Friday, June 30, 2017

State of Black Business Report - Dallas 8/22

The State of Black Business will inform members and community leaders on the climate, condition, and trends of African American business.  The Keynote Speaker, Economist William Michael Cunningham, is the founder of Creative Investment Research and serves as Managing Partner for National Crowdfunding Services. The Forum is a critically important forum to discuss and design a plan for greater economic impact within our communities. You will want to join this discussion with black business leaders from around the city!

Invitees to this event will include elected officials, corporate sponsors, community leaders, DBCC Board of directors and select Chamber members.

August 22, 2017

2711 N. Haskell
Dallas, Texas 75204
8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

State of Black Business Registration:  (Early Bird Special) $75 Member/$100 Non-Member

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

“Scared to Death” - Scandinavia and the US by Austin Wu, Impact Investing Analyst, University of Maryland

On June 27th 2017, the House of Sweden, located on the banks of the beautiful Potomac River, hosted the Speakers of the Parliaments of Sweden and Latvia, the President of Parliament of Norway, along with Derek Cholett, the Executive Vice President at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Kurt Volker, the executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, to discuss challenges in Northern Europe and how to face them in partnership with the United States.

The seminar focused on the possible withdrawal of the United States from NATO, and how the Scandinavian countries would be left vulnerable to potential military aggression and geographical expansion of Russia in the near future, should the close relationship between President Trump and President Putin hold true. One key point the speakers all agreed upon is this fact: a great nation needs great neighbors. As Russia sits in close proximity to the Scandinavian countries, the Scandinavians are all looking at the United States for continued support, both politically and militarily, to counter the existential threat that is Russia. Ināra Mūrniece, Speaker of the Parliament of Latvia, recounted her childhood, when she lived under the fear that Soviet troops would simply walk across the street to her home. She noted that it was the United States who helped countries like Latvia regain freedom and go onto become the prosperous and democratic countries they are today. However, confidence that the United States has her is diminished by the inauguration of Donald Trump: polls shows that only 20% of the younger generation in Scandinavia exhibits any confidence that the current U.S. government would assist the nations in Scandinavia should the Russians decide to invade.
Olemic Thommessen, President of Parliament of Norway, seconded the thought: "how are we going to fight against the Russian, when Norway only has 5 million in population, while the Russians are building fleets and airplanes every day?" He repeated the phrase “scared to death” multiple times to illustrate how terrified Scandinavian countries are about the current situation. They fear the United States would quit NATO and would no longer protect them. It was awkwardly obvious that the entire seminar was focused on the petition-like discussion that the Northern European countries are sponsoring, desperate to maintain their strategic alliance with the United States.

Mr. Chollet and Mr. Volker then tried to inject a sense of calm by noting that, while Candidate Trump seemed to move  closer to Russia, during the first 6 months of his presidency, President Trumps hasn’t make any Russia-favored movements or actions. (This of course ignores the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord - ed.) On the contrary, they noted, Trump's promise to sit down and talk with President Putin to resolve any conflict has not happened yet (there will soon be a face-to-face meeting between President Trump and President Putin at the upcoming G-20 meetings). Therefore, countries like Norway shouldn’t be terrified by the Trump administration. Mr. Chollet and Mr. Volker mentioned, and I personally believe that their statement accurately reflects the key attitude of the Trump Administration towards the Northern European countries: they should be prepared to help themselves and to bring a plan or solution to discussions with the United States, rather than being panicked and asking for help before the Russian threat actually materializes.

After attending the seminar, I came away with a clear sense of the insecurity Northern European countries feel, and also with a clear sense of their desperation, their eagerness to maintain the alliance with the Untied States, even if the U.S. eventually pulls out of NATO. My personal takeaway from the seminar is this: a country doesn’t have a permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests. Businessman like President Trump doesn’t offer assistance for free. The underlying words from the U.S. representatives, which could represent the viewpoint of the United States, is this: protection will no longer be free as these nations assumed it would be when they were comfortable that the U.S. was not going to quit NATO.

Alliance is necessary, but Trump's motto appears to be: you gotta give to get.

Austin (Zhuoxi) Wu
Impact Investing Analyst at Creative Investment Research and
Equity Analyst at Robert H. Smith School Global Equity Fund
President of the Masters of Finance Association (MFA)
University of Maryland, College Park
Robert H. Smith School of Business
Masters of Finance, May 2018

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Trouble with Economics by Sahil Grover, Impact Investing Intern, University of Virginia

On June 20th, 2017, the Brookings Institute invited Alan Blinder, Representative Jamie Raskin, and Former Representative Vin Weber to discuss the "Lamppost Theory" – the tentative title for Blinder’s new book that seeks to explain why economic policy often comes up short. Held in the Hutchins Center on Fiscal & Monetary Policy, the discussion began with Blinder explaining what the book title means. Blinder’s main argument is as follows: “Politicians use economics the way a drunk uses a lamppost – for support, not illumination”

Blinder believes that the reason economists and politicians have not had success working together to create effective policies is because they hail from two completely different “civilizations”. He believes both parties share blame for past policy failures and must learn from each other. Blinder argues that economists and politicians measure success differently, using a completely different set of criterion to make decisions. Economists tend to use more logical, substantive, and idea-driven approach while politicians focus on using people skills, gaining influence, and creating a message. Furthermore, economists use longer time-frames while politicians are subject to the election cycle and much shorter time-horizons.

Blinder describes policy formulation as a “four-ring circus” that gives economists little influence on public policy. The four “rings”, or phases of the process include: Substance, Politics, Message, and Process. According to Blinder, economists become too focused on the substance and fail to engage in the other phases of policy formulation. Blinder asserts that most economists either do not understand or do not care for these parts of the process, diminishing their potential level of impact on policymaking. Some of the principles that economists need to learn from politicians include:

o   Fairness beats efficiency
o   Unprincipled compromises beat pure solutions
o   Complexity sells poorly (KISS principle)
o   Need to differentiate what is good from what sounds good

Blinder identified the three impediments to generating sound policy as the 3 I’s: Ignorance, Ideology, and Interest Groups. Economic literacy is very low, making slogans such as “protectionism saves jobs” sell better than complex economic explanations. Additionally, Blinder believes that while economists focus on theories that maximize social welfare and macroeconomic conditions, politicians focus on special interests and policies that benefit a narrow set of interests.

The second part of the discussion involved a panel moderated by David  Wessel, formerly of the Wall Street Journal and now Director of The Hutchins Center. Rep. Raskin, recently elected to serve Maryland’s 8th District, believes that economists need to change their approach by using newer fields such as behavioral economics to influence public policy. Mr. Weber, one of the most prominent lobbyists and strategists in the Republican Party, added that part of the reason classical “technocrats” are not highly regarded in politics is due to past failures. Weber points out that the 2008 financial crisis and economists’ lack of ability to foresee it created an overall distrust in economic expertise. (Of course, he is wrong about this. Only nonminority, mainstream economists missed the crisis.  See: , and Trump: - Ed.)

Reverting back to the 3 I’s, Blinder emphasizes that while they may hold different values and theories, economists tend to be much less further apart than politicians. Raskin admits that the current political climate has compromise extremely difficult, making him become more of demonstrator than legislator. Although he agreed that it has become much harder to have an impact, Weber believes there is still hope. In order to fix this problem, Weber believes we must try to figure out what people actually believe in – not the slogans they sprout. Going forward, all three discussants see a tremendous opportunity for economists to positively affect economic policy. Though tax reform is the major issue area in which Blinder sees a need for technical expertise, Raskin points out the war on drugs and campaign finance as policy areas in which economic insight could play a major role.

Takeaway: At the end of the day, economics is not an issue area that many Americans understand. According to a study by FINRA Foundation, nearly two-thirds (63%) of Americans could not pass a basic financial literacy test, knowledge that has continued to decrease since the financial crisis. In order to build coalitions for more effective economic policies, we must start by making it a topic that the American electorate both cares about and can follow. As Blinder points out, this will not be easy and will take at least a generation of fundamental change. Although the long-term solution requires changes to the K-12 curriculum and more emphasis on better economic/financial press coverage, there are a number of online resources to help the transformation. For absolutely no charge, individuals can enhance their economic knowledge by taking online classes on topics such as Stock Investing and Crowdfunding

Additionally, we must figure out an create a superior communication network between politicians and economists to improve fiscal policy formulation. As Rep. Raskin points out, there is no real “neutral” economic group or organization that Congress can rely on. Although Blinder suggested a scenario in which a group of economic experts were selected to rewrite the tax code with a set of goals and oversight provided by Congress, he admitted that it was not a politically feasible solution. While I do not expect Congress to relinquish its ability to create fiscal policy anytime soon, there are incremental changes that can make economic policy more sound. In order to eliminate the time-frame problem, we must consider remove election-cycle pressures from affecting broad fiscal policy decisions. Politicians and economists must be held to the same timeline, having a standardized set of outlook and forecasting components that make analysis and comparison easier.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Liberty Bank, SBA and US Black Chamber Loan Guarantee Program by Kari Nelson, Impact Investing Intern, University of Virginia

On Wednesday June 14, New Orleans-based Liberty Bank, a black-owned bank, announced that it is partnering with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Black Chambers (USBC) to guarantee loans for black business owners.

The groups hope this partnership will boost access to capital by solving one problem many black business owners experience – they cannot get capital when they need it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2014 only 47% of black business owners who requested funding from banks got the full amount requested, compared with 76% of whites. Statistics such as this are discouraging, and black business owners feel disheartened by the situation – with 57% of black business owners who don’t seek capital citing fear of being rejected as their reason. The credit gap is obviously a huge issue for black business owners and there is a lot of room for improvement in how banks and the Government address the issue. This new initiative by Liberty Bank with the SBA is an attempt to address this issue more effectively.

On June 14, I attended USBC’s School of Chamber & Business Management and heard the Senior Vice President of Liberty Bank & Trust Company, Ann Duplessis, discuss this new initiative. It was obvious that she and Liberty Bank are excited about the venture and confident that it will make a difference, and from the positive response she was got from the audience, you could tell that many of the business owners in the room had either experienced or were familiar with the capital-access problem black-owned businesses face and felt that this might be the answer they’d been waiting for.

Some basics (according to Biz New Orleans):
In order to apply, a business owner must be a member of their local black chamber of commerce.
Loans can range from $5,000 to $100,000.
Loans can be used for equipment financing, business debt refinance, leasehold improvements, and working capital.
The program will be piloted in 11 cities nationwide.

This program seems promising. SBA-backed lending shields banks from riskier loans – a label given if the bank has low capital or if the business owner has a low credit score or business revenues – so banks can lend to small-business owners who may not quality for more traditional business loans.

SBA-backed lending makes perfect sense as a means to address the credit gap between white and black business owners because statistically black-owned banks and black business owners are more likely to have the characteristics that would lead a loan to be labeled as riskier. This leads to a significant disadvantage for African-American businesses trying to access capital and thus leads to the credit gap.

It seems to me that the solution, SBA-backed lending, perfectly fits the problem: the loan risk factors present in black-owned banks and businesses and the resulting credit gap. I’m optimistic that this pilot program by Liberty Bank, the SBA, and the USBC may help close the credit gap by giving more black business owners the confidence and the means to request and receive funding.  

(For more information call Ann Duplessis at Liberty Bank and Trust at (504) 240-5182, or email - ed.)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

“Stay Faithful”: Senator Cory Booker at the U.S. Black Chamber by Austin Wu, Impact Investing Analyst, University of Maryland

During today’s (6/14/17) U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce meeting, I had the honor of listening to a very emotional yet encouraging speech by the junior United States Senator from New Jersey, Senator Cory Booker.

Senator Booker attended Stanford University, where he played college football and received a Bachelor of Arts in political science, along with a Master’s degree in sociology. Later, he attended the University of Oxford and upon returning to the United States, earned his Doctor’s degree from Yale Law School. He was the 36th Mayor of Newark, in office from October 2013 to July 2016.

Despite his outstanding background, both academically and politically, he never moved out of his neighborhood, a small and crowded black neighborhood in Harrington Park, New Jersey.

His parents, Carolyn Rose and Cary Alfred Booker, were among the first black executives at IBM, and the tradition of excellence his parents represents makes Senator Booker believe that, given the opportunity, black children will perform just as well as white children. Holding to this belief, he devotes his life to building a better society for minority and women, helping them grow up in an environment with more opportunity, seeking to change the fact that, although black makes up 12% of the entire population in the United States, only 3.6% of the startup businesses are led by black.

The theme of his speech was “Stay Faithful.” Senator Booker gave several examples from his life, clear testimony of the distant, yet crucial, social equality factors affecting minorities and women.
He gave stories that highlighted the experience of growing up in a minority neighborhood, the sound of gunshots and police car sirens facilitating his transformation from childhood to adulthood. He noted that despite the much higher violence rate, mainstream media rarely reports the social problems within his neighborhood. The lack of concern, along with the stereotype of disorderliness and poverty in black neighborhoods, has created a barrier to success that hides the genius and talents within those neighborhoods.

Senator Booker wants to use his influence to help minority neighborhoods flourish. Carrying the idea of fixing the chaos forward, Senator Booker tells the story of meeting Miss Virginia Jones, a community leader in Newark, and offering, eagerly, to help. “Tell me what you see. Describe what you see around you” she asked. After Senator Booker answered using words like: chaotic, messy and unregulated," she replied: “Boy, if that’s all you see, you can never help me. The world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. And only when you see hope, opportunity, possibility love, then you can help me make a change”

Another story Senator Booker concerned his parents. The Booker family once wanted to buy a house, but was told by the real estate agency that the house had been sold. They later found out that the house had not been sold. Feeling unfairly treated, the family hired a lawyer and approached the agency, demanding a proper response. When his father's lawyer and his father approached the agency, the agency's owner punched the lawyer and sicced a dog on Booker's father. (As the Senator noted, with each telling, the dog seemed to get larger.) It is woeful events like this that shaped Senator Booker’s mindset: to strengthen black people’s social position and to promote social equality.

But, as old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. People may lose faith and question their abilities to change their social status.

In closing, Senator Booker cited his father, who said poverty is not measured in monetary value, but by your determination to turn the bad around you into the good.

All you have to do, once on the right path, is to stay faithful.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center by Sahil Grover, Impact Investing Intern, University of Virginia

When discussing some of the America’s most innovative cities and areas, Washington DC does not immediately come to mind. Despite serving as our nation’s capital and being home to the world’s most powerful government, DC has been known to lag behind other metropolitan areas in the tech space. In an effort to showcase some of the exciting progress being made around the District, Atlantic Magazine teamed up with The Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center to co-host The Game Changers, a two-part discussion panel led by Washington Editor-In-Chief Steve Clemons. The event was underwritten by Microsoft. Videos of the discussion can be found here.

The first part of the discussion focused on sourcing innovation and comprised of 3 speakers:

These three served as excellent examples of the unique ways to becoming a leading innovator. Though each speaker had very different backgrounds and expertise in the tech space, they all shared one thing: experience with capitalizing on disruptive technologies.

When discussing the role of business in society, Ms. Grayson described how, despite functioning as a for-profit venture capital firm, New Enterprise Associates is able to be socially impactful. By operating a portfolio driven by global investments in technology and healthcare, NEA is able to fuel the spread of innovative ideas and transformative technologies. With seven offices and investments made in ventures all across the globe, Dana believes there is opportunity to innovate in a variety of places.

Similarly, Mr. Scranton believes that by using virtual reality to provide valuable insight in a planning and design context, IrisVR is able to differentiate itself as a tool rather than as a gimmick. According to Scranton, the flow and progression software that IrisVR utilizes aligns well with the rise of spatial technology and its potential to become apart of daily interactions with things like our kitchen and car.

Last but not least, Maria Rose spoke about her non-profit communications platform for emergency food distribution. Using her background and childhood experience working in local food pantries, Ms. Rose was able to realize that there was a massive disconnect within the food supply network. By identifying a fundamental problem and what was missing, She was able to use state-of-the-art technologies such as Ruby on Rails to create real results: recovering 250,000 pounds of food across a integrated network of 48 states. By using an innovative, market-based approach, Ms.Rose was able to accomplish this impressive feat as a junior at American University and monthly budget of $4000-7000.

The second part of the panel consisted of a conversation between Mr. Clemons and Representative Will Hurd (R-TX) on modernizing the government. To begin the discussion, Hurd emphasized how Congress has recognized the value of learning about things like cybersecurity, IT procurement, and coding. When discussing his work with the Office for American Innovation, a new White House Office led by Jared Kushner, Hurd asserted that many of the important changes and policies needed to improve the governments role do not have to big and flashy. For example, Hurd pointed to the potential for an interoperable electronic health record system between the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a major step toward making the government more advanced. However, Hurd also believes that the government’s hand in individual entrepreneurship and creativity should be minimal, expressing his desire for easing regulatory barriers to innovation. Hurd admitted that the government does not always have all the answers and must benefit from the “brain drain” by providing the proper platform for the world’s brightest minds to advance their ideas.

Following the discussion panel, guests were invited to tour through Microsoft Tech Fair, an event used to showcase some of the groundbreaking research and technological products created by Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center. The open house consisted of 12 unique demonstrations focused on creating advanced technologies (HoloLens) (FarmBeats) to solve some of the world’s biggest problems such as cancer and disease (Project Hanover, Project Premonition). More news on this event and the demos can be found using the event hashtag #DCTechFair. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) at the Washington Post by Kari Nelson, Impact Investing Intern, University of Virginia

On June 7, as part of The Washington Post’s recurring series Securing Tomorrow, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, sat down with David Ignatius of The Washington Post to discuss the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion or ties to the Trump campaign. I was in the room for this interview, so I’m going to try to answer the most important question: What important things did we learn from this interview?

Rep. Schiff commented on former FBI Director James Comey’s description of President Trump’s behavior in a written statement submitted by Comey on June 7, which included the President describing the Russia investigation as “’a cloud’ that was impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country,” and asking what the FBI “could do to ‘lift the cloud.’” Schiff called this behavior “certainly evidence of interference or obstruction.” This is important. As we know from Watergate, obstruction of justice is a potentially impeachable offense, so this question of if Trump obstructed justice is important to the big picture question of how much longer he’ll be in office. Continuing, however, Schiff brings up a good point that the practical question of if Trump could be impeached for obstruction of justice is a more complicated matter: even if there is a legal case to be made that Trump obstructed justice, you may not be able to persuade enough GOP members in the Republican Congress that they can justify a vote for impeachment to their constituents. This is a sticky situation, especially when one considers that prominent legal minds such as Jeffrey Toobin and Alan Dershowitz can’t even agree on whether Trump’s behavior is obstruction of justice. None of this is new or shocking information, we’ve been hearing about obstruction of justice since around the time of the Comey firing, but this question of if there is a legal case that Trump obstructed justice and, if so, if there’s a chance he may be impeached for it is extremely significant and it’s important to see where Schiff’s thinking is on this.

Schiff also commented on President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, calling it “one of the single most destructive acts of a President” that he “can remember” because “we have just given up the leadership globally on one of the most important issues globally,” (that important issue being climate change). This is important because climate change is a huge issue and U.S. global leadership is important, but this isn’t shocking news: there are very few Democrats in Congress that agree with Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement. In bringing up Paris though, Schiff brought light to one very important issue: the Democrats play too nice. Democrats need to be more assertive in “calling out the President when he violates the norms of office, the letter of the law, or anything like it,” or they aren’t going to win elections.  He also noted that Democrats need to reach out to “shrinking communities, where people literally felt left behind,” and more effectively demonstrate to those communities how and why Democratic policies would improve their lives. In my opinion, these two points about calling out Trump and reaching out to communities where people feel left behind are very important. (I should note here that I consider myself a Democrat and I want the Dems to have a majority in the House and Senate, and to have control of the White House.) Obviously something the Democrats are doing isn’t working or the Republicans wouldn’t have control of Congress and the White House, and some major changes need to be made if Dems are going to be win back control of either chamber of Congress in 2018 or the White House in 2020. I don’t have the answers for what these changes should be, but it’s important for prominent Democrats like Adam Schiff to talk about these issues and really start a conversation within the Democratic Party (and the DNC under it’s new chair Tom Perez) about what should be happening differently.

Schiff also said that he agreed with Senator Angus King’s (I-ME) assertion that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers had no acceptable justification to refuse to answer questions regarding their conversations with President Trump and whether or not Trump attempted to get Coats and Rogers to intervene in the FBI’s Russia investigation. Pay attention to this. There is some talk that these two men should be charged with Contempt of Congress, and I’m not a lawyer so I won’t comment on that; but as more hearings occur, this suggests that Democrats will be united in putting a lot of pressure on Trump personnel to fully answer all questions they legally can. We have yet to see if this increase in pressure will stop anyone during future hearings from refusing to answer a question just so they don’t embarrass Trump, but it will definitely be interesting to see if someone does and, if so, how Dems will push back.

Schiff also brought up the timing of events leading up to the firing of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn:
·         Jan. 26: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warns White House that the then- National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may be compromised
·         Jan. 27: Trump invites then- FBI Director Comey to a private meal and asks for a pledge of loyalty
·         Feb. 13: Flynn fired
·         Feb. 14: Trump asks Comey to drop investigation into Flynn

Did Trump’s decision to invite Comey to dine with him and request Comey’s loyalty have to do with Yates’s warning? These events, as well as their timing, paint “an alarming picture” of the POTUS, according to Schiff. Schiff brings up an important point, one that I believe John Oliver expressed best when he told viewers to keep reminding themselves “this is not normal” during the Trump presidency; we cannot become desensitized to the dangerous antics of this administration.

Lastly, Schiff noted that the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia is just getting started. This tells all of us following the investigations into Trump and Russia that we’re probably not going to learn the whole story any time soon, if ever. So if you’re like me and you’ve been watching cable news every night to learn the latest about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, keep watching and waiting but pace yourself, this is going to be a long and weird journey.

I’ve discussed the main points from David Ignatius’s interview with Rep. Adam Schiff here, but I really recommend that anyone who is interested in politics watch it in it’s entirety ( It’s a rare treat to see a politician be as straightforward in an interview as Schiff was, and Ignatius asked interesting and important questions, so it’s worth it to give up 1 hour, 2 minutes, and 2 seconds of your life to watch the full interview.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

“Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” by Austin Wu, Impact Investing Analyst, University of Maryland.

Meeting at Atlantic Magazine with Graham Allison: “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?”

Definition: "Thucydides Trap" refers to a situation in which a rising power causes fear in an established power ultimately escalating to war.”

As President Trump’s tenure begins, the relationship between the United States and China is surrounded by an provocatively intense atmosphere with topics like: the trade deficit between the United States and China, whether China is a currency manipulator, and how China should be responsible for control of North Korea’s weapons. Addressing the potential for war between the two nations in his new book, on June 1st, The Atlantic hosted a discussion with Graham Allison, currently Director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affair and a leading analyst of U.S. national security and defense.

The discussion started with the latest news that the United States will walk away from the Paris Climate Agreement, an outcome Mr. Allison described as “dumb”. He then recognized the speed at which China is catching the United States in nearly every aspect, from manufacturing to technology. Combining this fact with the US leaving both the Paris Accord and the TPP, Mr. Allison suggests China will gradually take over as world leader, starting with the global economy and climate control.

The discussion shifted to the focal point of the book: the pattern of rising power meets dominant power; and how conflicts generated by this tension are solved, either peacefully or violently, from a historical perspective. One alarming fact that Mr. Allison presented is this: over the past 500 years, there have been 16 times when a rising power had a conflict with the ruling power. In 12 of these times, the conflict ended violently. Mr. Allison then went on to illustrate the recent case of Germany and Great Britain.

Mr. Allison also discussed how some external events, which would otherwise be manageable, became the trigger point for war between two powers, in the case between the United States and China, Mr. Allison believes that the situation in North Korea could well be the trigger point.

With respect to the 4 cases where the Thucydides’s Trap conflicts ended peacefully, Mr. Allison highlighted the example of the United States and Great Britain. This ended peacefully (or seemingly peacefully) as the United States overtook Great Britain to become the number one country to rule the world. Mr. Allison wonders whether the strategies the United States implemented could be reapplied by the Chinese.

Lastly, Mr. Allison analyzed the characteristics of President Xi Jinping and how he is replacing "communism" with "nationalism". This is gradually influencing the younger Chinese. The definition of nationalism, by Mr. Allison, in the context of the Chinese political environment, is the following: the people of China, especially the younger Chinese, appear to believe that the leader of the country is "more competent than most of us, and that he is making progress every day, and most importantly, he makes us feel prouder on a daily basis as being Chinese."

My experience attending the event was very positive but I left with some doubts. A war between the United States and China has been discussed more frequently in recent years, but I never perceived it likely. This discussion (on a hypothetical war) is more likely designed to boost comparison between the United States and China on multiple dimensions such as infrastructure and military.

 However, after attending the event, I became less certain, as history shows the Thucydides’s Trap does happen, and 75% of the time, the trap caused bloodshed. Fortunately, as a businessman, Mr. Trump certainly understands the economic loss if a war happens, and the social return (defined as the extra return of a behavior that serve the well-being of the society) of war has never been positive. No experienced and astute businessman like Mr. Trump will take this negative NPV (Net Present Value) project.

I hope that the discussion of war between the two countries can serve as a mean to discover those trigger points, and start working from there, to negotiate and to compromise terms that maximize the benefit of the entire world.

Monday, June 5, 2017

eBay Startup Cup by Kari Nelson, Impact Investing Intern, University of Virginia

Starting a new company is inherently risky, but recently a new methodology called the “lean start-up” has been gaining traction and may help mitigate the risks associated with start-ups. This methodology emphasizes quick business development and testing ideas and products with real customers as soon as possible to get important feedback. The Harvard Business Review has written about these sorts of techniques as the new big thing business schools are beginning to teach and notes that they believe this methodology will help increase growth in the number of start-ups (

One approach to the lean start-up is called the Business Model Scorecard (BMSC) (pictured above), and it’s designed to help entrepreneurs build a viable business model and get products to market to start generating revenue much quicker than more traditional approaches. Last weekend (June 3-4), 111 start-ups got together at in3, a community space and incubator located near Howard University in Washington, D.C., to workshop their business models using the BMSC at the DC eBay StartUp Cup Extreme Build-A-Business Weekend. This was the kickoff event to a competition over the next several months, culminating in cash prizes for the winning start-ups.

This 48-hour high-intensity event involved eBay employees and other volunteers with relevant experience mentoring early stage entrepreneurs on how to think through and refine their business models for 10-15 minutes at a time. After talking with the entrepreneurs, the mentors would then judge the start-up.

I shadowed mentors during both days of this event and talked to some very interesting entrepreneurs. From what I saw this was a great event because it really forced the entrepreneurs to think critically about their business and take action steps toward making their ideas a reality. And despite the fact that the mentors pushed the entrepreneurs, there was a friendly vibe to the mentor-mentee conversations, and the mentors presented their critiques in a “tough love” way – which was encouraged by GriffinWorx (the host of the event).

Another positive attribute was that this event was very inclusive, involving a very diverse group of entrepreneurs from many different backgrounds. GriffinWorx and the eBay Foundation started this event as a way to help “anyone, regardless of background or circumstance, realize their dreams of building a business,” according to Amy Millington, President of eBay Foundation, the charitable arm of eBay. The first step to fulfilling that goal is to attract a diverse group of entrepreneurs, and from what I saw GriffinWorx and the eBay Foundation succeeded in that regard.

At the end of the weekend, 26 incredible entrepreneurs were chosen to continue in the competition and will receive further support and coaching. There are a few that I will definitely be keeping tabs on and awaiting their success.​​