Recruiting for diversity in VC

Like many industries with a high concentration of wealth — and the careers that help professionals accumulate it — investment firms have a severe dearth of diversity in their ranks.

Regardless of whether the focus is venture capital, private equity or any other investment asset class, the firms are replete with white men. Though there have been some modest efforts of late to push for diversity, particularly in VC, these have yielded single digit percentage changes at best — and nothing at worst. Only 9% of investment decision makers in VC today are women; just 2% are Black.

Some firms have made reasonable inroads on this problem with good intentions. Based on my search experience recruiting investment professionals, I would guess that at least half of those searches were for clients with a strong preference to hire a “diverse” candidate. The Black Lives Matter movement has recently advanced the dialogue even further and has shined a light on underrepresentation in VC more than ever. “How do we increase our pipeline of diverse candidates?” is a question I heard frequently before 2020, but in past weeks this has become a chorus. Unfortunately, if solving this problem were as easy as telling a recruiter you want more diversity, it might have been solved long ago.

Below are a few common pitfalls we see in our searches with VC firms in particular, as well as some thoughts on how firms can improve their hiring processes, in order to work toward having more diverse representation within their investing teams.

Job description: Great comes in many forms

The most common reason I see for hiring processes leading to a slate with primarily white male candidates is because the criteria my client views as required almost completely precludes the possibility that the candidate slate will be diverse.

Taken as a given that women and minority men are not well-represented at senior levels in VC, any job spec that asks for a candidate to have seven to 10 years of experience in the industry, or a large number of board seats or investments led, will mean that the pool of “qualified” candidates will consist of mostly white men. This has historically been referred to as the “pipeline problem” and it’s an increasingly well-studied concept that academic literature is beginning to point to as a bias that pushes the onus of hiring minorities away from the hiring manager and on to the candidate pool. Even for firms that remain committed to hiring underrepresented groups without making adjustments to their criteria, the result is a zero-sum game where proven minority investors rotate from firm to firm, and an outcome that does not increase diversity in the industry as a whole.

VC firms seeking to improve their diversity have to recognize that great comes in many forms. By crafting broader specs and really thinking about the qualifications for their investing roles, a whole new talent pool opens up. To see that new pool of talent though, firms must first determine what characteristics are relevant to the role, and avoid tenure (or other tenure stand-ins) as the main criteria. VC investing is as much an art as a science; firms should decide what personal traits make somebody strong in their organization and why. How would a different viewpoint be additive to sourcing or diligence discussions?

Firms then need to commit to interviewing for those traits and perspectives, and assessing candidates along those same lines. One VC firm I worked with interviewed dozens of candidates before they realized that their process focused too much on financial acumen and not enough on the other factors they felt would make somebody a strong venture capitalist, resulting in a final slate of safe, “qualified,” and mostly nonminority candidates.

We reworked our process, and theirs, to interview for different criteria moving forward. We asked about overcoming hardships and about risks taken, and we got a sense for what type of impact that person made in whatever organization they came from rather than just asking about deals and transactions. It should be no surprise that the candidates with noninvesting backgrounds are performing much better in the process now, and the value they’d add to the organization more clear, even though the interviewers and the roles are the same.

Affinity bias: Go beyond what’s familiar

A broad spec and a team committed to hiring diverse talent, and interviewing appropriately, are great starting points. But then there is much more to do. Affinity bias is a well-known phenomenon that many investors are likely aware of, but it is pernicious in hiring settings and can be a serious challenge to overcome. Affinity bias in hiring is when a person or group of people prefer a candidate who looks, talks, acts or has a similar background to them.

In the case of hiring candidates with diverse backgrounds, affinity bias may be the tallest hurdle. In VC, the job is in many ways to seek common ground with the people you talk to. Good VCs are relationship builders — with entrepreneurs, other VCs and strong executives they want to recruit into their portfolio companies. But most investors are white people from affluent communities who attended elite universities and have worked at top-tier banks or consulting firms. In some cases there may have been a stint at another top-tier institution, be it a technology company or another investment firm.

White men are more likely to have these backgrounds. In a hiring process, white male VCs will naturally find ways to connect with candidates with similar backgrounds (i.e., other white men), in contrast to candidates with none of those same experiences, even when the candidates with other backgrounds are equally qualified for the role.

Affinity bias can be very subtle. It is human nature to feel the conversation was easier with somebody who in many ways has led the same life you did. It can feel somewhat logical even: The critique of the nonwhite or nonmale candidate is never as obvious as “They didn’t go to Stanford” or “They don’t belong to my country club.” Rather, it is often expressed as something softer and subjective — a seldom-articulated criteria of cultural fit. “Our culture is different from the place they work” is the most common. “I’m not sure they have the drive” is another, or “They don’t have an X-factor.” Now, these critiques can be completely legitimate.

A candidate may indeed be a bad fit for the culture of the firm because, for example, their prior employer was a gigantic corporate machine reliant on extraneous processes and they are interviewing for a role at a small entrepreneurial organization. But sometimes, particularly when interviewing candidates from different backgrounds, culture fit is a mask for affinity bias, and VCs (like all interviewers) need to be conscious of this tendency.

Look in the right networks

Investment firms almost always try to make a hire through their own network before leading a full search, and even before posting a job as being open anywhere online. This has become such an ingrained behavior that it is often discussed as a best practice. Unfortunately, “hiring through our network” almost certainly means the slate of candidates that a firm considers at the outset is going to be heavily nondiverse. Unless a firm (or to broaden this guidance, an organization) is already diverse across multiple vectors, then beginning a search by canvasing the firm’s own network is highly unlikely to yield a “diverse” candidate. This seems innocuous but it can actually be harmful to the odds that the firm ever hires a candidate from an underrepresented group. Why? There is another bias at work, the status quo bias.

Studies have shown that people tend to make choices that favor the status quo. Creating a balanced slate of choices is critical to avoid disfavoring minority candidates inadvertently. One study showed that having multiple women or Black candidates on a finalist slate increased the odds that the selected would be a minority by 70x-100x. But if a group of interviewers meets five white men through their networks before they meet anybody else, it is going to take an disproportionate number of underrepresented minority candidates to overcome the group’s bias toward hiring the “status quo” of the white men they met at the outset of the search.

At True Search, we recently audited one of our own searches to look for candidate-selected markers of their identity. We compared our pool of candidates to the NVCA diversity data from 2018. Compared to the industry averages, our pool of candidates was half as white and twice as female as the industry at large. I am not sharing that data as an advertisement for True Search, and in fact we strive to do more and are working on multiple programs to increase our networks with diverse candidate pools. The point is, when a VC firm uses a search firm or any outside consultant for a search, the pool of candidates is going to be much more diverse than if that VC firm simply calls up the people in their network, who probably are not all that diverse.

Focus on inclusion

A commitment to hiring more talent with underrepresented backgrounds is great; actually doing it is even better. Many studies have shown that diversity improves the performance of a team, but the onus is on the organization to foster an environment where those viewpoints are appreciated. In my discussions with VCs who are minorities, they point out that once they are in the door of the firm they still face challenges that white male colleagues don’t.

They are less likely to have mentors who share their backgrounds, and investing is largely an apprenticeship business. If they did not come from Stanford or Harvard, they are less likely to see deals that come through the sorts of personal networks that the firm is likely accustomed to seeing. If they came from a noninvesting background, they may be taken less seriously when presenting investment ideas to the team of career investors. A firm has to support diversity of thought once it is in the door, or the contributions of those team members may be unappreciated.

Firms can do many things to foster strong talent from diverse backgrounds once they are in the organization. Minority investors have shared some great ideas with me as I was thinking through this article, so these suggestions aren’t just my own. Underrepresented groups have historically (in the short history of such groups having any significant representation in the investing world) formed mentorship networks that transcend the walls of a given firm, such as Latinx VC, BLCK VC and All Raise.

VC firms should build as much connectivity with those sort of networks as possible. This will not only increase the odds that a firm will see more candidates from underrepresented groups, but it will also mean that the firm can play a role in finding strong mentors for their diverse talent throughout their career. Those networks can be built through small individual actions like attending and sponsoring events, or sharing job postings in the firm and portfolio with those networks.

VC firms can also help to jump-start a hire’s network in venture. Imagine a scenario where a firm hires a noninvestor with a unique yet amazing background into an investing role. Their peers all went to Stanford or worked at Facebook and are sourcing their deals through those personal networks. VC firms can use their resources to help close that network gap, such as by setting aside small pools of capital for a seed fund to be deployed by new investors with diverse backgrounds, thereby giving them a boost in early network building. I’ve seen firms deploy this strategy as a way to keep tabs on high potential operators, or on partner-level candidates they want to get to know more before they commit to hiring full-time.

Firms can help train junior talent and better prepare them for future full-time roles in venture by running intern or analyst programs and emphasizing the hiring of underrepresented groups into those roles. Even a part-time gig in VC will give a candidate a leg up in future interview processes, and even if that person goes off to another firm for a full-time role, the network back to that person will remain and could be helpful as a source of (or mentor to) the diverse talent the firm hires in the future.

Stanford students are short-circuiting VC firms by investing in their peers

Stanford’s success in spinning out startup founders is a well-known adage in Silicon Valley, with alumni founding companies like Google, Cisco, Cloudflare, LinkedIn, Youtube, Snapchat, Instagram, and yes, even TechCrunch. And venture capitalists routinely back more founders coming out of the Stanford business program than any other university in the country.

One group of Stanford graduate students is well-aware of their favorable odds, and think that they should be able to cash in their classmates, too — not just accredited investors and the super-wealthy.

They have put together, Stanford 2020, a new fund created entirely by Stanford classmates to invest in their fellow students’ ventures.

The idea was spurred by six students, who after a year of working with Fenwick & West law firm to find a suitable legal structure landed on creating an investment club — multiple parties can invest together as long as they have some form of shared ties.

Steph Mui, a founding member of Stanford 2020 and former venture capital associate at VC firm NEA, formed the club in defiance of the inaccessibility of angel investing, which she described as an elite Silicon Valley status symbol.

“Especially in Silicon Valley where it seems kind of a status symbol and only accredited people can do it, it feels very elite” she said. “We started thinking more about if we can actually make this something that the whole class could participate in, or at least make it more accessible to more than just like these small pockets of people that do it behind closed doors?”

Stanford 2020 club members must put up a minimum of $3,000 to join the investment club, and any eventual returns will be distributed proportionally to the investment each makes. So far, Mui tells TechCrunch that $1.5 million has been raised across 175 investors, with 50 investors willing to give $500,000 on the waitlist. In fact, the club is so “oversubscribed” that it is working to give money back.

Mui estimates that roughly 40% of the class is participating in the club. The founding members are being defined as “board members” who were recruited for passion and for diversity in background, professional interests, and past leadership experience.

The group plans to invest $50,000 to $100,000 in startups depending on round size and valuation.

Mui thinks that Stanford 2020’s competitive advantage is largely the personal relationship it has with the companies it will invest in. After all, success might be just an arms reach away. Notoriously, Cloudflare, Rent the Runway, and Thredup were all born in the same classroom after being assigned a class project, according to Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince.

“We have such strong pre-existing relationships, we know what people are working on way before they even raise,” she said.

Anyone who has been part of a club or team before knows that loyalty runs deep, but we’ll see if that closeness is enough for a founder to dole out a stake in their company. While Stanford 2020 doesn’t take any management fee or carry, equity isn’t casual; in that vein, a famed Silicon Valley firm might be of better utility than your classmates.

Stanford 2020’s set up sounds similar to StartX, the university’s attempt at investing in its own, leafy backyard which shut down in 2019. Launched in 2013, StartX offered to invest money in exchange for equity in any startup that went through its auxiliary accelerator and has $500,000 from professional investors.

Looking at Stanford 2020’s set up, the rules are almost exactly the same. Mui tells TechCrunch that startups must fulfill two criteria in order to automatically invest: first, the co-founder must be a member of the class, and second, they must raise a round of $750,000 or more from a reputable institutional investor. They define reputable as a list of 80 investors they got guidance on from advisors in the industry.

The concept of a rule-based automatic investment strategy comes with a big red flag: what if the founder has a bad idea or is a bad person, and still meets the criteria?

“I actually literally can’t think of a single person and I’m like, that person is so bad or so immoral, that we wouldn’t invest in them,” Mui said. “That’s part of the benefit of investing only in your classmates.”

But in case a Stanford-born class does have a problematic founder, Stanford 2020 has a veto voting mechanism.

In the grand scheme of things, Stanford-born startups are in a better spot than most when it comes to securing cash. They don’t desperately need another fund to invest in them. Mui’s ambition for Stanford 2020 is that other schools can copy and paste the legal structure they took a year (and a lot of hard work) to figure out.

She says they’re already getting inbound from incoming Stanford classes, other Stanford Schools, and undergraduates. Now that it’s closed, she hopes they hear from other business schools, too .

Zoom faces criticism for denying free users e2e encryption

What price privacy? Zoom is facing a fresh security storm after CEO Eric Yuan confirmed that a plan to reboot its battered security cred by (actually) implementing end-to-end encryption does not in fact extend to providing this level of security to non-paying users.

This Zoom ‘premium on privacy’ is necessary so it can provide law enforcement with access to call content, per Bloomberg, which reported on security-related remarks made by Yuan during an earnings call yesterday, when the company reported big gains thanks to the coronavirus pandemic accelerating uptake of remote working tools.

“Free users for sure we don’t want to give [e2e encryption] because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose,” Yuan said on the call.

Security experts took swiftly to Twitter to condemn Zoom’s ‘pay us or no e2e’ policy.

EFF associate research director, Gennie Gebhart, also critically discussed Zoom’s decision to withhold e2e encryption for free users in a Twitter thread late last month, following a feedback call with the company — criticizing it for spinning what she characterized as pure upsell as a safety consideration.

It’s a nuance-free cop-out to blanket-argue that ‘bad things happen on free accounts’, she suggested.

Fast forward to today and a tweet about the report of Yuan’s comments written by Bloomberg technology reporter, Nico Grant, triggered an intervention by none other than Alex Stamos — the former Facebook and Yahoo! security executive who signed up by as a consultant on Zoom’s security strategy back in April days after the company had been served with a class action lawsuit from shareholders for overstating security claims.

Stamos — who was CSO at Yahoo! during a period when the NSA was using a backdoor to scan user email and also headed up security at Facebook at a time when Russia implemented a massive disinformation campaign targeting the 2016 US presidential election — weighed in via Twitter to claim there’s a “difficult balancing act between different kinds of harms” which he said justifies Zoom’s decision to deny e2e encryption for all users.

Curiously, Stamos was also CSO at Facebook when the tech giant completed the roll out of e2e encryption on WhatsApp — providing this level of security to the then billion+ users of its free-to-use mobile messaging and video chat app.

Which might suggest Stamos’ conception of online “harms” has evolved considerably since 2016 — after all, he’s since landed at Stanford as an adjunct professor (where he researches “safe tech”). Although, in the same year (2016), he defended his employer’s decision not to make e2e encryption the default on Facebook Messenger. So Stamos’ unifying thread appears to be being paid to defend corporate decision-making while applying a gloss of ‘security expertise’.

His latest Twit(n)ter-vention runs to type, with the security consultant now defending Zoom’s management’s decision not to extend e2e encryption to free users of the product.

But his tweeted defence of AES encryption as a valid alternative to e2e encryption has attracted some pointed criticism from the crypto community — as an attack on established standards.

Nadim Kobeissi, a Paris-based applied cryptography researcher — who told us that his protocol modelling and analysis software was used by the Zoom team during development of its proposed e2e encrypted system for (paid product) meetings — called out Stamos for “insisting that AES encryption, which can be bypassed by Zoom Inc. at will, qualifies as real encryption”.

That’s “what’s truly misleading here”, Kobeissi tweeted.

In a phone call with TechCrunch, Kobeissi fleshed out his critique, saying he’s concerned, more broadly, that a current and (he said) much needed “Internet zeitgeist” focus on online safety is being hijacked by certain vested interests to push their own agenda in a way that could roll back major online security gains — such as the expansion of e2e encryption to free messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal — and lead to a general deterioration of security ideals and standards.

Kobeissi pointed out that AES encryption — which Stamos defended — does not prevent server intercepts and snooping on calls. Nor does it offer a way for Zoom users to detect such an attack, with the crypto expert emphasizing it’s “fundamentally different from snooping-resistant encryption”.

Hence he characterized Stamos’ defence of AES as “misleading and manipulative” — saying it blurs a clearly established dividing line between e2e encryption and non-e2e.

“There are two problems [with the Zoom situation]: 1) There’s no e2e encryption for free users; and 2) there’s intentional deception,” Kobeissi told TechCrunch.

He also questioned why Stamos has not publicly pushed for Zoom to find ways to safely implement e2e encryption for free users — pointing, by way of example, to the franking ‘abuse report’ mechanism that Facebook recently applied to e2e encrypted “Secret Conversations” on Messenger.

“Why not improve on Facebook Messenger franking,” he suggested, calling for Zoom to use its acquisition of Keybase’s security team to invest and do research that would raise security standards for all users.

Such a mechanism could “absolutely” be applied to video and voice calls, he argued.

“I think [Stamos] has a deleterious effect on the kind of truth that ends up being communicated about these services,” Kobeissi added in further critical remarks about the former Facebook CSO — who he said comes across as akin to a “fixer” who gets called in “to render a company as acceptable as possible to the security community while letting it do what it wants”.

We’ve reached out to Zoom and Stamos for comment.

Zoom faces criticism for denying free users e2e encryption

What price privacy? Zoom is facing a fresh security storm after CEO Eric Yuan confirmed that a plan to reboot its battered security cred by (actually) implementing end-to-end encryption does not in fact extend to providing this level of security to non-paying users.

This Zoom ‘premium on privacy’ is necessary so it can provide law enforcement with access to call content, per Bloomberg, which reported on security-related remarks made by Yuan during an earnings call yesterday, when the company reported big gains thanks to the coronavirus pandemic accelerating uptake of remote working tools.

“Free users for sure we don’t want to give [e2e encryption] because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose,” Yuan said on the call.

Security experts took swiftly to Twitter to condemn Zoom’s ‘pay us or no e2e’ policy.

EFF associate research director, Gennie Gebhart, also critically discussed Zoom’s decision to withhold e2e encryption for free users in a Twitter thread late last month, following a feedback call with the company — criticizing it for spinning what she characterized as pure upsell as a safety consideration.

It’s a nuance-free cop-out to blanket-argue that ‘bad things happen on free accounts’, she suggested.

Fast forward to today and a tweet about the report of Yuan’s comments written by Bloomberg technology reporter, Nico Grant, triggered an intervention by none other than Alex Stamos — the former Facebook and Yahoo! security executive who signed up by as a consultant on Zoom’s security strategy back in April days after the company had been served with a class action lawsuit from shareholders for overstating security claims.

Stamos — who was CSO at Yahoo! during a period when the NSA was using a backdoor to scan user email and also headed up security at Facebook at a time when Russia implemented a massive disinformation campaign targeting the 2016 US presidential election — weighed in via Twitter to claim there’s a “difficult balancing act between different kinds of harms” which he said justifies Zoom’s decision to deny e2e encryption for all users.

Curiously, Stamos was also CSO at Facebook when the tech giant completed the roll out of e2e encryption on WhatsApp — providing this level of security to the then billion+ users of its free-to-use mobile messaging and video chat app.

Which might suggest Stamos’ conception of online “harms” has evolved considerably since 2016 — after all, he’s since landed at Stanford as an adjunct professor (where he researches “safe tech”). Although, in the same year (2016), he defended his employer’s decision not to make e2e encryption the default on Facebook Messenger. So Stamos’ unifying thread appears to be being paid to defend corporate decision-making while applying a gloss of ‘security expertise’.

His latest Twit(n)ter-vention runs to type, with the security consultant now defending Zoom’s management’s decision not to extend e2e encryption to free users of the product.

But his tweeted defence of AES encryption as a valid alternative to e2e encryption has attracted some pointed criticism from the crypto community — as an attack on established standards.

Nadim Kobeissi, a Paris-based applied cryptography researcher — who told us that his protocol modelling and analysis software was used by the Zoom team during development of its proposed e2e encrypted system for (paid product) meetings — called out Stamos for “insisting that AES encryption, which can be bypassed by Zoom Inc. at will, qualifies as real encryption”.

That’s “what’s truly misleading here”, Kobeissi tweeted.

In a phone call with TechCrunch, Kobeissi fleshed out his critique, saying he’s concerned, more broadly, that a current and (he said) much needed “Internet zeitgeist” focus on online safety is being hijacked by certain vested interests to push their own agenda in a way that could roll back major online security gains — such as the expansion of e2e encryption to free messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal — and lead to a general deterioration of security ideals and standards.

Kobeissi pointed out that AES encryption — which Stamos defended — does not prevent server intercepts and snooping on calls. Nor does it offer a way for Zoom users to detect such an attack, with the crypto expert emphasizing it’s “fundamentally different from snooping-resistant encryption”.

Hence he characterized Stamos’ defence of AES as “misleading and manipulative” — saying it blurs a clearly established dividing line between e2e encryption and non-e2e.

“There are two problems [with the Zoom situation]: 1) There’s no e2e encryption for free users; and 2) there’s intentional deception,” Kobeissi told TechCrunch.

He also questioned why Stamos has not publicly pushed for Zoom to find ways to safely implement e2e encryption for free users — pointing, by way of example, to the franking ‘abuse report’ mechanism that Facebook recently applied to e2e encrypted “Secret Conversations” on Messenger.

“Why not improve on Facebook Messenger franking,” he suggested, calling for Zoom to use its acquisition of Keybase’s security team to invest and do research that would raise security standards for all users.

Such a mechanism could “absolutely” be applied to video and voice calls, he argued.

“I think [Stamos] has a deleterious effect on the kind of truth that ends up being communicated about these services,” Kobeissi added in further critical remarks about the former Facebook CSO — who he said comes across as akin to a “fixer” who gets called in “to render a company as acceptable as possible to the security community while letting it do what it wants”.

We’ve reached out to Zoom and Stamos for comment.

Impossible adds ‘ground pork’ and ‘sausages’ to its lineup of plant-based foods

Impossible Foods made huge waves in the food industry when it came up with a way of isolating and using “heme” molecules from plants to mimic the blood found in animal meat (also comprised of heme), bringing a new depth of flavor to its vegetarian burger.

This week at CES, the company is presenting the next act in its mission to get the average consumer to switch to more sustainable, plant-based proteins: it unveiled its version of pork — specifically ground pork, which will be sold as a basic building block for cooking as well as in sausage form. It’s a critical step, given that pork is the most-eaten animal product in the world.

Impossible has set up shop in CES’s outdoor area, situated near a line of food trucks, and it will be cooking food for whoever wants to come by. (I tasted a selection of items made from the new product — a steamed bun, a meatball, some noodles and a lettuce wrap — and the resemblance is uncanny, and not bad at all.) And after today, the new product will be making its way first to selected Burger King restaurants in the US before appearing elsewhere.

It may sound a little far-fetched to see a food startup exhibiting and launching new products at a consumer electronics show, attended by 200,000 visitors who will likely by outnumbered by the number of TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices on display. Indeed, Impossible is the only food exhibitor this year.

But if you ask Pat Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods (pictured right, at the sunny CES stand in the cold wearing a hat), the company is in precisely the right place.

“To me it’s very natural to be at CES,” he said in an interview this week at the show. “The food system is the most important technology on earth. It is absolutely a technology, and an incredibly important one, even if it doesn’t get recognised as such. The use of animals as a food technology is the most destructive on earth. And when Impossible was founded, it was to address that issue. We recognised it as a technology problem.”

That is also how Impossible has positioned itself as a startup. Its emergence (it was founded 2011) dovetailed with an interesting shift in the world of tech. The number of startups were booming, fuelled by VC money and a boom in smartphones and broadband. At the same time, we were starting to see a new kind of startup emerging built on technology but disrupting a wide range of areas not traditionally associated with technology. Technology VCs, looking for more opportunities (and needing to invest increasingly larger funds), were opening themselves up to consider more of the latter opportunities.

Impossible has seized the moment. It has raised around $777 million to date from a list of investors more commonly associated with tech companies — they include Khosla, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, GV, and a host of celebrities — and Impossible is now estimated to be valued at around $4 billion. Brown told me it is currently more than doubling revenues annually.  

With his roots in academia, the idea of Brown (who has also done groundbreaking work in HIV research) founding and running a business is perhaps as left-field a development as a food company making the leap from commodity or packaged good business to tech. Before Impossible, Brown said that he had “zero interest” in becoming an entrepreneur: the bug that has bitten so many others at Stanford (where he was working prior to founding Impossible) had not bitten him.

“I had an awesome job where I followed my curiosity, working on problems that I found interesting and important with great colleagues,” he said.

That changed when he began to realise the scale of the problem resulting from the meat industry, which has led to a well-catalogued list of health, economic and environmental impacts (including increased greenhouse gas emissions and the removal of natural ecosystems to make way for farming land. “It is the most important and consequential issue for the future of the world, and so the solution has to be market-based,” he said. “The only way we can replace themes that are this destructive is by coming up with a better technology and competing.”

Pork is a necessary step in that strategy to compete. America, it seems, is all about beef and chicken when it comes to eating animals. But pigs and pork take the cake when you consider meat consumption globally, accounting for 38% of all meat production, with 47 pigs killed on average every second of every day. Asia, and specifically China, figure strongly in that demand. Consumption of pork in China has increased 140% since 1990, Impossible notes.

Pigs’ collective footprint in the world is also huge: there are 1.44 billion of them, and their collective biomass totals 175 kg, twice as much as the biomass of all wild terrestrial vertebrates, Impossible says.

Whether Impossible’s version of pork will be enough or just an incremental step is another question. Ground meat is not the same as creating structured proteins that mimic the whole-cuts that are common (probably more common) when it comes to how pork is typically cooked (ditto for chicken and beef and other meats).

That might likely require more capital and time to develop.

For now, Impossible is focused on building out its business on its own steam: it’s not entertaining any thoughts of selling up, or even of licensing out its IP for isolating and using soy leghemoglobin — the essential “blood” that sets its veggie proteins apart from other things on the market. (I think of licensing out that IP, as the equivalent of how a tech company might white label or create APIs for third parties to integrate its cool stuff into their services.)

That means there will be inevitable questions down the line about how Impossible will capitalise to meet demand for its products. Brown said that for now there are no plans for IPOs or to raise more externally, but pointed out that it would have no problem doing either.

Indeed, the company has built up an impressive bench of executives and other talent to meet those future scenarios. Earlier this year, Impossible hired Dennis Woodside — the former Dropbox, Google and Motorola star– as its first president. And its CFO, David Lee, joined from Zynga back in 2015, with a stint also in the mass-market food industry, having been at Del Monte prior to that.

Lee told me that the company has essentially been running itself as a public company internally in preparation for a time when it might follow in the footsteps of its biggest competitor, Beyond Meat, and go public.

“From a tech standpoint I’m absolutely confident that we can outperform what we get from animals in affordability, nutrition and deliciousness,” said Brown. “This entire industry is most destructive by far and has major responsibility in terms of climate and biodiversity, but it going to be history and we are going to replace it.”

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch

Jane VC, a new fund for female entrepreneurs, wants founders to cold email them

Want to pitch a venture capitalist? You’ll need a “warm introduction” first. At least that’s what most in the business will advise.

Find a person, typically a man, who made the VC you’re interested in pitching a whole bunch of money at some point and have them introduce you. Why? Because VCs love people who’ve made them money; naturally, they’ll be willing to hear you out if you’ve got at least one money maker on your side.

There’s a big problem with that cycle. Not all entrepreneurs are friendly with millionaires and not all entrepreneurs, especially those based outside Silicon Valley or from underrepresented backgrounds, have anyone in their network to provide them that coveted intro.

Jane VC, a new venture fund based out of Cleveland and London wants entrepreneurs to cold email them. Send them your pitch, no wealthy or successful intermediary necessary. The fund, which has so far raised $2 million to invest between $25,000 and $150,000 in early-stage female-founded companies across industries, is scrapping the opaque, inaccessible model of VC that’s been less than favorable toward women.

“We like to say that Jane VC is venture for every woman,” the firm’s co-founder Jennifer Neundorfer told TechCrunch.

Neundorfer, who previously co-founded and led an accelerator for Midwest startups called Flashstarts after stints at 21st Century Fox and YouTube, partnered with her former Stanford business school classmate Maren Bannon, the former chief executive officer and co-founder of LittleLane. So far, they’ve backed insurtech company Proformex and Hatch Apps, an enterprise software startup that makes it easier for companies to create and distribute mobile and web apps.

“We are going to shoot them straight”

Jane VC, like many members of the next generation of venture capital funds, is bucking the idea that the best founders can only be found in Silicon Valley. Instead, the firm is going global and operating under the philosophy that a system of radical transparency and honesty will pay off.

“Let’s be efficient with an entrepreneur’s time and say no if it’s not a hit,” Neundorfer said. “I’ve been on the opposite end of that coaching. So many entrepreneurs think a VC is interested and they aren’t. An entrepreneur’s time is so valuable and we want to protect that. We are going to shoot them straight.”

Though Jane VC plans to invest across the globe, the firm isn’t turning its back on Bay Area founders. Neundorfer and Bannon will leverage their Silicon Valley network and work with an investment committee of nine women based throughout the U.S. to source deals. 

“We are women that have raised money and have been through the ups and downs of raising money in what is a very male-dominated world,” Neundorfer added. “We believe that investing in women is not only the right thing to do but that you can make a lot of money doing it.”

Stanford Uses Virtual Reality To Make Its Heisman Pitch For Christian McCaffrey

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Stanford Researchers Treat Autism With Google Glass

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Stanford Partners With Life Sciences Marketplace Quartzy For Campus Lab Supplies

Stanford_Arches2.tif Quartzy is a lab supplies marketplace often used among life scientists at various universities, but particularly at Stanford. The academic institution made that relationship official today. Quartzy will now be deployed in labs across Stanford campus to save the university cash on lab supplies. The Quartzy marketplace launched out of Y Combinator four years back to provide an easier way… Read More

What Is 21.co Really Building? An Excerpt From Digital Gold

btc-gold1 Today we’re thrilled to offer an exclusive excerpt from Nathaniel Popper’s Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money, the definitive book about bitcoin. In this chapter we learn, in detail, the secrets behind the mysterious 21.co. Originally called 21e6, the company grew in secrecy to become one of the highest capitalized… Read More