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“Data is the new oil.” This is a commonly quoted phrase in board rooms and presentations of strategy consultants.
It is not just a slogan, but the massive success of data-driven business models pursued by the world’s biggest technology companies shows how true that statement really is.
The likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon generate billions in revenue by sifting up data from consumers and businesses alike.
At the same time, the public backlash against data-hungry tech giants is increasing.
Facebook’s privacy scandals and news of Google employees actively reading Gmail users’ emails have led to heavy criticism by the media, politicians and even technology leaders.
Apple CEO Tim Cook called for federal regulation, giving consumers more power to decide which of their data could be used by companies.
But can big data really only be used by the chosen few tech giants profiting from their network effects? Or could data become a force for good to solve some of the world’s biggest problems?
Brett Hurt, CEO & Founder of data.world, an Austin-based software startup, believes it can. The company has dedicated its mission to radically increase access to data and build tools for easy collaboration of data scientists, governments, the public and scientists alike.
“Everybody says data is the new oil – but the reality is that data is mostly buried in the ground, it’s crude, unrefined and it’s not well documented once you find it and you can’t see how other people worked on it.”
data.world has created a collaboration platform that allows anybody access to a broad set of public data sets. Governments, companies and individuals can choose to share their datasets publicly, or within their organization, making it easier for anyone to benefit from the insights that can be generated based on the data.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant”, says Hurt and shows a number of examples where the easy access to data through their platform has allowed organisations to make a positive impact. One of them being news agency Associated Press.
“In the United States the news has been under attack. We have been able to help the Associated Press with transparency on data sets on, for example, the opioid crisis and on climate impact. They then share this data with news outlets across the United States.”, says Hurt. These news organisations can also make their own analysis, bring in relevant local data for their readers and have direct insights into the datasets behind the news.
While Facebook, Google and any data-driven tech startup claim to use data analytics to “change the world”, data.world decided to legally commit to its mission by becoming a Public Benefit Corporation and a certified B Corp.
B Corps have gained popularity, especially in North America and increasingly in the United Kingdom. Any company can apply to become B Corp certified, which confirms that the company is following strict social standards.
Initially Hurt did not know much about the B Corp movement. However, a conversation with Jay Coen Gilbert, the co-founder of B Lab convinced him to pursue this model. “I got very passionate about it. I learned that B Corp was a new operating system for business. It is very powerful because you can still operate as a for-profit company. But it does give you the ability to put your mission statement as protection from activist shareholders.”
Hurt realised the power of this when he shared a stage with Whole Foods Market founder John Mackey at SXSW and Mackey told him that he wished he had registered Whole Foods as a BCorp to protect it from activist shareholders and legally protect its mission.
For data.world the BCorp model has had not only social benefits but also helped the company attract customers, such as the US Department of State.
When he first spoke to the CTO of the Obama administration, she showed little interest, as she was being approached by many companies. Once Hurt mentioned their B Corp certification her excitement increased and data.world gained the US Department of State as one of its customers. “Being a B Corp has had a major impact on our business.’”, Hurt concludes.
Learn more about data.world and its mission to create a positive impact through data in my recent episode of Impact Hustlers. Listen to the interview here.
March 6, 2019 at 08:58AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs