Even in the early golden years of Silicon Valley, there were “Silicon Valley Jerks,” and unpleasant corporate cultures. […]

This is the best info-graphic I have seen on the historical evolution of venture capital, from the early days of Arthur Rock to the current trend of “platform” investors offering the “everything in a box” approach to entrepreneurial investment. The evolving venture capital models are overlayed onto a trend graph of the cost of startups contrasted with the number of startups. At first glance one might accept the now common refrain that traditional “venture capital is dead.” When I began my career in Silicon Valley, the typical entrepreneurial growth company needed $5 to $10 Million dollars to launch itself. Today, the argument is that a promising company can be started on $5000 or less, and competitors eager to serve this new market have mushroomed. But is this really the future?

Yesterday, I was an invited guest at an annual “entrepreneurship” event held in Vancouver. The event is an extraordinary opportunity to connect with most of the major figures, leaders, and investors in the entrepreneurship community. It also prominently showcased presentations from a number of the most promising new startups. But the undercurrents in conversations around the room were soul searching questions about the current glut of startup accelerators around North America, and the frothy euphoria and enthusiasm about “entrepreneurship.” Some experienced entrepreneurial investors complained about the air of unreality of it all, and the excess of mediocre companies being cranked out. A very prominent and experienced Vancouver venture capitalist pointed out to me that a glut of Canadian startups only compounds the long-standing issue that Canada could not produce the necessary risk capital even if more of these companies were investment ready, which they are not. A related issues is the waste of government money in these companies. Clearly, the situation is a mess.

tophat
A couple of weeks ago I was asking myself about the current “clicker” classroom participation technology at UBC.  Why did the university implement a proprietary technology with no other practical use, which cost students precious dollars?  It was instantly obvious to me that the students already owned the devices needed to accomplish electronic classroom participation: their smartphones, tablets and laptops.  Even more compelling for me, it could provide a way to reduce the classroom distractions caused by these devices.  It turns out that the reason that the students devices were not being exploited for teaching and learning was fear of “the cloud,” privacy and where the data was being stored, which are legitimate concerns.  It turned out that there is a Canadian company that has created an app that does everything I envisioned and solved all the privacy issues to the satisfaction of a number of educational institutions in British Columbia and across Canada. I am now a trial use of Top Hat Monocle and I am very impressed with it.  I went so far as to introduce one of  Top Hat’s marketing people to the UBC Vancouver IT expert on apps like this.  It is my hope that Monocle can be a breakthrough application for classroom use.
Classroom participation startup Top Hat Monocle strengthens its team with addition of elite CFO and CPO (via Pando Daily)

Toronto-based classroom education startup Top Hat Monocle takes a contrarian position on students’ smartphones. Rather than insist that they put them away, which we all know is a losing proposition, the company uses the devices to drive engagement and participation. Today, the company has beefed up its executive team, announcing the addition Ralf Riekers as its new Chief Financial Officer and Malgosia Green as its Chief Product Officer.

Riekers was the first employee at marketing automation startup Eloqua, where he spent 12 years in areas including finance, operations, product deployment, and customer operations. Eloqua was recently acquired by oracle for $871 million four months after its IPO. At Top Hat, he will focus on improving the company’s back-end processes and managing relationships with the venture community.

Green founded India-based education marketing firm Savvica in 2007 to help students worldwide choose schools to match their needs, and before that was the director of product development for Affinity Labs. At Top Hat Monocle, she will take over the product road map and also promises to “aggressively market” the company’s products.

Top Hat Monocle offers allows students to respond in real-time to instructor questions and polls using their Web-enabled mobile devices. They can also use these second screens – assuming the teacher’s black board or projection screen is the first – to engage in interactive discussions, pose their own questions, download notes, and submit work, among other functions. The company’s products are used at over 250 universities worldwide.

Following an $8 million Series A financing in July from Emergence Capital PartnersiNovia CapitalSoftTech VC, Golden Venture Partners, and Version One Ventures, and the company raised a subsequent $1.1 million strategic round in January, bringing its total financing to $10.7 million. The Top Hat Monocle team has since explode from 20 to 80 employees in the last nine months. According to COO Andrew D’Souza, we should expect additional high profile hires in the near future, including specifically a VP engineering, VP sales, and VP marketing.

Ask any investor or experienced entrepreneur and they’re likely to tell you that success is dictated more by the team that is leading a company than by the idea or the market itself. Top Hat Monocle has the benefit of being in a space that is ripe for disruption, at a time when investors and educators are desperately seeking solutions. Today’s announcements should only strengthen the company’s ability to execute on this massive opportunity.