VC HAMMER

Maybe it wasn't such an unusual pairing after all.

During the ninth annual Intel Capital CEO Summit held in June in San Francisco's palatial Fairmont Hotel, Intel Capital president Arvind Sodhani introduced a rather unusual keynote speaker to the roughly 600 start-up execs, venture partners and technology firms in attendance.

After touting the historic success of Intel Capital, which since its founding in 1991 has invested more than $7.5 billion (€4.8 billion) and currently boasts the title of the largest venture platform of any US corporation, Sodhani reportedly concluded: “In other words, you can't touch this.”

On cue, early 1990s rap star MC Hammer leapt on stage, telling Sodhani “that's my line” in a jokey reference to his 1990 smash-hit single, “U Can't Touch This.”

The appearance of Hammer, born Stanley Kirk Burrell, must have surprised many in the audience, despite Intel's penchant for tapping unconventional guest speakers for its conferences (the following day, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa was the main attraction).

But in many respects Burrell, who famously lost nearly all of his personal fortune in a high-profile bankruptcy in 1996, might have been the perfect choice to address an industry known for making millionaires overnight, some of whom end up losing their riches just as quickly.

Instead of harping on the perils of fame and fortune, however, Burrell focused his speech on imploring those in attendance to remember the social obligations of the business community and of chief executives in particular.

“It was really where rich media, entertainment, community, where all those roads meet,” Burrell told PEI. “It was a very detailed keynote that kind of took the overall perspective of how one CEO can be the nerve centre of a community.”

Burrell also used the hour-long speech to promote his own foray into the venture world – DanceJam.com, a social and professional networking site for hip-hop dancers.

Backed in part by Los Angeles-based early-stage and growth venture firm Rustic Canyon Partners, DanceJam.com allows users to upload video clips showcasing their best dance moves for viewers to judge and rate.

The Oakland, California native says the idea for DanceJam originated from his plan to release an album featuring 10 songs geared towards 10 different regional styles of dance – from San Francisco Bay Area “hyphy” to Southern “crunk” to West Coast “cha-cha”.

“I've always had in my mind a model utilising the latest tools to approach the music business from a new perspective,” Burrell says. “It was too much to ask each [radio] programmer to find the right song for the right region. So I said, let me create a community around these songs.”

Burrell hopes DanceJam will evolve into a “Wikipedia of dance”, where web surfers eager to pick up the latest dance trends can browse videos tagged according to style and where aspiring dancers can display their talent online for professional and social networking.

Launched in March this year, the site has several user-friendly and entertaining features, including “dance battles” where viewers are asked to rate two user-generated dance videos pitted head-to-head.

After demonstrating DanceJam on stage at the Intel dinner, Burrell then treated the audience to a performance of “Too Legit to Quit”, another of his early 90s chart-topping singles.

At which point, several audience members joined him onstage as impromptu back-up dancers, including Intel chief executive Paul Otellini (see picture above).

Asked if he felt any sense of irony speaking to a group that likely included several future overnight millionaires, Burrell said he viewed the keynote speech as an irony-free platform to address his colleagues in the venture world.

“I felt right at home,” he says. “I felt like I was speaking to my equals in creativity and business because these are men who all the time start companies that sometimes work, and sometimes don't.”