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Alfidi Capital at TiEcon 2017

I scored access to several sessions at TiEcon 2017. The TiE people are some seriously accomplished entrepreneurs and are among the most well-connected people in Silicon Valley. I had to go check out the scene, absorb startup wisdom, and maybe score some free coffee. My readers know I'm all about free stuff. I just can't turn down free access, freebies, and free knowledge.

I check out the action at TiEcon 2017.

The govtech track was a good fit for my background. More techies now know about how the US Digital Service is changing the federal government's cultural approach to deploying tech, but not everyone knows that FITARA is changing how the government's CIOs do business. The entire software sector has tried to move from waterfall development to agile development and Uncle Sam is finally following through. I sometimes wonder whether the entire US government lives in a "cone of uncertainty," but that's what the private sector calls a trial stage for govtech projects developed with lean startup methods. I betcha there's an app for Scrum contractors. Federal government contractors are accustomed to long sales cycles with more predictable revenues. I think the US can look to other countries for examples of successful govtech adoption. Governments most likely to adopt agile govtech, automated documents, knowledge management, mobile stuff, and whatnot will have similar factors. Francis Fukuyama's high-trust cultural traits (like in Scandinavia), a high degree of 4G coverage, and widespread mobile adoption are my picks for those success factors. The Digital 5 effects with e-Estonia are the kind of template the US needs.

The social impact track showcased concepts that are all the rage among business people who want to harmonize themselves with the universe, or something like that. Large banks and wealth management firms are developing their own philanthropic programs and encouraging employees to volunteer in the community. I have no idea whether their salespeople are smart enough to leverage those functions into referrals from donor-advised funds and family foundations. Impact investors are following the herd of VCs into agtech and are using the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Here's the UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform if you need to get started. Rich people and corporate big shots can use the SDG Philanthropy Platform to select the SDGs that will most enhance their brand images or social standing. A non-profit executive at TiEcon mentioned that using a "network effect" of social peer pressure validates an impact investment pitch with well-heeled people. Yeah, it's all about elite peer acceptance of the latest cool idea they can brag about at social events.

One social impact expert thinks that four key cycles are out of balance: carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and Gini. Whacked-out cycles imply investors will favor environmental projects that will help the poor. I have no reason to think any of that is made up, because it sounds like it's all super-advanced science and smarty-pants stuff. I have every reason to think that microloans for 3D printers, Arduino boards, and other small assets can enable a tidal wave of artisanal tech for disadvantaged people, just like microloans for aquaponics in urban food deserts. Crowdfunding platforms could support microloans for lots of small-scale impact projects. It will be tough to pull these things off without US support for the UN SDGs and Paris Agreement on climate change. It will be even tougher without USAID programs for development abroad and US HUD programs for people at home. Deconstructing the US government in a nationalist fit of rage has an opportunity cost of foregone future development.

The TiEcon youth track had tons of stuff that even a middle-aged guy like yours truly could use. I thought I heard one guy at TiEcon say that some Indian regional government entity sponsored a hackathon with 900 participants. That is way more people than I've ever seen the biggest US tech conferences attract. India and China have huge populations and lots of students studying STEM. Quantity has a quality all its own. The US urgently needs crash STEM programs so lots of people can handle distributed processing in machine learning and analytics, just to catch up with our major strategic competitors. IMHO scalable models like Rethinking Engineering Design and Execution (REDX) would get mid-career non-STEM experts pushing youth into STEM projects that quickly solve real problems.

One VC addressing the youth track said successful entrepreneurs have five superpowers: passion, charisma, speed, focus, and "flight" (i.e., mental agility and constant pursuit of increased competence). He's Joseph Floyd, and you can check out his amazing comic book at Silicon Heroes. I read the book myself and it rings every bell for tech entrepreneurs striving to make their mark.

Athletes speak the entrepreneur's lingo. Former NFL player Anthony Trucks spoke about how he put tremendous work into the game he loved before he even knew he would be successful, a great lesson in hustling for entrepreneurs. Olympic table tennis player Lily Ann Zhang shared her humility and passion, and wanted us to enjoy our journey to success. Wow, I'm so glad I stuck around for the inspiration. It pays to be young at heart.

Anyone into biotech should check out Open Source Pharma Foundation and Nutrition International (formerly the Micronutrient Initiative). The impact investors pushing these concepts help enable simple innovations like universal iodized salt that become UN-led policies. One cool idea I heard from these advocates was for a "social DARPA" enabling giga-scale open innovation for billions of people.

TiEcon 2017 was well worth my time. I scored all the free stuff I could find so I came out ahead once again. The TiE people still haven't invited me to speak at their conference. They are really missing out because I have plenty to say about innovation. I also like Indian food even though I'm not Indian, so I will eat anything they put in front of me when I'm the star attraction at a future TiEcon.