Big Business

The future is in your neighborhood: face-recognition technology is coming to retail stores if it’s not already there. Since the pandemic started, facial recognition tech has been utilized in retail shops to scan workers’ and employees’ faces. The purpose of using face recognition is to prevent fraud, measure foot traffic, and offer contactless payments to customers. The usage of the technology was met with disapproval by the advocacy groups that launched a campaign in order to stop stores from using facial recognition. "Facial recognition vendors are taking advantage of the pandemic to promote the technology to offer hands-free payments or monitor the distance between people, and stores are promoting them as features for safety and convenience," said Caitlin Seeley George, Fight for the Future’s campaign director. Many major retailers make ample use of this technology, including Apple Stores, Albertson’s, and Macy’s. According to the companies’ policies, the tech is used for security reasons and to prevent fraud. That being said, there are some big names on the advocacy group’s list that won’t use facial recognition tech. These include industry giants such as Walmart, CVS, and Verizon, for example. Like identity theft products, facial recognition is primarily used for security reasons, without connecting faces to personal information, said Brenda Leong, Senior Counsel and Director for Artificial Intelligence and Ethics at the Future of Privacy Foundation. Still, retailers found the tech beneficial for many reasons, such as faster identification of people who spend a lot of money at the store so that they can get easier and quicker access to loyalty perks. The advanced tech also enabled JD and Alibaba to open stores where automated carts follow customers while payments are made with facial recognition support. The idea is to improve customers’ experience, retailers say, not to use the system to capture and store photos to identify them. However, in some states, biometric information, including that obtained through facial recognition, is protected by privacy laws. Portland, Oregon, is the first American city that banned the usage of facial recognition by the police, government, and retailers. The technology is better accepted in places like amusement parks and stadiums, where it is used for detecting problematic guests, for example. In places like these, visitors can easily see the benefits of face recognition, so they are more likely to accept it. In retail stores, however, things are different, and Brenda Leong is definitely not convinced: "If someone walks into a drug store and they can intuit that they are anxious or worried, are they going to try to market them a sleep aid?" she asks, adding that "some retailer could take advantage of someone’s emotional state without that person's knowledge”. According to her, this imbalance of power is the real problem behind the facial recognition tech.

By Julija A. July 23,2021

Oregon-based small business owners are feeling more optimistic about the future of their companies than they have been at any point since the COVID-19 outbreak began. According to the latest weekly report by the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 75% of Oregon’s company owners expect they’ll be back to the pre-pandemic state of operations in six months or sooner. That’s twice as many as a similar poll reported in August 2020. Around 20% of businesses say they have already returned to normal operations. The percentage of those who think it’ll take over half a year to go back to working at full capacity is declining each month. The data provided in the Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey is just another indicator that the economy of the state of Oregon is well on the road to recovery from the recession that came along with the health crisis. According to the survey, Oregon-based companies are now slightly more upbeat than the national average. The state business owners had been slightly more pessimistic throughout most of the recession. Shutdowns and restrictive measures the COVID-19 pandemic brought on were particularly rough on smaller-sized companies which can hardly afford the reserves that larger enterprises often have. The global health crisis wiped out dozens of popular Oregon restaurants and bars, along with entertainment attractions such as ice rinks and bowling alleys. Still, thanks to the federal aid through small business loans, grants, and stimulus payments, many other businesses managed to stay afloat. Relatively few companies failed, according to state data. The percentage of bankruptcies also decreased last year. With more and more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the virus seemingly fading, the state of Oregon formally reopened on June 30. Considering most restrictions have now been lifted, businesses are looking forward to operating as they did before the pandemic. Still, the damage from a turbulent 15 months cannot disappear right away. The experience of living amidst a pandemic will continue to take its toll on businesses as long as consumers remain in fear of the disease. Nevertheless, rising optimism among businesses highlights that the deepest downturn in Oregon’s history wasn’t as bad as economists initially thought it would be.

By Ivana V. July 22,2021

About 30 container ships have been anchored outside the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles every day, waiting in line just to deliver their goods. This backlog is a consequence of a global supply-chain mess brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that will ultimately lead to consumers seeing delivery delays for weeks. While retail giants like Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc. rush to rebuild their inventories to meet US consumers’ increasing demand, it’s the small importers and order fulfillment companies who have to bear the brunt of the messed-up supply chains and fight over limited cargo space on container ships coming in from Asia. According to information provided by cargo owners and brokers, small business owners who don’t want to deal with delayed shipments must pay up to three times the standard freight charges. In addition to rising freight costs and shipping delays, American businesses now also have to deal with a shortage of available labor and increased product costs. All of the factors above weigh particularly heavily on small companies, which rarely have the resources to absorb price changes or the leverage to negotiate lower rates or pass along the higher costs to their customers. According to recent data, the average shipment price for a container traveling from China to California is now $6,043. This is up 43% since the start of 2021 and 344% compared to the rates from the beginning of 2020. The price for sending a box from Asia to Europe is $13,073, up 130% from the start of this year. Still, small importers from the United States say they are also facing the challenge of finding available ships and are paying much more to get goods on them once they do. According to shipping executives, increased freight costs came from several different disruptions across supply chains that triggered delays at different points of distribution networks, as manufacturers and retailers rushed to meet the market’s demand. Freight prices started going up at the end of the summer of 2020 as homebound consumers began ordering an outstanding amount of goods like furniture, electronics, and exercise equipment. Things only got worse after the Suez Canal blockade in Marchand the congestion at China’s Yantian port and the ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach.

By Milja July 23,2021

Canopy, a practice management software provider for accounting businesses, secured an additional $11 million in funding on June 29. The latest funding round involved a new investor called Ankona Capital, joined by long-term investors NewView Capital and Tenaya Capital. With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting business toward working remotely, this practice management software needs to develop further to accommodate larger companies. The Utah-based company plans to use the funds to continue further improving its cloud-based software. Davis Bell, the Canopy CEO, said that the company has invested lots of money into its platform and plans to continue investing. The funds from this funding round will also be geared toward further development of the existing company offers. “It’s less about adding and more around just enhancing each of our product subcategories: document management, CRM and client portal, workflow, time and billing, and payments and invoicing. We’ve got big plans for all of those.” Bell added. Both old and new investors have high hopes for this team. Pelion Venture Partners, one of the original investors, backed Canopy again in the latest round, satisfied with the company’s progress. A general partner at Pelion, Chad Pacard, said “We first invested in Canopy because we knew that the accounting software industry was stagnant and ripe for disruption. Over the past 18 months, Canopy has executed incredibly well on the vision of bringing modern cloud software to accounting practices, and we’re thrilled to continue to back the team at Canopy in their quest to modernize the accounting software stack.” It didn’t always go as smoothly for Canopy, as the company had its fair share of setbacks since starting out back in 2014. The company’s ambitious plan to branch out into tax preparation software failed, and Canopy had to lay off 81 full-time employees, brought in during a previous hiring spree. Additionally, customers will have to wait for the new version of Canopy’s tax preparation software, as the latest round of funds will not go towards reviving that aspect of the company’s offer. Instead, the company has already started hiring new product development employees. The team was also recently relocated into a smaller office, emphasizing developing practice management software and its integrations with other accounting and tax software products. When asked about future integrations, Canopy’s CEO had the following to say: “We have some exciting developments. I can’t talk about them quite yet, but we’re getting some good traction with some established players that we think will be very helpful on that front”. 

By Julija A. July 12,2021

Three years after purchasing Zettle, PayPal is launching PayPal Zettle in the U.S. This small business-focused mobile-payments system is already operating in PayPal’s overseas markets and has been beta-tested in the States during the past three months. Zettle, a Swedish company, cost PayPal $2.2 billion in 2018. Its card reader/e-commerce tool was designed to help small businesses integrate their sales and back-office operations better. According to Jim Magats, PayPal’s Senior Vice President, “One key advantage that Zettle offers small businesses is the ability to seamlessly transact with consumers wherever they are—in brick-and-mortar stores or online.” PayPal Zettle will allow small businesses to accept a range of payments through Zettle’s card reader and benefit from Paypal’s suite of payment and commerce solutions. The integration brings help in managing sales, inventory, payments, and reporting, all from one place. It also creates a real-time ledger of transactions and inventory levels that’s very easy to check. “That back-office reconciliation, when the online and physical world are brought together, means merchants won’t miss a sale or fail to satisfy a customer,” Magats said. With Zettle also comes PayPal’s partner network. Users can effortlessly link their accounts with PayPal’s e-commerce, accounting, and point of sale partners, such as Lightspeed, SalesVu, QuickBooks Online, or BigCommerce. PayPal also promises integrations with more partners in the future. It’s these integrations that have proven to be the biggest reason for Zettle’s success overseas. Small businesses appreciate the opportunity to use Zettle for transactions without signing up for an unwanted bundle of services or having to replace their existing online bookkeeping services or e-commerce platforms completely. “What we hear is they love the interoperability,” Magats added. Starting from June 30, small businesses can purchase their first card reader for $29 and additional readers for $79. The transaction rate for card processing stands at 2.29% + 0.09 cents at launch.

By Goran July 07,2021

Forto has raised $240 million in an investment round led by Softbank and its Vision Fund, the freight-tech logistics startup announced on Monday, June 21. The five-year-old Berlin company organizing trade shipments between Europe and China plans on expanding its geographical footprint to secure market leadership. “With this investment, we are able to further accelerate our growth path and roadmap,” Michael Wax, CEO and co-founder of Forto, said in a press release. The investment round was led by Softbank’s Vision Fund 2, along with Citi Ventures, G Squared, Northzone, Inven Capital, Unbound, and Cherry Ventures. Forto’s valuation now stands at $1.2 billion. “Logistics is the backbone of global commerce, and data analytics, machine learning, and process automation will reshape the global delivery of goods and services,” Karol Niewiadomski, senior investor for SoftBank Investment Advisers, stated. "Forto's centralized platform leverages these technologies to boost operational efficiency, lower handling costs, and increase transparency for their customers. We're pleased to partner with Michael and his team as they continue to scale the business internationally."  With this financial boost, Forto can develop highly transparent and sustainable digitized logistics. Its current client base counts some 2,500 companies, mainly mid-sized businesses; the company helps ship up to 10,000 containers per year by air, sea, and rail. Forto’s biggest clients include Home 24, German supermarket chain Edeka, Glencore, and ThyssenKrupp. Despite the market getting ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the German startup tripled its profits last year and plans on expanding beyond Europe and China. Forto is not the only freight tech company Softbank has placed its bets on. The Japanese multinational conglomerate led the $1.7 billion investment round backing China’s Full Truck Alliance in November 2020, and the overall startup funding numbers around the world continue to break all records. 

By Milja June 25,2021

Despite borrowing a combined $53 billion from the federal trust fund to pay unemployment benefits, California is projected to surpass $24.3 billion in unemployment insurance deficit by the end of this year, as stated in the budget report published this May. The amount borrowed so far accounts for more than 40% of the total loan given to 19 US states. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the state’s economy, hitting small businesses hard and causing unprecedented joblessness.  With the unemployment rates remaining high, business leaders warn state officials that the projected budget surplus won’t be enough to mitigate the financial hit on employers. Namely, borrowing from the federal unemployment trust fund further to cover unemployment benefits results in higher payroll taxes.  “If they don’t do anything more, businesses are going to end up having to pay that tax at a critical time of our economic recovery,” said the president of the California Business Roundtable, Rob Lapsley, on Friday, June 18. “If some are teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff, it could drive them right over the edge, and they go out of business.” California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has already tackled the issue in his last month's budget proposal, projecting a tax windfall of $76 billion and proposing $1.1 billion of the federal funds to be used for covering unemployment costs. Even though the proposal is considered a step in the right direction, business leaders advocate a more aggressive approach in paying off debts and suggest allocating $2 billion in payroll tax credits spread over 10 years to small business owners. That, and leaning on insurance providers might help small companies survive these unprecedented times.  The crisis seen during the 2008 recession caused the state to borrow $10.7 billion from the federal trust fund, and it took it eight years to repay the debt, from 2011 to 2018. 

By Milja June 25,2021

T-Mobile, a subsidiary of the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom AG,  announced the launch of its new service for small businesses, the Business Unlimited smartphone plan. With this new service, business users will get unlimited 5G access, more significant premium data, and high-speed hotspot data to speed up their businesses’ performance. T-mobile has also added the Small Business Internet service with reliable and fast connectivity to provide its business users with all the benefits of 5G speeds with no data caps. The Small Business Internet tiers don’t require signing an annual contract. Another privilege T-Mobile offers to the small business users who qualify is Facebook and Instagram advertising worth $200 with digital marketing expert advice and up to three one-on-one consultations to boost their businesses.  The company’s move came as a response to the pandemic forcing small businesses to suddenly switch to remote work, making it difficult for them to adapt business strategies to the online mode.  To help small businesses develop a mobile-first strategy and focus their digital transformation on remote work and mobile devices, T-Mobile aims to enable them to conduct operations from anywhere and around the clock using unlimited 5G data. Having such connectivity will help these companies remain competitive and operate at their best under the given circumstances. The EVP of T-Mobile for Business, Mike Katz, explains it in a blog post: “At T-Mobile, we have always believed that small businesses are the lifeblood of vibrant, thriving communities. So, with the nation’s fastest, largest, and most reliable 5G network, we are excited to provide the connectivity backbone that they will need to flourish in a world transformed by the pandemic.” T-Mobile’s Unlimited business plans come in three pricing tiers to fit everyone’s needs and budget: Business Unlimited Select costs $25, Business Unlimited Advance is $30, and Business Unlimited Ultimate comes at the cost of $40. The prices are per line in the case of six or more subscribed lines. Apart from introducing a fast and unlimited internet connection into their small businesses, entrepreneurs can improve their daily operations and cut costs further by opting for one of the virtual phone number systems currently available on the market. 

By Milja June 25,2021

As Amazon’s Prime Day megasale is approaching, the nation’s biggest online retailer shows no signs of stopping. Amazon is predicted to be raking in more than 40% of the nation’s eCommerce sales by the end of 2021, according to eMarketer research.Such a steep growth trajectory aligns with the online shopping boom following the devastating COVID-19 impact on brick-and-mortar store sales. The eCommerce share in total retail sales started at a modest 3.6% in 2008, but grew slowly over the years, only to jump to 14% in 2020. The pandemic influenced the shift towards online spending and the emergence of eCommerce platforms worldwide to cater to the consumers in lockdown.The eCommerce market is forecasted to account for 23.5% of all retail sales by 2025, as consumers are unlikely to abandon the convenience of online shopping even after physical stores reopen fully.In second place, but miles behind Amazon, the big-box chain Walmart is struggling to remain competitive by holding sale events coinciding with Amazon’s Prime Day. On the other hand, with a predicted digital retail share of around 7%, Walmart should have almost double the grip on the market eBay - the third-ranked online retailer - will. Next in line are Apple, Home Depot, Target, and Best Buy.Postponed last year due to the pandemic, Amazon’s traditional Prime Day shopping extravaganza has moved up this year. This June’s event should overcome the sales made on Amazon’s Prime Day in October 2020 by 18.3% and reach $7.31 billion. The event is also subject to eMarketer research, which predicts Prime Day will boost total online sales in the US by 17.3% year over year.Marketing experts agree that Amazon is trying to boost spending in the summer months, traditionally a slower time for retailers, perhaps even kicking off back-to-school shopping much earlier than usual.

By Milja June 25,2021

NextSilicon, an Israeli computer chip startup, recently unveiled a solution for boosting the processing power of semiconductors in supercomputers. Despite the company’s revolutionary accomplishments and the fact that it is valued at approximately $1.5 billion, the startup is still relatively unknown in wider tech circles. Recently, NextSilicon completed its third funding round, which raised $120 million. Its principal investor was Third Point Ventures, an investment firm that focuses on enterprise, healthcare, fintech companies, and mobile advancement. In total, the three funding rounds provided NextSilicon with over $200 million, which is enough to enable the company to operate and grow over the next five years. NextSilicon was founded in 2018 by Elad Raz, who sold his previous startup called Integrity-Project to Mellanox in 2014 for $10 million. The company employs 150 people in offices based in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Yokneam, and Be'er Sheva, and it’s currently looking to expand its team by recruiting hardware and software engineers. “NextSilicon is a unique company in the semiconductor startup industry. Its technology leverages software algorithms as the main driver to speed up compute-intensive applications," said Raz, NextSilicon’s Chief Executive Officer. The promising startup works with some of the world’s top supercomputer computing centers on scientific projects that involve discovering new vaccines, providing early indicators of forest fires and storms, studying DNA sequencing, and more. The fact that the world is currently in the middle of a computer chip shortage makes NextSilicon’s solution even more relevant. Namely, all types of electronics, from smartphones to refrigerators, require this small piece of technology to run. According to the latest statistics, the chip shortage will most likely continue into 2022 and maybe even as late as 2023. The primary culprit is the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the demand for electronic devices to skyrocket worldwide. People started ordering unprecedented amounts of hardware such as laptops and printers for their businesses, which now had to adapt to the new remote working conditions.

By Julija A. June 18,2021

Owners of New York-based small businesses can now apply for a COVID-19 recovery grant provided by the state. Those eligible can get up to $50,000. The funds can only be used for covering losses or expenses related to the pandemic and incurred between March 1, 2020, and April 1, 2021. Some of these are payroll, utility, equipment, insurance, commercial rent and mortgage, as well as heating, air conditioning, and ventilation costs. Business owners mustn’t use this money for paying off loans obtained from a federal COVID-19 relief package. Eight hundred million dollars has been allocated for this endeavor, which will last until the sum is depleted. Seeing as the available funds are limited, business owners who are in some way socially or economically disadvantaged will be given preferential treatment, while entities such as nonprofits, churches and other religious institutions, landlords, as well as illegal enterprises will not be able to qualify at all. Annual gross receipts from 2019 will be used for calculating grant amounts. Those amounts are: -$5,000 for businesses whose annual receipts equal $25,000 to $49,999.99-$10,000 for businesses whose annual receipts equal $50,000 to $99,999.99-$50,000 for businesses whose annual receipts equal $100,000 to $500,000 “Small businesses are one of the most critical components of New York’s economy and were disproportionately impacted by the economic devastation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York. The state has also announced several additional pandemic relief programs. However, considering the vast impact the virus has had on the US economy, it’s unlikely that every single company in need of financial aid will be able to receive it. Luckily, there are alternatives, as more and more lenders have started offering affordable bad credit loans for business.

By Julija A. June 17,2021

On Sunday, June 12, the leaders of the G7 - a political forum of the world’s leading industrial nations that comprises Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States - agreed to increase climate finance. They renewed their pledge to raise $100 billion per year to help financially less stable countries reduce carbon emissions. However, many environmental groups have expressed concerns regarding the G7’s promise, the first being the likelihood of it falling through. After all, the original $100 billion pledge, made in 2009, wasn’t met, and after the summit concluded, only two countries offered specific details regarding the amount of money they would contribute. Canada stated that it would provide $4.4 billion over the next five years, while Germany committed to submitting $7.26 billion each year. The second major issue highlighted by the green organizations is that funding projects such as those dedicated to combating climate change is expensive, and with the amount of work that needs to be done, the discussed sum simply won’t be enough. “The G7’s reaffirmation of the previous $100 billion a year target doesn’t come close to addressing the urgency and scale of the crisis,” said Teresa Anderson, the climate policy coordinator at ActionAid. The 2021 G7 summit was held in Cornwall, United Kingdom, on June 11-13, and it was attended by the following representatives: -Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada-Emmanuel Macron, the President of France-Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany-Mario Draghi, the Prime Minister of Italy-Yoshihide Suga, the Prime Minister of Japan-Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom-Joe Biden, the President of the United States-Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission-Charles Michel, the President of the European Council 

By Julija A. June 17,2021