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The best source for news and information about crowdfunding for good.

Crowdfunding for Social Good

Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Monthly Archives: January 2016

LoanHero Grows Seed Round to $4.2M For Point-of-Sale Consumer Lending Platform

Alsop Louie Partners and Mucker Capital complement initial $1.7m Seed raise to prepare LoanHero for nationwide expansion in 2016

San Diego, Calif. – January 21, 2016 – Online lender LoanHero, Inc. today announced it has secured an additional $2.5 million in Seed funding. Led by Alsop Louie Partners and Mucker Capital, this investment will allow LoanHero to offer financing to consumers nationwide. Since launching in April 2015, LoanHero has raised a total $4.2 million in equity funding and has achieved a lending capacity of $20 million.

LoanHero was launched to provide consumers with better loan products at the point of sale while addressing pain points for merchants and lenders. A balance-sheet lender, LoanHero has also partnered with multiple strategic lenders to address a wide spectrum of consumer needs across a variety of verticals. The company offers merchants a seamless technology platform with a streamlined application process and analytics dashboard that make it easy to provide customers with hassle-free financing.

“Point-of-sale financing is a $500 billion industry that is ripe for disruption,” said Derek Barclay, LoanHero President and co-founder. “Lenders struggle to gain meaningful deal flow from merchants, and merchants are forced to apply for customer financing through a number of incompatible financing programs. Ultimately, the consumer suffers from multiple declines and the merchant loses the sale. At LoanHero, we’re redesigning the financing ecosystem to better serve consumers, merchants and lenders.”

In just six months, LoanHero has made thousands of loans to prime, mid-prime and sub-prime consumers, all in a controlled rollout to five states and a select group of 100 merchant partner locations. Over the past year, LoanHero has tripled its staff and raised an additional $20 million for the purpose of offering balance-sheet financing. With the support of Alsop Louie Partners and Mucker Capital, LoanHero anticipates more than tenfold growth in its loan portfolio over 2016. The company will serve consumers nationwide and lend across multiple verticals including furniture, auto repair, home improvement, and alternative health.

“We’ve seen meaningful growth since we launched in April, and we have validated the problem consumers and merchants have in securing capital from traditional sources,” added Steve Connolly, CEO of LoanHero. “The online lending space is booming, and partnerships are the name of the game. LoanHero has not only found lenders across the risk spectrum to accompany our balance sheet, but we’ve also surfaced a new customer acquisition strategy for consumer lending by targeting the consumer at the point of sale. It is now clear that we are filling a meaningful gap in the marketplace.”

“LoanHero’s impressive growth demonstrates that the company has solved significant problems in point-of-sale lending,” said Will Hsu, co-founder and Managing Partner at Mucker Capital. “The team has built a seamless loan origination platform that will differentiate LoanHero from competitors as it scales nationwide.”

“We love companies that disrupt entrenched players and delight their customers; usually we have to choose, but LoanHero gave us a chance to invest in a company that does both,” said Stewart Alsop, founder at Alsop Louie Partners. “By giving consumers their optimal choice of credit options within seconds at the point of sale the LoanHero platform delights both consumers and merchants alike. LoanHero is poised to help millions of consumers lower their borrowing costs, while increasing the velocity and simplicity of transactions for their merchants.”

About LoanHero

LoanHero has developed an innovative loan origination platform that brings marketplace lending to the point of sale. LoanHero provides better financing options for consumers purchasing goods and services, including furniture, home improvement, auto repair, and elective healthcare. Through the integration of strategic lending partners complementing their own balance sheet, LoanHero is able to offer instant decisions and the most competitive loan product available for prime to sub-prime consumers, all on one streamlined platform. LoanHero is an EvoNexus portfolio company located at 4225 Executive Dr, La Jolla, CA 92037. To learn more about LoanHero and stay up to date on future updates, visit www.loanhero.com.

About Alsop Louie Partners

Alsop Louie Partners is an early-stage technology venture capital firm founded in 2006 by Stewart Alsop and Gilman Louie. Located in San Francisco, the firm focuses on disruptive and innovative technologies, and has made investments in the areas of cyber security, predictive analytics, education, and entertainment. Some of the companies the firm has led investments in include Twitch, Netwitness, Keyssa, Cleversafe, and Lookingglass Cyber Security. For more information, please visit www.alsop-louie.com.

About Mucker Capital

Mucker Capital invests in seed and “pre-seed” stage companies building defensible and scalable businesses in Internet software, services and media. The firm partners with exceptional entrepreneurs who have deep domain expertise, with a focus in the greater Los Angeles area. Mucker Capital goes beyond funding to work side-by-side with entrepreneurs, providing support and resources in critical areas like product development, customer development, business development, operational infrastructure, and recruiting. The partners and the Mucker Capital network provide a wealth of experience and expertise to help their portfolio companies succeed.

How These Dads Created A Reading Robot From The $61k Raised On Kickstarter

Chris Harden and Jeremy Scheinberg created Trobo, a robot that is an educational toy focused on teaching young children STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). They successfully raised $61,000 on Kickstarter. Here’s how they did it.

Chris explains, “We got started at an event in November 2014 called ‘Startup Weekend.’ It’s a 3 day weekend where you pitch a brand hew business idea, form teams, and create as much of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as you can. You also go out to a market place and get feedback, specifically to determine whether people would buy and how much they would pay.”

The biggest challenge, Chris explains, was to actually do what they’d promised with finite resources.

Our biggest challenge to overcome how to turn a $61K Kickstarter into what is now roughly a $240K+ investment. The physical product, the marketing, the patent, and definitely the application cost a lot more than $61K dollars (which is even less after Amazon and Kickstarter’s cut). We were fortunate enough to get a Phase 1 SBIR grant from the National Science Foundation for developing the product and trying find a fit for it in the Education space. We interviewed 40 administrations and 60 Educators which ended up improving our approach to the product as well as helping us vet that market. We also invested personal funds as needed.

Ultimately, Chris attributes their success to luck–and the media.

We have been lucky with TROBO. The dolls, our STEM for Very Early Education concept, and our story has been compelling enough that we have been graced with loads of exposure from like-minded publications such as USA Today, Tech Crunch, People, Xploration Station, and Popular Science (who gave us Best of Toy Fair 2015). This kind of PR is extremely helpful to a startup, because all of our money has gone to executing on the product and infrastructure. We didn’t have money for Marketing. So the exposure has brought in others who have helped us along the way, whether it be investing in our Kickstarter, connecting us with significant influencers, or just sharing the word on social media. All of that has helped us build a core audience of loyal early adopters that we rely on heavily even now for sharing announcements and growing word of mouth.

On Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 5:00 Eastern, Chris and Jeremy will join me for a live discussion about their success, including raising $61,000 on Kickstarter. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

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

Jeremy Scheinberg and Chris Harden, courtesy of Trobo

Jeremy Scheinberg and Chris Harden, courtesy of Trobo

More about Trobo:

Twitter: @mytrobo

TROBO was created by two fathers – Jeremy and Chris – who wanted to give their children better toys. They saw how their children were curious about what was going on in the world around them, yet their mindless toys and apps did nothing to satisfy their curiosity. So Chris and Jeremy used their experience as engineers in the theme park and video game industries to create TROBOs – lovable, huggable companions that could teach young children about science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM) in a fun new way. By using interactive stories that made the child the star of the show, TROBOs can answer kids questions about STEM in the world around them before they can read on their own. TROBO was created in 2013 and had a successful Kickstarter campaign in October of 2014 and was given an Phase 1 SBIR Grant in 2015. TROBOs are lovable, huggable companions that help kids 2-5 learn about the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in the world around them through fun, personalized stories. TROBO began shipping in November 2015 and as of January 2016 has become an Amazon Exclusive product.

Chris’s bio:

Chris Harden, CPO: Until July of 2014, Chris was a Development Director with EA Sports, managing the User Experience core technology group and mobile initiatives for the label. His app development experience while a Developer and Manager at BSQUARE is on on Android, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, iOS (learning it now), and other embedded operating systems.

Chris has an extensive creative background, one time being an Inker/Penciller in the comic book industry (Marvel, DC, Image, TopCow), produced three amateur music albums, and music videos. Chris strengthened his storytelling skills while briefly attended the Florida State University’s Film School.

Previously Chris was a Project Engineer in one of the top equipment manufacturers for the Entertainment Industry – Alcorn McBride Inc (where he and Jeremy met).

He has a degree in Electrical Engineering from Auburn University (1998), an MBA from the University of South Florida (2007), and two years of Industrial Design (Product Design) training.

He has a wonderful son, Asher, age 4.

Jeremy’s bio:

Jeremy Scheinberg, CEO: Growing up in the shadow of Disney World, Jeremy always knew he wanted to be a theme park engineer. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Systems Engineering, he worked for Alcorn McBride the leading manufacturer of audio, video and control products for themed entertainment. For over 10 years, he traveled around the world working on rides and shows for NBC, Universal, Lego and Disney.

With the birth of his two children came a lot of toys to play with some that were great and some that were just plain annoying. Too many times playing princess with his daughter led to the birth of TROBO, a robot storyteller that would get his kids (and others) interested in something important Science, Technology and Engineering instead of which dress to wear to the ball.

Jeremy also has an MBA from the Carlson School of Management.

He has 2 lovely children – Sophia age 7 and Jake age 4.

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

Support Everwaters To Combat the World Water Crisis

Everwaters is introducing plant-based water treatment technology and they are raising money on Indiegogo to spread awareness of their technology. Recently, I caught up with Adrian Andres Lievano to learn more about the effort; here’s what he told me:

What is the social benefit you hope to achieve with or through your crowdfunding campaign?

The success of our crowdfunding campaign will spread awareness of our company’s technology: we are using plants to clean water. Our most recent test showed over 99.9% removal of harmful microbes, a problem that claims the lives of over 3.4 million, mostly children, each year in the developing world. This campaign, in collaboration with the Millennial Train Project, will engage impact investors across the United States and fundraise to replicate and scale our social venture’s business model across East Africa, Latin America, India, etc. Because we use plants, or the moringa tree, we produce environmentally friendly waste, and prevent boiling practices, earning carbon credits for reducing climate change. Our technology will be distributed in urban and rural communities, starting in Kenya, and will prevent harmful illnesses, such as cholera and typhoid. We are creating the “Brita” of the developing world: an affordable, easy-to-use, household-sized water filter for families. The benefits to society are huge, but we need help spreading the word.

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How much money are you hoping to raise and why? How much have you raised so far?

We’re hoping to raise $5,000; this will fund a ticket to ride on the Millennial Train Project, a 10-day cross country trip, providing me the chance to engage with impact investors and water experts about our technology and future plan to use in the developing world. As of now, we’ve raised $729. The money will go directly to the Millennial Train Project, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Whom are you trying to help with your project and why?

Our first target audience are urban and rural families in Kenya: many suffer from water related illnesses that are easily preventable with our technology. After spending two months in Kenya and working with a doctor in a nearby hospital in Loitokitok, Kenya, I learned over 60% of children go to the hospital because of contaminated water. The doctor explained that many kids get sick and need to be in the emergency room because of extreme dehydration.

They need our collective help because the technology is only 20% of the problem; we created a plant-based filter, but now we need help spreading the word to attract investors and sustainably integrate the household water filter in their communities and prevent water related illnesses.

What rewards, if any, are you offering to your supporters?

  • $10 donation: we write a personal thank you letter
  • $30 donation: we will give the backer Jewelry from a local Maasai Tribe, further supporting their local economy & a personal thank you letter
  • $50: we give a letter, Maasai Jewelry, and a company t-shirt
  • $100: we give a letter, Maasai Jewelry, a company t-shirt, and a poster of a photo taken from a Safari in Kenya
  • $200: we give a letter, Maasai Jewelry, a company t-shirt, a poster of a photo taken from a Safari in Kenya, moringa leaf powder, and moringa oil
  • $500: I will provide the backer with a personal daily log from my 10-day trip with photos and deep personal reflections of the world water crisis.

Check out the campaign:

Visit the website.
Follow on Facebook.
Follow on Twitter at @Lievano_Adrian

Someone With Group Launches Crowdsourcing Funding Round Under JOBS Act to Bring First Secure Crowdfunding Solution to Health Care Market

WASHINGTON — Jan. 20, 2016Someone With Group, a new financial services company based in Frederick, Maryland, providing the first secure, HIPAA-compliant crowdfunding solution for patient debt reduction to the health care market, today announced the opening of a direct offering also using a crowdfunding platform. The investor offering is made possible by recent Security and Exchange Commission rule changes resulting from implementation of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act.

“Our goal was to improve crowdfunding — make it better and more secure. We’ve done that, and perhaps even more importantly, we have created an entirely new payment model for health care finance in the area of critical care, which currently has a multibillion-dollar debt gap. By working with hospitals and health care providers, we are reducing medical debt and helping people obtain funds for the care they need,” said Paula Jagemann-Bane, president and CEO of Someone With Group. “Every year, people spend $6 billion on flowers, cards and balloons for sick loved ones. If we can move even a fraction of that spending over to help people pay their medical expenses, we will have done a lot of good for this world. Our investors will all be a part of this kind of real, positive change that we will be making in people’s lives.”

Secure, hospital-sponsored crowdfunding: how it works

Someone With Group redirects friends and family giving to something more meaningful in the form of funds to help patients pay for their medical services. Using a secure crowdfunding platform, the Someone With Group system is fraud-resistant through identity verification facilitated directly by serving hospitals and their patients. Someone With Group is also fully compliant with HIPAA and banking and anti-money laundering regulations, making it unlike any other crowdfunding solution available anywhere in the world. Patients must be sponsored by a health care system to participate. Funds raised by patients through Someone With Group are loaded onto a general-purpose, reloadable debit card that may be used only for medical bills and expenses.

“Someone With Group has created the first social health care payment model of its kind based on crowdfunding, which is greatly needed in the area of critical care,” said Tim Vasko, founder and CEO of Finaeos, the financial technology solutions firm working with Someone With Group to leverage its direct offering with the power of Finaeos technology. “Health care systems have upward of $40 billion in unpaid medical bills, and these outstanding liabilities are the leading cause of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. This has to change, as the current system is falling short for families and institutions in critical health care. Disruption is only just coming to the most critical social systems in our nation, and Someone With Group is boldly leading that charge in health care. It’s a perfect time and a perfect fit for an imperfect system.”

Crowdfunding for equity

The crowdfunding platform being used for Someone With Group’s funding round was created by Finaeos, a FinTech solutions firm helping entrepreneurs and the financial organizations that support them take advantage of the amendments to the SEC rules under the implementation of the JOBS Act. The Finaeos platform enables private companies under the JOBS Act to manage investor relations processes and information in the same manner as larger public companies. For example, Finaeos’ unique member-driven equity crowdfunding technology matches investors with private companies. Finaeos also allows Someone With Group to keep investors updated about their investments and the evolution of its business.

For more information about investing in Someone With Group, please go to www.finaeos.com/someone-with-group. This investment is open to accredited investors only. All investors, patients and hospitals, or anyone interested in learning more about Someone With Group, should contact the company at http://www.someonewithgroup.com/contact-us.html.

About Someone With Group

Someone With Group provides hospitals with a compassionate way to reduce bad debt by offering patients a crowdfunding platform to contact friends and family for financial support. Monies raised are loaded onto a general-purpose, reloadable debit card that may be used only for medical bills and expenses. Patients must be sponsored by a health care system to participate and are identity-verified so the potential for fraud is eliminated. For more information, visit us at www.someonewithgroup.com or on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

About Finaeos

Finaeos is a FinTech solutions firm providing innovative social technology platforms that help entrepreneurs enable the full realization of the free market potential outlined by the JOBS Act to fund their companies. As innovator of the Equity Operating Solution, Finaeos offers a unique marketplace platform that is a powerful, disruptive technology for the financial services market as well as other markets that its partners may reach through proprietary solutions. For more information, visit us at www.finaeos.com or on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Virtuix Receives Over $10 Million of Investment Interest In One Week From Public For Potential Mini-IPO

AUSTIN (January 13, 2016) – Virtuix, the leader in active virtual reality and the developer of the popular and highly anticipated Omni motion platform, launched a “testing-the-waters” campaign on SeedInvest last week Tuesday to garner whether there would be interest from the general public in its upcoming Series A financing round via a potential mini-IPO. In the first week of the campaign, more than 1,250 people collectively indicated their interest in investing more than $10.3 million in Virtuix.

Virtuix’s upcoming fundraise comes shortly after Virtuix announced it started shipping the Omni to customers last month.

“We are thrilled to see the overwhelmingly positive response to our testing-the-waters campaign,” says Jan Goetgeluk, Founder and CEO of Virtuix. “Our company owes its beginning to the support of the passionate virtual reality community. Now, with Regulation A, our customers and supporters may have a chance to buy shares in Virtuix alongside Silicon Valley venture capitalists and global institutional investors.”

Historically, the general public was required to be accredited with the Securities and Exchange Commission in order to invest in private companies. These conditions were based on income and net worth and denied all but the wealthiest 2% of Americans an opportunity to invest. With the new regulation under Title IV of the JOBS Act, the opportunity to invest in private tech startups is now extended to everyone.

Virtuix has grown to a team of 31 people and has raised funds in excess of $9 million, primarily from private and institutional investors including a series of Silicon Valley venture capitalists. Virtuix has pre-sold more than 4,000 Omnis to date and started shipping in December 2015.

Virtuix plans to use the proceeds from its upcoming offering to fund growth and further product development. Ultimately, Virtuix’s vision is to have an Omni be part of every Active VR setup both for home use and for commercial applications that include out-of-home entertainment, training and simulation, and virtual tourism.

Since the start of 2010, nearly $3.9 billion has been deployed into the emerging VR space across 353 completed deals, according to PitchBook. Virtuix filed to have its offering qualified with the SEC. The company continues to collect non-binding indications of interest from investors at www.seedinvest.com/virtuix/series.a.

About Virtuix

Founded by CEO Jan Goetgeluk in April 2013 and headquartered in Austin, Texas, Virtuix is the pioneer of the Active VR category and is the developer of the Omni – the first-of-its-kind motion platform that enables 360-degree mobility in virtual environments. The Omni is compatible with leading headsets and virtual reality content. It is currently available for pre-order for $699 per unit at www.virtuix.com.

Water, Plants, Humanity and the Future

“A company’s journey, led by two recent college graduates, to use plants to solve the global water crisis by following key 5-steps”

© Wikimedia Commons | Oxfam East Africa

© Wikimedia Commons | Oxfam East Africa

In this article, the founders of Everwaters share their insights on (1) how market research helped them define the customer problem they want to solve and (2) how they brainstormed and validated their solution ideas.

The entrepreneur: passionate, unrelenting, courageous, and, arguably, insensible at times when it comes to believing in their ideas and visions – a friend of mine likes to think “entrepreneurs all have a weird tick,” something that bothers them so much that they start a company to solve it. My Co-Founder, Matthew Lisle, and I definitely have a tick: 3.4 million people, mostly children under the age of five, across the world die each year because of contaminated drinking water; it kills more than malaria, measles, and AIDS combined per day.

If you look at history of the United States, a doctor, John Leal, in 1908 decided one day to pour chlorine, without the approval of local authorities, in Jersey City’s municipal water supply. With over 200,000 people depending on it, a mistake would cost thousands of lives; fortunately, this tick to clean contaminated water proved a success. Dr. Leal revolutionized water treatment in the United States and, almost immediately, he decreased infant mortality by 74% and total mortality by 43% – that means 7 out of 10 children under the age of five were now being saved practically overnight.

There is a reason water is deemed the “elixir of life”, but we have another problem: it’s 2016 and 783 million people still lack access to clean, affordable drinking water, a problem we solved in 1908! I ask myself everyday: “If we’ve solved this problem at home, why does it still exist, and arguably, worsen with time, abroad?” Our company, Everwaters, has a tick, or belief, that we can solve this global crisis.

Enter Moringa oleifera (MO), colloquially known as the “Miracle Tree.” This tree cleans water – yes, a plant can turn dirty water into safe, drinkable water (Fig. 1 & 2):

1

Figures 1 & 2

People in the Sudan have long used the seeds of the Moringa tree (Fig. 3) to coat their vessels to clean water and, for over twenty years, researchers in many countries have explored the water purification abilities of Moringa seeds (Fig. 4). Our company is taking this research out of the lab, integrating with a novel business model, and pioneering plant-based water treatment technology to provide “clean drinking water, for everyone, for life.”

2

Figures 3 & 4

Think of us as the Brita of the underdeveloped world. Everwaters creates a plant-based, household water filter that removes microbes responsible for water related illnesses, such as cholera, typhoid, etc. – these are the microbes that are responsible for 3.4 million deaths per year, but fortunately, our “Miracle” is here.

So, what? We have plants that clean water, do we travel around the world and tell everyone to grow it? How do we achieve widespread adoption to combat this global crisis? Through this article, I’ll explain our company’s journey, all the challenges we faced, and future vision of where we see plants and water creating a healthier world for all. Through our story, we’ll provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a simple 5-step process to identify a market-problem and develop a suitable business plan to solve it.

For starters, is there to a better way to understand a problem than jumping headfirst? After all, it’s all about the journey. As two aspiring entrepreneurs eager to understand the water crisis, we began our adventure by booking a flight to Kenya (Fig. 5).

3

Figure 5

Step 1: Defining the Problem – Real Market Research

During our two month stay in Kenya, in addition to the occasional elephant crossing the road and zebra grazing in the backyard, we had one goal in mind: “define the problem; speak to as many people about their water problem.” During the occasional candle-lit dinner – power went out on Thursdays – we all sat around, drank tea, and had a real heart-to-heart: many mothers, like our friend Mamamwangi, walk for hours every day to fill an empty jug from the local well (Fig. 6). If walking is too strenuous, many gather water from a local trench (Fig. 7), which is shared by local cattle and goats.

The containers are unclean and heavy, and when it rains many prefer to collect and store rainwater at home. By storing them, however, in open containers at home, the water gets infected and provides prime real estate for mosquitos to breed. To make matters more difficult, most families earn about $60/month; they spend about $40 on school fees, and the remaining $20 is used sustain their homes and put food on the table. Given that competing solutions cost between $25-$40, some even $90, the problem is clear.

5

Figures 6 & 7

Step 2: Research – How are people currently trying to solve the problem? How can successful solutions in other industries complement our company’s goal?

Existing solutions are impractical for most families to purchase, and after further interviewing, this is the main reason why many prefer to stick with rainwater or water from the local trench and spring.

The World Health Organization, USAID, and the United Nations agree that a simple, affordable, point-of-use household filter has the highest potential of acceptance and prolonged usage in the underdeveloped world. By combining an in-depth understanding of the problem with further industry research and recommendations, we came to the conclusion that our plant-based “Brita of the developing world” at the right price, may best be suited to solve this problem.

After we developed the most basic version of our product, or minimum viable product (MVP) – we designed a CAD model – we went around asking our friends in both urban and rural communities for their opinions (Fig. 8 & 9).

6

Figures 8 & 9

This was critical during the development of our MVP. By obtaining their feedback on the initial design, we were able to modify certain elements of it to better suit our future customer’s needs. Companies exist to solve problems for a specific segment of people who deem it valuable to be solved, and in this context of urban and rural communities in Kenya, the same principle applies. Obtaining appropriate user feedback on an MVP was quite difficult: communities were 40 minutes away by car on a dirt road, language barriers made it difficult to ask the “right question” and cultural norms were absolute musts in order to gain our customer’s trust.

At any company, trust between your customers needs to be established to obtain high-quality information about the problem and feedback about a potential solution. In order to gain trust, we visited their homes, invited our friends to lunch and dinner, and shared stories over the famous Kenyan beer, Tusker. During our conversations, we learned about other successful companies: M-PESA, a mobile banking platform used by over 72% of the population, M-KOPA, a pay-as-you-use solar company, and thought about ways to incorporate their successful programs with our product.

Step 3: Brainstorm – Every idea, good or bad, counts.

Once we understood the problem and its context in the urban and rural communities, we had a brainstorming session: late night food runs, work-induced mania, the occasional office chair push ups, and 4:30 a.m. conversations about integrating a plant-based filter into a sustainable business model; we rolled up our sleeves and wrote down every crazy idea that came to mind on the office white board (Fig. 10).

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Figure 10

Our unfettered brainstorming session created a slew of ideas, some more applicable than others:

  1. Use social entrepreneurship tools – this specific breed of entrepreneur has not one, but two ticks: profits and social impact
  2. Use the mobile banking platform, M-PESA, which over 72% of the population uses
  3. Sell crushed moringa seeds
  4. Hoverboards should be part of company culture
  5. Ask the government to grow moringa
  6. Market to a specific segment
  7. Remember Peter Drucker’s wisdom: “If it’s not measured, it’s not managed”
  8. Local service centers selling filters
  9. Abandon ship?

By setting the expectation that no idea is crazy enough, we produced a novel approach to integrating our filter in the local community: set-up users through a flexible payment plan via M-PESA, a mobile banking platform, and distribute through local service centers.

Bingo!

Step 4: Prototype – Iterate, Iterate, and create a solution to the problem, not a problem for the solution.

Once we had a comprehensive list of ideas to pursue, we made it a point to, in the least amount of time as possible, rule out or pursue suggestions – some call this being “lean”. To accomplish this, we drafted more lists of questions and surveys and took them directly to our potential customers. Customers are great at explaining their problems, but it is up to the entrepreneur to develop the solution – if Henry Ford asked his customers for a solution, they would say faster horses.

A great product sells itself, and through steps 1,2, and 3, we were able to iterate on ideas for a solution to a well-defined problem, market-segment, all within the context of competing solutions and business models. Many household filters we saw were solutions designed without the end-user in mind, creating an unpopular product that has never penetrated this underserved market segment across the world.

11

Figure 11

We knew what we wanted to make; we spent countless hours walking through local cities to find the supplies to make our MVP: PVC piping, moringa seeds, and some basic hardware. After some time, and bartering, we had the materials and developed a prototype for further testing (Fig. 11).

Our tests were negative, suggesting our technique was not working as well as we thought. The filtered water was unclean and we knew we needed to think different. Dozens of tests were carried out, and it was at this point where a keen quote kept our spirits up:

“Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It’s quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.” – Thomas Watson, Founder of IBM.

Imagine this scenario and all the possibilities for things to go wrong: within 6 hours, including a 4-hour drive on a one-lane road from Loitokitok, a city southeast of Nairobi, Kenya, we had to stop at three different natural springs and collect three water samples. After driving for 4 hours, we passed off the water samples to a local motorcycle driver and prayed the samples were delivered in time; it was late, and all of our tests were invalid.

We tried, and tried, quickly discarding hypotheses and identifying ways to correct our previous mistakes. Many of my entrepreneurial friends call this scenario the major slump of the company’s lifespan: you either push threw it, aka pivot, or perish. Because of the failed experiments and difficulties with logistics in Kenya, we decided to cut our trip early and fly back to the United States to recreate our experiments – this was a tough and expensive decision: we were bootstrapping, but we took a leap a faith and decided it was necessary.

During this iteration phase, teams need to establish hard, fast deadlines. With goals and milestones in the short and long term, and ways to track the progression of them, startup companies begin to foster a culture of execution, accountability, and can then adjust to better position future deliverables on a timely schedule. Our team struggled at first, but by agreeing on deliverables and deadlines, we were able to prioritize our tasks and quickly iterate on experiments, filter designs, and business models.

With deadlines, well-defined deliverables, and water testing at a nearby facility in Philadelphia, we showed significant and achieved much more promising results (Fig. 12 & 13):

Figures 12 & 13

Figures 12 & 13

Wherever we were, with whatever resources we had, both product supplies and customers to interview, we made the most out of them by moving quickly to confirm or reject different hypotheses that we brainstormed in step 3.

Always think:

“What is the most important question I need to answer, and how can I do it with the least about of time and money.”

Step 5: Think Big – picture the company 5, 10, 20 years down the road.

Our technology, business plan, and overall goal is to pioneer plant-based water treatment technology. In the long term, we see many uses for this technology: on an industrial scale, researchers claim that the technique, which we are refining, will produce fewer and more useful by-products and eliminate chemical traces that have raised public health concerns in municipal water supplies. By thinking 5, 10, 20 years down the road, we strengthen our message, identify short-term and long-term company goals, and provide a meaningful future that attracts money, talent, and other resources to fuel our efforts.

Take a page out of Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One,” and create the future: create a world, where if your company didn’t exist, we would all lose something very special.

Here is our example:

Our goal is to address the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, which calls to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. To accomplish these goals, we must address a fundamental issue: access to clean, affordable drinking water. Without clean water, children miss school, families are burdened by medical bills and high infant mortality rates, cascading to stifle economic prosperity and trapping billions in poverty and disease. At Everwaters, we believe water is life, and through social entrepreneurship, or market-based thinking and entrepreneurial capitalism in a social context, we will work to provide “clean water, for everyone, for life.”

So the next time you have a tick, think back to our story and how, regardless where you are in the world or what problem you are trying to solve, there are 5-steps to solve problems and get your idea off-the-ground: Define, Research, Brainstorm, Prototype, and Think Big. Our team is working hard to innovate and solve the global water crisis because we believe no one should die from drinking dirty water. We believe that every child should have the same chance to thrive and live a fulfilling life. Follow us on social media as we continue to develop our technology and distribute a plant-based household water filtration system to the whole world.

What problem will you solve? What idea do you have to change the world? What’s the hardest part about turning your great idea into reality?

Check out our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, ‘Water, Plants, Humanity and the Future’ in partnership with the Millennial Train Project.” This 10-day trip will take us across the country, spreading the idea to use plants to clean water and save millions of lives across the world.

Currently Located in Philadelphia, PA, Everwaters is developing plant-based household water filters in Kenya with plans to expand to Tanzania, Uganda, East Africa, Latin America, India, and the United States. Since its Founding in June 2015, Everwaters has been developing a plant-based filtration technique and has been recognized for its pioneering business model and technology, notably winning the 2015 Inaugural 2015 UPenn’s President’s Engagement Prize. Co-Founders, Adrian Lievano, CEO, and Matthew Lisle, CTO, are two recent Mechanical Engineering graduates from the University of Pennsylvania working to combat the world water crisis, with plants.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons | Oxfam East Africa under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

All figures (1-13) are designed and photographed by the team of Everwaters in the year of 2015; the author is Everwaters, LLC. Copyrighted some rights reserved.

This post was originally published here.

Elio Motors Surpasses Goal, Regulation A+ Stock Offering To Close On Feb. 1

Stock offering exceeds $12.6 million goal needed to fund engineering and testing prototype E-Series vehicles, stock offering has raised nearly $16 million to date

DETROIT, Jan. 12, 2016 – Investors interested in purchasing shares of revolutionary transportation startup Elio Motors have less than three weeks left to make an investment through the company’s current Regulation A+ stock offering. The company has raised nearly $16 million to date from this offering, which will fund development of its E-Series engineering and testing prototypes.

Shares in Elio Motors will soon become eligible to be traded on the OTCQX, the top tier of the three marketplaces for trading over-the-counter stocks provided and operated by the OTC Markets Group. This will provide liquidity for investors who purchase stock through the Regulation A+ offering.

Elio Motors will close out the current Regulation A+ stock offering on Feb. 1, 2016, as one of the steps needed to allow for OTCQX trading.

Elio Motors, which is developing an enclosed three-wheeled vehicle with a targeted base price of $6,800 that will get up to 84 MPG, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to seek up to $25 million, with its primary goal to fund the E-Series. Investors can purchase remaining Regulation A+ shares by going to www.startengine.com.

“Fan reaction to this vehicle has been extraordinary, as we have nearly 50,000 people who have put down their hard earned money for a place in line and said ‘I want one’,” said company founder and CEO Paul Elio. “How many other vehicles have built that much enthusiasm before production? Few, if any. This vehicle has struck a chord with the American public, and this stock offering has helped us get to an important phase in our development.”

In March 2015, the SEC finalized rules under Title IV of the 2012 Jump Start Our Business Start-up (JOBS) Act, that paved the way for private companies to raise up to $50 million from non-accredited investors. This ruling is known as “Regulation A+.” Elio Motors launched a formal stock offering on Nov. 20 after receiving qualification from the SEC to seek up to $25 million.

Elio Motors, which is aiming for a late 2016 production launch, announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit today that it has begun work on the E-Series prototypes.

“We are building a product that makes a positive impact on the world, in a variety of ways,” Elio said. “The Elio will create jobs, provide low-cost transportation and help wean our country off of oil dependence. We are on a mission to get to production so we can begin to make a significant impact.”

Elio Motors will produce the vehicle in Shreveport, Louisiana, at a former General Motors production facility. The company estimates upwards of 1,500 will be directly employed at Elio Motors’ Shreveport production facility. In addition, the goal of the Elio is to use up to 90 percent North American content and create an additional 1,500 jobs from the supply base, Elio Motors corporate, as well as sales and service once full production is underway. Plus, approximately 18,000 indirect jobs nationwide are projected to be created or sustained.

About Elio Motors

Founded by car enthusiast Paul Elio in 2009, Elio Motors Inc. represents a revolutionary approach to manufacturing an ultra-high-mileage vehicle. The three-wheeled Elio is engineered to attain a highway mileage rating of up to 84 mpg while providing the comfort of amenities such as power windows, power door lock and air conditioning accompanied by the safety of multiple air bags and an aerodynamic, enclosed vehicle body. Elio’s first manufacturing site will be in Shreveport, Louisiana.

The securities offered hereby are highly speculative. Investing in shares of Elio Motors, Inc. involves significant risks. This investment is suitable only for persons who can afford to lose their entire investment. Furthermore, investors must understand that such investment could be illiquid for an indefinite period of time. No public market currently exists for the securities, and if a public market develops following this offering, it may not continue. To obtain a copy of the Offering Circular, go to http://www.eliomotors.com/equity or click here to download directly.

Digital Media Mavens Launch UPTOGOOD: A Video-Based Impact Campaign Network For #StoriesThatMatter

New social action network features videos from social change documentary filmmakers, nonprofits, social enterprises, activists, politicians, cause-oriented celebrities and the good-hearted

Los Angeles, CA – (January 12, 2016) – Mika Onishi, former president and publisher of Clique Media Group (parent company to Who What Wear), and her sister, Emi Onishi, product management executive formerly of MySpace Music and Fox Interactive Media, announce the launch of UPTOGOOD, a user-generated impact campaign platform that harnesses the power of social media and video-based story-telling to promote GOOD, and bring attention to #StoriesThatMatter. UPTOGOOD offers an easy way for good-hearted people to take action on what they just watched. It is a place where users are encouraged to “Watch. Get Inspired. ACT.”

The brand is driven by a great respect for the art of storytelling as well as action with the belief that video is a particularly powerful way to tell a story and to inspire the good-hearted. The platform’s key mission is to bridge this gap between inspiration and meaningful action.

UPTOGOOD aims to build a networked community for authentic engagement on topics critical to the world today – a hub for social awareness that could lead to long lasting change. The co-founders believe that a good story told, can be a powerful motivator to inspire social good. Via UPTOGOOD, the co-founders look to offer people a simple way to engage with a documentary or video that justmoved them – a place where the most impacting videos and docs of this time will live.

This new social impact destination allows anyone to create a campaign around an inspiring documentary, a simple DIY video clip, or anything in between.

  • FUNDit: Crowdfund (donate) for the cause, the creator of the content or both.
  • SIGNit: Sign a petition.
  • PROMISEit: Make a promise that will help the cause.
  • SHAREit: Spread the word via social media.

As a social network, users also have the chance to track their GOOD actions. Linked directly to their UPTOGOOD profile, this function tracks how much GOOD the campaigns you create and/or support send into the world. Users can also follow other users to discover campaigns and get to know people via the causes they care about.

From a business perspective, UPTOGOOD introduces a new paradigm for distribution and monetization that can complement more traditional forms of distribution for social change documentary filmmakers and other storytellers. By offering the FUNDit action for the content you just watched, content creators can, in lieu of putting up a paywall, let viewers “Watch First and then Pay” to better serve goals filmmakers of this genre often have in addition to monetization: to get the message out to as many people as possible, and to actually affect social change.

The platform launches with a campaign for UPTOGOOD itself which includes a SIGNit petition directed towards each of the top 10 celebrities and influencers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (ie: Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, and others) that capture our attention today. The petition calls on their good hearts to help bring attention to #StoriesThatMatter by donating their influences to UPTOGOOD and help shine light to their favorite impact campaigns.

UPTOGOOD’s current partners include: United Nations Foundation, The Muscular Dystrophy Association, Bring Change 2 Mind, ʻĀINA: That Which Feeds Us, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage, The Better to Live Project, Gravitas Ventures, The Film Collaborative, Merola Productions, LLC, Infidea Studios, Dress for Success, Direct Current Media,, Human Rights First, Keep A Breast, The United Nations Foundation, Bring Change 2 Mind, Open Eye Pictures, Hughes Foundation, Made in a Free World, American Cancer Society, Angela Sun, The Field Innovation Team, Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation, This Bar Saves Lives, Elle Communications, Matte Black, Kendall Almerico of DiMuro Ginsberg P.C., Attorneys At Law, Netsol Technologies.

For more information on UPTOGOOD, please visit www.UPTOGOOD.org or connect:

Twitter: @UPTOGOODorg | Instagram: @UPTOGOODorg | Facebook

Crowdfunded Technology Investment to Increase Sevenfold to Over $8Bn by 2020

Doors Set to Open to Equity Investors

Hampshire, UK: 11th January 2016: Juniper’s latest research, Crowdfunding: Strategies & Impacts for Technology Markets 2015-2020, estimates that investments made in technology via crowdfunding platforms are set to increase sevenfold from an estimated $1.1 billion in 2015 to $8.2 billion by 2020.

New data from Juniper Research, has found that the crowdfunding industry is to see an accelerated growth from the lucrative, but less well-known, method of funding known as ‘equity crowdfunding’. This is against an investment market which is currently seeing a slowdown in traditional investments from VCs (Venture Capitalists) and Angel Investors.

Equity Legislation Drives Inclusivity

The new research identified the UK as the leading market for the regulation of equity crowdfunding, with the establishment of successful platforms such as CrowdCube.

Juniper believes that other nations will follow this model by legislating to allow less sophisticated investors to engage in equity crowdfunding. The US in particular holds considerable promise, with the positive SEC (US Securities and Exchange Commission) ruling on the JOBS Act, Title III passed in October 2015. The result of which will be a surge in equity funding from 2016 onwards; as funding portals seek registration as early as January 2016.

Hybrid Platforms Come into Play

The ‘Reward’ Crowdfunding model, popularised by the likes of Kickstarter and Indiegogo, has been the most widely adopted, but has suffered recently following a number of high-profile failures, such as the Zano drones debacle.

In response, platforms are beginning to look at more hybrid crowdfunding models, whereby users have the option of investment in the company or project itself via equity or debt, rather than receiving a one off ‘gift’ for their support courtesy of the rewards model.

Report author Lauren Foye added: “The hybrid concept has been demonstrated recently, with videogames crowdfunding platform ‘Fig’ hosting projects to be backed through a combination of the rewards and equity models. Equity is attractive for consumers, who feel they may be investing in the next ‘Oculus Rift’ or ‘Pebble Time’, hence in line to make a significant profit.”

Other key findings

  • The debt model will represent the greatest share of crowdfunded contributions until 2020, although most of these contributions will go to non technology projects.
  • The proportion of technology crowdfunding investments based on equity, will see significant growth, almost doubling by 2020.

The whitepaper, Following the Crowd: Investment through Equity Funding, is available to download from the Juniper website together with further details of the new research.

Juniper Research provides research and analytical services to the global hi-tech communications sector, providing consultancy, analyst reports and industry commentary.

Leading Equity Crowdfunding Platform StartEngine Crowdfunding, Inc. Secures $5.5M in Funding

SANTA MONICA, CALIF., January 8, 2015 – StartEngine Crowdfunding, Inc. (StartEngine), an industry-leading equity crowdfunding platform, has secured $5.5M in funding from SE Agoura Investment LLC, an investment affiliate of Aubrey Chernick (www.aubreychernick.com). The investment will be used to expand the StartEngine platform as well as bolster marketing and awareness campaigns. In the coming year, StartEngine will advance its goal of making equity crowdfunding the number one choice for both startups looking to raise capital as well as for investors seeking new options for financial growth.

“This investment is further proof of the early success of the StartEngine platform and the potential of equity crowdfunding,” said Ron Miller, CEO of StartEngine. “This fundraise will elevate the StartEngine platform, adding new investment opportunities and furthering our mission to help entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.”

While equity crowdfunding is in its early stages, successful campaigns, such as Elio Motors via the StartEngine platform, showcase the ability of startups to draw support and capital from both accredited and non-accredited investors. Additionally, with the May 2016 implementation of Title III equity crowdfunding rules, which will allow companies to raise up to $1MM through equity crowdfunding, this new funding resource will democratize the funding market for both startups and investors.

“Equity crowdfunding is a game-changer in how startups and emerging businesses can be funded,” said Aubrey Chernick, founder of NextGen Crowdfunding. “It’s an exciting growth area, and I see StartEngine as an early and important entrant in this new space.”

The StartEngine platform currently hosts campaigns through Title IV of Regulation A+ of the JOBS Act, allowing companies to secure up to $50M in funding through equity crowdfunding. With the implementation of Title III rules in May 2016, StartEngine will expand, opening the

platform to issuers looking to raise up to $1M through Title III funding rules, without the burden of SEC filing.

“This investment confirms our belief that equity crowdfunding will play a vital role in the rebirth of the entrepreneurial boom,” said Howard Marks, Executive Chairman and co-founder of StartEngine. “Equity crowdfunding will democratize access to capital, giving companies the ability to reach the funds necessary to continue to grow and be successful in the market.”

For more information about the StartEngine platform, please visit www.startengine.com or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/startenginela.

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