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Online 529 Education Gifting Programs Fulfill Families’ Ecommerce…

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Vivian Tsai, Chair, College Savings Foundation

By sharing a link to a child’s 529 savings plan, families can educate their circle of friends about this option and empower their broader network to participate in a child’s financial and educational future. — CSF Chair Vivian Tsai

This holiday season 529 Education Gifting Programs are meeting the needs of families and friends looking to ecommerce channels for holiday gifts from the comfort of their homes. Having grown in availability and popularity over the last several years, the variety of online gifting tools, crowdfunding platforms, e-gift cards and downloadable gift certificates, make higher education savings as convenient as online shopping for material gifts, according to members of the College Savings Foundation.

“At a time when families are carefully evaluating the costs of higher education, 529 education gifting tools can make saving easier while sending a powerful message on the value of setting long-term goals. Whether the funds will go to a community college, technical school or a traditional 4-year college, these gifting programs provide a foundation for a child to plan and prepare for their future,” said CSF Chair Vivian Tsai.

Among CSF members’ offerings are personalized websites for crowdfunding, online registries, electronic or physical gift cards purchasable online or at national retail and grocery chains, and downloadable gift certificates. Links and special features are included in Gifting Programs at http://www.collegesavingsfoundation.org

Although CSF members report 529 education plan gifting throughout the year, most say that contributions increase during the holiday season and into the New Year. As families become more aware of them as options for graduations, birthdays and special occasions, numerous CSF members report year over year growth in their gifting program contributions.

One benefit of online gifting is that parents can include a link to a child’s customized 529 education savings platform in an e-birthday invitation or social media site.

“Families are pragmatic about the need to save for their children’s higher education. By sharing a link to a child’s 529 savings plan, they can educate their circle of friends about this option and empower their broader network to participate in a child’s financial and educational future,” Tsai said.

CSF members have implemented ways to make gifting easier:

  • Alaska 529 and T. Rowe Price College Savings Plan, which have seen a 10% and 13% year over year growth in gifting last year respectively, allow account holders to access the GoTuition® online gifting portal to ask friends and family for gifts by email, evites or social media.
  • Indiana CollegeChoice 529 serving Indiana plan owners can share a Ugift® code with friends and family so they can “give a gift that won’t be outgrown.”
  • College Savings Bank, a Division of NexBank and CollegeChoice CD 529 Savings Plan, offer family and friends the option of making a deposit online.
  • Fidelity-managed gifting programs include UNIQUE College Investing Plan, MEFA U. Fund College Investing Plan, Fidelity Arizona College Savings Plan and Delaware College Investing Plan. Year over year through the end of Q3, Fidelity managed plans saw a 66% increase in online gifting activity.
  • Franklin Templeton: Spryng is a crowdfunding platform where a parent or account holder can send out invitations to contribute via email or social media – along with a personal story about the beneficiary. Contributors can also download a gift announcement to share their gifting news to the family. Spryng is available for Franklin Templeton 529 College Savings Plan and NJBEST account holders.
  • Gift of College offers a platform that enables crowdfunding for college. Friends, family, and employers can contribute to any 529 college savings, student loan or 529 ABLE account using the giftofcollege.com registry. Its suite of products and services includes Gift of College Gift Cards (available online and at over 3000 retailer locations including select Target stores, Save Mart, Lucky and H-E-B) and Gift of College At-Work, an employee benefit platform offering payroll deduction and employer match and contribution technology.
  • Kansas’ Learning Quest® 529 Education Savings Program and Schwab 529 Education Plan offer gifting options through Ugift®.
  • Maryland College Investment Plan, managed by T. Rowe Price, allows account holders to access the GoTuition® online gifting portal to ask friends and family for gifts by email, evites or social media. Maryland Prepaid College Trust gift contributions are sent by mail using a Gift Contribution Slip.
  • Michigan Education Savings Program offers Ugift® and, along with MI 529, downloadable gift certificates.
  • Nebraska’s NEST 529 Direct and Advisor College Savings Plans offer a new program called GiftED, starting in December, in which the account owner can send out GiftED invitations for holidays, birthdays or other special occasions from their computer. Contributors can mail their contributions in directly and download gift cards and certificates to notify the beneficiary. The GiftED platform provides the gift history to the account owner online including the date and amount of any contributions as well as the contributor name.
  • New Mexico’s The Education Plan® and ScholarsEdge® offer online access to gifting through Ugift®, as well as suggestions for how parents can broach the conversation with others about contributions to a 529 plan.
  • Ohio’s 529 Plan, the CollegeAdvantage Direct Plan, offers tools for grandparents and friends to open or add to a 529 plan. Ohio’s 529 Plan offers online gifting through Ugift®, accepts gift contributions by check and offers physical and digital greeting cards to send the child. The site also has a special page for grandparents.
  • Private College 529 Plan allows families to establish an eGifting event and prompt family and friends to contribute directly to their Private College 529 Plan account, for hundreds of colleges and universities, through a secure portal.
  • Scholars Choice® 529 College Savings Program (Colorado – home state – available Nationwide) participates in Gift of College and Ugift®, the free crowdfunding/gifting service that invites family and friends to celebrate milestones with gift contributions to the Scholars Choice Scholars Choice® 529 account. Gift givers can manage multiple gift contributions and gifting requests can also be posted on social media.
  • ScholarShare 529, California’s official college savings plan, allows account holders to establish a gifting portal profile and share it with friends and family by email or social media. ScholarShare 529 has experienced a 19% year over year growth this year.
  • Sootchy, Inc is a new, state-of-the-art, AI-driven platform that leverages crowdfunding through the use of My Circle and My Events to help ease the difficulties families face when saving for college or higher education. On December 10th, families can download the Sootchy app in the Apple App and Google Play stores for the ability to save for their child’s higher education savings and or the ability to save for their child’s private school tuition.
  • Texas College Savings Plan, Lonestar529 Plan and Texas Tuition Promise Fund offer online downloadable gift coupons, and notify families of the gift.
  • Utah’s My529’s gifting program links friends and family to a personal gift page where they can contribute with the gift code online through gift.my529.org or download a gift notice about a contribution by check. The gifting platform has grown by 17% over the past two years.
  • Virginia529 family and friends can access a Gift Center for digital gift cards, get co-branded gift cards available at Walmart.com or participating Target or H.E.B. Grocery locations, or download gift certificates for a variety of occasions from its website. It saw a 58% year over year increase in gifting transactions and a 96% increase in dollars contributed.
  • WA529, Washington College Savings Plans, offer family and friends various gifting options. Washington’s DreamAhead College Investment Plan enables account owners to create a gifting page for their student with a unique link that makes it easy to share on social networks and invite family and friends to contribute. The state’s Guaranteed Education Tuition program offers multiple ways to gift, along with downloadable certificates announcing the gift.

The College Savings Foundation (CSF) is a Washington, D.C.- based not-for-profit organization helping American families achieve their education savings goals. http://www.collegesavingsfoundation.org

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Source: https://www.prweb.com/releases/online_529_education_gifting_programs_fulfill_families_ecommerce_needs_for_the_holidays_college_savings_foundation_says/prweb17554824.htm

Automotive

End-to-end operators are the next generation of consumer business

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At Battery, a central part of our consumer investing practice involves tracking the evolution of where and how consumers find and purchase goods and services. From our annual Battery Marketplace Index, we’ve seen seismic shifts in how consumer purchasing behavior has changed over the years, starting with the move to the web and, more recently, to mobile and on-demand via smartphones.

The evolution looks like this in a nutshell: In the early days, listing sites like Craigslist, Angie’s List* and Yelp effectively put the Yellow Pages online — you could find a new restaurant or plumber on the web, but the process of contacting them was largely still offline. As consumers grew more comfortable with the web, marketplaces like eBay, Etsy, Expedia and Wayfair* emerged, enabling historically offline transactions to occur online.

More recently, and spurred in large part by mobile, on-demand use cases, managed marketplaces like Uber, DoorDash, Instacart and StockX* have taken online consumer purchasing a step further. They play a greater role in the operations of the marketplace, from automatically matching demand with supply, to verifying the supply side for quality, to dynamic pricing.

The key purpose of being end-to-end is to deliver an even better value proposition to consumers relative to incumbent alternatives.

Each stage of this evolution unlocked billions of dollars in value, and many of the names listed above remain the largest consumer internet companies today.

At their core, these companies are facilitators, matching consumer demand with existing supply of a product or service. While there is no doubt these companies play a hugely valuable role in our lives, we increasingly believe that simply facilitating a transaction or service isn’t enough. Particularly in industries where supply is scarce, or in old-guard industries where innovation in the underlying product or service is slow, a digitized marketplace — even when managed — can produce underwhelming experiences for consumers.

In these instances, starting from the ground up is what is really required to deliver an optimal consumer experience. Back in 2014, Chris Dixon wrote a bit about this phenomenon in his post on “Full stack startups.” Fast forward several years, and more startups than ever are “full stack” or as we call it, “end-to-end operators.”

These businesses are fundamentally reimagining their product experience by owning the entire value chain, from end to end, thereby creating a step-functionally better experience for consumers. Owning more in the stack of operations gives these companies better control over quality, customer service, delivery, pricing and more — which gives consumers a better, faster and cheaper experience.

It’s worth noting that these end-to-end models typically require more capital to reach scale, as greater upfront investment is necessary to get them off the ground than other, more narrowly focused marketplacesBut in our experience, the additional capital required is often outweighed by the value captured from owning the entire experience.

End-to-end operators span many verticals

Many of these businesses have reached meaningful scale across industries:

All of these companies have recognized they can deliver more value to consumers by “owning” every aspect of the underlying product or service — from the bike to the workout content in Peloton’s case, or the bank account to the credit card in Chime’s case. They have reinvented and reimagined the entire consumer experience, from end to end.

What does success for end-to-end operator businesses look like?

As investors, we’ve had the privilege of meeting with many of these next-generation end-to-end operators over the years and found that those with the greatest success tend to exhibit the five key elements below:

1. Going after very large markets

The end-to-end approach makes the most sense when disrupting very large markets. In the graphic above, notice that most of these companies play in the largest, but notoriously archaic industries like banking, insurance, real estate, healthcare, etc. Incumbents in these industries are very large and entrenched, but they are legacy players, making them slow to adopt new technology. For the most part, they have failed to meet the needs of our digital-native, mobile-savvy generation and their experiences lag behind consumer expectations of today (evidenced by low, or sometimes even negative, NPS scores). Rebuilding the experience from the ground up is sometimes the only way to satisfy today’s consumers in these massive markets.

2. Step-functionally better consumer experience versus the status quo

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/22/end-to-end-operators-are-the-next-generation-of-consumer-business/

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D2C Brand Wakefit.Co Offers Rs 15 Crore ESOPs Buyback Options To Its Employees

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  • The announcement comes after Wakefit.co recently raised Rs 185 crore in funding from Verlinvest and Sequoia Capital India.
  • Wakefit is an online D2C store that provides quality sleep and home-solutions products at affordable prices.
  • To date, The company has raised over Rs 250 crore in funding.

Bengaluru-based online D2C brand Wakefit.co, on January 22, announced that it is offering an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) buyback option to its employees’ worth Rs 15 crore.

The announcement comes after Wakefit.co recently raised Rs 185 crore in its Series B funding round led by investment management firm Verlinvest and Sequoia India Capital. With that investment, Wakefit valuation reached Rs 1,900 crore (or about $260 million).

In December 2018, Wakefit had raised Rs 65 crore in its Series A funding round led by Sequoia Capital. To date, the company has raised over Rs 250 crore in funding.

According to the company, The new ESOP buyback plan would benefit 15-20 employees, providing meaningful wealth creation opportunities for them. Further, the scheme will allocate 6-7% of the company’s shares to the employees’ part of the school.

Founded in 2016 by Ankit Garg and Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, Wakefit (Wakefit Innovations Pvt. Ltd.) is an online D2C store that provides quality sleep and home-solutions products to customers at affordable prices. The company currently manufactures its products in-house across three locations and has 22 warehouses across the country. It had recently opened its experience centers in four cities, including Gurugram, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, and Lucknow.

Commenting on the latest development, Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, Co-founder & Director, Wakefit.co, said, “Our workforce has stood together to set us on course to reach Rs 450 crore by FY2021, and we felt it was only fair that we make senior members of our team part of this growth journey. We hope that the ESOPS buyback option will continue to add value to our employees’ lives and keep them motivated as we venture into a new year poised with exciting challenges.”

Also Read: Food Aggregator Swiggy Introduces ESOP Liquidity Program To Reward Its Employees

“We hope that the ESOPs buyback option will continue to add value to our employees’ lives and keep them motivated, as we venture into a new year poised with exciting challenges,” said Chaitanya Ramalingegowda.

The company said that it will also add another 50-60 employees’ into the existing pool, benefiting early employees for their commitment and hard work.

It further said that it aims to increase its workforce from March 2020 by 400% to 3,000 employees by March 2021. It has already started training programmes for machine operators, carpenters, and other customer experience executives.

Follow IndianStartupNews on FacebookInstagramTwitter for the latest updates from the startup ecosystem.

Source: https://indianstartupnews.com/news/d2c-brand-wakefit-co-offers-rs-15-crore-esops-buyback-options-to-its-employees/

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AI

Google launches suite of AI-powered solutions for retailers

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Google today announced the launch of Product Discovery Solutions for Retail, a suite of services deigned to enhance retailers’ ecommerce capabilities and help them deliver personalized customer experiences. Product Discovery Solutions for Retail brings together AI algorithms and a search service, Cloud Search for Retail, that leverages Google Search technology to power retailers’ product-finding tools.

The pandemic and corresponding rise in online shopping threaten to push supply chains to the breaking point. Early in the COVID-19 crisis, Amazon was forced to restrict the amount of inventory suppliers could send to its warehouses. Ecommerce order volume has increased by 50% compared with 2019, and shipment times for products like furniture more than doubled in March. Moreover, overall U.S. digital sales have jumped by 30%, expediting the online shopping transition by as much as two years.

Product Discovery Solutions for Retail, which is generally available to all companies as of today, aims to address the challenges with AI and machine learning. To that end, it includes access to Google’s Recommendations AI, which uses machine learning to dynamically adapt to customer behavior and changes in variables like assortment, pricing, and special offers.

Recommendations AI, which launched in beta in July and is now generally available, ostensibly excels at handling recommendations in scenarios with long-tail products and cold-start users and items. Thanks to “context-hungry” deep learning models developed in partnership with Google Brain and Google Research, it’s able to draw insights across tens of millions of items and constantly iterate on those insights in real time.

From a graphical interface, businesses using Recommendations AI can integrate, configure, monitor, and launch recommendations while connecting data by using existing integrations with Merchant Center, Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics 360, Cloud Storage, and BigQuery. Recommendations AI can incorporate unstructured metadata like product name, description, category, images, product longevity, and more while customizing recommendations to deliver desired outcomes, such as engagement, revenue, or conversions. And it lets Google Cloud customers apply rules to fine-tune what shoppers see and diversify which products are shown, filtering by product availability and custom tags.

Product Discovery Solutions for Retail also includes access to Google’s Vision API Product Search, which allows shoppers to search for products with an image and receive a ranked list of visually and semantically similar items. Google says Vision Product Search taps machine learning-powered object recognition and lookup to provide real-time results of similar, or complementary, items from retailers’ product catalog.

Beyond Recommendations AI and Vision API Product Search, Product Discovery Solutions for Retail ships with Cloud Search for Retail. Cloud Search for Retail, which is currently in private preview, pulls from Google’s understanding of user intent and context to provide retail product search functionality that can be embedded into websites and mobile apps.

“As the shift to online continues, smarter and more personalized shopping experiences will be even more critical for retailers to rise above their competition,” Google Cloud retail and consumer VP Carrie Tharp said in a statement. “Retailers are in dire need of agile operating models powered by cloud infrastructure and technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) to meet today’s industry demands. We’re proud to partner with retailers around the world and bring forward our Product Discovery offerings to help them succeed.”

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Source: https://venturebeat.com/2021/01/19/google-launches-suite-of-ai-powered-solutions-for-retailers/

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Ecommerce

Infinite Fleet Launches Security Token Offering (STO) on STOKR, Led by…

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Exordium, the publisher of upcoming sci-fi massively multiplayer online (MMO) strategy game Infinite Fleet, today announced the launch of its public security token offering (STO) for select countries that will grant every participant equity in the company and a share in future profits.

The public offering is set to take place immediately on STOKR, an innovative STO platform that provides turn-key solutions for small and medium-sized ventures to obtain access to capital markets, according to EU capital market laws.

The offering round is priced at $0.50 per “EXOeu” token – the security token issued by Exordium (Luxembourg) S.C.S. representing a share in the Exordium parent company. The round is being led by Tether International Limited (“Tether International”), a member of the Tether group of companies, the largest stablecoin issuer in the world. Tether International has invested US$1 million in EXOeu tokens.

“As a former MMORPG game developer myself, I see great potential in the application of crypto assets to multiplayer online games,” said Paolo Ardoino, CTO at Tether International Limited. “It is a perfect match of two rapidly growing digital sectors with tremendous upside. Samson Mow and his team are veterans with proven track records in both fields, with a clear vision of what they want to achieve.”

Infinite Fleet is an online strategy game in which players command fleets of customizable spaceships and play cooperatively to fend off an alien threat, leaving their legacy in the game’s lore via its unique directed narrative feature. The game draws inspiration from space real-time strategy (RTS) and MMO classics like Homeworld and EVE Online, while integrating a crypto asset to power its in-game peer-to-peer economy.

The EXOeu token for the offering is issued via Blockstream AMP, a platform for the tokenization of securities built on the Liquid sidechain of Bitcoin, which has been directly integrated with STOKR.

This funding model allows for the democratization of venture capital access to the general public. Investors will be able to invest directly through the STOKR platform using various currencies such as the euro (EUR), bitcoin (BTC), and Tether (USDt), starting from as little as US$100-equivalent.

“Security tokens like EXOeu are changing the way companies fundraise,” said Arnab Naskar, Co-Founder & Business Lead at STOKR. “Unlike Kickstarter, investors in security tokens receive real financial rights in the company in which they are investing. STOKR is designed to support companies to reach out to their user base and access fundraising from a wider network. With the Ethereum gas fee skyrocketing at the moment, platforms like Blockstream AMP are ideal for issuing tokenized securities.”

Infinite Fleet has previously raised US$3.1 million in a private funding round, backed by several pioneers in the blockchain space such as Litecoin creator Charlie Lee and Keiser Report host Max Keiser.

Infinite Fleet’s development team is led by veteran AAA game developers that have worked on franchises such as Age of Empires, Homeworld, Company of Heroes, Dawn of War, and other top rated games that have collectively grossed over US$1.2 billion globally. The game’s closed alpha is expected to be released in the upcoming weeks.

You can participate in Infinite Fleet’s public security token offering at https://stokr.io/infinite-fleet.

About Exordium Limited

Exordium Limited is a video game publisher founded by a battle-tested team of AAA game developers, producers, and technology early movers. Exordium seeks to be at the forefront of the convergence between online gaming and crypto assets, with a focus on operating and distributing games that are innovative and socially immersive. The team behind Exordium has a wide array of experience and has previously operated games such as Vainglory and Warhammer 40,000: Carnage.

About STOKR

STOKR S.A., headquartered in Luxembourg, provides turn-key solutions to small and medium sized ventures to access capital markets, according to EU capital market laws. From technology support to payment gateways, and investment structuring to wallet registration – STOKR enables opportunities for both issuers and investors to have the most secure, advanced, and user-friendly investment experience. STOKR is led by a diverse team, operating from Luxembourg and Germany. STOKR focuses on supporting projects which are committed to making a positive impact, as well as creating a community of educated investors who are empowered to make better investment decisions.

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Source: https://www.prweb.com/releases/infinite_fleet_launches_security_token_offering_sto_on_stokr_led_by_us1m_investment_from_tether_international_limited/prweb17661500.htm

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