Weekend Briefing No. 79

Weekend Briefing No. 79 | Data-driven Sentencing, 35 Years of Tech Funding, Funding in the Valley of Death, Fixing Patents, Africa Is Polio Free

Welcome to the weekend.  This week China devalued it’s currency, Google restructured under a new parent company called Alphabet, Astronauts eat the first food ever grown in space, “Outredgeous” red romaine lettuce, following my mom’s advice to eat your veggies first.

You may notice this is the first week that the Weekend Briefing has a sponsored. I’m excited to partner with brands that are passionate about innovation and society, and their support will ensure that the Weekend Briefing will continue to grow for years to come. Of course we will always ensure that any sponsored content is clearly marked and compelling to you as a reader. If you have any feedback or think your company may be a good fit for sponsorship, drop me a line. Thanks again for your continued support.



Data-driven sentencing. Criminal sentencing has long been based on the present crime and, sometimes, the defendant’s past criminal record. In Pennsylvania, judges could soon consider a new dimension: the future. Pennsylvania is on the verge of becoming one of the first states in the country to base criminal sentences not only on what crimes people have been convicted of, but also on whether they are deemed likely to commit additional crimes. As early as next year, judges there could receive statistically derived tools known as risk assessments to help them decide how much prison time — if any — to assign. Learn more at FiveThirtyEight.


35 years of US tech funding. We typically look at short term trends, but sometimes it’s helpful to take a step back and consider the long-term trajectory. For instance, the number of IPOs has collapsed since the early 2000s, companies that would have done an IPO now do private growth rounds instead. Additionally, since 1999 there are now roughly 10x more people online, US online revenues from ecommerce and advertising have risen 15x, and the cost of creating software companies has fallen by roughly 10x. Learn more in this brilliant chart from Ben Evans.


SPONSORED BRIEFING // New startups are disrupting a tired mattress industry. 2015 has already been a great year for disruptive innovation. Driverless cars, 3D-printed usable circuits, and new music delivery systems all have the potential to interrupt current markets – if they haven’t already. One traditional market that’s seen enormous disruption is the mattress industry. While the old model required customers to visit a retail showroom, negotiate with a salesperson and pay a markup to cover the middleman’s expenses, a wave of disruptive startups entered the scene this year with an innovative online-only, direct-to-consumer business model. The recent standout is Leesa, who recently raised a $9 million Series A round at a $45 million valuation from celebrity-backed private equity firm TitleCard Capital. Learn more at Fortune. As a special offer for Weekend Briefing readers, Leesa is offering $75 off the purchase of a mattress.


Through the valley of death. All startups face the “valley of death” between seed money and growth capital, but it’s often more difficult for social enterprises to traverse. The social enterprise model is less familiar to funders of all types. A lot of early-stage investors—even in the impact sector—like to see the hockey-stick growth graphs typical of tech pitches. But social enterprises growth is rarely so exponential. RSF Social Finance is piloting a new model of financing to provide capital in the valley using low-interest loans, loan guarantees, equity investments, and other instruments from philanthropic funds to leverage significant amounts of market capital for social enterprises. Learn more in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.


Fixing the patent system. Patents are supposed to spur innovation, by obliging holders to lay out their innovation for all to see; they often fail, because the system encourages ecology of trolls and defensive patent-holders, who aim to block innovation, or at least to stand in its way unless they can grab a share of the spoils. Studies have found that 40-90% of patents are never exploited or licensed out by their owners. Patents should come with a blunt “use it or lose it” rule, so that they expire if the invention is not brought to market. Today’s patent regime operates in the name of progress. Instead, it sets innovation back. Time to fix it. Read more in The Economist.


Africa cautiously celebrates one year without any new polio cases. It has been one full year since polio was detected anywhere in Africa, a significant milestone in global health that has left health experts around the world quietly celebrating. When the global polio eradication drive began in 1988, more than 350,000 children around the world were paralyzed by the virus each year. Last year, only 359 were. Thirty-four cases have been found this year, all in Pakistan or Afghanistan. To fight the common complaint that Westerners cared only about polio while rural Africans died of other ills, the campaign set up temporary “health camps” that offered the vaccination with many other medical enticements, including measles shots, deworming drugs, diarrhea treatment, etc. Learn more in the New York Times.



Watch an eagle attack a drone. While humans hem and haw about how to deal with the problems caused by drones, birds take a more straightforward approach: dive bomb anything that looks like a threat.


There are two types of people in the world, those who like order and follow the rules and then there are others who are a bit messier, and tend to think outside of the box. Check out these 10 illustrations and figure out which one you are.





The Weekend Briefing is a selection of this week’s top stories on innovation and society, curated by Kyle Westaway – author of Profit & Purpose and Managing Partner of Westaway Law. I consider it a privilege to be a part of your weekend routine. Thanks.