Paving the Entrepreneurial Path: from Soft-sounding to Seed Funding

My business partner, Rick Moss, and I started our venture firm, Better Ventures, in 2011 as a three-month accelerator program (then called Hub Ventures). With our combined experience in customer development, network building, and fundraising, we recently envisioned an open source model that could engage the wider entrepreneurial community. We felt that setting up shop in Oakland was a natural fit, given the burgeoning community of impact-minded founders in the East Bay. Oakland is the center of an emerging clustering of mission-oriented companies, such as Sungevity and Revolution Foods. In addition, renowned institutions like UC Berkeley have a community stronghold here. The soulfulness, diversity, and sense of social and environmental justice make it a unique entrepreneurial hot spot.

We see a lot of interesting ideas and models for impact, but we also see many gaps in progressing from the initial startup phase to the first round of financing. That’s where Rick and I bring the most value, and why the idea of Better Ventures Startup School came about. When Rick and I were conceptualizing Startup School as a free program, we knew we needed the right partner with a common goal of bringing social innovations to market to support our vision. We immediately contacted June Sugiyama at the Vodafone Americas Foundation (VAF), whom we met a few years ago at the annual Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference in San Francisco where VAF held a mobile “fast pitch” session. VAF made perfect sense because of their track record for supporting forward thinking organizations like SOCAP and fastforward. They believe in programs that nurture the growth of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Startup School is tied in with Better Ventures’ wider focus of raising a second $20 million fund with the goal of investing in 30 start-up companies over the next four years. When we launched our first cohort of the school on January 8th, we were impressed with the ideas seeking a launchpad: an online platform for local businesses to share their recommendations for their favorite service providers, a long-distance rideshare network, a system to file “Right to Information” requests in India, and a peer-to-peer lending program for school loans – just to name a few. We’ll be sharing observations and ideas gained from the first cohort in future blogs.

Those interested in participating in Startup School, can read information on our next cohort.