Three of the Most Impactful Panels at The Next Web Conference

I had the distinct pleasure of attending The Next Web Conference at NDSM 9-10 May, 2019. When I first looked at the workshop and speaker panels, I was so excited that I felt like one of those “heavy breathing” GIFs. There were so many types of tracks offered – marketing and branding, trade, the future of work, the art of tech – that I really had to consider what I wanted to get out of this conference in just two days.

And on reflection, what I learned was how tech affects every corner of our daily existence and has the potential to improve our lives as well. I attended numerous panels at The Next Web Conference, but there are three that continue to impact the way I think about technology and how I approach my future.

Check me out at 0:37! But also watch the whole video

Combating Human Trafficking Through Data Science

After reading Kevin Bale’s Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, I constantly think about how I can be a better consumer to fight human trafficking. On average, between 40-60 slaves work for the average person, due to the nature of the modern supply chain. And this isn’t just about sex slavery. Modern slavery happens in restaurants, on farms, in construction, and in clothing factories, just to name a few industries that depend on human trafficking.

So what are the best ways to fight modern slavery with our money? As it turns out, simply banking with ABN AMRO may be an option. While survivor testimony is compelling, financial records are hard evidence against human traffickers. The University of Amsterdam, ABN AMRO, and the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment work together to locate survivors and arrest their traffickers.

left to right: Jill Coster van Voorhout, Jeroen Hermens, and Raila Abas
  • 📑 The University researches patterns of behavior, such as traffickers forcing their workers to withdraw or transfer their entire salary deposits
  • 🚩 The University presents these findings to ABN AMRO, who then flags a variety of unusual activity that could indicate a trafficker or survivor
  • 🕵️‍♀️ The bank then has its people look at the activity to separate truly suspicious cases from false positives, and passes the information to the Ministry
  • ⚖ The Ministry then examines the information even further to determine whether they have a viable case, and if so, they pursue an investigation

From the time the Ministry receives the information, it can take anywhere from one month to two years to make an arrest.

Human trafficking – as well as invasion of privacy – is a serious crime that should not be taken lightly. This process may slow and tedious, but since they’ve started the program, they’ve discovered 50 survivors who may not have been found otherwise.

How Open Innovation Fuels Ground-Breaking Tech Solutions in Food and Agriculture

Another favorite subject of mine is food – specifically how technology helps farmers around the world. I enjoy reading reports and listening to podcasts about food supply, food waste, and ethical supply chain management. It seems that, while many food manufacturing companies want to emphasize and strengthen their relationships with farmers, the farmer will always get the raw end of the deal.

But people don’t become farmers for the money. “Farming is something you usually inherent from your family,” Yasir Khokhar from Connecterra said. Farmers see themselves as growers, and they stay with it because they love the lifestyle.

left to right: Patrick de Laive, Yasir Khokhar, Rassarin Chin, Erdem Erikçi

But, as I learned at this panel hosted by Rabobank, the way they are farming has to change. There simply aren’t enough skilled people to continue farming the way we have been for hundreds of years. And this is where artificial intelligence plays a vital role.

Connecterra, Tarla.in, and Listenfield are all gathering data to help farmers around the world run more efficiently. Tarla.in collects climate data to help finance companies and farmers conduct risk assessments, while Listenfield uses environmental data to help farmers determine best planting times for greatest yields and profits. And Connecterra is helping dairy farmers maintain healthy herds, but you already know that from my previous post.

While they are all using various forms of AI to help farmers, the farmers don’t actually care about the data itself. Farmers want someone to interpret the data for them and then tell them what needs to be done. For Connecterra, this means Ida has to not only collect the data, but interpret it, and present a solution to the farmer, all without the farmer’s interaction or prompting.

But the million dollar question is, as always: can it scale? All three companies have experienced incredible growth and change over the past few years, but as Erdem Erikçi of Tarla.in says, “The decision-making process is slowed” as the number of decision-makers increases. But without their efforts to reduce food waste, increase food supply, and improve the lives of farmers, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to have these conversations.

Marie-Elisabeth Rusling talks about the importance of female investors in entrepreneurship

Virtuous Circles, Snow Ball Effects and Golden Opportunities – The Case for Female Investment with Marie-Elisabeth Rusling

And after attending this panel hosted by The Next Women, I’m seriously considering switching from freelancing to investing. Not because I have money to invest, or because I have any understanding of investing, but because so few women are investors, and without female investors, female entrepreneurship will never grow (#powerofthepack).

As I’ve learned with the International Women’s Networking Group Rotterdam, when women are in positions of power, they are more likely to support other women. We like to think that we will all succeed based on our merits and dedication, but at the end of the day, everyone tends to help those who look like themselves.

Business Angels Europe did a study to learn more about why women aren’t joining the industry. The most common response was that women don’t know where or how to start investing. Women depend on their networks for guidance and support, which doesn’t really exist in the investment world. And they don’t seem to have access to knowledge resources that could encourage them to invest.

It’s easy enough to become an entrepreneur: you feel like you’re good enough at something that you can sell it. Taking a risk in yourself seems easier than taking a risk with someone else’s idea. Business Angels Europe found that, if women build a foundation for other women to learn how to become investors, women are much more willing to join the industry.

Georgina talks about what her team learned by changing the Big Spam newsletter

BONUS: The Big Spam on the Big Stage

I love the Big Spam newsletter. I subscribed because someone who didn’t offer me a job told me it was one of his favorite resources for tech news. And ever since that company rejected me, I have found endless entertainment and occasionally great information in Big Spam.

What I didn’t realize, however, was that the newsletter was a bit of an experiment. Georgina Ustik talked about what they learned when they changed Big Spam (apparently it used to look boring). Some insights included:

  • 🤔 Subject line is key
  • 📊 People love polls
  • 😨 People like to engage with confusing and disgusting things
  • 👏 Having an engaged community is better than having a big one

I loved this panel not only because I was part of it (see photo below), but also because I can apply these insights directly to my own work. And that was really the joy of attending The Next Web Conference – connecting with and learning from people who are doing incredible things.

This was my contribution to The Next Web Conference
My classy contribution to the Big Spam slides at The Next Web Conference

Follow Friday: Vierde Vrijdag and Susanne Pieterse

Scrolling through my Twitter feed, I saw “The Blockchain Tiramisu – Tech Stacks and Pragmatic Engineering,” and thought to myself I like tiramisu, and also blockchain!

Upon further investigation, I discovered that this event was not, in fact, serving tiramisu, but it ended up being a great experience anyway.

Vierde Vrijdag at The Hague Tech is a gathering for people in business and tech to socialize and learn from each other about various trends and developments in the industry. I didn’t know much about the presenters, but the programming sounded quite educational (for myself, at least). People spoke about intellectual property laws, blockchain, and digitizing the city.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the whole program, but I had the pleasure of listening to Susanne Pieterse talk about what blockchain is and how it can be useful to a variety of businesses.

Susanne Pieterse and her company Pieterse Innovate

Pieterse started her presentation informing us that she will give this presentation at an event for the Powerful Business Women’s Network, and we were a test-run audience. The PBWN asked her to present not only because of her prestigious status as a powerful business woman, but also because their audience wanted to know more about how blockchain technology can improve their companies.

As a woman interested in networking and being powerful, I was already intrigued.

She went on to tell us about her work experience as a legal consultant who worked in digital zoning for ten years. She had always been interested in computers, so she studied programming last year and then started her own business, Pieterse Innovate. The company advises clients on how to innovate and evolve their processes.

But her enthusiasm doesn’t end there. She also runs blockchain030, a blockchain co-working event every Monday in Utrecht, and she started the podcast Block Rock, which focuses on Dutch blockchain news and projects.

How Blockchain technology is being used

Pieterse gave a great explanation of blockchain technology (safe, immutable, shared ledger), emphasizing that its use is based in trust. While it’s not a solution for everything, it is extremely helpful when

  • More than two parties are involved
  • If there are conflicting interests
  • In the presence of shared common trust

She also gave a few examples of how blockchain technology is currently being used. Pieterse mentioned the Port of Rotterdam collaboration with Blocklab, as well as automated micro-transactions for package deliveries, and an experimental effort to tag social welfare benefits. (Though it was noted that the kindpakket project decided it was too difficult to implement blockchain this way at the moment.)

But blockchain can be used for so much more.

Supply Chain Management: An experiment with a fishery found that everyone in the supply chain had conflicting interests. When an app was developed to solve the problem, many in the supply chain rejected its use because they felt it didn’t represent their interests.

Energy Usage Data: With Oehu, smart meter owners submit their energy usage data to the website. Users remain owners of their data, but the shared access to the information will help improve the technology.

Theater Tickets: GUTS Tickets uses blockchain to create a fair ticket resale market. As a result, it fights ticket fraud while giving fans a better opportunity to attend shows.

Document Verification: The University of Nicosia uses blockchain for certificates, which means future employers or organizations would not need to contact the University to verify the authenticity of the document.

Final Thoughts

Vierde Vrijdag was a great opportunity to participate in a discussion about the tech industry, rather than just reading about it. At first I was nervous because it seemed like everyone already knew each other and was familiar with each other’s work (that’s always the case at networking events, right?).

But when I got pulled into a conversation, it turned out that other people attending also didn’t have a background in programming. My greatest takeaway from the event – as well as Pieterse – was that it doesn’t hurt to just go: go to a networking event, go to a panel, go hard on the paint and start your own business. Just go.

Follow Friday: Shypple

I’ve written extensively lately about blockchain, and for good reason.

What if you are ready to digitize your freight and logistics needs, but aren’t ready to invest in this newly explored frontier?

Digital Shipping Solutions

Our lives have been transformed by convenient technology, from hailing a cab to having razors delivered monthly to our doorstep. And with so many options within a service industry, comparing prices has also become significantly easier.

But that technology only recently came to the logistics industry. Why?

Shypple: Booking.com for Freight and Shipping Solutions

You’re tired of keeping track of all the papers on your desk or in your file cabinet. In can be days before you have all the information you need to make a final decision about how you will move your product from point A to point B. And once your product is in transit, it takes multiple emails and phone calls to pinpoint its location.

As I learned at Intermodal Europe 2018, lack of visibility is a concern for everyone in the supply chain, yet the industry has not widely embraced solutions to this problem.

Shypple addresses these issues and more.

It’s been touted as the “Booking.com for sea freight,” and rightfully so. If users are already familiar with the concept, why not apply the model to your own industry, especially one as layered as logistics?

In response to the ancient methods of the freight industry, Shypple founder Jarell Habets started Shypple to make transportation easier. With so many options and providers in the market, this dashboard allows users to compare quotes, consolidate documents, and track shipments from one application.

Furthermore, Shypple offers financing options, insurance, and customs management. It offers the whole freight package from start to finish!

When I read about Shypple, I was surprised to learn that no service like this existed for logistics. A digital platform for planning every branch of a shipment’s journey seems like an obvious need. (Again, how is there such a lack of visibility?) But as I have come to learn, the industry has not been quick to evolve.

How does Shypple improve the shipping industry?

With Shypple, customers can make responsible, fully informed decisions in less time, saving their companies valuable resources. But how does it pressure the logistics industry to change?

On one hand, this type of ranked comparison makes it easier for customers to choose the cheapest – but not necessarily highest quality – option. This may further encourage the “race to the bottom,” which is something that many agree is not good for the industry.

On the other hand, it may pressure the supply chain to improve in other ways in order to be competitive. How does your company fair when compared side-by-side to your competitors in a platform that allows customers to book in one click? What do you have to offer customers other than a low price?

Final Thoughts

I’m still an advocate for blockchain technology in the logistics industry. Those who had the resources to invest in trials and research should absolutely do so.

But Shypple solves a different problem for users on the supply chain. Shypple is for the one who initiates the chain but the last link on the line. It makes building the chain simpler and more visible. And the industry could use more visibility.


Need someone to write about your business and services? Drop me a line!

How does blockchain technology help the food industry?

Blockchain, blockchain, blockchain. It’s all anyone wants to talk about (including myself, to some extent).

In just the past week, people have sent me two articles about blockchain and the food industry: The Next Web wrote about Australia recently shipping almonds to Germany with blockchain technology, and Forbes wrote about some of the major players working to implement blockchain technology in the food manufacturing industry.

Clearly businesses see potential benefits from using blockchain technology – but what are they?

Blockchain Technology and the Food Industry

Cut Red Tape, Reduce Waste, and Eliminate Wasteful Bureaucracy

One of the benefits frequently highlighted is the reduction in bureaucratic waste. By replacing paperwork and verification steps with blockchain technology, businesses can reduce costs and save time.

The assumption is that everyone in the supply chain uses the same blockchain software, let alone using it at all.

These articles talk about huge companies that have the resources to do trial runs, which is great for those who can’t afford to test the waters. But everyone involved in the experiment is testing the same software.

I realize that may seem like an obvious statement and necessary for product development, but with the way “blockchain” is so freely used, articles make it sound universally accessible, rather than a new technology.

As far as I’ve seen, companies like IBM and Microsoft are developing solutions, which means it’s unlikely they’ll speak to each other. Why would one business want to be compatible with another business’s software for the same purpose?

It’s the same dilemma that the medical industry faced with digitizing medical records. Sure, it technically eliminated the need for fax machines, but because none of the solutions speak to each other, hospitals and medical offices are still using fax machines. (For more about this, listen to Vox’s The Impact.)

Blockchain_Med-01

E. Coli, Salmonella, and Other Scary Words That Make Your Stomach Crawl

Another the common example of application is that of foodborne illnesses. If there’s an E. Coli outbreak, officials will be able to trace the source in a matter of seconds and identify where the problem originated.

For example, take the romaine lettuce E. Coli outbreak in the United States in spring 2018. Illnesses were reported at the end of March, and an official statement was released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on April 10.

Between April 18 and May 16, the CDC suspected that the contaminated lettuce came from the Yuma region and continued to investigate.

On May 16, they released a statement to say that all contaminated lettuce from the Yuma region was last harvested on April 16.

In this instance, blockchain technology could have potentially stopped the contaminated harvesting sooner. Instead of receiving enough evidence after the last harvest date, the CDC could have found that information sooner with the near-immediate retrieval of information that blockchain technology provides.

But where do we lag the most in food illness outbreaks? Is the time businesses spend trying to determine where a shipment came from? Or is it more about the resources available to the CDC and the constraints of simply being human?

The first reported illness from this outbreak was on March 22 – 19 days before the outbreak was officially declared. And even when the CDC released their official statement on April 10, they were not sure of the cause. Romaine lettuce is not pegged as the culprit until April 13.

Collecting data to prove an outbreak takes time and is not necessarily something that can be resolved by blockchain. Take it one step further – can blockchain even help prevent the outbreak from happening in the first place?

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’m excited about blockchain technology. I still love seeing all the new trials and applications of it. I’m just hesitant to put all my eggs in this trustless basket for now.

Blockchain for the Medical Industry? Maybe.

This morning TheNextWeb posted an article suggesting that “blockchainification” is just one more possibility looming in the future of medicine.

It is certainly possible – blockchain is the cool new kid that everyone wants at their birthday parties. But how will it serve the medical community?

Blockchain_Med_indiv-01

Making communication more efficient

This article immediately reminds me of an episode of the podcast The Impact, which explores the human consequences of United States policy-making. Their first season focused on health care policy, during which the host Sarah Kliff investigated why the industry is still so heavily dependent on fax machines.

In Barack Obama’s first presidential term, the government “spent upward of $30 billion encouraging American hospitals and doctor offices to switch from paper to electronic records.” It was massively successful, in the sense that nearly 85% of hospitals were using electronic medical records by 2015.

It was unsuccessful, however, in deterring dependence on fax machines: while hospitals now have digital records, they all use different software programs that don’t speak to each other. As a result, hospitals and offices still have to use the fax machine.

Businesses found an opportunity to monetize this digital revolution in the medical industry. Ultimately, the ease of sharing medical records is not in the interest of most companies (and hospitals) because it makes it easier for the patient (or consumer) to switch providers.

Blockchain_Med_indiv-02

More technology, more problems

Which brings me to my original concern with blockchain technology. It all sounds well and good to have this incorruptible digital ledger, but can it be read by any software? Or will everyone in the supply chain need to have the same program?

While it seems to be in everyone’s interest to exchange research and ideas, it is not necessarily a profitable business practice.

Another obstacle that “blockchainification” may face, according to TheNextWeb, is recently-implemented General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It would seem, however, that blockchain technology may actually work in favor of GDPR because it has the potential to give data control to the patient, rather than locked in the hands of the healthcare provider.

There are still significant questions like this that need to be explored before blockchain is meaningfully implemented throughout industries.