Dante (La Divina Commedia) “Nel Mezzo Del Cammin di Nostra Vita…” Invoost, a Fantasy Stock Market Game

5 May

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Two of the Three Invoost Co-Founders: Jonathan Levy & Johan Wilsson

Founding a startup and taking it to the long, tortuous road to exit (IPO or acquisition) is much like Dante Alighieri’s journey in La Divina Commedia, from Inferno (getting started, convincing friends and family to invest), to Purgatorio (launching, having some customers and not enough money) to finally Paradiso (IPO or acquisition).

“Nel mezzzo del cammin di nostra vita me ritrovai per una selva oscura” (Midway in our life’s journey I found I was in a dark forest). The first startup in the Dante Series is Invoost, a Spanish startup (think fantasy stock market game) that has moved from Spain to Silicon Valley. Invoost’s “dark forest” is navigating the the U.S. regulatory structure marking the fine line between gaming and on-line gambling and getting plugged into the Valley’s VC and angel communities.

Co-Founders? There are three: Jonathan Levy, Johan Wilsson and Tyler Maglione. They met in an MBA program in Spain.

Product? A stock market game for the people who don’t have $10k or $20k to play in the real stock market and don’t want to play on virtual stock exchanges because they are boring. You pay/invest $10 and join a virtual trading room. There are 10 traders ($100 in prizes). The $100 is real money. Each trader receives $10k in virtual money to trade on the NASDAQ for one day (there are different durations and markets available). The trader who generates the highest return wins 50% of the prize pool, the 2nd and 3rd place traders win 30% and 10% respectively. Simple? Yes! Fun? Yes!

You sign up at the website (yes, it works, I checked it) and instead of playing against the world (the guys with their sophisticated algorithms and supercomputers), for as little as $10 (two cups of coffee at Starbucks), you play against a small number of real people (maybe 3 other people). You pick your stock and the game follows the real stock market to see whose picks have made the most money in the time allotted. The time limits of the tournaments vary.

Business Model Invoost keeps 10% of all money (entry fees) and the winning players keep 90%.

Target Market People who are interested in the stock market (that would be everyone) and we reads sites such as WSJ or FT. “In 2011, CNBC hosted a free million-dollar trading championship and had almost half a million players participate. The direction for this product is obvious: strategic partnerships with digital media companies who want to monetize the traders. The product could be licensed as a white label to these media giants.

Legality This is the major sticking point with this product, however, real money fantasy sports and educational games are legal to operate without regulation in the U.S. under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006.

Takeaway If you are midway in your life’s journey, want to learn about the stock market and don’t have much money, Invoost is the game for you.

Suggestion Start thinking about other ways to monetize the game since the U.S. regulations on fantasy gaming vs. on-line gambling are starting to blur.

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The Startup Owner’s Manual 3/5 Customer Validation “Get Ready to Sell” RenovoRx-Pancreatic Cancer & Diabetes.

8 Feb

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The red truck is a 1955 Chevrolet Model 3100, step side

Steve Blank is an eight-time serial entrepreneur and author of the wildly successful, The Startup Owner’s Manual. The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company. According to Steve, once you have done step-one, customer discovery (gotten out of the building and engaged with your target customers), then next step is getting ready to sell. A “sale” can be the sales of the product to the target customers or the sale of the company to a large player interested in acquiring the patented technology. RenovoRX is targeting the latter option.

What is RenovoRx? RenovoRx , a seed medical device company located in San Jose, CA. The CEO is Marta Gaia Zanchi, a former FDA fellow and medical device startup strategist and consultant.

Explain the photo. The car belongs to a vintage auto hobbyist. It shows that “what’s old can be new again” if it is lovingly restored and updated. The car is a metaphor for the staid catheter market. The RenovoRx co-founders took an old-line medical device, a simple catheter, and re-engineered it into a device which could deliver a “cure” for pancreatic cancer and later a “cure” for type 1 diabetes. Cool!

Source of RenovoRx the Seed Funding? RenovoRx recently received funding from Golden Seeds (I am a member) as well as a couple of other angel groups.

What Customer Problem Does RenovoRx Address? Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. The RevonoRx device is a double balloon catheter. threaded via the femoral artery to the pancreas. The catheter is disposable. The pancreas is very resistance to chemotherapy so being able to deliver the drugs directly to the pancreas and via the double balloons being able to isolate the area being treated allows the use of drugs that would be toxic if administered system-wide through conventional chemotherapy. Another application is diabetes by infusion of bone marrow stem cells for type 1 diabetes from the bone marrow (autologous intra-pancreatic bone marrow transplantation) to the pancreas using the RenovoRx device. RenovoRx has a patent in India for this process and India is the #1 market for diabetes.

Who are Your Customers? Major cancer center such as MD Anderson, Sloan-kettering and Mayo Clinic and end users such as surgical oncologist and interventional oncologist.

What is Your Exit Strategy? Early acquisition by a major device manufacturer.

Who is on the Team? In addition to Marta Zanchi, CEO, the other team members are Ramtin Agah, M.D., CMO, Chief of Medicine at El Camino Hospital and Kamran Najmabadi, COO/CTO with 20 plus years of experience in medical devices.

Takeaway: A delivery system to cure pancreatic cancer and diabetes may be just a double balloon catheter away.

Wise Words from The Startup Owner’s Manual 2/5: “Get Out of the Building.” swissnex San Francisco.

23 Jan

Cyril Dorsaz, Project Mgr. Startup Services Swissnex SF

Cyril Dorsaz,

Project Mgr. Startup Services Swissnex SF

Steve Blank is an eight-time serial entrepreneur and author of the wildly successful, The Startup Owner’s Manual. The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company. His main theme to startup founders to engage with their target customers immediately by getting out of the building and meeting with them instead of building a product and hoping they will buy it. swissnex SF has taken this mandate a step further by locating their Swiss startup incubator in one of those retro, cool, exposed-brick, high-ceiling, old San Francisco buildings right in the center of the financial district (730 Montgomery Street).

On Friday, January 18th, 2013, I met with Cyril Dorsaz, Project Manager Startup Services. He is part of a young, dynamic team which includes Gioia Deucher, head of Startup Services, US Market Entry CAMP, Innovation Consulting, Bikes for Scholarships and Brigit Coleman, Connections Explorer, Startups & Innovation, People & Information, TEDster. Rather than just renting space to startups, swissnex San Francisco, truly incubates for success. The organization only works with twelve carefully screened startups per year.

Where is the R&D? The R&D must stay in Switzerland and the technical team is also in Switzerland.

Do you have other global locations? Yes. Bangalore, Boston, Shanghai and Singapore. San Francisco is one of only five (5) global locations and only the second one in the United States. Obviously Boston was selected because it is a life-science center (many Swiss companies are in that technology space) and San Francisco was selected because of it’s proximity to Silicon Valley.

How does swissnex San Francisco help Swiss Startups accelerate U.S. market entry? swissnex San Francisco provides Silicon Valley connections, workshops on topics, helps with incorporation in the U.S., branding and teaching how to pitch in the U.S. which is quite different from pitching in Europe, plus navigating the U.S. immigration quagmire.

How many workspaces do you have? There are 21 workstations at the 730 Montgomery Street building in San Francisco.

What is the CTI Start-up US Market Entry CAMP? “The CTI Start-up US Market Entry CAMP is a three-month acceleration program for Swiss startup companies looking to enter the US market. The program is open to all Swiss startups in the CTI Start-up coaching program (pre- or post-label). This initiative is made possible by CTI, and the travel and housing stipend is funded by CTI and the Gebert-Rüf Stiftung. For the past six years, swissnex San Francisco and swissnex Boston have assisted the most promising Swiss technology startups in coming to the United States by providing them with a tailored program to help them establish a foothold in the US market.” This is a direct quote from the swissnex San Francisco website.

In addition to training what does the camp provide?

  • A desk in our great co-working spaces with other startups and creative entrepreneurs
  • Fast traction through access to local networks, mentors, advisors, and professional organizations

  • Tailored advice from the swissnex team
    Access to dedicated workshops and classes

  • Travel and housing stipend

Takeaway: If you are a Swiss startup getting ready to enter the U.S. market, you have your very own incubator to show you the path to success, augmented with delicious espresso and a great support staff. If you’re not Swiss, you can still attend one or more of the 80 annual swissnex San Francisco scientific, educational, artistic and innovation events.

Previews: I am going to be doing an interview with a swissnex San Francisco startup to get an “on the battlefield” account of breaking into the U.S. market.


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