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Negroponte on OLPC's Next Steps

I'm at Venture Summit East, listening to Nicholas Negroponte talk about One Laptop Per Child. He said that making it a non-profit company gave him two advantages over making the company a for-profit firm:

1) "I was able to attract better talent than I could have even with stock options."

2) "I could meet with heads of state because I had a mission."

He says that what's been weird about being a non-profit is having a competitive impact on large for-profit firms that make notebook computers.

There's been plenty written about OLPC's issues in the market, but panel moderator Larry Weber of W2 Group noted that Hewlett-Packard just yesterday announced a $200 laptop (actually, sub-$500). So OLPC seems to be driving prices down.

Says Negroponte: "We feel very proud that we've dragged them into doing that." By the same token, "we find ourselves 'competing' -- a funny concept for a non-profit. The World Food Program doesn't compete with McDonald's."

Later, though, Negroponte says OLPC isn't really a competitor to companies like HP. "People don't really want to compete with us â€" they don't want to do the rural parts of Mongolia and Afghanistan, so I get pretty annoyed in the press with some of these situations" â€" a reference to the way OLPC has been dinged in the press for some of its problems.

Then he underscores why OLPC doesn't really compete with big for-profit firms directly. The next markets for OLPC: Haiti, Rwanda and Mongolia.

This makes it look like the kind of social business Muhammad Yunus is talking about (see Summing Up Muhammad Yunus "Creating a World Without Poverty").

We'll see if it can continue to prove the concept.