graduations.

“I treat them just like they are my own children,” says Klein, a father of two. “ A few years ago I had one mentee named Jaime, and it was great to see him put on that cap and gown. Now, I’m mentoring his little sister at UC Santa Cruz, and it’s a wonderful feeling to be part of this family’s progress.” The secret? The perfect combination of a little nurture, and of course a lot of support. Sometimes he’ll nudge them to a field, such as business, but for the most part, he’s happy to see them graduate and go off on a path knowing he helped guide them to that shining moment of graduation day.

He wants all of his employees to follow in his and his father’s footsteps, creating a company culture of being a part of the community they work in. But it’s not just these two organizations Klein feels strongly about. DataEndure also offers gift cards to other organizations in a matching offers contest. If any employee is nominated by a peer for demonstrating one of the company’s culture pillars, DataEndure will make a donation to a charity of the employee’s choice.

Mother of 8, Grandmother of 24, Tackles Global Peace Initiative


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Dr. Paula Fellingham is remarkable for many reasons. Not only has she earned a Doctorate of Education Degree, she did it while she raised eight children and 24 grandchildren. She has also been a talk show host. She is the founder of the Women’s Information Network and of the nonprofit Equity Serve Foundation. She is the author of six books. She seems unstoppable!

Never daunted by a challenge, she’s tackled what could be described as the world’s biggest: peace and prosperity.

Paula says, “Although hundreds of millions in nations worldwide lack love, prosperity, and peace in their lives, there has never been a better time in history to implement a Global Prosperity and Peace Initiative whose mission is ‘to increase the love, prosperity and peace on Earth.'”

So Paula is making it happen. “We have created a Master Action Plan (a MAP) to fulfill our mission. We have developed systems and processes. We have valuable content that can strengthen hearts, homes, and all of humanity. Additionally, we have Regional Directors, Peace Ambassadors, National Peace Ambassadors and hundreds of volunteers who are ready to implement our Global Prosperity and Peace Initiative in 196 nations, beginning in January, 2017.”

Paula Fellingham, courtesy of Women's Information Network.

Paula Fellingham, courtesy of Women’s Information Network.

No different than so many entrepreneurs, Paula needs funding to launch her initiative. “Our biggest challenge is funding. We have funded the Global Initiative to this point, and now we are ready for financial help. We are seeking one million dollars (I have a breakdown of exactly how it will be spent). Our Global Initiative will be self-sustaining and so the initial capital will be repaid and our partners will enjoy a WIN WIN with us.”

The lack of funding limits how quickly she can have impact, she says. “We have content; we have volunteers worldwide (a plethora of people!); we have some media contacts. However, with funding we can deliver our content via apps, radio, television, etc. in every nation. The technology is there. We simply need to tap into the resources that will help us achieve exponential success.”

Paula starts her work with a desire to measure progress and impact. She says, “We believe we can lift the level of love, prosperity, and peace in the world. We have measurements in place and every year on Peace Day (September 21st) in 196 nations our National Peace Ambassadors will host a Peace Summit. Also, at that time the progress in each nation will be measured, analyzed, and the data will be publicized and recorded. The increased (or decreased) levels of prosperity and peace (which can and will be measured) in each nation will determine the level of support they receive the following year.”

On Thursday, December 15, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Paula will join me here for a live discussion about her remarkable work to increase peace and prosperity in the world. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Women’s Information Network:

The Women’s Information Network (WIN) is a community of women in many nations and an online educational and social network. We present events worldwide where we teach “Total Life Excellence” and we offer online courses and educational products.

More about Equity Serve Foundation:

Our non-profit entity is Equity Serve Foundation. Under this company we are implementing a Global Prosperity and Peace Initiative in 196 nations. We launched this Initiative at the World Parliament on Spirituality November 17 – 20 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Paula’s bio:

Dr. Paula Fellingham is a leader in the global women’s movement today as the Founder and CEO of The Women’s Information Network (WIN).

Paula holds a Doctorate of Education Degree in Human Relations and she is the author of 6 books and many magazine articles.

Paula has spoken for delegates at the United Nations and at conferences around the world for over three decades. For years she hosted her own daily radio show called “Solutions For Families.”

Dr. Fellingham received an “Outstanding Leadership and Service Award” from U.S. President Barack Obama, and the prestigious “Points of Light” Award from U.S. President George W. Bush.

Currently, Paula is chairing a Global Prosperity and Peace Initiative. She is working with Peace Ambassadors in 196 nations. Their goal is “to increase the level of love, prosperity, and peace on Earth.”

Years ago, Paula’s family was a musical performing group. For 12 summers her family performed across the United States and in Europe. Paula has been married for 45 years to Dr. Gilbert Fellingham, a Professor of Statistics at BYU. They have 8 children and 24 grandchildren.

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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

 

Only The Relentless Succeed: 7 Lessons From 7 Summits And 7 Seas

This post was originally produced for Forbes.


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You don’t sail across the world’s seven seas and summit the world’s tallest mountains without learning something. Martin Frey, the Guinness World Record holder for being the first person to do it, sums up the key to success in one word: “relentless.”

Frey, a highly successful business leader who was an early employee at Cisco, says, “I’ve been an angel investor but am currently transitioning my time and focus towards projects that drive social innovation, and my portfolio towards investments that have a social impact.”

He explained key lessons from his adventures that have meaning for social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders.

Martin Frey during his North Pacific sail, courtesy of Martin Frey.

Martin Frey during his North Pacific sail, courtesy of Martin Frey.

Climbing the seven summits, the highest peaks on all seven continents, and sailing across the seven major oceans of the world of the world took 11 years. He began in 2005 and finished on April 17, 2016.

  1. “Your attitude will define your success more than your capabilities.” Frey learned this lesson on his first summit, Denali, back in 2005. He was in a group of six people, only two of whom reached the summit. He says he had no physical capacity the others didn’t, nor did he have more climbing experience. He said, “When it didn’t go as they wanted, it bothered them. It caused physical deterioration to accelerate.”
  2. “Embrace the unknown when everything is ambiguous.” One key factor, he notes, is the ability to accept the vicissitudes of life. He saw that both on the mountains and in the sailing races around the world. He noted, “We were in a storm for six days and it started to get to people. They couldn’t deal with the uncertainty.“
  3. “When you are tacking into the wind you have to maintain momentum.” Momentum is more important than short term direction. You can’t steer the ship without forward momentum. This lesson, he says, is especially important for nonprofits. In any business, it is more important to make progress, find customers or donors and to make something happen than it is to be on exactly the right course. This insight leads to the next.
  4. “Constantly course correct as you go.” Sometimes, he says, you should change course. This has to be done along the way. You can’t return to port, you must keep moving forward, but with an adjusted goal or destination in mind.
  5. “Anticipate your transitions.” He shared this insight with students graduating from Utah Valley University in May of this year. “While cross-country skiing to the South Pole, I realized that I was in another transition, having just completed the 7 summits. As I crossed the barren Antarctica, I planned my sailing circumnavigation with my family and then actually purchased a sail boat while on my satellite phone still in my skis. I knew by then that if I didn’t move quickly that my ultimate goal of achieving a world first would be at risk.”
  6. “Relentlessly solve problems and remove variables.” He says, “We passed a lot of other sailors because we were relentless at solving problems. Others would get stuck in port waiting for a part. It wasn’t brashness, it was a relentless determination.” He said he consciously worked to remove the variables that would take the team off course, sometimes thinking two or three ports ahead to order parts and supplies that would be needed along the way. In Bali, he hired a guy on a moped to take him to a machine shop to have a part made. “I was relentless.”
  7. “Climb the invisible mountains.” While Frey climbed mountains you can see, he says, some people climb invisible mountains. These may be personal challenges like overcoming addiction or learning to speak Mandarin, or they may be service to others. Feeding the homeless may not bring the notoriety of climbing Everest, but it is a mountain worth climbing. He said, “My wife Kym has focused her life on climbing the mountains of service. Her support and influence has improved the lives of children, shut-ins, the hospitalized and the disabled. Sometimes she wishes she had more visible accomplishments that she could lay claim to, like starting a business or writing a book, but her dedication to service always brings her back to climbing the invisible mountains. These types of meaningful pursuits will culminate in a life that matters, and certainly bring more joy than any business or book.”
Martin Frey, atop Everest, courtesy of Martin Frey

Martin Frey, atop Everest, courtesy of Martin Frey

Frey is at heart an engineer. He has no interest in ideas that sound good and don’t work. When he talks to nonprofit leaders, he is focused on measuring success. “Donors and investors also need quantifiable metrics to evaluate various charities and ultimately determine the results of their charitable giving or impact investing.” He believe these lesson have value because they work.

On Wednesday, November 30, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Frey will join me here for a live discussion about his seven lessons from sailing around the world and climbing the highest peaks on all seven continents. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

Cap Table Primer: How Do I Sell 20% Of My Company 5 Times And Keep Any?

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Social entrepreneurs can be parsed along a variety of different axes. One of those is whether the social entrepreneur comes primarily from a business or entrepreneurship background or an impact background without much business experience. This piece is written as a primer on capitalization tables, or cap tables, for those without much business or entrepreneurship experience.

For this piece, I’m drawing principally on my experience running an FINRA-registered boutique investment banking firm that worked primarily with small and midsize companies.

The cap table is the list of owners and their respective stakes in a business and their respective ownership stakes. Generally, entrepreneurs and investors agree that a simple cap table is a better cap table. The fewer the investors the better. When it comes time to make key decisions that require approval from shareholders, the fewer signatures required, the better.

That said, the clutter in a cap table usually comes from a simple need: more money. Investors bring the money entrepreneurs often can’t succeed without.

To optimize your cap table, you will want to be strategic. Start by raising money in rounds rather than in one-off lumps. Rather than negotiate a deal with your uncle one day and a separate deal with your aunt on another, organize a round of friends and family financing and give everyone the same terms. Another key to strategic capital is to take as much capital as you can in each round, so that each will last as long as possible.

At this point, you may be thinking how many rounds will there be? If I sell 20 percent of my company in each of five rounds, does that leave any for me? Isn’t five times 20 percent equal to 100 percent of my company?

It is difficult to know in advance how many rounds of capital will be required, but first time entrepreneurs are often surprised to learn that the big rounds of capital often come after—rather than before—the company becomes profitable. It takes money to grow. When the company is growing, the value is growing. That growth in value effectively makes room for more capital.

Here’s how it works.

value-creation-journey-cap-table-chart-1-300x185

Hypothetical capitalization table by round, showing the increase in value. By Devin Thorpe.

For simplicity, let’s assume that you are a single founder that owns 100 percent of the common stock of the company, let’s call it Startup Co. Each time you raise money, you’ll likely issue new preferred shares that will give special rights to the investors, including most importantly the right to get their money out before you get any money out when the business is sold or liquidated. To be clear, you don’t sell any of your common stock. You keep that and issue new preferred shares to the investors.

Sometimes convertible debt structures are used in early rounds to provide similar protections to preferred stock with simpler legal formalities.

Let’s say you do a friends and family round that is what it sounds like, a round of financing from your friends and family. Sometimes these rounds are said to include friends, family and fools as they tend to be so risky. It isn’t really foolishness to invest, especially in social ventures; rather, it is altruism. People want to help you succeed, especially if you have a mission in mind.

If you raise $50,000 and sell a number of shares equal to 20 percent of the post-transaction total, that is 20 percent of the business, you’ve effectively valued the company at $250,000.

That valuation is said to be the “post money” valuation. It is determined by dividing the investment by the percent of ownership, or $50,000/.2. (That intimidating looking math is easier if you remember that dividing by .2 is the same as multiplying by five.) That implies that just before the investment was made, your business was worth $200,000. The money could only have added $50,000 of value. That $200,000 is said to be the “pre-money” value of the business.

So, as an entrepreneur, your Startup Co, which may be little more than an idea when you raise $50,000 from friends and family, is now worth $250,000 and your share of that is $200,000.

That money won’t last long, but if you are successful in making real progress with it, perhaps by developing a successful prototype or even a marketable “minimum viable product” or MVP as it is called in lean entrepreneurship circles, you may be able to raise a formal seed round of capital of say $500,000. Let’s assume once again that you sell 20 percent of the company.

That investment implies a post-money valuation of $2.5 million and a pre-money valuation of $2 million, ten times the old value. But, there are more shares outstanding. You don’t own the whole $2 million like you owned the $200,000 before the friends and family round. Your friends and family own shares, too. Even so, the value of the shares will have increased eight-fold since the last round. Your founders shares are now worth $1.6 million and your friends and family investors now find their $50,000 investment to be worth $400,000. Not bad.

Keep in mind, this is easy to do on a spreadsheet. The challenge is to build a company that achieves these milestones.

The next round would traditionally be called an “A-round” referring to the Series A Preferred Stock issued by the big venture capital firms that make these investments. To keep our math simple, let’s assume that the A-Round is $5 million and that once again Startup Co sells 20 percent of the business. That would value the business at $25 million, implying a $20 million pre-money valuation. Even after three rounds of capital, the founder still owns more than 50 percent of the business and theoretically owns stock worth $12.8 million.

A follow-on round of venture capital would typically be called the “B-round” and could be as much as $50 million, implying a post-money valuation for Startup Co of $250 million and a $200 million pre-money valuation. Your founder’s shares would be worth $102.4 million at this point.

If all goes well from there, an IPO could be in the offing. An IPO is an initial public offering. Rather than sell shares to one investor or a small, cooperating group, the shares are sold by an investment banking firm to the public. If you could raise $500 million in your IPO, that would value the business at $2.5 billion. Your founder’s stake would be worth $819.2 million even though you have sold 20 percent of the company five times. And those friends who put up $50,000 in the first round, their shares would be worth $204.8 million.

In the IPO, all of the preferred shareholders are typically required to convert their shares to common, just like the founder and just like the shares the public owns. Even in the IPO, however, it is difficult for the founder to sell shares. Usually, the founder will be required to wait until the company has been public for at least six month and perhaps longer before being allowed by the investment bankers, the lawyers, the market, the board of directors and everyone else with a say to sell their shares. Until then, the eye-popping valuation numbers are really just theoretical.

This hypothetical example is intended to help you see how raising money is a fundamental part of creating value in your enterprise. Of course, if your business fails to achieve milestones and runs out of money, all bets are off. Founders commonly walk away with nothing even after raising substantial rounds of venture capital.

The impact investing market focusing on investments in social enterprises is still developing. Many investors who do invest in impact still seek market rates of return on a risk-adjusted basis. These are still early days, but this model should at least help you to see how you can sell 20 percent of your business five times and still own enough of it to keep you motivated.

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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

India Creates Opportunities For Social Solar Entrepreneurs

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Upendra Tripathy, recently retired Secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in India, sees tremendous opportunities for social entrepreneurs to play a role in expanding renewable energy there.

Tripathy retired on October 31, 2016 from the top policy position in the Ministry. During his tenure, he oversaw a 400 percent increase in carbon tax in the country. He also led the five-fold increase in the 2022 target for solar power in the country from 20,000 to 100,000 megawatts. While he acknowledges that he is not a social entrepreneur, he notes that he has put policies into place that support social entrepreneurship.

According to freelance writer and creative consultant, Ashok Choudhury, who lives in Delhi, Tripathy has been widely recognized for leading change in the Ministry during his two-and-a-half year tenure.

World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim (L) and Indian Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley (R) pose with Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Secretary, Upendra Tripathy (2L) and World Bank Country Director, Unno Ruhl (2R) following the signing and exchange of agreement in New Delhi on June 30, 2016.The World Bank Group June 30, signed an agreement with the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to collaborate on increasing solar energy use around the world, with the goal of mobilizing one trillion dollars in investments by 2030. / AFP / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim (L) and Indian Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley (R) pose with Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy Secretary, Upendra Tripathy (2L) and World Bank Country Director, Unno Ruhl (2R) following the signing and exchange of agreement in New Delhi on June 30, 2016.The World Bank Group June 30, signed an agreement with the International Solar Alliance (ISA) to collaborate on increasing solar energy use around the world, with the goal of mobilizing one trillion dollars in investments by 2030. / AFP / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

Tripathy explains that during his service, the government took three specific actions to support renewable energy entrepreneurship. First, the government set up a regulatory infrastructure to encourage the establishment of micro-grids. Second, policies were created to encourage commercial rooftop solar projects on schools, hospitals and businesses. Third, social entrepreneurs and nonprofits were encouraged to increase their outreach to the public to get the country closer to universal access to electricity.

The last point hints at the underlying motivation for rapid adoption of renewable energy. As India is still a developing country, there are about 300 million people who lack access to electricity. Unlike the U.S., where the primary motivation for renewable energy is to reduce carbon emissions, the need to expand access to electricity is a primary motivator in India.

Choudhury notes that Tripathy organized the 2015 RE-INVEST conference, calling it a “game changer” for entrepreneurs. The conference led to a variety of commitments from both the private and public sector, including plans to build 277 Gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy. The government committed to build 175 GW, including 100 GW of solar, he says.

Choudhury says, “More important was the structuring of the 100 GW of solar into 40 GW in solar parks, 40 GW in rooftop and 20 GW in distributed space. Big entrepreneurs came in to solar parks. Thirty-four solar parks have been sanctioned so far all over India. More are in the pipeline. Rooftop has taken a big leap and many new and small time entrepreneurs are joining the solar journey in the form of channel partners, companies and NGOs.”

Tripathy says there are already about 800 micro grids operating in India. He offers some tips for social entrepreneurs wanting to expand access to electricity using solar and other renewable energy sources in India, especially in rural villages.

First, he says, mini-grid entrepreneurs need to look for anchor tenants with resources to help defray the capital and operating costs so they don’t fall entirely on the poor. He offers examples: “Mobile towers, remote hospitals, or tourist homes if any,” adding, “In such cases, you can cross subsidize the tariff of the poor from your income from the anchor point who can pay more.”

Tripathy points out, “Mobile tower connectivity is a win-win situation. The owners save costly fossil fuel and carbon footprint, create employment and promote energy access.”

His second tip for social entrepreneurs is to scan the environment, referring to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He says, “Meet peers, join national and sub national platforms, and use ‘Right to Information’ [rules] to understand what all benefits Governments (federal, provincial and local) give to that sector. The financial model should suitably incorporate all these features to make a successful social enterprise.”

Choudhury says, “For India, climate justice is an article of faith. Renewable energy is a part of climate justice as it reduces carbon footprint, brings in investment, creates employment, and secures the future of our future generations.”

On Monday, November 21, 2016 at 10:00 PM Eastern (8:30 Tuesday morning in India), Tripathy will join me for a live discussion about the opportunities being created in India for social entrepreneurs and the benefits they will in turn bring to the 300 million people in India who lack access to electricity. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!
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