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Alena Eager

Six international scaleups entered Alestra’s Open Innovation and Soft Landing Program. They are linked to AI, IoT Cybersecurity and Blockchain.

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January 28, 2021 4 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Regardless of the size of an organization, to ensure its permanence over time and sustained growth, it requires a process of continuous innovation. There are several ways to achieve this, but several medium or large organizations have opted for open innovation processes to achieve it.

Such is the case of the Monterrey technology provider, Alestra, which this year celebrates 25 years of existence and which has found in the support of startups and corporate acceleration, a way to help organizations to be more productive through digitization.

Since 2016 Alestra has carried out open innovation processes through its NAVE program. With it, he has achieved a greater culture of innovation within the organization, the development of seven new products, innovation with clients (he has managed to connect more than 100 key clients with startups); and increase by more than 13 million pesos in innovation services sold, in addition, more than 23 million pesos in additional services sold as a result of innovation efforts.

Fifth generation ship

To continue these efforts, Alestra selected the scaleups that will participate in its fifth generation of the NAVE Program.

After a selection process involving more than 1,000 scaleups, Alestra selected 10 scaleps, explained Jenaro Martínez, Director of Innovation and Strategic Alliances at Alestra.

This Wednesday, the 10 finalists met to present their proposal to an evaluation steering committee, from which six were selected to start a commercial acceleration process, through which they could close investments, commercial alliances or new product launches.

These companies will carry out a 16-week acceleration program with a view to becoming commercial allies of the technology company. During their participation in NAVE, these scaleups will have access to Alestra’s IT infrastructure and services with an approximate value of 2 million pesos; a bonus of 100,000 pesos as support to implement a pilot with one of the clients; a tailor-made mentoring program with a value of 230,000 pesos and access to Alestra’s commercial network with more than 18,000 clients.

The selected scaleups are:

Cerebriai (artificial intelligence)

  • Country: Canada
  • Customer Experience platform that uses data to measure individual customers and deliver products more intelligently. Increase sales (up sell and cross cell) and avoid churn.
  • Industries: financial, telco and automotive

Virtuelle (virtual reality)

  • Country: MEXICO
  • Immersion experiences to develop skills of employees in a standard, effective and risk-free way.
    • DriVR driving simulator
    • FactoryVR- simulator for training in industry
    • ExecutionVR-point of sale execution simulator
    • 60% reduction in expenses for incidents
    • Reduction of hiring time from 30 days to 8 hours.
  • Industries: logistics, manufacturing and retail.

1 Kosmos (cybersecurity)

  • Country: United States
  • It allows the authentication of digital identities on Blockchain using biometrics. It covers the entire employee journey from access to the building, to access to their laptop and internal company applications. Productivity increase due to a 40% reduction in the number of helpdesk calls ($ 25- $ 70 dlls per call).
  • Industries: all

Omnix (Artificial Intelligence)

  • Country Chile
  • Software as a Service with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning that automates logistical, operational and process capacities of companies. 20% increase in sales and savings of up to 40% in inventory space.
  • Industries: retail, telco and manufacturing

Praemo (Internet of Things)

  • Country: Canada
  • Look for anomalies and trends that indicate deviations from baseline performance. Alerts the operator to the potential problem and recommends actions to prevent consequences. Increases anomaly prediction time from 5 min to 6 days in advance. They reduce production time by 50%.
  • Industries: manufacturing

Stride (Artificial Intelligence)

  • Country: United States
  • Hyper-automation solution specialized in the financial sector, capable of reading documents, extracting and analyzing information. On average, it has generated savings of 70% in time and 40% in operating costs, with an accuracy rate above 90%.
  • Industries: financial and regulatory.

Since its inception, the goal of the NAVE program has been to drive B2B scaleups to make organizations more productive through digitization. Along these lines, since 2016 Alestra and NAVE have accelerated to more than 26 scaleups who are now business partners of Alestra.

For more information about NAVE and its next call visit: www.aceleradoranave.com.mx

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From Covid-19 to the SolarWinds cyberattack, 2020 delivered many blows to public trust. Founders need to take the lessons learned and ensure they are not part of the problem.

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January 28, 2021 6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

From Covid-19 to the SolarWinds cyber attack, 2020 delivered many blows to public trust. We have been bombarded with misinformation and , leading us to wonder about the and security of our sensitive personal and organizational information. These events have magnified the lack of trust people have in everything from government agencies to brands both big and small. 

Within this 2020 problem lies a 2021 opportunity. The new year provides founders with the opportunity to get creative and solve the issues that this broken trust has engendered – and also ensure that you are not part of the problem. That begins by addressing the breakdowns in three areas: , transparency and security.

Data privacy

There has always been a need for protecting private data, but long gone are the days when sensitive customer documents were locked in a filing cabinet at the end of the workday. In our digital world, customers share more information about themselves than ever across a variety of platforms; however, there is confusion over who is responsible for data privacy. In a Cisco Consumer Privacy survey, nearly half of respondents felt it was the government’s responsibility, while a quarter believe consumers should do more to protect their , and only about one in five thought it was up to the companies who collect, process and store the information to keep it safe. Data privacy laws, such as and CCPA, have put greater onus on organizations to ensure data privacy. In fact, Gartner predicts by 2023, 65 percent of the world population will have their personal information protected by data privacy laws. The fines and other impacts, such as reputational damage leading to lost business, make companies keenly aware of the importance of maintaining data protection.

Most startups do not meet the minimum criteria necessary to be compliant with data privacy regulations, but that does not give founders a free pass to ignore data privacy protections. Rather, meeting data privacy requirements from the beginning will ensure your company is prepared as it scales and as new privacy laws are introduced. Adding technology that categorizes data while reducing redundancy prepares you for consumer requests to be forgotten or verify what data is held. It is also important for you to consider what data is valuable to retain and what can be discarded. There should be governance over the data, either by designating a person, adding technology or by enlisting a third-party firm, so that privacy can be maintained appropriately and requests from customers can be immediately addressed.

Related: 4 Statistical Reasons Data Security Should Be a Top Priority for Small Businesses

Transparency

Transparency is an important requirement in data privacy compliance. GDPR articles state that answers to customers’ questions surrounding their data will be made in a “concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language.” Companies will need to be able to answer the following:

  • Who is responsible for data governance and privacy? Is there a designated responsible individual responsible for this information?
  • Are you prepared to share all contact information on request?
  • Have you defined the purpose for holding consumer personal data?
  • How long will it be kept? How is it currently processed?
  • Will the information be transferred to a third party?

Although these questions are specific to GDPR, (which any company doing business with EU residents is required to follow) this level of transparency should be standard for startups. It only stands to foster loyalty among customers, partners and investors.

Wanting to be transparent in how data is used is one thing. Having the ability to be transparent is a greater challenge. Entrepreneurs will want to look at the technology that is available to address this problem. Data is useless if you do not know what you have and how it benefits you. Achieving the transparency required in data privacy laws will give you better insight into your data overall. Data transparency solutions allow you to explain not only why you are holding consumer data but also how it can provide your company with improved business agility. Ultimately, businesses with their data in order can not only comply with the law but also offer richer customer experiences.

Related: 4 Tips for Keeping Your Data Secure While Everyone Works From Home

Data security

Work from home during Covid-19 has led to an increase in data breaches, with 20 percent of breaches and cyber incidents in 2020 directly related to remote work. There have even been data breaches directly correlated to the pandemic, such as the attack on the Small Business Administration that revealed the information of those applying for emergency loans from the government.

There is no question that data is under attack. It is up to businesses to take action to protect it. This is much harder to do when your company is small, you have limited resources and your workforce is accessing the network on personal devices from all over the world. There are basic rules that must be applied, such as using multi-factor authentication to access all company and customer data and enforcing strong passwords (the SolarWinds attack relied on weak passwords to get access). VPNs offer more secure connections than home routers, and encryption should be used for any sensitive transmissions. Cloud technologies like Security-as-a-Service offer accessible security management for workers wherever they are, and tools that offer security on the edge will provide protection directly for the data, whether it is on the network or access on a smartphone through the cloud.

In 2020, you were forced to readjust your approach to data protections quickly using the solutions that were available. In 2021, there is an opportunity for founders and entrepreneurs to take the lessons learned and build trust, whether through the development of innovative solutions or by ensuring your startup is able to hold itself to the highest standards of data protection.

Related: More Than 150,000 U.S. Small-Business Websites Could Be Infected With Malware at Any Given Moment. Here’s How to Protect Yours.

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January 18, 2021 8 min read

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Decentralization is the current trend in the global financial market. However, it’s far from the only innovation that the industry has seen in recent times. As aim to accelerate their capital raise, such businesses have taken to innovations toward opening their companies to public investment.

This can be accomplished in several ways. You may recall Bill Ackerman’s $4 billion blank check company created to buy a yet-to-be-named . Likewise, there is news about ’s planned shell company in the U.S.

Such shell companies are often utilized as special-purpose investment vehicles as part of a company’s strategy for reducing the financial risk or improving the efficiency of certain financial activities. For one, utilizing a reverse merger scheme with a public shell company can save millions of dollars in underwriting and listing fees, as well as shorten the time in which a business can get publicly listed on the .

Kings of Shells

The strategy being undertaken by Ackerman or Softbank is not exactly new. In the late 1990s, Aaron Tsai, Chief Capitalist at MAS Capital, Inc., used public shell companies as a strategy for bringing businesses public in a shorter amount of time and lower expenses than a regular IPO. Tsai created 101 shell companies, cashed in on the trend and became a multi-millionaire by the age of 29.

Tsai was described by the Wall Street Journal as a businessman “at the leading edge of the resurgence of ‘blank check’ or shell companies.” Not many were convinced it was a good idea to build a business model out of companies with very few assets and barely existing income, products, business activity or a long-term plan. But Tsai saw profitability in dealing with these “companies in the business of doing nothing.”   

Shell companies were not a new idea when Tsai saw the potential of generating millions with them. However, because of the ’s unexpected gains in the 1990s, largely driven by internet-related offerings, there was renewed interest in these instruments. Only a few discerning businessmen would have perceived this value, though. Tsai was one of them.

Tsai used his public shell companies for reverse-merger deals as an alternative strategy to underwritten IPOs. He merged his shell companies with other corporations, getting a portion of the merged company’s outstanding shares in return. This accelerated the public listing process for these businesses and resulted in considerable returns for Tsai, as well.

This strategy not only helped his own business, it also benefited other companies that struggled to raise capital during the dot-com era. Even before 2000, Tsai saw the potential of the internet to become a tool for investing success. “We believe the internet will open the equity markets to individual investors, create alternative stock-trading systems for them and thereby change the model of capital formation that exists today,” said Tsai in his Journal interview. 

Are shell companies still relevant now?

The way shell companies are used now may not be the same as how they were employed in the past. However, the core idea of the purpose of having these companies, at least in the legal or legitimate sense, remains unchanged.

In a way, they have evolved into something with a less disconfirming connotation: special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). A recent report reveals how SPACs have been booming and are likely to perform even better in the year ahead. In 2020, SPACs have outnumbered traditional IPO deals, 200 to 194. Interestingly, SPACs and traditional IPOs raised almost the same accumulated amounts of capital. Companies that went public using SPACs raised a total of $64 billion, while underwritten IPOs managed to generate $67 billion.

Paul Dellaquila, head of the Defiance Next Gen SPAC ETF, says that SPACs will only become more prominent in 2021, as many big names are already behind them. The entry of Virgin Galactic and DraftKings, for example, is giving SPACs more credence. Dellaquila adds that sports teams may also decide to go public, and SPACs will be their likely vehicle in doing it.

Moreover, a recently released Goldman Sachs forecast paints a rosy outlook for blank check companies, saying that a surge of these entities could drive $300 billion worth of in 2021 to 2022. Suffice it to say, Tsai’s expertise and experience with shell companies continue to be a live round in his ammunition stock. His insights on blank check companies are useful in light of the growing prevalence of SPACs. According to BTIG, there are more than 200 SPACs currently seeking acquisitions over the next 18- to 24-month period.

Moving forward with decentralized finance

Even before 2000, Tsai already saw the potential of the internet to become a tool for investing success. “We believe the Internet will open the equity markets to individual investors, create alternative stock-trading systems for them and thereby change the model of capital formation that exists today,” Tsai added to the Journal.

Inferentially, Tsai already had the idea of decentralized finance at the back of his head. He foresaw the concept of individual and institutional investors snagging investment opportunities of various types in different parts of the world. He did not see the advent of blockchain, smart contracts, FinTech and decentralized finance, but he knew that someday everyone would be able to participate in investments globally through the internet.

As the latter part of the 2010s saw disruptions in entire industries brought about by blockchain and digital token offerings, Tsai once again demonstrated his resilience, versatility and ingenuity. The relentless capitalist learned to adapt and explore new technologies and business models.

Thus, MAS Capital Group, Inc., was founded. This new venture operates as a financial advisory business under the management of financial professionals based in Asia. This marks Tsai’s foray into decentralized finance. He started testing new waters and again demonstrated his knack for innovation.

Tsai saw how billions of dollars in digital currency went to Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). At the same time, he observed the gap in how investors conducted due diligence when it comes to securing capital. This new business landscape inspired the creation of new services, which led to the founding of MASEx.

MASEx has been in operation for more than a year now, and the company plans to pursue further growth by engaging emerging economies through an AI-powered decentralized platform. The company aims to expand its STO ecosystems to enable the unbanked and underbanked to participate in investment opportunities. 

Tsai realized how STOs are set to form part of the new normal in investing and capital raising, especially in Asia. “As we enter a new decade, do not be surprised to see the largest STO exchange in the world based in Asia or China.” 

To be clear, his message was not a rebuke to traditional financial institutions but a challenge for everyone to level up if they want to retain control or take the dominant role in the global financial industry.

The need for regulation in decentralization

Even with all the promised benefits of decentralization, there are still crucial challenges. In STOs, in particular, there are stumbling blocks that prevent companies and exchanges from achieving optimum outcomes. Tsai points to regulatory compliance as the main challenge, especially its implications when it comes to due diligence and regulatory checks.

“We are going through a seismic shift that extends across the entire financial industry. This will disrupt the existing oligopoly of financial institutions in banking, securities and fund management sectors. Regulators must rise to the occasion,” Tsai said during a keynote speech in 2019.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the MASEx Founder and DeFi advocate calls for the urgent regulation of STOs which are decentralized by design. He describes the spirit and letter of the U.S. securities laws as in need of a refresh. They are not in tune with the disruptively accelerating trend of digital currency adoption, financial decentralization and self-regulated Security Token Offerings.

DeFi companies often feel challenged with regulations that limit what they can do. At the same time, they find it problematic when there are no regulations in place to assure customers, investors, or traders that the digital assets they are getting from a decentralized financial market bear real value.

Defying obstacles with DeFi

Decentralized platforms transcend geography, although partnerships with key industry players will be essential in achieving trust and traction. 

Technology has proven time and again that innovations have the ability to identify trends that enable success. It can also help businesses worldwide with their attempts to attract funding by going public.

Regulatory requirements make it difficult for many companies to get publicly listed. Through STOs and even with the innovative business model with shell companies, the long and tedious process of raising capital can be reduced significantly.

However, it is also important to take regulation into account. Decentralization has numerous advantages, but without regulation to provide assurances to investors and consumers, it will be difficult to attract investors into trusting new and security classes. Regulation and compliance build trust, and this may just be what DeFi needs to gain traction in the financial community.

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January 7, 2021 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In times of uncertainty, it is crucial for leaders to rally around the why behind their mission. There is a tendency to overlook the why when decisive action is needed, but it is essential to steering the course of the business. The why illuminates what needs to be done and how it can be accomplished. The why gives the whole team a sense of purpose. As Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

Over the past decade, my perspective on has been guided by one simple mantra: Start with why, inspired by the book of the same title by Simon Sinek. In my time as an engineer, starting with why was fundamental to tackling every new product or feature. Starting with why meant understanding the pain points of the user and defining the success criteria for addressing the pain points. From there, we could specify the functionality needed (the what) and set a plan for developing the product (the how). As I became a leader, I found that these same principles apply to — always, but especially in turbulent times. 

When my company, like so many others, confronted the impact of a global , we were forced to reevaluate our criteria for success, short-term and long-term. We regained clarity that our purpose is to empower data engineers in building smart data pipelines to solve the biggest problems of our generation. This clarity of purpose, our why, caused us to retool the what across the company, from our go-to-market strategy, to our product roadmap, to our investment model. This is enabling us to weather the storm.

Leaders, before solving for uncertainty in your company or industry, align with your team on why you are there. Ask yourselves, “Why will we succeed?” The answer will help determine what matters most right now and your medium-term goals. And use these three key tenets to reaffirm a sense of belonging, restate what you stand for and keep your business and your leaders on track.

Related: What the Regime Uncertainty of the Pandemic Means for Entrepreneurs 

Use the why to anchor your business and your team

At the end of the day, your strategy is valueless unless all your employees believe in it. When my co-founder and I started our company, strategy was our sole focus for three months before we hired our first employee. It was , but we converged on a belief that data engineering would be the linchpin for modernizing business intelligence. And that DataOps would be the practice adopted by data engineers. This informed our activities for many years. As we grew and things were going well, we made a number of opportunistic product and go-to-market decisions that helped grow the business but didn’t always align with our why.

When the pandemic hit, the macroeconomic uncertainty meant that we had to be much smarter about where to invest our energy and resources. Reaffirming our point of view and ensuring that it was differentiated was the first order of business. Across the industry, not everyone agrees on the essential value of the data engineering role. Some may think it’s just a little bit of busywork for an application engineer. Others may think that it is a minor roadblock to the more important task of embracing data science. Still others may think of this as a design-time engineering problem rather than a full life-cycle problem. That’s okay! We are not in the business of changing everybody’s mindset, but if an employee doesn’t believe in our why, then maybe they aren’t a great fit for the company.

The why should ground leaders and their teams throughout the execution of a plan or vision. Come back to the why when you encounter a problem, a lack of confidence, or a difference of opinion. The why will keep your teams aligned in the face of adversity and centered on the end goal.

Related: ‘The Alignment Factor’: The Keys to Internal Alignment

Be comfortable without unanimity on the what

On a day-to-day basis, the focus is always on results. More simply put, the questions I regularly ask myself and others are “What should we do?” and “Are we accomplishing it?”

The what is rarely obvious because there is more than one way to tackle a problem. While it is helpful and important to listen to all points of view on a team, as a leader you must decide because you cannot implement multiple solutions to reach one goal. The challenge this presents to a leader is the need to pick and choose the best option available and then strive to gain unanimous commitment across the team. There will be contrarians — encourage them to give things a chance, and commit to revisit your decision periodically to ensure that it was the best choice.

In times of change, the what can seem especially amorphous, at least at first, but a leader needs to be decisive in these moments of uncertainty. When faced with the pandemic, we had to act fast. I acted based on my belief that a leader must be responsive to current needs but also forward-looking about how needs may change in the future. Thinking like an engineer means being agile and amenable to pivoting your what as obstacles arise or new learnings emerge. For leaders, these sorts of obstacles might take the form of budgeting constraints, or preparing for a different business outlook as industry conditions change, or prioritizing a new set of key results to track.

Related: Why Engineers Like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos Make Great CEOs

Don’t tell your team how to do their jobs

A good leader never specifies the how. Once you specify the method for attaining success, you are taking responsibility for the success of someone else, who is actually implementing the how and getting the job done. In this situation, an employee may approach a task in a way that is unnatural to them because they are mimicking the leader’s way of doing things. When dealing with ambiguity, they will be unable to think for themselves. 

Rather, leaders should stay focused on the why and what. Staying grounded in the strategy and the results you need to achieve allows for clear direction without micromanaging the method of execution (leave that to your teams). When leaders stay out of execution, teams have the much-needed room to innovate. 

At StreamSets, for example, supporting the data engineer is a top priority; so our product team mapped out monthly releases focused on the features and user experience that data engineers love. Our team interviewed data engineers and delighted them with the resources they would need to be successful. Our team educated the champions in the company about how to enable the whole data team. Our customer success team came up with a new Academy to offer self-directed training. Together our employees were innovative, all while solving for the challenges the pandemic wrought and staying true to the why.

This sort of , this freedom to determine the how, is key because it is furthering the results needed to achieve your why. The creativity that comes out when employees improvise tactics or explore new approaches to a project is powerful. People come for the why but they stay for the how!

Using the why-what-how framework has been instrumental in guiding my leadership philosophy throughout my career and as CEO. It reminds me to start with the big picture and then tap back into my engineering background, to think critically about our goals and then to arm my employees with the tools they need to achieve them. As you get more productive with the what, you are getting smarter with the how, but it all depends on why.

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The Innovation Lab will have a budget of 10 million dollars, will be located in the Rehovot Science Park and will begin operations in 2021. The partners will include the pharmaceutical companies Teva and Merck, as well as the Biotech Fund.

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December 28, 2020 2 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.
This story originally appeared on Alto Nivel

If we talk about big projects for 2021, this is one of the most ambitious. The pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck and Teva , in conjunction with the Biotech Fund and Amazon Web Services , will build a Laboratory for Digital Health and Computational Biology in Israel, reported Israeli authorities.

The Innovation Authority and Israel’s National Digital Ministry announced the creation of the Innovation Lab. The budget for the computer lab is 32 million shekels, equivalent to 10 million dollars (about 200 million Mexican pesos). This amount, planned for the next five years, is made up of contributions from partner companies and the Israeli fund.

The powerful group’s proposal was selected in a contest where other projects competed. The new complex will start operations in 2021 and will be located in the Rehovot Science Park, where the Weizmann Institute of Sciences is also located.

The objective of the Innovation Lab will be to support entrepreneurs and startups to start projects related to the health industry. The companies that join the laboratory will receive funding from the Innovation Authority and the National Digital Ministry, which will give impetus to their creations.

“The rapid development of vaccines for the covid-19 virus owes its success in part to the Artificial Intelligence capabilities of leading pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Moderna. These areas are expected to be more significant in the coming years ” , explained the Innovation Authority in a statement published on its official website .

The Innovation Lab will also help entrepreneurs with assistance from lab partners. In addition, they will have access to their scientific knowledge and world experts to develop revolutionary medicines and treatments.

“The purpose of the laboratory is to assist in the establishment and advancement of new startups that develop innovative computational technologies based on Artificial Intelligence and aimed at discovering personalized treatments and solutions ,” the statement concluded.

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December 17, 2020 6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Chris Kanik, CEO and founder of Smart Cups, the world’s first printed beverage, took his earliest class at age 10. At 14, he’d joined a research team at University, and by 16, he was fully enrolled in courses. After a few twists in turns, including returning to finish out his studies and conceptualizing the core of a -funded Rutgers project, Kanick ultimately launched Smart Cups, a product that has caught the attention and support of folks as wide ranging as Mike Tyson and film producer Rob Hickman. 

We recently caught up with Kanik for some insight into how he went from teenage wunderkind to fully realized innovator and entrepreneur. 

Can you tell us about your background? Where did you grow up?

My parents were first-generation immigrants. My mom came to the U.S. from Cuba, and my dad came here from Turkey. No one in my family was educated, and I grew up in a poor New Jersey community. Our local school systems were less than ideal, so my mother bused or drove me 45 minutes away each day to attend private schools on scholarship.

When did you start to peform at such an advanced level in school?

I consistently performed at a higher level than every grade they placed me in, and teachers regularly told my parents that I was beyond advanced. After running out of ways to challenge me, they handed me a college course catalog and asked, “What interests you?” and told me to pick a course. Like many other 10-year-olds at the time, I was a huge MacGyver fan, and I wanted to learn how to blow stuff up. Chemistry happened to be one of the course options, and I figured that would be the quickest way to learn to make things explode, so that’s what I chose. No one expected me to succeed since I was only 10 years old sharing a class with college students, but I ended up doing very well.

Related: Project X Knows What It Takes to Produce the Biggest Names in Music

How did teachers respond to you being so advanced at such a young age?

Looking back, I feel like they sometimes underestimated my drive. I remember entering a science fair and chose to study the degradation of aspartame in diet sodas while at room temperature. I learned that aspartame at certain temperatures would convert to something else because heat manipulates its molecular structures, so it’s no longer aspartame. So, I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting, because aspartame is not a good ingredient. It causes cancer, and who knows what that turns into while it’s on a shelf?” And I wanted to explore that.

I went to my seventh grade science to explain what I wanted to do and asked for the equipment necessary for the project, and she said, “This is a little too advanced for you. Do you want to pick something else?” I insisted on doing the project, and she contacted the high school chemistry chair, who then took a meeting with me. This woman believed in me, mentored me and obtained university permission to do my research at Stevens Institute of Technology when I was 12.

When you graduated middle school, people told you to go straight to college. What was your family’s reaction?

My mom didn’t want me to go to college at such a young age. She wanted me to be “normal,” and she wanted me to stay close to home. So, my mentor put me in a research program at Rutgers University. I studied adipocyte fatty acid-binding proteins and knockout mice, and KFA BP knockout mice. My research helped show compensation occurring, which led to many accolades and additional scholarship offers.

You started studying at college at age 16. What happened after that?

I studied at college for a couple of months when I was 16, but I wasn’t emotionally ready for college. I went back to high school, and I eventually graduated at a “normal age.” After high school, I worked on a NASA-funded research project, creating biologically-based nanorobots at 18.

After graduation, I attended Cornell University as an American Chemical Society Scholar and started to burn myself out. I convinced myself that I didn’t want to do it anymore, and that pissed off many people around me. It was my roommate that talked me into staying by stressing the importance of the diploma.

How did you first come up with the idea of making a printable beverage?

The idea first occurred to me while I was at a crowded Taco Tuesday and couldn’t find a server to bring me a margarita. As I sat at the table waiting, I grabbed a pen and a napkin and began drawing out a protocol for making instant margaritas. The next day, I bought a bottle of Everclear alcohol and Maltodextrin and turned my kitchen into a lab. From there, the idea for Smart Cups was born.

What role do Rob Hickman and Mike Tyson play when it comes to Smart Cups?

Both Rob and Mike have been big supporters of Smart Cups for a long time. I first met Mike around four or five years ago, and he instantly loved the concept . Flash forward to this year, [his] company has acquired the license from Smart Cups to print cannabis on edibles.

What do you hope to achieve in the long run with Smart Cups?

Smart Cups is a sustainability-driven technology company whose mission is to provide a mindful path forward for the beverage industry. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the transportation of liquid and reduce packaging for all consumables. There is a lot of data showing how the life cycles of products manufactured, plastics and emissions all adversely affect our environment and contribute to climate change.

Related: NFL Superstar Bobby Wagner on Creating a Vision Off the Field

As the world’s first printed beverage, Kanik has created a solution that eliminates the need to bottle and ship liquids. With the ability to print ingredients onto any type of surface, the Smart Cups technology reimagines the way beverages are manufactured, packaged, transported and consumed. With this, the company says they are working to create a new standard for environmentally conscious products. 

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December 16, 2020 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For any startup or , gathering a base of active users or followers is essential for an effective marketing strategy. But community-building has become particularly imperative within the and sectors, whose adherents are digital natives who form global tribes around their favorite tokens, platforms and exchanges. 

However, in today’s crowded crypto-marketplace, building a loyal community means more than merely growing your following. After all, the lifespan of a typical tweet is a matter of minutes, which explains why crypto crowds tend to gather on other platforms such as Telegram or for a more meaningful conversation. 

Nevertheless, many projects have taken to more innovative ways of building their profile among the blockchain community beyond the boundaries of social media. Here are three examples of ways to create a more lasting, positive impression to inspire a long-term crowd of followers for your project or startup. 

Related: Getting Drawn Into DeFi? Here Are 3 Major Considerations

Hold a hackathon

Holding a hackathon is a sure-fire way of attracting programming talent and development activity to a blockchain platform. The concept is popular among many kinds of tech companies and developers. In the context of blockchain, a platform’s founders or operators will usually offer some type of incentive to participants in exchange for their creative contributions. 

Often, hackathons have been held as part of blockchain-developer conferences or events. However, with the social restrictions currently in place, many projects are forging ahead with remote hackathons, and with a high level of participation and success. 

One recent example is Maxonrow, an enterprise blockchain company developing regulatory-compliant products and services that recently hosted its first-ever hackathon, dubbed MAXathon, entirely online. Maxonrow was seeking creative input to develop blockchain-based solutions to some of the most critical challenges facing governments and businesses due to the pandemic. Participants could form teams to work on one of five tracks, covering solutions for managing physical distancing, issuing credentials and certificates for test results, and improving the transparency and efficiency of welfare programs. 

The event was a huge success, attracting participants from more than 30 countries who competed for a share of a prize pool worth more than $17,000. Winning projects included an algorithm that determines a safety score so that people can avoid crowded places and an application allowing people to apply for grants and stimulus packages. 

Along with the prize fund, participants in a hackathon also have the opportunity to connect with judges and mentors who are leading figures within their respective specialisms. Therefore, it can provide intangible networking benefits, particularly to newer programmers, creating a lasting bond to the projects and companies that enabled such an opportunity. 

Help to educate newcomers

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are chock-full of jargon, acronyms and technical concepts that can be off-putting to many newcomers. Not to mention, starting to invest or trade in cryptocurrency comes with particular risks that everyone should be aware of before they start. 

For this reason, those companies that can provide newcomers with a comprehensive library of educational materials have an opportunity to inspire loyalty from newcomers. One example is Indian cryptocurrency exchange Bitbns, which has created its own multimedia academy targeted at those eager to learn about cryptocurrency. 

Users can navigate through successive modules of videos and written articles, the latter of which can also be consumed in audio format. Starting from the very beginning with an introduction to cryptocurrency, would-be traders can learn about more complex concepts covering risk management, margin and investment analysis. 

Providing newcomers with the information they need to get started and protect their investments is an excellent way to inspire long-term customer loyalty. 

Collaborate with other projects

The fact that the cryptocurrency and blockchain sectors have become so crowded isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Collaborating with other projects offers an opportunity to create something with value to users that’s greater than the sum of its parts, with the added benefit of cross-pollinating between the communities of different projects. 

is a concept familiar to the team behind Kava, an application that was founded on the principle of interoperability between blockchains and is part of the growing decentralized finance movement The project has a long history of collaborating with Binance, having launched its initial token sale on Binance’s Launchpad towards the end of 2018. 

More recently, Kava has announced a new collaboration with a club comprising investors of Binance’s BNB token, called BNB48. The collaboration is aimed at raising awareness of the opportunities in decentralized finance for BNB holders. The project has also recently launched its own automated money market, called Hard, allowing users to lend, borrow, and earn with assets including Bitcoin, XRP and BNB. 

By integrating and collaborating with different platforms and tokens, projects can tap into the support of a broader community of followers.

Related: Cryptocurrency Innovators Need to Simplify User Experience

The cryptocurrency and blockchain space may be tribal, but projects and companies should use this to their advantage. By taking a community-building approach, they can build a loyal following, creating a long-term user base that will, in turn, help to spread the word about their products and services. 

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December 15, 2020 5 min read

This story originally appeared on ValueWalk

Business is ever-changing, and so are the marketing strategies that drive business growth and success. Change is certainly inevitable. The COVID-19 pandemic made this very apparent with many brick and mortar businesses left with no choice but to digitize operations.

And this is where innovation comes into play. The innovation in technology has disrupted marketing in more ways than one. From enterprise companies to local businesses, innovation is no longer a side thought.

Innovate or close up shop is in many ways a mantra these days. Marketing is no stranger to innovation. Automation, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and more continues to reshape marketing.

To get perspective on how innovation is changing marketing, we sat down with John Bertino, CEO of The Agency Guy, a premiere marketing and SEO agency that implements innovative marketing strategies for companies across multiple industries.

Here’s what Mr. Bertino had to say:

How important is innovation in terms of successful marketing?

Marketing is not a one size fits all solution in terms of growing a business into a successful company. This goes for local businesses on main street to global enterprise companies.

For every marketing strategy these days, innovation and digital technology comes into play. Even traditional marketing campaigns, like a store-wide sales event, have some form of innovative technology behind it.

Social media, for example, is used to create a buzz around an in-store event. And the innovative ad platform within a social media platform, like Facebook, can determine the online reach and visibility for a traditional marketing campaign.

Touching on those local businesses on main street, can small local businesses leverage innovation in marketing too?

Absolutely. And if they fall short doing this, small local businesses can lose a ton of business to local competitors that do utilize innovation within marketing strategies. This is also more important now more than ever, since COVID has pushed local small businesses to take a more digital approach.

Let’s take a look at Google My Business for example. When restrictions on COVID guidelines loosened for local businesses, consumers turned to Google to find out what businesses were open, when, and what services were offered.

Local businesses without a Google My Business presence, or businesses that didn’t have their GMB listing optimized, lost out on major profits. Profits that could have been a factor in business survival during the pandemic.

Is mobile still a powerful medium for reaching customers? How does innovation play a role in mobile marketing?

This is a great question. Mobile devices are certainly innovative, to say the least. And when it comes to reaching customers, mobile is exceptional. There is no other device that allows businesses to reach and connect with customers 24/7.

In terms of innovation and mobile marketing strategies, innovation comes via the mobile apps themselves. These apps could be served up from companies, or be advocates for companies through app features, ads, push notifications, and more.

Amazon and Walmart have done this to perfection. Walmart is a good example here, since the once brick and mortar superstore had no choice but to innovate using mobile technology to stay competitive with Amazon.

The Walmart app and mobile experience proves just how critical digital innovation is. And how important it will be in the future.

How important is it for businesses to align their marketing strategies with SEO?

Optimization is at the core of every successful marketing strategy. If a business wants to get a bit of viral attention for a social media marketing campaign, keywords are essential. Well placed keywords in YouTube titles, tags, and video descriptions can make the difference between mediocre to successful social attention.

Optimizing local landing pages utilizing keywords and local business data can make a huge impact on a business’ search engine rankings as well.

Schema markup, for instance, helps Google understand a business via specific data points, thus ranking the business accordingly. Without search engine optimization practices like these, businesses, and even mid-size companies can get lost in SERPs.

How do you make innovation a talking point for businesses when they come digitally knocking at your agency?

I believe it is important to address the goals of the business first. What do they want to achieve? What marketing strategies are currently in place? What tools do they have for tracking current marketing campaigns? And the list goes on.

To match up innovation with a business’ goals is the first step toward success. Many business owners don’t have time to research all the innovative marketing and SEO tools, platforms, and software available. They are busy running business ops. This is where partnering with the pros can come in handy.

Lastly, what advice do you have for business owners looking to grow via innovation?

The digital means by which consumers find businesses, and engage with them online, are endless. The most important aspect of marketing to understand is that there is no magic bullet. Combining multiple marketing strategies with innovative tools supporting campaigns proves the most beneficial.

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December 11, 2020 5 min read

This story originally appeared on PCMag

No matter how you spell it, Hanukkah is a holiday that doesn’t have a lot going for it. The comparison to Christmas is only because the two have a relative proximity in the calendar. Beyond that, one holiday is, “Our messiah is born! We now have everlasting life!” and the other is, “Oh good, we got the lamp to work.”

Like all Jewish holidays, something bad happened to us, but we managed to get through it enough to arrive at the next bad thing to happen to us. When you’re Jewish, it’s always 2020, and that we keep making it through dark times should be a lesson everyone absorbs. In the shadow of billions of Christmas lights, we should all claim every glimmer of seasonal joy we can.

With anti-Semitism on the rise in the United States and in Europe, it seems more important than ever to keep traditions alive. So while we’re the proudest we’ve ever been of Adam Sandler, thanks to Uncut Gems, we should sing his classic carol and celebrate the way our ancestors didn’t on this sort-of-holy holiday.

Related: ‘Shark Tank’ Update: The Mensch Is Off the Bench

Don’t Be Jelly

Don't Be Jelly

Image credit: via PCMag

If you are not a Jew and you wander into a Dunkin’ Donuts during Hanukkah with a jelly donut craving and can’t find one, you might think there’s a conspiracy to keep you from calories. There’s not. It’s just that jelly donuts, or sufganiyot, are one of the traditional foods of the holiday. Don’t wander the streets like a putz; make your own with a fryer like the Breville Smart Fryer.

Let There Be LEDs

Let There Be LEDs

Image credit: via PCMag

The Maccabees were pretty impressed with themselves when they got a tiny bit of oil to light a menorah for eight nights. But did they make their own menorah on a 3D printer? Or build one out of LEDs? Think how proud your mother will be. If you’re not handy, that’s okay, you’re still her bubbeleh even if you’re not as smart as your cousin Jeffrey who went to MIT. You know what? Buy one made out of a circuit board and lie to her.

Don’t Dread the Dreidel Song

Don't Dread the Dreidel Song

Image credit: via PCMag

There are maybe five Hanukkah songs, and yet you still don’t know the words to any of them. The Hanukkah Sing-Along Microphone keeps a beat and has a booklet with the lyrics, which is more than you can say for anyone else at your gathering.

Chai Crimes and Misdemeanors

Chai Crimes and Misdemeanors

Image credit: via PCMag

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of…code? Forget that wooden dreidel you think your cousin Aaron weighted to get all the gelt. Download the augmented-reality Dreidel ARena app for iOS and save yourself a family fight that could go on for eight nights.

Festival of Lights, Camera, Action!

Festival of Lights, Camera, Action!

Image credit: via PCMag

If Jews really controlled Hollywood, don’t you think we could do better than The Hebrew Hammer when it comes to Hanukkah movies? This heartwarming holiday tale of an orthodox Jewish blaxploitation hero wresting Hanukkah from Santa’s no-goodnik kid isn’t even streaming anymore. There aren’t any true Hallmark Hanukkah movies, but you can rent Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights or buy A Rugrats Chanukah or the Chrismukkah episode of The O.C. And while it’s not about Hanukkah, Russian Doll on Netflix is the perfect Jewish show, plus it has eight episodes so you can watch one per night, a true miracle.

Shpilkes Stopper

Shpilkes Stopper

Image credit: via PCMag

Hanukkah might be eight nights, but in some ways it’s the shortest of the Jewish holidays. There’s no staring at the brisket, wondering why, “Will we ever eat?” isn’t the first of the four questions, or spending all day in synagogue without food just so you can get a bagel with lox later. That doesn’t mean you have patience, though. Get this dreidel-themed take on the fidget spinner.

You Don’t Call

You Don't Call

Image credit: via PCMag

If you still have your bubbe, you’re blessed with good advice. Or at the very least an opinion. Should you have a direct question that needs a direct answer and also a little Yiddish, there’s Ask Bubbe. She knows you as well as your own bubbe, since she says, “I don’t even know why you ask. You’re going to do what you want anyways.” Brought to you by Mensch on a Bench.

Shofar, So Good

Shofar, So Good

Image credit: via PCMag

Your Hanukkah party is going pretty well but something’s missing. Music. Mix it up with a little Matisyahu or Vampire Weekend on Spotify or tune into Pandora’s Hanukkah station and shake what your mamaleh gave you.

Just Like Nana Used to Make

Just Like Nana Used to Make

Image credit: via PCMag

In the same way that your Uncle Mordy will never tire of saying that the only thing your Aunt Molly can make are reservations, you will never tire of latkes. It’s time you learned to make them and other Hanukkah favorites, too. Download the book 1,000 Jewish Recipes (iOSKindle) for the cooking lessons you never got.

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December 10, 2020 5 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Today I came across a wonderful article about the creative capacity of one of the characters that I find most fascinating: Albert Einstein and I remembered something I learned from my professor in neuroscience, Dr. Irena O’Brien, when she was talking to me about the science behind the insight generation process or those “Aha Moments!” that we have all lived at some point.

He just gave Albert Einstein as an example, who described his own process of generating these “Aha Moments!” take a big speculative leap to a conclusion and then trace the connections to verify the idea .

via GIPHY

But, perhaps like me at that moment, you are wondering what is it to make a speculative leap to a conclusion, and the answer is to think of unconventional, non-obvious explanations or solutions, even without apparent logic, and then how Einstein did trace the connections to verify the idea.

When Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity, he made a huge leap over the traditional laws known so far. And when I think of great innovators, like Steve Jobs and his idea of the creation of the first iPod, John F. Kennedy and his speech of the first trip to the moon at the beginning of the 60s, or Bill Gates and the creation of the first operating system for personal computers, I realize that everyone has started making these great “mental” leaps .

At present, scientists have studied in depth how the process of creativity and innovation works within our brain and what conditions can favor the appearance of these “Aha Moments” in human beings.

There are 5 fundamental steps that I want to talk to you about very quickly:

1. Exploration. A creative brain is a brain that has been exposed to different stimuli, learnings, experiences, that has an open and flexible mind. I love to think, for example, of the great Salvador Dalí , who, of course, was an extraordinary architect, but in turn had a great passion for nature, history, theater, painting and literature. It was the combination of all these passions that fueled his extreme creativity.

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2. Focus. A brain that, on the other hand, achieves mastery through practice and repetition is also capable of finding innovative solutions to complex problems in a given area. One of the artists I admire the most is named Ed Sheeran, once in one of his interviews he was asked about how his creative process flows. He replied that he spends more than eight hours a day writing songs, he can write up to 10 a day, to end up with more than 200 songs, of which only 12 or 15 are selected for the new album.

via GIPHY

He reinforced that out of 200 songs only 12 or 15 are really very good, but that the rest are part of his creative process. This really surprised me! But I loved hearing it because it debunks that myth that people like him are given everything easy. If it is true that they have great talent, but where the real magic occurs is in the hours and hours of dedication, focus and practice.

3. Incubation. This stage, after exploration and focus, tells us about letting that creative idea rest, that solution we are looking for, perhaps taking a relaxing walk, doing meditation, taking a bath, going to sleep, taking a nap, clearing our mind. , have a pleasant conversation with someone. It is a stage in which we let our unconscious mind (or diffuse mode of thinking, if you’ve read my e-book Learning to Learn , you know what I’m talking about, if you can’t download it for free here) to work to find a creative and innovative solution to our problem.

via GIPHY

4. Insight (“Moment Aha!). According to the scientific study done by Kounios, J., and Beeman, M. in 2009 ” The Aha! Moment: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight “, although it seems that these” Aha! Moments “were sudden and disconnected from previous thought processes, studies carried out through electroencephalograms have been able to determine that these” revelations “really – that creative idea and The only one that comes to our mind without apparent explanation, that sudden understanding of a problem we were facing and its corresponding solution, even the understanding of a joke or the resolution of a riddle, is given by previous thought processes in different areas of our brain .

All have been originated by the previously described stages: Exploration , Focus and Incubation .

That is, while we can’t force ourselves to have these “Aha! Moments” At a specific moment, what we can be sure of is that the process to be able to show them more frequently in our life is to precede them enough: Exploration, Focus and Incubation . They will simply appear because this is their natural process of occurrence.

Isn’t that amazing? That’s how wonderful our brain is.

via GIPHY

5. Monitoring or evaluation. This last stage consists of the analytical evaluation of this new creative idea and its validation, and for this we will be using the areas of our brain that are in charge of our critical thinking and decision making.

I hope that knowing these five steps to unleash your creative and innovation process will help you a lot.

Thanks for getting here! I really wanted to share with you this information that I find so fascinating and so important in these times in which we live, in which creativity is one of the most powerful skills we have for the growth and expansion of our life and our endeavors.

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