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Opinion Editorials

Lily Born is the kid-preneur we don’t deserve

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Lily Born is a kid who saw a need for a cup for her grandfather with Parkinson’s and decided to do something about it.

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lily roo

This is a story about an adorable child who did a great thing. That being the case, some trigger warnings:

Get some Kleenex
Check the immediate area for people who may be unsympathetic to ugly crying at your computer.
Prepare epic slow clap GIFs now.

Ready? So.

Lily Born has a grandfather she loves to pieces. Her grandfather suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. You’re probably familiar with it. Short version: it sucks.

Long version: it really sucks, it’s a degenerative nerve disorder in which – incredible oversimplification – the patient’s brain slowly loses control of their body, starting at the extremities and working inward.

The classic symptom is tremor, uncontrollable shaking of the hands, feet and head. Cures and treatment are both in the works, but seriously, it’s just awful. Some of the biggest brains in the world are working on a cure, but diseases of the nervous system are infamously difficult. In the meantime, living with Parkinson’s is brutal, and care is tragically difficult, because seriously: how do you help somebody use their own body?

Apparently, the trick is to be Lily Roo. Lily Roo was eight years old when she took on her grandpa’s Parkinson’s. Based on the fact that she was eight years old, I confidently expect her to be Queen of Space by forty, because she chalked up a win.

Against Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s Disease, which stomps out Nobel Laureates and chews up research money like candy, had nothing on eight year old Lily.

She thought up a cup. This cup, in fact. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Stop. Think. How much of literally everything you do comes down to being able to hold things in your hands? Lily’s Kangaroo Cup isn’t just a vector for tea or Campbell’s, and frankly that would be a big win by itself.

But that cup can be a vector for every small, vital object that is effortless for the able-bodied and a permanent detriment to quality of life for a Parkinson’s sufferer. Cash. Phone. How many things do you use daily that fit in a cup? Because that’s the list of things someone with a severe tremor of the hands can’t get to. Until Lily.

But having an idea when you’re eight does not equal a lifechanging creation. First, she had help. Of course she had help, she was freaking eight. Second, oh my Deity of Choice did she work hard. She and her dad put it into production, which took them through the entrepreneurship process (and to China) to make the perfect ceramic design.

Now, with help from funders, they’re looking to move this quiet gamechanger into inexpensive plastic.

Oh, by the way – the Roos’ company, which they call Imagiroo (literally everything about this story is adorable) also put some of their profits into funding STEM education for young girls, and freely donate their cups to nonprofits all over the world.

That’s how you entrepreneur.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve got something in my eye.

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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Opinion Editorials

Ban cryptocurrency posts on Medium? How far is too far?

(EDITORIAL) With Facebook nixing all cryptocurrency ads, others ponder where else the hoaxes should be policed. But at some point, this all becomes censorship…

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cryptocurrency

I’ll be frank. I don’t understand the cryptocurrency industry, but I do understand content.

Ed Dunn believes that Medium should ban stories about cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings.

Facebook has just banned all ads about these things, whether the advertiser is a legal business or not. Some are calling this censorship, but I think it deserves a bigger discussion. Advertising is a much different animal than providing content on Medium.

What is Medium?

Medium is a private company that offers social journalism (read: it’s a blog platform). Amateurs and professionals are allowed to post on the platform, provided the content is within the terms and conditions.

Here are two pieces of the terms that I find relevant to this discussion:

(1) You’re responsible for the content you post. This means you assume all risks related to it, including someone else’s reliance on its accuracy, or claims relating to intellectual property or other legal rights.

(2) We can remove any content you post for any reason.

Medium makes it quite clear that they can and will censor your posts.

Generally, when I think of censorship, it relates to the government banning speech or public communication under the First Amendment. When the government attempts to suppress speech or communication, it is clearly against the law. This distinction is important in any discussion about censorship.

Medium is a private company, (as is Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Medium clearly has the right to remove any content, because that’s what the writer signed up for when they posted a piece. The question isn’t whether they can remove articles on cryptocurrency, but whether they should.

I firmly believe that platforms like Medium should have guidelines in place to prevent unethical hucksters from profiting. But on the other hand, how would that be practical? Who determines what is hype and what is mis-information? How does an algorithm account for an honest opinion versus someone who is using click bait to draw traffic?

If Medium bans all discussion on cryptocurrency, it effectively shuts down genuine writers who are working to understand and explain the market. The conversation shouldn’t be shut down, but there could be some kind of action taken to help the general public know what is legitimate and what isn’t (like a flagging mechanism other platforms already utilize).

This debate isn’t about a private company and how it deals with free speech. The conversation needs to start with how people can find authentic information in a world where anyone can say anything and have it shared in just a few seconds. It’s the loudest voices that get heard in platforms like Medium, Facebook, and Twitter, not the most reliable. In a Utopian world, that is how we would collectively enact change.

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Opinion Editorials

Sexist Doritos for ladies won’t hit shelves, PepsiCo’s response is baffling

(EDITORIAL) Doritos hinted at lady-friendly chips, the internet lost their minds, and we want to talk about the recent history for context (and their odd response to the whole thing).

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If you’re not convinced that we live in a sexist society, take a look at some of the products that are totally unnecessarily marketed towards women and girls. Although still reinforcing an arbitrary gender binary, companies can be somewhat forgiven for aiming their marketing of sex-specific products, like tampons, towards women. (Not that tampon ads are unproblematic, and not that women are the only people managing menstrual blood — but that’s another article.)

It’s when they start pumping out pink versions of products that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s between your legs that our society’s totally whack notions of femininity are revealed. Take for example, hand tools. Even if you’re banking on the notion that women are, generally speaking, smaller than men, the usefulness of a teeny-tiny, pink-handled hammer for whacking anything larger than a thumbtack is questionable. And don’t get me started on Bic’s Pens for Her. As a literate, college-educated woman, I’ve always had such a hard time using pens to write, until now! – said no one, ever.

Here’s the latest: some genius bros at PepsiCo are getting ready to launch a “lady-friendly” chip. According to their “research,” a quieter, less messy chip is more appropriate for the fairer sex. Global chief executive Indra Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio, “Although women would love to crunch loudly, lick their fingers and pour crumbs from the bag into their mouths afterwards, they prefer not to do this in public.”

Lady-Doritos will be less crunchy (‘cause everyone wants a soggier chip, am I right?) and will come in a smaller, handbag-sized package. No word yet whether or not women will get a discount for the reduced volume, or whether we’ll still pay the same price as our male counterparts with their giant man-bags of extra crunchy chips.

In the midst of a massive, cross-industry callout of sexual misconduct towards women, women fighting for equal pay, a conservative political backlash against reproductive rights, these bogusly gendered not-so-crunchy snacks are hardly the most misogynistic thing happening in America right now.

Nonetheless, it’s important to point out that products like this are a result of, and contribute towards perpetuating, the same gender stereotypes that underlie these more serious problems.

When we make diminutive tools for women we are telling them: you are smaller, your work is smaller, and you can’t or don’t need to do the same kinds of work as men.

When we make “pens for her” we are telling women: you are not competent like a man, you need a special tool to do the most basic of tasks. And when we make foods for women that are “skinny,” “guilt-free,” or less-crunchy we are telling women: you should be ashamed to eat, because the thinness of your body and the daintiness of your manners is what’s important about you.

Nooyi’s comments are especially problematic, juxtaposing how women would like to behave with what kind of behavior is appropriate in public.

The idea that certain female behaviors are not appropriate in the public sphere has a long history of justifying sexist ideas and even laws. Women have had a long, hard fight to be able to participate equally in the public sphere, whether it be working, getting an education, or voting. Apparently women have to defy their designated role just to enjoy a crunchy snack outside of their own home. (By the way, in true feminist fashion, Texas National Organization for Women is hosting a women’s public chip picnic at the state Capitol later this month.)

After the internet lost their minds over this, PepsiCo told ABC News, “The reporting on a specific Doritos product for female consumers is inaccurate. We already have Doritos for women — they’re called Doritos, and they’re enjoyed by millions of people every day. At the same time, we know needs and preferences continue to evolve and we’re always looking for new ways to engage and delight our consumers.”

They say these chips will never hit shelves, they were just pondering product lines – their scrambling to rewrite history is confusing at best.

It’s enough to make a girl want to eat her feelings.

I could really go for a crunchy snack right about now. And I fully intend to lick all of the crumbs off of my fingertips – if I can find a brand that isn’t owned by PepsiCo.

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Opinion Editorials

Still no growth in the volume of VC-backed female entrepreneurs

(EDITORIAL) Although there is much ado about improving diversity in tech, the funding world may be all hat, no cattle, especially when it comes to female entrepreneurs.

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female entrepreneurs

When we look back at 2017, we may very well end up describing it as a watershed year for women in the workplace. Despite years of progress, women still have to put up with pay gaps, misogynist cultures, and sexually coercive environments to make a living. Even female entrepreneurs that are in charge.

But over the past year, more women than ever before are calling out these unfair practices. The #MeToo phenomenon has put a bright spotlight on the pervasive problem of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and Silicon Valley is finally being forced to reckon with its woman-hating frat bro culture.

Despite generous media attention to these efforts towards gender equality, it remains to be seen whether or not these conversations will create real change.

Zooming in our lens to startups and entrepreneurship, a stubborn plateau of investment in women-founded businesses indicates that all of the hullabaloo about sexism is nothing more than hand-wringing, leading, so far, to little real change.

TechCrunch has been tracking over 50,000 global companies to assess how women are doing when it comes to investment in startups. Of the 54,702 companies who received initial funding between 2009 and 2017 only 16 percent had at least one female founder.

Although this number nearly doubled between 2009, at 9 percent, and 2012, at 17 percent, this percentage has stabilized in the past five years, hovering between 16 and 17 percent.

Companies founded exclusively by men continue to raise about 85 percent of seed money, with mixed-gender teams taking around 11 to 13 percent, and companies founded exclusively by a woman or women receiving only 4 to 6 percent of seed funds. Women-owned companies have also received only 3 percent of total venture investment dollars since 2012. In the early-stage venture phase, women-founded companies who have received venture investments only receive $77 for every $100 that male-owned companies receive, echoing the gender pay gap across industries.

It’s time for the tech industry to put its money where its mouth is. All of this lip service to creating a more woman-friendly work environment is meaningless until women in leadership are supported with the same dollars as male founders and CEOs.

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