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Online Education Provider Coursera Is Now Worth More Than $1 Billion

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Coursera, one of the companies featured on Forbes’ 2018 list of Next Billion-Dollar Startups, is worth well over $1 billion, says its CEO, Jeff Maggioncalda. The seven-year-old online education provider, based in Mountain View, California, announced this morning that it had raised an additional $103 million in funding. “This gives us the resources to more aggressively push on our mission of greater access to quality education and greater opportunity for people who are being left behind in this economy,” he says.

Since our feature story on Coursera last October, the number of registered learners on the site has climbed from 36 million to 40 million. When we published, the company had been valued at $800 million. Its revenue, which Forbes pegged at $140 million in 2018, is fueled in part by partnerships with 1,800 enterprise customers. They include Adobe, which paid Coursera an estimated $150,000 last year to provide machine-learning courses to Adobe employees.

Three months ago, Coursera signed a deal with the Abu Dhabi School of Government, an entity set up to train 60,000 government employees in digital skills like data science and artificial intelligence. Maggioncalda says that partnership is Coursera’s most extensive to date.

Coursera also offers 14 online masters degrees, in computer science, business and public health, from schools like the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And it just launched its first online bachelor of science degree with the highly regarded University of London.

Coursera’s news comes at a time when critics like Kevin Carey, director of education policy at the liberal-leaning New America foundation, have raised concerns about the high cost of online degrees. In a widely-read April article published in the Huffington Post, headlined “The Creeping Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education,” he wrote that online education should slash the price of a good degree. But instead, many schools use online program managers, known as OPMs, to produce and market their online courses. OPMs charge as much as 60% of tuition for the service. Students who earn online degrees offered through OPMs pay the same high tuition as they would if they studied on campus. “What this means is that an innovation that should have been used to address inequality is serving to fuel it,” he wrote. (Read Forbes’ story on 2U, a leading OPM here.)

By contrast, Coursera does no course production and takes only 40% of tuition. Its marketing costs are low, says Maggioncalda, because it already reaches a huge number of learners. One example of a low-cost Coursera degree: its online iMBA from the University of Illinois’ highly-ranked Gies College of Business, which costs $22,000. Out-of-state students pay $75,000 in tuition for an on-campus degree.

Though its partnerships with companies and its degree programs are growing, he says the $49 fee (or subscription fee of $49-$99 per month) learners pay to earn completion certificates for its wide selection of courses that are open to the public still account for the largest share of Coursera’s revenue.

Stanford computers science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng founded Coursera in 2012 as a platform to offer massive open online courses, known as MOOCs. Their vision was to give students around the world free access to college courses taught by professors from top universities. At first, Coursera charged nothing to students, who earned no academic credit. Princeton, Penn and Michigan signed on. Tremendous hype followed, with thought leaders like the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman writing about Coursera and its fellow MOOC providers Udacity and edEx, “Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s problems.”

The narrative soon switched to “the death of the MOOC,” after data from two University of Pennsylvania studies showed that 80% of people who registered for free MOOCs already had degrees and only half of them bothered to look at a single lecture. A minuscule 4% completed their courses.

In 2014 Coursera hired former Yale president Rick Levin and started charging $30-$70 for course completion certificates. In 2017 Maggioncalda took over the top job. He had a track record running a successful company started by Stanford professors. In 2010 he took retirement planning website Financial Engines, founded by Nobel prize winner William F. Sharpe and former SEC commissioner Joseph Grundfest, public. By the time he left, its market cap was close to $2 billion and his net worth was north of $50 million.

At Coursera, he’s put the company on a growth trajectory that includes expansion around the world. After the U.S., Coursera’s greatest growth has come from India, China, Mexico and Brazil, in that order.

The latest investment in Coursera was led by SEEK Group, an Australian company with stakes in online employment and education firms. SEEK was joined by previous Coursera investors Future Fund and NEA. It brings Coursera’s total funding to $313 million.

-Susan Adams; Forbes Staff

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Everything You Need To Know About The Future Of Pesticides And Bees

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Seeing a bee in the city often results in panicked humans running away out of fear of being stung. But the bees are likely less interested in humans than they are in the wildflowers they’re circling around, which are likely a safe and pesticide-free place for the bees to feed. Contrary to what we might assume, researchers have found that urban bees tend to live healthier lives than rural ones — they reproduce more, have more food stores, encounter fewer parasites and live longer.

Pesticides are a tricky topic — while they are great for the crops they are meant to protect, they harm the bees that agriculture relies on. Their use sparked debate at the Forbes 2019 AgTech Summit, where beekeepers discussed the impact of these chemicals for bees, and the potential research still needed to understand their effects, and how technology, urban settings and regulation will affect the future of pollinators. Here’s everything they said — and you need to know — about how pesticides affect bees.

What are pesticides, and how do they affect bees?

Farmers have traditionally used pesticides to control pests like weeds, insects, mold and mildew and animals like rats and mice, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. But they weren’t supposed to affect bees, who are critical to our food system — their pollination impacts every third bite of our food, according to the Pesticide Action Network, a nonprofit that challenges pesticide use in farming.

The most harmful chemicals to bees are known as neonicotinoid pesticides. Scientists have found that bees can be poisoned by flying through a field sprayed with the chemicals, but usually bees find harm through drinking contaminated pollen, nectar and water over time, according to PAN. Exposure to these pesticides can detrimental harm to bees over time, weakening their immune systems, shortening their adult life cycle and increasing their disorientation, and could be a cause for Colony Collapse Disorder. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned 12 types of neonicotinoids in May — from companies Syngenta, Valent and Bayer — there are still 47 more types on the market. 

Can technology help with pesticides use?

There’s lots of startups looking into technology to change pesticides use and how we define them, especially in Europe, said Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, co-founder and CEO of ApisProtect. Her company, based in Ireland, utilizes machine learning to gather data about bee hive health. But Carly Stein, founder of Beekeeper’s Naturals, said that to completely rely on these new solutions for pesticides wouldn’t necessarily be the right solution. “To think there is going to be a pesticide outlet that’s not going to be damaging in some way, shape or form is just a little bit naive,” Stein says.

If anything, removing pesticides all together could mean growers would have to resort back to older methods of pest control that could potentially be more harmful to the bees, says Stein, who was listed on Forbes’ 2019 30 Under 30. Instead, there should be further research into how pesticides interact with other chemicals, and the subsequent effect on bees. Her company — whose mission is to reinvent the medicine cabinet with bee-based products —outsources its production to regions with no pesticides use like Canada, and conducts third-party pesticides testing on all its raw materials to produce its organic products.

pollination panel agtech
From left to right: Moderator Chloe Sorvino, Timothy “Paule” Jackson, Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, Carly Stein and Ellie Symes speak about pollination at the 2019 Forbes AgTech Summit.MATT KANG FOR FORBES

How can urban beekeeping help?

But there are locations that are more sustainable for beekeeping, though, and they might not be where you predict. Timothy “Paule” Jackson’s nonprofit, Detroit Hives, builds urban bee farms in abandoned lots in Detroit, Michigan. By planting wildflowers, it provides bees a safe place to feed with little to no pesticides, Jackson said. “We have so many bees where wildflowers are sprouting, and we’re not spraying any chemicals on these wildflowers that they are actually boosting the native bee population,” Jackson says.

Stein mentioned that urban bees are often healthier than wild bees because of urban bee farms like Detroit Hives. While she loves meeting urban beekeepers, the issue is that there aren’t enough of them to sustain commercial production in the U.S., she says.

How can growers help beekeepers?

While there may be no immediate solution to pesticides, what’s needed is a stronger line of communication between beekeepers and growers, said Ellie Symes, CEO Of The Bee Corp and winner of the THRIVE Sustainability Award. She’s noted that her company has actually started working closer with growers, helping bridge the gap of education between the two groups of agricultural workers. It’s helpful for at least beekeepers to know what crops are being sprayed with pesticides and when, she says.

“We are starting to see the different players working together, the chemical companies getting involved and being interested and that’s what matters,” Symes says. “We’ll figure this issue out, but everyone’s gotta be involved.”

=Haley Kim; Forbes Staff

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The Anatomy Of A Fake Cryptocurrency Trade: How Exchanges Create Phony Transactions

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Take a close look at trading activity on BKEX—a cryptocurrency exchange founded in 2018 and registered in the British Virgin Islands—and you’ll see something odd. Compare its transactions side-by-side with those of Binance, one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world, and you’ll notice BKEX’s trading history is a replica, printing the same numbers delayed by a few seconds.

According to CoinMarketCap, BKEX has $1.1 billion in daily volume, making it the 20th-largest exchange on the planet. Yet it seems to be simply copying Binance’s trade history and passing it off as its own, in perhaps the laziest attempt in history to fool people into thinking it’s a lively place to trade digital assets.   

A new report by Alameda Research, a 20-person crypto trading firm with offices in Hong Kong and Berkeley, California, reveals a clever set of tricks used by crypto exchanges to fabricate volume.

In the wake of other reports on phony trades, including one by digital asset manager Bitwise indicating that 95% of all transactions are bogus, Alameda felt it could create better research by leveraging its trading data and experience.

READ MORE | Is Forex A Scam Or Money Goals?

The startup was cofounded in 2017 by Sam Bankman-Fried, 27, an MIT alum and former trader at high frequency trading outfit Jane Street. Gary Wang, 26, a fellow MIT grad and former Google software developer, is his cofounder. The firm has $100 million in assets, and over the past month it has traded $1 billion a day on average, making it one of the largest crypto trading firms in the world. 

Exchanges make money by charging users to trade, and they have many reasons to artificially inflate volume. More activity means a higher rank on the still-popular website CoinMarketCap, which can attract new users.

Exchanges also charge fees to new cryptocurrency projects that want to get listed in their marketplace, and the perception of popularity helps them command higher rates. Since an exchange’s place of business is just a website or an app, and many located outside the U.S. are unregulated, it can publish any numbers it wants and call them trades.

Meanwhile, CoinMarketCap continues to insufficiently vet exchanges’ transaction volume, often taking companies at their word and publishing dubious numbers. 

According to Alameda’s research, another method exchanges use to juice their statistics is sneaking in large, fake transactions amid a flurry of smaller ones. CoinEgg, a Hong Kong-registered exchange that trades $1.1 billion a day reported by CoinMarketCap, recently employed this tactic with litecoin (LTC) trades.

During a period when Alameda observed 15 different offers to buy and sell litecoin in a maximum quantity of 134 LTC, several trades printed as large as 2,000 LTC, as if a buyer appeared out of thin air. 

Trading marketplaces typically publish their “order book,” showing a list of bid prices at which people are willing to buy an asset, plus a separate set of offer prices where people are willing to sell.

READ MORE | How Cryptocurrency Scams Work

For instance, Bill might be willing to buy bitcoin at $10,000, while Mary wants to sell at no less than $10,050. For a trade to happen, a new buyer must be willing to pay the $10,050 that Mary is offering, and the vast majority of trades that clear will align with orders that previously showed up in the order book, unless two users place offsetting orders at the same exact time. 

Yet on some exchanges, trades get executed at prices and sizes that fall outside anything sitting on the order book. On Digifinex, a Singapore-based crypto trading venue, Alameda observed bids and asks for bitcoin between $8,296 and $8,298, but several trades printed at $8,290 and $8,293, prices lower than what anyone was willing to sell at.

On LAToken, a Moscow digital exchange, Alameda saw bids and offers with a maximum size of 1.6 bitcoin in the order book. Implausibly, several trades sailed through at sizes up to 20 bitcoin. LAToken founder Valentin Preobrazhenskiy says his platform only has a “tiny share” of 20-bitcoin orders and that exchanges use inflated volumes as a marketing tool.

“The situation would change when large exchange-ranking sites would add a section for trading volumes based on trades reported to regulators,” he says. On Singapore-based ABCC, the best bid and offers Alameda saw were for sizes less than one ether, yet several transactions materialized with sizes of up to 11 ether. 

Among trading venues, there’s also the well-worn method of simply printing transactions that fall in the middle of the bid and ask prices, which Alameda’s research spotted in IDAX and Coineal. In total, Alameda’s report gives examples of fishy trading patterns on 60 different crypto exchanges. Aside from LAToken, none of the exchanges named above responded immediately to Forbes’ request for comment. 

The methodology behind Alameda’s research was to test each exchange on six different criteria. First, they manually looked at an exchange’s order book and observed where trades printed. If more than 10% of transactions didn’t appear on the order book, it failed on this dimension. Another test involved observing the percent of an exchange’s trades that took place at the best available bids or offers. 

A third criterion was to analyze how much Alameda itself traded on a given exchange, since the startup deals in “virtually every cryptocurrency,” considers its algorithms “exchange-agnostic” and estimates that it trades 5% of all global crypto volume.

“If we trade more than .5% of an exchange’s reported volume, we consider that exchange to pass according to this criterion,” the report  reads. For more details on its methodology, see the full report.

Beyond exchanges’ bad behavior, the report has other provocative insights. It claims that crypto—including both “spot” trades of actual digital assets and derivatives, like bitcoin futures—trades $38 billion in real volume a day, and 87% of that happens on Asian exchanges, with just 9% happening on U.S. venues. The strict regulatory environment in the U.S. is likely a contributing factor in Asia’s dominance, Alameda says. 

Compared with Bitwise, which released a follow-up fake volume reportin May 2019, Alameda thinks more crypto volume is real. For large exchanges like OKEx and Huobi, which were founded in China, Alameda estimates about 70% of their transactions are authentic.

Bitwise is much more skeptical, as is the Blockchain Transparency Institute, which has estimated that more than 60% of Huobi’s volume is fake and more than 90% of OKEx’s volume is fabricated. 

A Huobi spokesperson says it doesn’t engage in wash trading, but that it has observed some market-makers doing so on its platform, and it takes steps to stamp them out.

An OKEx spokesperson says the company isn’t involved in and doesn’t tolerate wash trading, adding, “Recently we have joined the Data Accountability & Transparency Alliance (DATA) led by CoinMarketCap, as a commitment to reveal as much data as possible.”

-Jeff Kauflin; Forbes Staff

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Circular Economy: Doing More With Less

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From waste to wealth, circular economic models go beyond the ‘take-make-dispose’ principle to ensure more sustainable supply chains and products that have a second life.


The traditional economy is built on the idea of “take, make, dispose”. It’s linear, economically inefficient and unsustainable. But in a circular economy, companies look to take end-of-life products and push them back into the economy as a resource.

It’s a circular economic model that aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible, to extract the maximum value from them while in use, and to recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of their service life.

“So you’re continually using these resources and not using the planet’s finite resources,” explains Kirstie McIntyre, Global Director for HP Inc.’s social and environmental responsibility operations.

McIntyre is also a founding member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global organization focused on promoting the concept of a circular economy.

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“There are some big challenges in sustainability. There are challenges now, and they will be more acute in the future,” McIntyre says. “It also means companies need to question and innovate in fundamental ways. This isn’t just about a little bit of recycling.”

Circular economy theory questions how we can maintain a thriving economy within the limits of the planet, taking both resource depletion and climate change into account.

“When you work in sustainability, it can be quite depressing. There are plenty of smart people doing space exploration; Elon Musk is one of them. But I don’t think we can afford to wait for Elon Musk to find another planet for us to pull resources from, I think we’ve got to get on with this now, ourselves,” adds McIntyre.

HP’s framework revolves around doing more with less. It’s about moving away from simply recycling and into a functional circular economy. And it’s more than eco-printing for a “forest-friendly” future where more trees are planted than are cut down to enable printing operations.

“There are big sustainability issues in front of us. We have a large responsibility because we’re leaders in our industry. It’s about ensuring our products, where possible, have a second life. When that’s not possible, they’re taken apart so we can use the components,” says McIntyre.

Innovations that matter are innovations that have a positive impact. HP is just one of many companies working towards the idea of a circular economy; in 2018, trans-national consumer goods company Unilever revealed that its sustainable brands grew 46% faster than the rest of the business, delivering 70% of its sales growth.

Caroline Laurie is the Head of Sustainability at Kingfisher. In a digital-first world where transparency and provenance are becoming increasingly prevalent, Laurie believes that businesses can actually benefit from becoming more sustainable.

“Sustainability drives you to think differently about your business. Customers’ expectations of big business are getting higher, yet their trust in big business is getting lower. You’ll very rarely find consumers making a choice between two products. But what they want to know is that you’ve made that choice for them. It is often about range editing. Customers want to trust in brands to do the right thing,” explains Laurie.

In other words, sustainability done right brings consumer trust, and with it business, commercial, social, and environmental benefits.

“None of us can solve these issues on our own in isolation. This is about complete value chain re-engineering. This isn’t about philanthropy anymore, it’s about real commercial sense,” ends Laurie.

Caroline Laurie – Head of Sustainability at Kingfisher. Picture: Supplied

The war on plastic straws

Coffee shops are turning to glass and paper as alternative sipping options, with some restaurants even offering tubes of pasta as an alternative, more sustainable solution to the traditional plastic drinking straw. There’s a war on plastic straws, and it is the start of both companies and consumers becoming more conscious of the use, reuse, recyclability and disposal of plastics… but is our focus wrong?

“Customers rarely understand the relative environmental impact of different types of materials,” says Andrew Smith, the CEO and co-founder of Yuppiechef, the kitchen-focused e-commerce website.

“They believe plastic is bad and paper is good, but this is not always true. Plastic is often recyclable and can have very little environmental impact.”

Moving away from single-use plastic – and applying the principles of the circular economy – the New Plastics Economy initiative was formed towards the end of 2018 with the over-arching goal that plastics never become waste. The organization believes that instead they should re-enter the economy as part of products made from recycled plastic material wherever possible.

Digital twins?

Technology has a massive role to play in creating a greener supply chain. For many, this means the use of artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and digital twins. A ‘digital twin’ is a 1:1 digital copy of a product, process or service, used to provide deep technical training on a device or service without requiring a physical representation of said device or service. According to research and advisory company Gartner, 50% of large industrial companies will use digital twins by 2021.

Jason Ried is the Founder and Managing Director of Fuzzy Logic, an innovative software development company based in South Africa’s Western Cape province that has created digital twins of large machinery for mines and automotive and healthcare companies.

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“Using augmented reality solutions on mobile devices or headsets (like Microsoft HoloLens), we allow users to ‘see’ a digital representation of the machinery they’re being trained on as if it was really there,” explains Ried.

“Users can get a sense of the scale and design without needing the real thing in front of them. They are able to assemble and disassemble the machine as many times as required to fully learn its intricacies, while each action is digitally tracked and stored, allowing management to understand how well each user performed.”

From a sustainability point of view, there are major benefits in the creation and use of ‘digital twins’ in business: not only do digital twins save time and money, they enhance learning by increasing the quality of training and retained knowledge.

Once digital twins are integrated into business workflows, companies like Fuzzy Logic can further enhance productivity by overlaying digital data onto physical objects.

“Users might, for instance, see steps to repair a part, while info like current temperature and pressure display alongside the machine, updating in real time as users interact with it. This strengthens the link between digital and physical objects,” he says.

Jason Ried the Founder and Managing Director of Fuzzy Logic. Picture: Supplied

Ultimately, the concept of a circular economy is about doing more, with less. Gartner’s Managing Vice President, Steven Steutermann, says it best:

“The goal is to deliver customer value with minimal waste,” Steutermann says. “For such a system to be efficient, it must be automated, and this is where the previous factors come into play. Using technologies such as digital twins and AI in an automated fashion enables the supply chain to execute against circular economy principles by acting on its own and ultimately becoming its own ecosystem.”

-Tiana Cline

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