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Olson’s Observations

Technology. Innovation. Science. VC. Media. :: by Eric Olson

Archive for October, 2006

PBS Show Frontline World to Feature Kiva

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Kiva.orgAs you all know by now, I am a big fan of Kiva. Allowing the average person to make microfinance loans is a huge step forward for microfinance. It not only means more people will get the funds they need it also means more people will be able to learn about microfinance first hand which is very powerful.

If you want to learn more about Kiva and hear their story please tune into the PBS program Frontline/World tonight (Tuesday, October 31). Use this station finder to figure out when the program will air in your area (program may be listed as “Burma: State of Fear”). For your convenience, here are the air times/stations for some major metropolitan areas (all times are local):

Boston: WGBH Channel 2 at 9pm
Chicago: WTTW Channel 11 at 9pm
San Francisco: KQED Channel 9 at 9pm
New York: WNET Channel 13 at 9pm
Los Angeles: KCET Channel 28 at 9pm

You can check out a preview of the show beforehand and you will also be able to watch the episode online if you can’t make the broadcast tonight or you live outside the U.S. It should be a great show and I hope it will encourage all of you to make a loan.

Written by Eric Olson

October 31st, 2006 at 11:28 am

Posted in Microfinance

Movie Review: Enduring Love

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Enduring LoveA quiet picnic in the countryside is quickly disturbed by an out of control hot air balloon. A number of people in the field run to the aid of the hot air balloonist and his son. They grab on to the balloon and are trying to rein it in when it suddenly begins to lift off again. Everyone drops to the ground safely except for one man who holds on and then is unable to retain his grasp causing him to fall to ground and perish. This horrific accident starts a series of events moving forward that will cause one man to spiral out of control.

Based on a novel by famous English author Ian McEwan and starring Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton and Rhys Ifans one can see that Roger Michell had some great pieces to start Enduring Love with and overall he did a great job with the adaptation and direction. The film progresses nicely and you can feel the creepiness throughout. You also witness a complete transformation of Joe (Daniel Craig) from a fairly boring and mundane individual to someone haunted and disturbed by both the accident and the stalker (Rhys Ifans) he gained that faithful day.

While it is a little disappointing that the pieces of the plot never really come together in the end, the study of biology versus love that the film investigates will make you think long after the film is over. The acting and visual elements are also top notch and could rival many of the better films out there. Enduring Love is well worth viewing and, although I have not read it, I hear Mr. McEwan’s book is much more rich and detailed (as can be expected) so I would suggest picking it up as well. I know I will be.

Written by Eric Olson

October 30th, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Movie Reviews

Freshwater Venture: Highlighting Innovation in the Midwest

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I attended an event tonight put on by Eric Antonow and Keith Schacht of Freshwater Venture. Before I get into the event I should talk a bit about what Freshwater Venture is. Freshwater Venture is a site that Eric and Keith put together to profile all of the Chicago tech companies from current start-ups to established businesses. It is truly incredible to see all of the companies that have come out of Chicago and it is definitely worth a visit.

Freshwater LIVE was a way to bring the Freshwater site to life and it was a lot of fun. The basic premise was to allow established companies to pitch to the crowd as if they were just starting out and then to follow that with three companies that are just starting out. The climax of the event was a vote via text message for the best of the three new entrepreneurs with the winner receiving a suitcase of cash.

I really enjoyed the pitches from the new companies and want to congratulate the winner, GrubHub.com. They were profiled on the TECH cocktail video and in the TECH cocktail write up on TechCrunch. Those guys are building a very exciting company and I am sure we’ll hear some good things from them going forward (in fact, they announced tonight that they now have partnered with Google Local which should be huge for them). The one thing that stood out to me though was the pitch from one of the peapod founders.

I love peapod and have used them for years and never knew, until recently, that they were formed and based in Chicago. I also didn’t realize until tonight that the company actually started in 1989! The peapod pitch, which you can watch by clicking on the image below, shows how they bootstrapped in the early days and also showcases what the technology was like in the late 80s/early 90s. It is definitely worth a watch especially because they made it through the bubble when similar companies like Webvan did not. Enjoy the video!

Written by Eric Olson

October 27th, 2006 at 12:02 am

Deal Flow: Week Ending October 23, 2006

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Written by Eric Olson

October 23rd, 2006 at 9:56 pm

September 2006: The Tipping Point for Microfinance

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Nobel PrizeThe MicroCapital Monitor reported in their October 2006 issue that:

“we may look back on September 2006 as the catalyst month for microfinance.”

The statement was made in advance of Muhammad Yunus (check out his book if you haven’t already) winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in microfinance. Not only did Mr. Yunus come up with the idea for microfinance he also pioneered it into the Grameen Bank which continues to innovate and remain the gold standard of microfinance institutions. Yunus has also tirelessly championed access to credit as a basic human right around the world. Before I move on, I want to congratulate Mr. Yunus on his much deserved Nobel Peace Prize.

Yunus’ winning of the Peace Prize will draw a lot of eyes toward microfinance and, with those eyes, a lot of investment capital. This is a great thing for microfinance and something we have all been waiting for. However, MicroCapital came out with an article on October 13 that asks and important question: is the microfinance industry ready for a large influx of cash?

MicroCapital points out that only 100 of the estimated 10,000 micro-banks have the breadth and depth needed to handle a large influx of cash. The main issue for the banks is scalability since the vast majority of micro-banks are mom and pop operations that can’t take huge growth spurts. They will face problems like not being able to expand and staff up quick enough and they may not be able to find good places to put the new monies to work quick enough (kind of like what happens with VC funds when they continue to get larger and larger).

In the face of all this MicroCapital says we should expect to:

start to see melt-downs of microfinance sectors in specific countries due to over-investment, be it investments for a return on capital, or subsidies, or donations which continue to flow contrary to established best-practices.

Investors in microfinance will have to start to innovate fast to deal with the new influx of cash and minimize the melt-downs. There are already investors starting to do some creative things and MicroCapital suggests that we should watch TIAA-CREF’s equity investment, Citigroup’s fund committed to “second tier” or emerging micro-banks, and Gray Ghosts’ secondary market activity.

Technology will also be key in helping to scale up mom and pop microfinance institutions since much of the scaling problem lies in the management of the loans. With better infrastructure systems coming along and folks like the Grameen Foundation and Unitus working to implement better technology and strategy we are moving in the right direction.

Either way, we are looking at big things ahead for microfinance and there are some great people out there that are going to ensure the future is a bright one. September 2006 will be remembered as the tipping point for microfinance and the beginning of the end of poverty.

Written by Eric Olson

October 22nd, 2006 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Microfinance

TechCrunch Gets Down with the Midwest

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TechCrunchMike Arrington of TechCrunch was nice enough to run an article Frank wrote about the start-ups that were present at TECH cocktail 2. Many of you know one part of the two part TECH cocktail mission that Frank and I laid out and that is simply fun. The other part of the mission though is the part that Mike helped us with today and that is to tell the midwest/Chicago technology story better.

Frank and I felt we could amplify the signal of the midwest tech scene and have fun doing it and it looks like it’s working out. With a lot of new companies from the Chicagoland area getting some great press on TechCrunch it is only a matter of time (and a few more parties) before the midwest is back on the map in a big way. Congrats to all of the companies that made it out to TC2 and who are now part of a TechCrunch post! We couldn’t have done it without you all.

Side note: Make sure to digg the article if you like it!

Written by Eric Olson

October 22nd, 2006 at 8:28 pm

TECH cocktail 2: The Video

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Lambert Smith of Stone Cliff Productions has done another great job of bringing TECH cocktail to life via video. This video, shot at TECH cocktail 2 on October 12, 2006 shows the atmosphere as well as the companies that were on hand to show off their hard work. I recommend giving it a watch. You won’t regret it! (Click on the image below to start the video.)

Written by Eric Olson

October 22nd, 2006 at 5:04 pm