Network Updates, 23 Mar. 2017

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Upcoming Events


  • Tracy Saxton’s (Class 15) Pivotal BioVentures closes inaugural $300M fund
  • Santiago Zavala (Class 21) to head 500 Startups’ second LatAm fund
  • Geeks on a Plane. Yes, you heard it right. 500 Startups is on its third global journey.
  • Samir Kaji (Class 20) discusses early-stage funding options in Entrepreneur
  • Karim Elsahy’s (Class 18) Elves app profiled in Egypt Independent
  • Ernestine Fu’s (Class 17) Blackstorm Labs jumps to fore with HTML5 instant games
  • Victor Hwang (Class 12) narrates Kauffman Foundation’s latest sketchbook video on entrepreneurship
  • Marlon Nichols (Class 18) hailed as a role model in Forbes article on investor selection
  • Jennifer Fried (Class 20) writes on upgrading technology in the hospital OR
  • On the move & special mentions: Jan-Maarten Mulder (Class 21) now at Middlegame Ventures • Zheng Huang (Class 20) on the SVB home page • Trish Costello (KF Founding CEO) honored by Women & Wealth
  • This week’s blog selections: Ezra Galston (Class 18) examines the J. Jill IPO • Rob Kornblum (Class 4) gives enterpreneurs a roadmap for turning an idea into a reality • Bill Tobin (Faculty) examines why good people act badly, with a follow-up commentary from Clint Korver (Class 14) • Carl Fritjofsson (Class 21) describes a dangerous mindset that startups can develop, leading to a lack of professionalism
  • Job openings:
    NEW: Matter (accelerator)
    CONTINUING: Kapor Capital (summer interns) • Innovation Endeavors • Transportation Labs (accelerator) • Matterport • Genomics Medicine Ireland • Invitalia Ventures

Tracy Saxton’s (Class 15) Pivotal BioVenture Partners Closes Inaugural $300M Fund

Pivotal BioVenture PartnersCongratulations to Tracy Saxton (Class 15), whose firm Pivotal BioVenture Partners closed its inaugural $300M fund this week; it is being funded by a single LP, Hong Kong-based Vincent Cheung, whose conglomerate has recently expanded to biotech. Tracy says that she plans to back 15 to 18 biotech startups with $15-20M each, focusing exclusively on firms in the preclinical (pre-proof of concept) stages, possibly up through Phase I. The fund expects to have an 80/20% split between US and European firms.

In discussing her firm’s unique focus on very-early-stage science, Tracy says, “We’re going back to basics—where are the advances, the fundamental needs—and doubling down on those types of opportunities,” and that Pivotal BioVentures would not join the pack of funds focused on “de-risked clinical assets.” MedCity News quotes Tracy: “I began my career as a drug discovery scientist and moved to leadership roles in regulatory affairs, clinical development, business development and project management,” knowledge she will tap in deciding which firms Pivotal will back. “Being on the bench for so many years gave me the appreciation of both how exciting and challenging drug discovery is, also the acumen to recognize interesting and translatable science.” [Fierce Biotech story] [Endpoints News story] [Press release]

Santiago Zavala (Class 21) to Head 500 Startups’ Second LatAm Fund

TechCrunch500 Startups announced its second LatAm fund, the $10M Luchadores II (the Spanish word for wrestlers), which aims to back 120 new startups in the region, according to a recent TechCrunch article. Santiago Zavala (Class 21) will be the fund’s Managing Partner, continuing his role from Luchadores I. He’s been with 500 Startups since July 2012 and runs the firm’s Mexico City office, the center of 500’s LatAm activity.

It’s no secret that LatAm’s startup ecosystem blind spot is its lack of later-stage funding and exit opportunities. That’s why the International Finance Corporation (IFC) is joining this new fund as an LP. The IFC has been expanding from its traditional later-stage investment to seed-stage involvement, and working with “best of breed microfund managers in all developing markets.”

The portfolio companies in Luchadores I have generated more than 650 jobs in the region and have raised over $95 million in follow-on funding. In his blog post announcing the new fund, Santiago says, “Luchadores II will allow us to continue the pace and invest in more companies, generating even more jobs in the region, alongside continued ecosystem development.”

Geeks on a Plane. Yes, you heard it right. 500 Startups is on its third global journey.

500 Startups is on an African tour right now, the third of its “Geeks on a Plane” emerging markets travel series, created by Founding Partner Dave McClure (Mentor Classes 17 & 18). The tour has already visited Lagos, Nigeria, and is moving today to Accra, Ghana for the Enterprise Africa Summit. After that it makes two stops in South Africa, Johannesburg and Cape Town, along with a 3-day overnight safari to catch some of the country’s famed wildlife.

In a TechCrunch article about the journey, Dave indicated that 500 Startups is planning on doing more investing on the continent, and will decide in the next 12-24 months whether it will create a dedicated Africa micro-fund. Part of the current tour is trying to figure out where his firm fits into the local ecosystems in terms of the legal structures, other investors, and the regional markets in general. Dave says, “We’re definitely interested in local market opportunities in places measured at 50-100 million people or more—Nigeria, South Africa, East Africa overall. But we’ve also seen people going after global markets from Africa. That’s something we are on the lookout for. Smart people are everywhere.”

In the photo below, Kauffman Fellows’ very own Collin West (Class 17, left) and Jeff Harbach (Class 16, right) joined the tour in Lagos, Nigeria; they’re pictured here with Bedy Yang (Class 17), Managing Partner of 500 Startups.

Geeks on a Plane

Samir Kaji (Class 20) Discusses Early-Stage Funding Options in Entrepreneur

Entrepreneur LogoSamir Kaji (Class 20), Managing Director at First Republic Bank, is the latest Kauffman Fellow to appear in a video/article in Entrepreneur. Echoing what several other Kauffman Fellows have written about recently, Samir’s video is entitled “When Raising Capital For Your Business, Bigger Checks Are Not Always Better.” For many firms, starting with angel funding and then bootstrapping or raising capital from micro-VC funds may be a better option, suggests Samir. Bootstrapping requires funding from one’s own revenue stream, forcing capital efficiency, self-sufficiency, and focus. Large infusions of VC cash with the aim of growing very quickly may not be the best or most realistic option for many startups, and leads to real dilution for company founders.

Did you miss an Entrepreneur episode? See the full list.

Karim Elsahy’s (Class 18) Elves App Profiled in Egypt Independent

Egypt Independent interviewed Karim Elsahy (Class 18) about his mobile app, Elves, described as “Your Personal Little Helper.” Elves connects users to a personal concierge who can help find, book, buy, and deliver stuff, via chat in the app itself or via Facebook Messenger. It started in the United States in 2015 and expanded to Egypt the next year; recently, Forbes ranked it 6th on its “20 Most Promising Egyptian Startups” list. Regarding Cairo, Karim believed that Elves was “immensely needed in a city of 25 million where minimal information is utilized online, and completing basic tasks like refrigerator maintenance can end up taking a week or two.”

At present, every Elves interaction is human-to-human, but the company has been using AI to automate to some tasks. Karim hopes bots will enable him to quadruple the number of simultaneous chats the system can handle by the end of the year. The goal is for the app to operate worldwide, with a staff of elves large enough to operate within each user’s own language and culture. One of the keys to that expansion, he says, is “more partnerships with more large service providers to enhance our services.”

Ernestine Fu’s (Class 17) Blackstorm Labs Jumps to Fore with HTML5 Instant Games

VentureBeatErnestine Fu (Class 17), co-founder of Blackstorm Labs was interviewed for the VentureBeat article “Blackstorm Labs seizes the HTML5 instant games opportunity.” Since its launch last year (and $33.5M initial funding round), Blackstorm has been capitalizing on Facebook’s new Instant Games platform, which allows users to play HTML5 games on its Messenger app and in the Facebook News Feed.

Ernestine believes HTML5 games are the future of social–mobile gaming because they eliminate the significant hurdles faced by app-based games: HTML5 games don’t have to compete with the millions of other apps in an app store, they don’t have to be downloaded or installed, and no app store takes a cut of the sales. “There’s only going to be a dozen really important super apps in the future,” says Ernestine, “like messenger platforms like Facebook. … the app store as we know it today is going to be completely different.”

TechCrunchTechCrunch reports on the company’s new feature, Boss Raids, which aims to provide the kind of “real-time co-operative experience” offered by MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Boss Raids allows multiple players to cooperate to take down the same boss—and share the rewards for defeating it. “We’re allowing people to help each other, and from a virality standpoint, groups want to recruit more and more friends to get through these boss raids,” says Ernestine.

Victor Hwang (Class 12) Narrates Kauffman Foundation’s Latest Sketchbook Video

Victor HwangVictor Hwang (Class 12), the VP of Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation, narrates the Kauffman Foundation’s latest Sketchbook video, “Zero Barriers to Startup.” As Victor explains it, the Zero Barriers movement aims to “empower the makers, the doers, and the dreamers” by removing the barriers that prevent everyday people from becoming entrepreneurs—starting with the perception that it takes a special kind of person to be an entrepreneur.

The word “entrepreneur” has come to connote the sort of person who creates the next Facebook or Apple, which discourages many people from starting businesses. Victor argues that real entrepreneurship is “people doing day-to-day stuff … making a living, or making a small difference in the lives of their children or the people in their community.” Zero Barriers is working to enable anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, or location, “to start a business quickly, inexpensively, without confusion and without barriers.”

Often the barriers are “the invisible stuff” that seem so small individually—questions like “Do I need a license?”, “How do taxes work?”, “Where do I find answers?”, and “Am I ready?”—but they can add up to a “death by a thousand cuts” to many would-be entrepreneurs. The Kauffman Foundation sees one of its roles as finding ways to remove “the million little things that get in the way” and support the entrepreneurial ecosystem: Zero Barriers to Startup.

Marlon Nichols (Class 18) Hailed as a Role Model in Forbes Article on Investor Selection

ForbesMarlon Nichols (Class 18), General Partner at Cross Culture Ventures, plays a starring role in a recent Forbes article offering pointers for entrepreneurs searching for a great investor. Marlon’s working relationship with the author—the founder of LISNR, a communication firm that uses ultrasonic audio to transmit data—illustrates the characteristics of a top-notch investor: expertise in the field (and the subsequent deep networking bench), a willingness to assist by leveraging that same expertise and network, faith in the CEO’s capacity for growth, and a sincere desire to do right by all parties. “Being able to trust that the potential investor has the right mindset and can act in the best interest of your company is incredibly important,” says the author. Marlon “asks questions to drive thinking in different directions and scenarios, then leaves me and my leadership team to make the final decision.” The final advice to founders? “Great entrepreneurs always have choices and should take the time and effort to choose wisely.”

Jennifer Fried (Class 20) Writes on Upgrading Technology in the Hospital OR

Explorer SurgicalAs we reported in February, Jennifer Fried’s (Class 20) startup ExplORer Surgical aims to provide improved efficiency and coordination during the surgical process. In her recent article, “The Need to Upgrade Technology in America’s Operating Rooms,” Jennifer elaborates on the problem she hopes to solve with her firm’s software.

From individual physician preferences to equipment operation to specifying roles for personnel, the workflow in an operating room can be complex and inefficient. Modern digital workflow software, like the “digital playbook” ExplORer Surgical offers, manages that workflow in real-time and with multimedia. Hospitals typically derive 60% of their revenue from the operating room, but with an overall profit margin of 4%, improving the OR’s efficiency is certainly in the hospital’s financial best interest. But Jennifer envisions much more significant benefits for society at large. When hospitals and surgeons begin to share their efficiency data with each other and identify best practices, “that could result in better outcomes for patients and could possibly even lead to medical advances.”

On the move & special mentions:

  • Jan-Maarten Mulder (Clas 21) is now at Midgame Ventures, a new fund focused on early-stage fintech investments in Europe and North America. He is based in Amsterdam.
  • Zhang Hueng (Class 20) is making an appearance on the Silicon Valley Bank home page in their “Client Stories” series, discussing his ViewFind visual storytelling/photojournalist app.
  • Congratulations to Trish Costello (KF Founding CEO) who was named one of “17 women to watch in 2017” by Women & Wealth Magazine.

This week’s blog selections:

Job opportunities:

If you are a Fellow or Mentor and would like to post a job at your firm or portfolio company, please email us. Jobs are removed from this list after 4 weeks.

  • (NEW) Applications are open new through April 3 for Matter’s 7th accelerator class, which begins July 5 (Corey Ford, Class 17, is Managing Partner at Matter in San Francisco). Matter is grounded in the principles of design thinking, and supports early-stage media entrepreneurs and mission-aligned media institutions building scalable ventures that make society more informed, inclusive, and empathetic. Read their blog post announcing the opening of applications, and another describing the characteristics they’re looking for. Interested startups can apply online.
  • Kapor Capital (Mitch Kapor, Mentor Class 21; Brian Dixon, Class 21) is hiring 4 summer associates. The ideal candidate will be entering an MBA, PhD, or comparable graduate program in Fall 2017 (or, alternatively, going into their 2nd or 3rd year of graduate studies); applicants must have a passion for tech startups. The Round 1 application deadline is tomorrow, March 17; the Round 2 deadline is April 17. Read the full job description and apply on the Kapor Capital website.
  • Eyal Mayer (Class 21) forwarded a job opportunity for a “Value Creation Team Member” in Business Development at Innovation Endeavors, a VC firm looking to transform large industries. Innovation is solely backed by Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google. The Value Creation Team supports portfolio companies and is focused on building relationships with leading industry players within Fortune 500 companies. The position is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and requires 2-3 years of work history, experience with demo days or similar, and a natural ability to build strong relationships and connect with people. Read the full job description, with application information.
  • Cyril Vancura (Class 15), a Principal at Robert Bosch Venture Capital, reported on LinkedIn: “We are excited to be partnering with @CometLabs on the first-ever accelerator specifically for startups building AI tools to transform transportation.” Learn more and apply now to the Transportation Lab. New class starts April 3.
  • Brian Kissel (Class 7), SVP of Matterport, has announced via LinkedIn that his firm is hiring extensively across all aspects of the company in its Sunnyvale, CA office. Matterport is an immersive media technology company that builds 3D media solutions used from real estate to entertainment. The firm has built the first end-to-end media platform that allows users to easily create, modify, navigate, and build on digital representations of real places. Matterport jobs page.
  • Dan Crowley (Class 16) announced via LinkedIn that Genomics Medicine Ireland is looking for a Medical Science Liaison, responsible for identifying and developing collaborative research opportunities between GMI and clinical groups throughout Ireland. Read the full description and application information.
  • Salvo Mizzi (Class 16) reports on LinkedIn that his firm, Invitalia Ventures, is hiring an Investment Analyst. The link to the jobs page from LinkedIn appears to be broken at this time; it’s best to email Salvo directly (

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