Growing Coffee in California, Growing Meat in Outer Space, and Should the Sacklers Do Time?

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BALANCE

Rick Turoczy, co-founder and manager of Portland Incubator Experiment, says incubators and accelerators need to protect founders’ mental health: “No one tells you how shitty it is to be a founder. It’s awful. And lonely. And soul crushing. Even if you have co-founders. It’s just rough. And every founder is on this horrendous roller coaster of manic-depressive imposter syndrome. Being a founder is hard. And draining. The prevailing mythology convinces every founder … that they should be capable of solving any problem that comes their way and capitalizing on any opportunity they see, and that they should be insensitive and impervious to everything that doesn’t move their business forward. … It’s all bullshit. There’s so much work to do to create an environment that truly helps build more resilient and healthy founders. So we’ll keep chipping away at it. In the hopes that, someday, having a behavioral and mental health professional as part of accelerator program staffing is as natural as having a program manager.”

TRADE

Crystal Morris, along with thousands of other business owners, is in limbo, waiting to find out whether her company’s appeal for an exemption on the 25 percent tariffs will be granted: “Ms. Morris is CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Gator Co., which imports speaker stands, guitar cases and other audio accessories from China. She says the uncertainty has made it a struggle to make decisions on hiring, business planning and inventory. ‘It’s a complete game-changer for our business,’ she said. ‘It really is all of our margin.’ Gator also manufactures in the US and Canada, but imports nearly half its products from China. It filed exemptions for nine products between Aug. 21 and Sept. 5. Like other companies, it must pay the tariffs while it awaits a ruling on exemptions.”

LITIGATION

Lawsuits are likely to cost the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, billions of dollars but they are likely to remain billionaires. Should they also go to jail? “The lawsuits are, according to the plaintiffs, meant in part to stop future companies like Purdue from misleading and aggressively marketing dangerous products. But how much of a deterrent is it if the company’s owners are left with more money than they could ever hope to spend in their lifetimes? ‘If [the Sacklers] have the perception—and it’s the correct perception—that ‘people like us just don’t go to jail, we just don’t, so the worst that’s going to happen is you take some reputational stings and you’ll have to write a check,’ that seems like a recipe for nurturing criminality,’ Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, told me. …

“The federal government had a chance to hold Purdue and its leaders accountable once before. After a federal investigation in the mid-2000s, journalist and Pain Killer author Barry Meier reported, “The Justice Department had an opportunity to prosecute the executives of Purdue. That was the recommendations of the prosecutors on the case; they wanted these individuals to be charged with serious crimes. But the Bush administration blinked. Instead, Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges related to ‘misbranding.’ The three executives, including then-President Michael Friedman, were each sentenced to three years of probation and 400 hours of community service, and they had to pay tens of millions of dollars in fines. But they served no prison time.”

STARTUPS

Israeli food startup Aleph Farms has grown real meat in outer space: “The company says its production method mimics the natural process of muscle-tissue regeneration occurring inside the cow’s body. In this case, the cells were harvested on Earth, grown in space and assembled into small-scale muscle tissue under micro-gravity conditions thanks to a 3D printer developed by Bioprinting Solutions, a Russian company. The experiment (and successful PR stunt) was about devising the astronauts’ food of the future as much as producing meat regardless to availability of land and local water resources. ‘In space, we don’t have 10,000 or 15,000 Liter (3962.58 Gallon) of water available to produce one kilo of beef,’ said Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms in a press release. With global consumption of ruminant meat (beef, lamb and goat) projected to rise 88 percent between 2010 and 2050, it’s vital to find less resource-intensive ways of producing it.”

AGRICULTURE

Suddenly, places like California, Australia and Saudi Arabia are growing coffee beans: “For Rosalino Palazzolo, growing coffee is a dream. After growing all manner of produce on his Sicily farm, the third-generation farmer harvested his first coffee crop this year. Mr. Palazzolo is still experimenting but his goal is to produce the first commercial coffee grown in Italy—a nation well-known for roasting coffee beans, but not for growing the tropical plant from which they come.

Growing coffee in Sicily may have been impossible a few decades ago. Coffee has traditionally grown only in the so-called bean belt in the tropics, stretching from Central America to Africa to Asia. But rising temperatures are making parts of the bean belt too hot for coffee, and other regions suitable for the crop. By 2050, climate change could decrease the area in the tropics suitable for growing coffee by as much as 50 percent, according to the Climate Institute, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit focused on climate change.”

RETAIL

Standard Cognition, an autonomous retail startup, bought Deep Magic, a maker of autonomous retail kiosks: “DeepMagic lets customers swipe a payment card when entering a smaller kiosk or store, pick up items that are detected by cameras and simply walk out while having their card charged. The idea is that businesses could operate satellite micro-storefronts in malls, apartment buildings and more without staff. … Standard Cognition sees the smaller footprint spots outfitted by DeepMagic as a crucial piece of the autonomous retail landscape. So it’s acquiring DeepMagic’s technology, and bringing on co-founder and CEO Bernd Schoner as a consultant. Standard Cognition won’t pick up DeepMagic’s staffers or pilot contracts, but it’s considering how to integrate the technology as it ramps up its own deployments.”

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HUMAN RESOURCES

Some employers are matching employees’ student loan payments with 401(k) contributions: “Eight percent of the 2,763 employers the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed in April offered assistance with student loans, up from four percent in 2018 and three percent in 2015. According to a survey of 250 companies last year by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 11 percent of employers offered student-loan repayment subsidies and another 13 percent planned to add it. … In recent years, a growing number of companies including Kronos Inc., Hulu and HP Inc. have started to pay a fixed amount—often $100 to $200 a month—toward employees’ loans. Some, like Unum Group, allow employees to apply the value of unused benefits, such as vacation time or health insurance, to their loans.”

VENTURE CAPITAL

Clari, a developer of a revenue operations platform, raised $60 million in a Series D round.

Element451, a developer of an admission marketing technology designed to simplify college enrollment, raised $1 million of seed funding.

Emplify, a provider of an employee analytics platform, raised $15 million in a Series B round.

Revel, an operator of an urban transportation company, raised $27.6 million in a Series A round.

SUSTAINABILITY

Terracycle, a recycling company, has been able to get giants like Nestle and Unilever to buy into reusable packaging: “Launched in May, the service sells brand-name goods like Tide detergent, Pantene shampoo, Gillette razors and Häagen-Dazs ice cream all in reusable packages. Participants pay a refundable deposit for each package, use the products, throw the empty containers into a Loop tote and send them back to be cleaned and refilled. … Today, TerraCycle repurposes used batteries, backpacks, coffee capsules, cooking oil and more. The company is doing well: In the first six months of 2019, TerraCycle reported net income of $1.8 million on revenue of $11.2 million. Sales were up 19 percent from the same period a year earlier, driven in part by new recycling partnerships with Gillette, Williams and Sonoma, Reebok and General Mills.”

Food companies are taking normally discarded food elements like cocoa husks and apple peels to make other products: “More than 40 companies and organizations have opened in the past five years to turn discarded foodstuffs into new products, ReFED says. … Most new products are still in the development or testing stages. … Kellogg Co. is working with craft brewer Seven Bro7hers Brewery in Manchester, England, to ferment discolored and undercoated cereal that would normally go to animal feed. Seven Bro7hers in June introduced Cast Off Pale Ale, made from Rice Krispies, and Sling It Out Stout, brewed with Coco Pops. The first run of those beers sold out online within hours, a Kellogg spokeswoman says, and more batches have since gone into production. … 

“In northern Italy, Hannes Parth is blending plastic with peels, cores and pulp from apple-juicing factories near his plant into a leather-like fabric that is being made into shoes and handbags. The apple waste results in a synthetic leather that uses 50 percent less plastic than other varieties, Mr. Parth says. Actress Emma Watson posted a photo of herself wearing a skirt made from the fabric on Instagram in May. … Carmen Hijosa founded her company, Ananas Anam, while developing a formula for an alternative leather fabric called Piñatex made from the leaves of pineapple plants in the Philippines that traditionally are burned or left to rot after harvesting. The company made twice as much of the fabric last year as in 2017 and expects output to double again this year.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

Social media has given cruise companies even more reason to make sure the toilets work and vacationers have fun: “In recent days, travelers on the ‘mystical fjords’ voyage in Europe have staged (and live tweeted) a veritable mutiny after inclement weather forced repeated changes to their itinerary and trapped them at sea. The ship, called Norwegian Spirit, departed from Southampton, England, recently for a 14-day voyage with planned stops in the Netherlands, Norway and Iceland. But those plans were scuttled by bad weather, forcing the ship to plan new stops—some of which were then also canceled because of the weather. Passengers said they were stuck at sea for three days.

“By Monday, a fed-up—and social media-savvy—group of passengers rallied in the ship’s atrium to vent their outrage at the crew, demand a refund from the company and post images and video of their revolt on newly created Twitter and YouTube accounts. They described the scene as a ‘riot’ and ‘open rebellion.’ ‘Buddy, you’re not a manager, we want the head—who is driving the boat?’ a passenger in one video asked a uniformed crew member, who stood flanked by security personnel in a crowd of angry vacationers. Nearby, a woman screamed.”

And that’s what’s ahead.

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