For companies of all sizes, the most effective way to remain relevant is to innovate. More than ever, the need to keep up with the rate of accelerating change in the market is vital simply for survival, let alone success. The topic of anticipating what comes next was a focal point of the discussions at the recent EQUITIES Emerging Growth and Innovation Forum, and in many ways, it offered those in attendance with a glimpse into the future of business and investing.
Taking place at MRY’s Flatiron District headquarters during Social Media Week in New York, the forum was a treasure trove of insights, as leaders of some of the most forward-thinking companies pulled back the curtain on the novel applications of their technologies and how they’re disrupting their industries. If there was an overarching message from the inaugural event, it’s that the future is a lot closer than people think.
“I think this is what the emerging company market needs more of,” said Enzo Villani, CEO of Equities.com. “It needs more of this type of thinking, this type of innovation, this type of basic opportunity and this type of attitude. There’s a whole new world opening up to us with Title III [of the JOBS Act], and there’s going to be a lot of companies seeking capital. They’re going to want smart investors that really want to build great companies and share their stories.”
What Innovation Actually Looks Like
The Emerging Growth and Innovation Forum was jam-packed with great speakers, including keynotes from Eli Pakier, MRY VP and Group Strategy Director; Jon Stein, CEO of Betterment; and Jeff Glueck, CEO of Foursquare. There were two revelatory panels as well, with companies at the forefront of industries such as Fintech, live events, cybersecurity and geospatial data. The event was moderated by Sharad Khare, Global Content Strategist & Talent Visionary.
Pakier’s presentation–titled “YouthNation: How American Youth Culture is Changing the Face of American Business”–helped to set the tone of the event, breaking down just how technology and consumer trends have altered the way companies need to connect with their customers today.
“The number one cliche you’ll hear about millennials is that it’s about experiences and not things,” he said. “This is totally overused but totally true, but we need to understand more of what that actually means.”
The companies that best understand this shift will be best positioned to capitalize on it. A good example of this is Betterment, an automated investment advisory platform—or more commonly known in the industry as a robo-advisor. Betterment currently has $3.5 billion in assets under management with over 140,000 customers. According to CB Insights, Betterment has a valuation of $450 million based on its last round of funding about a year ago.
“When we started, we were kind of a voice in the wilderness. We were saying that there was going to be a change in the way we think about our money,” Stein said during his keynote. “This was in 2010 when we launched at Tech Crunch Disrupt. There was no term ‘robo-advisor,’ there was no category. Today, fast forward five or six years, it seems inevitable. This thing we started then, everyone is now talking about. Everyone in the investing industry has an eye on what we’re doing…and we always said that if we were successful, that we’re not going to be alone. If we were successful, this is the way that everyone will manage their money.”
Betterment is an example of a category creator. For a lot of truly innovative companies, that is quite common. Take Foursquare. The company began as a novel technology for users to let their friends know where they were at any given time through location-based check-ins.
While that simple concept is still fundamental to Foursquare, it’s how the company leverages the 1 billion check-ins a month by over 50 million people through 65 million businesses (and an additional 100 million people through partners) in 100 countries that’s really innovative and unique. In his keynote, Glueck offer an example: a trader or investor with the ability to use Foursquare’s data to measure foot traffic and get a pulse on the “offline economy” can glean advantageous insights to how a restaurant may be fairing against its competitors.
“I think location-based intelligence has both the consumer benefit and, if you’re a trader or analyst, it has the same understanding of the world has a dual purpose,” Glueck said. “This map of how people move around the world is also a map of the offline economy. Obviously, that has applications for real estate and tickers that are publicly traded and implications for lending decisions to small businesses. There’s a whole suite of applications that obviously applies to advertising. There’s the enterprise side of location intelligence and the consumer side.”
How Innovators are Changing the Game
The Emerging Growth and Innovation Forum also served as a platform for engaging discussions with companies redefining their industries. The first panel featured Stephen Kuhn of Airex Market, Andrew Chang of itBit, AJ DeRosa of Orbital Insight, and Judd Bagley of Overstock.com (OSTK). The topic geared toward industry disruption.
Kuhn shared how Airex Market was modernizing financial data products with a platform that allows buyers to purchase unbundled products on demand, effectively reducing costs through increased efficiency.
Chang of itBit and Bagley of Overstock.com discussed the lack of innovation in the post-trade aspect of the financial markets. While financial trading now happens in milliseconds, the settlement of those trades still takes days. Both companies are among the leaders in the blockchain revolution. Through Bankchain, itBit’s private blockchain technology, the company is looking to modernize an industry process that has been neglected for decades. As for Overstock.com, the company was approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell securities and issue stock through its tØ platform.
DeRosa of Orbital Insights unveiled how the use of geospatial data is exploding through a combination of advancements in machine vision and more prevalent use of satellite imagery. Simply put, computers have gotten smart enough to make sense of big visual data. DeRosa said Orbital Insight is a first-mover in this space by at least two years.
The event’s second panel continued on the theme of innovation. The panelists were Jim McCarthy of Goldstar, Craig Dunham of Seismic Software, Dr. Aleksandr Yampolski, Ph.D of SecurityScorecard, and Shaunda Brown of SoFi.
The student loan bubble has been a major issue for the economy, particularly for millennials. It’s an area that SoFi is addressing through its marketplace lending platform. Brown said the company has issued nearly $8 billion in loans since it launched in 2011. But SoFi is much more than that, providing resources for all areas of their borrowers’ lives. The company provides employment and entrepreneur assistance services, hosted social meetups, and is even releasing a dating app. Try to get that from your traditional bank.
As far as consumer trends go, there’s a significant premium being put on enhancing the experience of products and services for the customer. It certainly doesn’t get more experiential than live events, which is an area that Goldstar specializes in. McCarthy talked about the massive convenience gap of the market, and how the company aims to smooth out the friction for consumers with modern technology and programs designed to increase engagement.
On the enterprise side, Dunham of Seismic Software talked about the major shift toward sales enablement technologies. With Seismic’s platform, companies can empower their sales forces with fresh marketing content that is distributed through various access points with analytics to track engagement. All this enables sales pitches to be personalized as need for prospective clients, and for companies of all sizes to move faster in adapting to the changes in their markets.
While companies like Seismic help companies move faster, companies like SecurityScorecard are focused on keeping them safe. As technology continues to be ingrained in everything we do, the threats to cybersecurity has been an increasing concern. Dr. Yampolski talked about his firm’s efforts to create a standardized cybersecurity rating for companies. This is done by gathering and analyzing hundreds of data points and signals through an automated process to assign a rank. This allows companies to not only assess the cybersecurity strength of their organizations and their direct partnerships, but that of their partners’ partnerships and a few degrees of contact beyond that.
The Next Phase of Emerging Growth and Innovation
All in all, Equities.com’s inaugural forum was a great opportunity to showcase some trailblazing companies and provide a platform for thought leadership. There was much more information and perspectives provided by the keynote speakers and panelists to fit into this recap. We’ll be providing additional coverage from the event, along with videos and interviews with the speakers. So be sure to check back soon.
For more information on the inaugural EQUITIES Emerging Growth & Innovation Forum and other future events, visit https://www.equities.com/events
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