Down to Business in 2016

Down to Business in 2016

Why you should care

Because show me the money!

Ross Baird is sick of hearing about big bets on startups in New York and San Francisco, so he’s ponying up for the underdogs in between, from New Orleans to Richmond, Virginia. Reporter Leslie Nguyen-Okwu takes us into the Hong Kong office of Kathy Xu, the female Warren Buffet of China. Then there’s a conversation with one of the littlest-known minds in finance: the man behind the mobile money revolution in Kenya that came way before Apple Pay or Venmo.

OZY brings you the stories you need to get ahead — wherever in the world they may come from.

The Young Venture Capitalist Betting Big on Middle America

Want to change the world? Solve the biggest problems facing society in education, health care, food, energy and resource use? Silicon Valley claims it wants to. And yet. There’s something a bit off about where the Valley sends its money, notices venture capitalist Ross Baird.

“Seventy-eight percent of startup investment goes to three U.S. states,” the 31-year-old tells me, citing 2015 figures from the National Venture Capital Association. That statistic is Baird’s favorite, and it also sums up his mission: to bring Valley-style innovation and entrepreneurship to places like Richmond, New Orleans and Louisville, Kentucky. Silicon Valley may well be the hotbed for consumer tech, but Baird isn’t after the next Tinder or GrubHub. Instead, he’s eyeing companies that can solve what he identifies as more important problems, including the water, energy and education spaces. His backers hope these companies are billion-dollar opportunities in the waiting.

The Woman Warren Buffet of China

In a cream-colored Hillary Clinton-esque suit, Kathy Xu looks like she means business — billions of dollars’ worth. Her heavy perfume has a whiff of what we’d imagine sweet, cold cash smells like, and she wears her pearl necklace like a polished medal. Don’t get on her bad side, I’m told, because she swings like a sledgehammer.

They don’t call her Tie Niangzi, or the Iron Lady, for nothing. The Hong Kong–based venture capitalist is the founder and president of the Capital Today Group, one of the world’s leading investment firms. As one of China’s most respected investors, she is bankrolling the future of the country’s internet.

The Stealth Entrepreneur Behind One of the Biggest Innovations in Finance

Plenty of entrepreneurs hew to form. They puff their chests, they bluster, they pitch idea upon idea that will change the world.

Then there’s Nick Hughes. The man is reticent, calm and so behind-the-scenes that he can come off as a bit of a wallflower. At investor meetings, “we’d have to prop him up with a bunch of espresso,” half-jokes his business partner, Jesse Moore. Which is all the more interesting because the British entrepreneur is utterly, demonstrably audacious. With a mobile-payments platform called M-Pesa, Hughes has busted genres, created something entirely new and changed the lives of millions and millions of people. And he and his small team at Vodafone did it in 2007, years before Apple Pay and Venmo. Now, in an Elon Musk–type move, Hughes is on to a new venture that would upend another couple of sectors — energy and finance — and leapfrog the West along the way. The question is: Can Hughes do it again?

The Man Behind the Most Important Chart of 2016

You may know the name Thomas Piketty. His work launched him to prime time as the “rock star economist”; his sultry French accent and general attractiveness helped of course. You may not know the name of his intellectual counterpart: Branko Milanović. Balding and bespectacled, the 63-year-old looks much more like a gloomy scientist than a revolutionary.

Nonetheless, Milanović is an heir to the great social scientists of yore — Smith, Marx, Keynes and Hayek — and part of a merry band of economists, Piketty included, who are rescuing their profession from popular irrelevance. His contribution? A single chart that describes 30 years of world economic history. Some have called it the most important chart in economics, but it has an even catchier nickname: The Elephant Curve.

How to Live in Asia Without Stepping Out of Your Apartment

It takes me more than two hours to reach the office of Mumbai-based startup Fynd, which sits about 10 miles from my house. As the car moves, inchworm-like, along roads turned into parking lots, I wonder about the millions who make these sorts of treks every day, here and in other packed Asian cities — Bangalore, Bangkok, Jakarta. I gaze thoughtfully at the many storefronts I drive by: sizable malls and high-end clothing shops, hole-in-the-wall tailors and fast-food joints. Practically every block has its mom-and-pop grocer. It would seem that in a city like Mumbai, one can find almost anything within grasping distance — fancy food, street food, fresh vegetables; retail outlets, electronics stores — except that Mumbai has a tendency to turn a simple errand into a hair-tearing quest.

When I arrive (late) at Fynd to meet its CEO and founder Harsh Shah, he’s too polite to wave a giant, triumphant flag with “I told you so” emblazoned across it. But it is exactly my experience that is fueling the growth of Shah’s company and others like it. Fynd is one of many so-called hyperlocal delivery startups dotting the Asian landscape that’s ushering in a new luxury market, based on the principle that one never need leave home.

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