Apps and video games are changing the way we treat diseases. Experts say they’re prime M&A targets for telehealth firms.

Pear Therapeutics  reSET-O digital therapeutics app
A patient uses Pear’s reSET-O app to treat opioid use disorder.

  • Apps and video games that can treat health conditions nabbed $1.2 billion in VC dollars in 2019.
  • Only a few commercial products have been launched so far, and they’re struggling to penetrate the healthcare system.
  • Experts say this field is primed for consolidation and could be a great target for telehealth firms.
  • This article is part of a series called “Future of Healthcare,” which explores how technology is driving innovation in the development of healthcare.

Pear Therapeutics is a leader in its field. But the announcement last month that it would go public in a $1.6 billion deal with a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, raised eyebrows.

Pear sells three apps designed to treat opioid abuse, substance abuse, and chronic insomnia. But it’s only expecting to make $4 million in revenue this year.

It’s emblematic of where the young field of digital therapeutics stands today. The technology is theoretically promising, but the business model is completely up in the air. Most health insurers don’t cover these products, nor are many physicians prescribing them.

Digital therapeutics are technologies like cell phone apps or virtual reality games that are designed to treat different diseases. In many cases, they target underserved mental health or neurological conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia.

The plethora of small, young digital therapeutics companies needs a savvy business partner. Pharmaceutical and telehealth companies each stand out as prime options. But, it’s not clear which will truly engage with this new healthcare technology.

“Digital therapeutics, despite being around for a number of years now, it’s still in an early stage of market development. I think the next few years are going to be about what kinds of businesses are best to shepherd through any special clinical benefits,” Jeff Liesch, a consultant at Blue Matter Consulting, told Insider.

As this gets worked out, the digital therapeutics field is likely to see a wave of M&A.

“Consolidation will come, and we’re seeing it coming,” Liesch said.

Pharma giants like Novartis, Roche, and Sanofi have been exploring prescription apps

Digital therapeutics startups are getting their fair share of the investment dollars flowing into the healthcare industry. The amount of venture capital investment in digital therapeutics grew from $134.3 million in 2015 to $1.2 billion in 2019, according to Pitchbook. Another $709 million was invested in the first nine months of 2020, the most recent data available.

Pharma giants like Novartis, Roche, and Sanofi have expressed an interest in the field. Novartis partnered with Pear to launch a schizophrenia therapy, but dropped that project in 2019. It later acquired a digital therapeutics startup developing a 3-D video game to address lazy eye.

FILE PHOTO: The company's logo is seen at the new cell and gene therapy factory of Swiss drugmaker Novartis in Stein, Switzerland, November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Pharma giants like Novartis are eyeing digital therapeutics.

Digital therapeutics, particularly those that are prescribed by a physician instead of released directly to consumers, play to pharma’s regulatory strengths while cutting down on the 10-plus years it can take to develop a chemical drug.

The prescription route is where the money is: the annual US revenue expectations for digital therapeutics range between $100 million and $300 million, according to a Blue Matter report.

Before agreeing to pay for them, insurers want to see long-term data showing how the benefits of these prescription apps or video games last. But, multi-year clinical trials are expensive and there’s a chance that at the end of it all, the technology will be outdated, ZS Associates Principal Pete Masloski said.

Even if the companies can get insurers to pay for their products, there’s still the barrier of getting physicians to prescribe them.

Eddie Martucci, the chief executive of digital therapeutics company Akili Interactive, said that thousands of doctors have reached out since the company got Food and Drug Administration clearance last year for an app to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. But its commercial sales to date are small.

Akili Interactive
Akili CEO Eddit Martucci, right, talks about Akili’s video game with the company’s director of data science in 2015.

At this point, less than 5% of physicians in the US are exploring and prescribing digital therapeutics, according to Masloski.

The next generation of digital therapeutics startups are building in telehealth options

As a young digital health company, is it even worthwhile to try to educate and convince thousands of physicians to prescribe your app? Masloski estimates that time may be better spent by teaming up with a telehealth company with a specialized focus – be it mental health, chronic diseases, or something else – and a pool of medical specialists at hand.

One telehealth firm, UpScript, has already begun offering consultations for Pear’s prescription digital therapeutic. Meanwhile, the next generation of digital therapeutics companies like Happify Health and Kaia Health are building healthcare support staffs around their products.

Kaia Health
Kaia Health’s app

A wave of M&A is just now hitting the telehealth and digital health space, with big names like Teladoc, Ro, and others acquiring smaller players. The digital therapeutics field may also get swept up in that, Masloski said.

“Digital health companies are looking more broadly at ways to expand their impact across different parts of the patient journey. They’re thinking in a platform way, how can I offer employers, for example, diabetes management, mental health services, all of these things?” he said. “They don’t want to work with 1,000 individual different providers. They want to work with platform companies, simplifying their world.”

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Siemens USA’s CFO details 3 strategies for C-suite leaders who are shaping the future of finance

Headshot of Martha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, who is wearing a dark blazer over a light v-neck top.
Marsha Smith says it’s imperative that finance leaders “understand technology enough to work across the organization” as they make collective company decisions.

  • Marsha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, says modernizing financial technologies boosts efficiency.
  • Smith emphasized that the drive to advance digitalization must come from C-suite leaders.
  • The right organizational mindset toward finance modernization is crucial, Smith told Insider.
  • This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.

For more than 160 years, Siemens USA has developed innovative technologies that support America’s critical infrastructure and vital industries. These technologies include auto manufacturing, mining industry solutions, and smart hospitals.

But according to Marsha Smith, the chief financial officer of Siemens USA, modernizing internal financial technologies and processes – from accounting to payroll – is essential for every organization, no matter how old or young the company is.

“If you don’t advance digitalization in finance and find new ways to do old things more effectively and efficiently, it’s hard to attract talent,” she said. While automation is often perceived as a massive transformation over decades, Smith added that individuals at Siemens USA are implementing new tools and processes all the time. “You need to make it exciting to come to your company and come up with new ways to do the same work,” she said.

The drive to advance digitalization in finance, however, must be a top-down initiative. “If it’s not a message that’s constantly being communicated to the organization, people won’t see it as a real need,” she said. The ideas, however, need to come from the bottom up: “Leaders have to open the door for their people to share ideas.”

Smith offered three tips for how C-Suite leadership can help shape a modern, automated future in finance:

1. Change the mindset around how people work

“People need to be willing to change how they work in order to work smarter,” Smith said. That means CFOs must focus on a different type of finance talent that works very closely with the IT department and already has knowledge of digital tools and processes. “One important thing I’ve learned along the way is that just because you implement a robot to do certain tasks for an individual that doesn’t mean the headcount is necessarily less,” she said. “It’s about hiring thinkers that can work across the company to transform finance as much as the rest of the company.”

2. Take one step at a time

Advancing finance digitalization doesn’t need to be (and can’t be) a massive one-and-done program, Smith said. Start with small projects, she explained, and take it one step at a time: “I think the low-hanging fruits, such as optimizing invoicing, purchase orders, or other workflows, are the most exciting ones,” she said. Even with a small starting point, she added, “people get excited when their tasks that used to take them two hours to do only take them 30 minutes to do right, and then they buy into it.” Slowly but surely, a whole group of employees will believe in what the CFO is pitching. “They see the impact on their daily work,” she said.

3. Understand the new CFO role

Finance leaders no longer fit a typical old-school profile. “We all need to understand technology enough to work across the organization to make good collective decisions,” Smith said. “What I’ve tried to do is at least open up the conversation to say, let’s find the automated tools and processes that are scalable, even though it’s a challenge since I’m not an expert on all the tools out there.” To that end, the CFO needs to employ team members with different skill sets. “They may have in-depth knowledge of accounting and finance, but we also need people who can improve on how we implement new automation technologies,” she said.

Overall, the amount of automation in finance has increased over time and continues to improve, which is crucial for the modern financial organization of the future, Smith said. As the CFO at Siemens USA, it’s important to lead with an eye toward getting people in different departments to learn from each other, and then scale those efforts, she explained.

“This comes from the top down, with our global CFO driving automation initiatives,” she said. “Then, it’s exciting for me to get to know the people in our company and how they are automated processes every day, whether it’s in accounting or in some other department.”

It all goes back to a C-Suite leadership that is willing to embrace change to stay competitive in a modern, automated world of finance. “Siemens is on its way to becoming more of a solution-oriented, ecosystem-oriented company and not just a conglomerate that sells hardware, so the whole company is changing,” Smith said. “The finance organization has to change with it.”

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The CFO of Siemens USA explains how finance digitalization presents challenges and opportunities

Headshot of Martha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, who is wearing a dark blazer over a light v-neck top.
Marsha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA, hopes to transform the company by eventually implementing a cloud-based ERP.

  • Marsha Smith, the CFO of Siemens USA and Siemens Mobility North America, is modernizing the company.
  • This year, Smith and the global CIO worked to improve financial processes through automation.
  • Scaling automation efforts presents both challenges and opportunities, Smith told Insider.
  • This article is part of the “Innovation C-Suite” series about business growth and technology shifts.

A great deal has changed at Siemens since Marsha Smith first joined the global technology and manufacturing company over two decades ago. In particular, Smith, who became the chief financial officer of Siemens USA and Siemens Mobility North America in January 2020, has witnessed changes regarding the company’s digitalization in finance.

“We still used typewriters back then to type POs,” she told Insider. She recalled how even just 10 years ago, the finance organization’s month-end close was entirely manual. “We would all sit around on the first of the month until 2 a.m., waiting for things to upload and making sure the numbers were right,” she said.

Now, most of Siemens’ financial processes – everything from financial planning and analysis to general accounting operations – are highly automated, with little to no manual work in Excel or on-premise ERP systems required. The organization has implemented chatbots, Robotic Process Automation, cloud computing, AI, and machine learning – even Blockchain and advanced analytics and forecasting – to modernize various areas within finance.

Challenges and opportunities in transforming financial processes

There’s still a long way to go to transform the finance organization in ways that free up capacity, reduce manual tasks, and enable mobile and 24/7 control. For example, implementing a cloud-based ERP across the global Siemens organization remains an unmet goal.

“It’s a large project with a pretty massive cost, so we have a global team and steering committee determining what we want in an ERP system,” Smith said. “Right now, we do all our procurement, project-controlling, and order management in the ERP, but do we need a ‘lean’ ERP? If so, how lean is lean?”

However, Smith and her team have also made significant strides to identify the most suitable automation opportunities, working regularly across the C-suite to help redesign financial processes with digitalization while retaining flexibility and decision-making.

For example, in January, Smith raised her hand and agreed to have the US finance organization serve as a Siemens digitalization pilot, working closely with the global chief information officer to implement process improvements through automation. “I knew that we were a big enough organization to provide useful results,” she said.

One of the pilot’s first projects was to automate a finance spreadsheet process. Traditionally, the process required employees to spend nearly two days at the end of each month manually entering data and collecting commentary from multiple businesses.

“The global IT team took five months to recreate and automate the entire process in a cloud-based tool,” Smith said. Now, it’s automatically available on the cloud and anyone can have access to it 24/7. “There is one set of financials with no quality issues and no manipulation allowed, which makes it easy to quickly create a report,” she explained.

The advantage of process automation

The beauty of these new automated processes, she emphasized, is their ability to scale. “The pilot project is now going to be rolled out to any country that wants to use it,” she said. “The global IT department worked with us for five months and now it’s just a matter of using the process elsewhere, whether it is Singapore or India.”

The need to scale automation in finance, she added, remains one of the organization’s biggest digitalization challenges.

“Everyone is trying to optimize and automate and reduce manual steps, but you may not realize that someone in another department has already figured it out,” she said. “So we have to figure out how to get people to learn from one another, to do something right and then scale it across the organization.”

That can become a tall mountain to climb, however, when the number of possible digital tools seems endless. “In the past, we had an ERP system and Excel, those were the tools, and everybody knew how to use them,” she explained. “Now, if someone is automating invoice processes, why did he choose one tool and not another? It can be hard to know what is the best one to implement.”

Digitalization skills are now considered core competencies when it comes to recruiting within the finance organization, Smith said. “The idea is to find people who already know how to use these tools so they can improve what we do,” she explained. “The goal for us is to learn as much from our new hires as they learn from us.”

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A new breed of health insurers is taking a page out of UnitedHealth’s book and providing care directly to patients, and it could reshape the US healthcare industry

Telemedicine online doctor appointment
A doctor sees a patient online.

  • Health insurer upstarts have made care delivery a core part of their business strategies.
  • Alignment, Bright, Clover, and Devoted all employ doctors and care for their directly.
  • They’re betting that doing so will help them lower costs and compete against industry giants.
  • This article is part of a series called “Future of Healthcare,” which explores how technology is driving innovation in the development of healthcare.

A new breed of health insurers is betting that providing care directly to patients will help them compete against industry giants and grow their footprints across the country.

These young insurers, like Alignment Healthcare, Bright Health, Clover Health, and Devoted Health have made employing doctors and delivering healthcare a core part of their strategies.

In some ways, they’re following a playbook etched out years before them by incumbents like UnitedHealth Group, which has worked for more than a decade to assemble a fleet of 56,000 doctors and counting by acquiring medical groups.

Humana, which deals in health plans for elderly people, has been buying and building out primary-care clinics for years. And Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers in Florida, Tennessee, and Texas have stood up dozens of retail clinics.

But while the big players have waded into providing care over time, the new-age insurers, which bank on using sophisticated technology to improve care and lower costs, have it in their DNA. Unlike the dominant insurers, they’ve largely steered clear of physical clinics, focusing instead on providing care virtually or in people’s homes.

It’s an approach that requires less capital, but still arms the upstarts with the tools needed give their members more ways to get care, and better control how much they spend on care.

“It gives us the reliability of making sure we can bend that cost curve everywhere we go without having to go into each market with a bunch of bricks and mortar,” Alignment CEO John Kao said. Alignment employs about 150 clinicians that care for the sickest plan members virtually and at their homes.

Alignment and Devoted are seeing patients online and at home

Alignment, the California-based Medicare Advantage insurer with 83,000 members, uses its technology to find the sickest, most expensive plan members who have chronic illnesses and frequent the hospital.

Alignment’s group of employed doctors, nurses, case managers, social workers, and behavioral health coaches care for 4,000 of these members, in partnership with their regular primary-care doctors. Being able to provide care itself is just more efficient, Kao said, and it helps save Alignment some money, which it can put back into better health benefits and attract more customers.

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Devoted, which had a little more than 20,000 Medicare Advantage members at the end of 2020, has its own medical group of employed doctors and other clinicians who provide virtual care to plan members at home.

Its services “wrap around and complement” the health care providers that Devoted partners with, so members get the best care at the right place and time, a spokesman for the company said in an email.

Clover is expanding its in-house home healthcare program

Meanwhile, insurer Clover Health also built up a home-healthcare program mostly run by employed healthcare providers.

The insurer, which had 66,300 Medicare Advantage members in March, uses claims data and medical records to look for people with multiple chronic illnesses, who are frail or home-bound, or visit the emergency department often. Its technology will then tell an eligible patient’s primary-care doctor that they might benefit from home visits, which are conducted by Clover’s internal care teams, Dr. Kumar Dharmarajan, head of Clover Home Care, told Insider.

Dharmarajan said the program increases access to care for older adults who don’t leave the house. It also allows Clover to get a picture of non-medical factors that could lead to worse health, like disorganized medications or fall hazards like electrical cords on the floor. An office visit wouldn’t reveal that kind of information.

In New Jersey alone, Clover expects to have between 3,000 and 3,500 Medicare Advantage members in its home care program by the end of this year, compared with just 200 patients in 2017, Dharmarajan said. It’s set to expand further as Clover starts offering home care to traditional Medicare enrollees that it’s managing through a federal program.

Bright is buying up medical practices

Most young insurers aren’t building clinics, but Bright Health is the exception.

Its CEO Mike Mikan, a former UnitedHealth Group executive, is following his former employer’s blueprint and buying up medical practices.

Bright, which provides health coverage to 623,000 individuals, families, and seniors, is tucking these acquisitions into its new care delivery business called NeueHealth. The business owns or manages care for 61 clinics, but it also works closely with outside provider groups and arms them with analytics and other tools to they can provide better care.

In both cases, the goal is for the insurer and provider to get on the same page and partner to improve patients’ health and lower costs under a payment model where each side wins when it works.

That’s different the old insurance strategy of restricting care, Mikan said.

“What we really want to promote is the healthcare system to move to a value-based model where you’re really rewarding performance based on the quality of the care they provide, not just the quantity of care,” he said. “Every consumer is better served when they’re part of an aligned model.”

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A software CEO reveals how she used the lessons of the pandemic to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace

Panel at Insider's Future of Work virtual event, June 29, 2021, featuring Insider's Rebecca Knight and Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of educational-software firm DreamBox
Insider’s Rebecca Knight (l) interviews Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of educational-software firm, DreamBox

  • DreamBox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson says diversity should be leveraged for success.
  • Employers must understand what workers want and need, as they now have the upper hand.
  • This was part of Insider’s event “What’s next: CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation,” presented by ProEdge, a PwC Product, on June 29.
  • Click here to watch a recording of the full event.

There’s a wealth of evidence that suggests diverse, equal, and inclusive workplaces are more successful – but the pandemic and death of George Floyd forced leaders to truly reckon with this reality.

“Instead of focusing on how to manage diversity, we need to pivot to focus on how to leverage diversity,” Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of educational-software firm DreamBox, said during Insider’s recent virtual event “What’s next: CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation” presented by ProEdge from PwC, which took place June 29. “If you really believe that diversity is something to be leveraged and it doesn’t feel like just another project or another obligation, it feels like an opportunity.”

The conversation, titled “Diversity and innovation define the future of work,” was between Woolley-Wilson and Rebecca Knight, senior correspondent for careers and the workplace at Insider.

“Starting out as a woman of color in financial services, the expectations for excellence were either really high or really low,” Woolley-Wilson said. “We believe at DreamBox that diversity is required in order to build empathetic and relevant learning experiences.”

At the height of the pandemic, Woolley-Wilson said she took the unusual step of making the DreamBox digital platform free to help families, students, and teachers combat the equity gaps in education exacerbated by COVID-19.

Internally, she also oriented DreamBox to be guided by three simple principles: take care of each other, take care of our customers, and then by definition, we’ll be taking care of the company.

“We’re at an inflection point,” she said, referring to low unemployment and the changing job market. “The pendulum is swinging, and the leverage is swinging more in the employee camp.”

Woolley-Wilson said the last year highlighted that workplaces need to be more adaptive to the needs of women and racial minorities. Some women might need to work from home more, while others might not have a home environment that’s conducive to work and need to spend more time in the office.

“It’s about being intelligently adaptive, it’s about metabolizing new data, new stimuli from the environment, and meeting people where they are – just like we do with the platform and every individual learner,” she said.

DreamBox also hosts a monthly meeting – the most well-attended meeting company-wide, Woolley-Wilson said – to talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

“We talked about hard topics like racial bias or white privilege, we talk about things that happen in the current news cycle,” she said. “All those are dealt with in a very open and authentic way.”

She added that MBA programs of the future are going to have to teach leaders how to create “positive gravity” so the best talent chooses them.

“We’re going to have to make sure that organizations are overt and explicit about what they value, because employees now – from the first day of the interview to the first day of onboarding to their first anniversary and beyond – are unapologetic and very courageous and very intentional about what they want and what they need in their professional environment,” she said.

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How major PR firms Ogilvy and Weber Shandwick are preparing for the new hybrid workplace

A panel discussion at Insider's Future of Work Event, June 29, 2021, featuring Insider's Tanya Dua, Gail Heimann, CEO of Weber Shandwick, and Devika Bulchandani, North America CEO of Ogilvy.
Insider’s Tanya Dua (L) interviews Gail Heimann (C), CEO of Weber Shandwick, and Devika Bulchandani (R), North America CEO of Ogilvy.

  • Businesses are investing in processes and technologies to manage the new normal.
  • Two CEOs said now is an opportunity to foster inclusion and positive well-being in the workplace.
  • This was part of Insider’s “What’s next: CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation” presented by ProEdge, a PwC Product.
  • Click here to watch a recording of the full event.

As the US opens up, more and more employees are telling their bosses they want flexible and hybrid working arrangements.

“Three-quarters of our individuals around the world said flexibility is what they want,” Devika Bulchandani, North America CEO of Ogilvy, said.

Bulchandani said that Ogilvy, like many other firms, is also looking at a 3/2 working model and considering other positive changes it can introduce.

“We also shrunk our real-estate footprint because that allows us to reinvest into different areas of the business and reinvest into our people and what they need going forward,” she said.

She added that they’re instituting three compulsory days off per quarter for each employee to manage burnout.

“Just because we did it doesn’t mean we’re going to do it again,” she said. “Things like, do people need to travel to a meeting? Let’s ask ourselves why.”

Bulchandani said that she’s telling her staff to question whether there’s a perspective missing from the room in terms of gender, race, or disability, as well as capability.

“I have a different skillset, would this team do better? And then my question is, ‘Am I just thinking about New York, or should I be thinking about somebody from our Minneapolis office?'” she said.

In a similar vein, Heimann said that the “democratic” and inclusive nature of the virtual world is something her firm is trying to maintain as employees return to work.

Office space, she said, “will be a creative nexus, it will be a collaboration nexus, it will be a team nexus.” As for remote offices, Heimann said that they’re looking at a broad range of technologies that do more than simply combat “Zoom fatigue.”

“I think that the new age is going to be a little more immersive, more gaming-like, and those are the ones we’re testing,” she said. Weber Shandwick also hired a chief workforce innovation officer and a chief impact officer to push leadership toward “transformation that puts inclusion at the heart.”

“We talked to client after client about the need to solve at the intersections and therefore put together agile, cross-functional teams to bring that ability to clients again,” she said.

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Investing in mentorship and upskilling employees is the key to building a high-performing team

Panel photo from Future of Work, Insider Event, June 30, 2021
This panel, titled “Mentorship and Upskilling” was moderated by Insider senior editor Chris Weller (l), and featured Annette Richardson, managing partner of Richardson Partners LLC and Suneet Dua, chief product officer at PwC.

  • CEOs are keen to upskill employees, yet one in five haven’t started the journey yet, PwC found.
  • Today’s employees need to become “lifelong learners” and digital citizens, experts told Insider.
  • This was part of Insider’s virtual event “CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation”, presented by ProEdge, which took place Tuesday.
  • Click here to watch a recording of the full event.

The business case for actively coaching, mentoring, and upskilling all people across an organization is clear.

“The cost of inaction around upskilling and often reskilling is going up,” Annette Richardson, founder and managing partner of consulting firm Richardson Partners LLC, said during Insider’s recent virtual event “CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation” presented by ProEdge, which took place June 29. “We saw with COVID-19 that we could potentially lose a decade of human gain.”

“This concept of leaving no one behind is really important,” she added.

The panel, titled “Mentorship and upskilling – the two keys to a high-performing workforce,” was moderated by Chris Weller, senior editor of strategy at Insider, and featured Richardson and Suneet Dua, chief product officer at PwC.

In the consulting firm’s recent “Hopes and Fears 2021”survey, 77% of PwC employees said they want new skills, while 60% are worried about digital automation.

CEOs are really concerned about “the key skills of their individuals – but one out of five CEOs in our survey showed that they haven’t done anything about it,” Dua said. “We’re trying to help companies work through the how,” he added.

Dua said that in the context of a hybrid workforce and remote work being here to stay, employees have to be performing at the highest level.

“Your employees have to become what we call lifelong learners,” he said. Once there, he added, “they will graduate to be a digital citizen. That’s where we then transact with automations and bots on a day-to-day basis.”

Dua said PwC has over 270,000 people currently being upskilled and there are about eight to 10 digital disruptive technologies in the world that are going to create these new skills.

“Let’s dispel the myth – it’s not hard to start,” he said. “You don’t have to start with everybody. You should start now.”

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How one Raleigh resident is creating opportunities for Black-owned businesses in North Carolina

Johnny Hackett Jr. in front of statues
Johnny Hackett Jr.

  • Johnny Hackett Jr. is the founder of The Black Dollar Corp., a retail location and online directory.
  • The directory gives Black entrepreneurs opportunities to gain exposure and customers.
  • Hackett also runs Black Friday Market, which has 90 Black-owned vendors and hosts community events.
  • This article is part of a series focused on American cities building a better tomorrow called “Advancing Cities.”

Johnny Hackett Jr. appreciates being a part of the entrepreneurship community in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In 2019, he started The Black Dollar Corp. to support Black-owned businesses in the state through a retail location and online directory.

“We’re trying to give a platform for African American entrepreneurs to be found, to get more exposure, to get more customers,” Hackett, 37, told Insider.

Hackett, who was recently named one of the Triangle Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” said he often partners with the city to spread the word about programs and initiatives.

“So many different opportunities exist here in Raleigh,” he said. “It’s just a place where an entrepreneur can come and get off the ground running. There’s a lot of community support and there are a lot of folks who are invested in making sure that upstart companies do have a chance here.”

Hackett moved to Raleigh just before he started high school and later attended North Carolina A&T State University. His background is in information technology, and he’s worked for Xerox, IBM, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

He first got into entrepreneurship in 2009 when he founded the nonprofit Life Foundation to educate teens about taxes, credit, health insurance, and other life skills.

“I felt like I wasn’t utilizing my strengths to the best of my ability for the community,” Hackett said. “I started to see how many businesses and organizations didn’t have the tools that they needed to either gain access to funding or open certain doors.”

So he started building websites for business owners – and that paved the way for a directory.

Becoming Raleigh’s official Black-owned business directory

The goal of #BlackDollarNC, which features an interactive map, is to increase visibility for North Carolina-based, Black-owned businesses. Owners can add themselves to the directory for free, and it now lists about 1,100 companies. Each day, about 500 people visit the site, Hackett said.

Raleigh’s Office of Economic Development and Innovation engaged Black Dollar Corp. to expand reach, and thus #BlackDollarNC became the official Black-owned business directory of Raleigh. Hackett’s main goals are adding more businesses, turning the directory into a social channel, and expanding to other parts of the US.

Retail space gives entrepreneurs a place to sell goods

Black Dollar Corp.’s newest initiative is Black Friday Market, a department store located in downtown Raleigh where Black-owned businesses without retail space can sell their products. The store opened in December and features more than 90 companies selling clothing, beauty products, artwork, and food items. The market also hosts events.

Companies pay a fee to sell their products in the store and keep 100% of the sales, Hackett said. The store has been a hit so far, he added, and he plans to open more locations in North Carolina and elsewhere.

Hosting events engages the community

Street festivals that feature kids’ activities, musical performances, and food give businesses the opportunity to sell their products. Hackett said they saw a large turnout for their May and June events and is expecting a similar outcome for July’s.

This spring, they also hosted a scavenger hunt. Residents could earn points for posting on social media, attending events, signing up for newsletters from the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, and collecting stickers from locations for a chance to win $5,000 – but the money must be reinvested in a Black-owned company.

“It’s just awesome meeting these folks and talking to them, understanding what their talents are, and then trying to support them as best we can,” Hackett said.

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Employees revamping their office wardrobe could have big effects on the environment

clothes clothing shopping mall shopper dublin
  • With the return of in-person work, consumers are expected to spend more on office clothes.
  • Plastic-based clothing items and the practice of “bracketing” contribute to landfill waste.
  • Resale sites such as Poshmark and ThredUp help alleviate fashion’s harmful environmental effects.
  • Subscribe to our biweekly newsletter, Insider Sustainability.

For many workers, a return to in-person work means trading in-house clothes and sweatpants for new business-casual outfits. Companies are reporting sales also being driven by summer outings, size differences, and vaccination-related comfort with in-store shopping. In the UK, clothing sales rose by 70% in April and are expected to rise by 78% in the US over the summer, driven largely by back-to-school purchases.

While these increases are indications of an economic recovery for the global fashion industry, there are also significant environmental downsides to new clothing purchases. And the popularity of fast fashion has only exacerbated matters.

According to a report from the World Economic Forum, the fashion industry produces 10% of “all humanity’s carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply.” In addition to toxic chemicals, dyes, and noxious emissions from the production process, modern global textile production is primarily not biodegradable, with more than 52% of fabrics being made from polyester in 2019, according to an industry report from Textile Exchange.

After production, clothing and textiles are transported from facilities in developing countries to stores worldwide. But many of the common office-attire items sold – blouses, dresses, suits, and accessories – are made of harmful plastic-based materials like nylon, acrylic, and fleece. The unsustainable impact of these materials is worsened by bracketing, a common practice in which consumers buy several items with the intention of returning most of them. Bracketing contributes to billions of tons of nonbiodegradable landfill waste, higher restocking costs, and carbon emissions from additional transportation.

Cleaning clothing also has a dirty side. Every time plastic-based textiles are washed, it results in the release of microplastics, many of which aren’t caught by wastewater-treatment facilities. Moreover, dress shirts and other officewear sent to the dry cleaner often involve the use of a chemical known as PERC, which has “serious environmental effects” and is a known neurotoxin.

According to the EPA, when consumers are tired of their clothing, including their go-to office garb, only 15% of it gets recycled. And donations to charities such as Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and TRAID? Those often end up in landfills. It all contributes to textiles being the second-largest source of global plastic waste at 42 million metric tons.

While some might go back to their prepandemic spending habits, others might be more conscious of their shopping routines. More sustainable options that help reduce the production of new clothing items include shopping on online resale sites like Poshmark, Mercari, ThredUp, and Grailed. There are also rental services like Rent the Runway, Nuuly, as well a variety of mall chains and brands. These offer consumers the option of new looks with lower environmental footprints, a choice that’s always in style.

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