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Infusing Startups With Ethics That Go Along With Profits

Three efforts to orient both investors and entrepreneurs around ethics, data privacy, and transparency principles are underway.

Race to the Top

The first is an ambitious effort by elements of the U.S. venture-capital industry to find opportunities at the frontiers of privacy, identity and data integrity. The initiative is called Race to the Top: A New Business Paradigm for Identity Data. Organizers are working with investors, entrepreneurs and civil society organizations to write, champion and follow investing principles, measurement tools and company success benchmarks that turn away from the likes of “surveillance capitalism.”

“As venture capitalists, we seek to invest in companies that design for people, manage for trust and accountability, build products that benefit people fairly, and thereby grow sustainably,” reads the draft preamble to the principles document.

The first working roundtable meeting was in May at the MIT Media Lab and a second convened September 13 at the headquarters of Mozilla in Silicon Valley and a third is set for October 24 in Seattle.

As Race to the Top is an initiative of the venture-capital industry, Omidyar Network is helping to support the meetings. The principles, tools and benchmarks are being hashed out. The Information Trust Exchange Governing Association (ITEGA.org) is helping, too. To apply to participate in the process, go to the signup-form page.

Digital Impact

The second effort is underway at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS). Aimed at foundations and civil-society nonprofits, it’s called Digital Impact and the goal is to create a toolkit to help “manage and govern digital data in ways that advance your mission and respect the rights of people you serve …”

Digital Impact is part of Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab headed by Lucy Bernholz, a senior research scholar, and Rob Reich, faculty co-director, both at PACS.

Threshold Venture Fellowship

Finally, Stanford University is also celebrating five years of a program designed to teach budding entrepreneurs ethics. It’s for master’s students in the Stanford engineering school and one of the people helping with it is well-known venture capitalist Heidi Roizen. “Every entrepreneur is going to have their ethics tested, guaranteed,” Roizen told Axios’s Ina Fried in an interview published in Axios’s emailed newsletter.

The program has graduated 60 students, now called Threshold Fellows, Roizen writes in a Medium blog post about the Stanford Technology Ventures Program. In 2010, Roizen was named a Lecturer and Entrepreneurship Educator at Stanford University, where she teaches the course ‘Spirit of Entrepreneurship’ in the MS&E (Engineering) department.

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