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Middle School Girls Building Companies

About a week ago, a proud father watched as his 7th grade daughter and her team got up in front of an audience of about 200 people, including a panel of well known Venture Capitalists, to pitch their company. That father was me.

This is literally my favorite entrepreneurial event of the year, and last year I had the honor of being one of the VC panelists. Entrepreneur Night for Girls Middle School is the culmination of months of hard work for these teams of 7th grade girls. They come up with ideas; they test them with focus groups and surveys to assess their markets. They optimize manufacturing processes, they build financial models, and many of them sell their goods online. There was standing room only at the Computer History Museum, reminding of Y Combinator Demo Day, and the pitches were as good as many that I see.

I was completely impressed. Poised. Articulate. Intelligent. Thoughtful. The girls were all of these things and more. The products are creative, original, and thoughtful, and their presentations are as good as many I see at demo days around the world. They do a wonderful job of presenting in their booths at the trade show. This is the real thing.

I came out of the evening feeling blessed to have this opportunity for my daughter, and very proud of all of the hard work she and her classmates put in. Nights like this make me feel especially optimistic about the future, and the wonderful young people who are making a positive difference in our world.

I Love the Start

As some of you know already, I decided this year to leave Blumberg Capital to start something new, and the news will be out shortly.

I am very grateful for all of the opportunities that I had with Blumberg.  It is hard to believe that I was part of 46 investments with the team in less than 4 years!  I worked hard, brought in quite a few deals, learned a lot, and had a great time.  I was able to sit on 21 boards and a bunch of observer roles in multiple countries.  Invaluable experience.  I miss the team and the companies that I was working with, but as everyone knows, the world is shrinking fast, and there aren’t really goodbyes.  It is just a question of when you work together next.

Now I’m fully immersed in the fun and challenge of my new adventure.  As I went through the process of deciding what I wanted to do next, I came to the conclusion that I simply love the start.  I love investing early in companies that are just starting; that is when it is most exciting.  Going back to my entrepreneur roots, I love the beginning when you have to figure things out.  I am losing sleep because I can’t turn my brain off thinking about all the things that need to be done, and how we might be able to move faster.  I wake up feeling energized even though I’m not getting much sleep.  I love it!  Someday there will be time for more sleep, but it isn’t now, not while we are building the foundation for a platform we hope will help the global entrepreneurial ecosystem.

I’m always looking for ideas and feedback, and the best way to reach me is  jon.soberg AT gmail.

Do incubators have an obligation to actively seek out female hackers? (debate)

The discussion about women in tech is one of the most important discussions in the ecosystem today. I believe we need to continue to make this a priority, both in discussions and in actions.

15 thought-provoking VB guest posts you probably missed in 2013

Pretty cool to have a post listed in the 15 you should see from 2013.

Crowdfunding — not just for early stage

A tribute to my grandfather – living life “lucky”

My grandfather passed away this morning, at the age of 92.  Today has been a tough day for me– I miss my grandfather even more than I thought I would.  It is especially tough knowing how difficult this is for my dad- it breaks my heart to see him this sad.

At the same time I find myself being thankful for many things.  My grandfather lived a very long, and fruitful life, and was quite healthy right up to the day he died.  He was out at a restaurant with my parents just 3 days ago, joking and having fun.  Still living life.  He died today in his home, and both of his kids were with him.   I hope when I go, I can say the same.

But, this post is about living life, and the example my grandfather set.  Whenever I spoke with my grandfather, from the time I was very young, until very recently on the phone, he would always say “I’m doing great!  I’m so lucky!”  Over the past few years, his short term memory had been fading, so I would get to hear those words repeated several times in a conversation, but I never tired of them.  He would say, “Oh, I’m getting old, forgetful, not what I used to be, but I’m doing great, lucky to be alive and healthy!”  He always had a joke, or a lighthearted comment, many of the self deprecating sort, and always getting back to being lucky.  Growing up it was the same.  He was always cheerful, loved to take us swimming, fishing, camping, or just hanging out.  And, we always heard how lucky we were.

He was lucky.  His father emigrated from Norway to the US (and changed his name, or had it changed by accident when he arrived).  He had plenty of stories of hard work to pay for college.  He was on the swim team (and had the most efficient swim strokes I have seen anywhere).  He loved to tell stories about winning wrestling matches against kids twice his size because he was quicker, more determined, and maybe a bit more strategic.  He was a pilot in the Pacific theater during WWII, and used to love to show me the collection of old WWII guns he amassed from his travels in the war (I never did ask him how he brought them all home).  He never told me about the tough parts of the war, but always focused on how lucky he was to fly, to be with the brave friends, and to survive.

After the war, my grandfather was an executive at a couple of construction firms in Duluth, Minnesota.  We would drive around the city and he loved to point out all the different buildings he had helped build, and was immensely proud of what he contributed to the community.  “We built that hospital” or “We won that project because we did that special design”, or “we worked extra hard on that one, and barely won it.”  Every drive had a story.  He was the guy who did the final estimates, and then supervised projects.  He could do math in his head that most had trouble doing with calculators, and always pointed out the common sense angles that he used to win.  He won most of the projects he bid, and he would usually say it was a combination of “luck and a bit of hard work.”  He built his own house, and loved to show me the specifics, the tricky parts, and the things that others wouldn’t notice.  Always paying attention to the details, and always working just a bit harder.

As a father, he loved his kids more than anything, even though I know he worked more than he would have liked.  From all of my memories of him, and I have many amazing memories over the years, the one I recall most strongly was two summers ago.  My family went to visit Minnesota, and he met Melina and Nadia for the first time.  He thought the world of the girls– I don’t think there was anything in the world that could have made him happier than spending time with them.  He kept repeating, “Jon, you are so lucky.  Cherish every minute with these girls.”  And, given his short term memory lapses, he repeated it enough that it is my  strongest memory of him.  There are times now I wonder if the short term memory failure was just a hoax so he could get his point across!

I believe that luck is not just about chance, but is also about being ready and able to take advantage of opportunities.  My grandfather is a case and point.  He always spoke about “luck”, but he helped make his luck, and I don’t ever recall a time when he was not “doing great!”  Always quick with a joke, a word of encouragement, and full of love for the world, Grandpa Ray was always grateful, and in a word, he lived life “lucky.”

Thank you Grandpa Ray.  I hope to live life “lucky” like you, and we all miss you very much!

Bitcoin: Are we looking at a revolution?

My first post on Bitcoin. Have more thoughts coming in the future. Exciting times in Financial Services!