Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Beer

Take a look at "Drink Beer, Save the World" and the YouTube clip.

Very innovative idea from the Carrot Mob. A reverse boycott for an environmental cause. I like it.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pitching Your Numbers

Presenting financials by Powerpoint is difficult. It is a great example of where the "Curse of Knowledge" can hurt you. You know the numbers, so you flash them up on the screen and move on to the next slide. The problem is that your audience isn't as familiar with your business and financials, and you have just lost them. That's not good.

Here are a few ideas that I think will help:

1) Think "essence". What is the headline for each slide? Does it convey that you are building value with your venture? Consider a "text box" at bottom that also gives a key point ("we break even after 14 months of operations" or "revenues from carbon offsets and our organic twill caps will exceed the federal budget deficit in 2 years").

2) What are the KEY numbers that demonstrate how your business is sustainable (in a Triple Bottom Line kind of way) and the scale it achieves? Can you show these over the relevant projection period (usually 3-5 years). Think 3x5. Three rows x five years. Or 5 rows x 3 years.

3) Pick a period that shows your business becoming at least a teen, or maybe a grown up. Projections that show losses for a number of years, followed by one year of marginal profitability get an "L" for "Loser". Investors aren't interested in just seeing your "baby pictures" for the business. What does your venture do when it's a grown up? (For those of you who are parents, you know now why no one believes an entrepreneur's story, since we have no idea what our child will be when they grow up, or our business. But we know our dreams, and those may indicate what type of parent/founder we will be.)

4) DON'T put up a slide with a lot of numbers unless you plan to talk about all (or at least most) of them. If you don't plan to talk about a number (or at least that series of numbers), why is it there?

5) Graphs help, but again, you need to talk about them, and tell the audience what the essence is.

Following Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule, and his Art of the Start recommendations for the 10 slides for a pitch, you really should be able to cover the financial aspects of your business in 2 slides. More detailed discussions of financial projections will occur at a later date, IF you connect with your potential investor with the initial pitch.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Educational Arson

In January, I blogged about the need for "Disruptive Education." Many who believe that the current economic system is unsustainable think that the fixes will come from governments or big multinational companies. Not me. I am rooting for the entrepreneurs. And I think that the change to new technologies may be more rapid and disruptive than many expect. Many of our current large institutions are dinosaurs, built on a petro-economy. They may be replaced, not rebuilt. We are going to need a generation of new entrepreneurs. Revolutionaries with business models.

What is the role of a teacher in "disruptive education"? Well, I have started to introduce myself as an Educational Arsonist. Now, before you report me to the university's Board of Governors, let me explain what I mean. And provide some examples.

A little background on my educational pyromania. One of my alltime favorite quotes, from Jack London, is "I would rather be ashes than dust! ...The function of man is to live not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." The reference to ashes is that they are the byproduct of fire, combustion, and explosions, while dust is the byproduct of slow decay.

Keats wrote: “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” When I began teaching 5 years ago, this quote inspired me, and it still does. My best teachers lit me up. The worst poured water on my fire. This quote made me realize that my role was to be an educational arsonist, not a member of the faculty bucket brigade. Particularly when teaching budding entrepreneurs, who are so often told that their idea won't work, that they are too young, and that they should take a less risky path.

So, here are some stories.

DC is a business student who took a class from me two years ago. After spending some time abroad, she is back at CSU and asked me to supervise some research on how to use enterprise based models to improve secondary education for girls in the developing world. It is great to see the spark in her eyes as she talks about various initiatives around the world, what's working, what isn't and trying to figure out why. She has also plugged into a powerful group of women from leading NGOs and companies that want to help her out. Next fall, she will start with the Peace Corps. Over the summer, she has been offered a research job to continue work in the area. I look forward to the many worthy things this young lady lights up with her enthusiasm and passion.

I have already posted on Phones4Loans, but this group is blowing me away. This project is a wildfire of enthusiasm. Take a look at the rapidly evolving website. Tyler has put together a great intro video, the team has drop off locations all around town.... We have students from across campus working together. Talking to local businesses about e-waste and microfinance. Doing interviews. Setting up websites and supply chains. What a combustible mix.

Lastly, our GSSE students are getting ready to head off for the field project part of the program in May. We have teams going to Peru, Mexico, Nepal, Ethiopia, Zambia, Cambodia, India and Bangladesh. Working on energy saving technologies, protecting biodiversity, affordable green housing, and helping establish new markets. Take a look, if you can stand the heat.

This is why I teach. I hope it doesn't get me fired.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pump It Up!

Good posts recently on Next Billion and Guy Kawasaki blogs on water. I'd encourage you to hit the links in both posts.

Guy's post highlights See-Saw and Merry-go-Round pumps. These get a lot of attention from the donor community and cause some grumbling from water veterans. The grumbling is about the high cost compared to treadle pumps, for instance. Do you want one Merry Go Round pump or xxx treadle pumps? They are for different applications- irrigation vs. drinking wells. The issue of cost is significant, as well as the fact that these play-pumps, by their nature, are mostly driven by charity, rather than commerce (which is a whole 'nother discussion, right?).

To me, there is something very intriguing about replacing drudgery with play as a design goal. Who will figure out how to reduce the price on making play a productive source of energy? How do we combine Paul Polak's "extreme affordability" with "playfulness"? One of our GSSE teams is working with Paul on a low cost microengine for pumping... treadle pumps often take several hours per day to operate, in hot, humid climates. More efficient than water buckets hauled from the river, but still drudgery.

Sprig Toys, a recently funded start up in Fort Collins, may be one of the players.* They have been working with Freeplay to develop battery free toys. These guys do so much more, and helped us a lot with the design of the new Envirofit cookstove. Without giving away any company secrets, I'd suggest you keep an eye on this creative group.

The other exciting thing I've recently heard about with water is Paul Polak's D-Rev project to do low cost water purification kiosks. I can't find much webinfo on this, so to hear about it you have to go to one of Paul's book pitches. Check here for an event in your area.
* These guys are awesome on so many levels. They are the first start up I know to get significant VC funding with a comic book business plan! And they took our Envirofit birthday party up a notch, both in fashion and intensity.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Phones4Loans Update

Lots of progress. If you have a cell phone you want to recycle in Northern Colorado, please check out the website at http://www.phones4loans.org/ This is a great chance to properly dispose of your phone, help the student team, and provide loans to microentrepreneurs through Kiva.

If you like your phone, and don't want to get rid of it, or, you want to help out but aren't lucky enough to live here, you can still donate $$!

It's so simple. So do it. And tell your friends. And join our facebook group.

A Big Week for Envirofit

Newsweek's Green Issue: Check out #8 of Ten Fixes for the Planet

Discover Magazine: May issue. "Two Strokes and You're Out!"

It is fun to see others get excited about what we are trying to do. Right now, the team is keeping their heads down, and getting stuff done. Stove sales are starting in India, and we soon hope to have carbon financing in place for the motorcycle retrofits, which will help reduce the cost to Filipino taxi drivers. We now have over 3 million km of usage on the retrofits in the field, and they are holding up well, and delivering better than expected fuel savings.