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How World War I Changed American Food Habits

WWI poster feedingEven though it was the first time the US got involved in a global conflict overseas, World War I wasn’t really a big deal in the grand scheme of American history.  World War I veteran Ernest Hemingway may have written about the “lost generation” who lived through it, and while America played a large role in ending the conflict, they were only involved in it towards its tail-end.  While the “Great War” was hands-down the most destructive and wide-reaching conflict up to that point, and referred to as “the war to end all wars”, its most notable historical significance is setting the stage for World War II, which proved to be both more historically and culturally influential.  But that’s not to understate its significance.  In Russia, it helped bring about the Communist Revolution.  As the first global conflict where Canada, New Zealand, and my native Australia were major players, it was essential in shaping the national identity of these British dominions.  And, according to one article I read, it even helped change the way that Americans eat.  

As young American men fought in the trenches of France, housewives across the country were also called upon to do their duty and keep down food waste to ensure that American boys could be fed.  These calls to culinary action were documented in propaganda during the birth of modern advertising.  At this time, both rural and urban Americans had access to plenty more food than those across the sea.  For example, ready access to meat helped shape the traditional dishes of immigrant groups such as the Jews and Italians.  When the conflict began in 1914, the US were the main suppliers of food relief aid.  Yet when the US actually entered the war in 1917, that infrastructure changed, with the primary concern being feeding American troops well.  The daily rations of an American soldiers were up to 5,000 calories, 20% more than French or British soldiers, and even more than the Germans.  Much of this food came directly from the US.  

President Wilson created the US Food Administration (USFA) to manage food reserves for the allies, and put future President Herbert Hoover in charge.  A large part of this organization’s goals involved changing the food habits of the average American.  At this time, Wilson created the Committee On Public Information (CPI), which churned out propaganda, produced press releases, created ads, and coordinated some 75,000 public speakers who gave lectures throughout the country.  The CPI discussed a variety of issues, but one of their main focuses was food.  They coaxed people into conserving food instead of using forced rationing, which they thought would hurt morale.  With many traditional foods became harder to come by, propaganda even suggested food substitutes, a novel concept.  Crisco oil, for example, replaced traditional lard, while domestic honey or syrup replaced sugar.  This created a demand for new products that local markets traditionally didn’t stock, which gave way to self-service “supermarkets” that could offer a diversity of food at lower prices.  Even local food production took off, with people growing vegetable gardens in their backyards.  

When World War I ended in 1918, the USFA and CPI disbanded.  However, their lessons remained, proving prudent after the Great Depression and Dust Bowl hit in the 1930s led to a food shortage, and America’s entry into another global conflict, World War II.  Such concepts weren’t as pressing in the boom years following the latter conflict, but with the recent move towards sustainability, ideas such as not wasting food, supporting local agriculture, and eating alternative proteins, have caught on just as strongly as they did 100 years ago.  History, as the saying goes, repeats itself.  

Seoul South Korea

SparkLabs in Korea

While South Korea is a small country with few (if any) natural resources to speak of, they’ve enthusiastically adapted to the modern technology revolution.  Indeed, there are more cell phones in South Korea than there are people.  This has helped make South Korea one of the leading tech innovators of the 21st century.  However, Korean culture has a strong aversion to both risk and failure, which are some of the most essential lessons of startup culture, so much of the country has had trouble adapting to the startup culture.  Since it was started in 2012, SparkLabs Korea has been working to boost Seoul’s startup ecosystem.  Recently, it was announced on TechCrunch that the group is launching a $50 million fund for early-stage startups in the country with ambitions towards global expansion.  

SparkLabs’ network now includes accelerators in Beijing and Taiwan, with plans to launch one dedicated to financial tech in Hong Kong next year.  SparkLabs’ Korea fund, however, will be focusing on consumer services, enterprise, cloud computing, financial tech, artificial intelligence, and hardware.  The typical check size will range from $1 million to $3 million.  One reason that SparkLabs has decided to launch the fund five years after first being opened in Seoul is that partners noticed a growth in Korean startups in recent years, a major change in attitude in the South Korean market.  

The smartphone market in South Korea, as mentioned above, reached saturation long before other countries.  Mobile broadband is also extremely fast and affordable.  These two factors help make South Korea a great test market for startups to refine their products before reaching a global audience.  The fund has been looking for founders who aren’t tied to the cultural taboos behind risk and failure in South Korea.  Many Korean venture capital firms are unwilling to invest in entrepreneurs without sustainable revenue, or who have been involved with failed startups in the past.  The fund will also be offering startups access to SparkLabs’ global network of partners, startups, and advisors, an essential step for any company that’s looking to expand globally.

Amazon warehouse

Amazon Acquiring Whole Foods

In recent years, certain large corporations have taken off, earning unparalleled popularity and power in the modern consumer market.  Many of these companies offer unbelievable convenience packaged in much nicer terms than the powerful corporations of yesteryear; Whole Foods might be a giant chain of supermarkets just like Kroger’s, but its walls are plastered with its dedication to sustainability and local produce.  And Amazon might be a cheap way to get access to pretty much any sort of retail product you can dream up, but it’s just another retail corporation like some of its less successful competitors.  Recently, Amazon has been looking to acquire Whole Foods.  The level of convenience the consumer would receive from such a deal is undeniable, yet beneath that could be a dangerously powerful monopoly.  

Because of this, there have been calls for the Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize the deal.  A letter from a group of lawmakers have expressed concerns that “further consolidation” would impact communities where access to healthy food is already limited.  Many believe that it could substantially lessen competition under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, or constitute an unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act.  The FTC, however, has decided that such suspicions are unfounded, and have chosen to not pursue the matter further.  While the deal came under scrutiny from many, it was expected by most experts to be approved.  

The $13.7 billion deal was first proposed by Amazon back in June.  Shareholders for Whole Foods have approved the deal on Wednesday.  While Amazon has been traditionally a strictly online business, the company has been planning to acquire hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores.  Whole Foods being owned by Amazon would give the company access to hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores across the country.  Furthermore, Whole Foods has been working to diversify its traditionally pricey offerings, starting a chain of Market 365 spinoff stores, meant to appeal to millennials with smaller, more affordable stores.  With this in mind, the Whole Foods/Amazon megapower is looking to face stiff competition from Walmart and Google, who have announced their own strategy by offering shoppers access to Walmart’s inventory through Google technology.  It will be interesting to see which of these powers emerges victorious.

Laser beams

Lasers Coming Soon

While “laser beams” have long been a trope of both science fiction and Austin Powers movies, they’ve often been lacking in the real world.  However, the US Defense Department has recently made a $17 million investment in high-energy lasers with the potential to destroy enemy drones and mortars, disrupt communication systems, and provide forces on the ground with less costly options on the battlefield.  While the US can already use traditional weapons to take out threats and shoot down rockets, it’s a costly business.  High-energy lasers and microwave systems are part of a shift to weapons with endless ammunition and an ability to wipe out multiple threats in a short amount of time.  The announcement was made by Senate Armed Services Committee member and New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, a longtime supporter of directed energy research with a degree in engineering.  

However, Boeing has already been working on high-energy laser and microwaves systems for a while.  One effort, costing $1 billion, involved outfitting a 747 with an extremely complex laser cannon apparatus to shoot down missiles.  Yet with the exponential growth of technological advances in the past 20 years, high-powered laser weapons systems can fit into spaces as compact as a suitcase.  Boeing’s compact laser system has undergone military testing, and engineers have been working on a higher-powered version for future testing.  Soon, the technology could be used on the battlefield.

Much of the testing for this technology has been going on in Boeing’s Albuquerque site.  According to Heinrich, continued investment in these projects will help to solidify his home state’s position as a leading site of directed-energy research, bringing more money and tech jobs into the state.  Albuquerque is already home to a startup scene that, while small, has been growing, and Boeing already contributes $120 million to the state’s economy through contracts with vendors.  Such technological innovation, therefore, is set to not just dramatically change how the military conducts battles, but also the economy of the state of New Mexico, traditionally derided by much of the country as a “flyover state”.  While I love living in a major American city in a major American state involved in the tech industry, it’s wonderful to see other states and smaller cities taking part in this industry as well.   

Microchips in Employees

The idea of getting microchips installed into your body is one of those very popular tropes of dystopian science fiction.  Yet as people have been installing them in their dogs for a long time now, at Wisconsin-based Three Square Market, employees are going to get them installed into their hands.  These microchips will allow them to enter the office, log into computers, and even purchase snacks, with nothing more than the swipe of a hand.  The microchip in question is about the size of a rice grain, uses RFID (radio frequency identification) technology, and is placed between the thumb and forefinger.  

Three Square Market CEO Todd Westby insists that the microchip isn’t a GPS, and does not allow for tracking workers.  Since it’s encrypted, there’s nothing to hack in it, and since it’s not connected to the Internet, the chances of being able to hack in it are nonexistent.  You would need to chop off somebody’s hand to get connectivity.  The chips cost about $300, and in August will be installed by licensed piercers.  The chip can also be easily removed, as if taking out a splinter.  While it’s exciting, the move has met with criticism, with people warning of the dangers of storing, using, and protecting workers’ information with such methods.  

Indeed, plenty of plans start out well-intentioned, yet those intentions turn, or the situation gets out of control.  One critic, CyberScout founder Adam Levin, pointed out that humans have survived without microchips for thousands of years.  But at the same time, humans survived without electricity for millions of years.  So I don’t know if that’s a great argument.  The company BioHax, who created the microchip, have argued that implanting people, scary as that sounds written out loud, was the next step for electronics.  

Are Video Games Good For You?

Remember when your parents used to say that video games were bad for you and would make your brain rot?  Well, it turns out that they might be wrong.  While the effectiveness of “brain-training” games has been controversial, a growing number of scientists have presented evidence that cognitive-training regimens can significantly improve cognitive function.  And one Boston-based company, Akili, has been exploring this themselves.  With the core technology of UC San Francisco’s Neuroscape lab, they’ve developed a mobile game called “Project: EVO”, which they hope to use as a prescription-based video game to treat children with ADHD.  

To validate the game in a way that other brain-training companies haven’t, Akili has gone through all of the trials and processes required by the FDA for any kind of medical device.  It’s currently in phase III clinical trials.  If successful, it will be the first prescription-based video game in the US, creating an entirely new category of digital medicine in the process.  The thought of such an idea is truly amazing, especially as you consider that video games are a field that’s drawn plenty of criticism despite its relatively young age for everything from excessive violence to being too addictive.

Akili is well aware of the controversy surrounding video games, particularly the brain-training ones.  Nonetheless, they’ve pointed out that their efforts are different by reaching beyond simple gamified exercises to create an immersive video game experience by integrating both cognitive challenges and physical movement.  It’s still in its infancy, but Akili is clearly doing something both unique and exciting.  I don’t know how I feel about prescription video games, but I’m eager to see where it goes.  

Paint’s Brush With Cancellation

When Microsoft suggested that it would “deprecate” their app Paint and remove it from future versions of Windows, the Internet responded with fury and nostalgia.  However, Microsoft has made it clear that Paint, a mainstay of Windows for 32 years, will be sticking around, but not in the same form.  It will instead be taken out of the operating system and put in the app store, then be partially replaced by a new app called Paint 3D.  To use Paint, users will have to go into the Windows app store and download it for free.  

The outpour of nostalgia around Paint potentially getting removed was pretty amazing.  The announcement that Microsoft would not be getting rid of Paint was seen as a way of “setting the record straight”.  However, it isn’t clear if that’s actually the case, or if Microsoft was simply trying to deflect the digital ire of potentially shutting down Paint.  Windows users might want to use Paint 3D, which comes bundled with the Creators Update to Windows 10.  This offers many of Paint’s old features, as well as new ones that will be added on in time.  In addition to these new 3D capabilities, many of the features that have earned Paint fame over the years will be added in as well.  

I can’t help but wonder if this was actually a marketing ploy.  Microsoft Pain was fun, but at the same time, there’s not much that you could do with it, and most things made on Microsoft Paint looked pretty crude.  However, it’s something that a lot of people who are now at the age to buy their own computers grew up using, and while most of them probably hadn’t used it in years, now that they know that it was really close to being shut down, they’re going to be more likely to use and download the new Paint app.  

4 Ways to Build Your Brand with Social Media

If you have a new business, you probably already know you need an online presence. Savvy business owners are almost guaranteed to maintain at least a formal business website, a facebook page, and a twitter. You don’t need anyone to tell you that social media is important to your business. But you may not know how to best use social media to push your platform. Here are some tips:

  1. Customize to the platform: Posting the same thing to every platform you have is only going to be so effective. Most of the most popular platforms allow you to post a huge variety of content–videos, pictures, text, links, and so forth. But some platforms are better suited to certain types of content than others. For instance, an individual photo is great for a Facebook post, but if you’re posting a lot of pictures, an Instagram account might be better. For succinct, in-the-moment reactions, post to Twitter, but if you have a lot of thoughts that you would like to share in a less ephemeral way, establish a blog. This way, the information that you want to get out will get out effectively, and people following you on multiple platforms won’t get spammed by the same status over and over again.
  2. Be active: There’s no point creating a platform if you’re not going to post on it. First of all, inactive platforms will not get very good search results, so casual browsers will be less likely to pick you up. Second, even people who do find you are less likely to follow you if they see you haven’t posted anything recently. After all, what’s the point of following an inactive account?
  3. Engage: Social media sites such as twitter and quora work best for those who are going to engage with other users. Reach out to people in your area, or in areas you would like to market your product to, to build a network of customers and resources with which you can advance your business. Likewise, respond to those who reach out to you. It builds rapport and improves your relationship with potential customers.
  4. Try new platforms: Some platforms have been around a while, and have proved their appeal to consumers. Others are just getting started. While you should invest most of your time in well-known, time-tested platforms, it’s also worthwhile to try out a newer, less popular platform, if you find one that really works for you and your business. Choose well, and you may even find yourself ahead of the curve if the site hits bit.

Salesmanship: Where Entrepreneurs Fail

So you’ve had a brilliant new idea for an entrepreneurial venture. Whether you’ve designed a must-have product, or conceptualized a service that satisfies a major need, you’re sure that your new business will find its audience.

But not so fast. Many fledgling entrepreneurs make the mistake of assuming customers will come to them. But even if your product really is the solution to all ills, that still doesn’t mean people will find it without the proper marketing.

The problem is, while aspiring entrepreneurs often (though not always) have experience in some aspect of business, they rarely have experience in salesmanship. And even those that do their research may discover that much of the advice out there is directed at established businesses, not start-ups looking for recognition. Even when they begin making sales, start-ups often make mistakes in dealing with their first customers that they regret later. So let’s talk about some common sales mistakes made by entrepreneurs.

Some entrepreneurs assume they need to establish their brand fully before looking for customers, but the truth is, if you don’t have any customers, it’s difficult to properly establish your brand. Start talking to potential buyers on day one. Not only will it create interest, but it will help you find flaws in your product.

Which brings us to the second point. Even entrepreneurs that start getting their ideas out early sometimes fail to listen to feedback from potential buyers. They’re too concerned about proving themselves to these early prospects to take note of concerns. Or, they’re too attached to their project to admit its flaws to themselves. But these customers provide valuable critique that you can’t get anywhere else. Ignore your potential buyers at your own risk.

Of course, some customers’ feedback is more valuable than others. Some entrepreneurs begin by selling their products to family and friends. This can be satisfying in the short term, but in the long term, it’s not beneficial. Family and friends are not likely to give constructive feedback: their motivation in buying it is solely due to their relationship with you. Instead, seek out buyers who are likely to further your business by offering referrals, beta testing your product, or promising repeat business.

Finally, be aware of things that might be seen as weaknesses, and address them. No matter how well you plan, the smallness and newness of your start-up will cause it to be met with some suspicions. Do your best to assuage those doubts, by proving what your product is capable of and appealing to clients who can vouch for you.

What the Cable Loft Teaches us About Good Business Ideas

Kikkerland, a Dutch design company, hosts an annual Design Challenge, in which students compete to create a product to be sold. Although Kikkerland has a reputation for whimsy, with past products including maraca-shaped cocktail shakers and a barbecue grill that collapses into a suitcase, this year’s winner is surprisingly utilitarian. The Cable Loft is a charger cable organizer that can attach to the edge of a desk. It’s not the kind of design that turns heads, but it is a simple solution to a consumer need.

The lesson of the Cable Loft: good ideas can be boring. Too many entrepreneurs today, while looking for a need to fill, forget that many problems are best solved by simple solutions. Additionally, the Cable Loft is only one product in a long line of cable organizing products. But business ideas don’t need to fit into a new, never-before-conceived niche. Clever entrepreneurs can get the same payoff (if not the same attention) by presenting an improved solution to an already-explored problem. If you see an already-established company doing well despite consumer complaints, there might be a market for you with those peeved customers.

Some people shy away from boring business ideas, worried that they themselves will be bored. After all, why take the risk of entrepreneurship if you’re not going to be passionate about what you’re doing? But the truth is, just because an idea doesn’t make good conversation at cocktail parties doesn’t mean that it won’t be exciting to pursue it. Every start-up presents its founder with hundreds of new challenges and learning opportunities. Entrepreneurship is very rarely boring.

So how do you find (and bring to fruition) the perfect boring business idea? First, naturally, look for a problem to solve. This problem does not have to be huge, and neither does it have to be one that no one has ever tried to solve before. Rather, find one that falls within your personal interest and past experience. Are you passionate about music? Your family? Cooking? Healthcare? Think about the needs in your life that are not adequately satisfied by current products.

Then, develop a plan. Build your knowledge of the field. Make sure you have a strong understanding of finance. Failure to understand basic financial concepts has been the downfall of many entrepreneurial ventures. Think ahead. Be prepared.

Solid, successful businesses don’t need to start with bright ideas. They need to start with smart ones.

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