We had our first State of the Union a couple weeks ago where we brought together our community of designer founders, mentors and angels to talk about why we exist, what we are, what we’ve done over the past year and what’s next. In the spirit of transparency, we thought we should share some of the highlights for you to see how we’re fulfilling our mission.
Why we exist
We believe the world would be better off if more designers became entrepreneurs going after meaningful problems. Companies like Kickstarter, Airbnb, and Pinterest are showing the potential for designer founders to achieve impact and scale. We want to see more of that happening in domains like energy & the environment, education, creativity & productivity, and food & health.
What we are
We want to explain some context behind our latest value proposition and positioning in the startup ecosystem:
The Designer Fund is an angel fund of designers. Our community gives angel funding, mentorship, and connections to entrepreneurial designers.
We aim to give angel funding to a small group of the best entrepreneurial designers each year, be amazing at 1:1 mentorship and have an awesome rolodex to call whenever someone in our community needs help.
We aren’t an incubator/accelerator that’s a factory for producing dozens of startups at a time. Nor are we a big VC that needs to make huge returns for limited partners. As an angel fund we can be complementary to all investors and flexible by working with the best designers at any stage. Ultimately we’re taking a human centered approach to investing and are on the same side of the table as designers. Our motivation is to make returns so that we can re-invest in the next generation of entrepreneurial designers and keep that positive virtuous cycle going. If we do our job right, we envision a day when all the money that we earn and invest is coming from our community of designers.
How we’ve done
A year ago we were nothing more than an idea. Though we’re just starting out, we’re excited about what we’ve done over the past year -
- 19 Founders - Invested in 19 founders building companies with varying degrees of positive social impact.
- 16 Companies - From seed stage to series A, our young startups are tackling a number of meaningful problems.
- 60 Mentors – Designers backing designers, our mentors are key to the success of our mission.
- 15 Private Events – We ran 15 pair design sessions where we exchanged hands-on advice for those in our community.
- 3 Public Events – Our Designer Fairs had over 500 people in combined attendance and the Women in Design event showcased some of the most talented women in design and technology.
- 1 New Space – Thanks to Foodspotting we now have a home next to AT&T ballpark in San Francisco.
- 1 New Co-Director – We doubled our full-time employee count, bringing on former design lead Ben Blumenfeld as our co-director.
Our 16 companies have seen many great successes. Here are a few of the highlights -
- Angaza Design - Successfully ran a pilot in Tanzania with their initial mobile payment and solar energy prototypes and are now ramping up sales and manufacturing.
- Noun Project – Grown to millions of downloads of their ever growing library of high quality icons and symbols. They’ve also released a series with the UN and shipped a redesign that includes attribution waivers to help compensate designers who contribute.
- Launchpad Toys - Toontastic, their iPad app that enables kids to make their own interactive stories, was inducted into the Apple App Store Hall of Fame and over 1.5 million kids have uploaded self-created comics to their ToonTube.
- Neighborland - After a successfully launching in New Orleans and teammate Candy Chang being awarded as part of the TED Global Prize, they’ve expanded to over 25 cities and closed a seed round with top investors. Read more about Neighborland.
- Solar Mosaic - Crowdfunded over $400,000 in clean energy with their first pilot, closed a Series A, and were awarded a grant for $2 million by the U.S. government . Now they’re releasing the first ever clean energy crowdfunding platform with approval from the SEC. Read more about Solar Mosaic.
What we’re working on
- Designerfund.com - We continue to push weekly changes to our main website including improved navigation, updated blog, people filtering, dynamic photos, totally redone wordpress backend, and more.
- Designer Founders Book – We are hard at work on a book of designer founder interviews we hope will inspire and demystify the path of entrepreneurship for designers. We plan to give this away to every design student in the world. More info at http://designerfounders.com.
- Social Events – We plan to create more opportunities for our community to come together and share best practices, advice, etc.
- Internal Tools – We’re iterating on internal tools that allow us to better invest in the next generation of great designer entrepreneurs.
What we want to improve
- Create a tighter community - With so much time spent finding the best founders, mentors and partners we weren’t able to prioritize building bonds amongst our community. Going forward, we plan to devote lots more energy to cultivating a stronger community with our existing members. We’re interested in designing better ways for them to self organize and collaborate with each other organically.
- Educational Events and Content - As education is core to our mission, we will continue to produce educational events and content to help designers succeed on the path of entrepreneurship. This will require more research and a holistic understanding of the pain points designers are experiencing through startups.
- Tools & Process - As a young organization our tools and process are still getting defined and refined. Our second year should involve much less time setting up systems of communication and more time using and improving them.
- Success Stories - Tighter community, tools, and process should help us cultivate more success stories and show how we directly add and create value with designers and startups we work with. We’ll also improve how we celebrate and distribute these stories.
- Success Metrics - We want to hold ourselves accountable to a high standard and are still honing in on the right success metrics for our organization and how to measure positive social impact. Is it the number of designers we invest in who create businesses with positive social impact? Number of jobs they create? Lives impacted?
We have a huge vision for what designers can do to back each other and affect change in the world. Though this is only the beginning, we are excited about getting more of the design community involved in this movement. As always, please send us your feedback (hello at designerfund.com) so we can continue to improve and better achieve our mission.