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Kogod School of Business Alumna Helps Students Gain a Global Business Perspective with Startup Ageovisa

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Founder and CEO of Ageovisa, Samantha Bendt, creates a language learning platform for students who don’t want to take the one-size-fits-all approach.

Recent Kogod graduate Samantha Bendt founded Ageovisa to allow aspiring language learners to learn in the style that works best for them.

“Everyone learns differently, so Ageovisa allows students to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn,” says Bendt.

Ageovisa offers language learning resources through different learning styles using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic formats to facilitate interactive learning.

“Ageovisa is designed for both beginners and experienced language learners,” says Bendt. “My team and I are language and culture enthusiasts. We love meeting new people from all over the world. We want to provide a more personalized and interconnected experience for learners. Most platforms have a one size fits all approach with limited flexibility for their learners, so our method is meant to be more user-friendly.”

Founder and CEO Bendt launched the Ageovisa platform this past spring using a minimum viable product (MVP) model, which currently offers Spanish vocabulary in all learning styles.

“Next spring, we hope to launch our core development which will include grammar, cultural content, more languages, and more kinesthetic options,” explains Bendt. “We will be announcing the launch of additional features later.”

Bendt is no stranger to language learning courses, having taken Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Russian courses. Keeping up with her lessons became a real struggle when she realized that all current language learning platforms had a one-size-fits-all approach. This realization was the seed that grew Ageovisa.

While at Kogod, Bendt quickly understood how critical it is for business students and professionals to maintain a global perspective.

I’m grateful for my time at Kogod and the AUCI. The opportunities outside of the classroom were instrumental in my continued passion and entrepreneurial journey.”

SamanthaBendt

Samantha Bendt

Founder and CEO of Ageovisa

Almost immediately after beginning her Kogod journey, Bendt became involved with the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club. Through this, Bendt was introduced to entrepreneurial-related competitions held by Kogod and the AUCI, such as the Venture Capital Investment Competition, the AU Hack-for-a-Change Hackathon, the Kogod Case Competition, and the Startup and Standout Series.

“I participated in all of these competitions, and with my teams’ help and support, we even won first place in a few!” says Bendt.

Now, as an alumna, Bendt remains connected to the AUCI.

The AUCI has been the most influential component of my journey. They provided continuous support and mentorship that was greatly appreciated during times of need.”

A year from now, Bendt hopes to be able to offer additional features, including a mobile app to Ageovisa users—and she couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of fellow entrepreneurs and mentors she met along the way through her involvement with the AUCI and other competitions.

“Never be afraid to ask for help,” advises Bendt. “Entrepreneurship is a journey of learning, usually by trial and error. These experiences make you stronger and more resilient to challenges you may encounter in the future.”

Not Too Old For This

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Not Too Old for This

Aging workers contend with ageism and discrimination in the workplace, but this Kogod School of Business alum is helping to make policy changes.

BethFinkle

Kogod alumna Beth Finkel

Millions of older Americans have re-entered the workforce in recent months. Nearly 64 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 worked in April, essentially the same rate as in February 2020. That’s a more complete pandemic recovery than among most younger age groups.

Inflation and precipitous rises in the cost of living have forced many professionals to return to work from retirement. Others enjoy the engagement and camaraderie work provides.

Older workers weren’t any more likely than younger workers to leave the labor force early in the pandemic. Still, economists thought aging workers might be slower to return because people in their 50s and 60s typically have a hard time finding jobs than their younger counterparts, primarily due to ageism.

Kogod alumna Beth Finkel State Director of the New York AARP branch has been at the forefront of AARP’s fight at the state and national level for laws and policies that protect older workers from age discrimination.

“A recent AARP New York survey found nearly half of voters 50-plus were subjected to or witnessed at least one type of workplace age discrimination. Twenty percent said they were passed over for a job because of their age, and almost 10 percent said they were laid off or fired due to their age,” says Finkel.

A national AARP poll found 78 percent of workers 50+ report they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace—age discrimination against Americans aged 50+ robbed the US economy of $850 billion in 2018 alone.”

Furthermore, those over 45 make up the bulk of the long-term unemployed in America and globally. Hiring managers admit they are reluctant to hire individuals over 40, arguing they probably won’t be a good “fit” or will be unable or unwilling to learn new skills.

A large study of 5,000 workers and managers in seven countries by the nonprofit generation offers some rather grim statistics. Individuals age 45+ make up a high share of the long-term unemployed. Hiring managers have a negative view of 45+ job seekers, even though employers rate highly the job performance of those they hire. Despite national differences, the challenges and experiences of 45+ individuals are global, displaying striking consistency worldwide.

One key insight from the survey is hugely positive, however. Yes, hiring managers express bias against 45+ individuals. Still, those same employers also acknowledge that once they hire people over 45, these workers perform on the job just as well as or even better than their peers who are a decade younger.

Yet still, many workers 45+ simply cannot seem to penetrate a wall of resistance to simple consideration for a job.”

Changes are being made at the state and national levels to assist aging workers in their employment searches and help provide equitable hiring opportunities.

“In New York, the State Senate passed a bill prohibiting employers from requiring or asking for job applicants’ age, birthdate, and graduation dates unless relevant to the job. In Washington, we are urging the US Senate to follow the House by passing the Protect Older Workers Against Discrimination Act. In New York City, we requested to rename its Department for The Aging to something like Boston’s Age Strong,” says Finkel.

As 45+ individuals continue to seek work in a world where higher life expectancies and inadequate savings are pushing up retirement ages, employers and policymakers need to take steps to counter rampant ageism.

“Advocacy with businesses is part of AARP’s ultimate goal—to protect people 45+ from age discrimination,” says Finkel.

“At the end of the day, discrimination of any form is wrong, and multigenerational workforces are proven to be more productive.”

A New App Makes Lending to Loved Ones Stress-Free

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod School of Business alum Kaben Clauson has a new entrepreneurial venture—an innovative family-and-friends lending platform.

KabenClausonBanner

Kogod School of Business alum and cofounder of Pigeon Loans Kaben Clauson.

Kogod School of Business alum Kaben Clauson has a new entrepreneurial venture. This innovative family-and-friends lending platform takes the awkwardness (and risk) out of an all-too-familiar (and familial) financial relationship.

Pigeon Loans, founded by Clauson and Brian Bristol, makes lending to one’s loved ones a financially seamless process by incorporating a contract, a payment plan, and friendly reminders in a one-stop-shop platform. The Miami, Florida-based startup has already raised $2.5 million from Y Combinator, FundersClub, Kleiner Perkins Scout Fund, Sovereign’s Capital, Goodwater Capital, SaxeCap, Pareto Holdings, True Culture Fund, Magic Fund, Legal Tech Fund, Mentors Fund, Ascendo Venture Capital, and various angel investors.

We asked Kaben about this exciting new platform and to share tips for other young entrepreneurs like him.

Kogod School of Business: Can you tell us about Pigeon Loans?

Kaben Clausen: Pigeon Loans is a tool that makes it easy for friends and family to lend to one another. We built this software to remove the awkwardness that often comes with these types of loans.

We are bridging the gap between money and relationships. Our platform makes it easier to raise funds needed to start a business, go back to school, or pay for emergencies.”

As income inequality has skyrocketed across America, we’re seeing an exploding need for tools that allow people to help one another financially.

In the US, roughly $200B in personal loans are made each year—often through a ‘handshake’ deal that can go badly financially and interpersonally. Through Pigeon Loans, any two people can easily create a loan agreement that includes a contract, payment plan, and friendly reminders. Getting financial help from those who care for you most is the best path for many to get low-interest rates on favorable terms. We make this easy for the world.

How did you come up with the idea for this venture?

As the founders of Pigeon Loans, Brian Bristol and I have first-hand experience with the subject of borrowing and lending from those we know.

During the 2008 financial crisis, I witnessed the power of the community coming together to help each other. My family was in a tough spot, and loans were the only way out. Even back then, I realized that it made little sense that most of these loans were done without the help of any software.

As the pandemic began to rage, I saw many friends in need. It’s the balance between wanting to help and keeping the relationship from getting awkward.”

No one wants to send or receive those monthly payment reminders among friends.

Can you please share how your time at Kogod shaped your entrepreneurial journey?

Kogod is the place where I finally decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had no idea how I would do it or even what I would build. The classes I took highlighted real problems in the world. I was motivated by the fact that so much of our planet is still broken and that there was no guarantee any other person would fix them.

The best thing about Kogod is the students—everyone brings a unique global perspective. I was in the minority as an American-born citizen in many of my classes.  A global perspective is key because so much of our worldview gets stuck in the country we were raised in. This global atmosphere provides a deeper context for thinking about the problems that technology can solve.

What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

I know how hard it can be to break into the technology industry, especially as someone who didn’t have connections in the space from the start. Making that ‘breakthrough’ a little easier for the next generation of Kogod students is a goal of mine.

My main advice for budding entrepreneurs is twofold. First, have a ‘learner’s mindset’ about everything.

Get the 411 on Sustainability in Business

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod School of Business alum Nat Zorach is one of few people with an MBA who is just as comfortable in work boots on a job site as he is in dress shoes in the boardroom.

“Whether we’re talking about the literal nuts and bolts of the work we are doing or about high-minded academic notions, I am prepared to jump right in,” says Zorach, a decarbonization and sustainability leader.

We chatted with Zorach to learn more about how his MBA degree from Kogod lends itself to his current career in sustainability and how other Eagles who are sustainability-minded can follow in his footsteps—whether they’re wearing work boots, dress shoes, or both like Zorach.

On the day to day, I figure out solutions to develop new programs to decarbonize the built environment, borrowing from my city planning experience, construction experience, and general affinity for working with diverse, clever humans to get stuff done!”

nat

In what ways is your career focused on sustainability in business?

“I manage performance reporting, analysis, process improvement, and program development for the flagship energy efficiency program of the Potomac Electric Power Company, more commonly known as Pepco, a subsidiary of Exelon. Across several jurisdictions from southern New Jersey to Maryland and DC, we spend over $100 million each year on energy efficiency programs, ranging from selling individual light bulbs to large industrial combined heat and power turbine installations. Exelon is committed to decarbonizing the power grid, and Maryland has some laudable and aggressive climate targets—we are working with the state and local jurisdictions to implement them,” explains Zorach.

 How is your company committed to sustainability?

“Exelon went from fighting sustainability efforts tooth and nail to figuring out how to work with the movement toward decarbonization. This was easier given that the company managed—until spinning off the subsidiary, Constellation, earlier this year—the country’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants when a lot of power generation is still fossil fuels,” says Zorach.

What advice do you have for students looking to work in the sustainability field?

“I got my job because of my unique mix of expertise—literacy in energy and utilities, extensive track record in community and economic development, a background in finance, and a strong understanding of numbers and quantitative analysis—plus a smattering of policy work and hands-on experience with the construction and the implementation side of things,” says Zorach.

My advice is to show up as much as possible, ask good and challenging questions of people around you, and support those people, too.”

“The climate crisis and the erosion of democratic rights around the globe mean that we must hold people in power accountable—while supporting innovative ideas for sustainability and equity,” explains Zorach. “A dear friend of mine once said, ‘it’s not enough for us to simply say ‘no’ to something; we must say ‘yes’ to something else.’ I think about this pretty much every day because I want to be a good critic while being an even better advocate.”

“Networking is also key, but it’s about quality networking. If someone gives you their card, reach out to them. If you give someone your card, make sure you have something to say. People generally reward honesty, curiosity, and integrity—quest after those things, and don’t be disingenuous,” advises Zorach.

Zorach’s diversity of skills shows how education combined with a willingness to get your hands (and boots) dirty is vital for success in the ever-changing and advancing field of sustainability.

Surviving and Thriving through the Unexpected

My article for Kogod School of Business

How Kogod alum and entrepreneur Michael Bleau successfully pivoted his live events company during COVID-19.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, businesses large and small were faced with a daunting challenge—adapt to the new normal or perish. Some companies changed their operations with only short-term survival in mind. Fashion houses and designers, like Christian Siriano, for example, started making masks. Whiskey producers “brewed” hand sanitizer. To-go cocktails kept the restaurant industry afloat and rose to the surface as a product here to stay. Airlines offered cargo-only flights.

A sector hit especially hard by the pandemic was the events industry. For the first time ever, some of the most famous festivals, tournaments, conventions, and trade shows shut down. While adaptability has long been a key to business survival, the pandemic forced event companies to wrestle with the unthinkable—what if there were no more events?

Michael Bleau (Kogod/BSBA ’07), co-founder and CEO of EventHub, was among the many business owners considering how to pivot their operations in the new locked-down environment. Thanks to the unique solutions EventHub provides and the entrepreneurial mindset of the team behind it, the company not only weathered the pandemic but found new customers, added new capabilities, and solidified its standing as an industry leader.

Bleau traces the spark that ignited his entrepreneurial fire back to his participation in the annual Kogod Case Competition. “That put the bug in me for entrepreneurial initiatives,” he says. “And then throughout my time at Kogod, I was able to do some things that opened my mindset. I did a study abroad program that really started opening me up to a global mindset versus just thinking very locally.”

EventHub was the first company that Bleau started, and while it was positioned to successfully navigate the pandemic that began last March, it didn’t start out that way. “It took a while to develop to the point where it is now,” Bleau explains.

The company began as a consulting and event production firm, but securing funding from investors through the Techstars Anywhere Accelerator allowed Bleau and his team to expand their technological capabilities and shift their focus from managing events to connecting event organizers and potential sponsors through an event management platform—a capability no one else in the events industry had yet developed.

“EventHub does a really nice job matching event sponsors with potential event opportunities,” he says. “There’s not really another platform that does a good job of it. That’s why we decided to start it.”

When the first hints of a full-scale global pandemic began appearing in February 2020, Bleau and his team knew they were going to need to pivot their business model. So how did they do it?

First, the company identified long-term trends created by the pandemic, namely the rise of remote work, social distancing, shorter supply chains, and the need for more robust technology. “We realized that all of our customers are live event organizers, and they were going to need to adapt and want to do some type of virtual version of their events in lieu of a live event,” Bleau says. “There are very few large, public event-type platforms, so that was our focus.”

Then, it extended its already-existing capabilities instead of abandoning what its reputation was built on, preventing confusion among its existing customers and offering valuable services to new ones. “In March, we started developing a virtual platform that could sit on top of our sponsorship platform that was very focused on consumer and public events versus business-to-business conferencing because there’s a ton of B2B conferencing out there,” Bleau explains. “We worked with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on their virtual event; we worked with food and wine festivals, county and state fairs. It really led us in some ways to get more on the map with these larger events because we were the only real, good-fit solution out there for these consumer-oriented events.”

Finally, EventHub pivoted as rapidly as possible. “One big lesson learned for us is that fast, aggressive pivots are possible as long as you have a clear, strategic vision and a path to getting there,” says Bleau. “Your team should feel like there is an executable plan that everyone can get behind. Think about what your company does differently and what is needed in the market.”

Responding to unforeseen challenges is a part of business, and pivoting may not always be the right strategy. But finding a balance between being reactive and adaptive and determining whether the pivot is an added value rather than a temporary fix may be the difference between a business weathering a storm or shuttering for good.

 

A More Equitable Future

My article for Kogod School of Business

Professor Stacy Merida, Kogod’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, describes her mission to shape a more inclusive Kogod community.

What do diversity, equity, and inclusion look like in a university setting? Who are the stakeholders of diversity initiatives? These are challenging questions, and the Kogod School of Business’s new assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Stacy Merida, is finding answers. Merida, who teaches music entertainment industry classes in Kogod’s business and entertainment program, accepted the position in January 2021. She is leading the school not only in learning what these terms mean to its students, faculty, and staff but also in implementing meaningful changes based on input from the entire Kogod community.

Merida has a broad view of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) that not only comprises demographic characteristics like gender, race, and ethnicity but all dimensions of a person’s identity, such as immigrant and first-generation status, economic background, education, and more. Of course, some of these characteristics are more salient to people’s identities, and some, because they are more visible to society, affect how people are treated more than less readily observable traits.

“One of our strategic goals is to cultivate a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive Kogod culture where every individual, regardless of background, has the full opportunity to flourish and thrive,” says Merida.

The daughter of a civil rights leader, Merida has been passionate about social justice since her childhood in Alabama. And that passion has driven her throughout her career. Her PhD dissertation examined cultural competency and proficiency in higher education administration. She serves as a board liaison for diversity and inclusion at the Music Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) and represents American University as a committee member on the GRAMMY Museum’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility affiliate committee. Her most recent initiative was reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic and Tribal Universities to join the MEIEA through free membership.

In her new role as assistant dean, she will implement several initiatives that include creating a DEI task force, DEI fellowships, policy and procedure reviews, ongoing training, and surveying faculty, students, and staff. Her goals include ensuring students and staff reflect the diversity of our global society and transforming the faculty’s makeup to reflect the diversity of the student body. Another major goal is improving the academic outcomes for students from underrepresented, low-income, and other marginalized groups, in addition to securing transparent and more equitable outcomes for staff and faculty.

Diversity, as the word connotes, is about difference. But it is not about eliding or ignoring that difference. Rather, it is about ensuring that difference doesn’t lead to inequitable outcomes.

“There are distinct differences between equality and equity,” Merida explains. “Equity involves giving people what they need to be as successful as non-minoritized groups; conversely, equality is to treat everyone the same.”

Diversity is valuable in all areas but especially important in business. When a company has a diverse culture, it welcomes more viewpoints, allowing it to reach a wider audience. According to a McKinsey & Company report, “Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33 percent more likely to have industry-leading profitability.” Google recently completed a study, Project Aristotle, that identified psychological safety as one of the most important factors of a high-performing team. Employees feeling included and able to be their authentic selves at work frees up their minds and energy to focus on their performance.

“Diversity is extremely important in the business community where different perspectives are and should be highly valued,” says Merida. “Organizations that value diversity and inclusion strive to provide a space where all members are respected. If a system or structure perpetuates inequity and inequality, we should encourage one another to challenge this system or structure.”

Merida is also acutely aware that no one holds just one identity. The term intersectionality, coined by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, describes how individual characteristics like race, class, and gender interact with each other to form how someone sees—and is seen by—the world.

“Our students will find themselves working with employers, coworkers, and clients from diverse backgrounds,” explains Merida. “By experiencing diversity, we are laying the groundwork for all to be comfortable working and interacting with a variety of individuals of all nationalities.

“However, efforts in this space are nothing new as Kogod is ranked no. 9 by the recent Bloomberg Newsweek Diversity Index for its long-term commitment to diversity. I am exhibit A, as the creation of my position only exemplifies the continuation and broadening of Dean Delaney’s and the DEI committee’s visionary leadership. We are intentional in being the guiding example for our students, faculty, and staff.”

Merida’s new role is a testament to the hard work she and the Kogod community continue to engage in to create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive business school that prepares students not only for successful careers but to be thoughtful, compassionate, and engaged citizens of the world.

A Solid Foundation: Why has the housing market weathered the economic downturn so well?

My article for the Kogod School of Business

A wave of pandemic-induced uncertainty has thrown a pall over America’s economic performance, yet one sector remains a defiant shade of rose against a generally dark background. Why are home sales rebounding so quickly, with some locations reporting a return to the days of bidding wars? Is this a meaningful and lasting trend or simply a function of limited data from which to draw conclusions? “I think everyone in the industry is asking themselves what the new normal will be after such a cataclysmic event,” says Professor Steven Teitelbaum, who teaches Kogod’s Real Estate Development class and works in transit-oriented development and smart growth.

At the beginning of the pandemic in March, home sales fell by 8.5 percent as potential buyers lost their jobs, contended with economic uncertainty, or simply avoided moving due to health concerns. Existing home sales in April fell by almost 18 percent, but prices rose 7.4 percent compared to a year ago.

What could explain why basic supply-and-demand principles don’t seem to apply here? A huge drop in demand should put downward pressure on prices as the market sways in the buyers’ favor. But in this case, while demand dropped, so did supply. Sellers withdrew from the market for the same reasons that buyers did. New home listings fell dramatically after the stay-at-home orders, with estimates ranging from 29 percent to higher than 50 percent.

The drops in supply and demand were generally proportional to each other, but the lower number of transactions made it more difficult to analyze how prices moved in aggregate. “Data is so scarce that one blip sends things teetering toward one end or the other. It is hard to come by meaningful averages,” explains Teitelbaum.

Limited housing supply is likely to be a more prominent issue in certain areas. The pandemic has also affected new build construction. Professor Kim Luchtenberg, professor of finance and real estate, says, “The DC area will remain relatively sheltered from a real estate sector downturn because housing is in such limited supply. This will keep prices high, so buyers will not see much change.”

The number of homes listed for sale in the DC metro area dropped more than 37 percent compared to April 2019, resulting in the lowest inventory in the past 10 years.

A decrease in overall home sales has a number of effects. Home sales generate much spin-off economic activity. Local governments rely on revenue from deed transfer taxes to fund public services. Occupations like real estate agents, home inspectors, and other agents lose streams of income, as do support services like moving companies, furniture and appliance stores, landscapers, and maintenance technicians.

From a social perspective, people often buy homes when relocating for work, having children, getting married, or downsizing for retirement. An economic downtown that makes homeownership inaccessible may delay many of these milestones. For example, the Great Recession caused delayed household formation among young adults.

A much more grave concern is what will happen to the homeowners affected by the general economic downturn. “Foreclosures and mortgage defaults are sure to happen once the protection period ends,” says Luchtenberg. No one is sure how this will affect the real estate industry or the economy as a whole.

With so much turmoil in the stock markets and retail and hospitality real estate markets, plus general economic uncertainty, are investors attracted to the seemingly untouchable residential real estate sector? Luchtenberg and Teitelbaum concur that this trend is afoot, but in an unusual permutation—investment in single-family home rentals. This was the case immediately following the 2008 collapse, and currently, these kinds of rentals are one of the fastest-growing investment vehicles both for large corporations and individual investors. “The second-best option to owning a home is renting a single-family unit. Investors see that,” says Teitelbaum. Luchtenberg is currently writing a research paper on this phenomenon as well.

While understanding the “new normal” seems like an impossible proposition, in the DC area, at least, the old normal of a robust residential real estate market remains.

The Hidden Cost of the Hustle–Faculty and Director of the Kogod Tax Policy Center Caroline Bruckner hones in on the tax consequences of gig work.

By Toni Tileva | 
In September 2019, California became the first state in the country to pass a labor law aimed primarily at Uber and Lyft drivers that extends wage and benefit protections to about a million gig workers. California Governor Gavin Newsom wrote an op-ed arguing that when workers are classified as independent contractors rather than as employees, they lose basic benefits such as minimum wage, paid sick days, and health insurance. And their employers do not contribute to safety net programs like workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance, leaving, as Gov. Newsom pointedly stated, “taxpayers holding the bag.”Going a step further to address Social Security shortfalls, on December 19, 2019, Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01), vice chair of the Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity, introduced a groundbreaking bill called the Gig Is Up Act that would require companies that gross at least $100 million and employ at least 10,000 independent contractors to pay the full cost of both the employer contribution and the worker contribution to Social Security and Medicare.“My research shows that gig workers can be in a very precarious economic situation, with most of them working gigs as a supplemental source of income,” Bruckner says. “For many, their low incomes keep them from having other investment vehicles, and they rely solely on Social Security for their retirement. Not getting their just dessert, so to speak, is an unforeseen and not often discussed consequence of contractor and gig economy work.”

The gig economy is notoriously hard to quantify, with estimates stating non-traditional work arrangements account for anywhere between 0.1% of full-time employment to 34%. According to the Freelancing in America survey, there are a reported 57 million American freelancers (counting on-demand and independent contractors) contributing in excess of $1 trillion dollars to the economy each year. Yet, their hustle can perhaps best be characterized as a struggle rather than a success, with little worker rights protection, unpredictable compensation, and intermittent work. The “on demand” nature of the work makes it just that—reliant on the customers’ and employers’ demands rather than the workers’.

In her recent book Hustle and Gig, sociologist Alexandrea Ravenelle argues that “for all its app-enabled modernity, the gig economy resembles the early industrial age…the sharing economy is truly a movement forward to the past.” While much research has been conducted on the size and growth trajectory of the freelancer industry, little scholarship examines the often unintended tax consequences affecting the workers and the economy writ large.

“Self-employed workers already have tax compliance and reporting issues, but the existing reporting rules further precipitate their failure to contribute to Social Security and Medicare through payment of the self-employment tax (SE tax),” explains Bruckner.

The tricky part is that companies that use contract workers aren’t required to send out a 1099-MISC unless they have paid that person $600 or more in a given tax year. On-demand workers who are paid by platforms usually get a 1099-K form, which companies use when a contractor has performed at least 200 transactions over the course of the year and has received at least $20,000 in payments. But, often, gig workers don’t receive any tax forms at all, leaving them on the hook to figure out how much they’ve earned over the past year and accurately report it to the IRS.

“Workers who don’t get tax forms from their employers need to figure out their earnings on their own. It is not as though they are intending to break tax laws, but many of them are simply not aware of what the self-employment tax covers and are short changing their Social Security earnings upon retirement in this way.”

Independent contractors and gig economy workers also do not make tax payments through withholding by their employers during the year and have to figure out estimated quarterly tax payments on their own. Not making those quarterly payments can translate to penalties and increases their audit exposure. “This isn’t just about gig workers underreporting their income tax, although this is a way to quantify the tax gap for the IRS and get their attention on the issue,” says Bruckner. “The consequences of the shortfall are twofold: it affects the funding and solvency of Social Security and translates to lower Social Security benefits for these workers upon retirement.”

In their recent “Failure to Contribute” research project, funded by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Professor Bruckner and economist Thomas L. Hungerford estimate that, in 2014, independent contractors didn’t pay $3.9 billion in Social Security contributions that they should have, and on-demand workers didn’t pay $2 billion.

Bruckner has actively raised this issue with the IRS and given testimony on Capitol Hill. The Failure to Contribute report suggests Congress could take steps to modernize information reporting, update quarterly estimated payment requirements, and require better taxpayer education. Ultimately, these strategies should focus on the independent contractor economy generally and the on-demand/gig workforce in particular. “We need strategies to encourage people to buy into the system,” says Bruckner. “This is why tax policy needs to be accessible.”

With a $50,000 grant from the Wharton School of Business and Pension Research Council, Bruckner plans to continue her research with a study examining how women are using the gig economy to make up for retirement shortfalls. “This next phase of research will be ground-breaking in that it focuses on women specifically, who tend to live longer and have higher healthcare costs,” explains Bruckner. “Because women have been subject to the pay gap or had to take time out of the paid work force,  considering their retirement needs and how gig economy work is a strategy for shoring up retirement savings shortfalls is the logical extension of my existing work looking at the gig economy and its implications for Social Security.”

What Are the Odds? A computational neuroscientist and Kogod adjunct scores a career as a data scientist with the NBA.

So much of our everyday life involves making predictions—from picking the best route for our morning commute to bringing an umbrella to choosing a partner. “We predict all the time, so the process is natural,” says Grant Fiddyment, adjunct professor of predictive analytics at Kogod and data scientist for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers. “In a lot of ways, it’s the same way we interact with technology and the world. For instance, how can I phrase my web search so that the site will match what I’m looking for? How can I pronounce a word so that a virtual assistant will understand what I’m saying? Without knowing the technical details, we implicitly learn how these technologies work.”

What is predictive analytics, and how does it offer us a glimpse into the future?

At its most fundamental level, the discipline calculates the likelihood of future events by simply (although many would cry foul at this characterization) counting the possible outcomes. Its foundations were laid in a 1654 letter exchange between French mathematicians Pierre de Fermat and Blaise Pascal discussing how the winnings of a coin-flipping gambling game should be split. And while we all know that the house always wins in Vegas, few would know to credit Jacob Bernoulli’s Law of Large Numbers from 1713 as the reason why.

Despite predictive analytics’ old roots, it is responsible for many facets of modern-day life we give little thought to—things like credit card fraud detection, virtual chess partners, and, of most interest to Fiddyment, creating professional sports super teams.

Grant Fiddyment's headshot.

As a data scientist on the research and development team for the 76ers, Fiddyment helps frame and analyze the predictive questions that arise in sports—for example, how will signing a new player impact a team’s title odds, or how well will a tall lineup play against a smaller, quicker one?

Predictive analytics has long been used in sports, going back to the analog days of yore. Baseball has historically led the movement. One of the most famous success stories is told in the movie Moneyball, which follows 2002 Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane as he uses predictive analytics to hire under-valued players and send his team on a crowd-wowing 20-game winning streak. But the methods developed in Oakland have application across all sports.

“Most teams were asking, ‘How often does a batter get a hit when they go to bat?’ Instead, the A’s asked, ‘How many bases does a player get when they go to bat?’ Looking at total bases turns out to be more predictive of how many runs a team will score,” explains Fiddyment. “Similarly, in the NBA, teams used to ask how often a player will make a shot. But this overlooks the fact that all shots are not equal. So now teams are asking, ‘How many points will a player get when they take a shot?’”

In the past decade the number of three-point shots in the NBA has increased. Is the rise just due to random luck or is it part of a well-crafted strategy? Fiddyment and other fellow data scientists employed full-time by sports teams work to answer new questions like these. He credits the invention of video tracking as the proverbial game changer. “Chip or camera-based systems will follow players as they actively play a sport, and the data we get is much more nuanced than a single-number summary,” says Fiddyment. “For example, we can answer how many pick-and-rolls the team ran last game or how open were the shots they generated. We can analyze the individual and team as a whole.”

At the moment, this kind of data collection is limited to professional teams, making it difficult to spot up-and-coming superstars. “College and international teams typically don’t have the same camera systems, so projecting which players will become successful remains a very challenging problem,” Fiddyment says.

Despite rapid advancements in technology, however, not all data is created equal—or, perhaps, equally useful. The limitations of data translate to limitations in predictive accuracy (as meteorologists can confirm). “We need to be aware of computers’ strengths and weaknesses,” Fiddyment advises. “Computers can process vast amounts of data much more quickly than humans ever could. But they are restricted to the data they have and operate very literally, so we should never expect them to behave exactly like a human, even if they can match our performance at a given task.”

From the glitz of Vegas to the life-saving powers of storm forecasts to the way opinion polls affect voters, predictive analytics is ever-present in our lives. Advances in machine learning and big data models are improving our ability to look into the future, but they are also raising some thorny issues, one of the most notable being the boundaries of data privacy. For now, however, Fiddyment has scored a slam dunk for the NBA.