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Silicon Valley Bank collapse concerns founders of color

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In the hours after some of Silicon Valley Bank’s biggest customers started pulling out their money, a WhatsApp group of startup founders who are immigrants of color ballooned to more than 1,000 members.

Questions flowed as the bank’s financial status worsened. Some desperately sought advice: Could they open an account at a larger bank without a Social Security Number? Others questioned whether they had to physically be at a bank to open an account, because they’re visiting parents overseas.

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One clear theme emerged: a deep concern about the broader impact on startups led by people of color.

While Wall Street struggles to contain the banking crisis after the swift demise of SVB — the nation’s 16th largest bank and the biggest to fail since the 2008 financial meltdown — industry experts predict it could become even harder for people of color to secure funding or a financial home supporting their startups.

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SVB had opened its doors to such entrepreneurs, offering opportunities to form crucial relationships in the technology and financial communities that had been out of reach within larger financial institutions. But smaller players have fewer means of surviving a collapse, reflecting the perilous journey minority entrepreneurs face while attempting to navigate industries historically rife with racism.

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“All these folks that have very special circumstances based on their identity, it’s not something that they can just change about themselves and that makes them unbankable by the top four (large banks),” said Asya Bradley, a board member of numerous startups who has watched the WhatsApp group grapple with SVB’s demise.

Bradley said some investors have implored startups to switch to larger financial institutions to stymie future financial risks, but that’s not an easy transition.

“The reason why we’re going to regional and community banks is because these (large) banks don’t want our business,” Bradley said.

Banking expert Aaron Klein, a senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution, said SVB’s collapse could exacerbate racial disparities.

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“That’s going to be more challenging for people who don’t fit the traditional credit box, including minorities,” Klein said. “A financial system that prefers the existing holders of wealth will perpetuate the legacy of past discrimination.”

Tiffany Dufu was gutted when she couldn’t access her SVB account and, in turn, could not pay her employees.

Dufu raised $5 million as CEO of The Cru, a New York-based career coaching platform and community for women. It was a rare feat for businesses founded by Black women, which get less than 1% of the billions of dollars in venture capital funding doled out yearly to startups. She banked with SVB because it was known for its close ties to the tech community and investors.

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“In order to have raised that money, I pitched nearly 200 investors over the past few years,” said Dufu, who has since regained access to her funds and moved to Bank of America. “It’s very hard to put yourself out there and time after time — you get told this isn’t a good fit. So, the money in the bank account was very precious.”

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A February Crunchbase News analysis determined funding for Black-founded startups slowed by more than 50% last year after they received a record $5.1 billion in venture capital in 2021. Overall venture funding dropped from about $337 billion to roughly $214 billion, while Black founders were hit disproportionately hard, dropping to just $2.3 billion, or 1.1% of the total.

Entrepreneur Amy Hilliard, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, knows how difficult it is to secure financing. It took three years to secure a loan for her cake manufacturing company, and she had to sell her home to get it started.

Banking is based on relationships and when a bank like SVB goes under, “those relationships go away, too,” said Hilliard, who is African American.

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Some conservative critics asserted SVB’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion were to blame, but banking experts say those claims were false. The bank slid into insolvency because its larger customers pulled deposits rather than borrow at higher interest rates and the bank’s balance sheets were overexposed, forcing it to sell bonds at a loss to cover the withdrawals.

“If we’re focused on climate or communities of color or racial equity, that has nothing to do with what happened with Silicon Valley Bank,” said Valerie Red-Horse Mohl, co-founder of Known Holdings, a Black, Indigenous, Asian American-founded investment banking platform focused on the sustainable growth of minority-managed funds.

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Red-Horse Mohl — who has raised, structured and managed over $3 billion in capital for tribal nations — said most larger banks are led by white men and majority-white boards, and “even when they do DEI programs, it’s not a really deep sort of shifting of capital.”

Smaller financial institutions, however, have worked to build relationships with people of color. “We cannot lose our regional and community banks,” she said. “It would be a travesty.”

Historically, smaller and minority-owned banks have addressed funding gaps that larger banks ignored or even created, following exclusionary laws and policies as they turned away customers because of the color of their skin.

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But the ripple effects from SVB’s collapse are being felt among these banks as well, said Nicole Elam, president and CEO of the National Bankers Association, a 96-year-old trade association representing more than 175 minority-owned banks.

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Some have seen customers withdraw funds and move to larger banks out of fear, even though most minority-owned banks have a more traditional customer base, with secured loans and minimal risky investments, she said.

“You’re seeing customer flight of folks that we’ve been serving for a long time,” Elam said. “How many people may not come to us for a mortgage or small business loan or to do their banking business because they now have in their mind that they need to bank with a bank that is too big to fail? That’s the first impact of eroding public trust.”

Black-owned banks have been hit the hardest as the industry consolidates. Most don’t have as much capital to withstand economic downturns. At its peak, there were 134. Today, there are only 21.

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But change is on the way. Within the last three years, the federal government, private sector and philanthropic community have invested heavily in minority-run depository institutions.

“In response to this national conversation around racial equity, people are really seeing minority banks are key to wealth creation and key to helping to close the wealth gap,” Elam said.

Bradley also is an angel investor, providing seed money for a number of entrepreneurs, and is seeing new opportunities as people network in the WhatsApp group to help each other remain afloat and grow.

“I’m really so hopeful,” Bradley said. “Even in the downfall of SVB, it has managed to form this incredible community of folks that are trying to help each other to succeed. They’re saying, ‘SVB was here for us, now we’re going to be here for each other.”‘

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——– Stafford, based in Detroit, is a national investigative race writer for the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/kat—-stafford. Savage reported from Chicago and is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

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Christian family goes in hiding after being cleared of blasphemy

LAHORE, Pakistan — A court in Pakistan granted bail to a Christian falsely charged with blasphemy, but he and his family have separated and gone into hiding amid threats to their lives, sources said.

Haroon Shahzad (right) with attorney Aneeqa Maria. | The Voice Society/Morning Star News

Haroon Shahzad, 45, was released from Sargodha District Jail on Nov. 15, said his attorney, Aneeqa Maria. Shahzad was charged with blasphemy on June 30 after posting Bible verses on Facebook that infuriated Muslims, causing dozens of Christian families in Chak 49 Shumaali, near Sargodha in Punjab Province, to flee their homes.

Lahore High Court Judge Ali Baqir Najfi granted bail on Nov. 6, but the decision and his release on Nov. 15 were not made public until now due to security fears for his life, Maria said.

Shahzad told Morning Star News by telephone from an undisclosed location that the false accusation has changed his family’s lives forever.

“My family has been on the run from the time I was implicated in this false charge and arrested by the police under mob pressure,” Shahzad told Morning Star News. “My eldest daughter had just started her second year in college, but it’s been more than four months now that she hasn’t been able to return to her institution. My other children are also unable to resume their education as my family is compelled to change their location after 15-20 days as a security precaution.”

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Though he was not tortured during incarceration, he said, the pain of being away from his family and thinking about their well-being and safety gave him countless sleepless nights.

“All of this is due to the fact that the complainant, Imran Ladhar, has widely shared my photo on social media and declared me liable for death for alleged blasphemy,” he said in a choked voice. “As soon as Ladhar heard about my bail, he and his accomplices started gathering people in the village and incited them against me and my family. He’s trying his best to ensure that we are never able to go back to the village.”

Shahzad has met with his family only once since his release on bail, and they are unable to return to their village in the foreseeable future, he said.

“We are not together,” he told Morning Star News. “They are living at a relative’s house while I’m taking refuge elsewhere. I don’t know when this agonizing situation will come to an end.”

The Christian said the complainant, said to be a member of Islamist extremist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan and also allegedly connected with banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, filed the charge because of a grudge. Shahzad said he and his family had obtained valuable government land and allotted it for construction of a church building, and Ladhar and others had filed multiple cases against the allotment and lost all of them after a four-year legal battle.

“Another probable reason for Ladhar’s jealousy could be that we were financially better off than most Christian families of the village,” he said. “I was running a successful paint business in Sargodha city, but that too has shut down due to this case.”

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Regarding the social media post, Shahzad said he had no intention of hurting Muslim sentiments by sharing the biblical verse on his Facebook page.

“I posted the verse a week before Eid Al Adha [Feast of the Sacrifice] but I had no idea that it would be used to target me and my family,” he said. “In fact, when I came to know that Ladhar was provoking the villagers against me, I deleted the post and decided to meet the village elders to explain my position.”

The village elders were already influenced by Ladhar and refused to listen to him, Shahzad said.

“I was left with no option but to flee the village when I heard that Ladhar was amassing a mob to attack me,” he said.

Shahzad pleaded with government authorities for justice, saying he should not be punished for sharing a verse from the Bible that in no way constituted blasphemy.

Similar to other cases

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Shahzad’s attorney, Maria, told Morning Star News that events in Shahzad’s case were similar to other blasphemy cases filed against Christians.

“Defective investigation, mala fide on the part of the police and complainant, violent protests against the accused persons and threats to them and their families, forcing their displacement from their ancestral areas, have become hallmarks of all blasphemy allegations in Pakistan,” said Maria, head of The Voice Society, a Christian paralegal organization.

She said that the case filed against Shahzad was gross violation of Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), which states that police cannot register a case under the Section 295-A blasphemy statute against a private citizen without the approval of the provincial government or federal agencies.

Maria added that Shahzad and his family have continued to suffer even though there was no evidence of blasphemy.

“The social stigma attached with a blasphemy accusation will likely have a long-lasting impact on their lives, whereas his accuser, Imran Ladhar, would not have to face any consequence of his false accusation,” she said.

The judge who granted bail noted that Shahzad was charged with blasphemy under Section 295-A, which is a non-cognizable offense, and Section 298, which is bailable. The judge also noted that police had not submitted the forensic report of Shahzad’s cell phone and said evidence was required to prove that the social media was blasphemous, according to Maria.

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Bail was set at 100,000 Pakistani rupees (US $350) and two personal sureties, and the judge ordered police to further investigate, she said.

Shahzad, a paint contractor, on June 29 posted on his Facebook page 1 Cor. 10:18-21 regarding food sacrificed to idols, as Muslims were beginning the four-day festival of Eid al-Adha, which involves slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat.

A Muslim villager took a screenshot of the post, sent it to local social media groups and accused Shahzad of likening Muslims to pagans and disrespecting the Abrahamic tradition of animal sacrifice.

Though Shahzad made no comment in the post, inflammatory or otherwise, the situation became tense after Friday prayers when announcements were made from mosque loudspeakers telling people to gather for a protest, family sources previously told Morning Star News.

Fearing violence as mobs grew in the village, most Christian families fled their homes, leaving everything behind.

In a bid to restore order, the police registered a case against Shahzad under Sections 295-A and 298. Section 295-A relates to “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” and is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and fine, or both. Section 298 prescribes up to one year in prison and a fine, or both, for hurting religious sentiments.

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Pakistan ranked seventh on Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the most difficult places to be a Christian, up from eighth the previous year.

Morning Star News is the only independent news service focusing exclusively on the persecution of Christians. The nonprofit’s mission is to provide complete, reliable, even-handed news in order to empower those in the free world to help persecuted Christians, and to encourage persecuted Christians by informing them that they are not alone in their suffering.

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Individual + Team Stats: Hornets vs. Timberwolves

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CHARLOTTE HORNETS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES You can follow us for future coverage by liking us on Facebook & following us on X: Facebook – All Hornets X – …

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What went wrong with ‘the Metaverse’? An insider’s postmortem

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What went wrong with 'the Metaverse'? An insider's postmortem


It’s now two years since Facebook changed its name to Meta, ushering in a brief but blazing enthusiasm over “the Metaverse”, a concept from science fiction that suddenly seemed to be the next inevitable leap in technology. For most people in tech, however, the term has since lost its luster, seemingly supplanted by any product with “artificial intelligence” attached to its description. 

But the true story of the Metaverse’s rise and fall in public awareness is much more complicated and interesting than simply being the short life cycle of a buzzword — it also reflects a collective failure of both imagination and understanding.  

Consider:

The forgotten novel

Ironically, many tech reporters discounted or even ignored the profound influence of Snow Crash on actual working technologists. The founders of Roblox and Epic (creator of Fortnite) among many other developers were directly inspired by the novel. Despite that, Neal Stephenson’s classic cyberpunk tale has often been depicted as if it were an obscure dystopian tome which merely coined the term. As opposed to what it actually did: describe the concept with a biblical specificity that thousands of developers have referenced in their virtual world projects — many of which have already become extremely popular.

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Snow Crash.

You can see this lack of clarity in many of the mass tech headlines attempting to describe the Metaverse in the wake of Facebook’s name change: 

In a widely shared “obituary” to the Metaverse, Business Insider’s Ed Zitron even compounded the confusion still further by inexplicably misattributing the concept to TRON, the original Disney movie from the 80s.

Had the media referenced Snow Crash far more accurately when the buzz began, they’d come away with a much better understanding of why so many technologists are excited by the Metaverse concept — and realize its early incarnation is already gaining strong user traction.  

Because in the book, the Metaverse is a vast, immersive virtual world that’s simultaneously accessible by millions of people through highly customizable avatars and powerful experience creation tools that are integrated with the offline world through its virtual economy and external technology. In other words, it’s more or less like Roblox and Fortnite — platforms with many tens of millions of active users. 

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But then again, the tech media can’t be fully blamed for following Mark Zuckerberg’s lead.

Rather than create a vision for its Metaverse iterating on already successful platforms — Roblox’s 2020 IPO filing even describes itself as the metaverse — Meta’s executive leadership cobbled together a mishmash of disparate products. Most of which, such as remotely working in VR headsets, remain far from proven. According to an internal Blind survey, a majority of Zuckerberg’s own employees say he has not adequately explained what he means by the Metaverse even to them.

Grievous of all, Zuckerberg and his CTO Andrew Bosworth promoted a conception of the Metaverse in which the Quest headset was central. To do so, they had to overlook compelling evidence — raised by senior Microsoft researcher danah boyd at the time of the company acquiring Oculus in 2014 — that females have a high propensity to get nauseous using VR.

Meta Quest 3 comes out on October 10 for $500.
Meta Quest 3.

Contacted in late 2022 while writing Making a Metaverse That Matters, danah told me no one at Oculus or Meta followed up with her about the research questions she raised. Over the years, I have asked several senior Meta staffers (past and present) about this and have yet to receive an adequate reply. Unsurprisingly, Meta’s Quest 2 VR headset has an estimated install base of only about 20 million units, significantly smaller than the customer count of leading video game consoles. A product that tends to make half the population puke is not exactly destined for the mass market — let alone a reliable base for building the Metaverse. 

Ironically, Neal Stephenson himself has frequently insisted that virtual reality is absolutely not a prerequisite for the Metaverse, since flat screens display immersive virtual worlds just fine. But here again, the tech media instead ratified Meta’s flawed VR-centric vision by constantly illustrating articles about the Metaverse with photos of people happily donning headsets to access it — inadvertently setting up a straw man destined to soon go ablaze.

Duct-taped to yet another buzzword

Further sealing the Metaverse hype wave’s fate, it crested around the same time that Web3 and crypto were still enjoying their own euphoria period. This inevitably spawned the “cryptoverse” with platforms like Decentraland and The Sandbox. When the crypto crash came, it was easy to assume the Metaverse was also part of that fall.

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But the cryptoverse platforms failed in the same way that other crypto schemes have gone awry: By offering a virtual world as a speculative opportunity, it primarily attracted crypto speculators, not virtual world enthusiasts. By October of 2022, Decentraland was only tracking 7,000 daily active users, game industry analyst Lars Doucet informed me

“Everybody who is still playing is basically just playing poker,” as Lars put it. “This seems to be a kind of recurring trend in dead-end crypto projects. Kind of an eerie rhyme with left-behind American cities where drugs come in and anyone who is left is strung out at a slot machine parlor or liquor store.”

All this occurred as the rise of generative AI birthed another, shinier buzzword — one that people not well-versed in immersive virtual worlds could better understand.

But as “the Metaverse” receded as a hype totem, a hilarious thing happened: Actual metaverse platforms continued growing. Roblox now counts over 300 million monthly active users, making its population nearly the size of the entire United States; Fortnite had its best usage day in 6 years. Meta continues plodding along but seems to finally be learning from its mistakes — for instance, launching a mobile version of its metaverse platform Horizon Worlds.  

Roblox leads the rise of user-generated content.
Roblox.

Into this mix, a new wave of metaverse platforms is preparing to launch, refreshingly led by seasoned, successful game developers: Raph Koster with Playable Worlds, Jenova Chen with his early, successful forays into metaverse experiences, and Everywhere, a metaverse platform lead developed by a veteran of the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

At some point, everyone in tech who co-signed the “death” of the Metaverse may notice this sustained growth. By then however, the term may no longer require much usage, just as the term “information superhighway” fell away as broadband Internet went mainstream.  

Wagner James Au is author of Making a Metaverse That Matters: From Snow Crash & Second Life to A Virtual World Worth Fighting For 

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