Catalyst Conversation: Financial Literacy – A Public Good?30 Jan


Financial Literacy – A Public Good?

Financial literacy has always been considered a private, rather than a public good, and hence, the theory has always been that the ignorant will only harm themselves. As we now know, financial ignorance hurts everyone. Our latest financial crisis was caused in part by the dangerous convergence of unscrupulous sellers and ignorant buyers. Going forward, most agree that on the seller side, the irresponsible middlemen all need to have more skin in the game, and last month we have discussed ideas to ensure this.

Inversely, we should consider whether responsibility also falls on the buyer. If so, then the financial illiteracy of the American consumer is of grave concern for all of us.

Public institutions have agreed that things like literacy, critical thinking and personal heath are not just private goods, but public goods that should be taught. Marcus Howard and Alex Johnston lead GCG in a debate around Financial Literacy and if we fight financial ignorance at the public level and if so, what are the best avenues to do so? With this subject, do we see an opportunity for new tools such social media, open source hardware/software, and crowdsourcing? If you were part of the incoming administration, how would you go about educating the next generation of financially literate consumers?

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Continuing the Conversation: Choosing the Right Funding Path11 Jan

Brad Headshot(2)

Choosing the Right Funding Path

At the Georgetown University Catalyst Summit, Brad Hargreaves discussed the future of venture capital and how it will impact collaboration in startups over the next decade. Specifically, he analyzed how the decline of the traditional venture funding model is leading to the proliferation of “incubator-style” funding opportunities, fundamentally transforming many startups from siloed institutions to distributed entities with shared advisors, employees and – occasionally – management.

But entrepreneurs are not passive entities at the will of shifting financial winds: they still face critical financing choices as they guide their business forward.

During this Catalyst Conversation, Brad led GCG through those choices, addressing questions ranging from basic, scope-related issues, such as:

  • Why should an entrepreneur take funding? When is boostrapping not enough?
  • What types of businesses should take funding? Do these models apply to other business structures, such as nonprofits and sole proprietorships?
  • What should businesspeople look to get from their financiers other than money?
  • What kind of businesses are good fits for the incubator model? Are there some businesses that should still aggressively pursue traditional venture capital?
  • How do angel investments work? Are they worth pursuing?
  • How can different funding models be combined to yield an ideal outcome for my business?
  • Can I get some of that sweet, non-dilutive government (stimulus?) money?
  • What’s the best strategy to meet the people who have the money I need?

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Continuing the Conversation: Creating Entrepreneurial Communities07 Jan

Professional Pic2(4)

Creating Entrepreneurial Communities

During the Georgetown University Catalyst Summit, Megan Yonke provided definitions for entrepreneur and an entrepreneurial community:

An entrepreneur is person (or a group of people) who identifies and pursues a new business (or social) venture opportunity. An entrepreneur organizes, operates and takes risks in pursuing this venture in expectation of gaining a profit.

Entrepreneurial Communities are those communities where significant economic and social entrepreneurial activity exists and where there is an effective system of public and private support that facilitate and support entrepreneurship.

Based on her community economic development work and research in Michigan, she described why entrepreneurial communities are important for long-term economic sustainability. Finally, she discussed five commonly-employed community economic development models:

  1. Anchor Approaches
  2. “Cool-Cities” Initiatives
  3. Public-Private Partnerships with Educational Institutions
  4. Community Economic Development and Networking Organizations
  5. Enterprise Facilitators

While she briefly discussed some pros and cons of each model, she led GCG to take the conversation to a deeper level. During this Catalyst Conversation, Megan leveraged the experiences and ideas of the group to identify additional pros and cons of each approach. She discussed the applicability of these models to other domestic and international community examples.

Guiding Questions included:

  • What is the demographic of an entrepreneur? How would you define an entrepreneur?
  • What specific aspects define an entrepreneurial community? Which model(s) we discussed do you believe to be most effective?
  • What role do mentors and assistance organizations play in facilitating economic development?
  • What role do academic institutions play in developing entrepreneurial communities?
  • Is clustering good for the future of a community’s economic development? Should we be worried about disappearing economic diversification?

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Catalyst Conversation: Venture Capital and Financing Green Energy during Economic Decline06 Jan

clean energy

Venture Capital and Financing Green Energy during Economic Decline

The recession has sunk many industries over the past 10 months. The financial and auto industries have taken the brunt of the economic decline but what effect/affect has the economy played in the investment and innovation of green tech?

GCG focuses on the mixed reports on the investment in green tech by Venture Capital firms and the role the Federal Stimulus Package plays in generating “Green Jobs” and growing a sustainable green industry side by side of with revitalizing the economy. Key discussion points included financing woes shrinking Ausra’s big solar plans, Cleantech squeezed by drop in financing, effects of the stimulus package

The roundtable identified the financial dilemmas for funding Green Start-ups during economic turbulence, opportunities in Green and Clean Energy initiatives where funding is currently available, and gained an understanding of the Green Energy Initiative

Key questions included:

  • What will drive innovation in the Green Energy initiatives? Will Federal funds provide sustainable financing to start-ups in this emerging market?
  • What Green Energy Projects have the most economic and environmental promise? How will these projects stay afloat?
  • How can we define success in New and Alternative Energy initiatives? Is there sustainable funding and skilled labor to support these drastic swings?
  • What opportunities can GCG members identify in being bridge builders between financing and green projects?

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Catalyst Conversation: Open Source Hardware and 3D Printing05 Jan


What if anyone could make anything?

The Global Catalyst Group discusses Intelligent Materials, Open-source Hardware and 3D Printing in a conversation led by Justin Tsang and Alex Johnston.

Just as software has moved progressively toward an open-source model, hardware to will increasingly be designed by and accessible to everyone. These emerging technologies have been enabled by the internet and our earlier discussions of crowd sourcing and collaboration. Our discussion will focus on the concepts of open-source hardware and 3D printing and take specific interest in what happens when you mix them with the new internet…

“In a sense, hardware is becoming much more like software, up to the point where you actually fabricate an object,” von Hippel says. “That’s why you’re starting to see open source techniques in hardware. Design is largely going to shift out from manufacturers to the communities.”

“Some day, perhaps, fabricating machines will be able to transform digital specifications (software) into physical objects (hardware), which will no doubt lead to a vibrant trade in specifications, some of which will be paid for, and some of which will be open-source.”

“This is the unacknowledged fact underpinning the open hardware movement: Hardware is already open. Even when inventors try to keep the guts of their gadgets secret, they can’t. So why not actively open those designs and try to profit from the inevitable?”

MIT professor Neil Gershenfeld talks about his Fab Lab — a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It’s a simple idea with powerful results.

During this conversation, GCG members considered one new product that might be enabled by this confluence of open-source hardware with the internet. For example:

  • 3D printing kiosks in local stores where you can send designs for custom parts, gifts, etc and come pick them up later.  You could also download free or royalty-based designs from online, mix and match them.  You could then imbed intelligent parts in them, as with Bug Labs, or give them wireless access, so you could re-program them from your personal website.
  • New design companies outsource every part of the manufacturing process and specialize in extreme customization of products.
  • Design, customize and print out at a pair of smart shoes (either online for delivery or at the mall) that monitor how far you walk everyday / how many calories you are burning based on your level of exercise and report to your personal health site which can then order food from the grocery store to optimize your calorie intake, and sends you video recipes to your handset based on the orders it places.  The code for this is entirely free and open source, or you pay the developer a small fee to download it.
  • Smart golf clubs which measure your swing pattern 3-dimensionally and report it to your online performance site where it is analyzed and accessed immediately on your blackberry (a rfid tag in the tip of the club and a small transmitter on your belt would track your swing spatially).  Based on your unique performance characteristic a customized golf club is designed for you and printed out at your local golf-shop to fit your swing.

GCG also sought to answer the following:

1. What kinds of products/services will be the first affected?

2. Where will these technologies first find a niche?

3. What industries will be transformed?

4. What kinds of business models will be most successful?

5. Is creative commons licensing sufficient to attract entrepreneurs?

6. How can open-source hardware be profitable?

7. What are the biggest hurdles?

8. Where are the biggest opportunities?

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Catalyst Conversation: Open Source Learning and Education04 Jan


Open Source Learning and Education

GCG focuses on innovation in education, a more theoretical discussion of Long Tail theory with a practical discussion of text book publishing. GCG also hones the conversation on the open source model’s applicability to education, varying approaches to education, relevant technology, and what the future holds for the education system. GCG analyzes the key success factors, risks, and the how the technology can take off: does the inception need to come before there is a major push for open source or if a push for open source will inspire new technology and the necessary financing?

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Our Mantra

The Global Catalyst Group seeks to gather persons of unique potential into a community dedicated to thought leadership, shared resources, and mutual improvement. Through deliberate collaboration, collective mentorship and continuous dialogue we believe that we can support and stretch one another with meaningful insight and thoughtful guidance. We encourage our membership and partners to exercise, together, their ambition, creativity, and both their professional and social networks to pursue a greater purpose than oneself. We challenge them to leave a legacy and we support one another towards this end.

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We are actively exploring new opportunities to connect and collaborate on projects that add value to our mission. Contact us to start the conversation.