and who needs a bank?

image Person to person micro finance is a trend that is definitely catching on. One site that is getting a lot of attention is It connects borrowers with lenders, and is rapidly becoming a viable source of seed capital for startups and small businesses.

Previously, we have written about Kiva, the P2P micro finance system that is all the rage now.

imageThe system works like a reverse auction. A borrower posts a listing for the amount that they’re interested in borrowing, the time that they need the money for, and the maximum interest rate that they are willing to pay.

Lenders bid the amount that they’re willing to lend along with the interest rate. At the end of the auction the lowest bids are accepted and combined into a single loan.

The point to note is that the lender is not really lending the money. The borrower is actually getting the loan from In turn Prosper is selling the loanto the lender. microfinance loan for startups small business

The site charges only when funding is closed. Fees for the borrower range from 1% to 3% of the loan (or $25, whichever is greater) depending upon the riskiness of the loan. On the lender’s side, there is a 0% to 1% loan origination fee depending upon the credit worthiness of the borrower.

While the trend of micro-financing is pretty small for now, in time the banks will wake up and start to notice. Banks have long enjoyed having captive clients to whom they have extended personal loans, lines of credit and a host of other financial services. They’re not going to be happy to see novice lenders cut into their main business.

Lenders on the site are even allowed to set up their own loan portfolios depending upon the amount of risk they are willing to take, with loans ranging from Conservative (estimated return of 7%) to the highly aggressive loan (which nets 10%). All of a sudden individual investors are beginning to look like institutions where they’re able to decide whether they want to be Wellsfargo or Washington Mutual.

Buzznet acquires music social network Qloud

image Buzznet, a Los Angeles based company has bought the music sharing social media company Qloud.

Qloud’s application embedded in social networks such as Friendster and Facebook, allows users to download unlimited amounts of free music.  Furthermore, members can discover and share music with each other. Qloud has been funded by Steve Case and several well-known music industry veterans.

image Buzznet is a multimedia social network where users generate content around their favorite singers and bands.  In the social network, members, photos and videos get "buzzed" (rated) and rise up the popularity charts. The site gets about 4 million visitors a month and carries content submitted by a million users.

Qloud’s MyMusic application on Facebook has 1.8 million users. The offerings of the two sites are clearly complementary ,and cater to the teen and twenty-something demographic.

Buzznet is rumored to be raising a further $25 million in funding, according to PaidContent, on top of the $6 million in Series B raised last year.

Organovo: Creating organs might be as easy as printing!

Organovo, a life sciences startup, recently succeeded in "printing" chicken heart cells in a petri dish, that resulted in tissue that actually beat, in the way a real heart would!

organovo organ printing Organovo, is in the process of bringing to market a pioneering 3D tissue engineering process that promises to revolutionize the testing of pharmaceutical drugs and eventually provide a means to build organs for transplantation.

Pharmaceutical companies typically test promising new drugs on animals before undertaking expensive human testing. Often enough, side effects emerge in humans that were not present during the animal trials. Not surprisingly, this process is lengthy and costs pharmaceutical companies millions. Consequently many drugs never reach the consumer market. Also, each year, the number of patients awaiting organ transplantation continues to grow and there is an acute shortage of available human organs.

Funded by an NSF grant, Gabor Forgacs, a biophysics researcher and his team at the University of Missouri-Columbia have, over the last four years, perfected a technique of "printing" 3D tissue structures that represent a first step in addressing these problems.

image In their study, using a printer that extrudes "bio-ink" cells through a micropipette, the researchers at MU printed particles of chicken heart cells onto large sheets of cell friendly gel. Heart cells have to synchronize in order for the heart ot beat properly and when first printed they did not beat in unison. In time, some 19 hours later, the cells had sorted and fused the tissue structure and started to beat just as a heart would. Remarkably the cells knew what to do to build a beating chicken heart in a petrie dish.

This bio-printing technique is faster and cheaper than other tissue engineering techniques that rely on building a "scaffold" of the desired shape and then seeding it with cells that grow for weeks. Despite the early success of this research, the researchers are many years away from printing organs on demand. The greater and more immediate promise of this technology is the ability to build 3D tissue structures for realistic drug trials that forgoes human and animal testing.


Image courtesy Wired. The top two images show magnified views of the bio-ink cartridge, while the bottom images show newly printed bio-ink blots (left) on bio-paper, and their fusion into a circle (right) within about three days

Technorati Tags: organovo,bio-engineering,bio-printing

Leverage: Ending gift card clutter!

leverage virtual wallet logo Do you have some gift cards from the holidays taking up space in your wallet? Wouldn’t it be nice to exchange those Gap cards for Nordstrom?

Leverage, an Irvine based start up affords its users an opportunity to purchase and track cards from hundreds of national retailers in one place. Unlike other gift card sites, Leverage’s business model is unique. Rather than paying extra for the privilege of purchasing a card, consumers collect interest on card balances on account. At a time when most cards go unredeemed and sites charge a premium to buy gift cards online, Leverage’s free approach is refreshing and makes a great deal of sense for gift card holders. Moreover, since cards are tracked electronically all in one spot, it helps in cases where a physical card is lost, gift card balances need to be checked, and it removes the need to hunt for all that plastic (especially when shopping online).

Once registered, unwanted gift cards can then be swapped with other users in the Leverage community. Members get full value in the exchange and Leverage does not charge a fee for the service - all of the other places you can swap or sell a card do charge fees.

The Leverage "virtual wallet" goes further in tracking loyalty programs such as frequent flier programs of major airlines, hotel stays, rental cars, etc. At a glance, a member can determine loyalty point totals from various programs rather than having to log on to each airline/hotel site separately, remember usernames and passwords, etc. How many of us can attest to losing frequent flier miles to expiration? Tracking loyalty points on Leverage provides full visibility and increases the chance that they will actually be redeemed for awards.

leverage virtual wallet

Additionally, Leverage offers consumers a way to receive specific, targeted offers and coupons. Leverage will anonymously combine the information gained from activity on the site with profile, gift card, and loyalty program information to “pull” offers to you from retailers and manufacturers. Such messages would only be delivered to members when they are in the mood for them rather than interrupting you with email (in other words, you see you pulled offers only when you log into your Leverage account). The Leverage user would essentially decide what messages they’d rather hear about; for example a 30% off in-store coupon at Borders, or a sale announcement at the exact online apparel store that they are holding a $50 gift card to in their Leverage wallet.

Additionally, with their Transparent-Targeting mechanism, Leverage provides members with the exact targeting rationales from the retailer for each offer that gets pulled. For instance, a communication from a retailer might be target you and let you know that "you received this offer because you’re a 25-40 year old female, holding at least $48 worth of our gift cards and you indicated an interest in fashion". This is all done anonymously and members would also be able to exercise full control by "dialing up or down the volume" to get more or less messaging from the retailer or the specific category.

This control and feedback, unprecedented in the industry, enables a member to anonymously ask for relevant information and for retailers to target their messages to a motivated consumer.

All in all, Leverage offers a unique approach to a sticky problem; that of purchasing and keeping track of gift cards and loyalty programs. It offers retailers targeting messaging and consumers with an ability to control what they want to see and hear about.

Contributed by Rabinder Sekhon, Sekhon Advisors

Technorati Tags: leverage,virtual wallet,gift cards

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