“Imagine a future where you walk into a room, already knowing who all the people are and what you have in common. That future is coming soon on your smartphone,” reads a company description on LinkedIn.
But the Dupont Circle company with a handful of employees is developing more than just apps for smartphones. It’s also working on similar technology for the new Google Glass, which bring the Internet to people through “Terminator”-like eyewear.
Chasen co-founded learning management software company Blackboard in 1997 and served as chief executive until late last year. The firm was bought by Providence Equity Partners for $1.64 billion in 2011.
Investments with impact
District-based Venture Lab will announce its first set of portfolio companies this week as the year-old firm injects seed-stage doses of capital into start-ups that make financial services more accessible to the poor.
The firm was established a year ago with $10 million from Boston-based nonprofit Accion International. Deals range in size from $100,000 to $500,000.
“When we started, we knew there were companies out there. We just weren’t sure about the quality,” Managing Director Paul Breloff said. “We started in part to fill what we saw as a gap in the market for people who were willing to invest in and support this market.”
Venture Lab scrutinizes potential deals using much of the same criteria as traditional venture capitalists, Breloff said, such as the size of the market, the expertise of the founders and the prospect for a financial return.
But given its nonprofit roots, the firm is also looking to improve the quality of life in developing countries.
“Where we’re a bit special is we really are prioritizing impact over everything else,” Breloff said.
The firm’s initial investments include:
, which allows people with prepaid cell phones to use money in their accounts to purchase digital goods in lieu of using a credit or debit card. It currently operates in Indonesia.
, headquartered in Hong Kong, aggregates and analyzes a financial institution’s customers’ social media and online data to help determine whether they meet the requirements for services, such as credit or loans.
, which has created a smartphone plug-in that facilitates credit and debit card payments, allowing small merchants in Mexico to accept more than pesos. The company is headquartered in San Francisco and Mexico.
, which offers loans for affordable private schools that provide access to affordable, higher quality education for children of the country’s low- and middle- income families.