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On Sunday in Intel has announced a new start-up initiative to help Israel develop cutting-edge AI (artificial intelligence), and autonomous systems. Intel and industry experts are to train 15-20 Israeli startups in a 20-week business and technical mentorship. Tzahi Weisfeld, former global head of Microsoft for Startups will be leading the program. The initiative called Ignite will be based in Tel Aviv. Israeli start-ups are the prime target this year. Intel also announced it expects to expand to other countries in case the Israeli efforts achieve positive impact. According to Bob Swan, Intel’s CEO, "Intel has always worked in concert with open ecosystems to scale new technologies so they can be transformational for our customers, business and society." "Israel has the deep skill base in AI, autonomous systems, and the underlying technologies critical to these inflections that make it a natural choice to launch our Ignite program.”Intel and IsraelThe Intel Corporation, based in Silicon Valley, is one of the biggest exporters and employers in Israel. Many of Intel’s new technologies are developed there. In early 2019, it decided to invest $11 billion in a new production plant, bringing thousands of jobs to the blue-collar area of Kiryat Gat, Isreal.In 2017, it acquired Mobileye, an Israeli autonomous-vehicle technology for $15.3 billion. This was a part of Intel’s plan to strengthen its position in the autonomous vehicle industry.Mobileye’s REM platform was to be used in a variety of autonomous systems for a number of carmakers. Its HD mapping solution is based on data collected by REM compatible vehicles. The info collected will allow autonomous cars to share information such as weather data, construction info, or even incident reports, and help drivers avoid traffic jams and find the shortest, most enjoyable driving routes.Additionally, one of Intel’s biggest markets is China. This adds some weight to the fact that the U.S. Commerce Department banned Huawei Technologies from buying components and parts from U.S. companies without the approval of the U.S. government.As Huawei is one of Intel’s most important customers, this decision could have far-reaching consequences. An effort to expand and invest in alternative markets seems like a logical step. “What we intend to do is be very focused on serving customers around the world but at the same time abide by the rules. We aren’t shipping anything that’s specified on the entity list,” said Swan.

By Andrea June 17,2019

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) announced that it would request proposals for master leases at three transit hubs in Manhattan covering dozens of food, drink, and retail units spanning over 16,000 square feet.The first hub, 42nd Street Port Authority Bus Terminal subway station, will enjoy a proliferation of local and national brands in the tunnel that connects it to Times Square Station. Over the coming nine months, the MTA plans to revitalize the subway stations with a mix of local and national brands, offering retail, food, and drink in 47th-50th Street Rockefeller Center and Times Square-42nd Street stations.The primary role model the MTA is trying to emulate in its efforts is Grand Central Terminal, with its wide variety of bars, restaurants, and retail stores. Another example is Turnstyle Underground Market, a retail-and-food space established in an unused corridor, leading to the 59th Street-Columbus Circle subway station. Still, one must bear in mind that the three master leases are more of a challenge than Turnstyle, located on the periphery of Columbus Circle.About 100,000 riders crowd the station below Port Authority Bus Terminal during peak hours, an opportunity for small and local businesses to sell third-wave coffee, some craft beer, or a quick snack.  Another 100,000 commuters come through the Times Square-42nd Street station every day, with the two stations streaming toward each other in a hive-like complex of staircases and passageways.Commuters walking past a newsstand in the tunnel connecting Times Square Station to the 42nd Street Port Authority Bus terminal subway station will soon enjoy the many beverages and quality local foodstuffs as part of a plan to revamp dozens of subterranean retail stores.In a recent interview, Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer, mentioned that he would like to see more local, independent shops and upmarket options, as opposed to the sort of businesses we see in a “run-of-the-mill, midrange, suburban shopping center.“ “Not just Starbucks,” said Lieber, “maybe a more New York coffee place.”The preparations for the small business blossoming in the busy stations below the Port Authority Bus Terminal started two years ago, with the MTA  shifting leaseholders to month-to-month contracts. The station contains 18 retail units across 8,800 square feet. Over the past couple of years, a barber shop, florist and a clothing store have moved out. A few stores, including a newsstand, are holding on.The MTA’s director of real-estate transactions and operations, David Florio, said riders should expect new stores to open by the spring of 2021 at the latest.

By Andrea June 17,2019

Guy and Maki Kaplinsky, the founders of New Future Transportation (NFT), are developing a flying, autonomous vehicle, expected to start selling by 2025.Their Silicon Valley-based startup unveiled the design plans last week at Israel’s EcoMotion conference, the largest smart mobility event in the country. The testing of Aska Drive & Fly, the electric flying vehicle, will start in 2020. Aska (“flying bird” in Japanese) will take commuters door-to-door at a reduced cost and environmental impact. This sleek vehicle with wings spanning 40 feet in flying mode will be able to take off vertically and fly autonomously – no pilot required – for a range of up to 150 miles (240 kilometers), according to NFT. Covering a significant distance, it will be built to fly for about an hour at a time. The long-awaited dream of many Sci-Fi enthusiasts has been in its developmental stages for over a year now. The New Future Transportation operates an R&D center in Netanya, with Israeli experts and engineers working hard on designing and producing the vehicle’s flying and autonomous features. Users will be able to drive to a helipad, located in central places throughout the city, where the vehicle will employ vertical take-off (and landing) to fly off autonomously to the desired destination. Flight changes and adjustments will also be possible in case of unfavorable weather conditions, turbulence, or even users’ preferences. NFT assures that the flying vehicle design is in agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety requirements, such as safe landings in case of power failure, back-up systems, and the overall high reliability. Aska’s starting cost will amount to somewhere between $200,000-$300,000. As indicated by the NFT, the ultimate goal is to make the car affordable for broader audiences and reduce the cost to around $50,000.“The target market for Aska is families with kids,” said Elena Olvovsky, algorithm leader at the Netanya R&D Center, at the EcoMotion event. “It has to be practical and affordable without anyone needing a flying license.”A subscription-based model will be employed by 2025 when Aska hits the market, and customers will be able to use the car when need be. While buying the car will still be an option, most people aren’t expected to resort to this solution, as paying by the hour will be more cost-efficient. With Aska roaming the skies, the overall quality of life is expected to improve, also reducing the living costs in large cities. Eventually, traffic congestion could become little more than a distant memory. “Our main target is enabling people to move out of the major cities because of the cost of living,” Kaplinsky said. “If you can commute at a reasonable cost, you can have a better quality of life.”Aska, an electric, autonomous flying car by NFT. Image courtesy.

By Andrea June 17,2019

Walmart (WMT), the grocery store, hypermarket, and discount department store giant, as well as America’s biggest employer, has started shutting down 17 stores in Canada and the U.S. Recent data analytics firm Placer indicates that the true reason behind Walmart closing stores isn’t a reduction in traffic, brand value, or customer loyalty. Quite the opposite: the closures have to do with Walmart’s most prominent competitor - Walmart itself. Currently, WMT operates more than 5,000 retail locations in the U.S. and seems to be its own main downsizing factor. One example of the first closures announced is the supercenter in Dallas, Texas, located near two other huge WMT stores.   The doomed Dallas supercenter is by no means underperforming, with over 450,000 visits in Q1 2019, from over 150,000 customers. The data indicates the Dallas supercenter is a popular destination for frequent repeat visits, showing superb customer loyalty. Furthermore, it ranked 86th percentile in Q1 2019 foot traffic, among all WMT supercenters. Their traffic surpasses the average WMT numbers by nearly 50%. With regards to the supercenter's measurable success, Placer blames the announced closure on WMT putting nearby its stores in direct competition. The True Trade Area data for the same Dallas location shows an overlap with customers of the other two WMT supercenters. Which Walmart to choose, that is the question. A similar situation is unfolding in Louisiana, Lafayette, where a WMT was shut down because visitors overlapped with a nearby store in Carenco.   “Walmart’s strength has led to a rapid expansion of stores throughout the country, that in some cases, ended up putting stores into direct competition,” Pacer’s analysts wrote. Can Walmart Avoid Cannibalization? Is avoiding cannibalization even possible for corporations of WMT’s magnitude? Market planning optimization seems to be a viable solution, according to other top performers. Currently, there are four IKEA locations surrounding LA, identical in product and service quality.  Even their Google ratings match, three of them with 4.4 stars and the remaining with 4.3. Still, IKEA managed to make a near-perfect store distance assessment, with regard to the particular audience they want to target. From the perspective of IKEA visitors, there’s an ideal location near them, and then there’s the other three, less interesting solutions. This is how IKEA avoids traffic overlap altogether. Proper region optimization could help Walmart maximize its reach, avoid cannibalization, and grow at a sustainable rate.

By Andrea June 18,2019

MoneyGram International Inc, a money transfer company, partnered with a blockchain company Ripple. The plan is to use Ripple’s product for cross-border payment and foreign exchange settlement. Ripple has bought $39 million worth of shares and warrants in Moneygram, starting a two-year partnership. MoneyGram sold off its stock at $4.10 per share, a premium of around 183% to its Monday closing price. Its shares grew about 77% to $2.56 after the closing bell.Ripple might also buy up to $20 million in additional common stock or warrants, at a minimum price of $4.10 per share, according to MoneyGram’s statement.Ripple’s xRapid will be the focus of this new partnership. xRapid is a cross-border payment platform that uses XRP, a blockchain-powered virtual currency, to send and receive money.“Through Ripple’s xRapid product, we will have the ability to instantly settle funds from U.S. dollars to destination currencies on a 24/7 basis, which has the potential to revolutionize our operations and dramatically streamline our global liquidity management,” said Alex Holmes, Moneygram’s Chief Executive Officer.Ripple uses RippleNet to connect bankers and payment providers, offering a single, seamless experience of sending and receiving money on a global scale. Leveraging the power of blockchain, Ripple’s growing worldwide network called RippleNet provides instant, reliable, and cost-effective customer payment processing for financial institutions. XRP is a particularly useful digital asset that helps banks and payment providers access new markets, and reduce their costs. Ripple has offices in San Francisco, New York, London, Mumbai, Singapore, and Sydney, serving over 200 customers worldwide.MoneyGram International Inc. is a U.S.-based money transfer company headquartered in Dallas, Texas. With regional and local offices scattered all over the world, MoneyGram also has an operations center in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. MoneyGram works with Financial Paper Products and Global Funds Transfers. Its network of agents and financial institutions provides services to businesses and individuals alike. The second most prominent money transfer provider in the world, MoneyGram operates in over 200 countries, its global network spanning to 347,000 agent offices.

By Andrea June 18,2019

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court revoked a state court ruling that imposed a $135,000 fine on Oregon cake shop proprietors Melissa and Aaron Klein, for denying a lesbian couple service by refusing to make them a wedding cake. The Sweet Cakes bakery has been temporarily spared the fine, and the case has now been sent back to the lower courts which initially upheld it. The Kleins’ bakery closed in 2016, three years after they declined to make the cake on religious grounds. Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision directs the Oregon judges to consider last term’s ruling in a nearly identical case, in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who also refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The Oregonian reported that the Kleins decided to take the case to the Supreme Court last year, after having exhausted their appeals in Oregon. Following the 2015 state Bureau of Labor and Industries ruling, they paid $135,000 in damages for violating a state anti-discrimination law. The Oregon appellate court ruling preceded the Supreme Court’s ruling in Phillips’ case. The couple’s attorneys had argued that the Colorado case needed to clarify whether government officials should be allowed to mandate business owners to provide services contrary to their religious beliefs. First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based organization that provided legal aid to the Kleins, specializes in cases involving religious freedom. According to David Harsanyi, a senior editor at The Federalist, Phillips’ decision to deny the homosexual couple a wedding cake was not based on homophobia. Phillips claims that his establishment never queries their customers about their sexual preferences or preferred pronouns. He also states that they did not bar anyone from purchasing any products made in the shop, a place of public accommodation. However, Rachel Bowman-Cryer claims that the 2013 events at the Sweet Cake bakery unfolded differently. When the bride-to-be visited the bakery with her mother and met Aaron Klein, she claims that he did, in fact, ask for the names of the bride and groom, as well as the date of the ceremony. When the women told him there was no groom, Klein apologized and said the bakery did not make cakes for same-sex weddings. Of the 50 states in the U.S. 21, including Colorado and Oregon, uphold anti-discrimination laws protecting homosexuals and other vulnerable groups.

By Andrea June 18,2019

On June 18, San Francisco-based startup Orbit Fab completed a critical test of its technology on the International Space Station (ISS). It’s the first private company to successfully supply the International Space Station with water.Last fall, Orbit Fab announced their plans for its water transfer experiment. The ISS National Laboratory provided vital support and insight.The refueling took several days to complete and was done in microgravity with equipment and processes developed by Orbit Fab. Since water is one of the most inert propellants used in spaceflight thrusters, it was an ideal candidate for the June experiment. Still, the Orbit Fab-designed method could expand to other conventional propellants. This is why Orbit Fab also plans to use these methods and processes to develop tankers for refueling satellites.This orbital fuel supply startup was founded in 2018 and has already made an outstanding impact on the space technology business. Its experiment called Furphy demonstrated the ability to transfer water between two satellite testbeds.Following the completion of the initial experiment, Orbit Fab transferred the water into the station’s own supply. This marked the first time that a private payload supplied the station with water using these methods.Orbit Fab’s plan to set new standards for satellite refueling interfaces to be used in orbital hardware represents the next step in the standardization of reusable satellites. The less disposable hardware model used today might become obsolete.This sort of success could unlock the commercial potential of space technology for other startups and small businesses. Any capable startup could find possible pain points and then offer innovative solutions to improve the space business, leading to increased cost and resource efficiencies. Orbit Fab’s taking part in this experiment has broad implications for private businesses and startups all over the world. This startup has designed, developed, and successfully applied a functional water supply system for preexisting, ISS-made space infrastructure.With their space tech success story, Orbit Fab has proven that NASA isn’t the only institution with the expertise and the flexibility to dabble in the space business.

By Andrea June 19,2019

Approaching U.S. Congress, bipartisan investigation into tech giants such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook, small businesses all over the U.S. are lining up to put in a good word.One such company is Address America from Jackson, MS. This small business makes high-profile address signs for homes and businesses.Business was good for this Ridgeland-based company until the 2007 recession hit hard, and nearly cost them everything they had.  “Everything went south," recalls owner David Ashley. "We were just on the brink.”The company was forced to relocate to a smaller office on Interstate 55 in Jackson. Things were looking bleak until the owners decided to give up on the idea of relying solely on their website, and joined Amazon. “When we shifted gears with Amazon, it took us from being on the brink of insolvency to getting where we are today," says Joshua Ashley, David’s son.The millions of users browsing through Amazon provided a new world of opportunity to Address America, one that was previously out of reach. “With our own website, we can do a lot, but we’re only as good as how many people find us," says Joshua. "Amazon has a great deal of reach and a great deal of customer trust, and by following Amazon’s metrics for sellers, we’re able to partner with them to gain that customer trust.”According to the Ashleys, this window of opportunity made their business what it is today. Over the past six years, their sales have increased by 800% and are continuing to grow steadily. This spectacular success wouldn’t have been possible without Amazon’s coverture. An employee of Amazon’s corporate office in Seattle, Andrea Ruge, offered her take on Amazon’s influence on small businesses. Supposedly, SMBs now account for over 50% of the items sold on Amazon and are an integral part of the company’s DNA. “We looked at what states had the fastest-growing small- and medium-size businesses on Amazon," she says. "What we looked at were sales year-over-year and the percentage growth of overall sales. Mississippi’s small- and medium-size businesses topped that list.”Access to millions of users and the strict guidelines businesses must follow to be allowed to work with Amazon are doing many people a lot of good. Amazon demands superior customer service and even helps with shipping. Even though small businesses don’t get these services for free, the whole thing pays off in the end.“Here at Address America, they’re doing ‘Merchant-Fulfilled Prime,’ which means they’re still sending their packages out and getting them to customers in two days, but they’re doing it here in-house," explains Ruge. That’s why you see “Ships and Sold by Address America” on Amazon’s website.“Some smaller businesses can’t do that on their own, so it’s easier for them to send a bulk shipment of products over to Amazon, and then we handle it from there,” claims Andrea Ruge.The idea that Amazon holds a monopoly over the tech world is somewhat grounded in reality as 55% of Americans begin their product searches there. For this reason and many others, Congress is launching an investigation into whether Amazon, Google, and Facebook are guilty of “anti-competitive conduct.” The committee will question Amazon’s inner-workings and the way the eCommerce powerhouse affects the U.S. market. The goal is to assess “whether existing antitrust laws, competition policies and current enforcement levels are adequate to address these issues.”

By Andrea June 20,2019