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Fashion tech startup raised funding round entirely over Zoom during Covid - Tech Insider

Fashion tech startup raised funding round entirely over Zoom during Covid - Tech InsiderFashion tech startup raised funding round entirely over Zoom during Covid - Tech InsiderPosted: 26 May 2020 03:30 AM PDT E-commerce platform Blackcart is set to launch later this month having raised $2 million in venture funding, solely over Zoom, during the coronavirus pandemic. The try-before-you-buy fashion startup has fast-tracked its launch process with Covid-19 closing physical clothes stores across North America."We were going to keep the platform in beta for a few more months, but then Covid came along," Blackcart founder and CEO Donny Ouyang told Business Insider in an interview. "We messaged all potential investors to fast-track the fundraising process to launch, it was five weeks of back and forth, 100s of emails and five or six meetings every day." Click here for more BI Prime stories.E-commerce platform Blackcart is set to launch later this month having raised $2 mil…

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business proposal

Apple to weigh diversity proposal from conservatives against its wishes - Fox Business

Posted: 28 Feb 2019 07:45 AM PST

Apple's annual investor day on Friday will include one agenda item the consumer technology giant fought to prevent: a vote on a conservative proposal to require the board of directors to release ideological information on nominees.

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The Cupertino, California-based company pushed the Securities and Exchange Commission to drop the recommendation backed by conservative activist Justin Danhof of the National Center for Public Policy Research on the grounds that shareholders would not understand it.

"The range of matters that may or may not be encompassed within the phrase 'ideological perspectives' is not something that is commonly understood or well-defined," Apple wrote in a 2018 letter to the agency.

The SEC ruled against the company, stating in a December 2018 correspondence that the proposal as a whole is not "so vague or indefinite that it is rendered materially misleading."


Apple, which is advising investors to vote against the measure, did not respond to Fox Business' request for comment.

"The skills, qualities, attributes, and experience that the board evaluates when considering a potential nominee do not include 'ideological perspectives,'" the company wrote in its proxy statement, adding that it is not "relevant to the board's oversight role or the nominee's ability to serve as an effective director."

The saga is the latest example of outside groups from both sides of the political spectrum employing the often-arcane proxy process to push corporate America to embrace more ideologically aligned policies – and the steps that companies are willing to take to try to prevent them.

Any investor with at least $2,000 in stock is allowed to submit a recommendation for consideration at yearly shareholder meetings. And while the subsequent votes are non-binding, any submission that garners a majority vote is often implemented by the firm's board of directors.

Opponents – which include powerful interest groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – argue the proposals often veer too far from the purview of the board and into the daily management of a company. Supporters, however, say that it gives investors of all stripes a voice in the direction of a firm.

The SEC is considering action on the issue and, among other things, could move to increase the amount of stock an investor must hold to submit a proposal.

Ticker Security Last Change %Chg
AAPL APPLE INC. 173.15 -1.72 -0.98%
WMT WALMART INC. 98.99 +0.88 +0.90%
PEP PEPSICO INC. 115.64 +0.27 +0.23%
GPS GAP 25.40 +0.04 +0.16%

As more activists succeed in their endeavors, companies are intensifying their behind-the-scenes outreach in an effort to prevent a potentially embarrassing public vote on the recommendations.

Walmart, PepsiCo, CVS Health and Gap all adopted a form of Danhof's board diversity proposal in exchange for the group withdrawing the request. Starbucks will vote on the measure at its annual meeting in March and Danhof is in negotiations with other companies to try to prevent the proposal from advancing, he told Fox Business.

Liberal activists have for years pushed top U.S. businesses to analyze the impact of operations on the environment and disclose political spending, among other proposals.

A group of nuns, for example, were successful in getting Smith & Wesson parent company American Outdoor Brands to issue a report on the steps it is taking to ensure its firearms are safe. In the resulting research made public in February, the Springfield, Massachusetts-based firm said it is more focused on shoring up its reputation among existing gun owners.


Among the other proposals, Apple is slated to vote on is a BlackRock-backed measure to increase the number of directors that shareholders are permitted to nominate. Currently, Apple limits investors to one nominee.

"Any shareholder nominee elected under the current bylaws at Apple could be easily isolated and ineffective. They might not even be able to get a second on a motion in a board meeting to discuss important topics," supporters argued.

The proposal – which has failed to garner majority support in the last five investor meetings – would have "unintended effects that could negatively impact shareholder value, including promoting the use of proxy access to lay the groundwork for effecting a change of control," Apple said.

Shelton ‘speakeasy’ proposal heads to court - CTPost

Posted: 28 Feb 2019 12:38 PM PST

SHELTON — An upcoming court hearing will pit the owner of a would-be "speakeasy" against the city's Planning and Zoning Commission.

At issue: whether the commission abused its discretion in denying the application from Hush to open for business on the first floor of 303 Old Bridgeport Ave., under the former location of Hunan Pan restaurant. The hearing is set for March 7 in Milford Superior Court.

The property is next to a condominium development. A wine bar previously operated in the space.

The planned business has been the subject of online speculation since becoming public in October 2017. An initial description including references to "burlesque" performances riled residents who worried that Hush would be a gentlemen's club by another name.

City officials initially signed off on the business — which allowed it to obtain a liquor license — before public outcry arose. A liquor permit for the business in the name of Miriam Q. Sibai is still valid until April 2019, according to the Department of Consumer Protection's website.

Sibai's name is also listed under liquor licenses for the Keepers Gentlemen's Club in Milford and Keystone, a club on Bridgeport's Barnum Avenue which features exotic dancers, according to its license.

In December 2017, the commission unanimously rejected an application to open the business from its owner, Randi-Lee England.

The application said the bar would operate as a "speakeasy" — a trend in the bar business hearkening back to the days of Prohibition in the Roaring '20s — complete with waitresses dressed as "flapper girls."

Taking issue

The vote to reject the application was applauded by a standing-room audience of more than 40 people, many of whom were among the more than 240 who signed a petition opposing the business.

The zoners cited concerns about traffic and parking, but also said self-described "speakeasies" are prohibited in Shelton. But in legal filings appealing the commission's decision, the business' lawyer, Jonathan Klein, said the PZC caved to public pressure about the business and used the concerns they cited as a pretext.

"It is transparently evident that the outcome of the hearing was predetermined," Klein wrote. "The 'fix was in.'"

In a reply brief, a lawyer representing the city said the commission followed a transparent process and acted within its discretion.

Klein said England came to the PZC meeting prepared to debate the question of whether so-called "speakeasies" should be allowed. Instead, he said, the city "blindsided and ambushed" her with questions about other issues they "had never indicated were of concern to, or would be in issue before, the PZC."

For example, Klein said, a letter from Fire Marshal James Tortora raising parking concerns was only given to him at the beginning of the hearing, even though it was dated nearly two weeks earlier.

Klein said Tortora's letter was "false and misleading." He also said the concerns raised at the hearing could have been addressed, but the commission instead voted to reject the application.

England has sunk more than $100,000 into the business, Klein said.

'Secretiveness' prohibition

A settlement proposal from Klein was rejected by Planning and Zoning Commission members at a meeting last July.

According to meeting minutes, the commission met behind closed doors to discuss "pending litigation," but the commission did not formally vote on a settlement proposal. Votes are not allowed to take place while in an executive session.

Klein and the Planning and Zoning Commission's lawyer, Francis Teodosio, declined to comment on the terms of the settlement proposal. In a reply to Klein's filing, Teodosio wrote that the commission "acted well within its authorized discretion in denying the speakeasy themed use."

The brief cited testimony from the PZC meeting emphasized the "secretive" nature of the business.

"The applicant seemed to revel in the use both being not visible from Bridgeport Avenue and being next to impossible to find without a GPS," Teodosio wrote. "Back doors were to be camouflaged and hidden. Burlesque type variety shows involving magicians, jugglers and ventriloquists or skits were intended to be 'discreet' and secretive. In keeping with this theme or experience, 'hostesses' dressed in flapper costumes would serve the public."

Teodosio also said the applicant's presentation to the commission was "less than stellar," noting a diagram wasn't drawn to scale, and dimensions on the application conflicted without explanation.

He said the city's zoning regulations prohibit "a new venue which mixes alcohol, theater and secretiveness."

Though a speakeasy could "in its best light, (be) a use that probably is very enjoyable and current," he wrote, "it is not a use currently allowed in Shelton."

Klein ridiculed the commission's reasoning and said "the court ought not to allow itself to be misled by the PZC's false arguments and red herrings."

He said the PZC's conclusion that the business would be a theater just because live performances would occur there showed "it is embarrassingly obvious that the PZC had to torture the characterization of the Appellant's small proposed café as a 'theater' in order to manufacture a false premise on which to base a claim that it is not compliant with the regulations.

"One can be sure (that) every other liquor-permitted establishment in the City of Shelton which hosts karaoke, live music, comedy performances, or any form of live entertainment would be shocked if it were characterized is a 'theater' and made to comply with the parking requirements for a 'theater,' " Klein wrote. "The only theater present in this case is the PZC's own theater of the absurd."

Business Brief: Labor franking credit proposal 'already impacting' market - The Weekly Times

Posted: 28 Feb 2019 03:37 PM PST

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Business Brief: Labor franking credit proposal 'already impacting' market  The Weekly Times

FULL INTERVIEW: Your Money host Peter Switzer has weighed in on a mediocre reporting season but says Opposition leader Bill Shorten's franking credits ...

Selectmen frustrated by glacial pace of Housatonic School reuse proposal | -

Posted: 28 Feb 2019 02:54 PM PST

Great Barrington — It remains to be seen whether the empty and decaying Housatonic School can be saved.

Bill Nappo and Gillette Conner of Grayhouse Partners explain the inexact science of applying for grants at a Feb. 25 meeting of the Great Barrington Selectboard. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Grayhouse Partners, the developer with a proposal for the town-owned building, remains optimistic but the selectmen have grown skeptical at the slow pace of the business plan, the lack of funding and the absence of a budget for the project. At Grayhouse's request, the board gave Grayhouse a six-month extension.

Grayhouse CEO Bill Nappo and his business partner Gillette Conner submitted an update and told the selectboard at its Feb. 25 meeting that they're making progress on obtaining the grants necessary to make their plan a reality.

Grayhouse had sought $650,000 from the town Community Preservation Committee but was awarded $300,000, subject to approval at the annual town meeting in May. And it's applying for additional grants from MassDevelopment and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The latter might match the grant that would come from the CPA, Nappo said.

A frustrated Great Barrington Selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon, center, asks representatives from Grayhouse Partners about the progress of their proposal for the reuse of the former Housatonic School at a Feb. 25 selectboard meeting. To his right is town manager Jennifer Tabakin and to his left is Selectman Ed Abrahams. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The project was not approved for MassDevelopment funding last year but Nappo said it is common for projects to fail in the first round and gain approval in later stages. Nor has Grayhouse yet secured any tenants.

"It's been about a year since this started," selectboard Chairman Steve Bannon told Nappo and Conner. "Tell me something concrete that's come out of this. I don't see one concrete thing that's come out of this—and it's very frustrating to me."

See video below of a discussion between Grayhouse Partners and the selectboard concerning the redevelopment of the Housatonic School:

"How much is this going to cost the town to complete? The whole project?" asked Selectman Ed Abrahams, reviewing the report. "I didn't see that anywhere in here … We also don't know the ongoing costs once the project is complete."

"I think we're at about $5 million for the project," Nappo replied. "We don't have a complete budget as of today."

Conner explained that much of the time since the first presentation on the proposal in December 2017 has been spent identifying potential sources of funding and that CPA funding is "the first domino to fall." CPA funding would be seen by other funding sources as a vote of confidence from the town. Furthermore, grant timelines don't always line up with the needs of developers and their partners.

The playground area of the Housatonic School, looking east toward the Monument Mills and Flag Rock. Photo: David Scribner

The plan, the only one the town has so far received after several requests for proposals, calls for an adaptive reuse of the vacant 110-year-old school on Pleasant Street near the center of the Housatonic section of Great Barrington. Grayhouse would sign a lease agreement with the town for 40 years with the option to terminate it with 180 days notice.

The proposal originally called for a mixed use of the building that included a combination of housing and work space. The emphasis now is on commerce, nonprofits and so-called business incubator spaces, and collaborative workspaces for technology and business. A small amount of housing on the upper floors is a possibility.

A priority, Nappo said, is bringing fiber-optic broadband internet service to the building in order to make it more attractive to businesses. That's one of the purposes of the USDA grant application, along with the possibility of exterior restorations. The USDA application was slowed by the recent federal government shutdown, Nappo said.

Housatonic School in early morning light, overlooking the center of Housatonic. Photo: David Scribner

Also, bringing a natural gas line in to serve the village would make it more attractive to potential tenants. But Nappo said his architect told him extending a line from Berkshire Gas to Housatonic would likely be a $2 million to $3 million job.

Fiber is hard to come by in Housatonic and its scarcity is viewed as an impediment to the economic redevelopment of the village and the repurposing the mostly empty mills that dominate the downtown landscape.

"What we're doing is putting our ducks in a row—the USDA application, CPA funding and the MassDevelopment grant," Nappo explained. "We're moving slowly because it takes time."

As far as lining up tenants, Nappo and Conner have been having discussions with several interested parties. The only one they have named is Community Health Programs, the Great Barrington-based healthcare provider. Nappo said they expect to meet with representatives from CHP Monday, March 11, about a possible satellite facility.

Community Health Programs CEO Lia Spiliotes.

Asked to confirm her organization's interest in space at Housatonic School, CHP CEO Lia Spiliotes told The Edge: "Obviously, it would be wonderful if the Housatonic School were revived to benefit the community.

"Our CHP headquarters and core Family Service programs will continue to operate at our Stockbridge Road campus. If an opportunity arises to offer a CHP program to the village community, such as a playgroup, we would explore that option. CHP has no contract or other formal agreement for space at the former school."

The selectmen are wary of putting money into the building lest the Grayhouse proposal falter. The former school has a leaky roof. Temporary plans call for the installation of a tarp until such time as a more permanent solution can be implemented and funded. Officials have said a new roof could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Demolition estimates are in the neighborhood of $850,000, largely because of the expense of disposing of hazardous building materials.

Nappo and Conner said, as funding progresses, it will be an easier lift to attract tenants. Nappo added that there has been movement in the village in the area of reuse of space and economic development. With the opening of the Studio for Integrated Craft in the former Country Curtains building and the possibility of the redevelopment of Monument Mills, things are starting to happen in Housatonic, so he and Conner are focusing on spaces for businesses and start-ups rather than affordable housing.

Great Barrington Selectman Dan Bailly gestures as he asks Grayhouse Partners about potential tenants for Housatonic School reuse project at a Feb. 25 selectboard meeting. At right is Selectman Bill Cooke. At left are selectmen Steve Bannon and Ed Abrahams. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Since it closed, the school has had a controversial history. The Community Development Corporation of South Berkshire in 2013 proposed a mixed-use development that included 11 units of affordable housing, and commercial space including space for nonprofits and even a satellite office for police. But then-town manager Kevin O'Donnell put the kibosh on the proposal after strong community opposition. Click here to read an Edge story looking back at that time.

Selectman Dan Bailly, a building contractor himself who also was a member of the Housatonic School Campus Task Force that surveyed public opinion of the CDC proposal, said he still did not think an all-housing proposal would fly.

"I think it would still be a tough sell, honestly, if it's straight housing," Bailly said. "If it's mixed, you might have less pushback."

Town manager Jennifer Tabakin defended Grayhouse's progress, noting that the timing of grant opportunities does not always line up perfectly with expectations and that the alternatives could be worse.

"A lot of people in town care about Housatonic School and want to see it restored and make it into a community asset," Tabakin said. "If the alternative is not giving an extension to the team, that would be a step towards the scenario of doing nothing to the building, which would also present a cost to the town in eventually demolishing it."

Tabakin added that she knows of no "inexpensive option and that she "can't make magic … but I think that the process and the work they've done is really solid and I think they have a lot of support for it."

Bannon said the school will no doubt be the subject of discussion at Monday evening's town budget public hearing with the finance committee. In the proposed fiscal year 2020 town budget (scroll to page 51) is $650,000 for "Housatonic School improvements."

Weighing on the minds of the selectmen and some of the audience members, including Christian Hill Road resident Marybeth Merritt, was the town's history in dealing with surplus properties.

From left: Great Barrington town manager Jennifer Tabakin, attorney Edward G. McCormick, and Castle Street firehouse owner Thomas Borshoff pose in front of the historic structure after concluding its sale in 2014. Photo: David Scribner

The old Castle Street firehouse, for example, continues to languish after being purchased from the town in 2014 by a retired upstate New York banker who had grand plans that have so far not panned out.

The former Searles Middle School was purchased a few years ago by hoteliers Vijay and Chrystal Mahida, who planned to renovate it into an 88-room hotel and conference center. But aside from some asbestos abatement activity in the interior, the property on Bridge Street has sat largely dormant for two years.

In the case of Housatonic School, Bannon said the difference is the town still owns it and, despite multiple attempts to market it, was unable to find a buyer.

Shuttered by the Berkshire Hills Regional School District, the Housatonic School has a long and checkered history. The former community elementary school opened in 1909 and has remained mostly empty since 2004 when Berkshire Hills consolidated its schools with a new elementary- and middle-school campus on Monument Valley Road.

When the school closed, the town assumed ownership of the property from the school district. Berkshire Hills used the building for its administrative office for a couple of years and then moved to the Stockbridge Town Offices. The nonprofit Multicultural BRIDGE was based in the Housatonic School until 2007, when it moved temporarily to Pittsfield and eventually to Lee.


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