Softbank Backs Plenty Vertical Farm System

San Francisco-based Plenty Inc. is taking bold action: they’re moving farms out of rural areas and bringing them to the heart of the city. Except that they’ve flipped the farms’ orientation – they’re doing it vertically to work around the problem or scarce arable land.

Barnard is already in talks with government officials from at least four continents as well as top honchos from Wal-Mart and Amazon.

Plenty Inc.’s CEO Matt Barnard is out to change how society grows and eats produce. Instead of growing crops in field, he advocates for planting vertically to save space and eliminate the need to have large parcels of land before one can grow food. This is an ideal scenario for people living in cities, where fresh produce needs to be transported from rural areas. Ferrying produce from the mountains or rural regions adds to cost and can cause delays when weather conditions aren’t favorable.

Plenty Inc.’s bold idea has received generous backing from Softbank, one of Japan’s largest telecommunication companies. Headed by mogul Masayoshi Son, the company bankrolled $200 million into Plenty’s coffers so it can further its plans of creating vertical farms in around 500 cities worldwide. This move is hailed by many as the largest agriculture tech investment in history.

With massive farms operating within the city, fresh produce can reach tables in a matter of hours rather than days. This significantly lowers food costs and stabilizes food supply for years to come. The idea is bold and definitely long term.

Bloomberg reports that Barnard is already in talks with government officials from at least four continents as well as top honchos from Wal-Mart and Amazon. The first farm in the Bay Area is set to start making deliveries to San Francisco grocers by the end of the year.

Unlike traditional farms, Plenty’s system uses 20-foot vertical poles where the plants shoot out horizontally. The poles are lined up next to one another with roughly four inches of space in between. These poles are surrounded with infrared cameras and sensors which enable the staff to monitor conditions periodically. There is a system in place which can adjust LED lights, air composition and humidity within the indoor farms.

There’s no need to use soil because water and nutrients are fed into the top of the poles and gravity takes care of the rest. The excess heat from the light also rises naturally to vents in the ceiling. Barnard says that working with physics rather than against has allowed them to save a lot of money.

Bridging the Global Nutrition Gap

Barnard’s company believes that growing rooms or vertical farms will be able to produce quality organic food at very cheap prices.

The idea of vertical farming isn’t exactly new, but where food is grown appears to be Plenty’s biggest advantage. Rather than growing produce far away from where consumers are, it will strategically place these fruits and vegetables within a few minutes of customers and grocery stores.

As the current scenario stands, fruits and vegetables grown in California and Arizona often need to travel roughly 2,000 miles before they get to the store. The produce then sits a couple more days before it is picked up and eaten. This leads to less than fresh fruits and vegetables and significantly more waste.

Backing from Softbank gives Plenty the funds they need to expand across the nation, as well as helps them establish a reputation as a company with a growth model that is to be reckoned with. Plenty’s enclosed system allows fresh organic produce to be produced almost anywhere, and that is a huge change that will have bold impact on how we grow and consume food.

Originally Published at: http://www.boldbusiness.com/food-nutrition/softbank-backs-vertical-farms/

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Online and App Orders, Changing Restaurant Industry

Ordering food online is a big trend. What started with a simple phone call has escalated to ordering on websites. Now people are ordering with the use of apps. For consumers, this is very convenient. For restaurant owners this can lead to logistic and implementation problems.

Papa John’s Pizza has been so successful in their efforts that they have declared that they are an “e-commerce company.”

Today’s consumers have become heavily dependent on the internet, smartphone apps and social media. This is where the newest trend for food ordering is coming into its own. The latest tech for restaurants focuses on making food ordering quick and fun with the use of online connections or apps.

For some time now, fast food and restaurants have had website ordering systems for home delivery. These have now been supplemented by smartphone apps. The customer only needs to click on the right boxes, include the address, and the food would be delivered. The latest innovations let the user pay via Facebook or Amazon.com. TGI Fridays recently installed a system which bills the user’s Amazon account. The company has also partnered with Amazon and Facebook for online orders. These have proven to be very popular to their customers.

TGI Fridays is casual dining, and they want to keep their customers loyal. They see that the way to do that is to keep up with technology. This includes online payments as well as loyalty rewards.

Other restaurants have different approaches, that have met with varied successes. Domino’s and Papa John’s have always been delivery companies, the bulk of their sales have been phone ins. With the use of the new tech and methods, they have increased their sales. Papa John’s Pizza has been so successful in their efforts that they have declared that they are an “e-commerce company.” They have not released any sales figures, but that declaration may mean that a significant part of their sales is online, or that this will be the direction the company is taking in the future.

For Domino’s, they have not been content with phone orders and apps. They have also implemented ordering via Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. This is new territory as both Echo and Home can be used to predict the correct order, as well as when the order will be sent. This makes a very compelling platform as it can be used to give reminders to regular customers. Of course, the reminder could come in the form of a calendar based alert or as a suggestion at a given time.

Bold innovations are necessary for fast food and casual dining customers. If a millennial can order in advance from Starbucks, and pay for it through Amazon or any other pay facility, this could help in streamlining some operations, as well as ensure more sales. With the convenience of online ordering, in whatever form, the customer can have a better client experience with the food or restaurant company, as well as a better user experience on the smartphone.

Online and app ordering for food and deliveries is a bold action. This is a hot trend that will certainly grow in the future.

Originally Published at: http://www.boldbusiness.com/digital-transformation/online-and-app-orders-changing-restaurant-industry/

Brownfields to Brightfields, Solar Transformation

There is a lot of demand for renewable energy, specifically from solar energy farms, land-based wind farms, and sea-based wind turbines. For 2017, new solar energy plants coming online will add 12,600 megawatts to the grid. The Annapolis Renewable Energy Park is just a small part of that new energy output. However, it is a bold action that is significant in another way. It will be using 80 acres of a former landfill in Anne Arundel County, which makes it the largest non-federally funded solar energy farm on a closed landfill.

This is enough land to put up solar energy plants capable of generating 3 million MW, which is equivalent to the current total demand for electricity in the United States.

The exact cost of the Anne Arundel facility is still to be determined, but it is covered in an agreement with the Building Energy, S.p.A., an Italian renewable energy company, via its American subsidiary, Building Energy Development US LLC. BQ Energy LLC will construct the energy farm, and then turn it over to Building Energy Devt.

BQ Energy specializes in turning brownfields into brightfields. The Annapolis project was signed in 2015, for a 20 year lease. Annapolis will earn an average of $260,000 annually for the property lease.

Brownfields are land which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared to have the potential presence or the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. These are usually old landfills, or industrial parks and factories which have been shut down. Brownfields are not much use to the community, as they cannot be used for housing, industrial or commercial buildings. A few landfills have been used to harness methane deposits which are then harvested for energy production, while at the same time were converted into parks.

Brightfields are brownfields converted into renewable energy farms, like solar energy plants or wind turbine farms. The advantage of most brownfields is their location. They are usually near urban or heavily urbanized areas, and near electric or power junctures. Sites of former industrial plants usually still have high tension electric wires nearby, making it easier and less costly to get the new energy generated into the grid.

Economics Favor Brownfields for Solar

The economics of land use are in favor of using brownfields. They are generally unusable, but according to the EPA there are more than 80,000 which have already been pre-screened for possible use as brightfields. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that the country’s brownfields cover around 15 million acres. This is enough land to put up solar energy plants capable of generating 3 million MW, which is equivalent to the current total demand for electricity in the United States.

In some places, there is almost no land available for renewable energy plants. The only viable alternative is brownfields.

Of course, there are some issues with brownfields, and the only way to deal with these issues is to take them slowly, which takes time. These may include a raft of inspections, and permits required to use these contaminated land and former landfills. The pre-development phase can take anywhere from 18 months to 4 years before the land is ready for any construction.

The Annapolis project may be the biggest brightfield solar power plant project for now. This bold action will be followed by others in the pipeline, including a 20MW solar array project in Maine to be built over a capped landfill. New Jersey’s PSEG is expected to add 33MW of brightfield solar power capability to add to its existing 158 MW by 2020.

Originally Published at: http://www.boldbusiness.com/energy/landfills-become-solar-farms/

General Electric Develops Wind-Power in Australia

Wind power, a mode of renewable energy production, is fast becoming commonplace in Australia. The country increased installed capacity by about 35% over a five-year period. In 2016, there were 4327 megawatts of installed capacity in the country. As of mid-year of 2017, another 12328 MW of proposed capacity was in the works.

The wind farm will be capable of generating electricity that will be enough to power 260,000 homes…

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency reported that wind energy is the fastest growing among the renewable sources of energy in the country. Wind power accounts for more than 5% of the country’s total electricity demand and 30.8 percent of their total renewable energy supply. By the end of last year, there were a total of 79 wind farms in Australia with turbines of 1.5 to 3 MW capacities. An additional 16 projects were lined up for either operation or construction this year.

The country’s wind energy will be getting a big boost from General Electric (GE). GE has been powering Australia since 1902 when the company installed an electric motor that opened the Pyrmont Bridge over Darling Harbour in Sydney. Australia is the second largest region where GE operates.

Australia expects to further improve its renewable energy sources with the $8 billion worth of projects currently under construction and slated for completion this year. The company continues to use advanced technologies to provide the land down-under with a reliable and sustainable supply of power. GE is optimizing the company’s wind power technology and expands the company’s clean energy business as evidenced by their acquisitions of LM Wind Power and Alstom SA.

GE is scheduled to supply and install 123 turbines at a 453 MW wind farm 155 miles northwest of Brisbane in Queensland. The Coopers Gap Wind Farm, a partnership between GE and Powering Australia Renewable Fund, is scheduled for completion in 2019. It will constitute 10% of the country’s total wind power capacity and is expected to be Australia’s biggest wind farm. This will make a bold impact in how the region’s power is generated and could tip the scales in favor of wider wind energy use in the coming years.

The wind farm will be capable of generating electricity that will be enough to power 260,000 homes and cut the country’s CO2 emissions by as much as 1.18 million tons per year. That reduction in CO2 emission is equivalent to the combined emissions of 250,000 passenger vehicles.

Currently, Australia is increasing its installed wind power capacity, which stood as of last year at 4,327 MW capacity. Australia, however, is still very far behind China when it comes to wind power capacity. China has many solar farms that produce a combined 168,690 MW. The US, with the second highest wind power capacity in the world, generates 82,183 MW of wind power.

Wind as the Next Best Alternative

Wind power captures the atmosphere’s natural wind and converts it into mechanical energy, which is produces electricity. Wind results from differences in atmospheric pressure. Air moves from higher-pressure areas to lower pressure areas, resulting in winds. Wind is also created, except on the equator, by the rotation of the Earth on its axis.

Wind turbines harness the wind’s force into a rotational force that is used for propelling an electric generator that creates electricity. Wind farms consist of several wind turbines whose individual outputs are combined through a central connection point to the electricity grid. Wind energy projects exist throughout the world, both onshore and offshore.

Australia’s wind farms are having bold impact on their energy future and take advantage of the vast open spaces and steady winds which the country has in abundance. The sector is growing, and may become a leading energy source in the future.

Originally Published: https://www.boldbusiness.com/energy/ge-develops-wind-power-in-australia/

Gates, Branson, Invest in Memphis Meats

A faux meat alternative food startup has successfully raised funding, with both Bill Gates and Richard Branson making a major contribution. Memphis Meats raised $17 million in Series A funding which increases their total funds raised to $22 million. The San Francisco-based company grows meat in tanks by feeding nutrients like oxygen and sugar to living animal cells, a bold action involving several upscale investors and unconventional yet safe scientific methods.

The cells will be grown in a factory away from the farm. The meats will be grown in tanks with nutrients feeding the tanks in which the protein grows.

The round of participants in funding were a mixed lot, including; Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Cargill, KBW Ventures, Inevitable Ventures, Suzy Welch, Kyle Vogt, Kimbal Musk, and others. Besides venture capital firms, there were also some research institutions joining in to the funding frenzy. The lead investing group is DFJ.

As a food company, the participation of Cargill is considered a bold move and a significant achievement for Memphis Meats. Cargill is a food company that is represented in over 70 countries with more than 150,000 employees. They produce and refine edible oils, grow seeds, and produce a wide range of agricultural needs including food and feeds. As a food company, Cargill is also concerned about the future of meat. By 2050, there will be 9 billion people on the planet, creating intense pressures in producing enough meat for such a large population that is safe for consumption.

Given concerns of consumers over the health of meat, and the almost certain pressures on cost, Cargill is participating in the development of fake meat. Fake meat products can provide the needed protein to feed the demands of 9 billion people. There are now a handful of companies trying to develop fake meat, using different approaches.

Investing in the Future of Meats

With the investment in a development start up, Cargill is betting that they will have a significant hold on the future faux meat market. Its subsidiary, Cargill Protein, offered a statement that the company is committed to growing their protein business, by investing in innovative technologies to create new proteins. The company’s aim remains to provide a complete basket of consumer goods for its customers.

Memphis Meats uses stem cells to develop meat products. The attempt replicates meat cells without the need for large feedlots or housing for the animals. The cells will be grown in a factory away from the farm. The meats will be grown in tanks with nutrients feeding the tanks in which the protein grows. Although they have not produced a commercial product, they have proven the concept and been able to produce tank grown beef, chicken and duck from stem cells.

In the long run, the factory and tank process of cell growth will only use 1% of the land, and only 10% of the water required to grow conventional meat animals. In a world of scarce resources, these numbers could mean the difference between adequate supply at an affordable price or dwindling supply at exorbitant prices.

The capital raised by Memphis Meats will be used to further develop the product and scale up while also lowering the cost of production. Growing meats from cells is harder than producing them in farms and feedlots. New techniques have to be developed to lower the cost of production, as well as streamline the growth process.

It is interesting to note that Impossible Foods is using a soya based formula to create plant-based protein which tastes like real meat. The product even has juices oozing out of the burger patties. One of the big name investors into Impossible Foods is Bill Gates who has also invested in Memphis Meats.

While the significant increase in Memphis Meats funding is intended mainly for product development and scaling, the increased financial support also provides funds for needed staffing. The main challenge left in commercialization is production cost, which the company has already stated they will allocate funds to as well.

Clearly, with the funding interest in faux meats like Impossible Foods, and lab-grown meat like Memphis Meats, food consumption will change dramatically in the coming years. Investors are feeling their way forward to see which companies and technologies will have bold impacts in the market place.

Originally Published: https://www.boldbusiness.com/food-nutrition/gates-branson-invest-in-memphis-meats/

Girls and IT, What’s the Problem?

Is the tech industry intentionally excluding girls? This is a bold idea that must be explored given the rapid pace at which the industry is growing.

In April this year, Google was accused of extreme gender pay discrimination by the US Labor Department which said the tech giant had “systemic compensation disparities.”

The National Center for Women and Information Technology reported that while 57% of professional positions in America were held by women in 2015, only 25% held professional computing occupations.

In August, James Damore, a software engineer on video image search at Alphabet Inc., a Google company based in Mountain View, California, was fired for crafting a controversial memo on gender differences and diversity efforts in the technology industry. His 3,300-word memo has been widely circulated within Google and on social media, prompting higher ups to give him the pink slip.

Damore’s memo argued that biological differences between men and women are primarily responsible for there being too few women in the software engineering field. The 10-page file also claimed that women were generally just less competitive than men, part of differences that are simply universal across different human cultures.

While executives at Google immediately took a defensive stance against this memo, there is indeed a point in all of these. If people took a close look at demographics in the tech industry, it does plainly and simply reinforce Damore’s perception that there is indeed some form of discrimination going on.

Equal Pay

Gender biases come in many shapes and forms. Even companies that employ women in various ranks and roles in their organization often don’t have a level playing field. Why? The male workers get more benefits and bigger compensation than their female counterparts.

In April this year, Google was accused of extreme gender pay discrimination by the US Labor Department which said the tech giant had “systemic compensation disparities”. A report from the Guardian quoted Labor Department Regional Director Janette Wipper as saying: “We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce.”

Google of course denied the allegations and even tweeted on April 4th that it has closed the gender pay gap and that they provide equal pay across races in the US. The Labor department was not convinced and requested that Google submit a copy of its employees list, salary histories and contact information. After being placed under scrutiny, Google eventually started releasing data.

It reported that as of 2015, women made up 31% of its overall workforce. White employees made up 59% of its workforce, followed by Asians at 32%. African Americans were at 2% and only 3% were from Latino descent.

Incidentally, Google isn’t the only large tech company being investigated for what is said to be unfair labor practices. In January 2017, the Labor Department sued Oracle for allegedly paying white men more than others; eventually leading to more charges of discrimination against African American, Asian and female employees.

Gender Roles Start with Learning and Play

Experts say that education and upbringing play a vital role in how women perceive themselves in the tech world. Researchers working with robots said women perceived robots as toys for boys when they had wheels. What they did to make robots more accessible to girls was to hide the wheels under the robot’s body. The minor difference and adjustment may seem insignificant to some, it has serious effects on how computer science and technology is perceived by girls.

Purposeful design in education isn’t about making Legos colored pink according to gender play patterns. The point is making sure girls’choices are included when it comes to storytelling, as well as music and games. The point of inclusion is what makes them challenge patterns and stereotypes built for them.

Take for example this worrying statistic: only 9.8% of girls are completing A-level data in computing courses. This will translate to even fewer women in the tech industry and leading Silicon Valley in forthcoming years.

According to Bill Mitchell, Director of Education at the IT Chartered Institute, there were only 7,600 students in England who took A-level computing courses. He said the industry is expecting something closer to 40,000 and this number means that the IT world will be suffering from the repercussions for a long while.

More importantly, he noted that very few girls are taking the subject, making up less than 10% of the student body. The problem, he said, begins at primary school and follows through at various levels throughout their education.

Mitchell stressed the need to ensure that today’s young women are leaving school equipped with the digital skills they need to secure a job, gain further training, and finish higher studies.

There is still a ray of hope, though. The Joint Council for Qualifications in the UK reveals a 34% increase in the number of female students taking computer science exams.

In the US, the question of competence and confidence continues to hound female tech students. Detroit-based audit firm KPMG reported that only 37% of female students were confident that they had the skills high-level employers and companies were looking for. Another 37% did not consider holding a graduate job in the tech industry.

The firm’s head of Digital Transformation, Aidan Brennan said that female job seekers are less likely to compete for a job unless they’re truly confident that they have all the skills that the job demands.

Women Who Met the Challenge

To boost women’s confidence and encourage them to continue challenging norms in the tech world, Stemettes, an award-winning social enterprise working group across the UK & Ireland, was founded to inspire and support young women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths careers.

The organization targets girls aged 5 to 22 years old and runs panel events, hackathons, and incubation projects to mold young minds and prepare them for a career in technology.

It may seem like an uphill battle, but the future is quite promising. There are women who have dared the odds and made it big in a male-driven environment like tech. Based on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has been named the most powerful woman in technology. Sandberg is said to have a personal fortune amounting to $1.4 billion and her clout is a model for female empowerment in the workplace and at home.

Following Sandberg is YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki who is best known for having advocated Google’s $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube in 2006. As a result, YouTube is now worth roughly $90 billion.

Another great example is HP CEO Meg Whitman, who assumed the top post in September 2011. There’s also IBM CEO Virginia “Ginni” Rometty, who is the first woman to lead the billion-dollar tech company. Interestingly, she began her career with IBM in 1981 and handled a variety of roles before finally being given the top leadership in January, 2012.

Another woman in tech to look up to is Apple Senior VP Angela Ahrendts who joined the company in 2014. She reports directly to Tim Cook and is responsible for formulating strategies and marketing campaigns for Apple stores, including their online stores and contact centers. Other notable women in tech are Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz; Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat; Ursula Burns the CEO of Xerox; Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, among others.

Before these women became successful at what they did, they were first and foremost students who dared to go beyond gender stereotypes. They had bold ideas and weren’t afraid to be treated differently. They say technology is a man’s world, but with these women at the helm of some of the most powerful companies, there is a place for women in the future.

Originally Published: https://www.boldbusiness.com/law-society/girls-and-it-whats-the-problem/

Online and App Orders, Changing Restaurant Industry

Ordering food online is a big trend. What started with a simple phone call has escalated to ordering on websites. Now people are ordering with the use of apps. For consumers, this is very convenient. For restaurant owners this can lead to logistic and implementation problems.

Papa John’s Pizza has been so successful in their efforts that they have declared that they are an “e-commerce company.”

Today’s consumers have become heavily dependent on the internet, smartphone apps and social media. This is where the newest trend for food ordering is coming into its own. The latest tech for restaurants focuses on making food ordering quick and fun with the use of online connections or apps.

For some time now, fast food and restaurants have had website ordering systems for home delivery. These have now been supplemented by smartphone apps. The customer only needs to click on the right boxes, include the address, and the food would be delivered. The latest innovations let the user pay via Facebook or Amazon.com. TGI Fridays recently installed a system which bills the user’s Amazon account. The company has also partnered with Amazon and Facebook for online orders. These have proven to be very popular to their customers.

TGI Fridays is casual dining, and they want to keep their customers loyal. They see that the way to do that is to keep up with technology. This includes online payments as well as loyalty rewards.

Other restaurants have different approaches, that have met with varied successes. Domino’s and Papa John’s have always been delivery companies, the bulk of their sales have been phone ins. With the use of the new tech and methods, they have increased their sales. Papa John’s Pizza has been so successful in their efforts that they have declared that they are an “e-commerce company.” They have not released any sales figures, but that declaration may mean that a significant part of their sales is online, or that this will be the direction the company is taking in the future.

For Domino’s, they have not been content with phone orders and apps. They have also implemented ordering via Amazon’s Echo and Google Home. This is new territory as both Echo and Home can be used to predict the correct order, as well as when the order will be sent. This makes a very compelling platform as it can be used to give reminders to regular customers. Of course, the reminder could come in the form of a calendar based alert or as a suggestion at a given time.

Bold innovations are necessary for fast food and casual dining customers. If a millennial can order in advance from Starbucks, and pay for it through Amazon or any other pay facility, this could help in streamlining some operations, as well as ensure more sales. With the convenience of online ordering, in whatever form, the customer can have a better client experience with the food or restaurant company, as well as a better user experience on the smartphone.

Online and app ordering for food and deliveries is a bold action. This is a hot trend that will certainly grow in the future.

Originally Published: https://www.boldbusiness.com/digital-transformation/online-and-app-orders-changing-restaurant-industry/