Micro-internships, Robotic Nurses, and Why Atlanta Is the Place for African-Americans

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SPOTLIGHT  

In year 2001, Rich Winley, then 18, moved to Atlanta to start his first marketing company, and since then he’s run a number of businesses, including No Chains, a Yelp-like app that helped diners avoid chain restaurants; Gnomad, which put sponsored iPads in rideshares during Coachella and the Atlanta SuperBowl; and Infinite, which puts ATMs in gas stations and splits proceeds with property owners. Saul Elbein caught up with Rich to talk about The Foundation, his recently introduced newsletter that looks at entrepreneurship from an African-American perspective.

What is your goal for The Foundation?

African-Americans are a $1 trillion dollar market, and nobody ever approaches us as a business. For example, my friend Dawn Dickson just raised $1 million for her startup, PopCom, through crowd-funding because VCs didn’t take her seriously, even though she had a proven track record. I think a lot of people don’t realize that you can raise investment by crowdfunding, so long as your investors are accredited. That’s the kind of tool we want to make available to people, because for African-Americans often we follow what white people have done, even if their model doesn’t work for us.

How will The Foundation make money?

I think the future is not in content-heavy sites like Forbes—no one has time for that—but in bite-sized newsletters. So we do this, and it’s free—but then at the end of the year we put out one publication, super high end, signature, collectible, and charge for that.

What do you think mainstream business publications are missing?

You know the movie Hidden Figures? I see a world full of hidden opportunities, and people miss a lot of them because they’re not sexy. Infinite was founded when we realized that gas stations don’t pay for ATMs or a lot of other accessories—they just let you put them there, and then take a cut of sales. So you buy the ATM, put it in the gas station, and then you’re just making money.

Then when the Georgia Lottery rules changed, we went to coin machine gaming. Then we realized that we could put air pump machines and vacuums on our client’s lots, and they were happy to have the extra amenity. And we got the money. So now I look at, say, gas station ice machines. Who services those?

Who does?

(Laughs.) I don’t know. But that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.

You’ve talked about Atlanta as the premier city for the African-American tech industry.

It’s not just tech—it’s all business. Atlanta is the place for African-Americans and blacks in general, no matter what you come to the city for. When I moved from Greenville, South Carolina in my early 20s, it was the first place I’d ever been where I saw people who looked like me in positions of business leadership. Like, “Wait, this guy is African-American, and he’s CEO of the Federal Reserve?”

Atlanta is still really conservative—it knows consumer products, real estate, and finance, and people don’t really know what to do with tech. But seeing it, you can at least start to dream dreams.

HUMAN RESOURCES 

Here’s how “micro-internships” are helping both college graduates and their potential employers, according to CEO Jeffrey Moss: “Unlike a traditional internship, a micro-internship is like a freelance project: The average ranges from 5 to 40 hours of work with a timeline of a week to a month. The model basically layers the gig economy into hiring and recruiting, not only broadening the pool of candidates but giving companies a way to evaluate the skills, reliability, and work ethic of potential full-time employees. … 

“With you or me, anyone can look at our LinkedIn profiles and look at our CVs and determine whether we have the skills, the fit, etc. And then can dig in through behavioral interviewing to really understand whether we’re right for the job. With recent grads, companies have to rely on pedigree. And perceived attitude. But when college graduates have micro-internships on their resume, hiring managers can scroll down and see real-world projects and real-world accomplishments … and that totally changes the interview conversation.”

More companies are using high tech devices to train front-line employees: “Companies like Microsoft see a multibillion-dollar opportunity to get more personal technology, including the HoloLens, in the hands of workers who don’t sit behind a desk. The new push goes beyond tools to perform a particular task, like a clerk ringing up a customer with a tablet or a robot moving materials around a factory. It is meant to integrate the tools into the corporate life of a company, like training, scheduling and regular communications. The efforts are enabled by cloud computing, which makes it easier to deliver information via a smartphone app or a mixed-reality headset. Google is going after the market, as is Salesforce, with its acquisition of Quip, which makes programs for worker productivity. Plenty of niche tech products target particular industries and tasks.”

STARTUPS

Bolt is offering retailers a way to compete with Amazon by speeding up their online checkout process: Amazon’s “faster checkout ‘flow’ can encourage shoppers to spend more. In a 2017 study, for instance, the digital infrastructure firm Akamai found that websites that were just 1/10th of a second slower than competitors’ saw the conversion rate … drop by seven percent. Online retail is particularly brutal at the point of checkout, with as many as 80 percent of shoppers simply abandoning their carts before paying. 

“[CEO Ryan] Breslow says Bolt, which combines a checkout interface with fraud detection and payment services, has cut average checkout times on its customers’ sites nearly in half, from around a minute to just over 30 seconds. According to Breslow, much of that time saving comes from Bolt’s integrated fraud detection, which uses behavioral cues like mouse movements to make sure a customer is who they say they are. Bolt’s system cuts time normally spent sending data to a third party, and also saves shoppers work filling in fields, such as their billing address, which are mostly there to help spot fraud but which Bolt omits.”

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Fintech companies like PayPal, Azimo and Cleo are adding charitable giving to their product sets: “54 percent of donors worldwide prefer to give to charity online, according to Non-Profits Sources. That’s driving $31 billion of online charitable [giving] in the US alone. Plus, in 2018, mobile payments grew by 36 percent. … By adding charity features to their services, fintech firms appeal to the young do-gooders in the world who are looking to make a change. Eighty-three percent of Millennials claim they would be more loyal to companies that help them contribute to social and environmental issues, as reported in a study conducted by Omnicom Group’s Cone Communications.”

OXFORD STRATEGIC ADVISORY DEALS OF THE DAY  

AppLovin, a mobile marketing company, has acquired SafeDK, a software development kit company. 

Cisco Systems Inc., a technology conglomerate, has acquired Acacia Communications Inc., a developer, manufacturer and seller of high-speed coherent optical interconnected products. The purchase price of the company was $2.6 billion, 7.6x revenue and 431x EBITDA.

WhiteHat Security, a provider of a risk management platform that offers website security services, was acquired by NTT Security, an internet security company.

Teleset, a provider of unified communications, was acquired by Lanlogic, a provider of IT consulting and cloud-based services.

VENTURE CAPITAL

In Massachusetts, venture capitalists oppose a plan to bar discrimination against startup founders who are women or minorities: “The bill, proposed by state Senator Cindy F. Friedman, an Arlington Democrat, would subject investors to legal consequences if they sexually harass those they fund or consider funding, or if they discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or any other class protected by state law. …

“The venture industry’s opposition to the measure came as a surprise to its backers. The association had previously expressed general support for the proposal. ‘It makes me think they’re not serious,’ said Jules Pieri, co-founder and chief executive of The Grommet, a Somerville-based digital marketplace for innovative consumer products. ‘You have to accept accountability if you want to correct an issue.’”

TECHNOLOGY

Tech firms are using facial recognition to try to save China’s disease-wracked pigs: “‘If they are not happy, and not eating well, in some cases you can predict whether the pig is sick,’ said Jackson He, chief executive officer of Yingzi Technology, a small firm based in the southern city of Guangzhou that has introduced its vision of a ‘future pig farm’ with facial and voice recognition technologies. … There’s a lot at stake. China is the world’s largest pig breeder, with a current population of about 400 million, and its largest pork consumer. The meat is so important that the country has its own strategic pork reserve in the event of a shortage.”

A hospital introduced a nurse assistant that’s also a robot to take the stress off nurses who continue to be in high demand: “Moxi is equipped with a robotic arm and a set of wheels on its base, and can be preprogrammed to run errands around the hospital. It works like this: Moxi is hooked into the hospital’s electronic health record system. Nurses can set up rules and tasks so that the robot gets a command for an errand when certain things change in a patient’s record on Moxi’s floor. For instance, if a patient has been discharged and their room is marked clean in the health record, Moxi will get a command to take an admission bucket—a set of fresh supplies for a new patient—to the room so that it’s all ready to go for the next person. … 

“The robot was so popular that the Diligent team programmed superfluous activities for Moxi to do once an hour so that the robot would wander around the floor and flash heart eyes at people. ‘In between tasks Moxi would make a social lap to talk to her fans,’ [co-founder Andrea] Thomaz says.”

RETAIL 

Social shopping apps have paved the way for Millennial-focused fashion influencers like Bella McFadden, a.k.a. Internet Girl: “For $150 plus shipping, Ms. McFadden’s fans can name a visual theme or inspiration, send over their body measurements and astrological sign, and receive two to three outfits customized to their specifications, with matching accessories. The looks—pulled from a mix of thrifted items, dead stock and Ms. McFadden’s own designs … And the chance to be outfitted by Internet Girl is competitive. Only 20 lucky buyers can get the customized clothing kits (called ‘Styled by iGirl’ bundles) each week. …

“Founded in 2011, the social shopping app Depop has cultivated a following of millennial and Gen Z consumers and sellers. Individuals can set up shop by simply uploading photos of their wares, along with product descriptions and prices. It’s a lot like Instagram, insofar as users can follow each other, ‘like’ pieces and find trending items on a discovery page. … Depop focuses on ‘curation by individuals that they can build a community with—some of them well known, some of them celebrities doing business on Depop, and some of them just individuals that have a flare, a flavor, a taste that builds a following,’ said Stephen Laughlin, the vice president and general manager of global consumer industry at IBM, which published a report on Gen Z shopping habits last year. ‘You’re opting into someone’s style.’”

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MEDIA

The Chicago Defender has ceased publishing its print edition: “Drawn to Chicago from Georgia for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 — where he met Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells—Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded the Chicago Defender in 1905. His four-page weekly edition, crafted on his landlady’s dining table, focused on Chicago neighborhood news, highlighted white oppression and the lynchings of African Americans across the South. And he eventually used his editorial page to encourage black Americans to make the journey north. Abbott partnered with Pullman railway porters to turn the paper into ‘a national communications vehicle for African Americans,’ Michaeli said. …

“It was during its heyday in 1929 that the paper created one of its lasting legacies: The Bud Billiken Parade. Abbott, the paper’s founder, and his managing editor, already had a ‘youth page,’ and decided to create a club named for the mythical ‘Bud Billiken’—associated with an ancient Chinese character believed to be the guardian angel of all children, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. It became so popular that Abbott decided a parade was in order. Circulation topped 250,000 that year, though its reach was thought to be closer to one million thanks to porters passing copies along the north-south line of the Illinois Central Railroad.”

SPOTLIGHT

The next Oxford Commerce Dinner will be Thursday, July 18 at Ray’s on the River in Atlanta. Come, introduce yourself, and spend an evening comparing notes with other Oxford members. The next morning, Friday July 19, we will hold an Intensive Roundtable discussion at Roam in Buckhead. The conversation will run from 8:30 to 10:30, and the topic is “Finding a No. 2 Who Can Do.” Space is limited so please RSVP for both events ASAP: events@oxfordcenter.com.

And that’s what’s ahead.

Please send comments and suggestions to mattg@oxfordcenter.com and lfeldman@oxfordcenter.com.

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