The extent to which hedge funds and venture capitalists are using big data and artificial intelligence to inform their investment decisions is no secret to Jessica Schaefer, a public relations veteran with a keen eye for new trends, and founder of newly minted New York firm Bevel.
Not only are financial heavyweights increasingly relying on satellite imagery to assess, for instance, the health of the Chinese economy, or checking on apps like foursquare to predict the first quarter earnings of fast food chains like Chipotle, they’re also keen to invest in emerging technologies of all kinds.
But finding the companies that have cool technology to share can pose a challenge to investors, and that’s where Bevel comes in.
Schaefer founded the firm to help companies with all kinds of cool, new age technology articulate their mission and create their brand, in order to increase their visibility vis-à-vis the investment community. “This can help companies secure additional funding and increase their valuations” she says.
Prior to funding Bevel, Schaefer led communications and marketing for Point72 Ventures, the early stage-venture capital arm of Point72, which invests in disruptive technologies. She also served as Vice President of Corporate Communications at Point72, the family office managing the assets of billionaire and philanthropist, Steve Cohen, one of Wall Street’s leading hedge fund managers.
During her tenure, she not only amassed a wealth of key contacts in the world of high-power investing but also forged close ties with reporters dedicated to covering emerging technologies, artificial intelligence and big data at top media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.
“We can introduce companies to leading venture capital firms and help them in other ways like securing high profile speaking events,” Schaefer says. “Many of these start ups don’t have the funds to pay for these and can’t afford expensive high branding fees. We can help them.”
Jessica Schaefer, Founder of Bevel
Currently, Bevel – the firm was launched in the middle of February – is working with six companies, but Schaefer has a growing list of new, cutting edge firms eager to partner with her to formulate their PR and media strategies.
“I really enjoy working with start-ups and entrepreneurs that are disrupting the financial services space,” she says.
One of her clients is Acorns, an app that connects a user’s credit and/or debit card with a savings account and allows them to automatically invest any spare change from their purchases into a diversified portfolio of exchange traded funds and stocks.
Bevel arranged a media tour for Acorns, introducing its CEO to key reporters from Yahoo Finance, Reuters, Fortune and others.
For Schaefer, though, what’s most important about Bevel is its focus on transparency when formulating strategies for its clients.
“One of the biggest problems with PR is that the client has no idea what the firm is working on,” she says. “We want to build a platform that is transparent and interactive with our clients, so that they can see exactly what we’re doing. That’s important to us and so we’re communicating with our clients frequently using an online sharing portal where we can IM them, post news and updates and share all documents so that everyone is on the same page at the same time.”
Bevel will partner with Cognito, a global finance and technology focused PR and marketing firm, to provide clients with a full suite of offerings, including marketing communications, media relations, advertising and media buying.
Prior to Point72, Schaefer had multiple sales and marketing roles at Moody’s Analytics, which included Head of Marketing Communications. She helped build the firm’s reputation and establish Moody’s Analytics among clients and investors as a leading player in risk technology and economic research.
She started her career at Prosek Partners, a leading financial services firm, where she was Senior Account Executive in the Financial Services practice. Her clients included First New York Securities, Jefferies, Lenox Advisors, OppenheimerFunds, RBC, RBS, Sterling National Bank, and Swiss Re. Schaefer has received multiple awards for her work including the most recent PR News Rising Stars 30 under 30 and Moody’s Rising Star Award
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.