How Robert Reffkin went from being a C-average student to the founder of Compass

In April, real estate tech company Compass forged ahead with its initial public offering and is now valued at nearly $6.4 billion.

At that time, TechCrunch Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm caught up with founder and CEO Robert Reffkin to chat about his company’s debut in the market’s suddenly choppy waters for tech and tech-enabled debuts.

This week, I caught up with Reffkin on a whole other topic: his path to entrepreneurship as a child raised by a disowned single mother whose father had died homeless. Reffkin is so passionate about inspiring others from nontraditional backgrounds to pursue their dreams that he wrote a book about it.

In our discussion, Reffkin shared what he believes are the secrets to his success (hint: one of them involves lots of listening) and his advice for his young entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TC: As the mother of a teen who is already trying to start his own business, I’m intrigued by your DJing as a teenager. What finally got you motivated to care about school and how did you manage to graduate in such a short amount of time?

Reffkin: Well, I think your son might just be on the right track! Please give him a word of encouragement from me, from one entrepreneur to another.

My mom says that a lot of other parents thought she was crazy for letting me launch my DJ business. But starting a successful DJ business in high school helped me learn about myself and my passion for entrepreneurship — and it ultimately helped me get into Columbia, forming the core of both my personal statement and the relationships I built with several members of the admissions team.

I believe the first step is always to dream big. For me, my big dreams for my college future started on a trip to New York City. I toured Columbia and fell in love with it, but I knew it was going to be hard for me to get in. In fact, my high school guidance counselor said, “Don’t even apply. It wouldn’t be worth your time and money on the application fee.” In that moment, my desire to go to Columbia went from strong to absolute, because suddenly it felt like it was about something larger than myself — not just where I went to school, but about a broader struggle for opportunity for people like me. So I poured myself into my SAT prep to show that even though I had a C average, I had what it took to keep up at a top school. And thankfully, it paid off. 

In high school and college, I was a C-student in part because I didn’t see how studying calculus or Western Civilization related to my life or my dreams. I knew that excelling in school wasn’t going to be the way I was going to distinguish myself in the world. At the same time, I was energized by my entrepreneurial efforts and my summer internships. I moved as quickly as I could to get through school and have my real life begin, because the real world made so much more sense to me.

TC: How do you think being raised by a single mother without privilege helped shape you as a man, and entrepreneur? How would you say being a person of color impact your path?

Reffkin: Growing up, it was just me and my mom. She’s an Israeli immigrant, disowned by her parents because I was Black. My father abandoned us and died, homeless, when I was young. What shaped me most as an entrepreneur was learning from my mother. She embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and taught me one of the most important principles: every time you get knocked down, you’ve got to bounce back with passion. I saw her face bad relationships, bankruptcy, and the stream of daily rejections that comes from being an agent. And she always bounced back. So when the world told me I couldn’t do something or that I was destined to fail, I was ready for them. Thanks to my mom, I already knew how to bounce back.

Image Credits: CEO Robert Reffkin & mother, Ruth / Compass

Being Black and Jewish, I’ve felt out of place my entire life. In most classes in Hosch school and college, I was the only Black person. In almost every meeting early in my career, I was the only Black person. When I was raising capital for Compass, I almost never saw someone Black on the other side of the table. But I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been lucky to get terrific advice along the way from so many Black mentors, from the late Vernon Jordan, to Ken Chenault, the former CEO of American Express, to Bayo Ogunlesi, who is lead director for Goldman Sachs. There’s a really strong community of people who’ve all supported each other.

TC: You’ve had some impressive mentors over the years. How did those relationships develop? How have they been valuable besides the obvious? 

Growing up, I was hungry for advice. Coming from a single-parent home, I looked for guidance and wisdom on how to create a better life wherever I could find it. My mom connected me to several non-profits when I was in high school that helped open my eyes to how much opportunity and support there was out there in the world. 

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is that feedback is a gift. Even when it’s hard to hear, feedback is a gift. My relationships with many of my mentors deepened because I started asking them for really tough, candid feedback — the sort of things they thought other people wouldn’t tell me. And then, I’d actually take their advice, apply it in my life, and let them know how it had helped me. That did two two things: First, it led to more honest and practical advice that helped me get better faster. Second, it made the people who had given me advice feel far more invested in my success and the success of whatI was working on.

The other thing my mentors gave me was the sense that even though the world was telling me I couldn’t be successful, I could be. Meeting someone like Vernon Jordan who advised presidents and CEOs alike, had a profound impact on me. He was a father figure to me. I met him when I was 23 years old, and at that time, it wasn’t clear to me that you could be successful in the business world as a Black man. I just hadn’t seen it before. When I started at Lazard, Vernon Jordan was the only other Black investment banker there. He was not just a senior partner, he was a legend, widely known for serving on more Fortune 500 boards than anyone in history. He took a strong interest in me, and with his support and advice, he made me feel like I belonged and helped me see a path where I could be as successful as I wanted to be. 

I founded a nonprofit in my twenties called America Needs You that has provided mentorship, career development, and college support to thousands of students. I wrote my new book, No One Succeeds Alone, as a way to pay it forward by making the lessons I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from so many remarkable people available to everyone — and it’s why I’m donating all of my proceeds to nonprofits that help young people realize their dreams.

TC: What advice you would give to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those from non-privileged backgrounds?

Reffkin: Here’s the advice I’d give to someone from an underrepresented group who just graduated college and is in their first job:

1) Don’t let anyone get in the way of your dream. Not society, not your colleagues, not even yourself. Whenever anyone tells you to slow down, speed up.

2) Spend the next 10 years learning as much as you can from the smartest people you can. Find mentors in your job and outside that will give you the honest feedback that others won’t. Feedback is a gift. It’ll be hard for you to hear, but it’s actually even harder for them to give it to you. So you may have to ask for it directly and let people know that you can take it.

3) Learn how to turn negativity into positive energy that fuels you. There will always be skeptics, doubters, and haters telling you that you can’t do something or that you don’t belong. 

TC: What next after Compass?

Reffkin: I believe that to be truly successful, you can’t have a Plan B. As a CEO, you have to be all-in, and that’s what I am for Compass: 100% dedicated to our 23,000 agents and employees. One of my mentors told me about the “shower test” once — that if you’re not excited enough about your job to think about it in the shower, you’re probably not in the right job. And I’ll tell you: I’m so passionate about the company we’re building that I’m still thinking about Compass in the shower. At Compass, we’ve accomplished much in the past eight years, but we’re truly just getting started. 

#america, #c, #ceo, #columbia, #compass, #diversity, #editor, #entrepreneur, #goldman-sachs, #ken-chenault, #lazard, #new-york-city, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #tc

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Biden’s labor secretary thinks many gig workers should be reclassified as employees

Biden Labor Secretary Marty Walsh charged into the white hot issue of the gig economy Thursday, asserting that many people working without benefits in the gig economy should be classified as employees instead.

In an interview with Reuters, Walsh said that the Department of Labor is “looking at” the gig economy, hinting that worker reclassification could be a priority in the Biden administration.

“… In a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees,” Walsh said. “In some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.”

Walsh also said that the labor department would be talking to companies that benefit from gig workers to ensure that non-employees at those companies have the same benefits that an “average employee” in the U.S. would have.

“These companies are making profits and revenue and I’m not [going to] begrudge anyone for that because that’s what we are about in America… but we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s comments aren’t backed by federal action, yet anyway, but they still made major waves among tech companies that leverage non-employee labor. Uber and Lyft stock dipped on the news Thursday, along with Doordash.

In the interview, Walsh also touched on pandemic-related concerns about gig workers who lack unemployment insurance and health care through their employers. The federal government has picked up the slack during the pandemic with two major bills granting gig workers some benefits, but otherwise they’re largely without a safety net.

Reforming labor laws has been a tenet of Biden’s platform for some time and the president has been very vocal about bolstering worker protections and supporting organized labor. One section of then President-elect Biden’s transition site was devoted to expanding worker protections, calling the misclassification of employees as contract workers an “epidemic.”

Biden echoed his previous support for labor unions during a joint address to Congress Wednesday night, touting the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — legislation that would protect workers looking to form or join unions. That bill would also expand federal whistleblower protections.

“The middle class built this country,” Biden said. “And unions build the middle class.”

#america, #biden, #biden-administration, #congress, #department-of-labor, #economy, #employment, #federal-government, #gig-economy, #gig-workers, #government, #labor, #president, #secretary, #tc, #temporary-work, #united-states

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General Motors leads $139 million investment into lithium-metal battery developer, SES

General Motors is joining the list of big automakers picking their horses in the race to develop better batteries for electric vehicles with its lead of a $139 million investment into the lithium-metal battery developer, SES.

Volkswagen has QuantumScape; Ford has invested in SolidPower (along with Hyundai and BMW); and now with SES’ big backing from General Motors most of the big American and European automakers have placed their bets.

“We are beyond R&D development,” said SES chief executive Hu Qichao in an interview with TechCrunch. “The main purposes of this funding is to, one, mprove the key material, this lithium metal electrolyte on the anode side and the cathode side, and, two, to improve the scale of the current cell from the iPhone battery size to the size that can be used in cars.”

There’s a third component to the financing as well, Hu said, which is to increase the company’s algorithmic capabilities to monitor and manage cell performance. “It’s something that we and our OEM partners care about,” said Hu.

The investment from GM s the culmination of nearly six years of work with the big automaker, said Hu. “We started working with them in 2015. For the next three years we will go through the standard automation approval processes. Going from ‘A’ sample to ‘B’ sample all the way through ‘D’ sample,” which is the final testing phase before commercial availability of SES’ batteries in cars.

While Tesla, the current leader in electric vehicle sales in America, is looking to improve the form factors of its batteries to make them more powerful and more efficient, Hu said that the chemistry isn’t that different. Solid state batteries represent a step change in battery technology that makes batteries more powerful, easier to recycle, and potentially more stable.

As Mark Harris wrote in TechCrunch earlier earlier this year:

There are many different kinds of SSB but they all lack a liquid electrolyte for moving electrons (electricity) between the battery’s positive (cathode) and negative (anode) electrodes. The liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries limit the materials the electrodes can be made from, and the shape and size of the battery. Because liquid electrolytes are usually flammable, lithium-ion batteries are also prone to runaway heating and even explosion. SSBs are much less flammable and can use metal electrodes or complex internal designs to store more energy and move it faster — giving higher power and faster charging.

What SES is doing has brought the company attention not just from General Motors, but from previous investors including the battery giant SK Innovation; the Singapore-based, government-backed investment firm, Temasek; the venture capital arm of semiconductor manufacturer, Applied Materials, Applied Ventures; the Chinese automaking giant, Shanghai Auto; and investment firm, Vertex.

“GM has been rapidly driving down battery cell costs and improving energy density, and our work with SES technology has incredible potential to deliver even better EV performance for customers who want more range at a lower cost,” said Matt Tsien, GM executive vice president and chief technology officer and president, GM Ventures. “This investment by GM and others will allow SES to accelerate their work and scale up their business.”

  

#america, #applied-materials, #applied-ventures, #battery-technology, #electricity, #energy, #ford, #general-motors, #gm-ventures, #hyundai, #iphone, #lithium, #lithium-ion-batteries, #ontology, #semiconductor, #ses, #solid-state-batteries, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #volkswagen

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Hadrian is building the factories of the future for rocket ships and advanced manufacturing

If the eight person team behind the new startup Hadrian has their way, they’ll have transformed the manufacturing industry within the next decade.

At least, that’s the goal for the new San Francisco-based startup, founded only last year, which has set its sights on building out a new model for advanced manufacturing to enable the satellite, space ship, and advanced energy technology companies to build the future they envision better and faster.

We view our job as to provide the world’s most efficient space and defense component factory,” said Hadrian founder, Chris Power.

Initially, the company is building factories to make the parts that go on rocket ships, according to Power, but the business has implications for any company that needs bespoke components to make their equipment.

“Let me tell you how bad it is at the moment and what’s going to happen over the next 20 years. Right now everyone in space and defense, [including] SpaceX and Lockheed Martin, outsources their parts and manufacturing to small factories across the country. They’re super expensive, they’re unreliable and they’re completely invisible to the customers,” said Power. “This causes big problems with space and defense manufacturers in the design phase, because the lead time is so long and the iteration time is super long. Imagine running software and being able to iterate on your product once every 20 days? If you can imagine a Gantt chart of how to build a rocket, about 60% of that is buffer time… A lot of the delays in launches and stuff like that happen because parts got delivered three months ago. It’d be like running a McDonalds and realizing that your fries and burger providers could not tell you when the food would arrive.”

It’s hard to overstate the strategic importance of the parts suppliers to the operations of aerospace, defense, and advanced machining companies. As no less an authority on manufacturing than Elon Musk noted in a tweet, “The factory is the product.” It’s also hard to overstate the geopolitical importance of re-establishing the U.S. as a center of manufacturing excellence, according to Hadrian’s investors Lux Capital, Founders Fund, and Construct Capital. Which is one reason why they’re investing $9.5 million into the very early stage business.

“America made massive strategic mistakes in the early 90s which have left our national manufacturing ecosystem completely dilapidated,” said Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov. “The only way to get out of this disaster is to re-invent the most basic input into our aerospace and defense supply chains, machining metal parts quickly and with high tolerance. Right now, America’s most innovative company, SpaceX, relies on a network of near-retired machinists to produce space-worthy metal parts, and no one in technology is. focused on solving this.”

 

Power got to understand the problem at his previous company, Ento, which sold workforce management software to blue collar customers. It was there he realized the issue of. the aging workforce and the need for manufacturers to upgrade almost every aspect of their own technology stack. “I realized that the right way to bring technology to the industrial space is not to sell software to these companies, it’s to build an industrial business from scratch with software.”

Initially, Hadrian is focusing all of its efforts on the space industry, where the component manufacturing problem is especially acute, but the manufacturing capabilities the company is building out have broad relevance across any industry that requires highly engineered components.

“The demand for manufacturing from both the large SpaceX and Blue Origin all the way to this growing long tail of companies from Anduril to Relativity to Varda,” said Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe. “Most of these guys are using mom and pop machine shops… [and] those shops are horribly inefficient. They’re not consistent, and they’re not reliable. Between the software automation, the hardware, you can cut down on inefficiency every step of the process… I like to think of value creation as waste reduction… so mundane things like quoting, scheduling, bidding, and planning all the way to the programming of the manufacturing… every one of those things takes hours to tens of hours to days and weeks, so if you can do that in minutes, it’s just a no-brainer. [Hadrian] will be the cutting edge choice for all of the new and explicitly dedicated and focused aerospace and defense companies.”

Power envisions a network of manufacturing facilities that can initially cover roughly 65% of all space and defense components, and will eventually take that number up to 95% of components. Already several of the biggest launch vehicle and satellite manufacturers are in talks with the company to produce hundreds of units for them, Power said. Some of those companies just happen to be in the Construct, Lux, and Founders Fund portfolio.

And the company’s founder sees this as a new way to revitalize American manufacturing jobs as well. “Manufacturing jobs in space and defense can easily be as high paying as a software engineering job at Google,” he said. In an ideal world, Hadrian would like to offer an onramp to high paying manufacturing careers in the 21st century in the same way that automakers provided good union jobs in the twentieth.

“We haven’t built any of this. If you look at the sheer number of people that we need to train and hire on our new technology and new systems, that people problem and that training problem is part of growing our business.”

A render of Axiom’s future commercial space station design.

#aerospace, #america, #blue-origin, #co-founder, #construct-capital, #elon-musk, #entrepreneurship, #factory, #food, #founders-fund, #google, #josh-wolfe, #lockheed-martin, #lux-capital, #manufacturing, #mcdonalds, #san-francisco, #software-automation, #spacex, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states

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Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

#america, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #brands, #butler, #california, #ceo, #cities, #clara-brenner, #companies, #construct-capital, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #frank-reig, #joby-aviation, #miami, #mit, #new-york-city, #oakland, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #remix, #revel, #san-francisco, #sequoia-capital, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #washington-d-c, #world-economic-forum, #y-combinator, #zipcar

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Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

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Volkswagen really is becoming ‘Voltswagen’ in the U.S.

Automaker Volkswagen wants you to know it’s serious about electric vehicles — so serious, in fact, that it’s officially rebranding around a pun in the U.S. The company revealed in a press release that it’s changing its name from “Volkswagen of America” to “Voltswagen of America” in a press release today. News this could happen leaked late Monday, but many speculated it might be an April Fool’s joke that got out a bit early, but the automaker seems serious about switching the official brand from May 2021 onwards given the official release on its newsroom.

Voltswagen (neé Volkswagen) says that the reason behind the change is to firmly demonstrate its commitment “future-forward investment in e-mobility,” which said more simply, implies that it’s super serious about its electric drivetrain plans. In a more literal sense, ‘Volkswagen’ is actually from the German for ‘the people’s car,’ which suggests that Voltswagen is a car for… volts?

Sort of, but not really, says VW (hey that still works!):

“We have said, from the beginning of our shift to an electric future, that we will build EVs for the millions, not just millionaires,” explained VW CEO and President Scott Keogh in the release announcing the swap. “This name change signifies a nod to our past as the peoples’ car and our firm belief that our future is in being the peoples’ electric car.”

This announcement comes just as Volkswagen has begun shipping its all-electric SUV, the ID.4, in the U.S. It ha a price tag of $33,995, before either federal and tax incentives, so that is indeed on the more affordable side of the existing U.S. electric vehicle market, with even more options set to come for cost-conscious consumers in future as the company spurs uses its commitments of lowering emissions by achieving one million global EV sales by 2025, and playing host to a lineup of mover 70 models across VW and its subrands worldwide by 2029.

Voltswagen branding will include use of a higher blue tone on the VW logo for all-electric vehicles, while gas cars will retain the more traditional dark blue look. The actual word ‘Voltswagen’ will be used on EVs in addition to the initials logo, with the icon graphic itself will be the sole branding on gas cars in the U.S. going forward.

#america, #cars, #electric-car, #electric-vehicle, #evs, #tc, #transport, #united-states, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #voltswagen, #vw

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Atlanta’s early stage investment renaissance continues with Overline’s $27 million fund close

Michael Cohn became a celebrity in the Atlanta startup ecosystem when the company he co-founded was sold to Accenture in a deal valued somewhere between $350 million and $400 million nearly six years ago.

That same year, Sean O’Brien also made waves in the community when he helped shepherd the sale of the  collaboration software vendor, PGi, to a private equity firm for $1.5 billion.

The two men are now looking to become fixtures in the city’s burgeoning new tech community with the close of their seed-stage venture capital firm’s first fund, a $27.4 million investment vehicle.

Overline’s first fund has already made commitments to companies that are expanding the parameters of what’s investible in the Southeast broadly and Atlanta’s startup scene locally.

These are companies like Grubbly Farms, which sells insect-based chicken feed for backyard farmers, or Kayhan Space, which is aiming to be the air traffic control service for the space industry. Others, like Padsplit, an Atlanta-based flexible housing marketplace, are tackling America’s low income housing crisis. 

“Our business model is very different from that of a traditional software startup, and the Overline team’s unique strengths and operator mindset have been invaluable in helping us grow the company,” said Sean Warner, CEO and co-founder of Grubbly Farms. 

That’s on top of investments into companies building on Atlanta’s natural strengths as a financial services, payments and business software powerhouse.

For all of the activity in Atlanta these days, the city and the broader southeastern region is still massively underfunded, according to O’brien and Cohn. The region only received less than 10 percent of all the institutional venture investments that were committed in 2020. Indeed, only seven percent of Atlanta founders raise money locally when they’re first starting out, an Overline survey suggested.

“The data reflects what we have seen throughout our careers building, growing, and investing in startups. There is no shortage of phenomenal founders and businesses coming out of Atlanta and the Southeast, but they often struggle to find institutional capital at their earliest stages,” said O’Brien, in a statement. “Overline will lead as the first institutional check for these companies and be a true partner to the Founders throughout their lifecycle—supporting them on the strategic and operational business initiatives and decisions that are critical to a company’s success.” 

The limited partners in Overline’s first fund also reflects the firm’s emphasis on regional roots. The privately held email marketing behemoth Mailchimp anchored the fund, which also included partners like Cox Enterprises, Social Leverage,

Overline is supported by a bench of impressive partners that reflects the firm’s roots in the Southeast. Anchored by marketing platform, Mailchimp, additional partners include Cox Enterprises, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Social Leverage, Wilmington, Del.-based Hallett Capital, and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings, along with Techstars co-founder David Cohen. 

“At Mailchimp, we love our hometown of Atlanta, and are proud of the robust startup ecosystem that’s growing in our city. The Overline founding team’s vision of deploying smart, local capital into startups in Atlanta and the Southeast aligns with our goals of promoting and advancing local innovation,” said Rick Lynch, CFO, Mailchimp, in a statement.

The firm expects to make investments of between $250,000 to $1.5 million into seed stage companies and has already backed 11 companies including, Relay Payments, a logistics fintech company that has raised over $40 million from top-tier investors. 

“When we set out to build Atlanta Tech Village almost a decade ago, one of our primary goals was to help Atlanta develop into a top 10 startup city, where all entrepreneurs would thrive. We’re making tremendous strides as a community, as evidenced by the number of newly minted unicorns,” said serial entrepreneur and Atlanta Tech Village founder David Cummings. “I believe in Overline’s thesis that value-add institutional early-stage capital is critical to the ecosystem’s continued development. Since the early days, Michael and Sean have been an active presence in our community in a way that goes far beyond being a source of capital—as mentors, advisors, and champions of Atlanta founders. I am proud to be one of their first investors.”

#accenture, #advisors, #america, #arizona, #atlanta, #cfo, #co-founder, #collaboration-software, #corporate-finance, #cox-enterprises, #david-cohen, #delaware, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #financial-services, #mailchimp, #money, #private-equity, #serial-entrepreneur, #social-leverage, #startup-company, #tc, #techstars, #venture-capital

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Pie Insurance raises $118M for data-driven workers’ comp coverage

Pie Insurance, a startup offering workers’ compensation insurance to small businesses, announced this morning that it has closed on $118 million in a Series C round of funding.

Allianz X — investment arm of German financial services giant Allianz — and Acrew Capital co-led the round, which brings the Washington, D.C.-based startup’s total equity funding raised to over $300 million since its 2017 inception. Pie declined to disclose the valuation at which its latest round was raised, other than to say it was “a significant increase.”

Return backers Greycroft, SVB Capital, SiriusPoint, Elefund and Moxley Holdings also participated in the Series C financing.

The startup, which uses data and analytics in its effort to offer SMBs a way to get insurance digitally and more affordably, has seen its revenues climb by 150% since it raised $127 million in a Series B extension last May. Its headcount too has risen — to 260 from 140 last year.

Pie began selling its insurance policies in March 2018. The company declined to give recent hard revenue numbers, saying it only has grown its gross written premium to over $100 million and partnered with over 1,000 agencies nationwide. Last year, execs told me that in the first quarter of 2020, the company had written nearly $19 million in premiums, up 150% from just under $7.5 million during the same period in 2019.

Like many other companies over the past year, Pie Insurance — with its internet-driven, cloud-based platform — has benefited from the increasing further adoption of digital technologies. 

“We are riding that wave,” said Pie Insurance co-founder and CEO John Swigart. “We believe small businesses deserve better than they have historically gotten. And we think that technology can be the means by which that better experience, that more efficient process, and fundamentally, that lower price can be delivered to them.”

Pie’s customer base includes a range of small businesses including trades, contractors, landscapers, janitors, auto shops and restaurants. Pie sells its insurance directly through its website and also mostly through thousands of independent insurance agents.

Workers’ compensation insurance is the only commercial insurance mandated for every company in the United States, points out Lauren Kolodny, founding partner at Acrew Capital.

“Historically, it’s been extremely cumbersome to qualify, onboard and manage workers’ comp insurance — particularly for America’s small businesses which haven’t been prioritized by larger carriers,” she wrote via email. 

Pie, Koldony said, is able to offer underwriting decisions “almost instantly,” digitally and more affordably than legacy insurance carriers.

“I have seen very few insurtech teams that come close,” she added.

Dr. Nazim Cetin, CEO of Allianz X, told TechCrunch via email that his firm believes Pie is operating in an “attractive and growing market that is ripe for digital disruption.”

The company, he said, leverages “excellent,” proprietary data and advanced analytics to be able to provide tailored underwriting and automation. 

“We see some great collaboration opportunities with Allianz companies too,” he added.

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to invest further in technology and automation, as well as to grow its core workers’ comp insurance business and “lay the groundwork for new business offerings in 2021 and beyond.”

#acrew-capital, #allianz, #allianz-x, #america, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #insurance, #insurance-policies, #insurtech, #lauren-kolodny, #pie-insurance, #recent-funding, #startups, #svb-capital, #underwriting, #united-states, #venture-capital, #washington-d-c

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Now approved in LA, Abodu’s backyard homes can now go from contract to completion in as little as 30 days

Abodu, one of a slew of startup companies pitching backyard homes and office spaces to Californians in an effort to help address the state’s housing shortage, has instituted a new “Quickship” program that can take an order from contract to construction and installation in about thirty days.

Behind the quick turnaround time is a pre-approval process that was first rolled out in Santa Fe and came to Los Angeles in recent weeks.

Abodu began installing homes through a pre-approval process back in 2019, when the city of San Jose created a program that allowed developers of alternative dwelling units to submit plans for pre-approval to cut the time for homeowners.

That approval process means that ADU developers like Abodu can be permitted in one hour. Other ADU developers pre-approved in San Jose, Calif. include Acton ADU, the venture backed Connect Homes, J. Kretschmer Architect, Mayberry Workshop, Open Remodel, and prefabADU. In Los Angeles, La Mas, IT House, Design, Bitches, Connect Homes, Welcome Projects and First Office have all had homes pre-approved for construction.

Beyond the cities where Adobu’s ADUs have received pre-approval, the company has built across California in cities ranging from, Palo Alto, Millbrae, Orange County, to LA and Oakland. Units in the Bay Area cost roughly $189,000 as a starting price, compared to the $650,000 to $850,000 it takes to build units in a mid-rise apartment building, or $1 million per unit in a steel-reinforced highrise, according to the company.

“Our Quickship program is the fastest way to add housing,” said John Geary, CEO at Abodu.  “Homeowners with immediate needs, be it family situations or those looking for investment income, can now complete an ADU project in as little as four weeks. A key mission for Abodu is to make a serious dent in our state’s housing deficit while providing people and municipalities the necessary blueprint to enact real change. ”

For former TechCrunch writer Kim-Mai Cutler, who serves on the Abodu board of directors the achievement of a 30 day construction milestone is almost a dream come true. Cutler wrote the book (or the equivalent of a book) on the housing crisis and its impact on the Bay Area and California broadly.

That piece led Cutler to work in public service “on boards and commissions overseeing the spending of federal dollars on homelessness and the proceeds of municipal bonds directed at financing affordable housing (because yes, for some segments of residents, you do have to explicitly subsidize housing at the local level.),” as she noted in a blog post about her investment in Abodu.

The interior of an Abodu home. Photo via Abodu.

Cutler backed the company because of her deep knowledge of the issues associated with housing.

“The reason this is a big deal is because Northern California has been the most expensive and unpredictable place to build new housing in the world. Projects typically take several years because of uncertainty with entitlements and materials,” Cutler wrote. “Over the past year, Abodu co-founders John Geary and Eric McInerney have put homes in the backyards of parents bringing kids home from college, a mother-and-son pair that each bought one for their homes in Millbrae, a couple looking to eventually house a grandmother in San Jose and on and on.”

The key inspiration that Abodu’s founders hit on was their concentration on granny flats, casitas and backyard dwellings. “While deliberations over mid-rise density were stalling in Sacramento, the state legislature (and legislatures up north in the Pacific Northwest) were passing bill after bill, including Phil Ting’s AB 68 and Bob Wieckowski’s SB 1069, to make it really easy to add backyard units,” Cutler wrote. “This is the kind of change that suburban America wants, is comfortable with and can politically pass and implement easily.”

To Cutler’s thinking, Adobu’s 30 day construction schedule will change consumer behavior, thanks to the fact that the home can be craned in and installed in less than a day on a foundation constructed in less than two weeks. Its incredibly low cost will enable a lot of opportunities to develop new inventory and the simple fact is that inventory remains a scarce commodity. As Cutler noted, only half as many homes are trading across the United States as were available a year ago, which is happening at the same time as when millennials are entering prime family formation years. 

 

#abodu, #america, #california, #ceo, #kim-mai-cutler, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #oakland, #palo-alto, #planning, #sacramento, #san-jose, #tc, #united-states, #urban-planning, #writer

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Cheese raises $3.6M for its digital bank aimed at the Asian-American community

Many things have accelerated in the world of fintech over the past year, not the least of which is the trend of digital banks aimed at specific communities in the U.S.

In the past few months alone, a number of neobanks targeting the Black and Latinx communities have emerged. Most recently, we covered the $5 million raise of one such bank — First Boulevard.

Today, Cheese announced the launch of its digital banking platform that is aimed at primarily serving the Asian-American community. Co-founder and CEO Ken Lian came to the United States from China in 2008 to attend college. In the years after his move, Lian said he paid thousands of dollars in bank fees and got rejected “multiple times” for basic bank accounts, despite having a FICO score over 800.

Those experiences led him to come up with the concept behind Cheese, which he said will offer its banking services via a multi-language platform. The one-year-old startup also has a social component, giving customers a way to support Asian-American businesses and organizations. Lian is no stranger to the world of entrepreneurship, having also founded Moolah Science, a startup that helped consumers find out if online stores owed them a refund that got acquired by a Fortune 500 company in 2019.

Lian founded Cheese along with Zhen Wang and Qingyi Li under the premise that Asian-Americans are often subject to discrimination and “an unequal playing field” in America despite being among the most educated in the country.

“We understand Asian users much better than anybody else because we are the user,” Lian told TechCrunch. “[Traditional] banking didn’t understand me or my culture or my lifestyle or what matters to me. Our needs are different.”

“A lot of challenger banks also never focused on Asian communities and immigrants,” he added. “We want to provide a great product to welcome these people to the U.S. and make it easy for them to bank.”

Over the past year, Cheese has raised a total of $3.6 million in funding from investors such as iFly.vc; Amplify; Adam Nash, former CEO of Wealthfront; Zillow co-founder Spencer Rascoff and VC firms Wedbush Ventures, Idealab and Operate Venture Studio. The startup has also partnered with actor Jimmy Wong, an advocate for Asian rights. He will serve as Cheese’s chief community ambassador.

Cheese’s platform provides a debit Mastercard (issued by Coastal Community Bank), which is available to those with no credit history. (If this sounds familiar, it’s a similar offering as that of TomoCredit, a startup that recently raised $7 million to scale its debit card product for those with little or no credit history.)

Cheese cardholders can use the virtual cards instantly through their mobile wallets, the company said. Other features include offering advance pay up to two days early with direct deposit, a 3% deposit bonus for referring friends, 0.3% annual percentage yield (APY) and up to 10% cash back on purchases at more than10,000 merchants. 

Image Credits: Cheese

Han Shen, founding partner of iFly, believes Cheese can help the underbanked community in the United States.

They don’t necessarily get the same kind of service or product for their banking needs and they face all kinds of pain points,” he wrote. “Cheese has a list of products they want to develop for that type of customer…We know there is a product market fit based on our research and we know this is a strong team.”

The investment marks iFly’s first in the consumer fintech space in which it acted as a lead investor.

We were already determined to invest on the mission side. They wanted to make things easier and better for the underbanked, including immigrants,” Shen continued. “People deserve a better service. In Cheese’s case, the question is not whether or not to provide it, the question is about how to do it right to address their pain points.”

In conjunction with its launch, Cheese has pledged $100,000 to the Cheese Giveback Fund, 100% of which will be donated to nonprofits and community service programs in support of Asian neighborhoods and businesses impacted by violence and economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

#adam-nash, #america, #amplify, #bank, #banking, #cheese, #china, #digital-banks, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #funding, #fundings-exits, #idealab, #mastercard, #payments, #recent-funding, #spencer-rascoff, #startups, #tc, #united-states

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Investors get a rise out of Walmart’s agreement to stock more Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat shares soared today on the heels of an announcement that Walmart is beefing up its relationship with the purveyor of meatless protein patties, sausages, and balls.

900 stores will now be stocking Beyond Meat’s hot Italian sausages and its party packs of beefless burgers — those grilling delectations for the omnivores, vegetarians and vegans who no longer want to ask “Where’s the beef?”

Beyond Meat’s increased distribution at Walmart stores is the second jump in production over the past year and part of the company’s efforts to lock down the market for plant-based meat substitutes.

The company’s foods are now sold in over 28,000 stores, and it’s also pulling ahead in the food service industry, where it recently announced deals with Yum Brands and McDonalds.

Shares of the company’s stock ended the day up 3.16% or $4.28 as investors ate up the news.

 

“We are thrilled by the continued growth with Walmart and the opportunity to offer Walmart customers increased accessibility to a larger selection of our delicious and better-for-you plant-based products,” said Chuck Muth, Chief Growth Officer, Beyond Meat. “As more households continue to buy our products and buy them more frequently, we’re excited to satisfy the growing demand through increased product offerings and distribution.”

The partnership with Walmart, which dates back to 2015 is significant, but not nearly as attention grabbing as the company’s elaboration on recent agreements with McDonalds and Yum! Brands — the brains behind KFC and the two franchises that launched America’s greatest fast food hip hop anthem.

In late February, Beyond Meat opened up about its deals with Yum! Brands and McDonald’s that would see the company work to co-create plant-based protein menu items for KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell along with the famous golden arches fo McDonald’s.

That details of the agreement withYum! included the expansion of testing the company’s Beyond Fried Chicken in other U.S. cities with KFC. And the launch of the Beyond Italian Sausage Pizza and the Great Beyond Pizza nationwide, becoming the first national pizza chain to introduce a plant-based meat pizza coast-to-coast, the company’s said in a statement at the time.

The McDonald’s announcement fleshed out the meatless details of a partnership that was previously announced when the fast food giant unveiled its McPlant sandwich — a kind of face plant for Beyond given that it couldn’t confirm the details of the agreement at the time.

Now, other plant-based menu items — including options for chicken, pork, and egg products, have been unveiled as part of the broader McPlant platform, the companies said in February.

“Our new McPlant platform is all about giving customers more choices when they visit McDonald’s,” said Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, said at the time. “We’re excited to work with Beyond Meat to drive innovation in this space, and entering into this strategic agreement is an important step on our journey to bring delicious, high quality, plant-based menu items to our customers.”

It’s been a busy year for the branding geniuses at Beyond Meat, who also inked a deal with Pepsi to develop protein enhanced snacks and beverages under the tragically named PLANeT Partnership.

 

#america, #beyond-meat, #companies, #kfc, #mcdonalds, #meat-substitutes, #pepsi, #pizza-hut, #restaurants, #taco-bell, #tc, #united-states, #walmart, #yum-brands

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Porter Road’s sustainable, whole animal butchery raises $10 million to expand across the U.S.

In the nearly ten years since it launched as a whole animal butchery out of a storefront in East Nashville, the founders of Porter Road have wanted to herd America’s meat industry down a new path.

Now the company has $10 million in financing from investors including L37 Ventures, River Park Ventures, Middleland, FJ Labs, Kelvin Beachum along with previous investors MAX Ventures, Tribeca Venture Partners, and Slow Ventures to bring that mission to a broader swath of the country.

Since the company bought its own slaughterhouse back in 2015 and expanded to e-commerce in 2018 it has been shipping its selections of lamb, beef, pork, chicken and sausages from local farms to tables across the U.S.

The new money will be used to scale the company’s sustainable agriculture and its pasture-raised meat for the direct-to-consumer business, its shop in Nashville, and for wholesale distribution to restaurants around the country.

It’s going to expand its operations in Princeton, Ky with a new USDA processing facility that’s 4.5 times larger to meet new demand. That move will create 80 new jobs in the small town and is part of a broader agricultural renaissance in Kentucky.

“It’s easy to back founders who are as comfortable on the manufacturing line as they are in the boardroom, and who see the world differently and have the deep domain expertise to execute on that vision,” said L37 Partner Randall Ussery in a statement. “They have spent years perfecting the Porter Road way which no company nor incumbent can replicate overnight. They are a category killer in the meat industry and have built a moat around their brand.”

Porter Road delivery box of a selection of its steaks, sausages and bacon. Image Credit: Porter Road

One indication of the ways in which Porter Road differs from its larger competitors is in the way it handled the COVID-19 pandemic at its facilities.

Due to its limited production schedule and measures like staggered break times, mask requirements and social distancing rules, the company was able to avoid having any outbreaks at its facilities, according to the company’s co-founder and chief executive, Chris Carter. “We had a handful of people who got sick, but [COVID-19] didn’t spread in Princeton,” said Carter.

And despite the push for more plant-based diets, Carter says that his company’s focus on pasture-raised animals and whole animal butchery should appeal to folks who care about sustainable production. “We care about our farmers and we care about the way our animals are raised,” said Carter. “That’s the whole point of what we’re doing… Porter Road is about animal utilization. It’s about honoring the life of an animal so we find an outlet for every single piece.”

Porter Road is expanding its product line into cooking tallow and fats, and cross cut bones for bone marrow dishes, Carter said.

“The food system is broken and in need of a substantial change. Today’s consumer is demanding a deeper level of connection to their food and can see past misleading labels and buzzwords,” said  Carter, in a statement. “We are delivering trust, transparency, and flavor so no one has to compromise, all while supporting our farmers.”

#america, #e-commerce, #fj-labs, #food, #kentucky, #max-ventures, #meat, #nashville, #slow-ventures, #tc, #tribeca-venture-partners, #united-states, #usda

0

Bank of America is bringing VR instruction to its 4,000 banks

As consumer VR begins to have a moment following years of heavy investment from Facebook and other tech giants, corporate America is similarly beginning to find more utility in the technology, as well.

Bank of America announced today that they’ll be working with Bay Area-based VR startup Strivr to bring more of their workplace training into virtual reality. The financial institution has already used the startup’s tech in a pilot effort with about 400 employees, but a wide-scale rollout means scaling the VR learning platform to more of the company’s 45,000 employees and bringing thousands of VR headsets to its bank branches.

Bank of America exec John Jordan has plenty of ideas of where it will be able to implement the technology most effectively, but is open to experimenting early-on, noting that they’ve developed VR lessons for everything from notary services to fraud detection. Jordan also says that they’re working on more ambitious tasks like helping employees practice empathy with customers dealing with sensitive matters like the death of a relative.

Jordan says the scope of the company’s corporate learning program “The Academy” is largely unmatched among other major companies in the U.S., except perhaps by the employee instruction programs at Walmart, he notes. Walmart has been Strivr’s largest customer since the startup signed the retail behemoth back in 2017 to bring VR instruction to their 200 “Walmart Academy” instruction centers and all Walmart stores.

Virtual reality is a technology that lends itself to capturing undivided attention, something that is undoubtedly positive for increasing learning retention, which Jordan says was one of the central appeals for adopting the tech. For Bank of America, VR offers a platform change to reexamine some of the pitfalls of conventional corporate learning. At the same time, they acknowledge that the tech isn’t a silver bullet and that are plenty of best practices for VR that are still unknowns.

“We’re just taking it slow to be honest,” Jordan says. “We already feel pretty great about how we’ve made investments, but we view this as a way to get better.”

Enterprise VR startups have seen varying levels of success over the years as they’ve aimed to find paying customers that can tolerate the limitations of the technology while buying in on the broader vision. Strivr has raised over $51 million, including a $30 million Series B last year, as it has aimed to become a leader in the workplace training space. CEO Derek Belch tells TechCrunch that the company has big plans as it looks towards raising more funding and works to build out its software toolsets to help simplify VR content creation for its partners.

 

 

#america, #bank, #bank-of-america, #ceo, #facebook, #leader, #retailers, #strivr, #tc, #united-states, #virtual-reality, #vr, #walmart

0

Maple launches with $3.5 million in funding to become the SaaS backoffice for the family

Much of our daily lives have been transformed in one way or another by technology – and often through intentional efforts to innovate thanks to the advent of new technology. Now more than ever, we rely on shared collaboration platforms and digital workspaces in our professional lives, and yet most of the changes wrought by tech on our home and family lives seem like the accidental effects of broader trends, rather than intentional shifts. Maple, a new startup launching today, aims to change that.

Founded by former Shopify product director and Kit (which was acquired by Shopify in 2016) co-founder Michael Perry, Maple is billed as “the family tech platform,” and hopes to ease the burden of parenting, freeing up parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and kids to spend more quality time together. The startup, which is launching its app on iPhone and Android for all and onboarding new users from its waitlist over the next few weeks, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding – an impressive round for a company just about seven months into its existence. The round was led by Inspired Capital, and includes participation by Box Group, but is also supported by a number of angels who were Perry’s former colleagues at Shopify, including Shopify President Harley Finkelstein.

Perry and his co-founder Mike Taylor, who also co-founded Kit, decided to leave Shopify in order to pursue Perry’s vision of a platform that can help parents better manage their family lives – a platform made up of a social layer, a task-focused list of shared responsibilities, and a bourgeoning service marketplace that looks and feels a lot like the ecosystem Shopify has built for empowering e-commerce entrepreneurs. That’s by design, Perry says.

“I think you’re gonna see a lot of Shopify inspiration in this product – we think we’re the back office of every family,” Perry told me in an interview. “And we think we’re building the app ecosystem of apps, services, all kinds of things that are going to live on this platform that’s going to revolutionize parenting.”

In its current early incarnation, Maple’s primary interface for parents is a list of various tasks they need to take care of during the day. During onboarding, Maple asks parents what they’re typically responsible for in the household, and then uses some basic machine learning behind the scenes to build a customized schedule for getting those things done. Maple has signed on three initial partners to assist with accomplishing some of these tasks, including Evelyn Rusli’s Yumi food and nutrition brand for infants; Lalo, a DTC baby and toddler furniture and gear brand; and Haus, which will be providing date night packages for parents to enjoy for some getaway time.

Maple co-founder Micheal Perry with his son.

The platform will offer users the ability to tap others for help with tasks – these could be other family members added to the household, or the partners mentioned above (the plan is to bring on more, but to gate admittance initially while developing API endpoints that any company can potentially tap into). When interacting with family members, Maple also encourages smalls social interactions, like thanking someone for their help on a particular task or just showing general appreciation. Perry says this is a key ingredient he prioritized in product design.

“We have this cool thing that every day at eight o’clock, we give you an end of the day recap with your family,” Perry said. “So you click on it, and it will show me that, for example, Alex [Perry’s wife] completed three responsibilities for our family today, and how many I did for my family today, and how much help I received from other people today. And directly in app, you can send these cool little ‘Thank you ‘messages and say, you know, I love you, I appreciate you – we’re a great team. And Alex will get those messages. We believe in a world where this can be incredibly dynamic, in many different ways kto kind of bring some love and appreciation and make parenting feel more rewarding and easier.”

Perry is quick to note that what Maple offers today is only the beginning, and it’s clear he has bold ambitions for the platform. He talked about building “the family graph,” or a trove of data that can be used to not only build intelligent recommendations and develop ever more advanced machine learning to optimize family management, but also to provide partners with the tools they need to build products to best serve families. I asked Perry what that means for privacy, given that people are likely to be far more reluctant to share info around their families than they are about their work lives. He said the they team plans to go slow in terms of what it exposes to partners, when, and how, and that they’ll have user privacy in mind at each step – since, after all, Perry himself is a father and a husband and is wary of any incursions on his own private life.

For now, partners like Yumi only receive what users share with them through their own account creation and login mechanism, and they only pass back a basic attribution token – essentially letting Maple know the task was completed so it can mark it off in a user’s list.

Image Credits: Maple

Maple’s partners today are representative of the kind of businesses that might make use of the platform in future, but Perry has a much broader vision. He hopes that Maple can ultimately help parents handle their responsibilities across a wide range of needs and income levels. Right now, Perry points out, a lot of what’s available to parents in terms of support is only available to higher income brackets – ie., nannies and dedicated caregivers. Perry says that his experience growing up relatively poor with a single mother supporting the entire family led him to want to provide something better.

“You have 125 million households in America, you have 3 million children being born every year, you have 30% of the households in America being single parent-run households,” Perry said. “It’s hard. Some people are working one two jobs, most couples are working couples. Every industry that’s changed has been about making things more accessible. In the case of Shopify, at one point building, an online store required hundreds of thousands of dollars and a bunch of skilled people. Now you can start a store for $20 in five minutes – 20 years ago, that was unfathomable.”

For Perry, Maple represents a path to that kind of shift in the economics of parenting and a network of family services, including goods, care, leisure and more. The startup has plans to eventually enlist other parents to provide services, which Perry says will unlock part-time income generation for full-time parents, allowing parents to help each other at the same time.

I asked him if he thought people would be reluctant to treat their family lives with the same kind of optimization approach favored by enterprise and commercial platform tools, but he suggested that in fact, not taking advantage of those same technologies in our personal lives is a missed opportunity.

“We believe that, uniquely, we’re living through a generation where we can start creating more time for people,” Perry said. “I think what makes Maple so unique is that no company has approached this by asking ‘How do we create more time for you so that you can spend more time with your kids?’ in the consolidated way that we have.”

Disclosure: I worked at Shopify from 2018 to 2019 while Perry was employed there, but we did not work together directly.

#america, #android, #api, #business, #co-founder, #companies, #evelyn-rusli, #family, #food, #inspired-capital, #iphone, #machine-learning, #platform, #president, #publishing, #recent-funding, #shopify, #social, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #yumi

0

SESO Labor is providing a way for migrant farmworkers to get legally protected work status in the U.S.

As the Biden Administration works to bring legislation to Congress to address the endemic problem of immigration reform in America, on the other side of the nation a small California startup called SESO Labor has raised $4.5 million to ensure that farms can have access to legal migrant labor.

SESO’s founder Mike Guirguis raised the round over the summer from investors including Founders Fund and NFX. Pete Flint, a founder of Trulia joined the company’s board. The company has 12 farms it’s working with and negotiating contracts with another 46.

Working within the existing regulatory framework that has existed since 1986, SESO has created a service that streamlines and manages the process of getting H-2A visas, which allow migrant agricultural workers to reside temporarily in the U.S. with legal protections.

At this point, SESO is automating the visa process, getting the paperwork in place for workers and smoothing the application process. The company charges about $1,000 per application, but eventually as it begins offering more services to workers themselves, Guirguis envisions several robust lines of revenue. Eventually, the company would like to offer integrated services for both farm owners and farm workers, Guirguis said.

SESO is currently expecting to bring in 1,000 workers over the course of 2021 and the company is, as of now, pre-revenue. The largest industry player handling worker visas today currently brings in 6,000 workers per year, so the competition, for SESO, is market share, Guirguis said.

America’s complicated history of immigration and agricultural labor

The H-2A program was set up to allow agricultural employers who anticipate shortages of domestic workers to bring in non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to work on farms temporarily or seasonally. The workers are covered by U.S. wage laws, workers’ compensation and other standards, including access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

Employers who use the the visa program to hire workers are required to pay inbound and outbound transportation, provide free or rental housing, and provide meals for workers (they’re allowed to deduct the costs from salaries).

H-2 visas were first created in 1952 as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which reinforced the national origins quota system that restricted immigration primarily to Northern Europe, but opened America’s borders to Asian immigrants for the first time since immigration laws were first codified in 1924. While immigration regulations were further opened in the sixties, the last major immigration reform package in 1986 served to restrict immigration and made it illegal for businesses to hire undocumented workers. It also created the H-2A visas as a way for farms to hire migrant workers without incurring the penalties associated with using illegal labor.

For some migrant workers, the H-2A visa represents a golden ticket, according to Guirguis, an honors graduate of Stanford who wrote his graduate thesis on labor policy.

“We are providing a staffing solution for farms and agribusiness and we want to be Gusto for agriculture and upsell farms on a comprehensive human resources solution,” says Guirguis of the company’s ultimate mission, referencing payroll provider Gusto.

As Guirguis notes, most workers in agriculture are undocumented. “These are people who have been taken advantage of [and] the H-2A is a visa to bring workers in legally. We’re able to help employers maintain workforce [and] we’re building software to help farmers maintain the farms.”

Opening borders even as they remain closed

Farms need the help, if the latest numbers on labor shortages are believable, but it’s not necessarily a lack of H-2A visas that’s to blame, according to an article in Reuters.

In fact, the number of H-2A visas granted for agriculture equipment operators rose to 10,798 from October through March, according to the Reuters report. That’s up 49% from a year ago, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor cited by Reuters.

Instead of an inability to acquire the H-2A visa, it was an inability to travel to the U.S. that’s been causing problems. Tighter border controls, the persistent global pandemic and travel restrictions that were imposed to combat it have all played a role in keeping migrant workers in their home countries.

Still, Guirguis believes that with the right tools, more farms would be willing to use the H-2A visa, cutting down on illegal immigration and boosting the available labor pool for the tough farm jobs that American workers don’t seem to want.

Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

David Misener, the owner of an Oklahoma-based harvesting company called Green Acres Enterprises, is one employer who has struggled to find suitable replacements for the migrant workers he typically hires.

“They could not fathom doing it and making it work,” Misener told Retuers, speaking about the American workers he’d tried to hire.

“With H-2A, migrant workers make 10 times more than they would get paid at home,” said Guirguis. “They’re taking home the equivalent of $40 an hour. The H-2A is coveted.”

Guirguis thinks that with the right incentives and an easier onramp for farmers to manage the application and approval process, the number of employers that use H-2A visas could grow to be 30% to 50% of the farm workforce in the country. That means growing the number of potential jobs from 300,000 to 1.5 million for migrants who would be under many of the same legal protections that citizens enjoy, while they’re working on the visa.

Protecting agricultural workers through better paperwork

Interest in the farm labor nexus and issues surrounding it came to the first-time founder through Guirguis’ experience helping his cousin start her own farm. Spending several weekends a month helping her grow the farm with her husband, Guirguis heard his stories about coming to the U.S. as an undocumented worker.

Employers using the program avoid the liability associated with being caught employing illegal labor, something that crackdowns under the Trump Administration made more common.

Still, it’s hard to deny the program’s roots in the darker past of America’s immigration policy. And some immigration advocates argue that the H-2A system suffers from the same kinds of structural problems that plague the corollary H-1B visas for tech workers.

“The H-2A visa is a short-term temporary visa program that employers use to import workers into the agricultural fields … It’s part of a very antiquated immigration system that needs to change. The 11.5 million people who are here need to be given citizenship,” said Saket Soni, the founder of an organization called Resilience Force, which advocates for immigrant labor. “And then workers who come from other countries, if we need them, they have to be able to stay … H-2A workers don’t have a pathway to citizenship. Workers come to us afraid of blowing the whistle on labor issues. As much as the H-2A is a welcome gift for a worker it can also be abused.” 

Soni said the precarity of a worker’s situation — and their dependence on a single employer for their ability to remain in the country legally — means they are less likely to speak up about problems at work, since there’s nowhere for them to go if they are fired.

“We are big proponents that if you need people’s labor you have to welcome them as human beings,” Soni said. “Where there’s a labor shortage as people come, they should be allowed to stay … H-2A is an example of an outdated immigration tool.”

Guirguis clearly disagrees and said a platform like SESO’s will ultimately create more conveniences and better services for the workers who come in on these visas.

“We’re trying to put more money in the hands of these workers at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re going to be setting up remittance and banking services. Everything we do should be mutually beneficial for the employer and the worker who is trying to get into this program and know that they’re not getting taken advantage of.”

#america, #banking, #biden-administration, #california, #congress, #founder, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #immigration, #labor, #nfx, #oklahoma, #pete-flint, #stanford, #startups, #tc, #trulia, #trump-administration, #u-s-department-of-labor, #united-states

0

For the first time the US DOT is carving out budget for climate and environmental justice projects

As part of the grant-making associated with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program, the agency will for the first time carve out some of that program’s $889 million budget for projects addressing climate change and environmental justice.

The projects will be evaluated on whether they were planned as part of a comprehensive strategy to address climate change, or whether they support strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as deploying zero-emission-vehicle infrastructure or encouraging shifts in modes of transportation or vehicle miles traveled, the agency said in an announcement.

“As we work to recover and emerge from this devastating pandemic stronger than before, now is the time to make lasting investments in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in a statement. “We are committed to not just rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, but building back in a way that positions American communities for success in the future—creating good paying jobs, boosting the economy, ensuring equity, and tackling our climate crisis. The INFRA grant program is a tremendous opportunity to help achieve these goals.

Racial equity will also be considered, according to the agency’s announcement. With requirements including equity-focused community outreach and projects designed to benefit underserved communities privileged, along with projects that are located in opportunity, empowerment, or promise zones or choice neighborhoods.

The new programs show just how quickly federal dollars could be made available to startups that are looking at electrification and provide more strength to the tailwinds already propelling the electric vehicle industry — and its attendant charging networks forward.

Large infrastructure projects could receive grants of $25 million or more while small projects must have grant requirements that meet a minimum threshold of at least $5 million, according to the DOT.

Eligible project costs could include: reconstruction, rehabilitation, acquisition of property (including land related to the project and improvements to the land), environmental mitigation, construction contingencies, equipment acquisition, and operational improvements directly related to system performance.

Opportunities for applications are going to be open through Friday, March 19.

#america, #articles, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #infrastructure, #pete-buttigieg, #secretary, #tc, #u-s-department-of-transportation

0

LA-based SoLo Funds raises $10 million to offer an alternative to predatory payday lenders

SoLo Funds wants to replace payday lenders with a community-based, market-driven model for individual lending and now has $10 million to expand its business in the U.S.

Payday lenders offer high interest, short-term loans to borrowers who are at their most vulnerable and the terms of their loans often trap borrowers in a cycle of debt from which there’s no escape.

Around 80% of Americans don’t have adequate savings to cover unforeseen expenses, and it’s that statistic that has made payday lending a lucrative business in the U.S.

Over the past decade websites like GoFundMe and others have cropped up to offer a space where people can donate money to individuals or causes that in some cases serve to supplement the incomes of people most in need. SoLo Funds operates as an alternative.

It’s a marketplace where borrowers can set the terms of their loan repayment and lenders can earn extra income while supporting folks who need the help.

The company is financing tens of thousands of loans per month, according to chief executive officer and co-founder, Travis Holoway and loan volumes are growing at about 40% monthly, he said.

While Holoway would not disclose the book value of the loans transacted on the platform, he did say that the company’s default and delinquency rates were lower than that of its competitors. “Our default rate is about three times better than the industry average — which is the payday lending industry that we’re looking to disrupt,” Holoway said.

The company also offers a sort of default insurance product that lenders can purchase to backstop any losses they experience, Holoway said. That service, rolled out in April of last year, helped account for some of the explosive 2,000% growth that the company saw over the course of 2020.

SoLo has seen the most activity in Texas, Illinois, California, and New York, states with large populations and cities with the highest cost of living.

“Our borrowers are school teachers… are social workers. When you live in those larger cities with higher costs of living they can’t afford the financial shocks that they could if they lived in Dayton, Ohio,” said Holoway.

While the company’s borrowers represent one cross section of America, the lenders tend to also not be hailing from the demographic that a casual observer might expect, Holoway said.

About half of loans on the platform are made by folks that Holoway called power lenders, while the rest are coming from less frequent users.

“A majority of [power lenders] are college educated and the majority of them tend to be white men. It’s individuals who you might not think are going to be power lenders… They may make $100,000 to $125,000 per year,” said Holoway. “They’re looking to diversify their capital and deploy it to make returns. And they’re able to help individuals out who otherwise would not be able to pay for groceries, paying rent or taking care of their transportation expenses.”

Given the company’s growth, it’s no wonder investors like ACME Capital, with support from Impact America Fund, Techstars, Endeavor Catalyst, CEAS Investments and more joined the new round. previous investors like West Ventures, Taavet Hinrikus of Transferwise, Jewel Burks Solomon of Google Startups, Zachary Bookman of OpenGov, Richelieu Dennis of Essence Ventures, and tech innovation accelerators also participated in financing the company.

“For too long, there have been limited options for individuals in need of immediate funds due to unforeseen circumstances, like a shift in hourly schedules, unplanned car troubles or other cases,” said SoLo, co-founder and CEO Travis Holoway. “SoLo was created to offer safe, affordable options for borrowers that need cash quickly, while also creating a marketplace for lenders to grow capital and help community members in need. We believe that at the end of the day, people are innately honest and tend towards generosity, and our platform’s growth is further proof that people want to do good in the world and make an impact.”

#america, #california, #credit, #economy, #finance, #google, #illinois, #impact-america-fund, #jewel-burks-solomon, #loans, #money, #new-york, #ohio, #richelieu-dennis, #solo, #taavet-hinrikus, #tc, #techstars, #texas, #united-states

0

Institutional trust is the real meme

Hello friends, this is Week in Review.

Last week, I dove into the AR maneuverings of Apple and Facebook and what that means for the future of the web. This week, I’m aiming to touch the meme stock phenomenon that dominated American news cycles this week and see if there’s anything worth learning from it, with an eye towards the future web.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox every Saturday morning from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny.


Robin Hood statue in Nottingham

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

The big thing

This week was whatever you wanted it to be. A rising up of the proletariat. A case of weaponized disinformation. A rally for regulation… or perhaps deregulation of financial markets. Choose your own adventure with the starting point being one flavor of chaos leading into a slightly more populist blend of chaos.

At the end of it, a lot of long-time financiers are confused, a lot of internet users are using rent money to buy stock in Tootsie Roll, a lot of billionaires are finding how intoxicating adopting a “for-the-little-guy!” persona on Twitter can be, and here I am staring at the ceiling wondering if there’s any institution in the world trustworthy enough that the internet can’t turn it into a lie.

This week, my little diddy is about meme stocks, but more about the idea that once you peel away the need to question why you actually trust something, it can become easier to just blindly place that faith in more untrustworthy places. All the better if those places are adjacent to areas where others place trust.

The Dow Jones had its worst week since October because retail investors, organized in part on Reddit, turned America’s financial markets into the real front page of the internet. Boring, serious stocks like Facebook and Apple reported their earnings and the markets adjusted accordingly, but in addition to the serious bits of news, the Wall Street page was splashed with break neck gains from “meme stocks.” While junk stocks surging is nothing new, the idea that a stock can make outrageous gains based on nothing and then possibly hold that value based on a newly formed shared trust is newer and much more alarming.

The most infamous of these stocks was GameStop. (If you’re curious about GameStop’s week, there are at least 5 million stories across the web to grab your attention, here’s one. Side note: collectively we seem to have longer attention spans post-Trump.)

So, Americans already don’t have too much institutional faith. Looking through some long-standing Gallup research, compared to the turn of the century, faith in organized religion, the media, most wings of government, big business and banks has decreased quite a bit. The outliers in what Americans do seem to trust more than they did 20 or so years ago are small businesses and the military.

This is all to say that it’s probably not stellar that people don’t trust anything, and me thinking that the internet could probably disrupt every trusted institution except the military probably only shows my lack of creative thinking when it comes to how the web could democratize the Defense Department. As you might guess from that statement, I think democratizing access to certain institutions can be bad. I say that with about a thousand asterisks leading to footnotes that you’ll never find. I also don’t think the web is done disrupting institutional trust by a long shot, for better or worse.

Democratizing financial systems sounds a lot better from a populist lift, until you realize that the guys users are competing against are playing a different game with other people’s money. This saga will change plenty of lives but it won’t end particularly well for a most people exposed to “infinite upside” day trading.

Until this week, in my mind Robinhood was only reckless because it was exposing (or “democratizing access to” — their words) consumers to risk in a way that most of them probably weren’t equipped to handle. Now, I think that they’re reckless because they didn’t anticipate that OR how democratized access could lead to so many potential doomsday scenarios and bankrupt Robinhood. They quietly raised a $1 billion liquidity lifeline this week after they had to temporarily shut down meme stock trading, a move that essentially torched their brand and left them the web’s most hated institution. (Facebook had a quiet week)

This kind of all feeds back into this idea I’ve been feeding that scale can be very dangerous. Platforms seem to need a certain amount of head count to handle global audiences, and almost all of them are insufficiently staffed. Facebook announced this week in its earnings call that it has nearly 60,000 employees. This is a company that now has its own Supreme Court; that’s too big. If your institution is going to be massive and centralized, chances are you need a ton of people to moderate it. That’s something at odds with most existing internet platforms. Realistically, the internet would probably be happier with fewer of these sweeping institutions and more intimate bubbles that are loosely connected. That’s something that the network effects of the past couple decades have made harder but regulation around data portability could assist with.

Writing this newsletter, something I’m often reminded is that while it feels like everything is always changing, few things are wholly new. This great NYT profile from 2001 written by Michael Lewis is a great reminder of that, chronicling a 15-year-old who scammed the markets by using a web of dummy accounts and got hounded by the SEC but still walked away with $500k. Great read.

In the end, things will likely quiet down at Robinhood. There’s also the distinct chance that they don’t and that those meme traders just ignited a revolution that’s going to bankrupt the company and torch the globals markets, but you know things will probably go back to normal.

 

Until next week,
Lucas Matney


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law

(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Other things

SEC is pissed
I’ll try to keep these updates GameStop free, but one quick note from the peanut gallery. The SEC isn’t all that happy about the goings ons in the market this week and they’re mad, probably mostly at Robinhood. They got pretty terse with their statement. More

Facebook Oversight Board wants YOU
Zuckerberg’s Supreme Court wants public comment as it decides whether Facebook should give Trump his Instagram and Facebook accounts back. I’m sure any of Facebook’s executives would’ve stopped building the platform dead in its tracks in the years after its founding if they knew just how freaking complicated moderation was going to end up being for them, but you could probably have changed their mind back by showing them the market cap. More

Apple adtech-killing update drops in spring
After delaying its launch, Apple committed this week to the spring rollout of its “App Tracking Transparency” feature that has so much of the adtech world pissed. The update will force apps to essentially ask users whether they’d like to be tracked across apps. More

Robert Downey Jr. bets on startups
Celebrity investing has been popular forever, but it’s gotten way more common in the venture world in recent years. Reputation transfer teamed with the fact that money is so easy to come by for top founders, means that if you are choosing from some second-tier fund or The Chainsmokers, you might pick The Chainsmokers. On that note, actor Robert Downey Jr. raised a rolling fund to back climate tech startups, we’ve got all the deets. More

WeWork SPAC
Ah poor Adam Neumann, poor SoftBank. If only they’d kept their little “tech company” under wraps for another couple years and left that S-1 for a kinder market with less distaste for creative framing. It seems that WeWork is the next target to get SPAC’d and be brought onto public markets via acquisition. I’m sure everything will go fine. More

Tim Cook and Zuckerberg spar
Big tech is a gentlemen’s game, generally big tech CEOs play nice with each other in public and save their insults for the political party that just fell out of power. This week, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg were a little less friendly. Zuckerberg called out Apple by name in their earnings investor call and floated some potential unfair advantages that Apple might have. Them’s fighting words. Cook was more circumspect as usual and delivered a speech that was at times hilariously direct in the most indirect way possible about how much he hates Facebook. More


Extra things

Tidbits from our paywalled Extra Crunch content:
The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder
“I and the rest of the leadership team would work 12-hour days, seven days a week. And that trickled down into many other employees doing the same. I didn’t think twice about sending emails, texts or slacks at night and on weekends. As with many startups, monster hours were simply part of the deal.”

Fintechs could see $100 billion of liquidity in 2021
“For the fourth straight year, the publicly traded fintechs massively outperformed the incumbent financial services providers as well as every mainstream stock index. While the underlying performance of these companies was strong, the pandemic further bolstered results as consumers avoided appearing in-person for both shopping and banking. Instead, they sought — and found — digital alternatives.”

Rising African venture investment powers fintech, clean tech bets in 2020
“What is driving generally positive venture capital results for Africa in recent quarters? Giuliani told TechCrunch in a follow-up email that ‘investment in Africa is being driven on the one hand by a broadening base for early-stage ecosystem support organizations, including accelerators, seed funds, syndicates and angel investing,” and “consolidation,” which is aiding both “growth-stage deals and a burgeoning M&A market.’”

 

#adam-neumann, #africa, #america, #apple, #apple-inc, #banking, #computing, #department-of-defense, #facebook, #gamestop, #lucas-matney, #mark-zuckerberg, #mike, #robinhood, #softbank, #supreme-court, #tc, #technology, #the-social-network, #tim-cook, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #week-in-review, #wework

0

LA-based Sidecar Health’s low-cost, cash-pay health insurance service is now valued at $1 billion

Meet Sidecar Health, the newest member of the tech industry’s billion dollar healthcare startup club.

The valuation comes thanks to $125 million in new funding that the company will use to expand its new model for health insurance. Sidecar Health’s insurance plans give consumers the ability to pay directly for care — often at steep discounts to the prices that patients would be charged through traditional insurance plans.

A typical Sidecar Health plan costs $240 per-member, per-month and its flexibility has made it a popular choice for the nation’s 20 million to 30 million uninsured individuals, according to chief executive officer Patrick Quigley.

The core of Sidecar’s plan is an ability to offer its policy holders the ability to pay directly for their medical care — and shop around to find the best provider using pricing information that the company provides through its mobile app.

Sidecar’s app provides real-time, geo-located information on the costs of any number of medical procedures, consultations, or drugs — and allows its users to shop at the places that offer them the best deal — in some cases the company will even pay money back if a price-savvy healthcare shopper finds a better deal.

If this all sounds kind of dystopian and nightmarish — well, welcome to the world of American healthcare!

In an ideal world, low-cost medical care would be a right, not a privilege and a baseline level of healthcare access would be available to everyone — including an ability to pay a set price for drugs, consultations and treatment. But if you live in America, bargain hunting for care may be the best bet to curb skyrocketing healthcare costs — at least for now.

While Sidecar pitches its service for everyone, the average age of the company’s current patient population is 33 years-old, Quigley said.  “It’s typically people that earn more than $45,000 a year and less than $75,000,” said Quigley of the company’s demographics.

The way it works is that Sidecar issues its insured members what’s basically a debit card that they use to pay for care, prescriptions, and consultations directly. The money comes from Sidecar’s claims accounts and is paid directly to doctors. By avoiding the middleman (traditional insurance companies), Sidecar can reduce overhead for care providers who like to get paid directly and will offer discounts in exchange for receiving cash in hand.

“It is 40% cheaper than the traditional commercial insurance companies would pay,” said Quigley.

Sidecar covers around 170,000 medical conditions and procedures, according to Quigley — including things from horse therapy (it’s a thing) for anxiety relief to heart transplants and chemotherapy, Quigley said.

Sidecar is currently available in 16 states and hopes to expand to most of the country on the back of its latest round of funding.

And while the company is working with uninsured patient populations now, it’s hoping to also expand its footprint with government-backed healthcare plans and into employer-sponsored health insurance as well.

It’s still early days for the service, which has only been around through two open enrollment periods for would-be plan members to sign up. And while the company doesn’t disclose its membership figures, Quigley said it would end the year above 30,000 members.

“It’s still super early,” Quigley said. 

Despite the stage of the business, investors are convinced that the business model has an opportunity to transform health insurance in the US. 

“The extraordinary level of transparency Sidecar Health brings to the marketplace has the  potential to fundamentally change how millions of Americans shop for healthcare,” said Molly  Bonakdarpour, a partner at the Drive Capital, which provided early backing for the company. “We think Sidecar Health’s team of consumer,  technology and healthcare veterans is well positioned to capitalize on the large healthcare  insurtech opportunity.” 

For the latest round, Drive Capital was joined by new investors including BOND, Tiger Global and Menlo Ventures, according to a statement.

Sidecar Health will use the investment to expand its geographic footprint, grow its team and  invest in new insurance products that build on its success in the uninsured market. The first of  these will be an ACA or “Obamacare” offering for 2022, followed by a product for the self funded employer market. 

“We believe we can take $1 trillion in waste out of the U.S. healthcare system,” Quigley said. 

#affordable-care-act, #america, #articles, #chief-executive-officer, #drive-capital, #health, #health-insurance, #healthcare, #insurance, #menlo-ventures, #partner, #sidecar, #tc, #tiger-global, #united-states

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SilviaTerra wants to bring the benefits of carbon offsets to every landowner everywhere

Zack Parisa and Max Nova, the co-founders of the carbon offset company SilviaTerra, have spent the last decade working on a way to democratize access to revenue generating carbon offsets.

As forestry credits become a big, booming business on the back of multi-billion dollar commitments from some of the world’s biggest companies to decarbonize their businesses, the kinds of technologies that the two founders have dedicated ten years of their lives to building are only going to become more valuable.

That’s why their company, already a profitable business, has raised $4.4 million in outside funding led by Union Square Ventures and Version One Ventures, along with Salesforce founder and the driving force between the 1 trillion trees initiative, Marc Benioff .

“Key to addressing the climate crisis is changing the balance in the so-called carbon cycle. At present, every year we are adding roughly 5 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere. Since atmospheric carbon acts as a greenhouse gas this increases the energy that’s retained rather than radiated back into space which causes the earth to heat up,” writes Union Square Ventures managing partner Albert Wenger in a blog post. “There will be many ways such drawdown occurs and we will write about different approaches in the coming weeks (such as direct air capture and growing kelp in the oceans). One way that we understand well today and can act upon immediately are forests. The world’s forests today absorb a bit more than one gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere and turn it into biomass. We need to stop cutting and burning down existing forests (including preventing large scale forest fires) and we have to start planting more new trees. If we do that, the total potential for forests is around 4 to 5 gigatons per year (with some estimates as high as 9 gigatons).”

For the two founders, the new funding is the latest step in a long journey that began in the woods of Northern Alabama, where Parisa grew up.

After attending Mississippi State for forestry, Parisa went to graduate school at Yale, where he met Louisville, Kentucky native Max Nova, a computer science student who joined with Parisa to set up the company that would become SiliviaTerra.

SilviaTerra co-founders Max Nova and Zack Parisa. Image Credit: SilviaTerra

The two men developed a way to combine satellite imagery with field measurements to determine the size and species of trees in every acre of forest.

While the first step was to create a map of every forest in the U.S. the ultimate goal for both men was to find a way to put a carbon market on equal footing with the timber industry. Instead of cutting trees for cash, potentially landowners could find out how much it would be worth to maintain their forestland. As the company notes, forest management had previously been driven by the economics of timber harvesting, with over $10 billion spent in the US each year.

The founders at SilviaTerra thought that the carbon market could be equally as large, but it’s hard for moset landowners to access. Carbon offset projects can cost as much as $200,000 to put together, which is more than the value of the smaller offset projects for landowners like Parisa’s own family and the 40 acres they own in the Alabama forests.

There had to be a better way for smaller landowners to benefit from carbon markets too, Parisa and Nova thought.

To create this carbon economy, there needed to be a single source of record for every tree in the U.S. and while SilviaTerra had the technology to make that map, they lacked the compute power, machine learning capabilities and resources to build the map.

That’s where Microsoft’s AI for Earth program came in.

Working with AI for Earth, SilviaTierra created their first product, Basemap, to process terabytes ofsatellite imagery to determine the sizes and species of trees on every acre of America’s forestland. The company also worked with the US Forestry Service to access their data, which was used in creating this holistic view of the forest assets in the U.S.

With the data from Basemap in hand, the company has created what it calls the Natural Capital Exchange. This program uses SilviaTerra’s unparalleled access to information about local forests, and the knowledge of how those forests are currently used to supply projects that actually represent land that would have been forested were it not for the offset money coming in.

Currently, many forestry projects are being passed off to offset buyers as legitimate offsets on land that would never have been forested in the first place — rendering the project meaningless and useless in any real way as an offset for carbon dioxide emissions. 

“It’s a bloodbath out there,” said Nova of the scale of the problem with fraudulent offsets in the industry. “We’re not repackaging existing forest carbon projects and try to connect the demand side with projects that already exist. Use technology to unlock a new supply of forest carbon offset.”

The first Natural Capital Exchange project was actually launched and funded by Microsoft back in 2019. In it, 20 Western Pennsylvania land owners originated forest carbon credits through the program, showing that the offsets could work for landowners with 40 acres, or, as the company said, 40,000.

Landowners involved in SilviaTerra’s pilot carbon offset program paid for by Microsoft. Image Credit: SilviaTerra

“We’re just trying to get inside every landowners annual economic planning cycle,” said Nova. “There’s a whole field of timber economics… and we’re helping answer the question of given the price of timber, given the price of carbon does it make sense to reduce your planned timber harvests?”

Ultimately, the two founders believe that they’ve found a way to pay for the total land value through the creation of data around the potential carbon offset value of these forests.

It’s more than just carbon markets, as well. The tools that SilviaTerra have created can be used for wildfire mitigation as well. “We’re at the right place at the right time with the right data and the right tools,” said Nova. “It’s about connecting that data to the decision and the economics of all this.”

The launch of the SilviaTerra exchange gives large buyers a vetted source to offset carbon. In some ways its an enterprise corollary to the work being done by startups like Wren, another Union Square Ventures investment, that focuses on offsetting the carbon footprint of everyday consumers. It’s also a competitor to companies like Pachama, which are trying to provide similar forest offsets at scale, or 3Degrees Inc. or South Pole.

Under a Biden administration there’s even more of an opportunity for these offset companies, the founders said, given discussions underway to establish a Carbon Bank. Established through the existing Commodity Credit Corp. run by the Department of Agriculture, the Carbon Bank would pay farmers and landowners across the U.S. for forestry and agricultural carbon offset projects.

“Everybody knows that there’s more value in these systems than just the product that we harvest off of it,” said Parisa. “Until we put those benefits in the same footing as the things we cut off and send to market…. As the value of these things goes up… absolutely it is going to influence these decisions and it is a cash crop… It’s a money pump from coastal America into middle America to create these things that they need.” 

#air-pollution, #alabama, #albert-wenger, #america, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #carbon-footprint, #energy, #greenhouse-gas, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #kentucky, #louisville, #machine-learning, #managing-partner, #marc-benioff, #microsoft, #pennsylvania, #salesforce, #satellite-imagery, #tc, #union-square-ventures, #united-states, #version-one-ventures, #yale

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New York-based indoor ag company Gotham Greens raises $87 million

Lettuce celebrate the rise of indoor agriculture.

In the past few months AppHarvest, a developer of greenhouse tomato farms went public through a special purpose acquisition vehicle, vertical farming giant Plenty raised $140 million, and now Gotham Greens, which is developing its own network of greenhouses, is announcing the close of $87 million in new funding.

These new agriculture companies certainly have a green thumb when it comes to raising a cornucopia of capital.

Gotham Greens latest round takes the company to a whopping total of $130 million in funding since its launch. Investors in the round included Manna Tree and The Silverman Group.

While App Harvest has taken to tomatoes in its attempt to ketchup with the leading agricultural companies, Gotham Greens has decided to let its hydroponically grown leafy greens lead the way to riches.

The company said it would use the latest funding to continue developing more greenhouse across the U.S. and bring new vegetables to market.

“Given increasing challenges facing centralized food supply chains, combined with rapidly shifting consumer preferences, Gotham Greens is focused on expanding its regional growing operations and distribution capabilities at one of the most critical periods for America,” said Viraj Puri, the co-founder and chief executive of Gotham Greens, in a statement. 

The company already sells its greens in over 40 states and operates greenhouses in Chicago, Providence, R.I., Baltimore and Denver. From those greenhouses the company distributes to 2,000 retail locations including Whole Foods Markets, Albertsons stores, Meijer, Target, King Soopers, Harris Teeter, ShopRite and Sprouts. 

And Gotham Greens has already begun to expand its product portfolio. The company now sells packaged salads, cooking sauces, and salad bowls in addition to its greens.

Assorted packages of Gotham Greens lettuces on a white field. Image Credit: Gotham Greens

#agriculture, #albertsons, #america, #baltimore, #chicago, #denver, #gotham-greens, #greenhouse, #greens, #hydroponics, #king, #plenty, #providence, #rhode-island, #target, #tc, #united-states, #urban-agriculture, #whole-foods

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