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6 Innovative Ways to Increase Brand Awareness

Wendy’s sassy Twitter feed is a great example of how to stand out in a sea of noise.

7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Having a solid, trusted brand is important for your company to thrive. If your target audience doesn’t know or trust your brand, how will you ever increase your customer base and sales? Here are six innovative strategies you can use to increase brand awareness and help your business thrive.

Related: SXSW 2017: Sure, You’ve Got a Brand Strategy, but What’s Your Chat Strategy?

1. Get influencers to display your art or other product.

Inviting influencers into your niche is a great way to increase brand awareness and hopefully drive sales. When influencers have an established audience that knows and trusts them, once they mention your product(s) and discuss your brand in their content, those mentions will expand your reach and increase people’s awareness of your product.

Ikonick is a perfect example of a company that works directly with influencers: It sells canvas art for your home and office. The way Ikonick uses influencers involves providing them with art and having those influencers pose with the art, then share the photos on social media.

“Our relationships are an important part of our business,”  co-founder Mark Mastrandrea told me. “Our relationships make up our community, and the community is how our brand grows.”  

Ikonick uses all types of influencers, from Instagram photographers to celebrities. The company’s social strategy has enabled it to scale and grow exponentially because its influencers become part of its sales team — even ambassadors. The relationship is mutually rewarding, Mastrandrea said. 

Related: Your Personal Branding Strategy in 10 Steps (Infographic)

Companies can also offer to sponsor influencers at an event (if they do that sort of thing) and even use them as spokespersons for their brand and product(s). A lot of CrossFit-related companies do this, including Rogue Fitness, which sponsors certain athletes with clothing. The athlete then becomes a walking billboard for the company. 

2. Use branded packaging. 

Have you ever received an order that came in branded packaging? Rather than see it as just another shipment, perhaps you felt that that that special branding made the package seem like a gift.

Packlane is a company that allows companies to design custom packaging, using their own logo and branding to enhance the customer experience. The team has created unique boxes for L’Oreal, HP, Shopify and RedBull, to name a few.

The team knows that the product experience doesn’t commence at first use, but rather at the unboxing stage. How companies present their brand, and the story they tell through their design and graphics, can create an emotional connection with the customer that may last even longer than the product itself. 

Branded packaging offers an additional touchpoint to the value your brand gives to each customer’s experience, and helps distinguish you from marketplace competitors. Overlooking your product’s packaging is a missed branding opportunity in today’s ultra-competitive market landscape. 

3. Do your SEO research.

Have you heard that the majority of consumers don’t look past the first page of search results, and the majority of people in that group don’t look past the first few results on the page?

Think about how powerful that SEO is for companies pitching to prospects. If competitors are all citing the same information, though, it loses some of its power because of all those companies trying to get new clients. 

Researching SEO strategies related to your niche, products or services can help you increase brand awareness. This research will set you apart as an expert and leader in your industry. Jaaxy.com is a great tool that helps you conduct the right type of research because it provides specific keyword research. 

4. Double-down on social. 

Instagram is a social media platform with power. It’s said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and Instagram lets you promote that story via the image(s) you post and the text you narrate. It’s a great tool for friends and family to keep up with one other, and it’s just as good for brands reaching out to their consumers.

Azazie sells bridesmaids’ and bridal wedding gowns. To do that, it’s become hyper-focused on growing its social communities, especially on Instagram.

The reason is that on that platform, the company can ask new brides to share images of their special day — and their experiences with Azazie’s dresses. Not surprisingly, Azazie’s Instagram page is full of beautiful photos that inspire other brides-to-be to imagine themselves in one of its gowns.

Best of all, Azazie harnesses the power of social proof by leveraging testimonials (and personal images) from the customers it’s helped make gorgeous brides and bridal party members.

Then there’s Facebook: Like Instagram, Facebook has the power to increase brand awareness and create a community. Gallant Dill is a self-made entrepreneur who’s built a community through his Facebook group. Dill’s business is a mentoring program which teaches entrepreneurs how to build and scale their companies.

Facebook helps him speak directly to this community and share the results of his different mentoring programs and products.  Just 26 years old, he has multiple multi-million dollar businesses, a feat which testifies to his intelligence but also to the power of social communities. 

5. Step up your game on Twitter.

Twitter is yet another big social media platform for brand awareness because it helps you publish news and interact with customers already talking about your business.

Wendy’s, for instance, has built a reputation on Twitter and increased its brand awareness by responding to media mentions of its brand, as well as competitors’ posts with quippy, sassy and hilarious remarks. One of the best examples occurred when a user called out the company, asking where the closest McDonald’s was.

Wendy’s responded with a trash can image.

Then there are Wendy’s tweets (here are some examples shared by BoredPanda). Whether you like Wendy’s or not, it’s hard not to appreciate its roasts — and keep the brand top of mind.

6. Take advantage of Google’s AdSense auto ads.

Finally, paid ads are a great way to get your name and website in front of your target audience, but narrowing down your audience and getting your pitch just right can be tricky.

Google recently announced its new AdSense Auto ads, which show publishers the best place to create and optimize their ads.

Through machine learning technology, Auto Ads can be automatically placed on sites that are best for your brand. There, they effectively reach your target audience, giving you a greater return on investment.

Related: Why Converting to Instagram Business Is Not a Winning Brand Strategy

These six strategies are great ways to increase your brand awareness and help your company thrive. Which do you think will be most effective for you and your brand?

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Here’s What You Need to Know

According to Forrester, 20 percent of marketers’ budgets is being wasted on fake traffic.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Given the online advertising boom in today’s digital age, businesses need to learn to allocate their marketing dollars wisely. Unfortunately, there’s a big challenge to meeting that goal: Advertising fraud and lackluster results are rife in the digital ad space.

Related: Telltale Signs You Have an Ad Fraud Problem

As a business owner, digital manager and entrepreneur, you’ve likely already experienced these issues, via paid Instagram ads that failed to achieve their intended results, or paid services like Google Adwords that had no conversions. To avoid such outcomes, you need to make sure your ads stand out and that you’re spending your dollars on actual results — not bot traffic.

To clarify my Instagram example: Let’s say that you paid Instagram to promote your post, and, all of a sudden, you start gaining a bunch of followers who, according to their account information, live in India and have only about five pictures each on their individual profiles.

I’m no ad-fraud detective, but judging from the looks of that kind of new traffic, you’d be wise to question these followers’ validity. While Instagram gains a benefit by earning your ad money, you need clicks from people likely to buy your product — not “followers” from some faraway land with profiles that appear fake.

Those people won’t benefit you as a business owner. 

This is why you need to make sure you’re on top of your ads, because they’re big money these days: Nearly $170 billion was spent on digital advertising in 2015, according to the statistic portal Statista. By 2021, Statistic has predicted, this figure can will rise to more than $330 billion.

The problem is, digital advertising is a constantly changing game. And organizations are struggling to respond effectively. To adapt to the many changes happening, many companies are planning to increase their investments in advertising technology. They’ll be focusing on solutions that are more result-driven and customer-centric. Here’s what you need to know:

What artificial intelligence can do.

Part of the newest wave of advertising tech utilizes artificial intelligence (AI). Advertisers are focusing their efforts on AI to provide potential customers with a personalized experience tailored to their wants and needs. AI can help advertisers avoid pushing irrelevant messaging and instead use consumer data to create customized campaigns that are relevant and engaging.

Related: You Should Be Protecting Your Business from Phony Leads

That’s all very well. But, as Jon Gillham, founder and CEO of Adbank, recently told Crypto Analyst, “Over 50 percent of online traffic are bots.

“An unknown percentage of digital advertising dollars are wasted on fraudulent traffic and sites,” continued Gillham , whose online advertising platform has developed patent-pending blockchain technology for fraud detection.

Specifically, more and more advertising companies are inflating their results with ad clicks from computer-based bots, instead of real potential consumers. These companies use bot traffic to exaggerate their data and inflate prices for customers. 

Similarly, many websites use those bots and inflate their traffic figures to entice potential advertisers to place ads with them.

That’s the website situation. Mobile advertising fraud, meanwhile, has also become commonplace, so much so that many companies expect a certain level of it, according to a new report by Forrester Consulting. Forrester surveyed 250 marketers whose companies spend at least $1 million a month on digital advertising. And, the result, Forrester reported, was that 69 percent of the marketers said that at least 20 percent of their budgets was being eaten up by fraud on the mobile web.

In other words, 20 percent of their budgets was being wasted on fake traffic. 

Despite this problematic landscape, 70 percent of the marketers in the survey said they were actually increasing their budgets for mobile advertising over the next 12 months. That’s a problem because, as 43 percent of the marketers said, the amount of fraud they had been subjected to had increased over the previous 12 months.

At the same time, only 19 percent as of the date of the survey had implemented systematic fraud prevention programs, and that figure was expected to increase in 2018.

So, the overriding question was whether these prevention programs would be enough: Fully 92 percent of the marketers reported that combating mobile fraud would be a high or critical priority of their companies for the next 12 months, in 2018. 

The problem is, ad fraud is only worsening. 

Forrester wasn’t alone in its doom-and-gloom forecast. A recent report from the digital market research firm Juniper, predicted that advertisers would lose an estimated $19 billion to fraudulent activities in 2018. 

The Juniper report, Future Digital Advertising — AI, Ad Fraud & Ad Blocking, 2017-2022, said that that $19 billion worked out to $51 million per day and  could  be expected to rise, reaching $44 billion by 2022.

The report also specified that advertising fraud would increase due to the lack of transparency between advertisers and publishers. The big problem, Juniper said, is that publishers aren’t providing campaign result reports, due to the fact that they don’t possess the right tools for these reports. Without more transparency, Juniper warned, successfully tackling fraud will be difficult to accomplish.

Still, there are solutions.

Despite the gloomy nature of its report, Juniper did identify some solutions to ad fraud — like AI. By using AI to analyze data generated from advertising activities, Juniper said, advertisers could minimize financial losses. 

Of course, that in turn would demand innovation and the development of new strategies to fight fraudsters, simply because they’ll just adapt their methods and find different ways to imitate genuine advertising activity. This activity, typically carried out by bots, includes simulated clicks, mouse movements and the creation of fake social network accounts that engage (via likes and comments.).

Juniper’s research indicated that platforms utilizing AI to target specific markets would account for 74 percent of total online and mobile advertising expenditures by 2022. 

With AI-powered technology and innovations now focusing in on advertising fraud, some studies predict that that fraud may become less rampant in coming years. According to a report on ZDNet from the security company White Ops, companies lost $6.5 billion due to ad fraud in 2017. That’s a decrease of 10 percent from the estimated $7.2 billion fraud took from companies in 2016.

These results are probably due to the increased awareness about deceptive advertising practices and the efforts companies are taking to address them, using AI and other technological advancements. With increased information, companies will know where and how their advertising dollars are being spent and be more likely to attain the results they want.

Related: 4 Ways Advertising Agencies Can Protect Themselves From Click Fraud

Then, hopefully, your company will gain new Instagram followers from Milwaukee, versus Mumbai. 

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3 Startup Lessons From Hip Hop Entrepreneurs

From Nipsey Hussle, to Jay-Z, to Dr. Dre, rappers are showing how they can think bigger than just bars and hooks.

6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Hip hop has significantly redefined and shaped our culture. From NWA to Pac and Jay-Z, hip hop artists have pushed the boundaries of society and reinvented our culture.

But what’s also interesting is that most don’t just stick with music and call it a day: Instead, there’s an inherent entrepreneurial foundation to most of these artists. And the result is that their businesses reach deeply into different spaces like fashion, sports, alcoholic beverages and tech.

From creative product launches like Jay-Z’s Magna Carta album drop (in partnership with Samsung), to joint ventures like Diddy’s Ciroc deal and partnerships like Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s headset company, hip hop has not only redefined culture but business, too.

Related: Hip Hop Legend Damon Dash Explains How His Street Mentality Catapulted Him to the Top

Perhaps hip hop can help redefine your own business? Here are three startup lesson from some of this musical segment’s leading entrepreneurs:

Nipsey Hussle: Bet on yourself and double up.

I recently caught up with hip hop artist Nipsey Hussle at his new tech incubator and coworking space, Vector90, in his hometown, the one-time violent gang haven, Crenshaw, Calif. My purpose was to shoot an episode of Action and Ambition, my video show airing (March 16) on my Entrepreneur Network channel.

Just don’t be fooled by Hussle’s laid-back LA style, because climbing record charts and dropping tracks aren’t the only methodical steps he’s taken to advance his team and mission. In fact, this Slauson Avenue (a local thoroughfare) rep is a visionary thinker and champion of the underdog whose multiple businesses and partnerships include his clothing company, The Marathon Clothing (also based in Crenshaw), and his record label, All Money In. Hussle has also invested in a cryptocurrency company.

His career goes back several years: Indeed, Hussle started as an indie artist and signed with Epic, but in 2010 was let out from the Epic contract due to creative differences. He could have given up at that point, but instead created his record label.

Striking out as an indie artist on his own label, he told me, allowed him to test different types of songs and retain creative authority with his brand. It also gave him the ability to test new marketing campaigns.

Related: This Media Company Used Hip Hop and Sneakers to Attract 55 Million Viewers and Sell for Over $250 Million

For instance, in 2013, after reading Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he decided to sell his Crenshaw mixtape for $100 a pop. This move not only generated viral news, but caught the attention of music A-lister Jay-Z, who bought 100 copies for $10,000 (as described by the hip hop culture site Complex).

The result was that Hussle created buzz and critical mass as an independent artist betting on himself. He also made a major statement when his record label entered a partnership with Atlantic Records; that led to his debut studio album, Victory Lap, which I regard as an instant classic that should hit platinum.

Signing with Atlantic was another affirmation that Hussle bet right.

And, as for his entrepreneurial activities, Hussle told me that, “We never lost on some street s***, but that ain’t worth bragging about it. That’s not what the metric is.

“The metric,” Hussle said, “is what we built as entrepreneurs and as leaders. That’s the nature of my various businesses.”

Jay-Z: Build your brand through collaboration.

Jay-Z grew up in the Marcy projects of Brooklyn, New York, during the time when crack cocaine ran the streets and crime was at an all-time high. If you’d been a witness to Jay-Z’s origins, you’d never have envisioned the success he’s created for himself, or the influence he’s developed. In fact, “Jay-Z” is practically a household name.

But, it wasn’t always like that. This rap artist too started from the bottom. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, he did a lot of collaboration work, appearing as a guest on other rappers’ tracks. When he couldn’t get a record deal with a major label himself, he created his own label and sold albums on the streets and out of his car trunk. He used to sleep on studio floors and open for other artists. But these moves weren’t just about impoverishment; the relationships he developed along the way became key to his success.

Specifically, Jay-Z used those relationships as a stepping stone to create a stronger name for himself. He would open for artists with big shows, and use those appearances to establish his brand and share his music. He relentlessly networked with other hip hop artists, but also collaborated with artists outside of his genre.

Those outside genres allowed him to cast an even wider net and garner wider mass appeal. From Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park to Alicia Keys and Panjabi MC, Jay-Z pushed his music and extended his network to multiple music genres. Through these collaborations, he not only doubled his listener base but created a much larger fan base and continued to build his global brand.

Dr. Dre: Leverage your influence.

Dr. Dre grew up in Compton, Calif., during the peak of gang culture. It was a time when the Bloods and Crips ran the streets and police brutality was as dangerous as the gangs. Dre lost many friends, including his own younger brother, to the violence.

He then had a choice to make in terms of work, and decided to go all in with his passion for music. He spent every waking moment in the studio, producing tracks, working with artists and ultimately creating the notorious rap group NWA. Through his success with NWA, he developed his own brand, and ultimately joined the group Death Row.

After Death Row, Dre kept climbing to the top, establishing Aftermath and signing Eminem and 50Cent. His career has continued with an upward trajectory that has not only landed him on the Forbes list, but has him sitting among the five wealthiest rappers in the world, getting close to billionaire status.

Related: Lessons on Innovation and Evolution From 3 Top Hip-Hop Artists

One of his biggest turning points came in 2017, though, when Apple announced it was acquiring his Beats by Dr. Dre headphone company. In 2006 record producer Jimmy Iovine approached Dre to partner with him, and asked Dre to use his influence and build a hardware company that would create speakers and headphones (the company’s inception has been written about by Business Insider).

Thanks to Dre’s established influence and appetite for risk and vision, which enabled him to understand the potential opportunity, Beats by Dre was created. And, with Apple’s $3.2 billion acquisition in 2017, Dre’s success was cemented in business and hip hop music.

Overall, that genre has spawned some of the most musically talented, gifted and creative people on the planet. These artists have shaped the music industry, but have also reinvented the way we build influence, create startups and scale businesses.

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Here’s How Prison Taught Me How to ‘Lead From the Front’

The lessons I learned during my 17,520 hours of incarceration may help you, too. Just don’t learn them in their native environment.

7 min read

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In an earlier part of my life, I went to prison for two years. My incarceration began two months before my 28th birthday, and I was released two months before my 30th. I went to prison due to previous convictions and a fight I was in when I was 22 (six years earlier).

Related: The 10 Biggest Business Lessons We Learned In 2017

I was a much different person going into prison in my late 20s than I had been when I got into that fight at 22. So, prison was a crushing blow to my life, considering that I’d already changed my life around.

That’s how, going in, I found myself confronting two choices about how I’d spend my time:

Choice 1: Be a part of the “yard society,” playing cards all day, shucking and jiving with the fellas, talking about past and future crimes I had committed or planned to commit . . . or

Choice 2: Figure out how to use every waking second of my upcoming prison time to be as productive as possible.

I chose the latter option (which I’ve previously written about). Specifically, I chose to stay open to learning in prison, which I did, in terms of the specific subjects I studied and the stuff I learned about myself that I’d never known.

One more thing I learned about was leadership lessons. I used those lessons and my prison experience as the launch pad for my current success. I’m a firm believer that any situation can create an opportunity to learn if you have the right mindset. That’s how I came to the leadership insights I gained as an inmate.

What kind of leader are you?

Before I expound on those lessons, it’s important to review the various leadership styles, as there are many out there to choose from. There’s a leadership tactic, for instance, called shepherd leadership, which is fashioned after a shepherd taking care of a flock.

Related: 5 Important Business Lessons You Can Learn From Billionaire Oprah Winfrey

A shepherd leads from the front versus a leader who “facilitates” and “guides.” I believe that the latter leadership style is important at times — for example, for empowering employees or teams to handle objectives while you work on the business versus in the business.

I also believe that there are times when a strong leader knows when to follow (and here I’ve been inspired by an article I read in 2012 in the publication Executive Education, from The Wharton School). A strong leader puts aside her or his ego and steps aside in order to focus on what’s best for the group. An example would be a medical emergency when a doctor — with the technical skills to deal with the scenario at hand — is best equipped to handle it.

I believe a true leader knows when to flex his or her leadership capabilities, and knows to be ready for that exigency, with a massive arsenal of leadership weaponry he or she can choose from.

I also believe that taking charge and leading from the front (as Napolean did and as I explain below) is a powerful skill and equally needed when the time is right.

As cultural icon 50 Cent and his co-author Robert Greene explained in their book The 50th Law: “The greatest generals in history . . . are invariably those who lead from the front and by themselves. They can be seen by the troops at the head of the army, exposing themselves to the same fate as any foot soldier.

“The Duke of Wellington said that the mere appearance of Napoleon Bonaparte at the head of his army translated into the equivalent of an additional forty thousand men,” the book continues. “A kind of electrical charge passes through the troops — he is sharing in their sacrifices, leading by example. It has almost religious connotations.”

This is the type of leadership I admire. In prison, I quickly learned that taking charge and being a frontward-facing leader was the most effective approach for that environment, where respect is demanded and aggression is the norm. However, my frontward-facing leadership wasn’t planned, and was a lesson I accidentally stumbled upon.

Here’s how that happened:

1. Mindset is everything.

As I already wrote, in prison, I made the conscious decision to make the waking portion of those 17,520 hours productive. Overall, I was relentlessly focused on bettering my mind, body and spirit. I learned conversational Korean, studied everything from string theory physics to ancient Greek and even taught myself the basics of computer programming without the internet, using textbooks.

I had all sorts of business publications sent to me, from Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Wired, to the Wall Street Journal and San Jose Mercury (for tech related news).

And I trained my body religiously, performing hundreds of burpees a day. No matter what yard I was sent to, I diligently focused on my program. That left me little time or room to get mixed up in prison politics or yard dramas. Mindset was the only thing I had any control over, and it empowered me to be the person I needed to be for myself, my future, my family and even the people around me in prison.

2. How I became an agent of change.

By having the right mindset, I saw an interesting thing happen. No matter where I went, and whoever was around — from my cellmate to other prisoners in my housing unit, to even the correctional officers who delivered my mail, people gravitated toward me, asking questions about what I was focused on.

Even though I wasn’t leading groups or recruiting people to better themselves, my actions made me an agent of change, no matter where I was in prison. I began to positively influence the people around me. The people in my housing unit started reading my books, joined my workouts and focused on their emotional and spiritual states.

3. My responsibility increased.

Carrying myself the way I did, resulted in an overall respect for my character during my incarceration. As counterintuitive as it may seem, in prison, character and respect are two very important traits to possess. There are prison politics that are put in place to make sure people treat one other with respect and don’t steal, and to weed out the people causing problems on the prison yards.

I found myself in leadership positions in prison, where I helped make sure the yard ran smoothly and ensured there was continued peace throughout. This increase in responsibility helped me improve my leadership ability even more and allowed me to focus on being the best version of myself.

If you’re looking to improve your leadership capabilities, the best way to do that is just start leading. Be bold in your requests to take on new positions, seek ways to be an agent of change and experiment with the various types of leadership. In those ways, you’ll improve your leadership experience.

Also, take a page from my upcoming book on my convict period: When leading teams and people, recognize that it’s critical that you understand how you show up. It’s critical that you become conscious of the actions you represent, versus the words you speak, and how you treat your teams. Learn various leadership styles, and adopt the ones that will empower you and your teams.

As I look back, I see how prison taught me more about myself than almost any other experience I’ve faced. It made me mentally stronger and helped me establish habits I still use today (like my insatiable hunger for knowledge and self-education).

Related: 7 Business Lessons From the Gridiron

Eager to learn more? How about we agree that you just take my word for it (or read my book), rather than try to learn these prison leadership lessons in their natural setting?

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Hip Hop Legend Damon Dash Explains How His Street Mentality Catapulted Him to the Top

Damon Dash not only solidified himself as a music mogul but grew an enterprise into fashion and lifestyle, growing Rocawear into a top streetwear company that sold in 2007 for a reported $204 million. Dash later opened DD172, an art gallery and creative collective in New York City, in addition to founding Creative Control, a digital media platform that explored the intersection of music, art and culture. His portfolio of ventures also includes a spirits company, another clothing company and Dame Dash Studios.

Related: Music Mogul DJ Khaled Hustled for 25 Years, and Now He’s Living His Dream Life

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9 Blockchain Influencers for You to Follow — Who All Happen to Be Female

Blockchain is so hot right now. Coinschedule reported that 235 ICOs (initial coin offerings) debuted in 2017 alone. But do you really understand how the multiple Blockchain variations at play in today’s landscape work? An founding document behind the technology, Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 paper, contains sophisticated mathematical proofs that are probably incomprehensible to the average bitcoin buyer, never mind the general public. 

Related: Beyond Cryptocurrency: 5 Do’s and Don’ts for Using Blockchain in Your Business

That’s why it’s vital to find industry influencers who truly understand what they’re talking about. This means people who’ll help you sort out Blockchain, even if you’re lacking a Ph.D. in math or experience at writing code.

The influencers I’m about to suggest to help you with this sorting out are all female — with a reason. And that reason is that I find it so refreshing to see so many women jumping into the Blockchain universe, given the barriers to women in tech overall.

This helps creates diversity (welcome!) in that space and reassures all interested parties that the future of the internet will have more to offer than the traditional Silicon Valley archetype.  

So, here are nine influencers I follow — again, all women — who have helped me understand Blockchain’s unique aspects, its trends’ future and the current state of cryptocurrency. They may do the same for you.

1. Christa Freeland, director of Partnerships, Nano Vision: This revolutionary healthcare startup uses microchips, cryptocurrency and AI to gather and analyze healthcare research data. Freeland has built key partnerships for the company’s Blockchain and data platforms.

Related: 2017-Budget Expectations of Financial Inclusion for Women Entrepreneurship

She’s also a notable entrepreneur in her own right, having founded Switch Cowork, a platform that facilitates shared coworking spaces. Currently, she also serves as managing director of Powershift Group, a company that founds, funds and scales promising tech startups.

2. Elena Knysh, VP of Sales, SolidOpinion. This ICO company uses Blockchain cryptocurrency to incentivize quality customer engagement and allow content-smart ad placement by advertisers. SolidOpinion’s clients include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and Spil Games. Reading this white paper from SolidOpinion provides a great look into the ad space and how Blockchain will play a major role. 

3. Anna Irrera, fintech correspondent, Reuters. She’s an experienced financial reporter with a close understanding of the Blockchain economy. Her articles consistently deliver breaking news and astute analysis.

4. Tamara McCleary, expert on marketing, branding and Blockchain. McCleary is the founder of Thulium, a hugely successful financial and technology branding firm. She was named one of Onalytica’s top 50 Blockchain influencers.

5. Elizabeth Stark, co-founder and CEO, Lightning. This company is responsible for a decentralized, scalable and fast system of Blockchain-based financial transactions. A former professor at Yale and Stanford, Stark anticipated, in an article published on Coin Telegraph, that the further decentralization of the Blockchain system is inevitable. 

6. Meltem Demirors, director of development at blockchain advisory firm Digital Currency Group. Demirors manages a portfolio of 100 companies. She is also a Blockchain and technology lecturer at the MIT Media Lab and at the University of Oxford.

7. Diana Biggs, twice named one of the UK’s top 25 fintech Influencers by CityAM. CityAM is London’s first free daily newspaper. Biggs currently serves as industry engagement advisor for the University College London’s Centre for Blockchain Technologies and as HSBC’s head of business model innovation for the U.K. and Europe.

8. Neha Naruladirector, the Digital Currency Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. Narula leads the Lab’s research on new digital currency and Blockchain applications. She’s delivered a Ted talk on “The Future of Money,” and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Blockchain 2016-2017.

9. Imogen Heap, Grammy-winning British artist. She’s the founder of artist and musician collective Mycelia, a group that explores how Blockchain technology can be used to disrupt the music economy ecosystem and ensures fair pay for artists. She practices what she preaches, having released her album, Tiny Human, on the blockchain Ethereum in 2015.

Related: You Don’t Have to Be All That Corporate to Make an Impact With Corporate Social Responsibility

These nine women are pushing the Blockchain boundaries. They’re creating the dawn of wide adoption for this technology;and they’re helping to welcome Web 3.0, which is sure to usher in a much more diverse and decentralized internet age than we have today.

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Thanks to Blockchain, Decentralization — and Data Security — Are the Future

Nowadays, everything is going digital. The photographs we once stored in photo albums are generally no longer printed; they’re stored in online albums. And few people anymore use physical paper planners to keep track of their lives; instead, daily reminders and appointments are stored in digital calendars.

Related: 8 Crazy and Surprising Ways People Are Using Blockchain

What’s more, few people maintain handwritten ledgers to track their bank accounts. There are websites and apps that do the work for them and allow easy access this data.

Meanwhile, companies across multiple industries are storing all of their files and data digitally. From financial records to personnel files, digital networks are storing companies’ internal data. The data companies collect from customers is often stored this way, as well.

Sounds good so far — except for the fact that with so many things going digital, we are more and more susceptible to security breaches. And, in addition to the risk that we might be hacked, when we store everything on computers, we face the possibility that one of those digital networks we’re using will go down.

That happens with some regularity: According to recent reports from Datacenter Dynamics, a British cloud-hosting company called UKFast suffered an outage at its data center in Manchester after workers there accidentally axed a cable connected to the computer network.  And, earlier this year, Amazon’s cloud service also experienced an outage, attributed to either a bug in the network’s software code or human error.

Security breaches and outages, then, are a concern for many who have turned to digital storage. But the good news is that technological innovation is coming to the rescue.


First, there’s Blockchain. Blockchain technology is a digital ledger which stores data blocks that are highly encrypted. This technology has begun to decentralize data, and the innovation it represents could well be the future of data storage. Already, businesses  utilizing Blockchain are seeing many benefits.

And one big reason for those benefits can be attributed in large part to the fact that it’s easier to maintain the privacy and security of files and data on a decentralized network than a centralized one.

Related: How Blockchain Is Enabling the New Era of Digital Financial Investments

Blockchain vs. data servers

Last year, the Ponemon Institute, a research firm, reported on global cloud data security. The study found that 73 percent of information technology professionals surveyed called cloud computing applications and platform solutions integral to business operations today. Researchers have predicted that these solutions related to cloud computing will increase 81 percent over the next two years.

But this migration to the cloud could spell problems: 60 percent of the more than 3,000 IT professionals surveyed said it is more difficult to protect confidential or sensitive information on cloud servers. Alternately, Blockchain can provide the same data-storage capabilities as cloud hosting, but with more security and prevention of breaches.

Blockchain technology is more secure than cloud computing, by design: The cryptography that makes up the Blockchain design was actually created for the purpose of addressing the security concerns associated with digital products, like cloud networks. Since Blockchain is a decentralized network spread out across computers in different locations, there is no single point of weakness vulnerable to security breaches. Security has been built into blockchain technology, making it automatic. 

Additionally, decentralized storage allows for drastic reductions in pricing, so that any company, not just the largest ones, can leverage the technology. With Blockchain-based data storage, small companies don’t have to spend money and resources building the infrastructure to hold data and files. Those companies pay only for the amount of data storage they need.

As Mike Stollaire, president and CEO of Titanium Blockchain Infrstructure Services, recently told me by phone, “We are not only replacing cloud storage but also providing processor and memory, so that resource-intensive projects involving artificial intelligence and virtual reality can be accomplished by anyone in the world at an affordable price.”

The world computer you can’t shut down

Stollaire’s company, Titanium, is being positioned to decentralize storage, processor power and memory throughout the globe by utilizing more than 200,000 devices comprising the Ethereum “world computer” (ETH)  For those unfamiliar with ETH, this technology takes the cryptographic payment structure of Bitcoin and adds a Turing complete scripting language.

Ethereum is attempting to use Blockchain technology to create the most viable tool for executing smart contracts. The term “Turing complete” means a system capable of performing any logical step of the computational function, creating a globally decentralized, non-owned digital computer for executing peer-to-peer contracts. In layman’s terms, Ethereum is a world computer you can’t shut down.

Because of this, Titantium’s system will be available almost 100 percent of the time, performing optimally, with essentially no outages.

A decentralized world computer that can’t be shut down would be extremely useful for keeping our data safe. Consider, for example, that since 2009, more than 50 percent of all U.S. internet traffic has traveled through Northern Virginia, an area sometimes called “The Silicon Valley of the East.”

Internet traffic is still being tunneled through this Dulles Technology Corridor today. And given the magnitude of this traffic, concerns have been raised as to whether it’s safe for that much data to stream through just one geographical area. As the outages previously described illustrated, confining a storage network to one location can spell disaster if the network experiences problems.

For this reason, a number of large companies are utilizing Blockchain for their data storage needs. And other tech companies are harnessing the technology to innovate other industries. Earlier this year, Sony, for example, announced it had developed a Blockchain system for education.

Using this system, Sony promises to make educational achievements and activity records both open and safe. According to a recent Sony press release, the system “centralizes the management of data from multiple educational institutions and makes it possible to record and reference educational data and digital transcripts.” In this way, education records will be both more secure and also more easily transferable between and among education institutions.

At this juncture, decentralizing data is integral to the growth of online data storage. In light of recent big breaches, including those attacking Arby’s, Verizon and Dun & Bradstreet in 2017, we are realizing the importance of better data security and access.

Related: 8 Benefits of Blockchain to Industries Beyond Cryptocurrency

As companies begin to rely almost entirely on digital data storage, round-the-clock access to this digital infrastructure is key. Decentralizing data will limit the weaknesses found in typical cloud storage networks and ensure these systems are safe from attack.

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AI, 3D Printing and Robotics)

We’ve been hearing for years about the digital transformation of multiple business sectors. And the technology sector is hardly alone in this regard: For the past decade, legacy industries have been making the transition, too,and the result has been massive opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Related: How Tech Is Becoming an Integral Player in Energy Solutions

 Moreover, as each new age group has increasingly gone “digitally native,” the overall workforce has demanded higher workplace technology standards.

Entrepreneurs have left their fingerprints all over the resulting current digital landscape, creating brand new technologies and updating antiquated processes. Such innovations are being driven by the younger generation, whose members have stepped up to become the new leaders in the field. With this millennial management has come an openness to adopting new technologies, and a knack for solving old problems with new approaches.

One of the biggest industries opting for digital efficiency and subsequently thirsty for young, entrepreneurial leadership? Oil and gas.

Why oil and gas?

One reason this particular sector is ripe with entrepreneurial opportunities is that oil is projected to stay below $60 a barrel throughout 2018. With this booming market and its eagerness for innovation, the industry is ripe for disruption to existing business models, and for real growth. 

“Companies that are willing to innovate and invest can unlock tremendous value and may remain financially strong regardless of what happens to global supply and demand trends,” Deloitte executiveJohn England wrote in a 2018 Energy Outlook white paper.

“So, the digital cavalry is coming,” continued England, who is vice chairman, U.S. energy and resources leader, and U.S., and Americas oil and gas leader for Deloitte.”But it likely won’t rescue everyone — possibly only those who are brave enough to embrace it.”

What might seem like yesterday’s technology headlines are headlines only now making a splash in the oil and gas industry. This means that technology experts from entrepreneurial companies should be watching the horizon for opportunities in energy. Here are four innovations transforming that sector:

Artificial intelligence

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to have the biggest technological impact on the oil and gas industry over the coming years,” according to Omar Saleh, Microsoft’s oil and gas director for the Middle East and Africa, who spoke to CNBC.

ExxonMobil, ranked No. 1 in the industry by Forbes’ 2017 Global 2000 ranking of the world’s biggest public companies, is spearheading AI exploration through a partnership with MIT to explore the oceans using AI software. With the biggest names in oil and gas investing in AI ventures, it’s clear that the technology will have a major impact in the coming years.

Cloud computing

Oil and gas giants have long been wary of cloud technology because of security risks. While adoption may be low as of today, there is still a strong future for cloud computing. A forecast by the U.K.-based Oil & Gas Council explains that, due to the “many commercial benefits and the world of possibilities, cloud computing is becoming a popular model for the IT savvy business that has growth on its agenda.”

“Some of the most complex organizations from banking to government, have fully embraced the computing power and agility of cloud,” Shiva Rajagopalan, CEO and founder of Seven Lakes Technologies said during her remarks for my podcast scheduled for next month. “They’ve been rewarded with a competitive edge to respond to markets faster and incubate transformational ideas within the organization at unprecedented speed.

“The faster information is available,” Rajagopalan added, “the more quickly large corporations spin up new ideas, initiatives and innovations. The oil and gas industry should be afforded exactly the same competitive edge, not confined by their own data centers.”

3D-scanning technology

3D printing has moved beyond the hype phase, and we are now seeing practical uses in play. For oil and gas, 3D printing means fast, cost-effective representations of assets that can be used for maintenance planning and execution.

According to LaserDesign, “3D printing allows oil and gas companies to reverse-engineer and measure oil and gas tools in virtually every shape and size. Scan data can confirm whether the replacement part will fit existing equipment and also provide a clear documentation of tooling erosion to improve product design and reproduce tooling components.”

Related: How Startups Can Be Invited to the Big IoT Party

The internet of things

The value of the internet of things (IoT) becomes apparent when companies can demonstrate new applications for information gleaned from these technologies. Paul Turner, CMO of Cloudian, said he believes that the promise of IoT lies in creating a set of standards “to guide how devices are structured, and a common language that can be understood . . . ” Such standards, Turner said, “are critical for IoT companies looking to sell their technology to oil and gas.

“Startup companies looking to sell IoT solutions to the oil and gas sector should also adhere to standards,” Turner told RigZone. “Value is derived not only from the data collected and aggregated, but data being in a well-known format.

He added: “A service model that features one data repository that can be used by many companies is needed.”

Advanced robotics

One of the biggest challenges in the oil and gas sector is how to mitigate risk. One of the best ways deploying sophisticated robotics that humans can operate, keeping themselves out of harm’s way. Earlier this year, Chevron announced a partnership with OC Robotics to inspect offshore oil and natural gas pressure vessels in the North Sea. The robotic P100 snake arm, is built to operate in confined spaces, deploying an arm into the inspection area, using wire ropes and software.

“There is real potential to improve inspection outputs and extend asset life by characterizing vessels and assessing fitness for service without human entry into dangerous and confined spaces,” Rebecca Smith, project manager at OC Robotics, was recently quoted as saying by JWN.

Exciting advances in AI, cloud computing, 3D printing, IOT and robotics are transforming the future of the oil and gas industry. “The upstream oil and gas companies have survived turbulent markets, fine-tuned lean teams and know exactly where to drill,” Rajagopalan told me. “In spite of all that transformation, meeting production targets remains a blindfolded, high-wire act. This must change.”

Raising “an army of people” to solve the problems ahead isn’t enough, she said. What may be, she said, is adoptable predictable technologies, which give time back to the field “so that they can shrink unplanned down time.” 

Related: From Corner Office to Field Ops: 4 Ways to Make Data Actionable

Entrepreneurs and startups looking to be a part of the next generation of technologies should explore this billion dollar industry because that rig drilling away down in Texas or out in the Gulf is no longer working your father’s oil field; it’s the digitally driven oil field of the future, powered by disruptive tech. 

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