FiscalNote Changes Corporate Government Risk Management

As a tech savvy teenager, Tim Hwang began changing how information influenced American politics and business-government relations. In 2012, his programs helped Barack Obama win the Iowa caucus. In 2013, as college students, Tim Hwang, Gerald Yao and Jonathan Chen formed FiscalNote headquartered in Washington, D.C.  FiscalNote was created to accommodate contracting the services of his new data seeking and data crunching applications. Even as a small startup, FiscalNote attracted the attention of some high profile venture capitalists. Most recently FiscalNote received ten million in a Series C round in 2016 and ten million in a Series B round in 2015.

FiscalNote, a university startup from Emory University, Princeton University and the University of Maryland, is combining computerized data collection methods with the analyzing power of artificial intelligence to produce applications that greatly increase a company’s return on its investments in governmental tracking. The java programs work faster and cheaper than beltway law firms and lobbyists so the effect of this new start up is likely to be enormous.

This start up can be understood as another example of technocrats converting expensive services from the purview of a mass of costly labor intensive experts to the relatively inexpensive realm of the shared economy. Retainers to well-heeled government trackers may become a thing of the past as this university startup demonstrates its power to identify relevant activity within the federal and state governments and its powerful ability to predict the fate of proposed legislation and regulations.

It is not surprising that this technological solution to the huge demand for governmental information arose in a university setting with their combination of technological resources, student and professor entrepreneurs, and existing knowledge about national and local governments and how they work. In 2013 the University of Maryland contributed to a FiscalNote seed fund drive.

While FiscalNote CEO Tim Hwang acknowledges that there are still a multitude of political “Black Swans” occurring, he believes that the information technology that underlies FiscalNote is second to none and it makes government information accessible, transparent, and actionable.

FiscalNote has produced three information analysis tools to date:  FiscalNote Prophecy, FiscalNote Sonar (focused on tracking the federal government), and FiscalNote Atlantis. So far, FiscalNote has focused on American government risks to business; however, it is currently planning to expand into assessing governmental risks to business overseas in Europe and Asia.

Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, demand for FiscalNote services has been growing particularly fast in the health care field. FiscalNote’s success to date is in large part a measure of its ability to produce finished, market ready products that have been successfully employed by large corporate clients.

University Technologies Search

Finding technologies that are born and developed at US universities is often a challenge.  Sometimes entrepreneurs and investment groups seek out technologies from universities to commercialize.  Their first avenue of locating these technologies might be searching through university websites.  Most universities have some mention of available technologies.  One problem with this direction is that the list may be incomplete or unimpressive.

Why would this be?  While speaking with Gerard Eldering, President of InnovateTech Ventures and former technology transfer director, he concluded the following:

  • The Technology Transfer Office has not filed patents on the technology yet – The process of preparing a filing a patent application in a TTO can take many months. They may be willing to discuss a technology with you under an NDA, but won’t publish the technology until the patent application is filed.
  • They have not prepared good marketing material on the technology yet – This was the case with all of the technologies I recently looked at. It takes a considerable amount of effort to put together a good marketing package and iterate with the inventor. Many TTOs are understaffed and can get behind on these tasks.
  • They don’t want everyone to know about their best technologies – Yes, you heard me right, they might be holding back. But if they post a high potential technology on their website or a national database, they are going to get calls from all manner of prospective licensees including many unqualified. Furthermore they may have some specific licensing targets they want to approach before putting it out to the broader market.

Therefore, entrepreneurs and investors need to keep this in mind when looking for university technologies. Don’t expect to find the best technologies posted in public view.  Finding these technologies means going beyond a web search at the TTO website.   It may require contacting and establishing a relationship with the TTO.  Another avenue is working with a venture creation firm that already has the relationship established.

Observations from JPMorgan Week

The week of January 11th I had the opportunity to attend the Biotech Showcase in San Francisco during what is commonly called “JPMorgan week”. JPMorgan week is a cluster of life science investing conferences held simultaneously in San Francisco each January. It has become a must-attend week for entrepreneurs and investors involved in life science. It was a fascinating week and I saw many exciting companies and met many interesting people. This month I want to share three observations from JPMorgan week.

As you are aware January has been very bad for U.S. stock markets, and the beginning of the month was extremely bad for the Chinese stock market. In San Francisco I was prepared to have investors tell me that they were going to wait till the markets stabilized before they made more investments. I had several meetings scheduled with Chinese investors and anticipated even greater caution from them. But in fact none of the investors I met with were concerned with the condition of the markets. It gave me confidence that while there may be issues with slowing global growth, the drops in the markets we are seeing in January are not signs of a fundamental problem like back in 2007.

My second observation was that many of the life science startups have some connection to university research. While a number of the companies are actually university spinouts (which we track in Startup.Directory) many other startups which are not technically universities spinouts have some affiliation with one or more U.S. universities. These startups work with universities in a variety of ways including conducting contract research and clinical trials. I think this is a testament to the strength and depth of the U.S. university research community and I’m not sure if university research staff gets sufficient credit for the role they play in supporting startup company innovation.

Finally I was generally impressed by the breadth of innovation represented by the 300 or so companies presenting at Biotech Showcase. Furthermore hundreds of other companies were presenting at other conferences that week and I met executives from even more startups who were attending but not presenting. As I flip through the abstracts it seems like there are multiple companies with diagnostics, devices and therapeutics addressing virtually every major disease and many low occurrence (orphan) diseases and illnesses. Probably the majority of these companies will not succeed, but even if a small percentage of them do deliver a product to market they will, in total, enable dramatic improvements in human health care. So the next time you read an article lamenting the lack of innovation or progress in healthcare or other technology sectors, don’t despair. My time spent at JPMorgan week reassured me that innovation and entrepreneurship in healthcare is alive and well.


Who is Psikick?

In this new technological world, it can be hard to pinpoint companies that are truly revolutionizing the way that we live. One of those companies is Psikick. They are leading what is known as the “batteryless revolution”. Psikick is a startup company formed in 2012 in Charlottesville, Virginia that is quickly growing into a powerhouse of technology.

They have created a chip that will create a massive wireless network through embedded wireless sensors, which can be placed into anything that can be made “smart”, from your coffee maker to your TV remotes. Their technology is based on a technique called subthreshold processing. While their chip is extremely effective, it is through the chips massive power-saving ability that makes it so unique. The Psikick chip uses only 1/100th to 1/1,000th of the power that current sensors use today. With this, there is no need for batteries, as the sensor can be powered by environmental factors such as the heat from your hand, RF, solar and light power, and more.

All From University Technology

All of this massive innovation began with the combination of brain and research power at the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington. Professors at these universities conducted synchronous research on electrical engineering, batteryless foundation, and medical technology to form the backbone of Psikick. When the minds of these universities combined, and shared their knowledge and their technology, Psikick was launched.

All Thanks to Excellent Funding

The growth of Psikick could not have been possible without the funding they have received. As any startup company will tell you, one of the most important and frustrating aspects of the business is finding the money to accomplish what you want to. You can have the idea, but without the money, nothing else will matter.

At Psikick, there are several important backers and investors that have given them the start that they needed. The funding which began at the university level has only grown, with the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan being the dominant investors in the university grouping. The company has won multiple contracts through the Department of Defense. New Enterprise Associates, which is one of the biggest venture capitalist funds, has also given its support to the company. Osage University Partners has thrown in their support leading the last round of $16.5 million in Series B funding in December 2015. This brings the company’s total funding to $22.5 million, giving Psikick a massive start to what is sure to be a successful venture with an innovative product.