Happy Friday everyone,
As I sat down to write this, I noticed that Jim Mellon, the billionaire businessman and investor, had tweeted his enthusiasm for the initial coin offering (ICO) of Binary.com.
The company enables DIY binary options traders to benefit from the same rates of return as those in the interbank market. An ICO is when a project built on the blockchain – usually the Ethereum blockchain – crowdfunds by issuing and selling a new cryptocurrency. The process is unregulated and controversial because many of the projects raising funds in this manner have no proof of concept.
Mellon is not the only investment heavyweight to have started weighing in on this space. He says Binary is “a real profitable star among the blockchain dross”.
Here’s what else has been happening this week.
BILL GATES, ALZHEIMER’S AND INVESTING
Bill Gates announced this week that he’s ploughing $100m (£76m) into research to find a breakthrough for Alzheimer’s disease. The initial $50m will be invested in a venture capital fund called Dementia Discovery Fund, which finances new treatments for the condition. The other half will be invested in new startups working on the disease.
The key word for me in this story is “invested”. The US is streets ahead of the UK when it comes to splicing philanthropy with investment. You’ll commonly see, for instance, money invested in hospitals with R&D divisions. Research can be sold to big pharma who in turn will strike deals with the hospitals and improve the lives of patients.
In part, this emanates from the huge foundation culture over there. I was reading just a few days ago about the Detroit Home Mortgage Program, which draws together the Kresge and Ford foundations, locals banks, the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan to provide grants, loans and loan guarantees to help people buy and renovate vacant homes.
Historically, people in the UK have not been keen on the idea that something can be for profit and for good. But the tide might now be turning. Take A Little Change, which is a good example of a sensible shift in mindset for delivering social good effectively.
The aim of the new (for-profit) company is to make homeless people visible, and to make it easier to give to them as you walk past them. You opt to get, say, one notification a week, which gives you the option to donate to that person based on a set of needs they’ve selected – be that accommodation or a food shop. The payment goes from your phone to a charity partner, from whom the person you’ve passed can access that service or product. Of course, A Little Change takes a cut, but it will tell you as you pay how much that is, allowing you to make good the full donation.
Citigroup became the latest bank to invest in AI that monitors staff this week, leading a $20m (£15m) funding round in Behavox.
The three-year-old London startup initially focused on using AI software to check for signs of wrongdoing, helping with compliance. But it’s now adapting its software, which Citi plans to use, to analyse customer relationships. Its natural language processing technology can do things like detect shouting and laughter when customers are being asked questions.
Plainly, Behavox and companies like it have very impressive tech that will transform productivity and give teams and organisations far more visibility of and ability to analyse data. They will improve company culture and the bottom line. But it does make you wonder what being increasingly under surveillance will do to workers. I’ve met several people who admit to sitting at their desks shaking their company-wellness-programme Fitbit…
Which reminds me: there was a story earlier in the week that a sex toy was inadvertently recording users. The company, Lovense, has apologised.
NOT FOR SHALE: EVERYONE HAS A PRICE
A new Shale Wealth Fund will see locals living near fracking sites given the power to choose how to spend what they receive. The £1bn fund will provide up to £10m for each community near an approved site, and will be funded initially by tax revenues arising from shale gas production.
Crucially (and interestingly, because it looks rather different to the usual methods of local government), in addition to funding local projects, improving transport links and restoring local heritage, communities could opt to have direct payments made to residents.
The news comes a week after it was announced that households living within a 1km radius of the Cuadrilla site in Lancashire will soon receive £2,070 each as part of a community benefit fund.
I for one am delighted that companies and individuals are forming relationships based on the value of land. The Fund is a step in the right direction, and money going direct from company to individual is another. Might this set the bar for how other business activities associated with public goods could be run? Think airports, roads, sewage systems – even schools. Another option with energy is for locals to have shareholdings in producers. Highly unlikely with incumbents, but perhaps we’re due some new firms in the sector?
WHAT’S PLAYING AT OFF3R HQ?
This week, thanks to some of the fitness fanatics in the OFF3R team, we have been listening to the Finding Ultra audiobook from the awe-inspiring, Rich Roll. At the age of 40, RIch talks about how he rejected middle age to become one of the fittest men on Earth. Ultra-athlete or not – this is well worth a listen!
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