Looking for Overlooked Ideas

Photo by Amanda Dalbjörn on Unsplash

There is no shortage of ideas in the world, especially good ones. What there is a shortage of, is action. That lack of action is due to either individual(s) unwillingness or inability to take action, although oftentimes individuals will believe/claim that their barrier is inability when it is in fact their unwillingness. That said, one of the highest “inability barriers” is seed funding, or having the financial resources to act on an idea. I get excited when I find initiatives that seek to overcome that “inability barrier” by investing in action on ideas.

Pioneer is like Emergent Ventures, in their unique and direct approach to provide open ended funding to ideas that would otherwise fail to pass a typical grant of investment evaluation.

Pioneer seeks to find the “Lost Einsteins” of the world and fund their ideas through a peer voting process (similar to employee innovation programs). Taking it a step further, Pioneer seeks to create a strong support system for their winners by bringing them to Silicon Valley and setting them up with strong mentoring.

Emergent Ventures (EV) similarly seeks to discover otherwise overlooked individuals with ideas through both funding and mentoring. As might be expected from an organization run by an economist (and seed funded by the Thiel Foundation), EV seeks to minimize waste and bureaucracy and maximize the potential of the entrepreneur. For more on EV, also check out the Marginal Revolution blog, who takes credit for bringing my attention to both EV and Pioneer.

Both programs are accepting applications now, so if you have an idea worth pursuing and are simply seeking for a kick-start this is your chance, don’t waste it. Emergent Ventures application can be found here. The Pioneer application can be found here, with the deadline to apply being end-of-day February 3rd.

P.S. Another cool funding initiative I came across a couple years ago was started by a Texas based Venture Capital firm, Notley Ventures. Notley Ventures facilitates and funds an event called Phialnthropitch,that offers grants to non-profits via a start-up-pitch like event. Along with being a interesting concept, it is a great event to attend.

A Carbon Tax becomes a Basic Income

Photo by Sam Jotham Sutharson on Unsplash

Yesterday’s post (Giving freely: Experimenting Basic Income in Kenya) highlighted an interesting non-profit that is investigating the potential effect of a basic income in Kenya. While the impact is meaningful and the potential for conclusions influential, their work won’t answer a critical questions; where will the money come from?

An opinion post in the Wall Street Journal opinion post in the Wall Street Journal (Economists Statement on Carbon Dividends) signed by a breadth of economists suggests a four-part carbon tax policy recommendation that might answer that. Their fourth point calls for the collections from the carbon tax be distributed via “equal lump-sum rebates” as a “carbon dividend”, thus making their carbon dividend like basic income.

While many economists see a carbon tax as a potentially effective solution (in theory) to carbon dioxides impact on the environment (e.g. “climate change”, pollution, etc) there are reasons to be skeptical of the ability to execute on this idea (Big Names Bake a Climate Pie in the Sky). In fact, some early bids to legislate this have failed in recent months, Washington State Voters Reject Carbon Tax. Whether a carbon tax would help reduce pollution and protect the environment is uncertain, but it is at least an interesting potential solution worth considering.

To support the idea of a carbon tax, you can visit the Carbon Tax Center website, and find other organizations that support the idea. If you feel strongly against a carbon tax, and legislation is drafted, you can always contact your representative or start a petition similar to what was done in Canada. Before you do either though, I hope you’ll consider the idea independently, reading arguments both for and against the idea.

Shout out to John Cochrane at The Grumpy Economist for the post that brought my attention to this. He has another carbon tax post worth reading here.

A picture of pure entrepreneurship

Edward Curtis self portrait

Edward Curtis’ North American Indian project was one of the greatest creative accomplishments of the twentieth century and like many legendary artists before him, was not truly appreciated until after his death. Along with his ethnographic work Curtis was known as an innovative photographer in the early years of the field, yet when looking back on his story it’s clear Curtis was also like the classic entrepreneur.
A few core entrepreneurial characteristics shine through in his story:

  • Passion
  • Vision
  • Fundraising
  • Creativity
  • Resilience

Passion: This may be the single most cited trait of entrepreneurs, whether their passion lies in the discipline they’re in or the future they see. Curtis had two primary passions in life, photography and the culture/history of the native tribes of North America. He began photography early in life while bed-ridden as a child and mastered it throughout his life. He also made it his life goal to capture the culture and traditions of these native tribes before they disappeared, a passion that only grew with each day he spent on the project

Vision: Before an entrepreneur begins their journey, they first have a vision that inspires them and others. In his North American Indian project Curtis saw something no one else had come close to imagining. Not only was he part of a small group paying attention to the shrinking tribes, but his publication project was so ambitious and grand that no publisher knew how value it.

Fundraising: For many entrepreneurs, realizing their vision is dependent on their ability to sell that vision to those with the power to finance their early efforts. Curtis raised funds through a few different avenues including his own life savings, but his most famous investor was the legendary banker J.P. Morgan.

Creativity: Sometimes overlooked, this is one of the key strengths of entrepreneurs due to the constant need to adjust to the problems at hand. Curtis’ creativity was obvious in his photography and the design of his project, but he had to develop creative solutions to countless complex problems in his project. One such example is his persistent pursuit and eventual success in witnessing the secretive Hopi Snake Dance.

Resilience: Every entrepreneur faces setbacks, stumbles and barriers, and Curtis wasn’t immune to those. From issues as small as malfunctioning equipment to seemingly insurmountable challenges as the unexpected death of his primary investor, Curtis had no shortage of opportunities to display grit.

While his efforts didn’t result in generational wealth and fame he is widely recognized as one of the pioneers of photography, a visionary contributor the the ethnographic research of North America and the author of one of the most ambitious publications in the history of the United States. Most historic accounts will focus on those contributions alone, but any would-be entrepreneur would do well to learn from his journey as a shining example of what it means to be an entrepreneur.

A good place to start would be Timothy Egan’s excellent biography “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher…”, or his dedicated website.

Buying stocks is like investing when…

When a retail investor (e.g. your buddy Dave, or neighbor Tom), puts money into the stock market, they’ll usually describe this as investing. What they’re often actually doing is donating or gambling with those funds. What’s the difference between these two and investing?

To truly be investing, you have to have a level of strategy in how you choose to allocate all your money into any given opportunities (including the stock market). Investing requires some understanding of balancing risk/reward and having a thoroughly thought out ‘why’ to how your allocating your money.

Are you investing for the long term, trying to minimize fees? Allocating across equities (domestic & foreign), and bonds and cash? Using the Dividend-Discount Valuation Model to find stocks that may be “undervalued”? The strategy you use is up to you and dependent upon your situation, but there must be some thought out strategy make it investing.

The first step to truly begin investing, is to recognize what it means to invest. For many, the 2nd step is getting help, possibly from a registered investment adviser.

Part 3: Buying stocks is like investing…

This is a 3-part post, with post 1 here and post 2 here

Buying stocks is like donating when…

When buying individual securities (e.g. 20 shares of Tesla), one may argue that they’re investing their money, but is that really what they’re doing?

If they’re answer to why they bought those securities is along the lines of “I really like what they’re doing.”, that’s not investing, it’s donating. Investing in a company you ‘believe in’ is like donating to a charity who has a cause you care about.

What then, is the difference between investing your money and donating your money? That is distinguished in post 3 tomorrow.

Part 2: Buying stocks is like donating when…
This is a 3-part post, with post 1 here, and post 3 to follow