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VC firms should diversify to improve financial performance

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A Harvard University study on diversity’s effect within the venture capital industry, focusing on measures of financial performance, has found that having diversity on a team improves a VC firm’s overall fund returns, among other things.

Findings from a Harvard January 2017 study on diversity in innovation, conducted by Paul A. Gompers and Sophie Q. Wang was featured in the July-August issue of Harvard Business Review, where the story specifically focused on the hard financial gains that diversity can bring a company.

The 2017 research focused on women and ethnic minorities working within VC firms and working as founders of VC-backed startups.

The HBR article argues that “diversity significantly improves financial performance on measures such as profitable investments at the individual portfolio-company level and overall fund returns.” Partly because of homophily, a “desire to associate with similar people.” While homophily can bring “social benefits”, the article reads, it “can also lead investors and firms to leave a lot of money on the table.”

The 2017 study reports that only 8 per cent of VC investors are women, 2 per cent are Hispanic, and fewer than 1 per cent are black. This is combined with the fact that VCs are more likely to partner with people who share their gender, race, educational background, previous employer, and have a degree from the same school means that “VCs tend to keep teaming up with those who share their traits.”

According to HBR, “the more similar the investment partners, the lower their investments’ performance.” This, in an industry where “nearly three-quarters of VC firms have never hired a woman in that role.”

But, according to HBR, when VC firms hired 10 per cent more women, they saw a “1.5% average increase in overall fund returns each year and had 9.7% more profitable exits.”

To “reap diversity’s benefits,” HBR recommends that founders make diversity a higher priority, recognize hiring biases, and expand their network, both social and professional, to include contacts from differing backgrounds.

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Amazon rival Rakuten buys mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside

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Rival to Amazon and Japanese retail giant Rakuten has acquired Silicon Valley mobile ordering and pickup startup Curbside. Details of the all-cash deal were not disclosed, but the acquisition could be a boon for the Japanese e-commerce company.

Mobile solutions for brick and mortar businesses

Founded in 2013 by former Apple engineers Jaron Waldman and Denis Laprise, Curbside has a suite of features that deal with all aspects of mobile commerce for restaurants and brick and mortar retail stores. Their most popular feature, ARRIVE, tracks customer’s journeys to predict when they’ll be approaching and arriving to have the product ready in an instant.
In its suite, Curbside’s offers programs that build online storesfill online orders in-store and grow store traffic.

According to Tech Crunch, the terms of the “all-cash” deal were not released. Curbside has previously raised between USD$40 and $50 million from investors like CVS, Index Ventures, Sutter Hull Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures and Chicago Ventures

According to the Silicon Valley Business Journal, Curbside was valued at more than USD$100 million in 2015 during its last venture round.

Part of the family

In the press release from Curbside, co-founder and CEO Jaron Waldman writes, “For our customers and partners the headline is that nothing will change. Curbside will operate independently as a Rakuten-owned company with our team, services, partners and product offerings all remaining intact.”

Yaz Iida, President of Rakuten USA, Inc said in a press release “Welcoming Curbside to the Rakuten family is all about the consumer, and we are excited to be able to empower consumers with even more ways to enjoy shopping.”

Mario Pinho, CFO of Rakuten, welcomed Curbside “to the Rakuten family” on LinkedIn.

Earlier this year, Rakuten announced that it’s building a customer loyalty program based on blockchain technology, and building its own cryptocurrency, Rakuten Coin.

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How brick and mortar grocers benefit from digital transformation

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Brick and mortar grocery retailers have the potential to adopt artificial intelligence to help with stocking their stores, pricing their products and being competitive with online retailers like Amazon.

Michael Feindt, the founder of AI firm Blue Yonder that specializes in helping retailers adopt AI to change how they carry out their core processes, wrote an article in Silicon Republic about how grocery chains can use AI to operate smarter.

With online grocers rapidly adopting AI, Feindt writes that it’s important for brick and mortar retailers to “move beyond their legacy infrastructure and adopt the technologies of digital transformation.” These technologies include AI and machine learning.

To stay competitive in a market that’s increasingly focused on consumer satisfaction, Feindt writes that adopting AI can help grocery chains stock their stores more efficiently in an effort to reduce waste and ensure customers get what they want, as well as price their products according to real-time data on deals and promotions offered by other stores.

Feindt writes that stock and pricing in brick and mortar stores — two traditionally human-led domains — need to start using the data they have, and use AI to help process that data.

Paul Clarke, the CTO at Ocado (the company behind the grocery robots shown earlier) told The Telegraph that AI is “critical” to the industry, and where it’s heading.

“From our point of view artificial intelligence is the one to rule them all when it comes to the set of disruptive technologies that power our business and we already make extensive use of machine learning across our platform,” said Clarke. “But really we just think we’re getting started.”

It’s also easier than ever before for grocery chains to go beyond self-service checkouts and start using AI to optimize business, below is an infographic detailing 65 tech startups that use artificial intelligence, virtual reality… etc to usher grocery store operations into the future. This list is packed, but it’s not exhaustive.

From using AI to combat food contamination to giving allergy-sufferers peace of mind when shopping to programming shopping carts to follow consumers around the store, there are endless ways that AI can enhance grocery operations and produce tangible results.

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Mozilla announces grants for projects on how AI affects society

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Mozilla recently announced the creation of seven new five-figure grants for “technologists and media makers who help the public understand how threats to a healthy internet affect their everyday lives.”

Under their “Creative Media” awards track, Mozilla is offering a total of $250,000 in awards comprised of two $50,000 awards ($47,500 award + $2,500 MozFest travel stipend) and five $25,000 total prize packages ($22,500 award + $2,500 MozFest travel stipend). Mozilla says they’re specifically looking for projects that focus on AI and machine learning.

Mozilla wants these grants to go to researchers who can help the public to better understand how threats to a “healthy internet” are impacting their lives. These projects can be presented in a variety of mediums such as videos, games, browser extensions and data visualizations.

To be eligible for this award, projects must already be in-progress, at either the conceptual or prototype stage. They also have to be “freely available on the web,” have the ability “to be broadly shared,” and must include “privacy-respecting mechanisms.”

This isn’t Mozilla’s only project that has the aims of teaching people more about the changing face of technology.

From briefs to explainers to graphics, Mozilla has been attempting to make it easier for people to understand how things work.

Applications for this grant are open now and close on August 1.

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