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Have you ever bought a car? A house? If so, you’ve experienced the special type of aggravation that is unique to these types of complex transactions. Many industry leaders have felt that same pain and have been exploring how the use of smart contracts on blockchain can be used to alleviate it. Whether you’ve just learned about the concept or you’re looking for an in-depth explanation, this guide is a great place to start.
Smart contracts are lines of code that are stored on a blockchain and automatically execute when predetermined terms and conditions are met. At the most basic level, they are programs that run as they’ve been set up to run by the people who developed them. The benefits of smart contracts are most apparent in business collaborations, in which they are typically used to enforce some type of agreement so that all participants can be certain of the outcome without an intermediary’s involvement.
Blockchain is a shared, distributed ledger on which transactions are digitally recorded and linked together so that they provide the entire history or provenance of an asset. A transaction is added to the blockchain only after it has been validated using a consensus protocol, which ensures it is the only version of the truth. Each record is also encrypted to provide an extra layer of security. Blockchain is said to be “immutable” because the records cannot be changed and transparent because all participants to a trade have access to the same version of the truth.
The easiest way to explain what a smart contract does is through an example. If you’ve ever bought a car at a dealership, you know there are several steps and it can be a frustrating process. If can’t pay for the car outright, you’ll have to obtain financing. This will require a credit check and you’ll have to fill out several forms with your personal information to verify your identity. Along the way, you’ll have to interact with several different people, including the salesperson, finance broker and lender. To compensate their work, various commissions and fees are added to the base price of the car.
What smart contracts on blockchain can do is streamline this complex process that involves several intermediaries because of a lack of trust among participants in the transaction. With your identity stored on a blockchain, lenders can quickly make a decision about credit. Then, a smart contract would be created between your bank, the dealer and the lender so that once the funds have been released to the dealer, the lender will hold the car’s title and repayment will be initiated based on the agreed terms. The transfer of ownership would be automatic as the transaction gets recorded to a blockchain, is shared among the participants and can be checked at any time.
Smart contracts work by following simple “if/when…then…” statements that are written into code on a blockchain. A network of computers executes the actions (releasing funds to the appropriate parties; registering a vehicle; sending notifications; issuing a ticket) when predetermined conditions have been met and verified. The blockchain is then updated when the transaction is completed.
Let’s see how this plays out in a supply chain example. Buyer B wants to buy something from Seller A, so she puts money in an escrow account. Seller A will use Shipper C to deliver the product to Buyer B. When Buyer B receives the item, the money in escrow will be released to Seller A and Shipper C. If Buyer B doesn’t receive the shipment by Date Z, the money in escrow will be returned. When this transaction is executed, Manufacturer G is notified to create another of the items that was sold to increase supply. All this is done automatically.
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Within a smart contract, there can be as many stipulations as needed to satisfy the participants that the task will be completed satisfactorily. To establish the terms, participants to a blockchain platform must determine how transactions and their data are represented, agree on the rules that govern those transactions, explore all possible exceptions, and define a framework for resolving disputes. It’s usually an iterative process that involves both developers and business stakeholders.
The benefits of smart contracts go hand-in-hand with blockchain.
Now that you have a better understanding of smart contracts and their benefits, I’m sure you’ve thought of some ways to use them in your company. And with IBM Blockchain Platform, you can get access to development tools, tutorials and a development environment to quickly create your own smart contracts using The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Composer. Ready to get started using smart contracts on blockchain?
Written by: Nigel Gopie, PhD
Connect with #SheLeads team and mentors to continue discussion. Find us on Twitter @sheleads_com or LinkedIn
We've rounded up all the best bits from our live Q&A on how small business owners can get the most out of mentoring, networking and professional advice
Alex Mitchell is head of influencer relations at the Institute of Directors:
Small businesses should make the most of expertise available: Knowledge is power. Build your knowledge where you can and don't go into something with your eyes closed. Brief yourself, get briefed by others and if you still have knowledge gaps, work with people who can fill them.
Reach out and be proactive to find your ideal mentor: I have a number of mentors. I have always had mentors during my professional career. They tell me how it is. They are honest and frank. They will help me but won't take the decisions for me. I think the mentor-mentee relationship is a very personal one and one which has to be worked at. If it is a good one, it is mutually beneficial and can open doors for you and your business.
You have to reach out and be proactive. Good business mentors are busy running their businesses. You have to attend relevant events and may have to attend more than one to meet the right mentor. If you find someone you get on with and respect, never be afraid to ask them.
Understand what networking really is: Networking is a relationship. You can't think of it in any traditional sense, you can't box networking; you can't explain it away using jargon. Networking in its broadest sense is very simple, it's about helping people.
A few quick top tips:
• Help others, you never know who you will meet and who they are networked with.
• Try and work out what type of networker is sitting in front of you.
• Don't go into networking events with the 'what is in it for me' mentality.
• Creating a network takes time and commitment, don't think it will happen overnight.
• Be honest with your answers, if you can't help someone, say so.
• Think dynamically about who you are meeting, if you can't help them, maybe someone in your network can.
• Be engaged, don't be dismissive, remember the person you are speaking to is passionate about their area.
Stephen Pegge is director of SME markets, Lloyds Banking Group Commercial
When times are tough professional advice is valuable: Some of the most innovative and fast growing businesses have started up during recessions, as this is when markets change, existing providers fall out and subsequent recovery can provide a boost to growth. However, economic conditions can be volatile and competitors can be very defensive about their positions, so advice is important. Financial management is critical as the creditworthiness of customers can be unpredictable and when you sell on credit, you need to be sure that you'll get paid. A good accountant can make a big difference and as a bank, we like to see that businesses have sound financial systems and advice.
Think hard about who'll be the best fit for your team: The best bit of advice I ever had was to make sure that you work with a team that complement your skills and attributes. Don't recruit in your own image. That way you compensate for any weaknesses, learn from their approaches and give yourself capacity to play to your strengths. The same applies to a network or mentoring relationship.
Gaining confidence and contacts are the most valuable things in the early stages: At Lloyds TSB and Bank of Scotland, we're seeing record startup numbers at the moment (120k in the last year) coming from a broader range of backgrounds. Traditionally, younger people have been less likely to start a business but that's increased, and even more so among those over 50. I'm chairman of PRIME Cymru, one of The Prince's Charities, and we help people in the older age group get into economic activity through volunteer mentoring. PRIME in the rest of the UK do the same with a focus on enterprise. Often it's giving people the confidence and contacts that are the most valuable things in the early stages.
Stuart Anderson has been advising entrepreneurs for 30 years. He has advised the government on entrepreneurship and is a director the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship and director of Shell LiveWIRE
Boost your confidence by entering awards: The great thing about entering business and entrepreneur awards is that it gives you the chance to practice articulating your business to other business people.
If you are not successful, you can get feedback and make things better – if you win, it is a great endorsement of your business or product and boosts your confidence.
Build good relationships in all areas of business: With my business – I was always upfront with those who owed me money. I told them that as a small business in order to survive, I needed prompt payment. Striking up a good relationship with people paying bills always helps.
Jot down details of people you meet at networking events to avoid confusion: When you go to networking events, if someone gives you a business card – write on it straight away any details you need to remember about the person you met. I think everyone must have been to an event and have a pile of cards that they could not remember what the people on the card were all about. It works wonders for me.
Fay Martin is a young ambassador for the Prince's Trust. Fay is being mentored by Kelly Hoppen and QVC as part of The Prince's Trust Tomorrow campaign.
Social media is a great way of connecting online: As an illustrator I have gained work from meeting people on Twitter. It is a great way to share new product launches and announce important news and offers.
Rosana Mirkovic is head of SME policy at ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants)
Make good credit management integral to your business: Cashflow is crucial – as of November 2011, small businesses were owed £33.6bn in overdue payments and had to wait, on average, for about two months to get paid by other businesses. If you sell on credit, you are in effect someone's lender, so think like one. Giving credit is as much a part of your business as getting orders; a profit on paper may quickly turn into a loss after you add to your costs the cost of financing your working capital, chasing up late payments, and absorbing non-payment. Try to always have this big picture in mind. Here is a link to a guide ACCA produced with a number of partners of how to make good credit management integral to your business.
It's not easy making all the decisions on your own: Small business owners need good advice no matter what the economic climate is. We all know that resources are tight and it can also be a lonely experience running a business. With so many decisions to make each day, it's not easy making them on your own. The recession make this all the more acute. Getting the right adviser is a very personal choice. But if you're looking to make big decisions, you need to make sure your adviser has the right experience. Finance is a perfect example. A small ACCA accounting practice has on average some 200 small business clients. Imagine how much experience has been accumulated over the years? But you must make sure that the adviser is right for you and what you want to achieve with your business. In reality, that is often a combination of professional advisers and personal or business mentors.
Neil Munz-Jones is author of The Reluctant Networker and speaker on how to use networking to develop your career
It is a case of quality over quantity: I get so many 'invitations to connect' on LinkedIn from people who have said they are a 'friend' yet I have never met them before... I don't see the value in just adding another connection. Networking is not just a 'numbers' game but also about the 'quality' of the networking relationships.
Source: Guardian Professional
Posted by: The Guardian
I am a former lawyer which helps when innovating in regulated markets. I was working in television at the time that the internet changed the way we consume media. I did Channel 4’s first cross-platform campaigns with River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall, such as Fish Fight and Chicken Out, which were very successful and broke records in audience engagement. Chicken Out was particularly interesting to me as we did a UK first in shareholder activism to take on the big supermarkets. It made me realise the power of technology in being able to aggregate consumer influence, enable them to participate in something meaningful but with a very low barrier to engagement, to effect a dramatic change in an entire market. That was the first part of what I have become obsessed and passionate about — the power of people, via technology, to change markets.
The second is of course energy. When I was still working with Hugh, given his sustainability interest, we decided to do something around energy. We did a project with British Gas about enabling more renewable community and local installations; then a collective switching project with uSwitch. There I learnt 2 things. Firstly, that media is not the right commercial model to undertake these things. Secondly, that the energy market players had an entirely different view on what innovation and a consumer value proposition looked like, compared to me. Inherent in both of these big realisations was a distaste for the big players thinking they could keep control, whilst ignoring the end customer’s actual needs. So I swapped Tesco for British Gas on my hit list… I recognised that energy was a completely broken market, was about to go through digital transformation, like television had done, and the people in charge clearly had no idea how to lead that change and were likely to come out the other side no longer on top.
So I founded Labrador. I was a sole founder, took a year to convince angels to back me in my first business, then was drip fed small tranches to finally launch the business in January 2018. In the end I raised £3m of funding, including from Gresham House and DMGT. My vision for Labrador was to build a data company. In an industry which is all about prediction and reconciliation, clearly data was the key to unlock the value in and control of everything. Yet no one was using it. So I was going to unlock access to the data and start using it to deliver real customer value propositions which ultimately, would also benefit everyone else in the value chain. The first use case was domestic energy comparison and switching because it was a proposition and painpoint that everyone understood. It didn’t require education and it was a mass market proposition — the TAM was the entire country. As soon as Labrador became successful in proving that (reference the funnel slide in the Perswitch funding deck), I got pushed into a Chief Strategic Officer role, given I was the one who understood data and how the energy market was evolving, and the board brought in the former CCO of Moneysupermarket as CEO. He didn’t prove to be the right fit and within a short space of time we were looking at a forced sale to Verv (Green Running).
I joined Revolut to spend time with people who knew how to deliver scalable technology business properly. I learnt a lot but couldn’t let go of my passion for the energy market and desire to finish what I had started with Labrador. I kept bumping into one of our now advisors, who I had met at various round tables and conferences, and we kept remaining astonished how still no one was addressing this issue and it was getting bigger and bigger. I think that has been a combination of people not understanding enough of the market to piece all of it together, lacking the contacts to get the right permissions, and the complexity of the regulated market re who could or couldn’t undertake non regulated activities and how. You also have too many people who don’t even understand the basics of GDPR…
Coincidentally, our advisor had also started speaking with a couple of the ex Apigee team. After selling to Google, they had set up a company called Digital API Craft (DAC), which was Google’s preferred partner in developing API microservices for the Apigee platform, which is obviously now Google’s API layer. The API microservices are a big part of helping drive Google cloud sales. DAC had just finished doing all of the open banking API microservices for Google (for which it won several international bank contracts) and were looking for the next big market to address. Energy ticked that box and we joined forces. Jaipal, ex Wipro, who had been working on new energy models for the likes of BP, also joined.
Within our first 3 months, we had:
Now we are on a quest to raise £2m in seed funding to deliver an exclusive high street bank contract worth £58m p.a.
Find out more https://www.perse.energy
Blockchain services include a shared repository for businesses who want a simpler way to manage their programmes, budgets and information. Although it is most widely identified with bitcoin, the blockchain can be used for virtually any form of business transaction there is.
Find out how to launch your own Blockchain Services Company and whether it’s the best option for you. We’ve done the initial research for you.
What are the costs of launching a blockchain services business?
In most cases, you will need to account for the cost of computers and the internet to build your basic concept before you get started. You will also require liability insurance, which can range in cost depending on the parameters you have chosen and the services you provide. Finally, you are likely to engage with advisors that will give you the best insight on how the blockchain is evolving, both in the legal and public spheres.
What are the recurring costs of a blockchain services business?
Workforce is usually likely to be the largest cost for blockchains as the company needs skilled employees to build and market the software. You would also need to pay for power, insurance premiums and the actual rent of the room you use.
Who would be the target market?
Virtually any company will use the blockchain, even if it is most widely associated with bitcoin transactions. Essentially, the blockchain makes it extremely difficult to break into the company’s records, which is desperately required as cyber fraud continues to grow. But more than that, the blockchain also offers a means to connect at a point we’ve never seen before with the use of smart contracts. These special, if / then clauses are so robust that they can be extended to construction ventures in ways that we can’t imagine.
For example , the construction industry can use the blockchain to make it easier for multiple parties to work with. When all action can be seen in the ledger, it virtually eliminates confusion as to who is responsible for what. The real estate industry is now using it to organise transactions and make acquisition simpler.
How does the business of blockchain services make money?
Blockchains will usually either set up a SaaS platform or charge a one-time project fee. They can also bill for the authentication of transactions through their network. One of the key benefits of blockchains is that they can accommodate micropayments effectively. This transaction fees are typically charged through cryptocurrencies , such as Bitcoin or Ethereum.
How much would you charge to your customers?
The blockchain is relatively new that the operators are always uncertain how much to bill for their services. For example, service charges in the USA varied from less than $1 to more than $50! When you have strong competitors, look at what they ask and find out your own pricing. If you’re doing something fairly fresh, imagine measuring how much a blockchain will save a customer over time in terms of labour and direct costs, and then sell the blockchain based on those figures.
How much profit is a blockchain software company able to make?
Blockchains can be highly lucrative as long as they can scale their technology to meet customer demands.
How do you make your company more profitable?
Try reaching out to other markets in order to grow revenue. You may also theoretically provide more computing tools, such as back-end tools, to allow companies to embrace cryptocurrencies.
Is this business the right thing for you?
It is for those who realise how innovative the blockchain can be. This invention is being compared to the invention of the internet. The blockchain is a secure, open way to reduce fraud, validate vast volumes of data and speed up contact between different parties.
What’s going to happen on a normal day in a blockchain services business?
Much of the day is expected to be spent designing and perfecting the blockchain. Owners can also spend time promoting and advertising, networking and finding new avenues to reach their client base.
What are some of the skills and experiences that will help you develop a strong blockchain services business?
Ideally, the founders would be either programmers or biz-savvy people who can handle programmers. This may also help to provide some experience of project management. It can also help to have some experience in sales. Blockchain companies aim to provide technological tools to customers who may not be familiar with the underlying principles.
What is the growth potential of a blockchain services business?
The blockchain is expanding, and it might be only expected to keep going. No matter how experts feel about cryptocurrency, the underlying technology is only becoming more popular. As it becomes more universal, it is not unlikely that we will start to see practically everyone switching to this groundbreaking platform!
Taking the next step
Find business mentors and advisors
Effective mentoring is one of the best advantages an individual can get. As you start planning your project, get in contact with the mentors of She Leads Company and expets near you to get the support you need.
Form a legal entity
Establishing a legitimate corporate company such as Ltd protects you from being legally liable if your blockchain corporation is being sued. There are a lot of business structures to pick from. Now you can register for taxes, open a business bank account, set up business accounting and obtain the necessary permits and licences. Get support.
The unprecedented Covid-19 crisis is sending shock waves through economies and societies, it has also severely affected the energy sector. The lockdowns have caused delays in power projects due to supply chain disruptions, unavailability of manpower, and issues in project financing. But, given supportive government policies, growth is expected to resume next year as most of the delayed projects come online.
In a report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said the outbreak of Covid-19 has the potential to wipe out demand for fossil fuels and cause a reduction in energy demand seven times greater than the previous record reductions caused by the global financial crisis. IEA postulates that this most severe plunge in energy demand since World War II could trigger multi-decade lows for the world’s consumption of oil, gas, and coal while renewable energy would continue to grow. The benefits are already visible, the reduced demand this year only met by clean electricity supply will help erase a decade’s growth of global carbon emissions. It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts of the pandemic, but the energy industry that comes out from this crisis will be very different from the one that came before. Governments will play a key role in the post-COVID-19 economic and social recovery. By making investments in renewables key part of stimulus packages designed to reinvigorate global economies they can support the development of a better, decarbonized world.
Green energy drivers
Last year the primary drivers of the global energy transition were, firstly, political - goals set by the Pairs Agreement and, secondly, the growing pressure from citizens and consumers demanding greater accountability from corporations and governments.
The long-term temperature goal set by the Paris Agreement, which aims to hold the global average temperature increase to “well below 2°C above preindustrial levels” was one of the biggest drivers of change. This goal is closely linked to a requirement that every nation works together ‘to bring greenhouse gas emissions to global net-zero by mid-century’. This has already resulted in a number of nations setting their own targets, or planning to do so, for achieving net-zero emissions. The EU has decided to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 by at least 40% compared to 1990 and has agreed to continue the path towards climate neutrality by 2050. The present and seemingly inevitable recession following the Covid-19 crisis is drastically reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The extent to which this will help towards achieving the 2030 target depends on how long and how deep the recession will be. It is possible that the definition of carbon targets will be redefined and new carbon taxes set in the new world of low oil prices.
The second driver of change that is becoming more influential as the destructive effects of global warming become severe, is the growing pressure from citizens and consumers demanding greater accountability from corporations and governments. This was one of the last year’s defining features and in the post-COVID-19 times with the new social approach to ecology, it will continue to play an important role in driving the energy industry transition. It is clear that this pandemic will increase ecological awareness, and this is undeniably positive news for renewable energy sources. With consumers now becoming increasingly savvy in how they select their energy suppliers, the market’s "invisible hand" has the potential to become the main driver for change in the upcoming decade.
No-one could have known how 2020 would turn out and there is still a lot of uncertainty about the future. But the uncertainty about the future cannot be an excuse for inaction today; if the world is to limit global temperature increases to well below 2°C, we must act immediately. There is plenty of room for innovation in the energy sector. A large amount of low-carbon grid technologies are currently maturing and reaching the scale they require to properly compete with fossil-fuel generation. To enable further progress radical breakthroughs are required in the grid decarbonization technologies, as well as in the way we are managing the energy system intermittency issue. Seven clean energy trends to look out for over the next decade based on where we are now are discussed below.
Batteries are the key to moving away from our dependence on fossil fuel and will play a bigger role in the next decade. Wind and solar power, which are the most popular renewable energy sources, lack reliability. If we cannot develop effective energy storage techniques, then we will continue our damaging dependence on fossil fuel. Large storage is thus vital for zero-carbon transition. A lot of work has been carried out to develop improved, longer-lasting batteries. Currently, the most common are lithium-ion batteries, suitable for everything from small portable devices to electric vehicles. However, Li-ion batteries can only store energy for a few hours and suffer from rapid heat generation, which is far from ideal. So far the only option for storing wind and solar energy in bulk over long periods of time is pumped hydro. New types of economical bulk energy storage which last for ten hours or more have not been invented yet. The vanadium redox battery, also called the vanadium-flow battery, is the latest technology to emerge. It is able to provide an almost unlimited energy capacity, which it achieves by using bigger electrolyte storage tanks. However, the commercialization of vanadium (V) flow battery systems has suffered a setback due to the V being expensive.
A new type of utility-scale chemical battery storage that is not only commercially viable but can also deal with rapid intermittency in generation (renewables) and demand has still to be invented. Both governments and the private sector are pumping millions into supporting this new storage technology and there were expectations that an avalanche of investment will flow in. UBS has estimated that energy storage costs will drop by 66%-80% over the next decade, and the market will expand to $426 billion worldwide. With so many energy industry leaders to promote better energy management and storage, we should see greater development in this sector in the upcoming years and improved, longer-lasting batteries coming to the market.
2. Static Compensators
With renewable power generation continuing to expand worldwide, energy storage and reactive power compensation will both be necessary. The renewable energy output is intermittent and fluctuates during the day, which results in a large number of power networks that run on wind or solar energy to frequently struggle to provide electricity to meet the fluctuating load demand. This is an issue that fossil-fueled energy sources do not face. Using storage and reactive power compensation can minimize power imbalances. Devices called compensators can help to maintain a voltage that is consistent across the network, stopping power losses. They facilitate effective grids that are provided with a steady flow of electricity even when they are connected to variable energy sources. There are some businesses still hesitating about switching to green power because of this instability, but static compensators can reduce their worries. General Electric has already developed a patented Static Var Compensator (SVC) technology, which helps consumers to integrate renewable energy into established new networks. Although static compensators remain a niche technology, businesses such as GE and ABB will bring them to the forefront in 2020 and beyond.
3. Renewable generators
In April 2019, renewable energy outpaced coal for the first time ever in the US by providing 23% of America’s power generation, compared to coal’s 20% share. In the first six months of last year, wind and solar together made up approximately 50% of total renewable electricity generation in the US, displacing the dominance of hydroelectric power. In the UK, low electricity demand and the abundance of wind and sun in April and May this year led to an unprecedented level of use of renewable power reaching 30 percent of power generation. This month, the UK grid set yet another record by completing its first full month without any input from the country's coal-fired power stations making it the longest period the grid has ever operated without coal.
A combination of decreasing costs and the rising capacity factors of renewable energy sources, along with the increased competitiveness of battery storage, led to a rise in renewable energy growth last year. 11 of the EU’s 27 states successfully reached their 2020 renewable energy targets to get 20% of their energy from renewable sources and now aim to increase this to 32% by 2030, with other EU nations managing to reach far more ambitious targets. This trend promises increased growth in the renewable energy sector in the next decade.
Likewise, thanks to ongoing innovation and increased collaboration among multiple stakeholders further growth of clean-energy technology is anticipated. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, it was estimated that between 2020 and 2024, the worldwide market for distributed solar energy generation will achieve 21% growth per annum, and market revenue was poised to rise by $51.07 billion by 2024. As much as 71% of this growth was expected to come from the Asia Pacific region. Given ongoing uncertainty, the forecasts for 2020 and beyond will require review based on the market growth and policy developments. However, it is likely that distributed renewable generators will continue to move into the driver’s seat in the electricity markets, as utilities and regulators will choose them to save costs and tackle concerns about climate change, steadily ending the days of carbon-based energy.
4. Zero-carbon cities
The priority for the public and private sectors over the next ten years will be decarbonizing cities and buildings. More than 70 cities worldwide have already pledged to become "carbon neutral" by 2050, which means they will not produce any more climate-changing emissions than they can offset. Cities are the foundation of global decarbonization as they account for 70% of worldwide emissions. Buildings alone account for about 40%.
To meet the Paris Agreement’s goals, all buildings must be net zero-carbon by 2050. However, less than 1% of properties have so far achieved this. To optimize the performance of new and existing constructions developers and owners have various technologies at their disposal. First, buildings energy efficiency can be improved using SMART technology, such as sensor networks that monitor both power and water consumption, control temperature, and track sustainability performance in real-time. More activity in the area of SMART buildings' technology expected in the years to come. Second, all fossil fuel-based building systems, like boilers and furnaces, can be replaced by clean, renewable energy sources. Hence, the development of new electric heating and cooling solutions will be of major focus in the years ahead. In parallel with another major trend that will underpin the upcoming decade - decarbonization of the heating sector. Heat accounts for 50% of energy use and constitutes a big share of emissions. High-density areas like city centers have the potential to use low-grade heat from sewers and tube tunnels in the future fifth-generation heating networks. It is highly likely that by 2030 the majority of cities will upgrade their district heating networks or at least have plans in place for this.
Cities energy systems will also need to be prepared to rely on the local (renewable) generation and work with flexible residential-owned energy sources that are connected to modern digitalized grids to increase overall system resiliency. Both distributed renewable plants and small independent power generators near houses, business parks, college campuses, hospitals, and other critical municipal services will become increasingly important components in energy systems. Local micro-grids will be used to incorporate those distributed resources into zero-carbon cities. The need to improve the performance of micro-grids, optimize the consumption and demand and enable customers to easily and effectively trade excess energy has the potential to fuel another trend of incorporating blockchain technology aided by IoT as an effective way to handle the increasingly complex and decentralized transactions between users, retailers, traders, and utilities. Blockchain investment in the energy sector was expected to reach above $5.8 billion by 2025.
5. Green mobility
2019 was a vital year for mobility. There were many important disruptions, such as autonomous driving, electrification, and shared mobility. Electric vehicles (EVs) sales set further records as public awareness of this technology increased greatly. Cities have supported the transition in line with their promise of the emergence of a greener environment. Stuttgart recently turned its urban area into an environmental zone, banning around 300,000 diesel vehicles in urban traffic. Meanwhile, the UK’s ban on purchasing new petrol, diesel or hybrid cars and vans will be brought forward to 2035. There’s no doubt that the transition to EVs is occurring globally. Bloomberg predicts they will make up 57% of all passenger car sales globally by 2040.
Another extremely exciting trend is the development of autonomous, self-driving cars. Some industry players in 2019 demonstrated truly driverless cars without any backup drivers. Although progress in autonomous vehicles (AV) technology has not been as fast as previously anticipated, shared AVs (aka: robo-taxis) may play a key role in addressing mobility’s pain points in cities while making urban mobility increasingly efficient, affordable, environmentally-friendly and available to all. The popularity of the robo-taxis and the shared economy model will lead to a significant drop in car ownership. If AVs are integrated seamlessly into the public transport system, it will be an important enabler in reducing today’s share of private-car traffic. Connected cars can link in real-time with each other and objects in their environment. The AVs can, while driving autonomously, join to create a convoy and act like one single vehicle, simultaneously accelerating and decelerating to optimize the flow of traffic, possibly leading to a lower number of accidents and improving urban mobility.
A more radical step forward could take motorists into the air. Regulators have started granting approvals to a number of drone delivery and electric vertical takeoff and landing crafts, with the vehicles flying for the first time. With city centers being so congested, the move to using our airspace makes sense. Drone taxis are about to start trial operations in Los Angeles, Dallas, Dubai, and Singapore, and commercial use is scheduled from 2023. Pilots will still be responsible for the steering at first, but autonomous flying drone taxis are the aim.
6. Circular economy
An increasing amount of industries, government entities, and consumers are embracing a circular economy, where products are developed to be reused indefinitely, rather than going to landfills. This has had a huge impact on corporates and investors who have begun betting on its growth. Just recently, Blackrock partnered with Ellen MacArthur to launch the BGF Circular Economy Fund, which aims to drive investment towards businesses that work on circular economy initiatives. Startups like Loop are partnering with major brands (Haagen-Dazs, Tide, and Tropicana) to deliver products using reusable containers that are picked up after use. The B2B packaging solutions company, WestRock, recently generated $6 billion for its innovative, sustainable packaging approach. Applying circular economy principles could unlock up to EUR 1.8 trillion of value for Europe’s economy. The goal of the circular economy trend is to do more with less, and the financial benefits of this are increasing, setting the stage for a big upswing in circularity.
Another major trend worth mentioning is the recycling and treatment of plastic waste. Despite our recycling efforts and attempts to reduce its use, plastic pollution is still growing, affecting wildlife, their habitat, and humans. Large amounts of plastic aren’t recycled and end up in landfills or unregulated dumpsites in the developing world. Plastic production is constantly growing: it now stands at more than 300 million tonnes per year worldwide (5 million in the UK). Innovations, such as deep-learning machines that sort disposables with growing efficiency, can help sort the waste better, ensuring a cleaner and safer process. This kind of developments mean that robots will carry on enhancing current waste identification methods in the upcoming decade. Teaching AI machines how to touch, see, and learn could lead to major changes in the waste disposal industry. On the other hand, new eco-friendly materials will become increasingly important in the future. With single-use plastics bans coming into force around the globe, new plastic alternatives to traditional packaging materials will be needed. Big players on the market such as, Colgate-Palmolive is already working on a recyclable toothpaste tube that will be rolled out by 2025, and a London-based start-up, Notpla, has pioneered an edible, home-compostable film made from seaweed that can be used to package sauces and drinks.
Not only is hydrogen one of the most versatile energy carriers, but it can also be produced from a wide range of sources and is used in lots of different ways. This industry could, in theory, reach the scale of oil and gas. However, widespread adoption of green hydrogen faces many challenges, including a lack of infrastructure for a hydrogen-based economy and, just as importantly, cost competitiveness.
Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water. Hydrogen fuel can be produced in a couple of ways, through natural gas reforming (a thermal process) or electrolysis. “Green” hydrogen is derived from solar or wind power through electrolysis and “blue” and “grey” hydrogen is made from natural gas. Blue and grey hydrogen are the same, but the blue hydrogen production process also uses Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. Many see hydrogen technology as the next big thing and a vital option to fill the energy gap left by the closing of nuclear stations and phasing out of coal-fired power. However, although green hydrogen is clean, is still too costly to be deployed widely and prices might not drop until the 2030s. The scale-up of electrolysis has to drive down the cost, and mass production will require huge volumes of cheap electricity from renewable sources. To this end, the possibility of mass deployment of green hydrogen could be achieved if aligned with the projected scale-up in offshore wind production in Northwest Europe. Companies like the Danish Orsted are inventing new business models to accommodate green hydrogen production. Orsted has secured GBP 7.5 million funding for the next phase of Gigastack – a project that aims to demonstrate how renewable hydrogen derived from offshore wind could support the UK's 2050 net-zero greenhouse gas emission target. It will deploy electricity from the firm’s offshore UK wind farms to power the electrolysis process.
Green hydrogen is also getting industry support from the utilities, oil and gas, and automotive industries, including Shell, Toyota, and Mitsubishi. Public and private institutions are also focused on driving the transition to clean hydrogen, with large government funding being provided to clean hydrogen production demonstration projects in countries such as Japan, Australia, Germany, Scotland, and China. Technology is advancing quickly and the improvements that are required to make clean hydrogen more cost-competitive and efficient now appear to be close to fruition. It is likely that the uncertainty surrounding hydrogen’s future will mean that demand between now and 2030 will gradually grow. Once the costs come down after 2030, demand could take-off over the next two decades and reach 275 million metric tons of renewable hydrogen per year within 30 years.
About the author:
I am, Karolina, the founder of SHE Leads Company, THE place for women in blockchain, clean-energy tech and fin-tech. It matters to me that there aren’t enough women in cleantech. Help me close the gender gap in tech and stimulate the growth of female-led startups. Join our community, become a mentor, or sponsor the community and marketplace. Find out more by visiting: https://sheleadscompany.com
The pace of change in the banking and financial services (FS) field is faster than ever and it is fascinating to imagine what the next generation of banks and payments systems will look like. They will not transform overnight, however. Instead, a series of small, incremental changes will eventually lead to their transformation and fintech is sure to be at the very centre of their reinvention. One of the most significant changes has been the launch of new modifications of fintech products and services developed for specific functions within the financial ecosystem, such as robo-advising, insurtech, and regtech. There seems to be no doubt that fintech innovation will change FS; the only question is, which startups and companies will take the lead?
According to the World Bank report about 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked globally, i.e. they do not have an account through a mobile money provider or at a financial institution. Almost all unbanked adults live in the developing world because account ownership is nearly universal in high-income economies. In fact, nearly half of them live in China, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico and Pakistan. When the unbanked have a mobile phone, it can provide access to mobile money accounts and various other financial services. The market is vast. About 1.1 billion unbanked adults worldwide own a mobile phone. Mobile phones and access to the internet provide huge opportunities to increase financial inclusion and provide new financial services that are tailored to the unbanked, first-time users of financial services, women, poor people, and other disadvantaged groups who can have low numeracy and literacy skills. Such technologies are key as they could help to overcome the barriers that prevent unbanked people from accessing financial services. People would no longer need to travel far to a financial institution, digital technology could increase the service affordability by driving down the cost of receiving and sending payments. During a five-month relief programme in Niger, people saved an average of 20 hours in travel and waiting time to collect their payments by making the switch from cash to mobile payments for government social benefits.
One of the core goals of any bank or financial institution, is to extend its services to the largest potential audience possible, and tapping into the unbanked opportunity will continue to be a big trend in the upcoming years.
2. Digital-only banks
A digital-only bank, also known as a neobank, is an app-based bank that has no need for physical branches. Automated processes and real-time updates are used for numerous services and customers are offered support via in-app chat. The unbanked in developing nations prefer to interact with app-only digital banks, as do many millennials in developed countries. Both want a cheaper, more convenient service than what is available to them at the moment.
Neobanks are redefining the future of banking around the world. In some countries, such as the US, their development has been weakened due to regulatory barriers, but the recent loosening of regulations suggest that digital-only banks in US are ready to take off. The new financial reality is that we will soon have online global transfers, mobile wallets and AI financial assistance available to us with no need for physical branches..
Business Insider Intelligence reported that 48% of banking executives believe new technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) will have the greatest impact on banking through 2020. Blockchain promises to bring about a global makeover of financial systems. It not only offers new technology but also a new philosophy of decentralised finance that is focused on eliminating centralised processes. Blockchain ideology has so far inspired the creation of various online P2P (peer to peer) financing platforms that enable monetary interactions to take place in a more decentralised way. This distributed ledger technology (blockchain) is able to enhance existing systems and processes and is the birthplace of cryptocurrencies.
There has been talk about a crypto revolution for over ten years and new cryptocurrencies are expected in the future. Already some nations are working on making their own national cryptocurrencies and so there could be a gradual shift from fiat to crypto. As coin stability is achieved and regulatory frameworks around crypto are tightened, digital money payments will become more common. Banks are already exploring blockchain technology in the hope of cutting costs and improving internal processes.
4. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
More than $1 trillion of our financial services cost structure could be replaced by AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms. AI creates change in every area of the financial services industry, including the front, middle and back office. Consumers can already see AI being used by most banks through chatbots in the front office. Love them or hate them, chatbots are here to stay. Conversational banking is now used by Morgan Stanley, the Bank of America, JPMorgan, HSBC, to name but a few. Integrating financial data and account action with software agents which can hold a conversation with customers is the most promising front office AI application, with the smart virtual assistant market expected to reach up to $19B globally within five years. With complex regulations and processes moving towards real-time, know-your-customer (KYC) systems, AI oversight and risk-management could become very valuable in the middle office. On the other hand in the back office, machine learning can automatically power simple credit underwriting models. Insurance underwriting can also use machine learning on applicant data in order to price policies, while insurance companies can utilise machine vision to assess claims, including flood damage and accident damage to a car.
If you are considering either launching a business or changing your career, then AI is the smart choice. More than 51 percent of UK and US companies lack the specialists to put new AI strategies into practice. Companies will be forced to invest in developing in-house AI experts because more than 133 million roles are to be created within two years, with the work being divided between algorithms, machines and people.
The financial sector is a very regulated industry and the fintech revolution requires a parallel development of regtech. This refers to new technological solutions that improve and streamline regulatory processes. Real-time tracking of airliners’ locations and monitoring corporations’ compliance with environmental regulations are just a couple of examples of how technology could improve the regulated industry. Regtech has emerged in response to the top-down institutional demand that has arisen from the huge growth of compliance costs. Legislators, technology companies, and reputed financial actors, will work together closely to launch new regulatory innovations, but these frequently need time to mature. As did the application of biometric authentication or fingerprint scanning for financial transactions, which created a buzz after the data theft in 2015. Recent research, however, reveals that the market size is growing, and over 2.6 billion biometric users will be in the payments market by 2023.
6. The cloud
It is clear that the public cloud will eventually become the dominant infrastructure model, as cloud-based computing is only just getting started. Many financial institutions use cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications for their business processes, which might be seen as non-core, such as CRM, HR, and financial accounting. They also turn to SaaS for ‘point solutions’, including KYC verification and security analytics. However, as application offerings improve and CIOs and both COOs become comfortable with these arrangements, this technology is becoming the main way that core activity is processed. Core service infrastructures in areas like credit scoring, consumer payments, and statements and billings for asset managers’ basic current account functions are on their way to becoming utilities.
Most fintechs launching now are cloud-native. As a result, teams achieve better scalability and agility as they don’t have to spend time managing the data centres and infrastructure. Meanwhile, IBM has announced it is collaborating with Bank of America in the creation of a fintech public cloud with due allowance for regulatory compliance, security and resiliency. The core of the financial revolution is fintech firms that innovate speedily and offer customer-centred services, which require cloud computing technologies. So migration to the cloud is now inevitable.
The industry’s digitisation is a long-term fintech banking trend, and implicates a particular vulnerability to identity theft, fraud, espionage and money laundering. Cyber-threats have had a big impact on the financial services industry. It was revealed in the 2016 global CEO survey that 69% of CEOs in the financial services industry felt somewhat or extremely concerned about cyberthreats, compared to 61% of CEOs across all the other sectors, and this unlikely to change anytime soon. Data breaches and IT crashes have become increasingly common in banks and prove very costly. TSB’s crash in April 2018 led to a £107 million loss, and challenger bank Monzo asked 480,000 customers to change their PIN numbers in 2019 due to a bug in their security system. When a cyberattack hits a financial institution’s online banking services, the average costs are $1.8 million. Significantly, the biggest losses have been distributed among smaller companies, due to less investment in IT security.
Despite security concerns about fintech, which about 71 percent of adopters currently have, they still prefer digital financial products. This is great news for the industry but places extra responsibility on fintech firms and their tech departments. As a result, financial institutions will remain committed to investing in cybersecurity methods and strategies now and in the future.
At She Leads Company we believe that the world needs more female leaders in fintech, investors and more female-led startups. Our mission is to close the gender gap in business and access to finance for women. By working with investors, VC funds, banks, startups and corporates we strive to bring more investment, more recognition, and more support to all women. If you are a woman working in fin-tech and would like to share your knowledge and inspire other women to choose fintech you can join our platform and offer your mentoring and consulting services at www.sheleadscompany.co.uk
Climate change presents perhaps the greatest challenge facing humans now. The stakes are colossal and the risks and uncertainties severe. The social problem‐solving mechanisms in place were not designed to cope with anything like the set of problems of this scale and complexity. There are no precedents. Scientists and policymakers are currently advocating technological and policy innovations to cut carbon emissions as the destructive effects of climate change become increasingly severe. Crucial to this is the transition from fossil fuel-based energy systems to renewable-based energy generation. This change is also an opportunity to develop more localised, equitable, and democratic energy systems. However, so far, we have failed to address the challenge adequately. As we try to prevent and adapt to the consequences of climate change problems continue to manifest themselves. Therefore, one of the central social, political, and economic questions of the century is: how do we act?
First of all, as a society we will have to learn how to better respond to the climate change and our reactions will be shaped by the socially-constructed gender roles. Research has revealed, that women are more likely to be green than men and global warming denial is mostly propagated by elderly men with influential positions in the society. A 2014 paper in the International Journal for Masculinity Studies found that majority of climate skeptics were men as for them “it was not the environment that was threatened; it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity” that was at risk. As Martin Gelin highlighted in The New Republic last year, the world’s highest-profile climate campaigners are both young women, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg, and it is mainly older conservative men shouting them down. Research has found that women tend to be more altruistic, prosocial and empathetic, as they display a stronger care ethic and a future-focused perspective. The research suggests they possess higher levels of socialisation, are socially responsible and care about others. Women care about environmental problems and are willing to adopt environmental behaviours. Female environmentalists talk about ensuring the future of generations, protecting children, preserving family life, maintaining everyone’s health and securing the quality of life of people in their communities. As a result, women are more likely to champion environmental action and sustainability. Therefore, having more women in leadership positions in academia, large private companies and governments, would lead to an increase in investments in renewable energy solutions and higher focus on reducing our carbon footprint on the planet. The fact that still today women are underrepresented in many places where important decisions are being made hinders their ability to influence the energy transition process. According to Catherine Mitchell, a professor of energy policy at the University of Exeter, poor gender diversity means the energy industry is more closed to new ideas, especially the move to a lower-carbon system. Mitchell, who has worked on energy issues for more than 30 years and advises the government, regulators and businesses, said: “I absolutely do think that the fact that the industry is so dominated by men and particularly older white men, it is slowing down the energy transition.” Women could play an important role in the energy industry, but the sector is lagging behind other industries in gender diversity. This is holding back its efforts to take action and tackle climate change.
There are many well-documented benefits that can be gained from hiring and retaining women in the sector. Firms that invest in women and have gender-diverse teams have been found to be not only more innovative, but also better at producing more revenue growth. Groups with greater gender parity are also linked to more effective inclusive results in their decision making. There have been remarkable efforts all over the globe towards creating greater gender equality and empowering women across industries, the energy sector is no exception. However, there is still a lot to be done. The energy industry is starting from a very low base when it comes to women’s participation, and that base dwindles even more in higher senior positions. For example, in 2016, U.S. licensed electricians were 97.9% male and 83.2% white. It was also estimated that 60% of males who held leadership positions in the electricity sector were within five years of retirement. The transition from fossil-fueled to renewable energy generation is creating new job opportunities and new possibilities to shape the work environment in the energy sector. Because producing and distributing clean energy is more labour intensive than for most fossil fuel-based systems and the number of renewable generators is growing (by 2050 over 80% of the UK’s electricity could come from wind and solar power), the sector is finding it difficult to keep pace as it struggles with current skills shortages in engineering. Women can fill the skills gap. However, various difficulties have stopped them from studying engineering and other STEM disciplines, thus from working in cleantech and the energy sector. Some are structural barriers that women as a whole experience in the workplace, such as difficulties in fitting work around childcare responsibilities and a lack of female role models, while others are specific to working in a male-dominated field. What are these barriers and what can we do to finally remove them?
1. Address gender bias and stop patronizing
Gender bias is particularly visible when women are hired, interviewed and promoted in the workplace, and also when funding is provided to female-led startups. Women frequently feel undermined or patronised, even if they are considered to be experts in their fields. Research shows that as many as 41% of British women face patronising comments or behaviour in the workplace. For women business owners gender bias can be frequently observed during startup pitching events when male investors direct their questions to male staff rather than the female founder. Moreover, women who ask for money are twice as likely to be treated negatively by the investors who will also tend to focus more on risk when reviewing female-led businesses instead on rewards as they do when reviewing male startups.Startups run by women frequently have to hire a male employee who can open doors for them and be the person that the investors can talk to. In an interview with an Asian startup, the female founders explained that they had to hire a male CEO as it was the only way for them to navigate the gender bias in China, as he would speak on their behalf at investor meetings. Usually, however, it is enough to change the introductory language and habits. It helps to introduce the female founder as the business owner as this helps to establish authority and clear up any confusion about the role. Moreover, taking action during pith events to reframe any risk-related questions about the startup can refocus the investors on the opportunities presented by the venture.
In the workplace women and men are often evaluated differently when it comes to promotion and so are the words that are used to describe their negative and positive traits. Researchers recently examined objective and subjective performance measures by analysing a big military dataset (with more than 4,000 participants and 81,000 evaluations). This included a list of 89 positive and negative leadership attributes which were utilised to assess people’s leadership performance in a military leadership scenario. The researchers found there were significant gender differences in the use of negative attributes when men and women were evaluated, even though their performances were the same when more objective measures (fitness scores, grades, etc.) were used. Women were generally assigned significantly more negative attributes, with inept being the most frequently used.
What can we do to get rid of this bias? We can learn how to recognise our predisposition to certain beliefs with the right training. This can help us to reflect on how our ability to maintain an open mind enables us to assess data without being initially judgmental about it. Some of us, however, doubt whether humans can conduct this kind of de-biasing, and even if we could, whether it would be sufficient to have an effect. With help come dedicated software solutions and AI-based technologies. After all machines should be gender neutral, right? Sadly, first experimental hiring tool created by Amazon learned a biased view of women from the data it was fed, it did not like women and thought male candidates were the preferred option. When it rated candidates for technical jobs, CVs including the word “women’s”, such “women’s chess club captain”, were penalised. It also downgraded all-women’s college graduates. AI systems could potentially improve HR practices hugely but developers have to ensure that the algorithms’ recommendations are not discriminatory. As a result, a lot of developers are looking closely at different bias mitigation approaches.
According to the World Economic Forum, the energy sector has one of the lowest women participation rates in the world. It is just 25% (including mining) and this figure drops with rising seniority. In 2012, the energy industry had the least number of women board members in any sector. In fact, 61% of energy companies in the US had no female board members at all. While in the UK, women hold just 5% of executive board seats and a worrying62% of top 89 UK headquartered energy firms have no women at all on the board. The lack of visible female role models in the tech and energy industries causes many women to second-guess their ability to successfully fit in. As a result, women who consider joining a tech or energy company frequently ask themselves if it can offer the support they need, as well as the inclusive environment and equal development opportunities required. Women launching a cleantech business face similar concerns - lack of clients, the fear of isolation, concern about not fitting in, and an inability to attract finance. More visible female role models are undoubtedly required to reassure them and address these concerns.
In addition, bold and transparent leadership targets are needed that are supported by a range of internal policies and programmes. For example, introducing flexible working hours or inclusive recruitment practices could help to remove biases from the workplace. When internal initiatives are done correctly they can greatly improve a company’s culture for women. Instead, it is common, that they focus only on educating men about unconscious bias and training women to adopt traditionally masculine leadership styles. This approach is not working, in spite of increase in leadership programmes, female representation in leadership positions remains low. The current approach is far too focused on ‘fixing’ women that ‘hold themselves back’ . As a result, organisations often focus on teaching women how to become men 2.0 and end up thinking and acting like men. What’s needed instead is focus on fostering female perspective and leadership style by going beyond structured programmes. To eradicate the cultural bias embedded in the company structure we need to look into changing everyday, often unfair, organisational practices and focus on creating inclusive environment for female leaders to thrive. Such reforms would also improve company diversity, culture and revenue.
Companies could contribute to this change by making sure they improve their internal and external communication so that it features diverse models, avoids gender stereotypes and uses gender-neutral language. Every department could also contribute by attending events that feature women or by hosting their own recruitment events. In addition, companies should implement clear hiring and leadership performance criteria, which are transparent and measurable, and ensure that recognition is allocated fairly. Increased accountability and transparency in both pay and promotion decisions is also recommended.
A strong support network is crucial for the success of any entrepreneur or professional. Women especially benefit from having a supportive network of friends, mentors and people to confide in or consult during their professional journey that in a male-dominated industries can often be a lonely one. The absence of a strong support system frequently proves to be an obstacle that stops a woman from owning a business or making progress in her career. Consequently, there are a number of institutions focused on connecting mentors with mentees and helping women to build their networks. Among them is the National Association of Women Business Owners, which regularly hosts events so that female founders can meet, and the She Leads Company platform, which matches female founders with female consultants and mentors. It is worth mentioning that having mentors of either gender will provide positive benefits to women. Social media platforms like LinkedIn are a great place to look for mentors and build business relationship with inspiring leaders.
An important piece of the puzzle to increasing number of female founders, workers and leaders in tech industries is linked to the difficulty of getting females into STEM-related studies. There are fewer girls taking part in the STEM fields because of social pressures, including a lack of encouragement, negative peer pressure, harassment and a lack of role models. If we are to motivate girls to choose STEM education and female professionals to follow a career in the energy sector, a way must be found to make women more visible in STEM. Mentoring and networking is the key as this creates a stimulating peer-learning environment and supportive community for women. We can provide our own support, as industry professionals, by encouraging women to join and contribute to the field and then supporting them. This could involve participating in networking events, acting as a role model, speaking about women’s achievements in the energy sector or signing up to be a mentor. These are all great ways to encourage girls and women to choose to pursue a career in STEM. The aim must be to create a society that views women engineers as both role models and sources of inspiration.
One of the most effective ways to improve gender equality is through language. Research has shown how gender neutrality is vital when we are writing and speaking about people. Not only is it more accurate, it is also consistent with the values of equality. Therefore, removing gender-biased terms and symbols from both written and verbal communication can make the work environment more welcoming and appealing to women. The language used today frequently excludes women and, as a result, treats women and men unequally. The male is seen as the ‘norm’, and the female as the ‘other’, which makes our use of language unjust to women. Generic terms like ‘he’ or ‘man’ are the most obvious examples.
It has been demonstrated that language is integral to the practice of power in technological fields, so the status of language practices within the STEM professions needs to be consciously questioned. The UK government has acknowledged this by announcing a trial of gender-neutral language to define STEM apprenticeships. A pilot will apply gender-neutral language to 12 apprenticeship standards and the aim is to encourage more women to apply.
A recent study has shown why gender-neutral language also needs to be used in all STEM publications and during class. The research reveals that gender-biased language is used in engineering classrooms and literature, although this is often not done deliberately. Researchers collected evidence in an engineering design classroom of mild but persistent profanity and semi-sexual, double entendres by male students. It was found this behaviour along with the male lecturer’s use of images from military and hunter/warrior traditions, affected the classroom, creating an environment where women’s social worth became undermined. A change in language needs to be considered for STEM to be more welcoming to females and become a genderless discipline. In the energy industry the male dominance also transpires through both the written and verbal communication used in marketing, internal documentation, HR materials and everyday business life. Male-centric lingo derived from war, sports and machinery only reinforce the idea that the workplace is (or should be) a man cave with water coolers. Similarly, terms such as, fintech, cleantech and accelerators are often used in the startup ecosystem that do not sound appealing to women. Using gender-neutral language that is more balanced could attract more women to study and work in the sector.
Finally, HR communication, especially the wording of job adverts frequently displays significant male bias. Job descriptions often use two methods of communicating. Communal language that is mainly applied to women and agentic language that is applied to men. Former aims to invoke stereotypical female traits, such as showing warmth, being supportive and helping the team. Contrarily, latter is more about taking charge, getting the job done, and being independent. For example, male-gendered job descriptions might describe a company as ‘a dominant engineering firm that boasts many clients’, whereas a female-gendered version could state ‘we are a community of engineers who have effective relationships with many satisfied clients’. In most cases, the use of masculine, agentic language that appeal to men will repel women and vice versa. The need to deal with women and men equally highlights just how desirable the use of gender-neutral language is.
STEM is an integral part of the growing field of clean-tech and an area where more top talent is required. It is vital that more girls take STEM subjects at school years and female talent is attracted to STEM careers. Currently, the female representation remains very low. When PwC carried out research into this issue with over 2,000 A-Level and university students, they found that the gender gap in technology begins at school and continues throughout women’s lives. Just 27% of the female students surveyed said they would consider following a career in technology, compared to 61% of the male students. There is a need for a conscious proactive strategy in schools and universities to firstly, encourage women to start considering STEM subjects as a degree, and secondly, raise awareness of female role models. Women need to be given the opportunity to experience life as a STEM student and an energy professional and the best way of achieving this is to debunk any misconceptions that STEM is a ‘boy’s only area’. Making girls and women aware of the great opportunities available in the fields of engineering and sustainability is a major communication challenge that needs to be addressed.
There are a number of actions we should take to improve diversity, both globally and locally, within the energy industry, such as ensuring that female speakers feature at cleantech events, showcasing the successes of female cleantech leaders, and creating a culture which promotes and rewards inclusive behaviours. It is vital to keep promoting and supporting STEM in the long term as this will improve the pipeline. As females have extra responsibilities assigned to their roles they should be getting greater recognition, more investment, and increased support. Movements like Women in Tech and She Leads Company are dedicated to supporting the cause and can help put a spotlight on more women in working in tech.
Female-led startup companies receive only 10% of venture capital investment, and less than 1% of UK venture funding goes to all-female teams. It’s not only female leadership that is putting investors off, it’s the mere presence of a woman. Shockingly, the report reveals that having a woman on your pitch team means you will receive a skimpy tenth of funding compared to those without. Female founders ask for outside funding less frequently than males do, and when they do request cash, they generally get less than men do as the investors tend to focus on risk when they review female-led businesses and focus on rewards when reviewing male startups. Each risk-related question a woman is asked equates, on average, to about $3.8 million less in funding. Investors fears however seem to be unjustified. Studies show that, despite getting less funding than men, female founders greatly outperform all-men teams. In fact, women-led technology companies achieve a 35% higher return on investment, according to research from the Kauffman Foundation in the US. In addition, a recent study from the BI Norwegian Business School showed that women are better suited to leadership than men.
In spite of the facts, All Raise’s research finds that the growth rate of funding injected into female-founded companies has leveled off over recent years as the biases and prejudices of investors prevent them from seeing clearly. Therefore, much-needed changes are needed in the investing industry to stop this damaging trend of undervaluing female-led businesses. As women investors are more likely to invest in female founders, changes in the VC ranks are required. If the backers, including state pension funds and insurers, demanded that VC firms employed more female executives and invested in more female founders, the funds would listen.
To summarize, women, just the same as men, need to invest in marketing and research and development, as well as hire staff to build a business. But their ability to succeed is severely hampered by the fact they raise less money. More female-founder friendly VCs are therefore required, as well as increased support for women during every stage of the investing process.
Speaking on diversity in general, it is important to recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight. However, there are actions that can be taken that we know can speed up the transformation. At She Leads Company (https://sheleadscompany.com), we believe that the world needs more female leaders, investors and more female-led startups. Our mission is to close the gender gap in business and access to finance for women. By working with investors, VC funds, banks, startups and corporates, we strive to bring more investment, more recognition, and more support to women fintech and energy tech.
Blockchain is viewed by many as one of the biggest tech disruptions in this century. It’s popularity initially driven by greed has evolved pass that and could end up building something much more important than wealth. It has the potential to revolutionize the way governments, institutions, and corporate work. In the recent years the implementation of blockchain has been increasing across wide range of industries.
Blockchain has the potential to solve the worlds’ most pressing environmental challenges by harnessing the technological innovation to transform the energy market and improve process efficiencies. However the largest blockchain network – Bitcoin is often criticized for wasting energy and polluting environment. Bitcoin, Ethereum and multiple other minable altcoins are responsible for significant power consumption. The environmental criticism of cryptocurrencies often neglects to put the issue in the context of wider technological applications of blockchain. After all, Bitcoin is just one of many uses of this technology.
What is Blockchain
Blockchain is a digital distributed ledger that is the foundation of Bitcoin and most cryptocurrencies. Information on blockchain is secured by cryptography and can be accessed using private keys and personal cryptographic signatures. Because it is decentralized it does not depend on a central authority for safekeeping, in fact Bitcoin network is public and allows anyone to join.
The transactions are being verified by computers in the blockchain network (known as nodes). Nodes use a consensus protocol to agree on ledger content. Some nodes are mining nodes, these group outstanding transactions into blocks and add them to the blockchain. They do this by solving a complex mathematical puzzle that is part of the Bitcoin program, and by including the answer in the block. The miners are being rewarded for their work with miner reward – Bitcoin.
This process is very resource-intensive; it requires substantial computing power and energy to maintain the blockchain. Cumulative power being consumed by the miners in Bitcoin network, as estimated by Digiconomist, is 54TWh per year, which is equivalent of annualized energy consumption in Bangladesh or 168 million people.
Bitcoin mining resembles gold mining, it imitates the property of scarcity of competing for limited resources that will eventually not be available. In this process thousands of individual devices compete to become the first to solve the cryptographic puzzle. Whoever solves it first, gets the reward. Everyone else just wasted the electricity on doing pointless computations. The consensus protocol encouraging wasteful energy consumption and used in this process is called Proof of Work. It is connected with the incentive given to miners in exchange for the energy they spent to enhance stability, security and safety of the network.
More than Bitcoin
There are however, different ways to validate transactions and achieve the distributed consensus. Bitcoin competitor Ethereum is considering a move to a Proof of Stake based protocol, which uses a different process to confirm transactions. Although purpose of those algorithms is the same the process to reach the goal is different. In Proof of Stake there is no block reward to be earned and the validators do not have to use their computing power. Instead the creator of the next block is selected in a deterministic way - based on their stake – the amount of coins the person has for the particular blockchain. Transaction fees are validators’ reward. Removing the high-powered computing from the consensus algorithm makes Proo-of-Stake more energy efficient than Proof-of-Work.
There are many ways to structure a blockchain using various types of blockchain (private, premissioned, etc) and different consensus protocols such as Proof-of-Authority or Proof of Burn, and most of them do not require much energy. In fact most blockchain solutions remove the need for high energy consumption by not using Proof-of-Work protocol and thus not needing mining.
Blockchain for good
Fortunately, this allows blockchain to be one of the emerging technologies that can be used to repair some of the world’s environmental challenges. In September 2018, the World Economic Forum issued the Building Block(chains) for a Better Planet report, that identified 65 existing and emerging blockchain use-cases addressing six of today’s most pressing environmental challenges: climate change, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, ocean-health deterioration, air pollution and water scarcity. Many of these opportunities extend far beyond “tech for good” considerations and are connected to global economic, industrial and human systems.
Blockchain can be applied in various ways to save energy and help the environment. Three applications that show a lot of promise are: peer-to-peer exchange of energy, electric vehicle charging and exchange of goods.
Decentralization of energy
World decarburization relies on the emergence of renewable energy resources that are inherently distributed and intermittent. The capacity to tap into them is often related to the ability to manage the supply and demand efficiently. Blockchain could simplify the co-ordination of decentralized electricity resources among individuals along with their platform and networking capabilities. Transition to decentralized utility system at scale using blockchain includes solutions such as peer-to-peer transactions, dynamic pricing and optimal demand-supply balancing. Platforms can collect data from the households via smart sensors estimating energy demand. This would transform the way that energy is produced, stored and consumed.
Several pilot studies involving small to large-scale energy projects are currently underway around the world. In New York, neighboring householders are selling power to each other in a blockchain provided by technology provider, LO3 Energy. In Australia and New Zealand also, Perth start-up Power Ledger enables neighbors to buy and sell surplus power.
Usage of smart contracts to coordinate distributed energy resources is one of possible solutions. This would require each participating household to install a smart meter to record energy consumption patterns. Once the most efficient schedule of energy for that individual home is established it can be synchronized with demands of the rest of the households within the network. By using smart contract for coordination, a blockchain based platforms can use a decentralized optimization algorithm to manage the energy demands of the users within the constrains of the energy grid. The algorithm can optimize distributed networks on day-ahead or hour-ahead schedules without relaying on a centralized operator.
A simple aggregation step on a smart contract can enable local solutions to come together and optimize the energy distribution for the whole network. This could be appied to a handful of houses, a neighborhood or an entire city.
Other solutions - Supply chain
Blockchain is a game changer for the supply chain management; it allows to transparently track all types of transactions. Every time a product changes hands, from production line to recycling, it is documented, creating a permanent history of a product. Leaner and more automated practices can reduce process waste and achieve cost savings. Companies such as Walmart and Maersk have already jumped on the blockchain supply chain bandwagon to optimize supply and sustainable production. For example, Walmart uses blockchain to track pork sourced from China, data collected include origin of each piece of meat, where it was processed, stored and what is its sell-by-date. Other retailers like Nestle and Unilever, use blockchain to drive fair and responsible business by providing more information about how each item was produced to their customers, particularly identifying whether a product has been ethically and sustainably sourced.
Blockchain and Electric Vehicles
One of the recent applications of blockchain is a peer-to-peer electric vehicle (EV) charging solution. The lack of chagrin infrastructure is one of key challenges to widespread adoption of EVs. Charging posts are usually installed and operated in a centralized fashion by utility companies. Efforts are being made to improve the charging infrastructure globally. Decentralizing the economic model and allowing individuals to share their charging pols with the public can speed up the process. Private owners can utilize their charging stations during idle times and earn revenue by letting other EV owners use it. The utility company can fulfill the role of a facilitator, providing the posts and access to the charging app. In Germany Innogy Innovation Hub has already taken its solution to the market. The offered mobile app – Share&Charge enables its users to share their charging posts and lets the EV drivers find nearest charging points.
Room to grow
I am always interested in the rise of new technologies in the energy sector. Blockchain, although still in its infancy, offers exciting new possibilities. As the technology matures, unavoidably new challenges associated with its adoption will arise. Regulatory, security and scalability issues will require addressing and defining clear solutions to move the technology forward. I look forward to be part of it and watch how it unfolds.
Entrepreneurs confront huge problems — throwing themselves head-first into developing new and better solutions that add value to peoples’ lives. But a startup can only live up to its potential by communicating what it does to the outside world.
Brand is the right place to start, but is so often misunderstood — as a great name and logo, rather a way to creating meaningful relationships (that ultimately lead to sales).
When I built my first business, one of my first activities was to create my name and my logo. It made me feel comfortable. That I — and it — had an identity. But very quickly, I felt just as lost as I had done before. I had a great product that I’d worked really hard to build, a little team of people, and now a logo and a name to go with it — but still no direction.
I have learnt that doing it properly doesn’t have to be hard, slow or costly. And can quickly and effectively accelerate a startup’s growth.
What really is a brand?
In the years since that first business, I’ve learnt a good deal (the hard way) about what brand really means. Your brand is the way that people experience what you do and interact with your business. It’s how every activity your business carries out makes people feel. Your visual identity (logo, colors, typeface etc) is extremely important but is just one of the ways you communicate your brand, add to the overall experience and ensure it feels consistent.
A great brand gives you strong foundations on which to build your business. It lays down the fundamentals. A path to follow. And the confidence to grow.
At Think Plan Thrive we work with Founders and their teams to build brand foundations on which to grow their business. Before naming or thinking about visual identity, we ask all stakeholders to consider a set of key questions. We look for individual perspectives within a company, and from them, we bring everyone together to build a shared vision.
We believe that this shared vision is the key to a happy and successful brand. That aligning your leadership team allows you to consider how you connect with your customers to produce a consistent and coherent experience. Crucially, it allows you to move forward faster and more effectively as you create logos, websites, copy and advertising. Finding it is a simple but powerful process.
Here’s how we do it.
1. Define who you are solving a problem for.
Create customer ‘personas’ — these are imaginary people who represent a particular type of target customer. Perhaps create two or three (no more though). Think broadly, then narrow it down. Prioritize: which persona is the easiest to reach? Which holds the most value?
2. Find your competitors. Articulate why is your solution better.
Be confident that your USP is actually a USP. Challenge your team to think objectively. To unemotionally assess your product and express the most valuable points of differentiation.
3. Think long-term.
What does your business look like in 5, 10, 20 years time? Think big. Consider how things will change and grow over time. And whether what you’re creating now fits with that vision.
4. Understand your purpose.
Think hard about the specific problem you are solving for your customers. Think about why it matters so much to you, and define why it matters to them. Your purpose becomes a philosophy that guides you and your team. Two great examples: Southwest Airlines’ purpose is ‘ to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.’ Tesla’s is to ‘accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transport.’
5. Define your values.
We all interact with brands almost as people, so consider that you need to shape your brand to have a personality. How do you want it to make people feel? How do you want it to be perceived? We recently joined an inspiring discussion with Virgin Holidays’ Head of Customer Experience, Kate Burgess, who prioritizes values about everything else. Virgin’s brand values are ‘providing heartfelt service, being delightfully surprising, red hot, and straight up while maintaining an insatiable curiosity and creating smart disruption.’
This is just the beginning of the journey, but will enable you to shape a brand that represents you, what you have built and the type of relationship you want to have with your customers. Don’t feel afraid to be bold — you will iterate on everything as you grow, but setting some things down right away empowers you to make confident decisions about your path forward.
Understanding what your brand is really about and baking this into everything you do, will allow you to communicate with consistency, lead people to believe in and begin to trust your brand. It is the key to building relationships that last and a brand that grows.
Want to talk about the brand challenges your startup is facing?
Join us at our next event where Imogen will share her experience and knowledge of building brands for high-growth startups.
Get your ticket here: Tickets
Imo is a partner at Think Plan Thrive, a London based Strategy company. We help organizations to build from strong foundations, seize opportunities and get results, fast.
See more at www.thinkplanthrive.com
Female founders continue to face unique challenges when seeking investments. The percentage of funds invested in female-led business in the UK dropped down from 15 in 2016 to 9 percent in 2017. Moreover, only 5.5% of all VC cash went into companies with a female founder.
1. VC firms
VC firms tend to be geared towards risk avoidance; they seek investments that ‘look’ safe. Venture capital firms being predominantly male, tend to invest in familiar social networks, which happen to be networks filled with men. Quick look at the statistics shows that women represent just 13% of decision makers in U.K. venture capital and a significant number of firms have no women representation at all. So due to the VC firms’ composition, they tend to fund individuals like themselves viewing them as more 'safe'.
Having looked at the statistic, a female founder might give up on ever receiving VC money and turn to banks for a loan. She might think it’s a safer solution. But the uphill battle does not stop here. Recent study by US based online loan aggregator Fundera found that “there is a consistent and systemic disparity in how men and women entrepreneurs can finance their small businesses. Women receive fewer, smaller loans for higher interest rates, and this doubtless contributes to their disproportionately small influence over the national economy.”
Another US online marketplace for small business funding, Biz2Credit, estimated that small business approval rates are 15%-20% lower for women-owned companies than they are for businesses owned by men. And yet again, female-led business are seen riskier, which results in lower credit scores and higher operating costs for women. Not the equality we are looking for.
On the pursuit of funding, female founder might turn to booming market of alternative financing. Crowdfunding platforms seem to be the place to go for women looking to finaly open the door of their businesses or expand their operations. PwC and The Crowdfunding Centre, having analysed over 450,000 seed crowdfunding campaigns, put together a report: Women Unbound: Unleashing female entrepreneurial potential. The report explores the experience of women raising finance through seed crowdfunding compared with more traditional finance raising routes.
PwC found that women outperform men in seed crowdfunding. Data shows that campaigns led by women were 32% more successful at reaching their funding target that those led by men. Even in the male dominated tech sector, where only 1 campaign in 10 is led by women, the female led campaigns turned out to be more successful.
In spite of the many successes, men raise substantially more finance and use seed crowdfunding more. Many female led business don’t reach their funding goals. This is because some of the female-led business are solving problems that men don't know exist, such as those related to motherhood or women’s health. Overwelming majority of investors on crowdfunding platforms are male, they fail to understand the financial opportunity and investment potential of businesses that solve problems they are unfamiliar with. Bottom line is that we are back to the diversity issue, there is not enough females investing money in startup business or even investing in general. Sadly, research shows women aren’t investing money anywhere. They are holding funds in cash and sometimes property but very few are investing in stocks and shares. Moreover, women are not being advised to invest by their financial advisers - who focus on investments with limited risk.
4. What's next
Turns out that women are not being advised to invest in startups, they are also not being told about the tax breaks. For instance, no one would advise women to invest in Facebook or Twitter if those two unicorns were just getting started. There is not enough women investors using the crowdfunding platforms as well as being part of the Angel market (only 14 per cent of angel investors are women). And here's where the mystery of female founding comes full circle.
More female investors will result in more female entrepreneurs to come forward to seek investment. Crowdfunding platforms, VC firms and Angel’s networks need more female investors who can spot the opportunity in startups created by women.
SHE Leads Company is a London based network of female entrepreneurs working to increase number of female led business and access to finance for women. If you want to support female led business get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.sheleadscompany.com/workwithus
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