Dispatches: MIT’s VC + Innovation Conference

VCs are looking for unicorns, always and forever.

Startups that achieve moderate profitability get a shrug from the VCs who funded them, followed by “what’s next?” High growth, all the time, is the new standard for success.

The truth about failure.

Tracy Chadwell from 1843 Capital spoke truth to all the Baby Zuckerbergs. There are 500,000 businesses started every month, 80% of those have no employees, and less than 1% qualify for venture capital funding. There’s a 90% failure rate for companies between the seed and Series A stages of funding.

Mango seeds and schnozzberries

Levels of VC funding were sharply delineated 10 years ago, Not any more. VCs concentrated on a certain sector and stage. Entrepreneurs borrowed money from friends and family, got some incubator space, qualified for seed, then up they went through Series A, B, C until hopefully taking over the world.

Everybody was talking about Brotopia.

Emily Chang’s just-released book Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley was the talk of the conference, and for good reason. Here’s a choice quote:

We need to talk about bias in AI.

Integrate.ai’s Kathryn Hume is a legit genius who speaks seven languages AND holds a PhD in comparative literature from Stanford University, as well as a BA in mathematics from the University of Chicago. She gave an illuminating presentation articulating the idea that algorithms are convex mirrors that refract our own biases in society.

Lots of Dry Powder.

“Dry powder” is a term a lot of people use freely to describe cash liquidity or reserves, but we didn’t really know the etymology. Back in the civilized days, when battles were fought with mere cannons and guns, it was important to keep gunpowder dry. If it gets wet it’s useless. So, the phrase translated easily as a way to describe marketable securities, “ammunition” that can be used for expansion and acquisition.

ICOs are so hot right now.

Cryptocurrency dominated the Future of Blockchain talk, specifically how the whole scene is essentially the Wild West until the Securities Exchange Commission steps in to regulate.

VCs have a conundrum in the Bitcoin era.

The lack of binding legal responsibility, the kind you typically see in ICOs and funding agreements, plus the sheer number of get-rich-quick players entering the crypto market make it all easy to dismiss.

Euphemisms for change will never die.

“Fast failure” had its moment among entrepreneurs as the label of choice for things that don’t work. But failure is a tough word to dress up, regardless of the sexy adjective.

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