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What motivates innovative entrepreneurs: Money or altruism?

In today’s new world completely engulfed by COVID-19, all sorts of innovations are emerging to help the world overcome this difficult time: 3D printers are cranking out medical supplies; rapid advancements in testing have been made — now providing results in five minutes; teachers have transformed curricula to be taught entirely online. It’s humanity vs. the virus, and innovators around the world are acting as fast as they can.

Yet I was recently chatting with a leading Silicon Valley investor about what incentivizes entrepreneurship. To him — and his Silicon Valley peers — the answer was obvious: People are motivated to become heroes. Their ambition stems from an unquenchable thirst for being recognized as the victor and reaping the riches that come with it.

This view is troubling. It excludes many of the innovators responding to COVID-19 — people who are passionate about solving complex problems like poverty, public health issues or education. Working closely with over 100 global social entrepreneurs at MIT Solve, I’ve noticed a very different profile than the Silicon Valley hero. The entrepreneurs I know want to solve real problems — not become influencers or Netflix stars.

Take Luis Garza, Founder of Kinedu, an app that provides parents with tools to promote their child’s development. Working on a child care chain in Latin America, Garza could sense the anxiety that first-time caretakers felt when it came to raising a baby. He wanted to find a solution that would help everyone know what to do, and “feel like a good parent.” Since its founding, Kinedu has impacted 4 million lives, and now, in response to COVID-19, Kinedu is offering free subscriptions to any parent in need of support while they self-isolate at home.

A recent experiment measuring drivers of innovation we ran with Columbia Business School and Carnegie Mellon, points to the same conclusion: Not all entrepreneurs are motivated by fame and fortune. If we assume they are, we’re excluding those who aren’t — limiting opportunities for these “helper” entrepreneurs.

We emailed 11,000 innovators across 76 countries and asked them to apply to Solve’s Global Challenges. Global entrepreneurs can submit their business solutions to be selected for funding, mentorship and support. Each individual randomly received one of three messages: one emphasizing social impact, one emphasizing prize funding, and one neutral control message. We measured their email engagement to determine which messages resonated the most.

The findings convey that women are more driven by social impact, while men are more driven by funding. Country culture also matters; people in more altruistic cultures were more driven by social impact, while those in less altruistic cultures were more driven by funding.

To be truly inclusive — of gender, culture and background — we must be intentional in how we inspire and support entrepreneurs. We must speak to both instincts: the hero and the helper. But speaking a language that invites diverse participation is only the first step. Here are three guidelines for investors and supporters who want to intentionally motivate diverse innovators.

Lower entrepreneurship’s barrier to entry

Strip industry jargon from your application. Coach innovators to prepare for a pitch. Tailor your language to appeal to mission-driven innovators — not just money-driven innovators. These are all ways to make your program feel accessible to an innovator without an MBA or tech background — someone like Arturo Hernández, a comedian turned startup founder who created Supercívicos, an app whose 1.5 million users geolocalize urban challenges and crowdsource support for public officials to address them.

Expand the definition of a “promising” entrepreneur

When did we decide that hoodie-wearing founders building the next unicorn with “hockey stick growth” is the gold standard for promising ventures? What’s wrong with zebras? (They’re real; they have two-color stripes: for-profit and for-purpose; and they collaborate to survive). Nicole Bassett who co-founded The Renewal Workshop — which provides zero-waste, circular solutions for apparel and textile brands — is now part of the $51 billion secondhand clothes industry. She turned a new business model for recycling and upcycling clothing into a rapidly growing, for-profit startup, saving over 100,000 pounds of textiles from landfills while driving revenue.

Support beyond funding

While financing is a crucial part of launching a new venture, we must recognize that other resources such as technical expertise or mentorship are just as important to social entrepreneurs. Founders that are mentored by a top-performing entrepreneur are three times more likely to lead top-performing companies themselves. Consider Ram Katamaraja, creator of, a data and analytics skills training platform. He needed marketing and branding support to scale and notes that a mentor “made what could have been a turbulent and intimidating process gratifying and extremely productive.” has upskilled more than 6,000 users.

If we don’t expand our understanding of a promising entrepreneur, lower the barrier to entry to our programs and provide tailored support, then we will ignore many of the game-changing ideas that will get us through this pandemic — and ultimately, leave big problems unsolved and large communities unserved.

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Twitter, Reddit challenge US rules forcing visa applicants to disclose their social media handles

Twitter and Reddit have filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit challenging a U.S. government rule change compelling visa applicants to disclose their social media handles.

The lawsuit, brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Brennan Center for Justice and law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, seeks to undo both the State Department’s requirement that visa applicants must disclose their social media handles prior to obtaining a U.S. visa, as well as related rules over the retention and dissemination of those records.

Last year, the State Department began asking visa applicants for their current and former social media usernames, a move that affects millions of non-citizens applying to travel to the United States each year. The rule change was part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand its “enhanced” screening protocols. At the time, it was reported that the information would be used if the State Department determines that “such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting.”

In a filing supporting the lawsuit, both Twitter and Reddit said the social media policies “unquestionably chill a vast quantity of speech” and that the rules violate the First Amendment rights “to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

Twitter and Reddit, which collectively have more than 560 million users, said their users — many of which don’t use their real names on their platforms — are forced to “surrender their anonymity in order to travel to the United States,” which “violates the First Amendment rights to speak anonymously and associate privately.”

“Twitter and Reddit vigorously guard the right to speak anonymously for people on their platforms, and anonymous individuals correspondingly communicate on these platforms with the expectation that their identities will not be revealed without a specific showing of compelling need,” the brief said.

“That expectation allows the free exchange of ideas to flourish on these platforms.”

Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, Twitter’s policy chief for the Americas, said the social media rule “infringes both of those rights and we are proud to lend our support on these critical legal issues.” Reddit’s general counsel Ben Lee called the rule an “intrusive overreach” by the government.

It’s not known how many, if any, visa applicants have been denied a visa because of their social media content. But since the social media rule went into effect, cases emerged of approved visa holders denied entry to the U.S. for other people’s social media postings. Ismail Ajjawi, a then 17-year-old freshman at Harvard University, was turned away at Boston Logan International Airport after U.S. border officials searched his phone after taking issue with social media postings of Ajjawi’s friends — and not his own.

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told TechCrunch at the time that Ajjawi’s case was not isolated. A week later, TechCrunch learned of another man who was denied entry to the U.S. because of a WhatsApp message sent by a distant acquaintance.

A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment on matters under litigation.

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The Station: Via hits $2.25B valuation, letters from readers, layoffs in a time of COVID-19

Hi, and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to all the ways people and packages travel from Point A to Point B. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch. If this is your first time, hello; I’m glad you’re with us.
I have started to publish a version of the newsletter on TechCrunch. That’s what you’re reading now. For the whole newsletter, which comes out every weekend, you can subscribe by heading over here, and clicking “The Station.” It’s free!
Last week, I asked readers to share how …

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