A New Phone Plan for the New Year

With the new year approaching, consider a more cost-effective cell phone plan. According to the New York Times, a growing trend among wireless plans promises customers significantly lower monthly rates. Budget carriers leasing wireless services from the larger companies offer phone bills at around $25 per month, undercutting the well-known providers whose monthly plans range from $60 to $200 a month.

While a budget carrier may not be able to offer the same network speed performance, download speeds with 5G and 4G technology remain quite fast and users will most likely not notice a difference between the larger versus budget providers. Additionally, with the shift to a hybrid work-week cutting down on commute times, most employees rely more on Wi-Fi connections at home or at the office and less on their cellular network.

Many have reported that the transition to a budget carrier was not always smooth. Customers complained of eSIM activation fees, wireless services that did not activate right away, unhelpful customer service, and failure to send monthly receipts. However, those who have switched over, report savings of 50%, some around $1000 a year, a worthwhile tradeoff for the hiccups they encountered. The discount plans even allow users to buy a physical or eSIM, which can be purchased from their website or app, to test out the service without dropping their current provider. This way, consumers can choose the best option available without any hassle.

If you’re looking to cut your expenses in 2024, switching to a discount phone plan is easy and will not disrupt your lifestyle.

Senators Warren and Graham Release Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act

Democrats and Republicans are setting aside their differences to impose restrictions on Big Tech platforms. US senators, Elizabeth Warren and Lindsey Graham, released the Digital Consumer Protection Commission Act. The bill calls on Congress to launch a governing body with the ability stop the operation of, or sue, platforms that cause potential harm to consumers. This bill would apply not only to social media platforms, but would extend to respond to new concerns that arise as AI continues to develop.  

Warren said in a statement: “For too long, giant tech companies have exploited consumers’ data, invaded Americans’ privacy, threatened our national security, and stomped out competition in our economy. This bi-partisan bill would create a new tech regulator and it makes clear that reigning in Big Tech platforms is a top priority on both sides of the aisle.”

The Act would establish a regulator to license and police the large tech companies in the US, such as Meta, Google, and Amazon, and set clear rules for tech companies. The bill will also enforce repercussions for companies that violate the law. It would implement safeguards for every customer: families will be able to protect their children from cyberbullying and sexual exploitation by requiring these companies to clamp down on these harmful practices. Families will have the ability to seek compensation should the company fail to do so. The bill will also enable consumers to opt out of targeted advertising in order to protect their privacy.  

According to Graham and Warren’s New York Times op-ed: “No company, no industry and no C.E.O. should be above the law. These reforms will ensure that the next generation of great American tech companies will operate responsibly while remaining on the cutting edge of innovation. It’s time for Congress to act.”

Microsoft Invests in OpenAI

Microsoft announced on January 23 that they were making a “multiyear, multibillion dollar investment” in OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. In 2019, Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI, and described their agreement from this past Monday as the third stage of the partnership between these two companies. News of the investment came on the heels of Microsoft’s announcement that they plan to lay off 10,000 employees as part of a larger cost-cutting measure.

This partnership authorizes the usage of OpenAI’s tools in Microsoft products, which gives Microsoft an edge over Google. According to OpenAI, the investment enables them to continue developing AI, and Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform will continue operating as an exclusive provider for OpenAI.

According to Microsoft, by incorporating the technology behind ChatGPT into their Bing search engine, they will revolutionize internet searches. Anton Korinek, AI researcher and professor of economics at the University of Virginia explains,

“[ChatGPT] allows consumers to interact with their computer in a much more natural and conversational form than traditional search.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said,

“We formed our partnership with OpenAI around a shared ambition to responsibly advance cutting-edge AI research and democratize AI as a new technology platform. In this next phase of our partnership, developers and organizations across industries will have access to the best AI infrastructure, models and toolchain with Azure to build and run their applications.”

Female-secured Patents Could Boost Economy by $1 trillion

Small businesses and startup entrepreneurs are known to rely on funding from government agencies like the Small Business Administration; minority-owned businesses might turn to the Minority Business Development Agency. Kathi Vidal is pushing to have entrepreneurs consider applying for patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office alongside their application(s) for funding.

Vidal, who is currently serving as USPTO director, is an experienced intellectual property lawyer. A primary platform of her work in the USPTO, since her appointment by President Biden in April 2022, has been the diversification of those applying for and receiving patents. To date, only 13% of U.S. patents have been issued to women. When offered free legal guidance for the patent-application process, women-led filings increased by 41%. Vidal believes that the inclusion of women in the patenting system at equal rates as men could boost the U.S. economy by as much as $1 trillion.

According to Vidal, legal support is not the only barrier to female inclusion. The patenting system is inherently confusing and excluding. While the government views rejections as an opportunity for re-application, most applicants don’t understand. Vidal is introducing a cover letter to patent decisions, assigning an examiner who will be available for consultations and be the human face of an otherwise amorphous and overwhelming process.

Patents are a tangible way of supporting the economy and expanding business competition, particularly in growing fields like artificial intelligence and technologies. Similarly, Vidal explains that patents facilitate partnership and cooperation. Without patents, companies are resistant to sharing their ideas.

The Business of Bringing Back Businesses

Fashion Fair, the beloved cosmetics company, went bankrupt in 2018. But in June 2022, the firm, which Pulitzer prize winner Lynn Nottage said “represented Black beauty, it represented sophistication, and it was the first makeup that I ever tried on in the mirror,” was resurrected. This is part of a current economic trend in which Black businesswomen opt to revive a legacy brand rather than start a new company from scratch. In some instances, Black entrepreneurs are launching companies based on known white-owned firms that unfairly used images of Black people as part of their branding and merchandising.

Like Fashion Fair, Madam (originally known as Madam C.J. Walker), the Black hair care brand, revamped both the external elements of their products, like packaging and advertising, as well as the actual production processes. Even with these changes, Fashion Fair and Madam still focus on the shared historic mission of each company: bringing wealth, access, and prestige to Black communities, particularly women.

McKinsey study found that Black-founded and Black-owned beauty brands comprised 2.5 percent of 2021 revenue in that industry; Black consumers spent 11.1 percent, the equivalent of $6.6 billion, on beauty products. While spurred mostly by need, as a way of ensuring the employment and safety of Black Americans in the dark era of Jim Crow laws, Black-owned businesses are a historic and iconic representation of pride. Historian Juliet E.K. Walker describes the time as the “Golden Age of Black Business,” when Black-owned businesses grew across the U.S.

The newest iterations of the company are also updated for today’s consumer interests. The Madam formula, for example, has been revised to substitute petroleum, which is derived from crude oil, from the products’ hair and scalp treatment recipes.

In some instances, Black entrepreneurs are redressing historic wrongs of white-owned companies that feature images of Black domestic workers in their logos and images. Rapper and entrepreneur Percy Miller, known as Master P, restarted his Uncle P’s line of pancake mixes and rice in response to this trend. He recalls how his grandmother used to favor brands featuring Black people, but as he grew he came to realize “that Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were models, and none of the proceeds from these brands went back to helping the community and their families; it was just pure mockery.” In an attempt to remedy these historical injustices, Miller sources rice for his products from Ghana; some profits are earmarked for programs serving low-income children and the elderly in New Orleans and St. Louis. A picture of Miller himself, in sunglasses, is affixed on Uncle P’s products.

Remote Workers Resign to a Renters Crisis

Pandemic restrictions are lifting and most bosses and companies are accepting that remote work is here to stay. And as employees continue to enjoy the benefits of working from home, they are also looking for homes to work in. The rental market is fierce these days, with prime interest in Florida and across the Northeast region of the U.S.

A review of recent real estate data released in June by RentCafe, a subdivision of Yardi real estate software, indicates that Miami-Dade County, with its 20+ miles of beaches, had the most competitive rental market during the first third of 2022. Orlando and other parts of Southwest Florida are also in the top-ten list of cities, as are Harrisburg, Pa., North and Central Jersey, Grand Rapids, Mich., Rochester, N.Y., and Milwaukee.

What these cities all have in common is their excellent school systems, tranquil lifestyles, and family-friendly communities. The demand for rental properties is driven by high housing prices that have not budged in years and climbing mortgage rates prompting buyers to delay their purchase and seek a rental lease. While some cities are accommodating the increased demand, like Miami-Dade County where additional units were released to the rental market, other cities are not as quick to meet the need: Harrisburg, PA did not add any new apartments in the last four-month period, causing most tenants to renew their leases instead of moving out.

Leveraging Quant Funds to Navigate the Volatile Economy

When market forces become unstable, investors often have a hard time thinking rationally and considering the bigger picture. The very real possibility of significant money loss spooks many investors to make rash and impulsive decisions.

But quant funds offer a more appealing and lucrative solution. As they rely on strategies based on algorithmic or systematically programmed information. The various investment strategies are backed by numerous trading signals—which themselves center on economic data points, security cost trends, real-time business news, and other measurables. This kind of consistent and hands-off research, along with the inclusion of updated models, allows quant funds to uniformly perform.

As quant funds are market-neutral, they can yield dependable and improved returns, with appropriate risk adjustments, without being tied to the market. Furthermore, quant funds offset long and short positions. With an emphasis on utilizing stock prices relative performance by having comparable investments in both long and short stocks, it is possible to deliver on critical qualities of risk, like instability and drawdowns.

Rising interest rates also favor quant fund strategies. The higher interest rates usually generate higher volatility and more price disruptions across stocks and industries, thereby increasing opportunities and returns.

Chattanooga: the newest Hub of Tech, VC talent

Chattanooga at night

Chattanooga, Tennessee is one of the first American cities to have installed fiber optic cables with gigabit speeds across the entire city. While this upgrade was completed a little over 10 years ago, Mayor Tim Kelly says the pandemic brought a surge of new residents all looking for comfortable remote working spaces and quality of life.

Kelly, himself a former businessman and startup founder, credited the 2010 EPB investment in fiber optics as a forward-thinking move by previous leaders. He notes that while Chattanooga doesn’t offer financial incentives for relocation like other places, it does cultivate a vibrant cultural life and family-friendly ethos.

As a result- and specifically since the pandemic- Chattanooga has seen a new balance of tech companies and those working for them; once concentrated in major coastal cities, firms are now widely dispersed in more rural areas across the country. The Brookings Institution found that tech jobs in San Francisco, Seattle, and Los Angeles had slowed or disappeared, while regions like St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Nashville showed an unprecedented uptick.

Brickyard, for example, is a newly established venture fund based in Chattanooga. Cameron Doody, the co-founder, explains that as workers from traditional tech hubs swamped cities like Atlanta and Austin, residents of those cities moved to places like Chattanooga for quiet, comfort, and quality of life. Brickyard invests in international tech companies. The founders then come to headquarters in Chattanooga to rigorously expand their product and enjoy the benefits of amenities like a sauna, a gym, and a steam room.

Uber and Flywheel Riding Toward a New Partnership

Flywheel Technologies and Uber are putting the final touches on a partnership agreement to fully transform transportation in San Francisco.

While the cooperation is similar to an agreement Uber penned with taxi companies in New York City, it is a noteworthy shift from years of ferocious battling between the two transportation groups. Uber, which is headquartered in San Francisco, was once sued by a local taxi company in federal court for rapacious pricing schemes. Some taxi drivers have expressed concern that the partnership would mean lower earnings and make it harder for taxi riders to afford a drive. Uber and other companies that rely on gig workers (i.e. Lyft and DoorDash) supported California’s Proposition 22. The bill gave the workers limited benefits but also made it impossible for them to be considered full employees of these companies. The measure passed in 2020, even though most voters opposed it; a judge dismissed it in 2021. This partnership expands Uber’s driver pool substantially. The app’s driver base shrunk rapidly during the height of the pandemic, and many drivers voiced discontent with their low earnings. Rising gas prices have also pushed many drivers away. According to the Municipal Transportation Agency, taxi drivers will benefit too, by leveraging Uber’s ridership toward the city’s taxis.

The agreement, part of Uber’s long-term strategy to increase taxi representation on its app, will allow Uber passengers in San Francisco to hail a cab virtually. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors still has to approve the pilot, and Jeffrey Tumlin, the city’s director of transportation needs to authorize it, but the partnership is slated to begin as early as May 2022.

Google Buys Mandiant

Global tech giant Google has announced its acquisition of Mandiant, the cybersecurity company. In a $5.4 billion deal, Google will expand its services to provide businesses with strategic planning assistance for and in response to cyberattacks.

Google Mandiant

The purchase comes as Google tries to distinguish itself and its cloud computing platforms from those offered by Amazon and Microsoft.

Organizations around the world are facing unprecedented cybersecurity challenges as the sophistication and severity of attacks that were previously used to target major governments are now being used to target companies in every industry.

Thomas Kurian, chief executive of Google Cloud

Based in Virginia, Mandiant has over 2,300 employees, making it Google’s second-biggest purchase ever. The biggest was Google’s 2011 buy of Motorola for $12.5 billion.