About Astia

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New York Entrepreneur Week

Special Report from Jennifer Hill, Vice President, Astia

This past week, New York celebrated the largest entrepreneurship movement throughout the state: New York Entrepreneur Week (NYEW). Within the heart of the Big Apple, hundreds crammed into classrooms at Columbia Business School (and thousands watched live online) to hear from NYC’s leading entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, industry leaders, technology press and more.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to moderate the NYEW Town Hall Meeting: Entrepreneurship Policy: Where Are We? Where Are We Going? How Will Entrepreneurship Revitalize the United States?

Joining me as panelists were:
Adam Oliveri, Managing Director at SecondMarket (an online marketplace for illiquid assets)
• Luis Antonio Marquez, Director General of the Mexican Private Equity Association (over 45 funds and $12B under management)
JiNan Glasgow, Founder & CEO of Neopatents (patent research and analytics company)

The lively discussion touched on a variety of topics, including how to restore liquidity to the U.S. markets, prominent sources of funding outside of the traditional venture capital / angel investment /high net worth individuals, and the role of tax credits. Yet some of the more interesting ideas grew from issues the panelists are tackling right now within their businesses. Here are a few highlights.

(1) Unlocking the value of intellectual property can be one the strongest ways to trigger innovation.
JiNan Glasgow, founder and CEO of Neopatents, believes that everyone has the power to create – and her work globally has focused on transforming ideas into reality and creating positive impact from them. Creating commercially valuable assets from ideas through intellectual property and entrepreneurial activity is the number one way to impact the economy. Patents and trademarks are the most highly valued intellectual property types, whose value can be leveraged if businesses know how to do it right. Strategic development requires answers, not just data, to inform investment and business decision-making. JiNan works with companies of all sizes – from start-ups to publicly traded companies – to leverage patent information to stimulate and accelerate innovation and to monetize the value of intellectual property to fundraise and grow the enterprise.

JiNan shared that many large public company have dozens of patents “sitting on the shelf” which can be used to test and develop new business lines, especially in an economic downturn when excess resources can be inexpensively deployed in new ways and start-up costs continue to reduce. Companies often find that that strength of such intellectual property secures investment from trusted sources which then enables a new company to grow on its own, often freed from the traditional timeline and pace of the founding company. Such opportunities often create further investment to combine efforts with emerging companies who have additional R&D, which accounts for a variety of early-stage acquisitions.

(2) Innovation will continue to prosper if illiquid markets can be accessed.
Adam Oliveri, Managing Director at SecondMarket, shared with the panel the benefits of secondary markets. The steady decline in IPO activity over the last 10 years and the dramatic rise and then sudden fall of M&A activity has left a market void for company exits attractive to investors. Increasing regulatory and administrative burdens also encourage companies to stay private longer, which challenges liquidity outlets. SecondMarket exists to give buyers and sellers a private secure marketplace to effect transactions -- subject to state and federal securities laws -- while providing a robust set of data, analytics and valuation tools instantly accessible online.

(3) What is the most surprising trend affecting cross-border transactions between the United States and Mexico?
Luis Antonio Marquez, Director General of the Mexican Private Equity Association, commented that U.S. venture capital firms have been investing south of the border both directly into private equity and venture capital funds and directly within Mexican enterprises. Mexico’s strong innovation and technology programs allow foreign investors to receive last mile grants when partnering with Mexican manufacturers, further stimulating investment. Mexico also encourages commercialization of pre-approved intellectual property – such as patents -- and will use foreign investment, technology and human resources to do so. For aspiring entrepreneurs, some of the strongest innovation can actually be found within the government and its research programs, which allow people to commercialize its pre-approved patents. Last and mostly interestingly, Mr. Marquez reminded us that the U.S. enjoys a Hispanic population of greater than 40 million people which represent the same GDP as Mexico. Savvy states such as Arizona and New Mexico are creating Hispanic Entrepreneurship Programs that provide training, resources, and capital to new businesses within the respective states and across the border leveraging Mexican commercial resources. As the segment of the population continues to grow, we can expect the cross-border development between the U.S. and Mexico to equally prosper.

To learn more about Astia on the East Coast, contact jhill@astia.org

Monday, November 16, 2009

Marrone Bio Introduces Innovative iPhone Application

Astia client Marrone Bio Innovations recently introduced a first-of-its kind pesticide tank mix calculator application for use on the iPhone. Astia sat down to talk about the exciting, new application and upcoming developments with Marrone Bio Founder and CEO Pam Marrone.

SV: Marrone Bio has distinguished itself as a company looking to drive innovation in the agricultural market, with a strong technology presence such as an eLearning course on biopesticides. How did Marrone identify the need for a mobile application and what was the development process like?

PM: It is a given that we are innovators in R&D. But our Board, with some IT VCs, thought the sales and marketing side of ag pesticides was not very innovative. They challenged us to be innovative in sales and marketing too! So we developed and launched the first ever online biopesticide course for our customers (pest control advisors) to get 2 credit hours of continuing education units and gain more knowledge and awareness of biopesticides and our products. We have been talking to customers and noticed they are using smart phones more and more. They like the apps on the iphone to use out in the field.

SV: The iPhone application is very exciting and modern, what can we expect to see from Marrone Bio in 2010?

PM: We have more practical ag apps on the drawing board and a second module for our biopesticide university online.

SV: As the CEO and Founder of Marrone Bio, can you give us a background on the company’s origins, what it set out to achieve and how it developed?

PM: I started the company in 2006 to continue what I started at my previous companies - to discover, develop and market effective and environmentally responsible natural products for pest, weed and plant disease management. This time, however, we are putting more products into development in parallel so that we will have a more diverse and larger pipeline to ramp up revenues faster. We now have two products on the market, a product waiting approval at the EPA for controlling invasive zebra and quagga mussels and 4 more in development.

SV: This fall, Marrone Bio was recognized as a New California 100 Innovative Business by Golden Capital Network and Hamilton Lane. What are some of Marrone Bio's best practices for creating a culture of innovation?

PM: We hire people who can think out of the box, ask a lot of questions and know what they don't know because my experience is that innovation is suppressed when scientists are too insecure to admit when they don't know something. Also, it is normal that after a time everyone gets set in their ways so we try to challenge employees to think of different ways to solve problems and overcome obstacles. Mistakes are tolerated if the situation is analyzed, lessons learned and the same mistake is not repeated.

SV: Can you give us an overview on your company’s philosophy and how Marrone Bio is leading the pack on sustainable agriculture?

PM: Global food production with need to double to keep up with increasing population. To do this, food must be produced in the most sustainable manner possible. We think natural pest management products like ours are a major part of the future food system by providing providing better yields and quality while keeping the environment and people safer, reducing pesticide residues, and preventing pests from developing resistance. We have the largest biopesticide pipeline and are the only company discovering extracts of microorganisms and plants that kill insects, weeds, nematodes, and plant diseases. Our focus is on innovation - providing novel, greener solutions to unmet needs.

SV: Having worked with Astia since 2006, and being awarded the Innovator Award for Clean Tech in 2008, what have you found the value of the Astia program and network to be?

PM: Astia helped me hone my pitch to investors, introduced me to a fabulous network of talented women entrepreneurs with the same problems and issues that I have, and provided visibility to a fledging company.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Astia talks with GenGreen CEO, Charisse McAuliffe

Astia client, GenGreen recently joined forces with its competitor 3rdWhale and we wanted to find out more.

GenGreen, founded in 2007, is the owner of the largest database of green and healthy living businesses in North America, which it delivers via web, mobile and licensed API agreements to such clients as National Geographic and Gannett. The company has strategic partnerships with Green America, Live Earth and Ecobroker.

3rdWhale Media, founded in 2008, is the leading provider of mobile solutions in the LOHAS space. It introduced the leading green LBS (location based service) iPhone app, 3rdWhale mobile, in January of 2009. The company has also built mobile applications for iPhone, Android and Blackberry for such clients as Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace France, 350.org and Brave New Films.

SV: Just a few short months ago GenGreen and 3rdWhale were considered fierce competitors! What lead to this intriguing development and how did you decide you'd be a stronger force as partners?

CM: I met the team from 3rdWhale at the LOHAS event in Boulder over the summer, and within a few minutes of sitting down together it became clear we wanted to find a way to work together. We had complementary strengths, GenGreen and its database, and 3rdwhale and its mobile development. GenGreen's core expertise was in developing the leading proprietary database of green businesses and organizations in the U.S. GenGreen was beginning to monetize the database and was looking to mobile as a way to extend our brand into a fast growing segment where location-based services are hot. 3rdWhale had a much smaller database, with some Canadian listings, but its core competence was in mobile application development in the green space, including their leading location based service. Combining forces has led us to immediately have an even larger lead on the database side (65,000 in North America) and immediately have the 1-2 punch of web and mobile.

SV: GenGreen has been described as the "Green Yelp," could you give us a quick overview of how the company got started and what you set out to achieve?

CM: I started GenGreen with the intention of trying to make it as easy as possible for people to find the environmental resources they needed on a local level. I realized that there must be many people like me, concerned about my health, the health of my children and of the planet and that there was a need to provide access to a directory of screened businesses that people could rely on as their trusted source of local, healthy, green business. While we started in Colorado, we began receiving requests immediately to expand to other states, and so we quickly became the leading national directory of green businesses. Today we get requests from the Netherlands, Mexico, Australia and other countries. While globalization is in the plans for GenGreen, we are focusing on executing our near-term North American strategy first.

SV: Our lives are becoming increasingly mobile-device-centric, how will GenGreen Digital Media leverage this and how will it change GenGreen's original business model?

CM: Mobile, and particularly smart phone technology is definitely revolutionizing how people live and interact with others. To paraphrase, there is basically an app for everything these days. At last count the iPhone app store has 100,000 apps in the store and has experienced 2 billion downloads since last July. Our merger with 3rdWhale has positioned as the leading green digital media company in the local directory space. We now have apps live on the iPhone, Android and 2 coming for the Blackberry (Storm and Curve). GenGreen was already working to go mobile but the merger with 3rdWhale just accelerated our move into mobile. One of the technologies 3rdWhale had already built and is beta testing in Vancouver now is a mobile coupon management system. Mobile couponing is a disruptive technology to paper couponing and we aim to own the market in the green mobile coupon space.

SV: GenGreen Local is set to be a key initiative of the merger - can you talk us through this offering?

CM: We are very excited about this. GenGreen already had a significant amount of technology investment in enabling a local experience to our web users. We had implemented a GeoIP system that recognized where the user was based on their IP address and immediately delivered up local directory information to the user. As part of our combined vision for the newly merged company, we have decided to expand on that by enhancing the local experience when users come to GenGreenlife.com There will be a unique URL for each large market (e.g. www.gengreenlife.com/sanfrancisco), similar to Yelp, but with local sustainability content that goes beyond just the directory and user ratings and reviews. For example GenGreenlife already has an event calendar and job board and these will be further localized in the new GenGreen Local experience.

SV: Localization is at the heart of GenGreen's mission, how will 3rdWhale help to support this value?

CM: Localization is a movement within and outside of the green movement. If you look at the growing popularity of location aware mobile apps such as Loopt, Four Square, Yelp and many others, you realize that mobile technology is actually being used to bring people together with each other and to local businesses. Our mobile team from 3rdWhale is the leading team in the world in building mobile apps to reach the green consumer. Besides the apps already built for iPhone, Android and Blackberry that now contain our 65,000 listing database, they kept the lights on while extending their brand by building apps in partnership with Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace France, 350.org and others, and for that were identified as one of the "Top 10 Ways to Change the World through Social Media" by Max Gladwell. While you suggest our website is moving local, our mobile apps allow us to be hyperlocal. That is we know exactly where the user is leveraging GPS within the smartphones, and therefore we can give our users an even more localized experience than on the web. Our local web strategy and hyperlocal mobile apps complement each other extremely well.

SV: Having worked with Astia for several months now, how has your approach to your business changed? What do you do differently having completed the Doing it Right program?

CM: Astia really helped make it clear to me how valuable and important it is to have a solid supportive network behind me as a CEO. The advisors I have gained, the introductions that have been made and the experience that I had during the program have been proved to be extremely valuable. I have also been able to help other entrepreneurs that I met during the program which has been very rewarding for me on a personal level.

SV: What's in the pipeline for GenGreen Digital Media in 2010? Can you talk about new apps, offerings or initiatives?

CM: Execution on our core vision of hyperlocal web and mobile experience, significant growth in key metrics including, of course, revenue. We will be expanding the mobile coupon model including introducing an SMS text coupon program for businesses in our directory and larger corporations seeking to reach our green web and mobile consumer base. We have some more tricks up our sleeves but we'll wait to go public with them.

To read more about the GenGreen and 3rdWhale merger as well as other news, you can follow them on the GenGreen Blog, Facebook and Twitter.