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Monthly Archives: September 2018

The best gear for starting a small business



Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

When you’re ready to start a small business, having some helpful essentials will make the process a bit easier. Whether you need to print your own business cards or you’re ready to process orders on a reliable laptop, we’ve put together a few of our recommendations that will cover the basics.

Photo: Michael Hession                                                                                   

Business Card Printing Service: Vistaprint

Vistaprint has the best print quality of all the services we tested, and its website offers the best ordering and design experience. If you don’t need a large quantity of business cards, Vistaprint will allow you to order batches as small as 100. You can choose from thousands of templates and a variety of finishes. During printing testing, we were able to read small type and we found that the service’s colors and trimming were accurate.

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Website Builder for Small Businesses: Wix

For an easy-to-use website builder that makes editing, creating, and finding your business’ site manageable, we recommend Wix. Compared to other site builders we tested, Wix’s template-editing tools get a working site up and running fastest. The platform offers a broad range of plug-ins for integrating tools like Google Maps and OpenTable. Adding plug-ins for things like contact forms, menus and reservations is also painless. There aren’t an overwhelming number of website templates, but the ones that are available offer a good mix. Plus Wix has an intuitive editing interface and built-in SEO tools.

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

 Windows Ultrabook: Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 is a powerful laptop that can be used on the go or with your home office setup. It’s light, has a durable build, plus it’s equipped with an impressive 13.3-inch screen. Previous versions of the XPS 13 have been our top pick for over three years, because it offers the best balance of features and performance of any ultrabook we’ve tested. We like that it’s compact, comes with a good trackpad and keyboard, and that it has a mix of new and old ports. We recommend the configuration that has 8GB of RAM, a 256 GB PCIe solid-state drive, and an Intel Core i7-8550U processor.

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald                                                                                                               

All-in-one Printer: HP OfficeJet Pro 8720

Having your own all-in-one printer will let you print and scan important documents whenever you need to. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8720 offers simple installation and it’s paired with intuitive software and ink that’s affordable. It has a durable build and a large, responsive touchscreen. In addition to handling everyday printing tasks, the OfficeJet Pro can produce colorful graphics and high-quality photos. You can connect to and operate the printer from a computer, tablet, mobile device or the printer control panel. In our tests over Wi-Fi, we didn’t experience any connectivity issues.                          

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

VPN Service: IVPN

A trusted virtual private network provides more online protection beyond device encryption, secure passwords and privacy plug-ins while using a home network or public Wi-Fi. After spending over 130 hours testing 32 VPN services, we chose IVPN as the best VPN provider for most people. It’s easy to set up, has easy-to-use apps, and can be used with most any device running macOS, Windows, iOS or Android. Overall, IVPN offers solid performance and doesn’t cut corners on security nor transparency. You don’t have to worry about your activity or logins being monitored. It’s pricier than competitors but worth the investment because it’s fast, stable, integrates with all major platforms, and comes with features that block data on unsecured connections.

These picks may have been updated by WirecutterWhen readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

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Trump administration sues California over its brand-new net neutrality law



The Department of Justice announced on Sunday that it has filed a lawsuit against California to block its new net neutrality law, just hours after it was signed by governor Jerry Brown. The lawsuit was first reported by the Washington Post. Senior Justice Department officials told the newspaper it is filing the lawsuit because only the federal government can regulate net neutrality and that the Federal Communications Commission had been granted that authority by Congress to ensure states don’t write conflicting legislation.

In its announcement, the Justice Department stated that by signing California’s Senate Bill 822 into law, the state is “attempting to subvert the Federal Government’s deregulatory approach by imposing burdensome state regulations on the free Internet, which is unlawful and anti-consumer.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “under the Constitution, states do not regulate interstate commerce—the federal government does. Once again the California legislature has enacted an extreme and illegal state law attempting to frustrate federal policy. The Justice Department should not have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the prerogatives of the federal government and protect our Constitutional order.”

This is the latest of several legal showdowns between the Trump administration and California, the largest blue state.

Under Attorney General Sessions, the Justice Department has already filed separate lawsuits against California over immigrant sanctuary laws and a law meant to stop the Trump administration from selling or transferring federal land to private corporations. The Trump administration is also clashing with the state over environmental protection regulations.

Senate Bill 822 was introduced by Democratic Senator Scott Wiener to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality protections tossed out by the FCC last year.

Even though Washington and Oregon have also passed their own net neutrality laws, the outcome of the federal government’s battle with California will have ramifications throughout the country because the state’s new net neutrality law is the most stringent one so far, banning most kinds of zero-rating, which allows telecoms to offer services from certain providers for free.

As such, it has been the target of fierce lobbying by telecoms like AT&T and Comcast. While the FCC’s chairman Ajit Pai and telecoms argue that zero-rating allows them to offer better deals (Pai claimed in the Justice Department’s statement today that they have proven popular “especially among lower-income Americans,”) net neutrality advocates say it gives Internet service providers too much power by forcing users to rely on certain services, stifling consumer options and freedom of information.

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The war over music copyrights



VC firms haven’t been the only ones raising hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in a booming market. After 15+ years of being the last industry anyone wanted to invest in, the music industry is coming back, and money is flooding in to buy up the rights to popular songs.

As paid streaming subscriptions get mainstream adoption, the big music streaming services – namely Spotify, Apple Music, and Tencent Music, but also Pandora, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Deezer, and others – have entered their prime. There are now over 51 million paid subscription accounts among music streaming services in the US. The music industry grew 8% last year globally to $17.3 billion, driven by a 41% increase in streaming revenue and 45% increase in paid streaming revenue.

The surge in music streaming means a surge in income for those who own the copyrights to songs, and the growth of entertainment in emerging markets, growing use in digital videos, and potential use of music in new content formats like VR only expand this further. Unsurprisingly, private equity firms, family offices, corporates, and pension funds want a piece of the action.

There are two general types of copyrights for a song: the publishing rights and the master rights. The musical composition of a song – the lyrics, melodies, etc. – comes from songwriters who own the publishing right (though generally they sign a publishing deal and their publisher gets ownership of it in addition to half the royalties). Meanwhile, the version of a song being performed comes from the recording artist who owns the master right (though usually they sign a record deal and the record label gets ownership of the masters and most of the royalties).

Popular songs are valuable to own because of all the royalties they collect: whenever the song is played on a streaming service, downloaded from iTunes, or covered on YouTube (a mechanical license), played over radio or in a grocery store (a performance license), played as soundtrack over a movie or TV show (a sync license), and for other uses. More royalty income from a song goes to the master owner since they took on more financial risk marketing it, but publishers collect royalties from some channels that master owners don’t (like radio play, for instance).

For a songwriter behind popular songs, these royalties form a predictable revenue stream that can amount to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars per year. Of course, most songs that are written or recorded don’t make any money: creating a track that breaks out in a crowded industry is hard. This scarcity – there are only so many thousands of popular musicians and a limited number of legendary artists whose music stays relevant for decades – means copyrights for successful musicians command a premium when they or their publisher decide to sell them.

Investing in streaming economics

In 2017, revenue from streaming services accounted for 38% of worldwide music industry revenue, finally overtaking revenue from traditional album sales and song downloads. Subscription streaming services hit a pivot point in gaining mainstream adoption, but they still have far to go. Goldman Sachs media sector analyst Lisa Yang predicted that by 2030, the global music industry will reach $41 billion in market size as the global streaming market multiplies in size to $34 billion (nearly all of it from paid subscriptions).

Merck Mercuriadis is seen on the left. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage for Conde Nast media group)

Earlier this week, I spoke with Merck Mercuriadis who has managed icons like Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, and Beyoncé and raised £200 million ($260 million) on the London Stock Exchange in June for an investment vehicle (Hipgnosis Songs) to acquire the catalogues of top songwriters. His plan is to raise and invest £1 billion over the next three to five years, arguing that the shift to passive consumers paying for music will take the industry to heights it has never seen before.

Indeed, streaming music is a paradigm shift from the past. With all the world’s music available in one interface for free (with ads) or for an affordable subscription (without ads), consumers no longer have to actively choose which specific songs to buy (or even which to download illegally).

With it all in front of them and all included in the price, people are listening to a broader range of music: they’re exploring more genres, discovering more musicians who aren’t stars on traditional radio, and going back to music from past decades. Consumers who weren’t previously buying a lot of music are now subscribing for $120 per year and spreading it across more artists.

Retail businesses are doing the same: through streaming offerings like Soundtrack Your Brand (which spun out of Spotify), they’re using commercial licenses – which are more expensive – to stream a broader array of music in stores rather than putting on the radio or playing the same few CDs.

Much of the music industry’s market growth is happening in China, India, Latin America, and emerging markets like Nigeria where subscription apps are replacing widespread music piracy or non-consumption. Tencent Music Entertainment, whose three streaming services have roughly 75% market share in China (a music market that expanded by 34% last year), is preparing for an IPO that could give it roughly the same $29 billion valuation Spotify received in its IPO in April. Meanwhile, music industry revenue from Latin America grew 18% last year.

Western music is infused in pop culture worldwide, so as these countries enter the streaming era they are monetizing hundreds of millions of additional listeners, through ad revenue at a minimum but increasingly through paid subscriptions as well.

At the talent management, publishing, and production firm Primary Wave, founder Larry Mestel is seeing emerging markets drive more revenue to his clients (like Smokey Robinson, Alice Cooper, Melissa Etheridge, and the estate of Bob Marley) as new fan bases engage with their music online. He raised a new $300 million fund (backed by Blackrock and other institutions) in 2016 to acquire rights in music catalogues amid a market he says has improved substantially due to growth opportunities stemming from the streaming model.

It’s not just streaming music platforms that are driving growth either. Streaming video has exploded, whether it’s from short YouTube videos or the growing number of shows on platforms like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, and with that comes growing sync licensing of songs for their soundtracks; global sync licensing revenue was up 10% year-over-year in 2017 alone. Over the last year, Facebook signed licenses with every large publisher to cover use of song clips by its users in Instagram Stories and Facebook videos as well.

The inflating valuations of songs catalogues

Catalogues are commonly valued based on the “net publisher’s share,” which is the average amount of annual royalty money left over after paying out any percentages owed to others (like a partial stake in the royalties still held by the artist).

When Round Hill Music acquired Carlin for $245 million in January to gain ownership in the catalogues of Elvis Presley, James Brown, AC/DC, and others, it paid a 16x multiple on net publisher share, which is high but not uncommon in the current market when trading catalogues of legendary artists. Just three years ago, multiples anchored in the 10-12 range (or less for newer or smaller artists whose music has not yet shown the same longevity).

Avid Larizadeh Duggan left her role as a general partner at GV to become Chief Strategy & Business Officer of Kobalt

Kobalt, which raised $205 million from VC firms like GV and Balderton Capital to become a technology-centric publisher and label services powerhouse, has also become an active player in the space. Aside from its core operating business (where it stands out from traditional publishers and labels for not taking control of clients’ copyrights), it has raised two funds ($600M for the most recent one) to help institutional investors like the Railpen pension fund in the UK gain exposure to music copyrights as an asset class. In December, their fund acquired the catalogue of publisher SONGS Music Publishing for a reported $160M in a sale process against 13 other bidders looking to buy ownership in songs by Lorde, The Weeknd, and other young pop and hip-hop artists.

Too high a price?

The natural question to ask when there’s a rapid surge of money (and a corresponding surge in prices) in an asset class is whether there’s a bubble. After all, last year’s industry revenues were still only 68% of those in 1999 and the rate of growth will inevitably slow once streaming has captured the early majority of consumers.

But the fundamentals driving this capital are in line with a secular shift – it’s evident that music streaming still has a lot of room to grow in a few short years, especially as a large portion of the human population is just coming online (and doing so over mobile first). Plus as new content formats like augmented and virtual reality come to fruition, new categories of music sync licensing will inevitably accompany them for their soundtracks.

Each catalogue is its own case, of course. As Shamrock Capital managing director Jason Sklar emphasized to me, the rising tide isn’t lifting all boats equally. The streaming revolution appears to be disproportionately benefiting hip-hop, rap, and pop given the youth skew of streaming service users and the digital-native social media engagement of the artists in those genres.

Beyond the purchase price, the critical variable for evaluating a deal in this market is also the operational value a potential buyer can provide to the catalogue: their ability to actively promote songs from the past by pitching them to new TV shows, ad campaigns, and any number of other projects that will keep them culturally relevant. This is where strategic investors have an advantage over purely financial investors in publishing rights, especially when it comes to the longer tail of middle-tier artist’s whose music doesn’t naturally get the inbound demand that the Beatles or Prince catalogues do.

With strong long-term market growth and a wide range of possible niches and strategies, music copyrights are an asset class where we’ll see a number of major new players develop.

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Relike lets you turn a Facebook page into a newsletter



French startup Ownpage has recently released a new product called Relike. Relike is one of the easiest ways to get started with email newsletters. You enter the web address of your Facebook page and that’s about it.

The company automatically pulls your most recent posts from your Facebook page and lets you set up an emailing campaign in a few clicks. You can either automatically pick your most popular Facebook posts or manually select a few posts.

Just like any emailing service, you can choose between multiple templates, decide the day of the week and time of the day, import a database of email addresses and more. If you’ve used Mailchimp in the past, you’ll feel right at home.

But the idea isn’t to compete directly with newsletter services. Many social media managers, media organizations, small companies, nonprofits and sports teams already have a Facebook page but aren’t doing anything on the email front.

Relike is free if you send less than 2,000 emails per month and don’t need advanced features. If you want to get open rates, click-through rates and other features, you’ll need to pay €5 per month and €0.50 every time you send 1,000 emails.

The company’s other product Ownpage is a bit different. Ownpage has been working with media organizations to optimize their email newsletters. The company is tracking reading habits on a news site and sending personalized email newsletters.

This way, readers will get tailored news and will more likely come back to your site. Many big French news sites use Ownpage for their newsletters, such as Les Echos, L’Express, 20 Minutes, BFM TV, Le Parisien, etc.

Ownpage founder and CEO Stéphane Cambon told me that Relike was the obvious second act. Using browsing data for customized newsletters is one thing, but many talented social media managers know how to contextualize stories and maximize clicks (even if it means clickbait, sure).

The startup was looking at a way to get this data, and ended up creating Relike, which could appeal to customers beyond news organizations. For now, both products will stick around. In the future, the company plans to add Twitter and Instagram integrations as well as better signup flows for newsletter subscribers.

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Until data is misused, Facebook’s breach will be forgotten



We cared about Cambridge Analytica because it could have helped elect Trump. We ignored LocationSmart because even the though the company was selling and exposing the real-time GPS coordinates of our phones, it was never clear exactly if or how that data was misused.

This idea, that privacy issues are abstract concepts for most people until they become security or ideological problems, is important to understanding Facebook’s massive breach revealed this week. 

The social network’s engineering was sloppy, allowing three bugs to be combined to steal the access tokens of 50 million people. In pursuit of rapid growth at affordable efficiency, Facebook failed to protect its users. This assessment doesn’t discount that. Facebook screwed up big time.

But despite the potential that those access tokens could have let the attackers take over user accounts, act as them, and scrape their personal info, it’s unclear how much users really care. That’s because for now, Facebook and it’s watchdogs aren’t sure exactly what data was stolen or how it was wrongly used.

The Hack That Broke The Camel’s Back?

This could all change tomorrow. If Facebook discovers the hack was perpetrated by a foreign government to interfere with elections, by criminals to bypass identity theft security checkpoints and steal people’s bank accounts or social media profiles, or to target individuals for physical harm, out will come the pitchforks and torches. 

Given a sufficiently scary application for the data, the breach could finish the job of destroying Facebook’s brand. If users start clearing their profile data, reducing their feed browsing, and ceasing to share, the breach could have significant financial and network effect consequences for Facebook. After years of scandals, this could be the hack that’s broke the camel’s back.

Yet in the absence of that evil utilization of the hacked data, the breach could fade into the background for users. Similar to the tension-filled departures of the founders of Facebook’s acquisitions Instagram and WhatsApp, the brunt of the backlash may not come from the public.

The hack could hasten regulation of social media. Senator Warner called on Congress to “step up” following the hack. He’s previously advocated for privacy laws similar to Europe’s GDPR. That includes data portability and interoperability rules that could make it easier to switch social networks. That threat of people moving to competing apps could succeed in compelling Facebook to treat user privacy and security better.

The FTC or European Union could hand down significant fines to Facebook for the breach. But given it earns billions in profit per quarter, those fees would have to be historically massive be a serious penalty for Facebook.

One of the biggest questions about the attack is whether the tokens were used to access other services like Airbnb or Spotify that rely on Facebook Login. The breach could steer potential partners away from building atop Facebook’s identity platform. But at least you don’t have to worry about changing all your passwords. Unlike hacks that steal usernames and passwords, the lasting danger of the Facebook breach is limited. The access tokens have already been invalidated, whereas password reuse can lead people to have their other apps hacked long after the initial breach.

Desensitized

If government investigators, journalists, or anti-Facebook activists want to make the company pay for its negligence, they’ll need to connect it to some concrete threat to how we live or what we believe.

For now, without a nefarious application of the breached data, this scandal could blend into the rest of Facebook’s troubles. Every week, sometimes multiple times a week, Facebook has some headline grabbing problem. Over time, those are adding up to deter usage of Facebook and spur more users to delete it. But without an independent general purpose social network they can easily switch to, many users have endured Facebook’s stumbles in exchange for the connective utility it provides. 

As breaches become more common, the public may be desensitized. At worst, we could become complacent. Corporations should be held accountable for privacy failures even when the damage done is vague. But between Equifax, Yahoo, and the cell phone companies, we’re growing accustomed to letting out a deep sigh with maybe some expletives, and moving on with our lives. The ones we’ll remember will be those where the danger metastasized from the digital world into our offline lives.

[Featured image via Getty]

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Kate McKinnon drops some sick Ginsburns as Ruth Bader Ginsburg on 'SNL'



Saturday Night Live didn’t shy away from taking a few jabs at accused sexual assaulter/Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and Kate McKinnon’s appearance as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was no exception.

McKinnon as Ginsburg appeared alongside milquetoast Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost to drop some signature Ginsburns and bust some moves at the expense of Kavanaugh. It was hilarious. She also promised not to retire or die while the current administration was in power and even dropped a few funny self-Ginsburns about her size, strength, and age.

Also, she threatened to beat up Kavanaugh with a sock full of quarters, which you just can’t top. Read more…

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Here's five minutes of 'Saturday Night Live' Weekend Update trashing Brett Kavanaugh



Saturday Night Live‘s recurring Weekend Update sketch is usually a rapid-fire series of one-liners cracking jokes at the top headlines of the week. It’s telling that this five-minute segment from the show’s Season 44 premiere focused only on one thing: Brett Kavanaugh.

Hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost — who look much more at home here after their questionable Emmy Awards appearance — trade barbs back and forth, touching on Kavanaugh’s angry demeanor during Thursday’s Senate hearing, his beer-soaked high school years, and his overall (lack of) fitness for the job of Supreme Court justice.  Read more…

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Matt Damon was an angry, water-chugging mess as Brett Kavanaugh on 'SNL'



Remember how we spent the past week feeling like crap as a gang of powerful white men tried to force a disgraceful and clearly problematic Supreme Court nominee through the appointment process?

Well. Whether or not you’ve, uh, blacked it all out, Matt Damon is here to help us remember.

Damon paid a visit to the Saturday Night Live stage this week for the show’s Season 44 premiere. His cold open sketch amounted to a reenactment of IRL Kavanaugh’s Thursday sitdown with the Senate Judiciary Committee. It’s almost as frustrating to watch as the real thing. Read more…

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How male video game characters awakened my sexuality as a teen girl



Editor’s note: The internet has changed how kids learn about sex, but sex ed in the classroom still sucks. In Sex Ed 2.0, Mashable explores the state of sex ed and imagines a future where digital innovations are used to teach consent, sex positivity, respect, and responsibility.

As a 12-year-old girl, I didn’t quite know what to make of the sensations that overcame me when I played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

It felt like butterflies, only they fluttered much lower in my stomach, rising like a hot wave all the way up my body. If I’d looked in the mirror, my cheeks would’ve flushed scarlet.

The Prince was my first-ever sexy male video game protagonist crush. But he was far from my last. A desire to bang virtual leading men became a common thread for most of my favorite and formative gaming experiences in girlhood. Read more…

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Solve, MIT’s take on social innovation challenges, may be different enough to work



Since McKinsey released a report on how best to use prizes to incentivize innovation nearly a decade ago, an entire industry has grown around social innovation challenges. The formula for these “save the world” competitions has become standard. Drum up a lot of buzz around an award. Partner with big names to get funding and high-profile judges. Try and get as many submissions as possible from across the world. Whittle down the submissions and come up with a list of finalists that get to pitch at a glitzy event with a lot of media attention.

On the final stage, based on pitches that last for mere minutes, judges typically pick one winner that can get upwards of millions in prize funding. Don’t have a software platform to run a challenge of this kind? No worries, numerous for-profit vendors have sprung up that can do all the work for you—for anywhere from ten to a few hundred thousand dollars. The growth has been so exponential that prizes awarded through competitions has grown from less than $20 million in 1970 to a whopping $375 million just four decades later.

But do these prizes get the sort of world-saving results they aim for? There’s little quantified evidence to back that, and some leaders in philanthropy are broadly skeptical.

For its part, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is trying a different approach to innovation challenges with Solve, taking some of what’s worked in these challenges and fusing it with elements of tech accelerator programs, including a post-award training program that focuses on results.

Solve is entering an already crowded field of innovation challenges. Many of these prizes overlap, with each vying to be the “Nobel” of its field. More prizes means more noise—which has led to a race to offer more money to get attention.

But even private-sector riches do not guarantee that prize money for innovation gets good results. In 2004, Bigelow Enterprises sponsored a $50 million Space Prize but it failed to capture the imagination of space researchers and eventually folded. Back in 2009, Netflix invited outside teams to improve it movie recommendation algorithm by 10% for a $1 million reward. The Netflix Prize led to a race among programmers, only for Netflix to eventually kill the entire plan because it was getting better results in-house.

Overall, the social innovation competitions tend to reward presentation, glitz and charisma, and penalize speaking English as a second language, introversion and inability to make flashy slides.

Now let’s take a look at Solve, which held its third annual finalists event on Sunday September 23 in New York.

Unlike other contests where questions are internally decided, Solve crowdsources the questions to begin with. Its team takes months to run hackathons and workshops around the world to decide on the four most pressing questions to become the focus of that year’s challenge. This year, the questions focused on teachers and educators, workforce of the future, frontlines of health and coastal communities.

The competition is then opened up to participants from around the world with relatively low barriers to entry, resulting in 1,150 submissions from 110 countries in the last competition round. (That’s at least one submission from nearly 60 percent of all countries in the world.)

The prize recipients of the GM Prize for Advanced Technology. Photo: Adam Schultz | MIT Solve

To qualify, though, participants need to have more than just an idea. They must have a prototype that works, be either in the growth, pilot or scale stage, and be tech-driven. Submissions are then evaluated by judges from across industry, intergovernmental organizations and academia to get to 15 finalists for each of the four challenge questions. These 60 finalists get a full day with judges to be asked in-depth questions and have their ideas evaluated.

The day after, with all the preparations completed, the finalists get three minutes apiece to present on stage. Crucially, instead of one winner, eight finalists are chosen for each of the challenge questions.

Each finalist receives an initial $10,000 prize, plus a pool of hundreds of thousands of dollars provided by partners including General Motors, the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, Consensys, and RISE.

This year, for example, Ugandan health care startup Neopenda brought in an additional $30,000 in funding through Solve, from a UN program sponsored by Citi. An intelligent messaging app called TalkingPoints, meanwhile, received backing from General Motors and Save the Children to develop its personalized coaching technology for parents and educators. (You can see more details on this year’s winners and prizes here.)

As opposed to being a “one and done competition” where winning the prize money marks the end of the competition, managing director of community Hala Hanna tells me that the real work begins once the Solver teams are selected. Each qualifying Solver team gets 12 months of engagement and support from the organization. “Our value-add is providing a network, from MIT and beyond, and then brokering partnerships,” she explains.

Solve also produces a series of co-branded programs with other educational and nonprofit organizations around the world. As a result, the Australian government uses the platform to run a smaller-scale challenge focused on issues in APAC, while the Mohammed Bin Rashid Foundation is using it for a larger scale Global Maker Challenge.

Perhaps the biggest testament to the Solve method getting traction is its funders putting in even more cash in support. At the closing event on Sunday, an upbeat Matthew Minor, Solve’s director for international programs, took to the stage decked out in Solve-branded socks and a broad smile. He announced the winning finalists—and more funding opportunities. Two of Solve’s original backers, the Atlassian Foundation and the Australian government, are continuing to invest out of a standing $2.6 million budget for companies in the workforce track. RISE, a global impact investing fund, is putting an additional $1 million into companies focused on coastal communities.

The Australians have already put in funding to help past winners scale after the program. One of them is Ruangguru, a digital boot camp in Indonesia that gives youth dropouts resources they need to earn graduation certificates. The startup had reached nearly a million Indonesians prior to participating in Solve; through the program and the additional funding, it assisted more than 3 million Indonesian youth by the end of last year. Iman Usman, one of Ruangguru’s founders, tells me that Solve enabled them to enter into partnerships that helped them scale across Indonesia in a way they would have never been able to do on their own.

Solve has also been unequivocally good at ensuring diversity, both in its own staffing and—perhaps for related reasons—in those that are chosen as finalists. Of Solve’s 20 full-time staff, 14 are women, as are six out of the seven leadership team members and—by my count—at least seven nationalities from four continents are represented on staff.

The 33 Solver teams selected at the finals this year hail from 28 different countries, with 61 percent of them being women-led. At a time when the tech industry is struggling to increase diversity, Solve’s emphasis on diversity in challenge design and promotion has led to applicants and finalists that reflect the world Solve aims to help.

Hanna noted that increasing diversity is not as difficult as it’s made out to be. “Honestly, we’re not even trying that hard,” she explained. “So whoever says there are no women in tech, I say, crazy talk.”

The view from the Apella at Solve Challenge Finals on Sept. 23. Photo: Adam Schulz | MIT Solve

Still, Solve does have a few kinks to work out. By taking on extremely broad topics, the competition can sometimes lack focus. Lofty questions mean you can get very disparate answers, making it hard to compare them in a way that feels fair. The work of the future challenge, for example, had one team pitching on adding jobs related to knitting in Brazil, while another managed to fit in every possible buzzword (artificial intelligence, crypto and automation) in three minutes without quite explaining what it does.

And while it’s great that the award monies are not all given to a single winner, it is not quite clear how funders pick the teams that do get funding. 15 qualifying finalists this year ended up winning money awards, some winning more than one, while the remaining 18 qualifying teams went home with the minimum amount. This is because Solve funders get to pick which of the teams that qualify at the finals get their respective monetary prizes. Of course, all 33 qualifying teams equally get to be a part of the Solve class with all the support and training that includes.

Another kink is the audience choice award—selected through open online voting prior to the finals—but not tied to any clear concrete benefit. Take the example of Science for Sharing (Sci4S), a Mexico-based startup that trains teachers to better engage students in STEM and has already reached nearly a million children across Latin America. It garnered 419 community votes in the Education Challenge, more votes than any other participant in the category, and handedly won the audience choice award, but ultimately was not selected as a Solver team. Another education startup, Kenya-based Moringa School, only got two votes but was selected. While Moringa and others were compelling and qualified in their own right, but it’s still hard not to think that Sci4S should have focused all of its time on its presentation and ignored the audience vote.

All in all, Solve does get a number of things right where other innovation challenges have failed. Instead of anointing one winner for the entire competition, it selects a class of dozens—reflecting the simple fact that the world’s most intractable problems are not going to be solved by any singular idea. Unlike many challenges put on by educational institutions and open only to their own students, Solve opens its doors wide. And winning at the finals doesn’t end your connection with MIT, it only starts it, with all qualifying finalists getting a year of individualized support, training and mentorship.

Done right, prizes can be effective at incentivizing startups to focus on pressing societal issues that can truly benefit from tech-drive solutions. But prizes for the sake of prizes can add to the noise and dissipate scarce public resources and entrepreneur attention. In the increasingly crowded world of innovation challenges promising to change the world, MIT’s Solve is a step away from the noise and towards effective prize granting.

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