Accion Systems wins Unicorn Idol Competition at Fortune Brainstorm Conference

I am proud of all of our portfolio companies at TechU Angels. The founding teams work day and night to build long term, sustainable enterprises that will make a serious impact. As investors, although we can’t take any of the credit, we are in the fortunate position to have a front row seat.

One of our portfolio companies in particular – Accion Systems – seems to be on a very high trajectory. I am proud to share that Natalya Brikner, the founder of Accion was invited to pitch at the Fortune Brainstorm Conference – Unicorn Idol Competition last week, and of the 5 invited companies, came out the winner.

While I’ve long ago learned first-hand that a company’s success isn’t crowned in a competition, I am still extremely excited about the prospects for Accion and can’t be anything but proud. If you aren’t familiar with what they do, I would take the time to read up about them. A quick Google search yields this.

Update: If you’d like to view a video of the event, you may do so using the following link.

MIT Sloan Finance Conference NYC

Today I had the opportunity to attend the MIT Sloan Finance Conference in NYC at the Mandarin Oriental for a full day conference. I also had the opportunity to attend the prior one which took place two years ago. In stark difference, a big part of this year’s panel discussions focused on innovation, and more specifically with financial technologies, highlighting those coming from MIT Sloan faculty. The focus of the previous event was more on financial engineering and risk management. It’s amazing to see how the world of finance has evolved in the past couple of years. Clearly a big impact being felt by all the progress made in tech and entrepreneurship. Also, the previous conference was taking place in the shadows of the 2008 financial crisis. Hopefully this is a sign that we are passed that crisis.

I’m pretty fortunate to have attended an institution that’s been at the forefront of managing and leading the advancement in tech and innovation. #mitsloan

Note: picture above is of Bob Merton, current MIT Sloan professor, Nobel laureate, and inventor of the Black Scholes model.

TechU Angels in the news

We received some coverage in the news earlier today. Greg Huang of Xconomy wrote a nice writeup of TechU Angels here. Many thanks to my advisors at TechU and to all the wonderful startups who have agreed to partner with us.

The next wave in Venture Capital investment

If the last five to seven years of tech innovation will come to be known as the period of advances in social media and wireless connectivity (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and others), I believe the next period will be known for something much more meaningful. Many are calling the Internet of Things as the next significant wave in tech, but I believe that Artificial Intelligence (or “AI”) will play a bigger part in what’s to come and will usher in a fundamental shift that has the potential to cause the greatest positive disruption and impact to the lives of regular people.

What will be the ultimate impact and what can we expect?

A more productive workforce where everything but the most essential of functions will be outsourced to automated platforms who will be able to complete tasks with similar (or better) efficiency and at a fraction of the cost of low to medium skilled workers.

What types of employees will be most effected by this change?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here’s a few functions which stand to be eliminated or significantly reduced; secretaries, taxi cab/limousine drivers, call in center/switchboard operators, factory/assembly line workers, and may even extend to educators. Again, there are probably another 1000 roles which are similar to these which I did not include.

At TechU Angels we have already invested in a company which we expect will play a significant role in this new era. At this stage, it is in stealth mode and we have agreed not to disclose it, but we hope to and will with time. We continue to look for opportunities in the AI space, and I believe will roll the dice when we find an opportunity which fits our criteria.

One such company that is actively playing a role in this space is x.ai which publicly launched several months ago and garnered much attention (note: We are not investors). I have been using this platform to book meetings and their automated secretary Amy Ingram has personally saved me a lot of time in handling a function which needs to be done, takes a lot of time, and which doesn’t require much skill. In my opinion, she has also done a job on par with, or better than any physical person that I could have hired for the role.

Over time, I expect this platform to expand into more difficult tasks, like booking restaurants, arranging work related travel, paying my bills, and more typical secretarial functions like picking up phone calls, having a conversation with the initiator, and routing (or taking a message when appropriate) a call to the appropriate channel. If you haven’t checked out them out yet, I recommend you do, and definitely sign up and take their platform for a test-drive.

In the long run (maybe 5 years or less even), you will likely see platforms like x.ai cutting into the number of secretaries in the workforce, Google self driving cars replacing cab drivers, and natural language processing platforms removing (or significantly reducing) call service operators from the workforce. Best of all, you’ll be able to accomplish all of this at a fraction of the cost, at a higher satisfaction rate over time, and potentially with much less grief and attitude.

We can expect the long term impact to be pretty significant and to create a significant gap between the have’s and have not’s, and ultimately those with higher education and skills will have a more acute, apparent advantage than those who don’t.

It will be interesting to see how this unfold over the next few years.

On Connecting with TechU Angels

One of our goals when building our web and media presence at TechU Angels, was to build a platform that was easy to navigate, is informative, and enables entrepreneurs to understand our process and how to best contact us. We believe in transparency, and try to provide that along every step of the way. We have hopefully been able to achieve that with our new site which was finalized over the last few months.

I invite everyone to check it out and provide us with feedback (both good and bad) using the comments below or by emailing me. Our URL can be found here: www.techuangels.com

On a high level, we recommend that founders interested in connecting with our team, take the opportunity to first read about us and then learn more about our process. If you are a startup founder, and have questions, you can always reach out via our general email address – info@techuangels.com. Someone will get back to you, we always do. When you are ready to engage us in learning more about your startup, we encourage you to fill out our form as a next step:

https://www.techuangels.com/startups/

This form is pretty important, and we do take it very seriously. Therefore we encourage you to take it seriously as it serves as a first impression, and allows us to get to know you and your strategic goals and company better.

Our investment in Accion Systems

We closed out our very last investment of 2014 in the final moments. I am proud to announce our investment in Accion Systems, and we are excited to be partnering with Natalya Brikner and Louis Perna, two of the leading budding aerospace entrepreneurs working on building the next generation of propulsion systems for small satellites.

You can learn more about Accion Systems on their website at www.accion-systems.com.

Other investors in the round include FF Science Founders Fund, RRE Ventures, Founder Collective, and several other prominent angels.

Hope to be in touch soon with more investment news and other updates.

Our third investment

Back in late November, TechU Angels made our third investment. Although we are very excited about the opportunity, we have decided, in concert with the founding team, to keep our participation unannounced for the time being due to competitive and other commercial considerations. What we can tell you is that the team comprises perhaps the world’s leading experts in natural language processing and artificial intelligence, and they are building an application which already has commercial players in the automotive space salivating.

Looking forward to sharing more when the time is ripe. I think you’ll be as excited about it as we are when we do.