Six Leaps of Innovation

Lots of change out there. New Web widgets, new biotech, new eco-friendly dirt bikes that can jump over your head. Here's a rundown of what and whom to keep an eye on in 2008. Photographs by Michael Lewis for Fortune.

Josh Kopelman, FirstRound Capital
5. Small-scale VC
Josh Kopelman, FirstRound Capital
West Conshohocken, Pa.

Kopelman has managed to put himself at the center of nearly every hot trend in Silicon Valley - quite a trick for a venture capitalist who spends half his time in the technological backwater of suburban Philadelphia (a venue, he says, that helps him maintain some perspective on the dot-com business). He is best known for having founded Half.com, the online marketplace for secondhand books that eBay bought in 2000 for $350 million.

His new company, FirstRound, makes relatively small commitments to entrepreneurs with big ideas - usually in the $250,000 to $750,000 range, which is generally too small and risky for Sand Hill Road - and sticks with them long enough to determine which business plans will work and which should be taken out back and shot.

In fact, FirstRound may prove to be a sign of things to come. Tech startups, especially in software, don't need as much cash to get rolling these days. Since Kopelman's firm is relatively small, investing smaller amounts can still generate meaningful returns -- something the larger firms are struggling with. More important than all that, however, is Kopelman's knack for picking winners. FirstRound was the first VC to invest in StumbleUpon (a recommendation engine bought by eBay for $75 million), Voicestar (phone-to-web system; Marchex; $28 million), and Snapcentric (digital security; Verisign; $12 million). Among his other investments: LinkedIn, del.icio.us, Eventful, Yapta, Krugle, IronPort, Ugobe, VideoEgg, and Wikia. Watch them.
Last updated December 27 2007: 9:36 AM ET

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