angel investing

109, Clara Brenner, Urban Innovation Fund and Tumml | Creating an Ecosystem

Clara Brenner is creating a startup ecosystem for urban innovation.

Clara Brenner, Urban Innovation Fund

Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund and Tumml

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. Globally, 512 cities have at least 1 million inhabitants. With urbanization comes unique challenges, from transportation to public health.

To meet these challenges, entrepreneurs need a unique blend of business and political savvy. Clara Brenner and her co-founder Julie Lein are dedicated to solving core urban problems. Together, they co-founded the Urban Innovation Fund and also Tumml.

Tumml is an accelerator whose mission is to empower entrepreneurs to solve urban problems. Their 33 portfolio companies have raised over $35 million in investments. They have created more than 300 jobs and touched more than 2.2 million lives with their services.

The Urban Innovation Fund provides seed capital and regulatory expertise for entrepreneurs solving tough urban challenges.

Urban Innovation Quotes from Clara Brenner

“Julie and I are really committed to helping entrepreneurs that are solving core urban problems.”

“Once you’ve proven out your business model, once you’ve proven out that there’s a real there, there, where do you go next for money?”

“Julie and I were just wondering why all of our awesome, engage and thoughtful peers were electing to start the 5,000th photo sharing app instead of the next Revolution Foods.”

“This was around the same time that Lyft was just getting off the ground and Airbnb. And we felt like all these companies had something in common.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”We developed the moniker ‘urban innovation startup.’ @clara_brenner, @Tumml”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘The challenges come down to two things. The first is access to early stage capital.’ @clara_brenner, @UrbanInnoFund“]

“Institutional investors really want to see that these companies have a lot traction before they’re going to take a risk on them.”

“Challenge number two is that these entrepreneurs oftentimes face pretty significant regulatory or political challenges.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We have supported 33 companies through Tumml.’ @clara_brenner, @Tumml”]

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘They’ve leveraged our capital, 53x.’ @clara_brenner, @Tumml“]

“They’ve built products and services that have touched the lives of 2.2 million people.”

“Seventy-six percent of the companies that we’ve supported have a woman or person of color on the founding team.”

“These are companies that are solving core urban problems and that are facing those challenges that I talked about earlier like trouble raising money at the early stage, maybe a complicated regulatory or political landscape to deal with. We want to be there to be helpful.”

“We really like to work with companies when they’re really new. At Tumml, we’re looking for entrepreneurs with ideas, who want to turn it into a business.”

“We try to look far and wide to find the best ideas and from our perspective, we don’t care where a company is based.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘We just want to see that that idea is scalable.’ @clara_brenner, @Tumml“]

“We want to see the kind of business that could’ve address the challenges that really are plaguing communities across the United States.”

“We have a mentorship board of founders, community leaders and all types of technical professionals to help our entrepreneurs succeed.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘At Tumml, we like to see really early stage entrepreneurs.’ @clara_brenner, @Tumml“]

“We want to see industrious entrepreneurs who are making the best out of the resources that they have at hand.”

“We look for entrepreneurs that are solving problems that have maybe been identified by mayors’

“We try to be in tune with the larger national conversation about real challenges.”

“Many of these entrepreneurs will want to go on and raise investment capital. And we would like to play a role in that.”

“The Urban Innovation Fund is really structured to do two things. It’s a venture capital firm that identifies early stage innovators solving critical challenges in cities, and we provide them with both capital, but also regulatory expertise to scale and hopefully become tomorrow’s most valued company.”

“We’re looking for the best most scalable ideas wherever they come from, and we want to be there to provide them with the capital and regulatory expertise to succeed.”

“We like to be the ones who find those diamonds in the rough and hopefully connect them to the right cities where we know there are particular pain points.”

“We have a less than 5%. I want to say almost 4% acceptance rate.”

“We have worked with 33 companies over the last three years and our cohorts range in size anywhere between 5 and 10.”

“We’ll probably pick four or five out of a batch of 150 or so.”

[spp-tweet tweet=”‘Find a great co-founder.’ @clara_brenner, @Tumml, @UrbanInnoFund“]

“We want to know that you’ve spent a lot of time together and can weather the ups and down that are inevitable when you start a company.”

“I think there is something to be said for making sure the whole team is balanced, and the idea has legs as well.”

“We want to see more folks starting companies in the urban space.”

“We think there’s real opportunity particularly to solve those unsexy problems that everybody experiences on a day-to-day basis.”

“We want people to start thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs and capable of addressing these problems themselves. “

Social Entrepreneurship Resources:

036, Teju Ravilochan Unreasonable Institute | Providing Entrepreneurs What They Need to Scale Impact

In many ways Teju Ravilochan’s story is the story of many immigrant families. His parents were born in India, but he was born in the United States. His parents learned how to adapt to their new culture through their own experience but also through the experiences of their children. Teju also learned about the world through the eyes of his parents.

It was on a trip to India as a young man when Teju saw someone around his age who was begging for money. He was confronted with the sad reality of the “birth lottery,” the fact that the circumstances in which a person is born can influence the economic opportunities available to him or her. To Teju, that seemed unfair. And yet, trying to take on global poverty almost felt like an impossible task. He wondered if there weren’t a place where people could learn to tackle tough social and environmental challenges. This thought was the seed from which the Unreasonable Institute was born.

The Unreasonable Institute is a mentorship and training program for entrepreneurs who are tackling social and environmental problems. Several times a year, at several global locations, Unreasonable brings about two dozen social entrepreneurs to a single living space, where they provide them with over 50 world-class mentors and about as many funders and investors. Unreasonable provides the knowledge, tools and resources that help social entrepreneurs to start quickly and scale their impact. They have locations in east Africa and Mexico. They also offer Unreasonable Labs, a 5-day experience. Their vision is to create 100 Unreasonable Institutes in 100 countries.

What are the results? Well, the first 150 mentors that they worked with have raised over $90 million in funding and have impacted more than 8 million lives.

Key quotes from the interview:

“That felt so sad to me. The world is unequal by virtue of luck. And the people who can help don’t help because it seems impossible to solve that problem.”

“My education was relatively abstract. It was focused on the problems. It wasn’t focused on what we could do about them.”

“We were exposed to approaches that were ineffective because they were treating poor people like victims.”

“Some of the approaches we saw that were advancing populations forward were treating poor people, not as victims, but as people who could solve their own problems.”

“Last year we reached 158 startups, which were equivalent to the number of startups we reached in all the previous years that we’ve been in operation.”

“I believe that there are two primary forces that really change the world. One of them is experimentation. The other is the organization of people.”

“We look for ventures that create what we call profound impact.”

“I would encourage everybody to formulate an 8-word mission statement which consists of a verb, a target population and an outcome.”

“Our mission is, get entrepreneurs what they need to scale impact.”


036, Teju Ravilochan Unreasonable Institute | Providing Entrepreneurs What They Need to Scale Impact

018, Tom Dawkins, StartSomeGood | Building Platforms of Social Good

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Today’s Episode:

At age 16, Tom Dawkins was not fitting in. He attended an academically selective high school and was not performing well when compared to his peers. He scored 179 out of 180 students in math. He was being bullied at school and he was arguing with his parents.

One day when he had been sent into the hallway for talking in class, he noticed a mud-stained brochure on the floor. Out of sheer boredom, he reached down and picked it up. The brochure was for a student exchange program to America. He ended up going to Spokane, Washington.

While in the US, he was invited to attend an event called “State of the Union of the World.” This meeting was post cold-war. Guests included Ronald Regan, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, seven Nobel Peace Prize winners, environmental leaders, authors and business leaders.

This meeting inspired Tom to set up a chapter of Junior State America in his high school in Spokane. When he returned to Australia, he realized that there was no equivalent organization, and so he and his younger sister set one up called Future Leaders of Australia. They set up events and brought in speakers. They created an equivalent organization in college.

After a while, Tom began to realize that event-driven organizations had limits, but media-driven events had fewer limits. In 2000, he launched Vibewire, a youth-led not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for younger Australians to express themselves creatively and politically.

By 2008, Tom traveled to the US where he became the first social media director for Ashoka. It was at Ashoka that he learned about crowdfunding for social good. This led, eventually, to the establishment of StartSomeGood.

StartSomeGood is the global crowdfunding platform for social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, changemakers and social good projects. When a project appears on StartSomeGood, it is surrounded by project from likeminded social innovators. Funders who visit StartSomeGood are likely looking for social impact projects to fund.

StartSomeGood has some innovative approaches such as their “tipping point,” which allows projects to select two goals. They also have a process called CrowdMatch which allows foundations, governments and corporations to shift their grant giving and CSR initiatives into a match format.

StartSomeGood pairs each project with a customer support person, providing a high level of personal touch.

What are the results? 53% of the projects on StartSomeGood reach their goal, compared with 39% on Kickstarter and 9% on Indiegogo.


018, Tom Dawkins, StartSomeGood | Building Platforms of Social Good