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Image credit: Inc.com

We recently received an invitation to apply to a startup pitch competition called SXSW V2Venture taking place on July 16th in Las Vegas, Nevada. The competition seems very interesting and the judging panel is quite impressive. The application fee is $100.

This begs the question: should incubator, angel investors, and VC firms charge application fees? What would be the obvious and not obvious pros and cons of such a policy? I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

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Image Source: Afritorial.com

Anyone who’s followed my thoughts would have deduced by now that I’m extremely passionate about GLOBAL innovation, and I vehemently disagree with insinuations that there’s a region in the world where people are particularly more innovative than others.

However, I do think that there are regions in the world where the social, economic, and legal infrastructures are more favorable towards fostering ideas and measuring the value of their intellectual property. Taking those latter points into consideration, the “Mecca” for such a place is the United States of America, where we are consistently within the top 3 patent holders, partly due to our somewhat lax patent laws, and many of the greatest companies in the world have their roots here. But let’s also keep in mind that, many of the founders of those companies immigrated from other regions of the world, many of them third world or developing countries.

That said, I’d like to introduce to you, if you’re still unfamiliar with it, the concept of “Reverse Innovation” which Vijay Govindajaran, Professor of International Business at Tuft School of Business at Dartmouth College, discusses in his book with Chris Trimble “Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home, Win Everywhere“. The strong point Mr. Govindajaran makes is that “Innovation is no longer the exclusive domain of the Silicon Valley elite”, that there’s a fundamental shift on the “dynamics of global innovation”. Simply put, the rest of the world is innovating and those ideas are impacting the West, instead of the way around.

Traditionally, innovation has been considered a Western asset to be imported by other countries, especially developing countries. However, this is increasingly changing – “no longer will innovations travel the globe in only one direction, from developed to developing nations” it reads. Professor Govindajaran provides a great example of a world-leading, portable, easy-to-use ultrasound scanner developed by GE in China in 2002 at an ultra fraction of the costs of the ones GE has developed here in the United States.

Mr. Govindajaran’s book has been a success – it’s a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Amazon bestseller – and I’d like to applaud him for bringing this topic in the forefront of business and economic discussions.

However, I have slight reservations about a few statements made in the book. I also do realize that these may not necessarily be Mr. Govindajaran’s intended thoughts given that most things nowadays are pretty much left wide open for interpretation. But here I go.

Firstly, as I stated above great ideas happen everywhere and Silicon Valley, where I’ve spent a good deal of my time here in the U.S. is not and most importantly should not be thought as the “exclusive domain” of innovation. Making such arguments only reinforces those false beliefs – and I find them just as dangerous as flaunting the term “American Exceptionalism” – though that’s for another conversation and blog.

Secondly, “Reverse Innovation” is NOT a recent phenomenon. It’s been happening for centuries! There’s a track history of developing nations greatly benefiting financially and economically from innovations that took root in developing and third world countries. It’s the social and legal infrastructure in the West that has enabled them to benefit most often at the detriment of the other countries – these are facts and we should paint the entire picture.

This debate about innovation reminds me of another, property rights, and arguments made by the economist Hernando De Soto in his book The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, where he asserts that the lack of a legal structure, unlike in the West, in the allocation and tracking of property rights in developing nations impedes with their ability to attract capital. Effectively, it’s this absence of legal structure in the development and protection of intellectual property rights in developing and third world countries that’s always been the problem.

The fact is, Western nations have been inspired by great ideas that originated in other regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America but the problem, or missed opportunity rather, is that these regions for thousands of years evolved as communities where everyone benefited from the contribution of others; people benefited from the inventions of inventors just as they (the inventors) benefited from the crops from farmers and the meat from hunters. It’s not easy to change thousands of years worth of that approach to life into one a capitalistic model where one person innovates and charges everyone else in the community a fee to access the invention. Times and laws have long changed but cultural behaviors have not.

Let me give you some examples. Did you know that the first condom, pen, shoe with heels (there goes one for the ladies) were invented by Egyptians? Now, how many condom, pen, and shoe brands do you know are owned by an Egyptian person or company.

Anyone who’s lived or spent a considerable amount of time in a developing country knows this or at the very least has witnessed great ingenuity that regrettably is either not fostered or shipped away to a country in the West.

I traveled to Africa in May 2013 to get a better sense of how people were innovating and see the extent of Internet penetration in some of those countries. On my flight, I sat next to one of the most invigorating woman I’ve ever met – Urginia Warwick. She lives in London but travels to Cameroon frequently to oversee a school and program she put in place to train teachers on how to work with special aid students in their classrooms.In Cameroon, you see, there’s no such thing as a special aid teacher, at least not in public schools. But Ms. Warwick was donating her time and money, traveling from London to Cameroon, four times or more a year to create that opportunity. That is inspiring! During our conversation she told me of a young man she met in Bamenda, a city in the North West of Cameroon, who invented an incubator for premature babies that worked better than the ones they had in the city’s General Hospital. Amazing! Is that something not worth encouraging? I’d planned to take a trip with her to go meet him but unfortunately those plans were derailed. Had it not been for Ms Warwick I would have most likely never heard of that young man. And had it not been for me, you’d most likely never heard about him too. There are great things happening far from our eyes and ears, as well as those of the wonderful writers and journalists at Mashable and TechCrunch.

Innovation is a wonderful thing and we shouldn’t leave it to chance to discover great ideas and people to foster, nor should we reinforce false beliefs that certain regions or countries have a monopoly on the best innovations.

We should work collectively on finding and introducing a globally accessible and scalable solution that allows innovators anywhere in the world to thrive by leveraging each other’s experience, savoir-faire, and the interest of the general public.

 

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Image source: Independent.co.uk

A repost of my blog post at http://blog.miigle.com 

It’s exciting times for us here at Miigle! After months of tirelessly working on our product we are finally ready to unveil the first phase to the public!

So what is Miigle?

Miigle is a social tool that makes it easier for innovators to showcase their projects or startups while automatically connecting them with people worldwide interested in contributing their knowledge, talent, money, and emotional support to see them succeed. 

To understand the power of Miigle, let’s take for example another project of ours:

Imagine building a web platform through which the public can motivate homeless people trying to turn their lives around. This is a great idea but you most likely haven’t got all the resources (knowledge, talent, or money) you may need to tackle them on your own. You need help!

Your challenge however is finding a quick and efficient way to connect with the right people interested and capable of providing that help.

That’s where Miigle comes into play!

Rather than spending all your time and energy pitching every friend, family member, and stranger you hope would be able to help, Miigle allows you to create a page for your project on our site and in seconds our technology does all the work of finding members who’d be interested in fostering you and your projects.

Instead of chasing after the help you need, we find and bring them to you. No legwork. No wasted time, money, and energy. 

Offline, this process could take you weeks, months, if not years. We make it happen in seconds! 

Our goal is to make innovating easier because the more we do it, the happier we all get. Just look at Sir Richard Branson!

Request an Invite to see Miigle work for you and help us grow our community by spreading the word!

Luc Berlin, CEO at Miigle.com

“Together We Can Change The World” – This is a video we recently produced and featured on our homepage at http://www.miigle.com. The message we want to get across with this video is that with the power of our ideas, the diversity of our intellectual capabilities and resourcefulness as human beings, WE as a community of people and innovators/entrepreneurs can do amazing things in making our world a better place.

If you agree with us then please join our Beta at http://www.miigle.com and share this video. Thank you.

I’d like to think that it’s not by simple coincidence that the last post on my blog, which is nearly a year old, is about a young boy who’s fascinated me, brought me to tears, and most importantly fueled my personal motivation about improving how people innovate.

This young boy is Kelvin Doe and he’s from Sierra Leone. My serendipitous relationship with Sierra Leone started nearly a decade ago when I was introduced to their civil war through the hidden lenses of an undercover journalist.

In one of the scenes, a late teen is stopped by a group of men dressed in military uniforms and asked if he’d been part of the street kids shooting at them. The boy answers in Krio (a local language – pidgin english) that he wasn’t shooting anyone. If my memory serves me well, the men proceed to ask him what he was doing outside and he answers that he is out looking for some food. After a few more back and forth between them, they tell him to walk away and as he turns around to leave, one of the men pulls his machine gun and shoots him in the back. I can play that scene over and over in my head until I’m 90 years old and it’ll still feel like it was yesterday. I was scarred for life.

I was so moved by that image that I began writing a fictional novel about a young boy from Liberia who travels to Sierra Leone looking for his father only to get dragged into the war as a Child Soldier.

My relationship with Sierra Leone didn’t end there. A few years later I was approached by a producer to do a voiceover for the documentary Blood Diamonds by the History Channel. Diamonds from Sierra Leone have been called “Blood Diamonds” because their sale had been used to partly finance the decade long war that consumed the country. I accepted, of course.

Then earlier this year, I stumbled upon Kelvin’s story. I was moved to tears, not tears of sorrow but tears of hope. I’d been investing sweat, blood, money, and sleepless nights on Miigle for 2 years and while watching the video about Kelvin, I knew I’d found my purpose in life.

It was all worth it.

Yesterday, I got to borrow Kelvin’s story and shared it as part of my pitch for the NewMe Accelerator program LA Popup during Google for Entrepreneurs Week. Along with me was Josh Fester, my co-founding partner and CTO of Miigle. It was our first time ever introducing Miigle to an audience. We’d been working tirelessly for this moment and it was the opportunity we’d been looking for. I was a bit nervous but I knew I had to focus on the bigger picture – this wasn’t about me – this was about Kelvin and the millions of brilliant entrepreneurs here in the US and around the world who have the ideas and the will but are falling short in resources (intellectual, practical, financial, and even emotional) and are struggling to find the right people to help them pull through. THAT’S the core problem Miigle fixes.

After the pitch, the feedback from people in the audience and other entrepreneurs pitching was heartwarming. It made the past two years some of the best in my life.

I look forward to the next 60, hopefully. I can tell you one thing for sure, I’m ready.

A HUGE thanks to my friend Miyishia Slay for informing about the NewMe event as well as a LOUD SHOUT to William Ruiz, Miigle’s Director of Business and Legal Affairs who couldn’t be there with us!

Below is my 2 minutes pitch in its entirety.

Miigle Pitch – NewMe LA Popup

Meet Kelvin, he’s from Sierra Leone, a country ravaged by war for 10 years. At the age of 13, Kelvin wanted to become a radio DJ to give a voice to his community, but he couldn’t afford a radio. So he built one from trashed electronics he found on the streets.

Kelvin’s story touched the heart of a visiting MIT student who later became his mentor.

Hi I’m Luc Berlin. I’m a cofounder of Miigle and our mission is to simplify how people innovate.

Building a startup is exciting but the process sucks for most entrepreneurs because it’s difficult for them to connect with the right people for help.

And the solution to that is Miigle – a web platform that automates the connection between startups, entrepreneurs and people interested to help.

All it takes is 5 mins to create and post your project then Miigle automatically introduces it to people most likely to contribute whatever resources you need. We also provide a marketplace and analytics to measure your impact.

Our initial revenue streams are a subscription model at $20/year and advertising.

Miigle matters because there’re over 400 million entrepreneurs in the world and according to Gartner the social innovation industry will be worth $7 billion in 2 years.

Unlike AngelList and Kickstarter, Miigle allows you to proactively crowdsource different resources and market your products on the same platform.

Miigle will generate $67M in our first 3 years and will be profitable in each one.

Our team consists of a MBA Grad, a Computer Nerd and a Juris Doctor – for a combined 25 years of experience.

We’re very excited to be launching our MVP this month and are seeking $100K to invest in our technology and introductions to potential advisors.

So help us, give a fighting chance to entrepreneurs around the world, from people in this room to children like Kelvin.

Thank you.

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