Downturn? What downturn? Life through a VC lens

Many have suggested you have to innovate your way out of a downturn. But if your budget has just been slashed – again – where do you get the money to do just that? Enter the venture capitalists (VCs).

"As a non-profit, it is dependent on your help to do that. Your donations directly support some of the most popular collaboratively-edited reference projects in the world, including Wikipedia, one of the world's top 10 most popular websites and the largest encyclopedia ever compiled in human history."

Recently, the foundation has partnered with Orange to create content-focused mobile and web-based channels. And partnerships, as well as money, are a way of extending the foundation's reach according to Kul Takanao Wadhwa, head of business development at the foundation.

"One of the biggest challenges we face is we are still in the community space and have community values," he said.

"Partnering with Orange means we can really do a lot of things. Because we're non-profit we can now ask what are the things we do best and what are the things our partners do best? Where can we go and what are the things we're doing to get there?"

Giving something back

Facebook, itself a beneficiary of VC money, is also trying to give something back to the people.

fbFund is trying to encourage the next generation of application developers to build the next big thing on the Facebook platform. It's a $10 million seed fund created in partnership by Facebook, Accel Partners and Founders Fund.

At present, the Fund is running a 10-week incubator programme held at Facebook's old offices in Palo Alto which is giving 24 start-ups the chance to receive up to $100,000 in funding in addition to networking with like-minded peers to share ideas and collaborate.

"We are forming this fund to help grow the Facebook application ecosystem. By decreasing the barrier to start a company, we hope to entice an even larger group of people to become entrepreneurs and build a compelling business on Facebook Platform," claimed the fund when it launched two years ago.

"We hope this is also a funding model that other venture capitalists will follow."

IT PRO was fortunate enough to visit fbFund and meet up with some of the innovators hoping to make it big.

"The types of companies we've chosen to invest in this year are a little broader than Facebook has invested in in the past," said Founders Fund's Dave Mclure .

Stars of the future

Chris Turitzin is one of those companies trying to generate mass appeal. His DropPlay concept involves embedding a music player into a person's Facebook page.

"DropPlay provides a soundtrack to your life on social networks," he said.

"DropPlay is built for the sharing, collaborative nature of social networking. Some people say that social networking is like entering a party with friends. But what's a party without music?"

Navify also has its eyes on the prize. It's a multimedia encyclopaedia that brings together Wikipedia content with images and video from other sources.

"I went to an article about Cindy Crawford and couldn't see what she looks like,'" said the site's founder Alan Rutledge.

"She's meant to be the most beautiful woman in the world and there was no picture," he added, declaring where he got the inspiration for his site.

The fbFund has been of great value to the start-up, according to Rutledge.

"There is so much serendipity. Everyone here is really hungry and really wants to make things happen. In any other city, people would think you're crazy."

What do all these investment-related companies have in common? Determination. Determination to carry on regardless of the harsh recessionary winds blowing all around them.

When this damn recession is over, it'll be the ones who invested time, resources, and finances to innovate during the worst of times that will ultimately enjoy the best of times.

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