Artificial intelligence holds hope for new sustainability solutions

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As the climate emergency grows, private and public institutions as well as individuals are looking for solutions to increase sustainability. There are so many challenges that seem insolvable but something has to be done.

We face challenges with extreme weather events, drought in precious agricultural land, carbon emissions that are ever-growing, increased energy use and environmental pollution that is taking a heavy toll on land, rivers and the ocean.

These challenges may seem insurmountable perhaps to the individual but collectively people whether in advocacy groups, private and public institutions or simply in community organisations can together make a difference.

The digital age bringing with it new technologies holds hope now and in the future to come up with solutions that can help to reduce natural resource consumption, curb carbon emissions and lessen the heavy impact of waste on the environment, including growing landfill sites and environmental destruction.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may provide some of the solutions to these challenges. With an increase in cloud computing, the surgence of blockchain and artificial intelligence, new avenues are opening up for solving some of the major challenges in the environment.

One example is where artificial intelligence can be harnessed to gather large volumes of data and detect leakages in water infrastructure. What this means is that huge water losses can be prevented and precious water used for the purpose intended rather than merely becoming runaway water and going to waste.

It is hoped that AI will also contribute to waste streams. Using artificial intelligence and the collection of vast quantities of data, waste can be waste systems can be analysed and opportunities found for more waste reduction, recycling and repurposing. This will help save natural resources such as water (used in production processes, catering, hotels, etc.) and help support and preserve valuable agricultural land. Solutions for reducing deforestation may be may also come from the use of artificial intelligence.

If you are interested in the new digital and other solutions for sustainability, please let us know.

Sustainability of smaller suppliers critical especially given increasing disruptive incidents

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Sustainability of smaller suppliers is important particularly given the increase in disruptive incidents from whatever source — accidents, resource shortages and societal unrest.

Smaller suppliers are often hard-pressed to ensure the financial viability of their small businesses and so when it comes to sustainability they may have the basics in place but that’s about all. 

If smaller suppliers wish to do business with larger institutions or cross-border trade, they will be asked to provide evidence of their sustainability. Sustainability of a small supplier includes succession planning, adherence to local laws and regulations, especially labour, health and safety and environmental practices. There are a number of other factors to consider but in this brief post we can’t go into them all.

The challenge is to convince smaller suppliers about the importance of sustainability. Often their knee-jerk reaction is that it is something that will cost them more money. This is the old cost vs investment mentality. By putting sustainability processes and, where necessary, equipment in place, smaller suppliers are actually investing in their business. 

Sustainable practices for small businesses have several benefits including access to markets, access to customers, better protection of their own business operations and often can mean a point of differentiation between their business and competitors in the market. 

Assistance is available sometimes from larger institutions to support small businesses who wish to take the sustainability route. Here the main challenge is investment in time. The smaller supplier has a limited number of staff and sending staff away for training can impact the performance of their business, albeit for a short. However, without someone having the necessary knowledge and expertise of what needs to be done to make the business more sustainable, it really is not possible to change the business.

When you do business continuity management, your risk analysis and business impact analysis clearly shows the importance of suppliers in your supply chain. If the supplier is critical, its worthwhile initiating a conversation with the supplier to look at ways to increase their sustainability.

If you are interested in sustainability in the supply chain and need assistance, please let us know.

Water savings messages become more urgent as South African town hits record 50 degrees Celsius

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Water savings messages have a new urgency with a South African town reaching a record high temperature of 50 degrees Celsius. 

The climate emergency is growing as we see from the COP 25 opening talks referring to “the point of no return is no longer over the horizon”. Rivers are polluted and drying up. Boreholes are extracting precious “blue’ water. Farmers in parts of the country have experienced drought now for five years. Aging water infrastructure continues to lose large volumes of scarce and precious water. 

Some time back resource savings and efficiencies were starting to gain traction. However, with the economic conditions the water message is not being driven as hard as it could be. Take a look around at various public and private spaces and you’ll be hard-pressed to find water savings messages that aim to change behaviour. 

Of course, there are businesses that use tremendous amounts of water and these businesses are advertising their frugality with water usage. Take for example, the a car wash in my neighborhood which saves more than 75% water on each wash. This company has made it their business to save as much water as possible through recycling. 

What then can be done to save more water?

There are basically three ways: change behaviour, introduce new systems or processes or use technology that automates a process and eliminates human behaviour. 

If we examine these three, you’ll find changing human behaviour is often not sustainable over the long term. It’s hard to change human habits. Think of all the unnecessary water wastage such as turning on the hot tap in a shower and running out all the cold and warm water, which unfortunately leads to the loss of precious water resources. 

Domestic use of water remains stuck in traditional consumption habits. Take a basic process such as making plunger coffee. It can take up to three or four times the quantity used to make a cup of coffee to clean the plunger. 

The next two areas – changing the system or process and using technology to automate a process – require capital outlay. In hard economic, businesses and private individuals are not too eager to fork out money. However, as the water situation worsens and water costs rise the payback period on water process change and automation should become more attractive. 

When doing business continuity plans, one notices that water shortages and disruptive incidents because of a lack of water aren’t high on the priority risk list. This is bound to change as consumers including businesses and private individuals become more aware of the risks that disruptive water incidents can cause to their businesses and livelihoods.

Funding for your startup — for the wary entrepreneur

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If you have already secured funding for your new product or service, then it won’t be worthwhile reading this. For those who may be considering obtaining finance from various organisations such as banks, small public business lenders, venture capitalists and so on, it may be valuable to consider some of the pointers below. 

Funding for startups is not easy but you know that. The main reason is because most lenders want a sure thing – they want return on their capital loaned.

Small business start-ups are risky and this accounts for one of the main reasons why funding is so difficult to obtain. Yes, you get radio talk show hosts who are self-styled  small business exspurts and their gooroo guests who want to find blame and point fingers at certain institutions concerning their lending policies for small business. 

Be realistic you won’t get a loan easily for a startup. No matter how hard you beat your fists against the wall and complain the hard-nosed capitalistic approach is reward and return. It’s a principle that has served many people, many countries, many institutions and for many centuries.

If you take the banks, for example — and we don’t want to be unncessarily unkind to banks — they they want guarantees. These guarantees will come in the form of signing away your assets in the event of you being unable to pay your loan. 

No matter how unfair you think this is, the banks want their loan money back. You can accuse banks of having palatial headquarters where they these days serve cold sparkling water out of the water cooler and employ so many people that they are tripping over each other in the lobbies. It doesn’t matter, the real thing here is that banks are in it for the money and they will not accept any risk.

To widen your thinking, the next layer of institutional funders are our organisations or agencies set up to loan money to small businesses. However, in these organisations you will find political agendas at work. If your business idea, product or service doesn’t fit with their ideology, you won’t get alone. It’s a simple as that.

So if your product or service aligns with the political agendas and ideologies, then you may stand a chance of your startup being considered for a loan.

Private companies aren’t really into funding startups unless there are specific reasons and special circumstances. These days there is a calling for public companies to support enterprise development but start-up funding instances are not the norm. You’ll find that very large corporations would buy startups or buy a stake in startups but then the startup would be already running and proving itself with its product, service or technology.

We could go on and on into various sources of funding but let’s just say that if you are faced with a funding wall and cannot move further, you may have to consider bootstrapping. This is where a cash kitty built up over years or funding from family and friends may be the only help that you’ll get. 

That’s the reality of commerce.

It’s the reason why many entrepreneurs have to put their own skin in the game and fund their startup themselves. But if you do qualify for certain types of funding for startups why not try – you’ve got nothing to lose, unless you are forced to sign away your assets.

You’ve developed your product but what now? Finding your first client is the challenge

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You spend months, maybe longer, developing your new product or service, and now you face your major challenge — that is to get your first client or customer.

Without customers you don’t have a business. But it’s always hard to persuade that first customer to buy.

It’s is the real test of your business. Everything that has gone before – all the planning, all the development work, amounts to little if you can’t attract buyers.

This is the point where you will find how important communication reallyis. You will need to communicate your ideas and concepts verbally and in written form.

When it comes to sales we’re not talking about being pushy or showing desperation. You need to have confidence that your product or service will help others – save money, make money or improve potential customers’ lives in some way or another.

We can’t go into all the different facets of selling here save to say that you need to be skilled at words that come out of your mouth and know when to stop talking. Beware that when you are selling, you can often talk yourself out of the sale at a critical point.

Written communication takes many various forms in selling your product or service. Think about it for moment – you will need to write emails, you will need to write sales literature, formal letters, presentations, written agreements and so on.

Skill with written words doesn’t come easily for many. The written word reflects who you are and creates perceptions about yourself.

People, customers, potential customers and buyers are bombarded by communication messages particularly sales messages because of electronic communications.

Every time you open the Facebook app or Instagram, you are hit with a sales message, sometimes several of them. Sales messages are appearing in your inbox. When you’ve done a search on a certain product many websites you open will have small banner advertisements for products that Internet marketers think you are interested in.

You need to make sure that your message cuts through the avalanche of sales messages that people are receiving all day long. What are you going to do to make your message stand out? How are you going to sell your product or services features, advantages and benefits? It’s no use copying the sales messages of similar products or services. You have to be fresh and original and persuasive.

If you need assistance with your written communication, let us know and we will see if we can help.

Opportunities in broken businesses

Reviving a broken business. Photo by Polina Raevskaya on Unsplash

Someone who was doing business with us asked the other day about opportunities in this economy. Businesses that were once doing reasonably well in the so-called better times have gone bust or are limping along.

One idea that intrigued him was when we spoke about broken businesses.

The idea is to get hold of a broken business and fix it up.

A successful entrepreneur used this approach to accumulate wealth rapidly. He surveyed the market for businesses and came across a food outlet that was being run to the ground by the business owner.

It’s understandable because this business was purchased by the father and given to the son.

Unfortunately, the son was hardly ever around wanting to enjoy the good life. This lack of care and attention to the food business meant that it was hobbling along with a certain future – it would close down once all the money had run out.

The entrepreneur made an offer for this ailing business and the offer was accepted. The entrepreneur immediately set about turning things around. For a start he was present at the business. He did a careful screening of costs, pruning out all unnecessary expenses. Then he worked on bringing in new blood into the business – and what I mean by new blood is cash. He paid attention to the quality of the fast-food, motivated staff and tweaked the specials to attract more customers.

But the entrepreneur never intended holding on to the business for years and years. His was a turnaround strategy to create value in the business and make it into a productive asset. 

Eventually he got a lucky break – a large international fast-food chain was looking at buying local fast-food outlets to achieve rapid growth in the market. The entrepreneur was able to cash in at a much higher value than what he originally got the business for.

He could have also found a private buyer who would have paid full value for the fast-food outlet. The point here is that the entrepreneur went into this business, cleaned it up and made it into a cash generating machine.

It’s not the kind of opportunity that anyone can go for. One of the prerequisites is that you must have business acumen, possess an appetite for risk and know exactly what you are doing.

If you are looking for opportunities in these times and want help, let us know.

Problems starting a business on a shoestring

Is it really possible to start a business on a shoestring?

Before we try to answer that question let’s consider some important things about starting a business or whatever size today.

One thing is that you need seed capital no matter how small. It would be very difficult, almost impossible, to start with no money. There could be exceptions such as someone getting hold of scrap metal for free and starting his or her first trade with nothing down.

The small business advisor gooroos whether talk-show hosts or self-styled business start-up evangelists would like you to believe that it takes very little to start a business from scratch. But it isn’t so.

Any form of start-up will require funding. And it often costs twice as much as you have planned. This is something that we will come to in a moment — how to go about planning for your start up whether it is a home-made product for a local food market, an internet retailer or a small manufacturing business. But at this stage it is important to have a cash kitty — seed capital — to start your business from scratch. Buying a business is a different story — you will need to have capital to hand or at least know where you are going to raise capital.

Money is a crucial element but time is also important. What you thought will take a few weeks or months can become many months or even more than a year. Entrepreneurs starting out need to budget for at least three times more time to complete the various phases of starting a new business. We’ll come to the different phases of a startup later. For now realise that when you break down all the projects and tasks required to start your business you will find that what you thought how long things will take will be far different once you get going. Time is money and it’s important to think how much it will cost you while you start building your business.

Starting your business on a shoestring means starting with minimal capital and using whatever resources you have, can borrow or obtain or barter for free. For many people forced into circumstances where they have to make an alternative livelihood it’s not a dream but a reality. Many people are starting new enterprises on a shoestring as we look at this article.

Before starting out take time to jot down the main elements of your plan — use whatever you like — get it down in electronic form or on a scrap piece of paper. It’s not advisable to carry it all in your head. Map out what it will cost and how much time it will take to develop your product, test it in the market, create the marketing materials and to start selling. Production planning is also required if you will be manufacturing a product whether doing it yourself or outsourcing it.

If you require assistance with your planning, please let us know.

Are you barred from doing business?

A footpath in England. Photograph by Chesney Bradshaw

On Sunday morning I went to have a look at marathon runners near the finish line.

The faces of the marathon runners showed focus, tiredness and agony.

It’s interesting that this marathon race is open to everyone.

No one is there to exclude you from the race.

Someone is not behind-the-scenes to work you out.

There’s no agenda to put up barriers so you cannot enter.

In the spirit of ancient Greece, humanity and equality, everyone is open to compete in this marathon.

Some of the marathon runners were already walking back to their cars, one with a gold medal around his neck, another with a silver and yet another with a bronze.

These marathon runners had a purpose – to complete the race in the fastest possible time.

But what about the thousands of others who were running and some walking to complete the race?

Some did it just to prove to themselves that they could complete the marathon.

There were others who wanted to improve on their previous times.

Others did it for the camaraderie staying in a closed-knit group, encouraging each other to finish the race.

Many ran for charity. They had a higher purpose to benefit the poor and the disabled.

If you look at it, everyone had a purpose.

Only each individual‘s purpose was different.

The same applies in business. You might come up with a new business idea, new method, new service and put it out on the market. Your business might not be a gold medal winner but it may provide you with a livelihood. It may also prove to yourself that you can do it, that you can achieve freedom and independence.

Other business people may be like those medal-winning who start out small but want to create something big – a company with several branches, a business that creates employment or helps small groups of people.

Everyone can enter the business race.

But let’s be realistic, there are agendas and barriers to entry.

There are those who don’t want you to succeed.

They want to take away the fruits of your hard-earned labour.

You have little or no protection against these dominant forces except for your own ingenuity, perseverance and success.

No one can take that away from you.

No one can come and steal it from you in the night.

No one can work you out.

Your skills, talents and entrepreneurial abilities are among your most precious assets to compete in business.

Get out there and fight the recession

Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Gloomy, depressing for some. Exciting prospects for others. What’s the secret?

Look around — see the number of foreign business people coming into the country, identifying opportunities.

A clothing store in a run-down down shopping centre. Thriving. In this economy.

A small shopping centre refurbishing and repositioning.

A vinyl junkie store opens next door in a dilapidated building but watch them grow now on the main street.

A women-owned butchery, far from the major shopping centres, doing well with quality protein products.

A corner cafe with a bit of parking space – a second-hand car dealer selling ground charged at a bargain-basement rental.

Unused space, dilapidated buildings, unwanted machinery – it takes the entrepreneur’s mind to see the opportunity.

What’s the difference?

Whatever has happened to you in the past – forget it. But can you? It’s hard changing your mental lenses. Sometimes I wish I could burn out of my brain everything that happened in the past. Perhaps leaving the good things. You’ve got to get out there and show attitude.

A small bunch of hardy people … pursuing their opportunity.

Immigrants see things with fresh eyes.

We all were immigrants once.

Do you want to find your opportunity?

Maybe, just maybe, you’re not so sure of yourself.

Perhaps you’re not sure if you’ve got it in you to do it.

Best stay away and stick to the tried and tested.

During all the European wars, a little-known foundation kept buying up property. Even during the Second World War. This foundation is so big today that it can help many people.

Seeing opportunity where others see catastrophe.

If you really want it, and you’re willing to see things differently and get out there with attitude, “Breakthrough Ideas” may be what you’re looking for.

It’s a serious, under-the-radar resource. It gives secrets on how to change the way you view the world and your place in it. It helps give you the attitude to get out there and create possibilities and opportunities for yourself.

Climate emergency

Photo by Werner Du plessis on Unsplash

In 2009 the term “climate emergency” was named as the word of the year by a venerable publisher of dictionaries. People were talking about “climate change” as if it was something that was perhaps neutral.

Consider the global weather emergency and its aftermath of drought, destruction through tornadoes, heavy storms and rising heat.

Water is especially is worrying. Drought-stricken areas are suffering, farmers have sold off their livestock, grain planting has been halted and some farmers have even taken the drastic step, after facing no hope, of committing suicide.

Then you come across self-righteous social media trolls with gigantic egos, who spew out ignorant comments about water. Targets they demonize are agriculture and industry.

Let’s just say that anyone involved agriculture is not wasteful with water and industry is playing a committed role in reducing its water footprint.

However, agriculture makes you think about human consumption of food. Agriculture supplies necessary vegetables, grains and protein for billions. That is simply demand. It’s driven by population growth.

For a moment think how much farming land is required to feed you in any given year. Some experts say each person requires half an acre of land per year for farming to provide them with the food they require to stay alive. Others argue that on arid or less productive farming land, it takes up to one and a half acres to feed one person per year.

Responsibility for water consumption should be placed firmly with the consumer not only the producer. Scarce water resources are being used to feed consumers. How much food in a given year can you do without? Are you using food sparingly?

It’s a well-known fact that huge quantities of food are wasted. By consumers. Who takes responsibility for this wastage?

This is a website that deals with innovation. The growing crisis because of the climate emergency requires new ideas, new methods and new technologies. Those who come up with solutions will be rewarded. And here we are not talking about being “eco-friendly” or “green”. We’re talking about making drastic changes that reduce individual consumption of resources. Solutions that we see today will be considered basic in the years to come as pressures mount on precious natural resources.

If you see a need in your business to reduce your water consumption, lower your carbon footprint and be better prepared for business disruption (as climate emergency grows), contact us and let us know how we can help.