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TechCrunch+ roundup: Downturn strategy, recycling startup boom, better board meetings

Because the stakes are so high, we’re only interested in posts offering actionable advice that are written by authors who have experience working under…

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We last updated our submission guidelines for TechCrunch+ guest posts in June 2021, but the world has changed a lot since then.

These are uncertain times, but experience is the best teacher, which is why we’re looking for guest articles that can help others navigate this downturn.

Because the stakes are so high, we are not looking for articles that share “thought leadership” about general challenges people in the tech industry are facing right now.


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We’re only interested in posts offering actionable advice that are written by authors who have experience working under adverse economic circumstances.

If you have an idea, please review our new submission guidelines and get in touch.

To be absolutely clear: We’re looking for strategies and tactics that readers can try out for themselves as they build and scale companies in an inhospitable climate — not inspiration.

Thanks very much for reading TechCrunch+ this week!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch+
@yourprotagonist

10 tips for running an effective board meeting

Image Credits: alvarez (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Board meetings are a great opportunity to solicit investor insights and recommendations, but unless each session has a consistent format that presents relevant data, they won’t create much value, says Yousuf Khan, a partner at Ridge Ventures.

In a TC+ post, he shares several tips for running more effective board meetings, including one suggestion that many founders overlook: Spotlight your top contributors.

“Many employees who don’t have regular opportunities to interact with the board consider it a huge career boost to get direct, face-to-face credit for an important accomplishment,” writes Khan.

“Bring in the person who is best equipped to talk through the success story and make space for them in the agenda.”

Black founders are seeing a decrease in funding amid economic downturn

Image of three stacks of coins with blocks atop with downward arrows

Image Credits: patpitchaya (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

As deal volume continues to contract, underrepresented founders are being impacted disproportionately.

In Q2 2022, Crunchbase reports that venture capital funds directed $324 million to Black startups, compared to $1.2 billion in Q1, “and substantially below the $866 million the founder cohort raised in Q2 last year,” reports Dominic-Madori Davis.

“It’s not surprising when venture tightens its belt that we are the first to be pinched,” said Marceau Michel, founder of Black Founders Matter and the 25 by 25 Pledge.

Founders of recycling startups say the pandemic changed the investment game

Founders discuss their recycling startups at TC Sessions: Climate 2022.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Has the pandemic’s supply-chain disruptions changed the state of play for clean tech companies?

Last week at TC Sessions: Climate 2022 in Berkeley, three founders of recycling-related startups spoke with Tim De Chant about the factors driving new investor interest after several lean years.

  • Megan O’Connor, co-founder and CEO, Nth Cycle
  • Matanya Horowitz, founder and CEO, AMP Robotics
  • Miranda Wang, co-founder and CEO, Novoloop

UK scaleups should HMRC-proof their business plans before a slow, hot summer

poodle made of a balloon and a cactus plant; preparing business plan for HMRC

Image Credits: ThomasVogel (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

In the U.K., HM Revenue & Customs operates multiple venture capital programs that support investment in early-stage startups.

Some companies can qualify for as much as £150,000 under the Enterprise Investment and Seed Enterprise Investment Schemes (SEIS and EIS), but filing an application is “no simple business,” writes Anthony Rose, co-founder and CEO of SeedLegals.

To help entrepreneurs prepare for the rigorous application process, he shares several recommendations that will help “HMRC-proof your business plan” by showing the tax authority that you have “a strategy for success.”

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Spread & Containment

War, peace and security: The pandemic’s impact on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to improve the lives of women and girls in postwar countries…

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Nepalese girls rest for observation after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Attention to the pandemic’s impacts on women has largely focused on the Global North, ignoring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which continue to deal with prolonged effects of war. While the Nepalese Civil War concluded in 2006 and the Sri Lankan Civil War concluded in 2009, internal conflicts continue.

As scholars of gender and war, our work focuses on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. And our recently published paper examines COVID-19’s impacts on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka, looking at policy responses and their repercussions on the women, peace and security agenda.

COVID-19 has disproportionately and negatively impacted women in part because most are the primary family caregivers and the pandemic has increased women’s caring duties.

This pattern is even more pronounced in war-affected countries where the compounding factors of war and the pandemic leave women generally more vulnerable. These nations exist at the margins of the international system and suffer from what the World Bank terms “fragility, conflict and violence.”

Women, labour and gender-based violence

Gendered labour precarity is not new to Nepal or Sri Lanka and the pandemic has only eroded women’s already poor economic prospects.

Prior to COVID-19, Tharshani (pseudonym), a Sri Lankan mother of three and head of her household, was able to make ends meet. But when the pandemic hit, lockdowns prevented Tharshani from selling the chickens she raises for market. She was forced to take loans from her neighbours and her family had to skip meals.

Some 1.7 million women in Sri Lanka work in the informal sector, where no state employment protections exist and not working means no wages. COVID-19 is exacerbating women’s struggles with poverty and forcing them to take on debilitating debts.

Although Sri Lankan men also face increased labour precarity, due to gender discrimination and sexism in the job market, women are forced into the informal sector — the jobs hardest hit by the pandemic.

Two women sit in chairs, wearing face masks
Sri Lankan women chat after getting inoculated against the coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in August 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The pandemic has also led to women and girls facing increased gender-based violence.

In Nepal, between March 2020 and June 2021, there was an increase in cases of gender-based violence. Over 1,750 incidents were reported in the media, of which rape and sexual assault represented 82 per cent. Pandemic lockdowns also led to new vulnerabilities for women who sought out quarantine shelters — in Lamkichuha, Nepal, a woman was allegedly gang-raped at a quarantine facility.

Gender-based violence is more prevalent among women and girls of low caste in Nepal and the pandemic has made it worse. The Samata Foundation reported 90 cases of gender-based violence faced by women and girls of low caste within the first six months of the pandemic.

What’s next?

While COVID-19 recovery efforts are generally focused on preparing for future pandemics and economic recovery, the women, peace and security agenda can also address the needs of some of those most marginalized when it comes to COVID-19 recovery.

The women, peace and security agenda promotes women’s participation in peace and security matters with a focus on helping women facing violent conflict. By incorporating women’s perspectives, issues and concerns in the context of COVID-19 recovery, policies and activities can help address issues that disproportionately impact most women in war-affected countries.

These issues are: precarious gendered labor market, a surge in care work, the rising feminization of poverty and increased gender-based violence.

A girl in a face mask stares out a window
The women, peace and security agenda can help address the needs of some of those most marginalized. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Policies could include efforts to create living-wage jobs for women that come with state benefits, emergency funding for women heads of household (so they can avoid taking out predatory loans) and increasing the number of resources (like shelters and legal services) for women experiencing domestic gender-based violence.

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to achieve the agenda’s aims of improving the lives of women and girls in postwar countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Luna KC is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Research Network-Women Peace Security, McGill University. This project is funded by the Government of Canada Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

Crystal Whetstone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

Why Is No One at Nike Working This Week?

And will the move gain broader acceptance among American employers?

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And will the move gain broader acceptance among American employers?

You go into an office, pull at the door and find that it doesn't give and nobody's there. 

It may sound like the start of the common rushing-to-the-office-on-a-Saturday nightmare but, more and more, collective time off is being embraced by employees as part of a push for a better work culture.

While professional social media platform LinkedIn  (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report and dating app Bumble  (BMBL) - Get Bumble Inc. Report had already experimented with collective time off for workers, the corporate ripples truly began with Nike  (NKE) - Get Nike Inc. Report.

In August 2021, the activewear giant announced that it was giving the 11,000-plus employees at its Oregon headquarters the week off to "power down" and "destress" from stress brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.

"In a year (or two) unlike any other, taking time for rest and recovery is key to performing well and staying sane," Matt Marrazzos, Nike's senior manager of global marketing science, wrote to employees at the time.

Nike Is On Vacation Right Now

The experiment was, not exactly unexpectedly, very well-received — a year later, the company instituted its second annual "Well-Being Week." Both the corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., and three Air Manufacturing design labs with over 1,500 employees are closed for a collective paid vacation from Aug. 15 to 19.

"We knew it would be impactful, but I was blown away by the feedback from our teammates [...]," Nike's Chief Human Resources Officer Monique Matheson wrote in a LinkedIn post.

"Because everyone was away at the same time, teammates said they could unplug – really unplug, without worrying about what was happening back at the office or getting anxiety about the emails piling up."

Shutterstock/TheStreet

Of course, the time off only applies to corporate employees. To keep the stores running and online orders fulfilled but not exacerbate the differences between blue and white collar workers, Nike gave its retail and distribution employees a week's worth of paid days off that they can use as they see fit.

Nike has tied the change to its commitment to prioritize mental health. In the last year, it launched everything from a "marathon of mental health" to a podcast that discusses how exercise can be used to manage anxiety and depression.

Rippling Through the Corporate World?

But as corporations are often criticized for turning mental health into positive PR without actually doing much for employees, the collective week off was perhaps the most significant thing the company did for workers' mental health.

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The practice of set office closures has long been common practice in many European countries. In France, not only corporate offices but even restaurants and retail stores empty out over the month of August for what is culturally considered sacred vacation time. 

But as American work culture prioritizes individual choice and "keeping business going" above all else, the practice has been seen as radical by many corporate heads and particularly small businesses that may find it more difficult to have such a prolonged drop in business. 

But in many ways, the conversations mirror some companies' resistance to remote work despite the fact that one-fourth of white-collar jobs in the U.S. are expected to be fully remote by 2023

"This is the kind of perk that makes employees want to stay," industry analyst Shep Hyken wrote in a comment for RetailWire. "And knowing they can’t completely shut the entire company down, I like the way they are compensating the distribution and retail store employees."

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Spread & Containment

#EmptyOldTrafford: why Manchester United’s attempt to recruit global fans may be backfiring

Social media calls for a boycott of the club’s upcoming match against Liverpool seem to mostly becoming from outside the UK.

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United fans are calling for a stadium boycott – but the majority live thousands of miles from Old Trafford. warasit phothisuk/Shutterstock

After years of underachievement on the field, Manchester United was supposed to bounce back this Premier League season.

But an opening game home defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion, followed by an embarrassing capitulation away at Brentford, has left United bottom of the Premier League, with zero points. This has prompted former club captain Gary Neville to assert that the club has now reached rock bottom.

In protest, fans have taken to social media to call for a boycott of United’s next game, Monday’s home clash against historic rivals Liverpool. Organised around the hashtag #EmptyOldTrafford, many posts take aim at the club’s owners, the Glazer family, who critics accuse of prioritising the club’s commercial activity and global reach over performance on the pitch.

As part of a longitudinal research project monitoring football clubs and social media, we sampled 21,610 tweets featuring the #EmptyOldTrafford hashtag between Saturday 13 August to Monday 15 August 2022. What we found was striking. It appears that a majority of Twitter users encouraging fans not to attend the Liverpool game are based outside the UK and may never even have attended a game at Old Trafford.

This would suggest that the club’s strategy of recruiting fans worldwide for commercial reasons may be backfiring. In building a huge following across the world, United may also have inadvertently cultivated a community of global social media activists intent on influencing how the club is run.

United’s commercial success

Fans, followers and pundits frequently target the blame for United’s descent from greatness at its owners, the Glazers, a family of US sports entrepreneurs who took control of the club in 2005.

The Glazers’ focus on the commercial development of United has seen the club constantly feature towards the top of financial performance and brand valuation league tables. In 2012, it generated US$478 million (£396 million) in revenues, which reached a pre-pandemic peak of US$796 million in 2019.

Such revenues are also a result of the club’s pursuit of overseas fan engagement. This appears to have been very successful. In one study, it was estimated that United has 1.1 billion worldwide fans and followers. In another study, it was identified that the Manchester club has upwards of 170 million followers across all social media platforms. That’s enough to fill Old Trafford 2,292 times.

Thai Manchester United fans
Manchester United is regarded as the world’s most-supported sports team. mooinblack/Shutterstock

Fan frustration

In May 2020, United fans’ frustration about poor results manifested itself in a pitch protest against the Glazers, leading to a home game against Liverpool being postponed. Just last season, fans had also planned mass walkouts during games to express their discontent, but few fans actually left the stadium on these occasions.

This time around, calls for a walkout have been amplified by social media. Our map of accounts using the #EmptyOldTrafford hashtag shows that United fans and followers from a multitude of countries have been calling for people to stay away from the game against Liverpool, including significant clusters in the US, west Africa and India.

A map showing global clusters of twitter activity
The protest hashtag has been used across the world. Wasim Ahmed, Author provided

We themed the tweets according to their content, colour coding them on our map. Some explicitly criticised the owners, while others focused on encouraging loyal fans to join the protest.

A table of the themes grouped by the researchers
We grouped tweets into four main themes. Simon Chadwick, Author provided

Curiously, we noted that of the inflammatory aggressive clusters, the biggest is centred in Nigeria. One reason for this could be that the club has a significant fan base in the west African country, perhaps following its signing-on loan in 2020 of Nigerian international Odion Ighalo. Another reason could be that Nigerian celebrities including Adekunle Gold, Uche Jombo and Mayorkun have ridiculed Manchester United online.

There is a third explanation. It’s possible that Nigerian troll farms are being specifically engaged to spread the #EmptyOldTrafford hashtag, though by whom and for what purpose is unclear. What is clear from our work is that the largest number of Twitter accounts involved in the hashtag were only established this year. That’s often a sign that accounts have been created for a specific purpose.

It could be that fans are joining Twitter with the intention of supporting the protest. Alternatively, one might argue that new users are more vehement in expressing their views about United and the Glazers. But if troll farms have helped the #EmptyOldTrafford hashtag trend on Twitter, it suggests there are some worrying new developments on social media that top football clubs must address.

Pressure on the Glazers

Manchester United fans will be aware that ticket revenue accounts for a tiny proportion of the club’s total income. If the #EmptyOldTrafford protest is successful and the stadium is conspicuously empty for the Liverpool game, it may only serve as a passing embarrassment for the club’s owners.

But a football club with global ambitions is subject to global scrutiny and criticism, especially in the age of social media. A one-off stadium protest may not rattle sponsors and commercial partners, but the ongoing discontent of the global audience they’re trying to reach may well do.

Even if the atmosphere at Monday’s fixture is muted, our findings suggest that United’s global fan base has found its voice. It’s that development, rather than events in Manchester, that may ultimately encourage the club’s owners to address United’s decade-long slide to Premier League mediocrity.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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