What is the next crazy idea that will be spun out of Silicon Valley as a massive, multi-billion dollar company? Do you think it could be a social media platform like Imgur, which has successfully managed to have millions of users request more advertisement from Walmart? Or what about an Air B’n’B for sea vessels, Boat Bound?
In the beginning of October, more than 150 companies in Silicon Valley opened their doors to the general public during the NewCo festival. It offered an insight into some of the projects that are taking shape here. For instance, Planet Labs creates “cheap”, miniature satellites to map the entire Earth’s surface every day. They launch 30 at a time like baby turtles – some of them simply don’t make it all the way up and out. Meanwhile, here in the world’s largest consumer nation, public authorities have managed to cut Californians’ water consumption in half over the last decade with captivating campaigns. Perhaps this is why ‘luxury’ water with taste from Hint Water has subsequently become one of the fastest growing brands in the US.
Let us take a deeper look into 3 of the companies that we visited during the festival.
1) Alt School
Alt School is a network of micro schools founded by former head of personalization at Google, Max Ventilla. The idea is to bring the innovation of Silicon Valley into the classroom even on elementary level. Fundamentally, it means that each child gets a personalized curriculum that is constantly adjusting to fit the child’s needs and eradicate competition with others. This is done through technology in combination with a very high teacher-to-pupil ratio on the order of 5-8. Pupils of different ages share the same classroom that is constantly video monitored such that teachers can figure out what works and what does not.
Alt School’s ultimate vision is to make schools be ahead of their time instead of behind. Price for enrollment? $20.000/year. Actual expenses/pupil for Alt School? $150.000. This enormous gab is currently financed by venture capital investment of more than $100M for Alt School’s 3 campuses in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Brooklyn, New York.
Now that’s how you are visionary with big money!
Metromile is an insurance and smart driving app. They offer pay-per-mile car insurance, which means that you only pay for what you drive.
So how do they do this? Metromile offers a free Metromile tag, which is a small GPS unit that can track your car. This means that they can accurately estimate the insurance premium, customized to your driving behavior. Therefore, drivers who only drive very little, no longer subsidize drivers who drive very much, which to a certain extent is an underlying mechanism of car insurance today.
However, the smart driving app also offers complimentary services enabled by accurate tracking of your commuting behavior.
For instance by using machine learning and algorithms, the app is able to provide you with driving statistics that can be used to better optimize your daily commute, saving you time and gas. The intimate knowledge that the app obtains about your car and driving behavior is also used to provide diagnostics of your car’s running condition and is able to find local mechanics when it is time for it to be serviced.
The GPS can also be used when you are not driving. The app allows you to always find your car, even when you park it in a small alley way, an Ikea parking lot, or your car has gotten stolen. Lastly, the app is able to alert you when you are parked in a street sweeping zone so that you avoid a sweeping ticket. And as a resident of central San Francisco, this feature should not be underestimated – trust me.
Overall, whether the technology of Metromile is going to become the new standard is still difficult to say, and how this fits into a future of driverless cars is impossible to predict, but right now, all Metromile is doing is trying to make every car a smart car.
Brigade wants to become your online platform for civic identity
Our social and professional lives are already mapped online, whereas civic life isn’t that well represented. Brigade seeks to fill this gap by matching you with advocacy organizations and politicians based on your answers to online surveys and policy statements. The hope is that this, along with easily accessible records of personal political opinions, will motivate us to become more engaged in elections and the society that surrounds us.
The total number of elected officials in the US is currently around 520.000 and has been rising for a number of years. Meanwhile turnout has fallen to historic lows with only 36.4% turning out to vote in last year’s midterm elections. This can be seen as a sign of declining civic engagement levels in the US.
In this connection, the obvious Silicon Valley question is why digital technology hasn’t been applied more to civic and public issues? One answer might be that the sector has a bad reputation, especially with VCs. Another answer can be found in public disillusion and a lack of collective action due to an individualized zeitgeist. Also, voters have to form opinions on an increasing number of issues that are becoming increasingly complex. This especially goes for California with its plethora of referendums.
By making it easier to form opinions towards different policies and candidates, by reminding us of our attitudes and letting us compare them to others’, and by crowdsourcing reasons for stances towards issues, Brigade wants to empower action and opinion expression.
On top of all this, Brigade, by leveraging the opinions of its users, hopes to become a reliable provider of representative information to public officials.
Platforms like Brigade bringing the civic sphere into the digital age might be perceived as a consumerization and watering down of important issues, but wet issues might after all be preferable to a participatory drought.