Pubcon Liveblog: Jason Calacanis on Startups that Save the World

Jason Calacanis is an angel investor who has invested in companies including Uber, ChartBeat, Whisper, SignPost and Thumbtack. He invests $10 million a year. He meets with 15 companies a week. He’s currently focusing a lot of his effort into, a news curation service.

“I spend a lot of my time thinking bigger,” Calacanis says. “And a lot of that has to do with watching Google say ‘I have absolutely no limit to my ambition.’ I spend a lot of time meeting with startups and founders … And that puts me in a unique position to be optimistic and opportunistic.”

Jason Calacanis at Pubcon
Jason Calacanis delivering his Pubcon keynote address

Calacanis’s keynote is unique – it’s not tactical or strategy-driven. It’s steeped in reality and meant to simply inspire and inform the audience of the amazing progress that startups and forward-thinking companies are bringing to the world in the areas of six global problems.

Startups, he asserts, will solve our world’s problems rather than governments. His keynote, which is meant to inspire us, will cover major advances by tech and startup companies.

“A lot of the stuff in science fiction is becoming our reality today. You can see it in the pace in which we have to respond in our industry. Amazing opportunities are coming our way … We are at the safest, wealthiest and most optimistic time in the history of our planet and species,” Calacanis shares.

Startups Save the World

Global Problem #1: Cancer

Cancer is the second most common killer of Americans after heart disease. In 2014, 585,000 Americans will die from cancer and 1.6 million new cases will be diagnosed.

  • COTA (Cancer Outcomes Tracking and Analysis): Allows doctors to look at big data associated with cancer – this data helps them know what’s causing the cancer and how to treat it more effectively. This generation might be the last generation to see cancer as a fatal disease.
  • D-Wave Systems: Looks at DNA and creates custom solutions for patients. It’s twenty years away.
  • Immunophotonics: Labels the cancerous cells in your body and creates a virus to kill those cells.

Global Problem #2: Climate Change

Humans are causing extra warming in ocean, land and atmosphere. Rising sea levels are disrupting farming and food, species migration and extinction. Current emissions rate will yield dangerous temper rises by 2100.

  • Oroeco: Will create plants that take more carbon out of the atmosphere than the plants that exist today. Currently, Oroeco has created a tobacco plant that glows in the dark by gene sequence modification.
  • Global Forest Watch: Crowd source techniques mapping every square mile of the planet’s forest and the forest density – then we’ll know in real time when people are destroying the forest and where we need to plant more trees.

Global Problem #3: Energy

Germany had a number of days last year where more than 50% of their energy came from renewable energy. Calacanis is not nervous about energy. Nuclear energy is hundreds of time safer than coal energy. France is 90% nuclear energy.

  • Nest: Learning algo and customization can help us use less energy.
  • Opower: Realtime app for looking at use of energy in your home, your city, your appliances, by room – it will be built into your outlets. The algo will know the energy patterns of each appliance.
  • SolarCity: Stores solar power in your batteries.

Global Problem #4: Hunger

One in nine humans goes to bed hungry every night. One in six Americans is food insecure. We will need 70 percent more food by 2060.

  • Bitty Foods: creating cookies made with cricket flour – flours made from ground up crickets. The crickets create a protein-based flour that is sustainable and less costly.
  • Hampton Creek Foods: Fake eggs – when you mix into a cookie or baked good, you can’t tell the difference.
  • Food Cowboy: Matches people that need food with people throwing food away.

Global Problem #5: Jobs

There is a perception that there will always be jobs – it’s not true. The technology has caused the eradication of a lot of jobs. The efficiency of the American work is extraordinary today and jobs are going away. Occupy Wall Street was a moment of civil unrest.

  • Airbnb: People in NYC are renting their apartments for $100-$300 dollars a night and making a ton of money. We have changed as a society. Hotel stays would have cost much more in the nineties – now you get jet off to Japan and not even worry about where you’re staying – there will be an Airbnb nearby.
  • Uber: People are moving to cities with Uber, Lyft and Sidecar because the drivers are netting $20 or $30 an hour – well above the minimum wage. Calacanis recently rode with a driver who moved to San Francisco from Atlanta to get a job with Uber to raise money for his family. He’d been out of work and he saw Uber as the solution to his family’s troubles. He’s calculated he’ll be out of debt in six months, and move back home. Moral of the story? These jobs are saving people who can’t get work.
  • Thumbtack: You type what you want (anything from design to tennis instruction), they send the request in detail to a bunch of freelancers, and you can buy their services. There are people on their platform that are making significant amounts of money through their talents.

Global Problem #6: Repression

More than 1.6 billion people in the world have no say in how they are governed. Citizens asserting rights suffer harassment and persecution without recourse. In 2012, one in six people lived in countries without free press.

  • Twitter, Facebook and YouTube: It’s the new Amnesty International – people take to Twitter and let people know when injustices are occurring. You can’t hide your bad behavior when it’s broadcast publicly for millions by citizens. Government can’t ignore it when we all know about it.

Jason Calacanis’s Final Thoughts

“I am in shock over how many things that needed to change have, in fact, changed. It’s an amazing time for entrepreneurs.”

  • Dare to be great.
  • Do big things.
  • Think even bigger.

“Our work is hard, but it’s lifting the world up.”

Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (2)
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2 Replies to “Pubcon Liveblog: Jason Calacanis on Startups that Save the World”

Kristi –

Hello! My name is Jim Inman, and I am the Director of Marketing for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA). Your article popped up in one of our media alerts, and I wanted to address an inaccuracy in the article.

We are listed under “Cancer.” This is not where our mission falls. COTA was organized to assist children and young adults needing life-saving transplants. As of October 2014 we have assisted more than 2,200 patients across the United States, and raised more than $75M to assist with transplant-related expenses – and 100% of funds raised for COTA in honor of our patients go toward transplant-related expenses.

I would invite you and your readers to learn more about COTA by visiting our website – You may also follow us on Facebook and read about our COTA kids and their second chances at life –

Thank you!

Jim Inman
Director of Marketing
Children’s Organ Transplant Association

Hi Jim,

The COTA in this article was meant to refer to “Cancer Outcomes Tracking and Analysis.” “Children’s Organ Transplant Association” was added in an honest editing mistake. The article has now been updated accordingly. Thank you for bringing this error to our attention :) In any event, I’m glad to know of your organization, as well — it sounds like the Children’s Organ Transplant Association does wonderful things!



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