Microentrepreneurs get going when it gets tough, Technology News, ETtech

Microentrepreneurs get going when it gets tough, Technology News, ETtech

Microentrepreneurs get going when it gets tough, Technology News, ETtech

Illustration: Rahul Awasthi
Illustration: Rahul Awasthi

Amid salary cuts, layoffs and downsizing of businesses, a new set of micro entrepreneurs – including freelancers and individual-run businesses — are on the rise.

Fintech platforms tracking the space, such as Instamojo and Razorpay, said they have seen a 20-25% growth in payments from microentrepreneurs over the last one month.

Instamojo, which helps small businesses set up online shops along with facilitating payments, has added a new merchant on its platform nearly every minute in the past one month, which is almost 25% of the overall added annually.

These online stores, run by micro-entrepreneurs, have mostly been selling pet essentials, e-books on religion, retail and food during the lockdown period.

Sampad Swain, co-founder of Instamojo, said micro-businesses that go online every year usually clock around $3 billion in gross merchandise value or sales each year.

He expects the growth to further increase even after the Covid-19 outbreak is contained.

Vidit Aatrey, co-founder and CEO of social commerce platform Meesho, also said that micro-entrepreneurship will be up post Covid-19, especially in a scenario of mounting job losses.

“They will start looking for opportunities which are economically viable,” he said.

ET reported in April that more than 600 businesses have downsized staff in the past one month, while a further 660 have cut salaries.

“Before the outbreak, I earned around Rs 80,000-Rs 1 lakh per month. Now, I am earning over Rs 2 lakh. I will continue to work as a freelancer at least for the next 6 months, as none of the companies would be willing to pay me as much as I can through freelancing at the moment,” said Arindam Raha, a 28-year old product designer based in Bengaluru.

Professional networking platforms like LinkedIn and Dribble have helped Raha scout for good projects. He said many of his former co-workers and friends have started freelancing over the past month.

There is maximum demand for designers, programmers and content writers among freelancers, according to experts. Certain roles, however, where employees need to take ownership or are handling sensitive information, cannot be handed over to freelancers, they said.

“The first 20 days (of the lockdown) were slow, when brands were coping with the crisis and paused all projects. But it picked up in April when these brands realised that their customers are home and content would be the way to reach out to these netizens, their target audience,” said Anirudh Singla, co-founder of Pepper Content, which engages with over 2,000 content-writers and designers.

“We have grown over 100% in revenue…,” he added.

There has also been a surge in demand for regional language content from startups and brands. “80% of vernacular content is usually outsourced,” Singla said.

Startups and traditional companies have already begun working with freelancers as they have embraced remote-working, experts said.

“Many companies, although they are laying off, are continuing to work with their employees as freelancers,” said Naman Sarawgi, founder of Refrens, a Bengaluru-based invoices and payment system firm for freelancers.

On average, billing for freelancers has increased over 20% compared to numbers in February, he added.

“Going forward, large businesses and startups are likely to continue specific roles with freelancers as these companies have now started building processes around it and managing these employees, which were not done so far,” Sarawgi said.

While this economy is likely to see a boost in the coming months, businesses around it, including payments and insurance, will also grow, experts said, adding that banks and insurance companies have been working on policies for freelancers and contractual employees.

TikTok launches donation stickers to help users raise funds to support charities and causes- Technology News, Firstpost

TikTok crosses 2 billion downloads, India biggest driver with 611 million- Technology News, Firstpost

TikTok has been downloaded over two billion times through the Google’s Play Store and the Apple’s App Store. The increase in the number of downloads comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said app intelligence company Sensor Tower.

The popular video sharing app from ByteDance has added 500 million new users in the span of just five months, after surpassing 1.5 billion downloads.

The first quarter of 2020 has been the best so far for TikTok, during which it had amassed more than 315 million installs.

 TikTok crosses 2 billion downloads, India biggest driver with 611 million

TikTok.

According to the report, India has been the biggest drivers for TikTok installs. Of the two billion downloads – 611 million downloads were in India alone. This amounts to 30.3 percent of the total people using the app.

China is in the second position with 196.6 million or 9.7 percent of total downloads. This is followed by the United States, which has a total of 165 million or 8.2 percent of TikTok users.

China’s figures do not include installs from third-party Android store installs, and the numbers are for TikTok’s version in the country – Douyin, the report said.

Google Play has accounted for the major chunk of TikTok downloads to date, accounting for more than 1.5 billion or 75.5 percent of total installs.

The App Store, on the other hand, has seen 495.2 million or 24.5 percent of the total downloads, the report mentioned.

User spending on TikTok has also seen remarkable growth. As per Sensor Tower, lifetime user spending has risen to $456.7 million, more than 2.5 times the $175 million that it was five months ago.

China is leading in terms of using spending in TikTok, generating $331 million or 72.3 percent of the total revenue.

The US ranks second with 19 percent or $86.5 million. Both countries are followed by Great Britain with $9 million.

TikTok has recently launched donation stickers to help users raise funds via videos and TikTok Live streams for charities and causes that users care most about.

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A woman with crossed arms stands in a greenhouse.

Erika Hersch-Green Wins CAREER Award for Biodiversity Research

Increasing amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in terrestrial ecosystems lead to decreasing
biodiversity, not only among plant species, but in herbivores and pollinators as well.

Globally, ecosystems change as the climate does, responding to shifts in temperature
and the availability of water and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. These
shifts affect plant community productivity and diversity. However, in general we know
very little about how these changes happen.

Erika Hersch-Green, evolutionary biologist and assistant professor of biological sciences at Michigan Technological University, has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award to investigate how increased nitrogen and phosphorus availability across different
temperature and water regimes alters the primary productivity of some plants, while
reducing the growth of others. Hersch-Green will examine how the amounts of nutrients
available to plants determine which plants thrive or wither due to their specific
genome attributes.

About the Researcher 

 

“For evolutionary biologists, one of the main goals is to match the genotype of organisms
to what they look like — their phenotype,” Hersch-Green said. “Historically, evolutionary
biologists have focused on how natural selection for protein function or genetic drift
has shaped evolutionary landscapes, as well as the mapping of genotype to phenotype.
My research is taking a slightly different perspective, looking at how molecular attributes
of organisms interact to reduce the material cost of building genomes. I am examining
whether natural selection operates to reduce the cost to a plant species of building
genomes, rather than how natural selection acts on proteins, which is a novel approach.”

Hersch-Green is conducting her research across several grassland sites distributed
across North America, focusing on two common North American grassland plants: fireweed
and goldenrod.

Prairie Plants and Polyploidy

Hersch-Green’s research examines how nutrients affect plants that vary in their genome
size. Genomes are made up of nucleic acids and cells, which cost plants a significant
amount of nitrogen and phosphorus to build. And, some of these plants are polyploids
with varying numbers of chromosomes — which, in turn, affects genome size. 

“The cost of building genomes and a nutrient environment influence physiological tradeoffs
of primary processes like photosynthesis and growth versus secondary tradeoffs like
defense compounds,” Hersch-Green said. “My research takes a multifaceted approach.
I’m combining molecular cytological [chromosomal] and physiological phylogenetic [appearance]
approaches.”

Hersch-Green will examine mechanistic tradeoffs in 10 Nutrient Network consortium sites distributed across the American West Coast and Midwest, including a new site
at Michigan Tech’s Ford Center and Research Forest featuring gardens planted in particular arrangements to test particular mechanisms.
The sites vary in climate zones, temperature and available moisture.

Using fireweed and goldenrod, Hersch-Green will look specifically at tradeoffs in
size between the plants’ genome — their total genetic code — and their transcriptome
— the parts of the genome transcribed into RNA molecules. RNA codes, decodes, regulates
and expresses genes. Hersch-Green will use different nutrient environments with different
cytotypes of each plant to measure certain functional traits. By combining data from
multiple plants, the creatures that pollinate plants or eat the plants (known as “consumer
community assemblages”), and time series phylogenetic modeling and experiments — Hersch-Green
hopes to gain insights into the roles of material costs and genome size in biodiversity
patterns.

Her work provides a system-level understanding of how eutrophication — the increasingly
dense growth of particular plants at the expense of other species brought on by increasing
nutrient inputs — are affecting individual organisms and multi-species communities
by looking at their interactions. Ultimately, this research will generate genomic
tools for other species as well.

Stem-based STEM Education

Every CAREER award features an education component. Hersch-Green’s approach features
multiple methods to enhance scientific literacy for middle schoolers, high schoolers
and undergraduates. At Hersch-Green’s Ford Center site, she is working with a STEM
educator to formulate different science communication and botany modules based on
photosynthesis research conducted by Hersch-Green and graduate students in her lab.
She is also collaborating with Erin Smith, director of the Humanities Digital Media
Zone and faculty advisor to Cin/Optic Communication and Media Enterprise students,
to create a series of educational modules.

The goal of any CAREER award is to effect change beyond the field of study through
novel research and education. Hersch-Green’s research, through two prairie plants,
examines how community diversity, from plant to pollinator to herbivore, is changing
— and in broad terms, how that affects biodiversity.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than
7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than
120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering,
forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and
social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway
and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

How TSTT responded to Covid-19

How TSTT responded to Covid-19

Above: TSTT CEO Dr Ronald Walcott answers questions during his presentation.

BitDepth#1248 for April 29, 2020

“I said to one of my teams, we should not let this opportunity go to waste,” said TSTT’s CEO, Dr Ronald Walcott.

“We have to go forward. I don’t see any other conversation making sense.”

Walcott was speaking at an online presentation on Tuesday. The weekly presentations are hosted by CANTO weekly. Tuesdays topic was “The CEO’s perspective on Covid-19.”

But Walcott isn’t just a business manager, he represents the state’s stake in local telecommunications in what has become a competitive market of three players. The other two, Digicel and Flow/Liberty are branches of international companies.

In the face of stiff commercial competition, TSTT has recast itself as the provider with a compassionate understanding of the TT character and needs.

That shows up in the company’s language too, as Walcott spoke of adjustments to its “dunning” or disconnection policy, something that Walcott noted, “our CFO is always unhappy about.”

The company has put aside a budget of between $20-$25 million for customer support initiatives to play its part in helping the nation to manage its challenges during isolation and economic recovery.

The company has, through its network of fibre connections, its old copper network, a mobile 4G LTE network and a fixed wireless (WTTX) network recently upgraded to 5G, managed to cover 95 per cent of the country.

One of the questions the company is now asking internally is, according to Walcott, “If we were to supply TT with 100 per cent broadband, what would happen?”

Bridging that gap is, the TSTT CEO explained, a challenge of physical infrastructure, but it’s one that needs to be met if the country is ever to cross the last major digital divide imposed by geography.

To create a universal network, the company would, Walcott said, “have to work with the regulator on the edge of the network, which has financial constraints.”

Where the coverage network tends to become spotty in Trinidad and Tobago is in sparsely populated areas of the country with widely scattered customers.

But it is these customers who most need to be connected to the wider Internet and to have their capacities lubricated by a technological advantage.

Bridging that gap is, the TSTT CEO explained, a challenge of physical infrastructure, but it’s one that needs to be met if the country is ever to cross the last major digital divide imposed by geography.

What these weeks of isolation have given TSTT is a window into what a more fully digital Trinidad and Tobago might look like.

The company is seeing new patterns emerging in its customer base across the range of connection services it offers.

Peaks that would normally happen during business hours are now shifting to homes in the afternoon.

Instant messaging and other communication apps have increased by multipliers of between 2X and 5X.

Teens have begun using more SMS text messaging, a service that was previously in decline.

Voice traffic remains flat, as more users make use of voice apps.

Walcott reported a 40 per cent drop in data traffic on mobile devices and a significant increase in use of its new WTTX fixed wireless 5G service, which has surged to deliver two million gigabytes of data per week.

With an increase in interactive use of the Internet, there has also been a significant growth in upload traffic.

The company used the 30MHZ spectrum temporarily allocated by TATT for its WTTX network, increasing deployment to 304 of 308 sites. The company is considering the possibility of deploying broadband to former copper connected customers who are only using voice calls on the service.

The 10 MHZ spectrum allotment has been used to improve speeds on its 4G LTE mobile broadband service in a demand swath ranging in an arc from Siparia and La Brea up to the East-West Corridor and curving through Sangre Grande to Manzanilla.

The company’s caching service, which holds frequently used data on local servers jumped from 20 to 45GB, driven by a surge in the use of search engines and viewing of YouTube videos. And possibly Tik Tok, which surged 43 per cent in popularity within a week of the lockdown.

“We have had to dimension the network differently,” he said.

“You have to look at the network from the user all the way back to the Internet backbone.”

CANTO’s branding for its Covid-19 response

In-house adjustments

TSTT established an in-house Covid-19 taskforce and included the union in its creation of new policies, including work-from-home guidelines, inclusive of policies for staff using their own devices, cybersecurity reviews and new rules of engagement for installation and repair crews.

By the second week of isolation, TSTT has successfully transitioned 82 per cent of its staff to working from home.

That internal transition experience may provide the company with another asset emerging from the Covid-19 lockdown, a playbook to inform companies too small to have significant IT support on how to make work-from-home more of a norm and less of an enforced lifestyle.

“Business leaders are seeing that it can work,” Walcott said.

“How can we accelerate digital transformation,” he has asked his teams, hoping to make this a leveraging point for diversification fuelled by technology.

“There isn’t a better opportunity to do this.”

Covid-19 and 5G

Having spent significant sums to claim first mover rights on the title 5G provider for its fixed wireless access service, it wasn’t surprising to hear the note of exasperation in his description of the spurious link between 5G deployment and the rise of Covid-19 as, “misinformation.”

“I had to author a position paper for the Government and the board,” Walcott said with a frisson of annoyance, noting that TATT, the local regulator had published a notice debunking the claims.

“We operate within all the required regulations.”

Found facts

TSTT’s monitoring of mobile broadband use notes that the top five apps or websites used by mobile users are, respectively, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Netflix and Tik Tok. The next three are xvideos.com, YouTube Go and xnxx.com.

Coronavirus: Government Grants GCHQ Access To NHS IT

Fresh twist in privacy debate surrounding Covid-19 tracing app, after government reportedly grants GCHQ access to security data of NHS IT tech

Intelligence agency GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) has been granted extra powers to obtain information from NHS IT systems, it has been reported.

According to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), the government decision to give GCHQ extra powers to obtain information from NHS IT systems is an effort to bolster the NHS’ cyber defences during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Recently both the United States and the UK cyber officials have warned that hackers are exploiting the global Coronavirus pandemic to carry out cyberattacks.

gchq
GCHQ

Security data

Under the new powers granted by the government, the NHS must hand over information from its IT systems to GCHQ, HSJ revealed.

Essentially GCHQ can demand the NHS disclose any information which relates to “the security” of the health service’s networks and information systems.

According to a government document published last week, the purpose of the new enhanced powers is so that GCHQ can support and maintain the security of any network and information system which is held by – or on behalf of – the NHS, including systems that support NHS services intended to address coronavirus.

The same powers also apply to public health bodies, as until now GCHQ did not previously have the ability to demand this data under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

A spokesman for the National Cyber Security Centre told HSJ that the directions were part of “our ongoing commitment to protect health services during the coronavirus pandemic.

“These directions give us consent to check the security of NHS IT systems,” the spokesman reportedly said.

The spokesman said the directions “do not seek to authorise” GCHQ to receive patient data, and he added: “We have no desire to receive any patient data.”

The directions will only apply until the end of 2020, and it is reported that GCHQ has also been advising NHSX on the creation of the new contact tracing app.

Privacy worries

But the move will do little to settle disquiet about the new Covid-19 tracing app, after it emerged that the NHS approach is to store users’ data on their phones to ensure privacy, but carry out contact matches on a centralised server.

By contrast, Apple and Google’s decentralised method stores data on the device, and any data is stored on external servers – Apple and Google have promised this data will be anonymised and could not be linked to a specific individual.

A security expert noted that the GCHQ decision could potentially fuel concern about the privacy implications of the new Covid-19 app.

“The Health Service Journal reported that health secretary Matt Hancock has granted the UK intelligence agency GCHQ additional levels of access to NHS health systems,” said Irene Ng, CEO of Dataswift (the company behind SafeTrace).

“This follows a growing trend of Covid-related cyber attacks globally – which is likely the motivation behind the move,” said Ng. “A spokesperson for the Government said that GCHQ will not receive access to patient data. Even so, this news is likely to add fuel to already existing privacy concerns around the handling of the Covid-19 crisis for example, in the use of contact tracing apps that many Governments across the world are now rolling out.”

“The debate around these issues tends to focus heavily on whether or not we can trust Governments, and the NHS, with our health data,” said Ng. “But these debates often conflate trust with privacy. If there is trust, then should privacy not follow?”

“The proper data infrastructure that is required to ensure complete data privacy is something that global corporations struggle with, and many organisations in the last five years have been lured – by the “big data” economy – into thinking they can be a data company too.”

“If some of the largest global corporations are struggling to properly manage customer data, should we be trusting that the Government can?” Ng asked. “There are alternatives to the government model, so we shouldn’t just trust them implicitly just because they asked us to. Privacy (or lack of) is not a trust problem, it’s a data infrastructure problem.”

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