Jane.VC, a new fund for female entrepreneurs, wants founders to cold email them

Want to pitch a venture capitalist? You’ll need a “warm introduction” first. At least that’s what most in the business will advise.

Find a person, typically a man, who made the VC you’re interested in pitching a whole bunch of money at some point and have them introduce you. Why? Because VCs love people who’ve made them money; naturally, they’ll be willing to hear you out if you’ve got at least one money maker on your side.

There’s a big problem with that cycle. Not all entrepreneurs are friendly with millionaires and not all entrepreneurs, especially those based outside Silicon Valley or from underrepresented backgrounds, have anyone in their network to provide them that coveted intro.

Jane.VC, a new venture fund based out of Cleveland and London wants entrepreneurs to cold email them. Send them your pitch, no wealthy or successful intermediary necessary. The fund, which has so far raised $2 million to invest between $25,000 and $150,000 in early-stage female-founded companies across industries, is scrapping the opaque, inaccessible model of VC that’s been less than favorable toward women.

“We like to say that Jane.VC is venture for every woman,” the firm’s co-founder Jennifer Neundorfer told TechCrunch.

Neundorfer, who previously founded and led an accelerator for Midwest startups called Flashstarts after stints at 21st Century Fox and YouTube, partnered with her former Stanford business school classmate Maren Bannon, the former chief executive officer and co-founder of LittleLane. So far, they’ve backed insurtech company Proformex and Hatch Apps, an enterprise software startup that makes it easier for companies to create and distribute mobile and web apps.

“We are going to shoot them straight”

Jane.VC, like many members of the next generation of venture capital funds, is bucking the idea that the best founders can only be found in Silicon Valley. Instead, the firm is going global and operating under the philosophy that a system of radical transparency and honesty will pay off.

“Let’s be efficient with an entrepreneur’s time and say no if it’s not a hit,” Neundorfer said. “I’ve been on the opposite end of that coaching. So many entrepreneurs think a VC is interested and they aren’t. An entrepreneur’s time is so valuable and we want to protect that. We are going to shoot them straight.”

Though Jane.VC plans to invest across the globe, the firm isn’t turning its back on Bay Area founders. Neundorfer and Bannon will leverage their Silicon Valley network and work with an investment committee of nine women based throughout the U.S. to source deals. 

“We are women that have raised money and have been through the ups and downs of raising money in what is a very male-dominated world,” Neundorfer added. “We believe that investing in women is not only the right thing to do but that you can make a lot of money doing it.”

The space pen became the space pen 50 years ago

Everyone knows about the space pen. NASA spent millions on R&D to create the ultimate pen that would work in zero gravity and the result was this incredible machine. Well, no. In fact it was made by a pen manufacturer in 1966 — but it wasn’t until October of 1968 that it went into orbit and fulfilled its space pen destiny.

The pen was created by pen maker (naturally) Paul Fisher, who used $1 million of his own money to create the AG-7 anti-gravity pen. As you may or may not know, the innovation was a pressurized ink cartridge and gel ink that would deploy reliably regardless of orientation, temperature or indeed the presence of gravity.

He sent it to NASA, which was of course the only organization reliably worried about making things work in microgravity, and they loved it. In fact, the Russians started using it shortly afterwards, as well.

Walt Cunningham, Wally Schirra and Donn Eisele took the pens aboard with them for the Apollo 7 mission, which launched on October 11, 1968, and they served them well over the next 11 days in orbit.

A 50th anniversary edition of the pen is now available to people who have a lot of money and love gold stuff. It’s $500, a limited edition of 500, and made of “gold titanium nitride plated brass,” and it comes with a case and commemorative plaque with a quote from Cunningham:

“Fifty years ago, I flew with the first flown Space Pen on Apollo 7. I relied on it then, and it’s still the only pen I rely on here on Earth.”

Okay, that’s pretty cool. Presumably astronauts get a lifetime supply of these things, though.

Here’s to the Fisher space pen, an example of American ingenuity and simple, reliable good design that’s persisted in use and pop culture for half a century.

Knotch launches Blueprint to help marketers find the best publishers of sponsored content

When I last wrote about Knotch, the company had just patented its color-based feedback system that helps advertisers measure the effectiveness of their sponsored content.

Since then, it’s added a competitive intelligence product and now Blueprint, a tool for marketers who want to find the best topics, formats and partners to reach their desired audience.

Lara Vandenberg, Knotch’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, told me that agencies had been asking the company to recommend which publishers to work with, so Blueprint is meant to meet that need. She described it as both “this ultimate content planning product” and as “a predictive matchmaker for brands as content becomes so much more of a focus.”

To accomplish this, she said Knotch is scouring the web for sponsored content, then automatically identifying elements like content, themes and trends.

Knotch Blueprint

Marketers can then access this data by browsing through different themes and publishers. They also can search based on the audience and metrics that they’re looking for, and Blueprint will recommend publishers that seem like a good fit. Blueprint offers detailed information about publishers, like how often they’re publishing sponsored content, who their advertisers are and what kind of response they’re getting.

In some cases, marketers can even click a button to send a message directly to the publisher’s sales team.

The initial brands using Blueprint include JP Morgan Chase and Ford. Vandenberg said the product will only be monetized on the brand side, but publishers can also claim their profiles, turning them into “verified” accounts where Knotch measures their sponsored content directly.

“The idea is for Knotch to be with a brand at every phase of the content cycle, except for the creating,” Vandenberg said. That means the company wants to be involved in “the measurement, the optimization, the distribution, the planning.”

Uber is developing an on-demand staffing business

Uber is reportedly developing a short-term staffing business to offer 1099 independent contractors for events and corporate functions, the Financial Times first reported. Dubbed Uber Works, the service would provide waiters, security guards and other temporary staffers to business partners, a source close to Uber told TechCrunch.

Uber has been working on the project for several months in Chicago, after first trialing the project in Los Angeles. Uber already has a vast network of drivers — all of whom have become familiarized with the process of filing taxes as an independent contractor — who may be looking for additional work. However, Uber’s current pilot program does not include active Uber drivers.

Uber Works falls under the purview of Rachel Holt, who stepped into the role of head of new modalities in June. Holt, who has been with Uber since 2011, is tasked with ramping up and onboarding new mobility services like bikes, scooters, car rentals and public transit integration.

In a job posting for a general manager to lead special projects in Chicago, Uber says, “our business is based around providing a flexible, on-demand supply for our business partners – it’s imperative that we have intuitive and responsive account management to support for our business partners in addressing their needs promptly.”

Uber declined to comment for this story. But as the company gears up for its initial public offering next year, Uber is clearly trying to diversify its business. In the last year, Uber double-downed on multi-modal transportation with the acquisition and deployment of JUMP bike-share. And in the last month, Uber deployed electric scooters in Santa Monica, Calif.

Whether this effort launches remains to be seen, but it’s certainly something Uber is exploring and positioning as a business-to-business service. In a similar vein, Uber is also working to create a pipeline to hire some of its driver partners.