Each week, we review the press, highlighting and responding to interesting and relevant articles in the news.

Another Monday, Another Vaccine

Apparently Mondays are now for announcing new COVID-19 vaccine results. We now have three valid vaccine contenders (forgive us for not including Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, but their measly 20-person sample size cannot constitute a “trial”). Oxford-AstraZeneca now joins Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech in promising vaccine development. Altio has summed up the main differences between the three contenders in the above graphic. Though Pfizer-BioNTech’s initial results were vague, their Phase III conclusion met all primary efficacy endpoints. On the logistics front, it seems like Moderna has the advantage with less restrictive temperature requirements, allowing for more efficient distribution. Oxford-AstraZeneca falls behind in efficacy due to a dosing error (they just happened to give half doses to subjects. . .which serendipitously ended up being more successful). Further research into these half doses may change overall efficacy. However, Oxford-AstraZeneca has pledged to keep dosage prices at cost as long as the pandemic rages, giving hope to developing countries unable to purchase expensive alternatives. Accordingly, with three major global companies manufacturing viable vaccines, effective distribution is achievable and a foreseeable end to this pandemic is nigh.

Image: SpaceX Dragon, CC.

One Small Step for Elon, One Giant Leap for Commercial Spaceflight

SpaceX is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. This achievement aboard the Dragon was made possible by American deregulation of space ventures and increasing investment into private space ventures. Though commercial companies have always been involved in the construction of spacecrafts, they merely had a contractor role, dependent entirely on government funding and regulation. Altio thinks SpaceX has ushered in a new era of space travel, with great opportunities for tech investment in this bourgeoning sector. Both public and private sector interest has grown in funding commercial spaceflight. Will other countries follow suit? Are we at the precipice of a second Space Race, this time amongst commercial players? Commercial spaceflight is a democratising venture to open up the final frontier to tech innovation, rather than reserving space exploration for self-interested governments. Altio sees disruptive potential in this new era of spaceflight, as commercial players can drive innovation both in space and back on Earth, as the trickledown of space innovation will effect various sectors, especially in tech. Commercial spaceflight and investment in the sector may just take us to infinity and beyond… or at least to Mars.

Image: YouGov, 2020. The Pandemic Speeds Up the Decline of Cash Globally.

How would you like to pay – Cash or Card?

Norway has joined fellow Nordic countries in the rapid transition to cashless transactions. A Norges Bank survey found that cash transactions in Norway have fallen to just 4% of recent spending. COVID-19 accelerated the already increasing rates of cashless payment. Disruptive FinTechs are paving the way for a cashless society. Cashless payments are both sustainable and cost-effective, cutting transportation, ATM fees, and material printing. Moreover cashless transactions are secure and can easily be monitored, reducing or eliminating issues of counterfeit money, burglary, tax evasion, and money laundering. Of course, a cashless system has its limits and flaws, but Altio believes the pros greatly outweigh the cons in this case. Altio thinks that the pandemic will have lasting effects on consumer behaviour and transition to cashless payment. Once the cashless infrastructure is constructed, it will be difficult to return to a predominantly cash-based system.

Expansion of Virtual Ecosystems with Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams unveiled its new Power Platform with the capabilities to build and integrate apps to enhance collaboration. But these new low-code/no-code tools are not just limited to collaboration, enabling workflow ease without having to switch between various apps and tabs. Once just a Slack competitor, Teams is now rivalling Zoom and Google Meet, expanding the creation of virtual ecosystems. When the pandemic subsides, will these virtual ecosystems be relevant? In an increasingly globalised world, Altio thinks there will always be a place for virtual ecosystems, pandemic or not. Businesses will continue to expand their global reach, necessitating the presence of virtual coworking spaces like Microsoft Teams. Moreover, the Power Platform, in conjunction with Microsoft’s Dataverse, is not reserved for remote working, as it can be employed in the office for everyday work with the integration of new apps. In this way, it surpasses the abilities of Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype (R.I.P.) which have a solid hold on the work-from-home crowd. Accordingly, Altio doesn’t think these virtual ecosystems are going anywhere but up, even as people head back to work.

Who Wants to Be a Harvard Graduate?

2020 is the year of increasing investment in EdTech. For instance, Coursera received Series F funding of $130M in July, Eruditus raised $113M in Series D Funding in August, and Podium Education received $12M in Series A funding in October. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as these are unique contenders in the EdTech sector. MOOCs even offer fractal-like courses about how to use and implement EdTech. While MOOCs were previously reserved for go-getters seeking self-improvement and further education, COVID-19 brought EdTech to the forefront as we sought new forms of enrichment and schools increasingly pivoted towards distance learning. COVID-19 was EdTech’s time to shine, and it certainly has done so. Altio recognises that EdTech is disrupting higher education, making educational content more accessible. However, this disruption is not necessarily a displacement and the worries about the vitality of universities are unfounded. One of Higher Education’s greatest strengths is its brand and networking ability. EdTech startups are succeeding because universities are joining these platforms, capitalising on networking abilities and establishing credibility. The truth is that without established universities joining their platforms, MOOCs would inevitably fail. In this collaboration with the existing education ecosystem, EdTech builds upon established brand and networking to democratise access to education, as more and more people get to put Harvard degrees and courses on LinkedIn.