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Forage, formerly InsideSherpa, raises $9.3 million Series A for virtual work experiences

Tech’s coveted internships were some of the first roles to be cut as offices closed and businesses shuttered in response to the coronavirus. A number of companies across the country, including Glassdoor, StubHub, Funding Circle, Yelp, Checkr and even the National Institutes of Health, canceled their internship programs altogether.

For InsideSherpa co-founders Tom Brunskill and Pasha Rayan, the canceled internships were an opportunity. InsideSherpa, a Y Combinator graduate, hosts virtual work experience programs for college students all around the world.

College students, searching for a way to get job-ready, flocked to the platform from Northern Italy to South-East Asia, to all over the United States. Enrollments in InsideSherpa grew more than 86%, up to 1 million students.

The educational service successfully attracted student interest, and now, has landed investor interest. Today, InsideSherpa announced that it raised $9.3 million in Series A funding, led by Lightspeed Venture Partners . The startup has now raised $11.6 million in known venture funding. Other investors include FundersClub, Y Combinator and Arizona State University.

The financing will be used to grow InsideSherpa’s staff, with more engineering, product and sales roles. Along with the financing, InsideSherpa announced that it has rebranded to Forage.

Forage isn’t selling an internship replacement, but instead comes in one degree before the recruitment process. Students can go to the website and take a course from large companies such as Deloittee, Citi, BCG and GE. The course, designed in collaboration with the particular company and Forage, gives students a chance to “explore what a career would look like at their firm before the internship or entry-level application process opens,” Brunskill explains.

Forage is focused on partnering with large companies that employ upwards of 1,000 students per year via internships to help open up new pipelines. The corporate partners pay a subscription fee per year to post courses, and students can access all courses for free.

Popular courses include the KPMG Data Analytics Program, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Software Engineering Program and the Microsoft Engineering Program.

While Forage declined to disclose ARR, it confirmed that it was profitable heading into its fundraise, which formally closed in July.

Within edtech, flocks of companies have tried (and failed) to deliver on the promise of skills-based learning and employment opportunities as an outcome. The strategy of getting cozy with corporate partners isn’t unique to Forage, but the team views it as a competitive advantage. Of course, the effectiveness of that strategy matters more than the fact that it exists in the first place. Forage did not disclose efficacy information, but said that “some” corporate partners hired up to 52% of the cohort from their programs.

When Brunskill and Rayan first started Forage in 2017, they imagined a mentoring marketplace to connect students to young professionals. Three years later, much has changed.

“While students were interested in the product, they weren’t using it the way we intended,” he said. “Students kept saying to us ‘we just want an internship at company X, can you get me one?’ ”

While Brunskill doesn’t believe there’s any silver bullet solution to fixing education or recruitment systems, he remains optimistic in Forage’s future. After all, even if democratizing access to skills is the first step in a bigger race, it’s not an easy one.

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Unicorn layoffs prompt more startups to consider acqui-hiring

Alex Zajaczkowski was just months into her role at Toast, a restaurant point-of-sale software company, when she was let go during COVID-19 layoffs. Toast, last valued at $5 billion, cut 50% of its staff through layoffs and furloughs.

Zajaczkowski said she started applying for jobs within a week.

“I think I got on the boat a little bit quicker than others because I wanted that security a little bit faster,” she said. She and former Toast colleagues formed a Slack to communicate about layoffs, their job searches and what lay ahead. Toast created an opt-in spreadsheet for recruiters that listed laid-off employees.

The sheet brought Zajaczkowski to Stavvy, an online mortgage startup also based in Boston, for an interview. Today, a majority of Stavvy’s team are ex-Toasters, including Zajaczkowski.

“I think one of the benefits of recruiting from an organization that is sort of an iconic Boston company, is that you know what the hiring practices are,” Ligris said. “There’s been a level of vetting that has occurred.”

Stavvy’s onboarding of former Toast employees suggests that the layoffs which rocked startups in March could be an opportunity for smaller startups to scoop up star talent that already has chemistry. While acqui-hiring is not a new concept, it has new weight in an environment reeling from mass layoffs and a shift to remote-first work.

Stavvy co-founders Kosta Ligris and Josh Feinblum, though, say hiring a pod of employees can backfire without proper diligence.

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The H-1B visa ban is creating nearshore business partnership opportunities

In June, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending work visas for H-1B holders, which includes skilled workers like software developers.

Considering that 71% of workers in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs are international, the order poses a number of logistical and business challenges for startups.

While nearshoring was an option before the virus struck, the urgency to nearshore due to the visa ban, combined with the remote revolution taking place, has meant companies are reconsidering it as a solution. As a result, the suspension presents an opportunity for companies to bring on board software development capabilities from abroad.

Nearshoring is a way to hire teams in locations that share similar time zones and are easily accessible. Nearshoring also enables U.S. companies to utilize services from close locations, where the talent, working conditions, and salaries are more favorable. In fact, it can save businesses up to 80% on costs, while providing employees with flexibility, autonomy and better career development pathways.

Not only is nearshoring a pragmatic response to the visa ban, it has the potential to be a long-term hiring alternative for businesses. Here’s how:

Laying the groundwork for remote teams

Amid the pandemic, demand for developers has remained high, no doubt due to companies needing teams to build, maintain and optimize digital platforms as they transition to online services. The visa ban means that businesses in foreign markets can help meet such demand, particularly as tech talent from other countries comes with a fresh, different skill set that empowers companies to solve problems in new ways.

In the past, moving to the U.S. and living the American Dream oriented many foreign businesses’ professional paths. However, the trend has changed. The appeal of the United States was slipping prior to the virus — it ranked 46th out of 66 for “perceived friendliest to expats” — and post-COVID-19 may be even more detrimental.

In a more connected world, businesses and individuals can reap the benefits of U.S. opportunities — top technology stack, access to exciting companies and world-class research — without having to actually live in the country. In this respect, nearshoring means foreign teams have the best of both worlds: the comfort of home and ties to an international powerhouse.

The remote shift is demonstrating that teams can function well at a distance; some studies have even revealed that employee productivity and happiness benefit from remote work. In the global remote shift, nearshoring is being seen as an accepted and advantageous model. Companies that opt to nearshore in response to the visa ban can take advantage of the changing tides and use this time to lay the groundwork for best practices within remote teams. For instance, by devising policies for things like communication, tracking progress, vacation and development plans according to the new conditions and specific mission statements. As a result, businesses can seamlessly build professional partnerships.

Another advantage of nearshoring is that the flexible teams contribute to a ready-to-scale model for startups. By having development partners located in different countries, companies can network on a wider level and grow faster among local markets. Rather than start from scratch when expanding, nearshoring gives companies a presence — no matter how small — across regions, which can later be built upon.

Attracting fresh investment

Similar to having a readiness to scale, the H-1B visa suspension positions nearshoring as a viable way to strategically partner with foreign development studios. In contrast to offshoring, nearshored businesses are often more vested in the projects they work on because they share time zones and are thus able to work more closely and with greater agility. Within startups, such agility is essential to continuously test, iterate and pivot products or services. Outsourced teams often have defined outputs to achieve, while freelancers are split across several projects, so aren’t completely ingrained in companies’ visions.

With nearshoring, startups can target partners that have experience in a particular area of business or with a specific tech feature and accelerate their time to market. Instead of building systems from zero, they can launch into version 2.0 because the wider choice of experts means there’s a higher chance of partnering with teams who already understand how the industry functions. Nearshore partners also have vast knowledge across industrial fields at a level that is impossible for direct hires to have. Companies therefore don’t have to tackle the difficulty of curating a great team, because nearshore partners are an already solid pairing.

When it comes to funding, this synchronicity, agility and preparedness indicates that a startup has momentum. For investors, nearshoring shows that the company has on-the-ground insights about potential markets to disrupt, and that the business model can thrive using remote teams. As the world braces itself to go fully digital, startups that have already adopted remote processes that catalyze growth will no doubt catch the attention of investors.

Promoting greater diversity in teams

Latin America is a clear choice for U.S. businesses looking to nearshore. The region’s proximity, increasing internet penetration, and impressive number of highly skilled developers are all a significant draw.

It’s also worth noting that diversity plays a core role in nearshoring. Currently within tech, Hispanic workers are noticeably underrepresented, making up a mere 16.7% of jobs. Despite the physical distance, nearshoring in Latin America can bring people from different social and economic backgrounds into companies, boosting their visibility in industries as a whole, and setting a firm foundation for equality.

Studies also show that diversity influences creativity among teams, as well as increases company revenue.

Moreover, nearshoring accelerates diversity in a manner that isn’t disruptive. Foreign team members don’t have to sacrifice their home, friends and family to further their professional career. Relocating to the U.S. can be daunting for people who haven’t previously worked abroad, especially when factoring the change in living costs and new culture norms. Nearshoring means teams can work from locations they’re familiar with, so need less time to get up to speed on business processes. They additionally have the emotional support of their social circles nearby, which in the current climate is important for employees’ personal and professional wellbeing.

Leveraging the right partnership

Research is key to successfully find a nearshore company, and startups don’t always have the time and resources to conduct an in-depth analysis of locations and their ecosystems. The most practical manner to nearshore the right talent is with a nearshoring partner that is responsible for scouting, vetting and communicating with foreign developers.

To find an appropriate partner, ensure that they have previous experience in your industry and positive testimonials from startups in your location. They should also have a clear presence in the regions they operate in; try checking online for their press releases, events they sponsor and general content that validates they are active and respected.

Once you’ve found an appropriate nearshore partner, rely on them to know what teams in your preferred locations need in terms of culture. Nearshore partners will essentially be your development partner — you can leverage them to be your whole Research and Development department. They can guide you on the tech side of your business, advise you on the right team at the right time, give you direction on stack and methodology, and curate the right environment for the team to be productive. In contrast, hiring freelancers comes with risks because you won’t necessarily know the specific needs of the location they’re in. Be aware — if there’s a cultural disconnect, you risk not finding a partner, but a vendor that’s buying into a superficial version of your startup, as opposed to your real startup vision.

Once you’ve settled on a well-fitting nearshoring partner, ensure you have detailed contracts with all team members, as well as nondisclosure agreements. Nearshoring requires a level of mutual trust, however, at such an early stage of your company’s lifecycle, you need to know that your processes and data will not be revealed to competitors. Check that your nearshore partner’s financial status is secure and sufficient for a long-term model. Correspondingly, service level agreements will set the parameters for job responsibilities and deliverables. After all the formalities are covered, you can focus on curating fruitful, long-term relationships.

Acclimatizing in the new normal

The COVID-19 crisis has made recruitment a remote-dominated sphere. Traditional modes of hiring are being reassessed, and companies are realizing that teams don’t have to be in an office to be productive. In fact, not having to cover visa and administration fees for foreign employees is much more cost-effective for companies.

As time passes and businesses develop habits best-suited to remote work, nearshoring will become increasingly popular. People are prioritizing joining teams where their career development, well-being and ethics are protected, all of which nearshoring can offer with the added benefit of not completely upheaving workers’ lives.

Startups who embrace nearshoring early on could find themselves competing with top tech firms that struggle because of recruiting limitations. With the end of the pandemic unknown, and thus no hard deadline for the visa ban, tech companies have to look at alternative modes of building teams. Startups have the advantage of revising their remote product development approach without disturbing workflows too severely. They are also known for pioneering fairer and more innovative workplaces that are enticing for a broader scope of employees.

Nearshoring is mutually beneficial because developers don’t have to give up their culture for a great employment opportunity, and businesses can reap the benefits of diversification. Ultimately, the H-1B visa suspension could stimulate true globalization in tech, where companies can achieve their best performance using global resources.

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What does accountability look like in 2020?

“What happens after a company gets called out?” he asked over the phone. “Do you know what happens to the people in-house that come forward?”

I didn’t.

A Black male engineer at a fashion tech company who wished to remain anonymous was telling me how he’d been passed over for promotions white counterparts later received after they’d pursued risky and unsuccessful projects. At one point, he said management tasked him with doing recon on a superior who made disparaging comments about women because his subordinates were uncomfortable reporting it directly to HR.

When human resources eventually took up the matter, the engineer said his participation was used against him.

More recently, his company brought furloughed employees back and managers promoted a younger, white subordinate over him. When he asked about the move, his direct supervisor said he was too aggressive and needed to be more of a role model to be considered in the future.

In the absence of industry leadership, there’s no blueprint to remedy institutional problems like these. The lack of substantial progress toward true representation, diversity and inclusion across several industries illustrates what hasn’t worked.

Audrey Gelman, former CEO of women-focused co-working/community space The Wing, stepped down in June following a virtual employee walkout. Three months earlier, a New York Times exposé interviewed 26 former and current employees there who described systemic discrimination and mistreatment. At the time, about 40% of its executive staff consisted of women of color, the article reported.

Within days, Refinery29’s EIC Christene Barberich also resigned after allegations of racism, bullying and leadership abuses surfaced with hashtag #BlackatR29.

In December 2019, The Verge reported allegations of a toxic work environment at Away under CEO Steph Korey. After a series of updates and corrections in reporting, it seemed she would be stepping away from her role or accelerating an existing plan for a new CEO to take over. But the following month, she returned to the company as co-CEO, sharing the statement: “Frankly, we let some inaccurate reporting influence the timeline of a transition plan that we had.”

Last month, after Korey posted a series of Instagram stories that negatively characterized her media coverage, the company again announced she would step down.

Bon Appétit former editor-in-chief Adam Rapaport resigned his position the same month after news broke that the cooking brand didn’t prioritize representation in its content or hiring, failed to pay women of color equally and freelance writer Tammie Teclemariam shared a 2013 photo of Rappaport in brown face.

In a public apology, staffs of Bon Appétit and Epicurious acknowledged that they had “been complicit with a culture we don’t agree with and are committed to change.”

Removing one problematic employee doesn’t upend company culture or help someone who’s been denied an opportunity. But with so much at stake when it comes to employing Instagram-ready branding, the lane is wide open for companies to meet the moment when it comes to doing the right thing.

A 2017 report by the Ascend Foundation found few Asian, Black and Latinx people were represented in leadership pipelines, and at that point, the numbers were actually getting worse. Seemingly, in an effort for transparency and accountability to do better, 17 tech companies shared diversity statistics and their plans to improve with Business Insider in June 2020. The numbers were staggering, especially for an initiative supposedly prioritized industry-wide in 2014:

Underrepresented minorities like Black and Latinx people still only make up single-digit percentages of the workforce at many major tech companies. When you look at the leadership statistics, the numbers are even bleaker.

While tech’s shortcomings show up clearly in a longstanding lack of diversity, companies in other industries polished their brands sufficiently to skate by — until COVID-19 and the call for racial justice after George Floyd’s murder called for lasting change.

In June, Adidas employees protested outside the company’s U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon and shared stories about internal racism. Just a year ago, The New York Times interviewed current and former employees about “the company’s predominantly white leadership struggling with issues of race and discrimination.”

In 2000, an Adidas employee filed a federal discrimination suit alleging that his supervisor called him a “monkey” and described his output as “monkey work.” When spokesperson Kanye West said in 2018 that he believed slavery was a choice, CEO Kasper Rorsted discussed his positive financial impact on the brand and avoided commenting on West’s statement.

In response to the internal turmoil at Adidas, the brand originally pledged to invest $20 million into Black communities in the U.S. over the next four years, increasing it to $120 million and releasing an outline of what they plan to do internally, Footwear News reported.

On June 30, Karen Parkin stepped down from her role as Adidas’ global head of HR in mutual agreement with the brand. In an all-employee meeting in August 2019, she reportedly described concerns about racism as “noise” that only Americans deal with. She’d been with the brand for 23 years.

Routinely protecting employees perceived as racist, misogynistic or abusive is bad for business. According to a 2017 “tech leavers” study conducted by the Kapor Center, employee turnover and its associated costs set the tech industry back $16 billion.

POC experience-centered social and wellness club Ethel’s Club invested into its community’s well-being and has not only managed to stay open (virtually) through the COVID-19 pandemic, it has managed to grow. Meanwhile, The Wing lost 95% of its business.

So, what really happens after the companies are called out? Often, the bare minimum. While the perpetrators of the injustice may endure backlash, abusers in corporate structures are often shifted into other roles.

Tiffany Wines, a former social media and editorial staffer at media/entertainment company Complex, posted an open letter to Twitter on June 19 alleging that Black women at the outlet were mistreated, sharing a story in which she claimed to have ingested marijuana brownies left in an office that was billed as a drug-free environment. Wines said she blacked out and accused superiors of covering up the incident after she reported it.

Her decision to speak up prompted other former employees to share stories alleging misogyny, racism, sexual assault and protection of abusers. One anonymous editor said she was asked if she would be comfortable with a workplace that had a “locker room culture” during a 2010 interview. (She did not end up working there.)

Complex Media Group put out a statement four days later on its corporate Twitter account, which had approximately 100 followers — as opposed to its main account, which has 2.3 million followers.

“We believe Complex Networks is a great place to work, but it is by no means perfect,” read the statement. “It’s our passion for our brands, communities, colleagues, and the belief that a safe and inclusive workplace should be the expectation for everyone.” It went on to state that they’ve taken immediate action, but it’s unclear if anyone has been terminated. [Complex is co-owned by Verizon Media, TechCrunch’s parent company.]

Members of the fashion community have formed multiple groups to combat systemic racism, establish accountability and advance Black people in the industry.

Set to launch in July 2020, The Black In Fashion Council, founded by Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner and fashion publicist Sandrine Charles, works to advance Black individuals in fashion and beauty.

The Kelly Initiative is comprised of 250 Black fashion professionals hoping to blaze equitable inroads, and they’ve publicly addressed the Council of Fashion Designers of America in a letter accusing them of “exploitative cultures of prejudice, tokenism and employment discrimination to thrive.”

Co-founders of True To Size, Jazerai Allen-Lord and Mazin Melegy, an extension of the New York-based branding agency Crush & Lovely, started offering their Check The Fit solutions to the brands they were working with in 2019. The initiative is an audit process created to align in-house teams and ensure sufficient representation is in place for brands’ storytelling.

Check The Fit determines who the consumer is, what the internal team’s history is with that demographic and the message they’re trying to communicate to them, and how the team engage’s with that subject matter in everyday life and in the office. Melegy says, “that look inward is a step that is overlooked almost everywhere.”

“At most companies, we’ve seen a lack of coherence within the organization, because each department’s director is approaching the problem from a siloed perspective. We were able to bring 15 leaders across departments together, distill through a list of concerns, find points of leverage and agree on a common goal. It was noted that it was the first time they were able to feel unified in their mission and felt prepared to move forward,” Lord says of their work with Reebok last year.

Brooklyn-based retailer Aurora James established the 15 Percent Pledge campaign, which urges retailers to have merchandise that reflects today’s demographics: 15% of the population should represent 15% of the shelves.

During the melee that transpired largely on Twitter and Instagram only to attempt to be reconciled in boardrooms, one Condé Nast employee and ally has been suspended. On June 12, Bon Appétit video editor Matt Hunziker tweeted, “Why would we hire someone who’s not racist when we could simply [checks industry handbook] uhh hire a racist and provide them with anti-racism training…” As his colleagues shared an outpouring of support online, a Condé Nast representative said in a statement, “There have been many concerns raised about Matt that the company is obligated to investigate and he has been suspended until we reach a resolution.”

Simply reading through accusers’ first-person accounts, it often seems like these stories end up on public forums because little to nothing is done in favor of the people who step forward. The protection has consistently been of the company.

The Black engineer I spoke to escalated his concerns to his company’s CEO and said the executive was unaware of the allegations and seemed deeply concerned.

Seeing someone who seemed genuinely invested in doing the right thing “obviously, means a lot,” he said.

“But at the same time, I’m still really concerned knowing the broader environment of the company, and it’s never just one person.”

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How European seed firm Connect Ventures finds ‘product-first’ founders

Connect Ventures, the London-based seed-stage VC that was an early investor in Citymapper and Typeform announced a new $80 million fund last month to continue investing in “product-led” founders.

Launched back in 2012, when there was a shortage of institutional capital at seed stage in Europe and micro VC was a novelty in the region, Connect Ventures invests in B2B and consumer software across Europe, including SaaS, fintech, digital health and “future of work.”

Running throughout the firm’s investment thesis is a product focus, with the belief that product-led — or “product-first” — software entrepreneurs are the kinds of founders most likely to transform the way we live and work at scale.

Connect Ventures does fewer deals per year than many seed-stage firms, promising to place bets in a smaller number of early-stage companies. It recently backed scaling startups such as Curve and TrueLayer. Keeping a compact portfolio lets the shop throw more support behind its investments to help tip the scales toward success.

To learn more about Connect’s strategy going forward, I put questions to partners Sitar Teli, Pietro Bezza and Rory Stirling. We covered what makes a product-first founder, the upsides and downside of “conviction investing,” and the next digital product opportunities in fintech, health and the future of work.

TechCrunch: Connect Ventures positions itself as a pan-European VC investing in “product-led” founders at seed stage. Can you be more specific with regards to check size, geography and the types of startups you look for?

Sitar Teli: Of course, I know it can be hard to differentiate seed funds at first glance, so it’s worth digging in one layer down. Connect is a thesis-led, seed stage, product-centric fund that invests across Europe. I know we’re going to dive into some of those parts later, so I’ll focus on our investment strategy and what we look for. We lead seed rounds of £1-£2 million (sometimes less, sometimes more) and make 8-10 investments a year. Low volume, high conviction, high support is the investment strategy we’ve executed since we started eight years ago.

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Innovating during COVID-19: A Story of Collaboration

Connected World’s Peggy Smedley recently sat down for a webcast with Eddy Van Steyvoort, VP, business line automotive and on-road, IGW/VCST, which is a part of BMT Group, Kevin Wrenn, EVP, products, PTC, and Filip Bossuyt, CEO, Ad Ultima, for a discussion about innovating in a time of COVID-19, a story of collaboration.

Van Steyvoort shares the smart factory project, which started in 2017, in silos and realized quickly that it needed to think in an end-to-end scenario. He says it recognizes it had to change its systems, the organization, and its way of thinking to a more end-to-end focus to improve efficiency, reliability, quality, and the way it supports customers. The question became how does it change; and which tools to use? It decided to go to PTC and Ad Ultima to help support it.

“PTC’s PLM Software was known already in the BMT Group and that was a very, very, very strong asset and also a very strong signal from the beginning that we had already the relation, which was already there,” Van Steyvoort says. “We could build on that relation. That was the reason why we established a total plan as partners, and not let’s say as a customer supplier, but as partners,” he adds.

Then the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic hit. Van Steyvoort opines the automotive industry has been shook by coronavirus, but it didn’t want to stop the strong drive on the project and decided not to change the long-term strategy.

He insists it now knows what AR (augmented reality) is and what it can bring during COVID-19, explaining that it can support people locally from a global perspective to show them how to do things. This is one of the lessons learned during this time—that it needs to invest even more in augmented reality tools.

Ad Ultima’s Bossuyt adds it is helping VCST to think end-to-end and to realize its digital transformation. “Becoming digital is a challenge today because you have to do it end-to-end. You cannot do it for only a part of your business.”

Adding to the conversation, PTC’s Wrenn says PTC can help with openness. “We are open on multiple dimensions. Our technology is open. It enables people to do digital transformation, as Eddy was talking about, connections all the way from engineering, all the way to the factory floor, and even out to their customers. Wwe are also open from a partnership standpoint. Ad Ultima is a really important partner of PTC’s and likewise of VCST. So we are used to working in these environments both from a technology standpoint and a partnership standpoint.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, PTC’s first response was to reach out to its customers and partners to make sure they could work from home. Wrenn says the technology is made to work from home and not have to be physically on site to be able to operate the technology. “It was much more important for us to figure out how our customers could create business continuity, and at the same time we were doing it for ourselves.”

In all of this, each individual learned something very important. Van Steyvoort says it is important to create a very strong sense of urgency from the very start and keep communicating this through the whole organization that it is a future-based strategy. “Instead of focusing on the change, focus on the alternative of doing nothing, because doing nothing that means you will lose the game.” Also, don’t be afraid to express the hopes and fears.

Ad Ultima’s Bossuyt notes the most important thing is the power of the network and working together with different partners where there is a lot of trust and all the stakeholders are aligned, which has created very good results. PTC’s Wrenn adds the new normal after COVID-19 is it will make people think about the kind of projects because digitalization is going to be a requirement in the new normal.

Going forward, the next steps for VCST is to link the CAD (computer-aided design) information to the PLM (product lifecycle management), that it goes through visualization in ThingWorx, and that the whole picture will be a completely integrated solution for the future. As Van Steyvoort says, “The sky is the limit. The technology is not the limit anymore.”

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #digitaltransformation #machinelearning #futureofwork #PLM #CAD #AR

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Smart Home: On the Rise?

Amid the pandemic, many are wondering if the use of technology is going to continue to rise. In many instances, the answer is yes. Such is the case with smart homes.

A new report points to the importance of incorporating smart-home technology. LexisNexis Risk Solutions released an insurance claims study revealing that in-line water shutoff systems correlate with a decrease in water claims events by 96%.

The study measured the changes in the number and severity of water-related home insurance claims with the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff device against an uninstalled control group of homes in the same geolocation one year before and after installation.

Here is what it found: Prior to installation, 2,306 Flow homes had an average claims severity far greater than the control group two years prior to the installation of the device. The study also found a corresponding 72% decrease in claims severity one year after installation of the device, indicating that smart water shutoff systems are working.

The key takeaway here is that water leak mitigation and the time and money saved could help drive adoption of these smart home devices, ultimately reducing loss costs, improving the customer experience, and more.

This is in line with other reports that the smart homes market, in general, is on the rise. Mordor Intelligence says the market was valued at $64.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $246.42 billion by 2025, a forecasted 25% growth rate, even amid a pandemic. The research shows there is a greater need for security and wireless controls. Further advancements in the IoT (Internet of Things) have resulted in price drops of sensors and processors, which are expected to fuel automation in the home.

While there is much to consider when it comes to smart-home technologies, research points to a continued rise in the years to come.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #futureofwork #infrastructure 

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6 VCs share their bets on the future of work

As tech companies like Twitter and Facebook gear up for longer-term remote work solutions, the future of work is becoming one of the more exciting opportunities in venture capital, Charles River Ventures general partner Saar Gur told TechCrunch.

And as loneliness mounts with shelter-in-place orders implemented in various forms across the world, investors are looking for products and services that foster true connection among a distributed workforce, as well as a distributed society.

But the future of work doesn’t just entail spinning up home offices. It also involves gig workers, freelancers, hiring tools, tools for workplace organizing and automation. The last couple of years have particularly brought tech organizing to the forefront. Whether it was the Google walkout in 2018 or gig workers’ ongoing actions against companies like Uber, Lyft and Instacart for better pay and protections, there are many opportunities to help workers better organize and achieve their goals.

Below, we’ve gathered insights from:

Saar Gur, Charles River Ventures 

What are you most excited about in the future of work?

Future of work is one of the most exciting opportunities in venture.  

Pre-COVID, few tech companies were fully remote. While it seems obvious in retrospect, the building blocks for fully remote technology companies now exist (e.g. high-speed internet, SaaS and the cloud, reliable video streaming, real-time documents, etc.). And while SIP may be temporary, we feel the TAM of fully remote companies will grow significantly and produce a number of exciting investment opportunities.

I don’t think we have fully grokked what it means to run a company digitally. Today, most processes like interviewing, meetings and performance/activity tracking still live in the world of atoms versus bits. As an example, imagine every meeting is recorded, transcribed and searchable — how would that transform how we work?   

There is an opportunity to re-imagine how we work. And we are excited about products that solve meaningful problems in the areas of productivity, brainstorming, communication tools, workflows and more. We also see a lot of potential in infrastructure required to facilitate remote and global teams.

We are also excited by companies that are enabling new types of work. Companies like Etsy (founded 2005), Shopify (2004), TaskTabbit (2008), Uber (2009), DoorDash (2013) and Patreon (2013) have helped create a new workforce of entrepreneurs. But many of these companies are over a decade old and we fully expect a new wave of companies that give more power to the individual.

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Juggling Your “Agency” During COVID

Paul Napper, co-author, “The Power of Agency: The 7 Principles to Conquer Obstacles, Make Effective Decisions, & Create a Life on Your Own Terms,” talks with Peggy and defines agency. He explains why it matters and how it is different. They also explore how having a higher agency will make you a better leader, how one increases their personal agency, and how agency is declining in the U.S.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, visit www.peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 4/29/2020 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley:

Paul, just before the show, you and I were talking about so many things. And I’m really delighted to have you on here. And one of the most important is getting us back into gear I think, emotionally, and prepared with just so much in life right now. I mean, not only do we have to think about what’s been going on around us with COVID-19 and everything else… but while we’ve got this time to be alone, we have time to read….And I guess my question to you is, when you were sitting and thinking about writing a book, did you sit down and think, maybe this is the time I can sit down and write a book, or is this time I want to read a book? What gets people right now? Should they be thinking about all these things that are overwhelming them? Or maybe just think about writing thoughts or reading a book. What do people want to think about right now? Their minds are filled with all kinds of things.

Paul Napper:

Yeah, it’s a great question. I think a lot of people right now are feeling overwhelmed at the scope of the current crisis. And this comes on the heels of a lot of folks feeling overwhelmed just by the increased pace of life, of American life. One of the things that got us to, my writing coauthor and I, to write this book was what we were observing in the people we work with. He works with children and families, as a psychologist. And I work with business leaders, as a psychologist. And we were both noticing that in our respective populations, people feeling a lot more overwhelmed by life. And that has a lot to do with the fact that things have sped up so much over the last 20 to 30 years. Now you add in the current crisis and it’s literally like out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The old cliché, but what does it entail, requires us to adapt. And so as human beings, we’re pretty adaptable beings, right? We have good brains and we’re always trying to find ways to adapt successfully to the environment that we’re in. Whatever environments we put ourselves in or find ourselves in. And what happened again over the last 20, 30 years, is because the environment has changed so quickly and so much that it’s produced a bit of a crisis in people’s ability, their capacity to adapt. Some people have been obviously adapting a bit better than others, but today, with the COVID crisis, we see more people, because of the acute nature of this crisis, struggling to adapt. How do I adapt? How do I learn what to do? How do I?

And so, this is an important area of interest for me and my coauthor. As psychologists, we think a lot about how humans adapt. And to your question on writing, what should people be doing? Ideally, right now people should be slowing down as much as they can, trying to keep their thoughts more in the present moment. Try not to project too far out into the future and worry about next month or the month after. Let’s think about this week, let’s think about today. It’s a good time to be reading and reflecting and just being quiet with yourself and whoever else in your life you’re hunkered down with. It’s a good time to kind of engage in more quiet animal analog type activities. Getting outdoors, moving around, walking, running, any of those kinds of things. Really restorative things that help us to adapt, to help kind of recharge our batteries so that we’re better able to learn and make adaptive changes to our behaviors.

And a lot of writers, back to your question again is, they keep journals. And I’m not a journal keeper personally, but many if not most people who want to write something, they keep journals. They don’t necessarily write in them every day, but they write some of their thoughts, some of their musings, some of their ideas. And that’s a nice thing for people to be doing right now, also. Just some way of capturing their thoughts because in the midst of a crisis, there’s always a bit of an opportunity. And that opportunity is to learn new skills, develop some new creative ways to live your life, creative ways to solve problems. There can be a silver lining in this, also. But I do think it requires people to try and not get so overwhelmed by it, by exposing themselves to just way too much stimulation. Get quiet with yourself, read, think, talk with people about it. And so that, that’s really what I would recommend people try to do right now.

Smedley:

You describe an agency, is that the personal side of things that people are? You’re describing what is an agency and why does it matter. Help us understand that because I think you want people to get better in what they do in both their own work, their work life, and in their home life?

Napper:

Yeah, absolutely. Agency, I like to say to people is probably the most important thing you’ve never heard of, because most people don’t really know specifically what the word agency, meaning human agency, what it actually refers to. Most people when they hear the word agency think advertising agency or government agency. Agency has to do with our capacity as people to make choices, our capacity to use our faculties, our mental faculties, to make choices in our lives, and take our lives in a desired direction. It does have a lot to do with decision making, our capacity to make decisions and sure enough, one of the things we talk about in our book is for all of us, we really are, in many ways, the sum total of all the decisions we make over the course of our lifetimes.

Big decisions, small decisions. Obviously, bigger decisions are much more crucial. But one of the consequences of this sort of sped up lifestyle that I talked about a few minutes ago is that people are carrying around more anxiety and worry. And they’re experiencing more episodes of what they describe as is overwhelm. And this gets in the way of people being effective decision makers in their own lives. And so we wanted to write this book about what is it that’s within your own power to become better at handling your life, managing your life, making decisions for yourself, and trying to keep some of this overwhelm and anxiety at bay. A lot of people don’t realize that we actually have a silent epidemic of anxiety in the United States. 20% of Americans actually are diagnosed with a clinical anxiety disorder, at this point. It’s 20%.

Smedley:

I would bet you right now with COVID, it’s much higher right now. I’m just saying.

Napper:

And yeah, you would probably be right. And so we are a very anxious nation. In fact, the World Health Organization, a couple of years back, did a ranking and ranked the United States as the most anxious nation on earth. This is a surprise to a lot of people, but we do have some issues here in our country that require us to focus on them, to find solutions. And we wanted to write this book for people to give them the power to have more agency, more personal agency that is, to help them build the capacity to make good choices for themselves, to create the lives they want to create for themselves.

Smedley:

So increasing, not to interrupt, I apologize, but to increasing that personal agency that you described is really important. If we think about what’s happening in the world around us today, that’s important to be able to calm down, in some ways. And yet, to be able to do what you need to do. …We’d say a high agency, what does that look like? Or where are we kind of in that scheme of things that you need to be, to be able to overcome this anxiety that you’re describing?

Napper:

Yeah. Well, one way to think about it that can help is to think about anxiety and confidence as being in a seesaw relationship. If you have a higher level of agency in your life, meaning that you’re better, you feel a sense of confidence that you’re equipped to kind of handle what comes your way and to make good choices in your life. If you have that confidence, that in and of itself keeps the anxiety at bay. It’s impossible to be confident and anxious at the same time. There is a seesaw relationship between the two. When you start becoming much more anxious, your confidence level declines. We wrote this book and we decided to frame it, not as in clinical terms, as in we’ve got a big problem with worry and anxiety and it’s a clinical problem.

We decided to frame it in agency terms, which is that we have a crisis in agency, in human agency. People are feeling stuck, they’re feeling adrift, they’re feeling that something’s getting in their way from, from living the life they most want to live. And that’s agency. And when people do that, when they feel more confident in their ability to make these choices and take their lives in the desired direction, the anxiety is kept at bay. So, we thought rather than be another symptom management book about how do you manage anxiety symptoms, let’s get underneath this thing and talk about what’s really going on. And if people again, have more confidence to express themselves, to do what, in their lives, what matters most to them, and learn how to make better quality decisions, that’s what inoculates them from all this anxiety and overwhelm.

And so instead of, as you know, as you would expect, many people are simply go to the doctor, get medication. They manage the symptoms of anxiety and it works. Antianxiety medications actually lower anxiety. But in our view, for most people, it is not really addressing the core of the problems. That’s really kind of how we’re looking at it. And what we’re trying to give people is sort of teach them, how to develop more agency in their own lives. And your question about people with high levels of agency, what do they look like? Well, they have more confidence in general. They’re learners. They seek to learn. They work on their emotional and social awareness, and so they tend to work on having more emotional intelligence.

They also, interestingly enough, they control stimuli in their lives. They’re not followers of technology. They use technology, they don’t let technology use them. So that’s to say they don’t spend six hours a day on social media as a rule. They tend to be know more judicious consumers of digital information. And again, they use it rather than allowing it to use them. These high agency people, we studied them and we wrote the book, you know, but a lot of examples about how these people actually demonstrate and real life exhibit agency.

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COVID-19 Will Force Future Supply Chains to Become More Resilient

Late last year and early this year, research was coming out about the supply chain market, and it all looked relatively straightforward. For instance, last summer, Grand View Research predicted that one slice of the global supply-chain market, supply-chain analytics, would exceed $9.8 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 16.4% from 2019 to 2025. The top factor thought to restrict growth during this timeframe was concerns over data security. And while, at the time, this analysis was solid, it didn’t—and, in fact, couldn’t—take into account what was coming just around the bend.

In the U.S., and worldwide, a curveball in the form of COVID-19 is now complicating the supply-chain picture. In some cases, it’s shedding light on how disjointed supply chains really are. In other cases, it’s throwing into sharp relief how critical flexibility can be within the supply chain. What lessons will this pandemic force the supply chain industry to learn, and will technology play more, less, or roughly the same role in future supply chains as it did pre-COVID-19? What will it take to jumpstart supply chains post-COVID-19? These are some of the questions the industry will be asking for years to come as part of the extensive ripple effects the 2020 coronavirus pandemic will cause in the next decade and, possibly, beyond.

A supply chain is a system of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in supplying a product or service to a consumer. In industries like food and food service, the supply chain includes players as varied as the farmer who’s growing or producing the food products themselves to the transportation company that’s bringing things like milk and eggs to grocery stores and restaurants that ultimately cater to end users: consumers. Several trends during the past several years have been shifting how supply-chains operate, including an overall diversification of consumer preferences, consumer demand for traceability (especially in food and food-service supply chains), consumer and regulatory demand for sustainability in the production and transportation of all kinds of goods, and the use of technology to manage supply chain operations.

Since COVID-19 began to hit the U.S. hard in March, some supply chains were immediately and directly affected by the illness as workers became sick and were quarantined. Many more were affected as supply and demand began to shift in topsy-turvy ways as the economy underwent a major and swift transition. Restaurants and retail stores shut down, and consumers flooded grocery stores for essential items like canned goods and paper products. As businesses were forced to lay off workers, consumers closed their pocket books to entire categories of products and services.

The apocalyptic sense felt upon entering grocery stores with empty shelves left many wondering what was going on in the supply chain. While on the surface, it looked like food shortages, the problem really was and is with the supply chain. On one hand, demand from restaurants has plummeted, and on the other, consumers stockpiling food to avoid coming back to the store as often as usual (or, in worse-case scenarios, hoarding food), are throwing historic data and trends’ value out the window. And yet, technology will be key to both managing this rough spot and jumpstarting supply chains once economies begin to go back to “normal”—whatever the new normal will be.

Supply-chain players prepared to offer transparency, communication, and flexibility are best positioned to limit the disruption to operations during times like the current COVID-19 outbreak. Lessons learned during these hard times will hopefully encourage more supply chains to adopt practices and technologies that will make their link in the chain more resilient next time around.

Want to tweet about this article? Use hashtags #IoT #sustainability #AI #5G #cloud #edge #digitaltransformation #machinelearning #supplychain #foodservice #analytics #COVID19 #coronavirus #retail

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