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Photo by Allan Ajifo / CC BY

Of Algorithms, People and Knowledge

I arrived at this month’s inaugural Slow Money Canada meeting ready to share an excerpt of Michael Lewis’s new book, Flash Boys. Is there a more stark counterpoint for slow money, a better argument for bringing money back down to earth, than the excesses of high-frequency traders racing to achieve a few-millisecond trading edge?

Turns out there is.

And it is this: A venture capital fund called Deep Knowledge Ventures has just announced the appointment of a computer algorithm to its board of directors.

No, I’m not making this up. No, this is not an article in The Onion. This is real news. This is financial reality as of June 2014, on this little old ball of whirling, zooming, and life-of-its-own cyber-money called Planet Earth.

Makes me think back to Niall Ferguson’s prescient observation in The Ascent of Money: “Planet Finance is starting to dwarf Planet Earth.”

Here’s the Business Insider piece on the algorithm’s appointment:

A Hong Kong VC fund has just appointed an algorithm to its board.

Deep Knowledge Ventures, a firm that focuses on age-related disease drugs and regenerative medicine projects, says the program, called VITAL, can make investment recommendations about life sciences firms by poring over large amounts of data.

Just like other members of the board, the algorithm gets to vote on whether the firm makes an investment in a specific company or not. The program will be the sixth member of DKV’s board.

VITAL’s software was developed by UK-based Aging Analytics.

“[The goal] is actually to draw attention developing it as an independent decision maker,” Deep Knowledge Venture’s Charles Groome told BI.

How does the algorithm work?

VITAL makes its decisions by scanning prospective companies’ financing, clinical trials, intellectual property and previous funding rounds.

Groome says it has already helped approved two investment decisions (though has not yet cast its first vote), both of which resemble its own function: In Silico Medicine, which develops computer-assisted methods for drug discovery in aging research; and In Silico’s partner firm Pathway Pharmaceuticals, which employs a platform called OncoFinder to select and rate personalized cancer therapies.

“It’s not what you’d call AI at this stage, but that is the long-term goal,” Groome said.

Let’s leave out the irony of the venture firm’s name: Deep Knowledge. No, let’s not leave it out. I suppose this is the fundamental issue: What is the difference between data and knowledge? Between knowledge and wisdom? What kind of information do we need in order to make what kind of decisions? What kind of knowledge might we call deep?

Slow Money board member Eliot Coleman speaks eloquently about the difference between deep organics and shallow organics. No need to belabor the distinctions here, other than to recite Eliot’s wonderfully insightful maxim: “Feed the soil, not the plant.”

It makes me imagine two cartoons. The first depicts a board table around which five people and one laptop are seated, with everyone saying “Aye.” The second, the same board table, around which five laptops and one person are seated, with the five laptops saying “Aye” and the one person saying “No.”

The “Ayes” have it.

June 2014: Network Updates

Slow Money Southern California

Reported by Alison Caldwell.

Local Investment Networking Club of Orange County launched; Riverside County joined the SoCal network; San Diego delivered another successful event.

Slow Money SoCal is growing strong at the center of local food and finance by building relationships between communities, entrepreneurs, and new investment opportunities. Slow Money SoCal represents Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, and the new addition of Riverside County. Slow Money SoCal sees each Southern California region as vital to the other. Every four months the Slow Money SoCal meeting rotates to a different county. The gatherings feature entrepreneurs who showcase their products, keynote speakers, panel discussions, networking, and free raffles donated by our artisans. Slow Money SoCal also recently introduced the Kiva Zip loan model for local entrepreneurs.

 
Hundreds of San Diegans convene for Slow Money SoCal’s San Diego gathering at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens.

San Diego: Slow Money SoCal San Diego is gaining momentum, with average attendance at 2014 gatherings reaching more than 200. The like-minded Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens has generously donated its courtyard venue for the gatherings. The May event discussed the California drought, featuring water experts from the San Diego County Farm Bureau. The upcoming September gathering will focus on seeds and the economy.

 
Frank Golbeck of Golden Coast Mead and Slow Money NoCal leader Marco Vangelisti at the Slow Money SoCal Orange County gathering.

Orange County: Slow Money SoCal Orange County has inspired the launch of the Local Investment Networking Club of Orange County. LINC-OC is a network of individuals who invest directly in Slow Money entrepreneurs and has become a trustee of Kiva Zip. Slow Money SoCal Orange County’s successful gatherings attract entrepreneurs and investors to network and listen to keynote speakers such as Slow Money–minded economist Marco Vangelisti. At our upcoming gathering (June 16 at The Shed in Dana Point), Bridget Reilly of Royal Tea and Treatery will offer attendees the opportunity to directly invest via her LINC-OC-backed Kiva Zip loan campaign.

 
Los Angeles startup Savour This Sauce at the Lexington Social House in Hollywood for the Slow Money SoCal L.A. gathering.

Los Angeles: Slow Money SoCal L.A. is celebrating its first Kiva Zip loan (backed by LINC-OC) of $5,000 to L.A. entrepreneur Jennifer Piette of Out of the Box Collective. Our next gathering will be July 16, 2014, at the Bar Nine Collective. We will discuss Farm to Roasting, with a panel discussion of leading fair-trade and artisan coffee businesses from the L.A. region.

Riverside County: Slow Money SoCal is excited to welcome Riverside County into the chapter. Slow Money SoCal Riverside represents an agricultural corner of the region where 11 percent of the county is designated for agricultural use— unprecedented for a Southern California city of its size. The first official Riverside gathering will take place in August, with a “meet and greet” Slow Money event on June 16 at The Salted Pig.

 

Slow Money Southern California Pt. 2

Reported by Justin Renfro of Kiva Zip.

Local Investment Networking Club of Orange County successfully funded first loan via Kiva Zip.

A local network of Slow Money, the Local Investment Networking Club of Orange County (LINC-OC), has been actively building relationships among farmers, food artisans and producers in Southern California since 2012.

LINC-OC has become a partner of Kiva Zip (KivaZip.org), which allows them to recommend entrepreneurs for 0 interest, 0 fee loans that are funded by a global community of good people. Kiva Zip is the US program of Kiva, which is the world’s first and largest micro-lending website.

Building a strong relationship with the entrepreneur is a critical element in the Kiva Zip underwriting process. Loans are made on the basis of character and the positive social impact of their business. LINC-OC recently endorsed two business owners who are integral members of the Slow Money SoCal family:

 
Jennifer Piette, Out of the Box Collective

Jennifer Piette runs Out of the Box Collective and created something wonderfully unique in this “Farm to Table Home Delivery Service”. She sources the highest quality food from local and sustainable producers, and then “curates” items from every food group into weekly delivery boxes, accompanied by seasonal meal plans and recipes featuring the groceries in each box.

Jennifer successfully raised $5,000 on Kiva Zip from 250 lenders around the world to help her redesign her website and help with her marketing efforts.

 
Bridget Reilly, The Royal Tea and Treatery

Bridget Reilly recently opened The Royal Tea and Treatery, a gluten and dairy free bakery and tea house in Orange County. Her motto is, “If it’s done well, you can’t tell”, and her clients agree that Bridget’s baked goods and luncheon fare are every bit as delicious as any containing these common allergens.

Bridget is currently raising $5,000 to purchase equipment and services, which are essential to her success during these the first few months of operation. You can learn more about it here.

If you or someone you know could benefit from a Kiva Zip loan you can get learn more and get started here.

 

Slow Money Canada

Reported by Rory Holland.

Slow Money Canada’s inaugural conference; investment club in the works.

Woody Tasch (L), Rory Holland (M) and Jean-Martin Fortier (R) at Slow Money Canada’s inaugural conference.

“What a fantastic event Slow Money was. Well done. I loved it and was inspired and encouraged. Thank you!”

Last Friday over 100 folks gathered in a small theatre on Granville Island in Vancouver, BC and found inspiration and enthusiasm for Slow Money. From Woody’s opening Keynote to the Leslie Christian’s closing talk the case was convincingly made that investing in the local food economy just makes sense.

The investment opportunities showcased in the afternoon ranged from Skipper Otto, a community supported fishery seeking money for a new processing plant to Hua Foundation, engaging Chinese fresh food markets in town with new opportunities for organic, local Asian greens. As one audience member said “in 25 years of watching ‘pitch’ sessions, never have I seen nine companies do such a great job”.

Coming out of the conference many new connections were made, and there are already plans are in the works for an Investment Club. It’s clear that the Slow Money infection has moved north of the border.

 

Slow Money Maine

Reported by Bonnie Rukin.

Slow Money Maine hosted a highly successful first regional gathering.

In May, Slow Money Maine held its first regional gathering: “GROW IT! The New Food Economy.” The event celebrated our regional collaborations and explored case studies of food businesses in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont. Our gathering kicked off with a walking tour of Portland food businesses and nonprofits, followed by a social hour and Taste of Slow Money Maine, showcasing network food producers. Rain shifted to sunshine by midday, setting the mood for an educational, tasty, and highly enjoyable gathering.

Here are the event highlights:

  • John Naylor of Rosemont Market & Bakery opened Day Two with a history of his community-focused markets in Portland.
  • We examined case studies of two early-stage businesses: Marada Cook’s Northern Girl (vegetable processing) and Ben Slayton’s Farmer’s Gate Market (butcher shop). Alex Linkow of Fair Food Network, John Piotti of Maine Farmland Trust, Gray Harris of CEI, and Paul Skydell, a private investor, also shared glimpses of company triumphs, challenges, and technical assistance.
  • Portland Mayor Michael Brennan provided an inspiring talk about local food initiatives.
  • We discussed case studies of two growth-stage businesses: Greg Georgaklis’s Farmers to You (a Vermont-to-Boston food service) and Jared Auerbach’s Red’s Best (Boston-based fish aggregation & sales). They shared their endeavors, with supporting commentary from Janice St. Onge of VSJF Flexible Capital Fund and Dan Pullman and Lisa Sebesta of Fresh Source Capital.

These exchanges contribute to the success of food-system businesses by emphasizing the relationships surrounding necessary financial transactions.

At the end of our gathering, Slow Money participants from Massachusetts suggested hosting a similar gathering next spring, an idea we strongly encourage!

Many thanks to event planners Linzee, Kari, Gray, and Vicki who brought their amazing talents to this offering that served more than 150 people in highly satisfying ways.

 


 

November 2012 Slow Money Minute

Select the video above to watch this month’s Slow Money Minute by Mason Arnold of Greenling, an organic food delivery service in Texas. Then, please send us your own Slow Money Minute, a video approximately one minute in length, that shares with us an interesting glimpse of what you are doing to bring the Slow Money vision to life. Send submissions to info@slowmoney.org