THE NEWS WRAP: Obama hires former Twitter product manager

3:14PM | Wednesday, 25 March

Silicon Valley veteran Jason Goldman will become the White House’s first chief digital officer as part of the Obama administration’s bid to grow its tech staff.   Goldman is best known for his work on Twitter, Medium and Blogger and will now lead the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy.   “Goldman brings new energy and coveted expertise as someone who’s helped shape the digital age,” President Obama told Politico.   The announcement follows a string of recent appointments, including former Facebook engineering director David Recordon being brought on as the White House’s director of technology.   Facebook is looking to host news content directly on its site   Facebook is in discussions with several media partners including BuzzFeed and National Geographic in order to “make the experience of consuming content online more seamless”, according to The New York Times.   The new format will be tested in the next few months and will see Facebook directly host content, rather than users having to click through to a link to read a news story.   Facebook has 1.4 billion users worldwide.   Wearables are coming   Wearables will soon be the new smartphones, according to Telstra’a chief technology officer Vish Nandlall.   “I think the curve starts to bend around probably 2020 leading into 2025,” he told Fairfax.   “That’s where we’re going to see a lot more industries start to come in, and then you’re going to see much more penetration of these services across the population.”   The Apple Watch will launch worldwide on April 24.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down 104.90 points, falling 0.58% overnight to 18,011.14. The Aussie dollar is currently trading at around 79 US cents.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

When emails go public. How to avoid sharing the things you should never have said

12:57AM | Tuesday, 16 December

There is a lesson for us all in the continuing revelations from stolen Sony emails being splashed over world-wide media. It is a lesson that Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairperson Amy Pascal could have benefited from before sending emails with racist comments about President Obama. Or an email calling Leonardo DiCaprio’s behaviour “Absolutely Despicable” when he decided to pull out of a planned Steve Jobs biopic.   The lesson is a very simple one. It is that when you are writing an email (or any other corporate document), imagine that it will inevitably one day end up on the Internet for everyone to see. Even without the hacking episode, there have been enough horror stories of private emails being accidentally sent to the wrong people who have little issue with making the contents public.   The emails of Amy Pascal and other Sony Pictures’ executives reveal damaging internal discussions about business practises and commentary on a wide range of people that the company relies on to do their business. It is hard to imagine how those involve retain their credibility as more of the emails become public.   The dangers of emails being used against an organisation was something that former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates discovered the hard way during US antitrust investigations. After that point, Microsoft internally discussed a practice of not keeping any emails for longer than 6 months.   In many other cases, emails have been obtained by journalists and others and used against the owners under Freedom of Information requests.   Deleting emails after a set amount of time would have helped a great deal with Sony’s problems but it comes with its own issues. Many organisations, including universities, are subject to legal regulations governing how long official records need to be retained. Emails can be considered part of official records and so it is sometimes difficult to apply a blanket policy that requires all emails to be deleted after a relatively short time.   The problem of email could also potentially be solved by using other forms of electronic communication instead. There have been suggestions that email could be replaced with instant messaging. This is certainly the case but many of these services keep records of conversations. Google for example, allows individual hangouts to be switched into “off the record” mode, but does not allow this setting as a default for all conversations. To delete the record of the conversation, it has to be done individually.   Special software that automatically deletes conversations can be used such as messaging apps Telegram and OneOne but these require widespread use. In terms of the types of email exchanges that were highlighted in the Sony releases, it is unlikely that the participants would have had the presence of mind to use more secure communications in any event.   Although companies should be advising all of their staff, especially the senior ones about good email hygiene, there is still a much easier way of avoiding all of these issues by not writing the email (or document) in the first place. If that is not possible, then there are a few definite things you should do when writing email:   1) Always keep it brief. The more you write, the harder it is to check you haven’t said something you will regret. 2) Never write email when you are angry or emotional. Leave it for 24 hours before writing, if at all. 3) Never write email when you have been drinking. 4) Never include personal, intolerant, or insensitive statements in corporate email.   If it helps, it is also useful to imagine a prosecuting lawyer looking over your shoulder as you write every email you send.   This article was originally published at The Conversation.

Boosting the commercial returns from research: the missing link

11:47AM | Wednesday, 5 November

AVCAL has long advocated for a stronger nexus between publicly funded research and real economic outcomes.   The roadmap towards achieving this, however, has been a matter of much public debate.   It was therefore a welcome move for to see the federal government recently release a policy discussion paper called Boosting the Commercial Returns from Research.   The discussion paper speaks about the key gaps in Australia’s innovation system such as the lack of research-industry collaboration, and the need for more targeted research incentives to drive commercialisation activity.   These issues are all well-known and are largely beyond contention.   The discussion paper also reviewed the policies introduced by other jurisdictions to strengthen the translation of research into commercial outcomes: the US, UK, Germany, New Zealand, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada and Denmark. Despite our relatively high levels of research funding by international standards, Australia ranks behind most of these jurisdictions on commercialisation measures.   The paper explained how these countries have introduced a range of measures, including targeted research/industry collaboration programs, to foster commercialisation.   What the paper doesn’t mention, however, is the fact that all of these countries have, as an integral part of their commercialisation policies, something that is currently largely absent in Australia: a publicly funded venture co-investment program.   Around the world, traditional institutional investors have been gradually but inexorably pulling back from supplying the high-risk capital needed to back new ventures.   Although corporate venture funds, high net worth individuals and successful entrepreneurs have stepped in to take their place to some extent, this has largely not been sufficient to address the overall funding gap.   Of the fact that few Australian startups have made the transition to medium or large companies domestically, Sam Chandler of Nitro PDF has said that Australia is a good place for startups, but not so much for growth.   For every success story that is reported in the media, there are many, many more promising companies that are not achieving their full potential due to lack of access to risk capital.   Such risk capital is the lifeblood of a successful commercialisation pipeline. And the gold standard so far in addressing this issue -- with the wider benefits seen to be greatly outweighing their shortcomings -- has been the formation of government co-investment programs to back local new ventures.   These programs have been invaluable (including in Australia) in providing the funding catalyst so crucial to bringing research from the lab to the marketplace.   In fact, in the US, President Obama’s Startup America initiative identified “unlocking access to capital” as their first priority, including the need for government co-investment in risky ventures in partnership with the private sector. Both New Zealand and the UK have identified the lack of capital going into VC funds as a “market failure”, and 2002 and 2009 respectively introduced the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund and UK Innovation Investment Fund as part of their respective national solutions to address this.   It has been proven that this model works not just internationally but also in Australia. The now-ceased Innovation Investment Fund program was instrumental in seeding Aussie success stories such as SEEK in their early stages. The South Australian BioSA model has shown that for every $1 of public funds BioSA has invested in early stage technology companies, these companies on average have achieved $10 in further investment or revenue from sales.   Indeed, Harvard professor Josh Lerner said in his recent visit to Australia that matching investments schemes were one of the most effective tools for governments to foster venture capital.     Country Public venture investment programme Country Public venture investment programme US Startup America $1b Early Stage Innovation Fund(2011) Netherlands Dutch Venture Initiative(2012) UK UK Innovation Investment Fund(2009) Sweden Various state-owned VC funds such asInlandsinnovation AB,Industrifonden and Sjatte AP-fonden New Zealand NZ Venture Investment Fund(2002) Canada Venture Capital Action Plan(2013), Northleaf Venture Catalyst Fund (2014) Germany ERP EUR 1bn Fund(2004), INVEST-Subsidy for VC (2014) Denmark Dansk Vækstkapital,Vækstfonden   The government has recently made positive strides in setting the stage for a more vibrant startup environment. The recent announcement of the rollback of the 2009 Employee Share Schemes changes and additional measures to encourage take-up in startups, and the proposed expansion of the Significant Investor Visa requirements to encourage investment in venture capital, are positive first steps. The Victorian government’s recent contribution of $5.6m over seven years to secure Brandon Capital Partners’ Biotechnology Translation Fund’s headquarters in Melbourne is another positive step.   But there is of course, more to be done.   The commercialisation discussion paper’s proposals, which focus largely on the need for aligning research incentives with commercialisation objectives and greater industry-business collaboration, are further steps in the right direction.   However, the issue of how commercialisation is to be effectively financed, and how innovative, high-growth ventures can get adequate access to capital, cannot be ignored.   Given the wealth of evidence on this matter, the extraordinary consistency of international policy responses to this challenge, and independent expert views on the matter, it seems almost incontrovertible that we need to address the funding blockage for venture capital through a new government co-investment program to replace the Innovation Investment Fund, which was abolished in the 2014-15 federal budget.   It would be a shame, after all the positive effort undertaken to remove roadblocks to the venture industry, to falter at the final hurdle.   Dr Kar Mei Tan is head of policy and research at the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Apple finally admits it has a diversity problem

8:45AM | Wednesday, 13 August

Apple has become the latest in a string of major tech companies to admit it has a problem with gender and ethnic diversity, according to figures it released overnight.   The news follows a similar revelation from Google in May, which led to a string of other major tech companies, including LinkedIn and Twitter, admitting they too have gender and ethnic diversity issues.   According to Apple’s figures, 70% of its 98,000-strong global workforce is male, a rate higher than LinkedIn where 61% of staff are male, but roughly equal to Google and Twitter.   The figures also show 80% of Apple’s tech positions and 72% of its leadership positions are held by men.   However, it’s not just in tech roles where Apple has a gender diversity problem, with the figures showing female employees make up just 35% of non-tech roles. This compares to 50% at Twitter.   In terms of ethnic diversity, 55% of Apple’s US workforce identify as white, 15% as Asian, 11% as Hispanic, 7% as Black, 2% as two or more ethnicities, 1% as other and 9% are undeclared.   However, the figures for ethnic diversity in leadership positions are far worse, with 64% identifying as white, 21% as Asian, 6% as Hispanic, 3% as Black and 6% as undeclared.   In a statement, chief executive Tim Cook said “inclusion and diversity have been a focus” for the company under his leadership, but admitted the tech giant still has a long way to go.   “Let me say up front: As CEO, I’m not satisfied with the numbers on this page,” said Cook.   “They’re not new to us, and we’ve been working hard for quite some time to improve them. We are making progress, and we’re committed to being as innovative in advancing diversity as we are in developing our products.”   Cook said the company is taking a number of steps to overcome gender and ethnic inequality, including its sponsorship of LGBT rights group Human Rights Campaign, and its recent pledge of $100 million to President Obama’s ConnectED initiative.   He also said the recent appointments of senior executives Eddy Cue, Angela Ahrendts, Lisa Jackson and Denise Young-Smith are examples of how the company’s culture is changing under his leadership.   The figures were released just one day after the Victorian ICT for Women Network organised an event at Melbourne’s Deakin University called Go Girl Go for IT. The event was aimed at encouraging more high school aged girls, from Years 8 to 11, to consider a career in IT in order to overcome the gender disparity in the tech industry.   Go Girl Go for IT communications team lead Sara Ogston told SmartCompany the challenge is to encourage more girls and women in the education system to consider a tech-related career.   “I think a lot has to do with when applications are open for tech-related jobs, if girls or women don’t have the skills, they won’t apply or be considered for those jobs. So we need more diversity at the education level, at university and high school,” says Ogston.   “I also think having work experience and internships available to people who aren’t necessarily from tech-focused universities or courses can also potentially be a first step into a tech-related role.”   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

To backup or not to backup – there really is no question

6:28AM | Thursday, 26 June

There’s a scandal brewing in the US – a scandal that might be as big as Watergate was. And it all hinges on NOT backing up.   The short story of the investigation: The Democrats (and potentially President Obama) might have been using the IRS (the US tax office) to target their political adversaries.   It all hinges on two years of emails that were ‘lost’ in a hard disk crash. The loss of emails is at best “convenient” for the Democrats – at worst it’s a cover-up that leads all the way to the top. Time will tell.   And the issue surrounds why such a large government department does not have a good (or any) backup system. They expect you to keep all your tax information for seven years but they don’t have a backup storage system in place?   There’s a lesson for every small business in this story. There is no excuse for not backing up your emails. In fact, there’s no excuse for not backing up ALL your electronic business assets.   Are you backing up your emails?   Losing emails is not only embarrassing, but it shows a lack of professionalism. Up until a few years ago – while we were all hooked on Microsoft software and Outlook to manage our emails – the best solution was to regularly export our emails, archive them and then save the files on a backup hard drive in the office.   For the most part, that was fine. But what if, heaven forbid, the office was burgled, flooded or burnt down. Don’t laugh, we received an email from a client last year whose front room office WAS destroyed by a runaway truck!   Today there’s a better solution. Manage your emails online. That doesn’t mean have a Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail email address but you can direct all your emails through an online service. Here at Legal123 we use Google Apps for Business. We pay a small monthly fee for each user and all our emails are automatically backed up.   And because we’re lawyers and we take these things seriously, we pay for another additional upgraded Google backup service, called Vault. You don’t need to do both but should consider at least one backup service.   Are you backing up your documents?   Now here’s a scary statistic: the annual failure rate of the average consumer hard drive is between 4-6%. I’ve experienced two hard disk failures in my working career – both were traumatic and lessons have been learned.   Happily the second time, we had online backup services to the rescue. They ensure that whenever your computer is connected to the internet, all the documents on your hard drive are backed up automatically, real-time.   After my last hard disk crash, I was able to recover all my documents – downloaded overnight from the online backup service – within 24 hours.   There are a couple of good high profile online backup services out there that we know of. We use Carbonite at Legal123 but there’s also Mozy and CrashPlan. For a small monthly fee you get peace of mind.   Are you backing up your website?   The most important backup should be your business website. It is your livelihood and it is worth the cost of a backup fee. With your website, the danger these days is not necessarily a hard disk crash but being ‘hacked’. It seems to be happening more and more frequently and it happened to us – out of the blue, one of our websites was peppered with online ads for Viagra!   Many website hosting services include website backup. But you need to check and often it is not included in the regular basic hosting fees but is an additional cost.   The most professional website hosting services will be taking “snapshots” of your website every day. You should be able to log into your host and see the backups and download them at any time, just in case. This way, if you are ‘hacked’ you’ll be able to roll-back to the last daily backup point before the hack and go from there.   Note: We’re not techies, we’re just lawyers. So please forgive us if some of the terms or details aren’t quite right in this article. But this is what we’ve learned over the years about the importance of backing up and not leaving it to chance. Take the time, spend the small amount and protect your business.

The ‘myth’ of the Australian entrepreneur

5:25AM | Tuesday, 27 May

We are still awaiting the details of the federal government’s Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program, and how this may impact the Australian entrepreneurial ecosystem.   While this program is estimated to provide $484 million of funding, this is only half of what was spent under now-scrapped programs such as Commercialisation Australia, the Innovation Investment Fund and the Industry Innovation Precincts, representing a significant decline in government spending on entrepreneurs and innovation. While many agree that government programs can be improved, the cuts show a lack of understanding of the Australian entrepreneurial ecosystem.   It also places us behind other nations that have put the needs of entrepreneurs at the centre of industry policy, recognising they are a driver of economic growth, prosperity and innovation (for example, as seen by President Obama’s Start-up America initiatives). Many agree that the current budget seems to focus more on SMEs rather than high-growth technology companies, or smart specialisation for the nation.   There is a glimmer of hope that the government will finally address the Employee Share Option Program (ESOP) in Australia, which is considered a crucial way to incentivise early employees to work in a start-up (and a barrier that all stakeholders have been lobbying to change for many years). Development of crowd-sourced equity platforms are not highlighted, however the issue is currently under review by the Federal Government. Yet overall, this budget points to a broader lack of understanding of the Australian entrepreneurial ecosystem and also the nature of entrepreneurship and innovation.   In a recent study completed at ATP Innovations, Australia’s largest technology incubator, we interviewed many entrepreneurs to understand what entrepreneurial life is like in Australia. We learnt of the difficulties in hiring and retaining key employees in the early stages (with taxation around ESOP the main issue), we listened to mixed views on whether it was necessary to go to the US to secure venture capital funding, to overcome the conservatism of the Australian VC market.   We observed the significant impact that R&D tax concessions can provide - not in determining whether to pursue a technological venture, but in keeping start-ups alive. We noted the value of attracting larger technology firms to locate or operate in Australia (through various industry innovation support programs and incentives) due to the spillover effects for the local ecosystem. So what is it like being an entrepreneur in Australia?   Don’t believe the hype   Much of the hype around entrepreneurship today focuses on “hero entrepreneurs” – the stereotypical image of Virgin founder Richard Branson and his extroverted, risk-taking personality. Yet this picture doesn’t accurately reflect day-to-day life as an entrepreneur. This research busts the myth that entrepreneurs succeed because of inherent personality traits – because they are born that way. Sure, they may be determined and passionate, but they also follow processes and patterns of developing and testing ideas, building support networks and developing certain communication and business skills.   Becoming an entrepreneur   The entrepreneurs in this project wanted to solve problems and to use their technical expertise to develop creative solutions.   What was their typical career journey? Many of the younger cohort emerged from university, mainly from technical (science and engineering) faculties, to further develop – at first, at least - their own technologies. Most created start-ups later in their careers, after seeing a problem in their industry and identifying a solution but being unable to implement it within an organisation.   The notion that entrepreneurship is a high-risk/high-reward activity was not prominent. Leaving full-time employment for a start-up is risky, but many do so having been successful in their careers and with the security of a strong professional network and a fall-back position. Entrepreneurs are not necessarily risk takers, but they are seemingly more comfortable with uncertainty.   The study’s participants were determined, resilient and passionate, as well as being sufficiently open to risk to be able to give up a full-time job. However, they were also aware of the need to acquire stronger marketing, networking and social interaction skills – skills they weren’t born with. They needed to learn how to articulate a value proposition, how to understand the needs of the market, how to pitch and sell an idea, and how to persuade investors of the merits of an idea.   More findings of the report are available here and include discussions of how entrepreneurs measure and communicate success (to each other and to investors). It’s not always clear to those on the entrepreneurial journey whether they are moving in the right direction. Determining progress can take a number of forms and is an unstructured process.   We examine the art and science of valuing start-ups (emphasis being on the art), the requirements of early stage networking and the structure of entrepreneurial networks (many cultivating what sociologists describe as “weak ties”). We also explore whether entrepreneurs feel entrepreneurship can be taught and whether you need to go to business school.   A better understanding of the realities of entrepreneurial life in Australia will lead to better informed industry policy, and perhaps increased support for an ecosystem that is a key driver of future growth and development for Australia.   The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.   This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

President Obama focuses on start-ups

6:30AM | Friday, 8 June

President Obama discusses legislation currently before Congress that would give a tax credit to small businesses. The tax credit will go to businesses that are hiring new employees, or raising the wages of their existing staff.

Networking, New York-style

7:10PM | Sunday, 17 July

Having spent the better part of six months of this year as a study abroad student completing part of my MEI (Swinburne Master of Entrepreneurship & Innovation) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York I’ve been able to fully experience American culture, particularly entrepreneurship.

THE NEWS WRAP: Small firms set to benefit from surge in bank business lending

1:56PM | Wednesday, 26 January

Small firms are set to benefit from a surge in bank business lending this year, according to analysts.