Thursday: More than 50,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the state. Also: More on the Newsom recall effort; and remembering Fry’s Electronics.
It is easy to cling to memories of Tiger Woods at his peaks, but his vulnerability tells as much, if not more, about his powerful hold on sport and culture.
Fellow Democrats have defended Gov. Gavin Newsom, lavishly praising his handling of the pandemic. But conservatives say his shutdowns have been destructive.
The court has said that the police need no warrants to enter the homes of fleeing felons. Does that exception also apply to people suspected of minor crimes?
California can start enforcing the net neutrality law it enacted over two years ago, a federal judge ruled yesterday in a loss for Internet service providers.
Broadband-industry lobby groups’ motion for a preliminary injunction was denied by Judge John Mendez of US District Court for the Eastern District of California. Mendez did not issue a written order but announced his ruling at a hearing, and his denial of the ISPs’ motion was noted in the docket.
Mendez reportedly was not swayed by ISPs’ claims that a net neutrality law isn’t necessary because they haven’t been blocking or throttling Internet traffic.
Not every company’s founders find themselves on a first name basis with the local bomb squad, but then again not every company is Noya Labs, which wants to turn the roughly 2 million cooling towers at industrial sites and buildings across the U.S. into CO2 sucking weapons in the fight against global climate change.
When the company first started developing prototypes of its devices that attach to water coolers, the company’s founders, Josh Santos and Daniel Cavero, did what all good founders do, they started building in their backyard.
The sight of a 55 gallon oil drum, a yellow refrigeration tank in a sous vide bath attached to red and blue cables didn’t sit so well with the neighbors, so Santos and Cavero found themselves playing host to the bomb squad multiple times, according to the company’s chief executive, Santos.
“We proved that it could capture CO2, and we achieved something that no startup should achieve,” Santos said of the dubious bomb squad distinction.
Santos and Cavero were inspired to begin their experiments with direct air capture by an article describing some research into plants’ declining ability to capture carbon dioxide that Santos read on the Caltrain on his way to work back in 2019. That article spurred the would-be entrepreneur and his roommate to get to work on experimenting with carbon chemistry.
Their first product was a consumer air purifier that would pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in homes and capture it. Homeowners could then sell the captured gases to Santos and Cavero who would then resell it. But the two quickly realized that the business model wasn’t economical, and went back to the drawing board.
They found their eventual application in industrial cooling towers, which the company’s tech can turn into CO2 capturing devices that have the capacity to take in between half a ton and a ton of carbon dioxide per day.
Noya’s tech works by adding a blend of CO2 absorbing chemicals to the water in the cooling towers. They then add an attachment to the cooling tower that activates what Santos called a regeneration process to convert the captured CO2 back into gas. Once they have captured the CO2 the company will look to resell it to industrial Co2 consumers.
It’s not green yet, at least not exactly, because that CO2 is being recirculated instead of sequestered, but Santos said it’s greener existing sources of the gas, which come from ammonia and ethanol plants.
“Five years from now we fully intend to have vertically integrated carbon capture and sequestration. Our first step is locally produced low cost atmospherically captured CO2,” said Santos. “If we were to go all in on a carbon capture that would require a lot of time for us to develop. What this initial model allows us to do is fine tune our capture technology while building up longterm to go to market.”
Santos called it the “Tesla roadster approach” so that the company can build up capital and get revenue and prove one piece of it as an MVP so they can prove other steps of it down the line.
Noya Labs already is developing a pilot plant with the Alexandre Family Farm that should capture between the estimated half a ton and one ton target.
To develop the initial pilot and build out its team, the company has managed to raise $1.2 million from the frontier tech investment firm Fifty Years, founded by Ela Madej and Seth Bannon, and Chris Sacca’s Lowercarbon Capital (whose mission statement to invest in companies that will buy time to “unf*ck the planet” might be one of the greatest). The company’s also in Y Combinator.
“One of the things that makes us excited about this technology is that in the U.S. alone there are 2 million cooling towers. Looking conservatively — if our initial pilot plant can capture 1 ton per day — we’re at right over half a gigaton of CO2 capture.”
And companies are already raising their hands to pick up the CO2 that Noya would sell on the market. There’s a growing collection of startups that are using CO2 to make products. These companies range from the slightly silly, like Aether Diamonds, which uses CO2 to make… diamonds; to companies like Dimensional Energy or Prometheus fuels, which make synthetic fuels with CO2, or Opus12, which uses CO2 in its replacements for petrochemicals.
Prices for commercial CO2 range between $125 per ton to $5,000 per ton, according to Santos. And Noya would be producing at less than $100 per ton. Current Direct Air Capture companies sell their CO2 from somewhere between $600 to $700 per ton.
Stoya’s first installation could cost around $250,000, Santos said. For Bannon, that means the company passes his “Mr. Burns test.”
“We’ve been digging into the DAC space but haven’t liked the techno-economics we’ve seen. Previous approaches have had too much capex and opex and not enough revenue potential,” Bannon wrote in an email. “That’s what Noya has solved. By leveraging existing industrial equipment, their model is profitable. And better yet, they make their carbon capture partners money, allowing them to scale this up fast. This creates an opportunity to profitably remove 1 gigaton plus a year.”
Wednesday: A look at one city’s effort to remake policing. Also: Xavier Becerra’s confirmation hearings; and remembering Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
A federal judge’s ruling can allow the state to go ahead with its law while a lawsuit works its way through the courts.
Two studies confirm that a new coronavirus mutant in California is more contagious, although the scale of its threat is unclear.
Tuesday: A recall election is inching closer to reality. Here’s how that would work.
AT&T and Frontier have let their copper phone networks deteriorate through neglect since 2010, resulting in poor service quality and many lengthy outages, a report commissioned by the California state government found. Customers in low-income areas and areas without substantial competition have fared the worst, the report found. AT&T in particular was found to have neglected low-income communities and to have imposed severe price increases adding up to 152.6 percent over a decade.
The report was written in April 2019 but kept private because data submitted by the carriers was deemed confidential and proprietary. The report finally became public after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruled in December 2020 that a redacted version had to be released by mid-January.
A summary of the CPUC-commissioned report identified six key findings:
Monday: A Times reporter who spent days inside Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital at the height of the surge discusses what we should learn.
The pain for such enterprises been particularly acute in the state, leading some to back an effort to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The pandemic pushed the N.H.L. toward a scenic site instead of a football or baseball field for its outdoor game. It’s so pretty in Tahoe they’ll play two.
Brex is the latest fintech to apply for a bank charter.
The fast-growing company, which sells a credit card tailored for startups with Emigrant Bank currently acting as the issuer, announced Friday that it has submitted an application with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions (UDFI) to establish Brex Bank.
The industrial bank will be located in Draper, Utah, and be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brex.
The company has tapped former Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) exec Bruce Wallace to serve as the subsidiary’s CEO. He served in several roles at SVB, including COO, Chief Digital Officer and head of global services. It also has named Jean Perschon, the former CFO for UBS Bank USA, to be the Brex Bank CFO.
Last May, Brex announced that it had raised $150 million in a Series C extension from a group of existing investors, including DST Global and Lone Pine Capital.
With that raise, Brex, which was co-founded by Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi, had amassed $465 million in venture capital funding to-date.
The company said in a statement today that “Brex Bank will expand upon its existing suite of financial products and business software, offering credit solutions and FDIC insured deposit products to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).”
Offering credit products to small businesses has become a popular product offering and source of revenue for tech companies serving entrepreneurs, including Shopify and Square in the commerce arena. Likewise, offering business-focused bank accounts, like Shopify Balance, which is currently in development with a plan to launch sometime this year in the U.S.
These financial products can provide additional opportunities for revenue on interest and cost of borrowing for these companies, who might have better insight into the risk profiles of the types of businesses they serve than traditional lenders and FIs.
“Brex and Brex Bank will work in tandem to help SMBs grow to realize their full potential,” said Wallace.
Brex is based in San Francisco and counts Kleiner Perkins Growth, YC Continuity Fund, Greenoaks Capital, Ribbit Capital, IVP, and DST Global as well as Peter Thiel and Affirm CEO Max Levchin among its investors. It currently has over 400 employees, and though it had significant layoffs mid-year in 2020, it cited restructuring rather than financial difficulty as the cause of that downsize.
Other fintechs that have made moves toward bank charters include Varo Bank, which this week raised another $63 million and SoFi, which last October was granted preliminary approval for a national bank charter.
Austin is known for its usually mild winters. But on February 12, a winter storm hit the state — leading to over a week of freezing temperatures. This has resulted in a statewide disaster with millions of Texas residents losing power or water, or both.
It’s too early to tell the exact toll this has all taken in loss of life, property damage and economic activity. But it’s clear that this disaster is, and will continue to be, devastating on many levels. Austin-area hospitals even lost water this week, as an indication of how bad things have been.
Since last Thursday, my own household lost power and got it back multiple times. On February 17, we lost water, with no idea of when it will be restored. I realize there are many worse off than me, so I’ll spare you the pity party, but it’s definitely been a humbling experience. Boiling snow/ice for toilet water and rationing the little bottled water we had left with fear of frozen/bursting pipes. At least we have been warm the past couple of days, as many still don’t have power.
Meanwhile, over the past few months (and years, really), Austin has been making headlines for other news — namely the fact that so many tech companies, founders (ahem, Elon) and investors are either moving their headquarters here (Oracle), building significant factories (Tesla) or offices (Apple, Google, Facebook) here, or are thinking about relocating entirely.
The lack of state income taxes has been a big draw, as well as the housing/land/office prices that are affordable when compared to those in the Bay Area. This is nothing new, but only accelerated as the pandemic has encouraged/forced more remote work.
Ironically, some of the very things that have led to the state being more attractive to companies have also contributed to the crisis: Fewer taxes means less money for infrastructure, for one.
But it goes beyond that. Many other states have had freezing cold temperatures without the loss of power and water that Texas is currently experiencing. As The Washington Post reported earlier this week, the state’s choice to deregulate electricity led to “a financial structure for power generation that offers no incentives to power plant operators to prepare for winter. In the name of deregulation and free markets, critics say, Texas has created an electric grid that puts an emphasis on cheap prices over reliable service.”
Even Elon shared his disappointment on Twitter:
It’s fair to say Texas has attracted widespread criticism of its handling of this new crisis — both in terms of its lack of preparation and mismanagement (Sen. Cruz, we’re looking at you). But are the events of the past week going to take away some of the shine on Austin as a potential relocation destination for tech and investors? Will this deter people from wanting to move here? Isn’t it also ironic that some folks who didn’t want to move here due to the scorching summer temperatures are now also slamming the city/state for the impacts of a major winter storm?
So I did what many other enterprising tech reporters might do in this situation, and took to Twitter. The results were pretty much as expected — varied and passionate on either side.
There were many tweets from Austinites who defended their city and praised how its residents have come together during crises:
Then there were some tweets from people who lived here but are disgusted and disappointed:
There were also some tweets from others who said they were so turned off they’d never contemplate moving to Texas or that they were dismayed by the lack of preparation:
And there were those who don’t live here but scoffed at the notion that this was enough to keep people away, while others pointed out that natural disasters happen all over:
Then there were those who joked that the disaster was engineered as a ploy to “keep California people away,” or at least might have that effect:
I have lived on all three coasts — East, West and Gulf. There are pluses and minuses to each. This likely is enough of a deterrent to keep people away. But I will say that the state could — and should — have been more prepared when it decided to deregulate electricity. I am heartbroken at all the suffering people in the city and state are dealing with and for now, just want to see things get back to “normal” as soon as possible so the only crisis we’re dealing with is the COVID-19 pandemic. Never thought we’d look back fondly on those days.
Here’s to hoping that migration of techies can build solutions that could maybe help prevent similar disasters in the future.
Imaad Zuberi, who donated heavily to Democrats before former President Donald J. Trump’s election, had pleaded guilty to charges related to a $900,000 donation to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee.
Friday: A look at how the de Young Museum in San Francisco is moving forward from the lockdowns. Also: Perseverance.
Since July, four attacks on Bay Area residents have involved the same coyote, according to DNA taken from the victims’ bite wounds and clothing.
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.
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.”
A frightening wave of attacks has Asian communities on edge. But I experienced street harassment long before the pandemic.
Power failures have cast a spotlight on whether energy companies and regulators are doing enough to prepare for climate change and natural disasters.
A selection of our episodes that tell the personal stories of the pandemic — the losses, the small comforts and the sacrifices.
California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is warning of a potential data breach after a contractor was hit by ransomware.
The Seattle-based Automatic Funds Transfer Services (AFTS), which the DMV said it has used for verifying changes of address with the national database since 2019, was hit by an unspecified strain of ransomware earlier this month.
In a statement sent by email, the DMV said that the attack may have compromised “the last 20 months of California vehicle registration records that contain names, addresses, license plate numbers and vehicle identification numbers.” But the DMV said AFTS does not have access to customers’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, voter registration, immigration status or driver’s license information, and was not compromised.
The DMV said it has since stopped all data transfers to AFTS and has since initiated an emergency contract to prevent any downtime.
AFTS is used across the United States to process payments, invoices and verify addresses. Several municipalities have already confirmed that they are affected by the data breach, suggesting it may not be limited to California’s DMV. But it’s not known what kind of ransomware hit AFTS. Ransomware typically encrypts a company’s files and will unlock them in exchange for a ransom. But since many companies have backups, some ransomware groups threaten to publish the stolen files online unless the ransom is paid.
AFTS could not be immediately reached for comment. Its website is offline, with a short message: “The website for AFTS and all related payment processing website [sic] are unavailable due to technical issues. We are working on restoring them as quickly as possible.”
“We are looking at additional measures to implement to bolster security to protect information held by the DMV and companies that we contract with,” said Steve Gordon, the director of the state’s DMV.
California has more than 35 million registered vehicles.
Thursday: The decision comes after months of calls to defund the police. Also: A state pandemic aid package.
Wednesday: A conversation with the constitutional law expert Erwin Chemerinsky about what Californians can expect from a conservative court.
Oregon is a case study in how Pacific Coast cities are lagging the country in resuming in-person teaching.
The driver, Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez, is accused by the authorities of dumping a burning load of trash that sparked a deadly fire in 2019 that also destroyed more than 70 structures.
Democracy depends on understanding the connection.
Cities and states issued at least $6.1 billion in pension bonds last year. Novel ways to do so include renting property they already own under dummy corporations.
Tuesday: The latest on the state’s efforts to vaccinate millions of people. Also: An update on the Newsom recall effort; and self-care for men.
Conventional wisdom can often lead consumers away from delicious wines. Better to think of individual years in terms of character than of quality.
From the chemical refineries that line the Gulf Coast to oilfields of West Texas, heavy industry has always been a big part of the economy in the Lone Star State.
Now, as venture capital moves in to the state as part of an exodus from California, a new fund is combining Texas’ industrial past with its high technology future.
That fund is Ironspring Ventures, which has closed its first investment vehicle with $61 million nearly two years after it launched its fundraising efforts.
The fruit of a partnership between Adam Bridgman and Peter J. Holt, the co-founders of an earlier investment vehicle called Holt Ventures, and Ty Findley, a former investor at G.E. Ventures and the Pritzker Group, the firm’s mission is to “accelerate digital adoption across legacy heavy industries,” according to Bridgman.
Each member of the Ironspring team has a long history with industrial technologies and deep roots in the Texas economy. Findley, a managing partner, grew up “in the middle of nowhere in East Texas” but comes from a family of entrepreneurs who built businesses along the Texas and Louisiana border.
“I joined up with our other co-founder and managing partner, Peter Holt,” said Bridgman. “That was really step one for us pursuing this broader mission of investing in legacy industry at the early stage of digital innovation. We were fortunate to find a strong cultural alignment and rare experience with Ty [Findley]. After co-investing over a period of time we got to know each other very well. We joined forces and it’s been a nice journey over the last year-and-a-half of formally launching and formally closing the fund in December.”
The first deal that the three men invested in together was Augmentir, a service providing information and support for remote workers. “Everything comes back to these words ‘digital industrial’ for us,” said Findley. “There’s this massive gap where people forget that almost the majority of GDP in this country is manufacturing.”
So far, Ironspring has invested in four portfolio companies, Mercado, which is developing a service to improve the import process; Icon Build, a company developing 3-D printing tools and technologies for the building industry; FastRadius, which brings design tools and services for prototyping and industrial design; and GoContractor, a safety and compliance management service.
The firm’s average check size is around $2.5 million and investments will range from $1 million on the low end to $4 million on the high end, according to the firm’s partners. That means looking for what the firm called “post-seed” deals.
And the firm is looking for technology that is transforming how businesses design products, build them, and provide services and operate across the wide range of industrial output.
“We’re trying to organize around those themes,” said Bridgman.
It’s becoming harder for the U.S. to ignore the very real effects of global climate change — and despite the efforts of naysayers, it’s not a push to renewables that’s to blame for the outages sweeping the nation. It’s the country’s energy infrastructure.
Severe weather conditions caused by global warming have now caused massive blackouts across some of the largest cities in the United States. The inability of the U.S. power grid to withstand the stresses caused by extreme weather events show that the nation needs a massive investment plan to upgrade energy infrastructure in an effort to make it more resilient.
These problems are now painfully apparent to the 29 million residents of Texas who are now subject to rolling blackouts caused by the frigid weather sweeping across the country.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said it had “entered emergency conditions and initiated rotating outages at 1:25 a.m. today,” in a statement. The Texas grid shed 10.5 gigawatts of load — or enough to power 2 million homes at its peak.
“Extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable,” the energy provider said in a statement.
Part of the problem lies with natural gas generators that supply much of the power to the grid in Texas, according to Princeton professor, Jesse Jenkins, who has a joint appointment in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment.
Citing a market participant, Jenkins noted on Twitter that roughly 26 gigawatts of thermal energy is offline because natural gas is being diverted to provide heat instead of power. Only about 4 gigawatts of wind is offline because of icing, Jenkins noted.
The current blackouts have nothing to do with renewables and everything to do with cold weather slowing down natural gas production because of freeze offs and spiking demand for heating at the same time.
As Dr. Emily Grubert, an assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and, by courtesy, of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noted, the problem is more of a total systems issue than one associated with renewable power.
“Let us be absolutely clear: if there are grid failures today, it shows the existing (largely fossil-based) system cannot handle these conditions either,” Grubert wrote on Twitter. “These are scary, climate change-affected conditions that pose extreme challenges to the grid. We are likely to continue to see situations like this where our existing system cannot easily handle them. Any electricity system needs to make massive adaptive improvements.”
Renewable energy and energy storage can potentially provide a solution to the problem and help contribute to a more resilient grid. Residential energy developer Swell Energy raised $450 million in financing late last year to begin development of several projects across three states that would pair distributed, residential solar energy generation with battery storage to create what are called virtual power plants that can ease stress on energy grids in times of increased demand.
“Utilities are increasingly looking to distributed energy resources as valuable ‘grid edge’ assets,” said Suleman Khan, CEO of Swell Energy, in a statement, at the time of the announcement. “By networking these individual homes and businesses into virtual power plants, Swell is able to bring down the cost of ownership for its customers and help utilities manage demand across their electric grids.”
Other companies, like Evolve Energy or Griddy, try to help consumers manage costs by charging them wholesale rates for power. Those companies can only be economical when the rates for wholesale power are low. Right now, with demand for power skyrocketing, prices for energy in the ERCOT have surged above $5,000 per MW and hit the $9,000 cap in many nodes, according to Bloomberg Energy reporter Javier Bias.
The blackouts in Texas today and in California in January show that the current grid in the United States needs an overhaul. Whether it’s heavily regulated markets like California or a free market like Texas, current policy can’t stop the weather from wreaking havoc and putting people’s lives at risk.
Is $15 an hour too much, or not enough? Fresno, Calif., may be a laboratory for a debate over the minimum wage that is heating up on the national level.
The development is a joyful bit of news after a turbulent year in which the couple broke away from the British royal family, started new lives in California and suffered a miscarriage.
Grace Community Church reversed course after Los Angeles County health officials warned that indoor conferences were prohibited and that the event could worsen the spread of the coronavirus.
Is it possible to import growth without also importing housing problems? “I can’t point to a city that has done it right.”
The attacks have renewed fears over a wave of anti-Asian violence and harassment that was spurred earlier in the pandemic.
Thursday: The governor signed an extension on the state’s eviction moratorium, but housing problems persist.
With a stated goal of aligning the mortgage industry with consumer interests, Austin-based UpEquity has raised $25 million in equity and debt funding to expand its business.
Chief executive Tim Herman started the mortgage lending company to take advantage of what he saw as inefficiencies in the $2 trillion U.S. housing market.
Existing financial services and property technology companies treat the symptom and not the cause of market inefficiencies, said Herman.
The company makes free cash offers but charges 2.5% on the loans it makes to homebuyers to give them the cash they need to make an offer before having to go through the traditional process of taking out a home loan through a bank. Then the homeowners can make payments directly to UpEquity to pay off the mortgage on the house.
“Our cash offer works like a guarantee that during the escrow period we will be able to get the mortgage in place,” Herman said.
A U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former fighter pilot, Herman saw real estate as the only avenue to true wealth creation open to him and his family given their years on the road and lack of available investment capital.
After the Navy, Herman went to Harvard Business School and met his co-founder Louis Wilson. It was in Boston while in B-School that the two men started UpEquity.
They since relocated to Austin because of its booming housing market and relatively more relaxed regulatory environment.
Ultimately, the pitch to customers is the ability to make an all-cash offer, which dramatically improves the likelihood of closing on a house. It’s a luxury that roughly 90 percent of Americans can’t afford, Herman said. There’s no downside for selling homeowners, if a purchaser doesn’t end up buying the home then UpEquity owns the house.
Of all of the 300 deals the company has done so far, only two have failed.
That’s why a company like UpEquity can raise $7.5 million in venture and $17.5 million in venture debt to start making loans.
The company’s A round was led by Next Coast Ventures and UpEquity said it would use the money to fund product development that can slash the time-to-close for the real estate agents that act as the company’s sales channel to ten days.
“Our goal is to finally align the mortgage industry with consumer interests,” said UpEquity Co-Founder and CEO Tim Herman. “This funding is validation that consumers, real estate agents and venture investors understand the power of removing friction from the homebuying process, not only for personal advancement, but to attain the American Dream.”
So far the company has expanded its operations from Texas into Colorado, Florida and California, where it has originated $100 million in mortgages in 2020.
“As real estate continues to evolve in the face of limited supply and tight competition, UpEquity is at the helm of PropTech’s growing capabilities,” said Thomas Ball, managing director at Next Coast Ventures. “Most innovation has focused on the front end, but until now, nobody has expedited what happens after the borrower submits an application. UpEquity has the team, talent and technology to not only succeed, but to disrupt and emerge as the leader in the mortgage lending marketplace.”
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.”
Wednesday: Museums in Los Angeles haven’t been allowed to reopen indoors. That means they’ve had a unique challenge.
Mate Fertility, the new Los Angeles startup launching today with $2.8 million in financing, has a mission to create a more inclusive network of family planning services for people struggling with the high cost and low availability of fertility clinics around the country.
Founded by serial entrepreneur Oliver Bogner and his brother Gabriel, Mate was born from both brothers’ struggles with trying to start a family. For Oliver, that was when he and his partner were looking at IVF as a way to screen for the BRCA1 gene from her embryos after she found out that she was a carrier. Meanwhile, Gabriel, an IVF baby who is a member of the LGBTQ community, felt that the services for family planning weren’t always accepting of the gay community.
“IVF and surrogacy were the only options for me to have kids,” the younger Bogner said. “And the queer community has been locked out of these services. It became my mission to democratize healthcare for my community.”
Once Oliver started doing research into the market and discovered that there were only 460 fertility clinics in the U.S. and that over 80% were concentrated in five major metropolitan areas, he knew there was an opportunity for a new business.
The Bogner brothers enlisted famed reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, who trained under the British doctors that pioneered In Vitro Fertilization, to come on board and together the three men launched Mate Fertility.
The co-founders have enlisted an impressive array of financiers to back their business boasting an investor base that includes Andy Dunn, the founder of Bonobos; Peter Pham, the co-founder of the LA-based consumer focused company incubator, Science; Patrick Schwarzenegger; Brian Schwartz; the investors behind Roman, Allbirds, and Caspar, Rosecliff Ventures; Pure Imagination Brands; Mana Ventures, and Maschmeyer Group Ventures.
Mate is launching first in Oklahoma City, where two legacy providers are charging anywhere from 10% to 15% above the national average for family planning services. “We’re going in at anywhere from 50% to 60% lower costs than they are,” said Oliver Bogner.
The company said it would offer egg freezing services for as low as $5,000 and IVF for $8,000, while the national average for IVF cycle costs ranges from $15,000 to $18,000, including medication.
“We’re still making healthy margins that allow us to operate the business. It’s not a matter fo these procedures costing more. These 460 clinics are allowed to radically mark up the process,” said the elder Bogner. “One of these clinics is making approximately 1,000% profit margin on every procedure.”
Given the fact that the company estimates roughly 18% of the U.S. population will face some fertility issue, the need for more clinics — setting aside the lower costs — would be enormous.
“We need 3,000 clinics to properly serve our population, today we have 460. There’s a huge gap in care,” said Bogner.
The company is working with the architects behind Dry Bar, Heitler Houstoun, to design its clinics in an effort to popularize and destigmatize the services.
“We were really intrigued by Oliver and Gabe. In terms of what the biggest risks are… you’re not playing around. You’re not creating software, you’re creating life,” said Adam Struck, the founder of Mate Fertility’s lead investment firm, Struck Capital. “The ultimate KPI which is success rate for our patients is top tier. There’s a lot that Nate is doing to ensure that some of the best medical personnel in the world are part of the Mate mission.”
Mate Fertility offers modern EHR platforms, an e-pharmacy, proven protocols, payment assistance and digital patient and provider portals for services that include IVF, genetic screening, egg freezing, surrogacy and LGBTQ family building treatments, the company said.
Its first locations will be clinics in Oklahoma City, Anchorage, Ark., Bakersfield, Calif. Lancaster, Pa., Austin, and Portland.
Once upon a time, the idea of 3D-printed homes felt like a thing of the future.
But as housing gets less and less affordable — especially in ultra-expensive markets such as the Bay Area — companies are getting creative in their quest to build more affordable homes using technology.
One of those companies, Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, just raised $40 million in Series B funding for its quest to create homes that it says are “beautiful, sustainable and affordable” using 3D printing, robotics and automation. It claims to be able to 3D print structures “two times as quickly with 95% less labor hours and 10-times less waste” than conventional construction. For example, it says it can 3D print a 350-square-foot studio apartment in just 24 hours.
The four-year-old startup’s efforts caught the eye of Khosla Ventures, which co-led the financing along with Zeno Ventures.
Ryno Blignaut, an operating partner at Khosla, believes that Mighty Buildings — which launched out of stealth last August — has the potential to cut both the cost and carbon footprint of home construction “by 50% or more.”
The company takes a hybrid approach to home construction, combining 3D printing and prefab (meaning built offsite) building, according to co-founder and COO Alexey Dubov. It has invented a proprietary thermoset composite material called Light Stone Material (LSM) as part of its effort to reduce the home construction industry’s reliance on concrete and steel.
The material can be 3D printed and hardens almost immediately, according to the company, while also maintaining cohesion between layers to create a monolithic structure. Mighty Buildings can then 3D print elements like overhangs or ceilings without the need for additional supporting formwork. That way, it’s able to fully print a structure and not just the walls.
Robotic arms can post-process the composite, which combined with the company’s ability to automate the pouring of insulation and the 3D printing gives Mighty Buildings the ability to automate up to 80% of the construction process, the company claims.
Khosla was drawn to the Mighty Buildings’ innovative approach.
“We believe in dematerializing buildings and non-linearly reducing the amount of cement and steel used, thereby reducing the cost of construction in order to increase affordable access to housing together with improved sustainability,” Blignaut wrote via email.
Mighty Building’s use of 3D printing, advanced manufacturing techniques, modern robotics and “new lighter and stronger materials” gives it an edge, he added.
Since its launch, the company has produced and installed a number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and is now taking orders for Mighty Houses — its newest product line that will range from 864 to 1,440 square feet at an estimated cost of $304,000 to $420,500. (Similarly sized houses in some parts of the Bay Area can sell for upwards of $1 million).
The units are created with a 3D-printed exterior panelized shell while certain elements — such as bathrooms for example — are prefabricated in the company’s 79,000-square-foot production facility in Oakland.
For now, the company is only building in California, but Dubov says it’s open to exploring other markets as its factory can be replicated.
Also, Mighty Buildings plans this year to market its Mighty Kit System and a new fiber-reinforced material for multi-story projects as part of a planned B2B platform for developers. In fact, the company already has secured contracts with developers for its single family housing product line. It also plans to use the new capital in part to scale its production capacity with increased automation.
Ultimately, Mighty Building’s vision is to provide production-as-a-service, with builders and architects designing their own structures and then developers using Mighty Factories to produce them at scale.
Mighty Buildings is not the only startup doing 3D-printed homes. Last August, Austin-based ICON raised $35 million in Series A funding. The company also aims to reinvent building affordable homes with the use of 3D printers, robotics and advanced materials. The biggest difference between the two companies, according to Dubov, is that ICON does primarily onsite construction while Mighty Buildings prefabricates in a factory.
More than a dozen other investors also participated in Mighty Building’s latest round, including returning backers Bold Capital Partners, Core Innovation Capital and Foundamental and new investors including ArcTern Ventures, Abies Ventures, Modern Venture Partners, MicroVentures, One Way Ventures, Polyvalent Capital and others. Mighty Buildings was also included in Y Combinator’s Top companies list, all of which have valuations over $150 million (although the company declined to reveal its current valuation).
For its part, Khosla’s Blignaut believes that buildings are “a big part of our urban landscape and a large consumer of resources.”
“Construction and building account for more carbon emissions in the U.S. than transportation or industry,” he said. Other portfolio companies addressing such challenges include Ori Living, Vicarious, Katerra and Arevo.
Paul Grisham, now 91, left his wallet behind when he was stationed on “the ice” in the 1960s as a meteorologist for the U.S. Navy.
Tuesday: Here’s what to know about The New York Times’s vaccine tracker. Also: Lunar New Year.
The Biden administration has abandoned a Trump-era lawsuit that sought to block California’s net neutrality law. In a court filing today, the US Department of Justice said it “hereby gives notice of its voluntary dismissal of this case.” Shortly after, the court announced that the case is “dismissed in its entirety” and “all pending motions in this action are denied as moot.”
The case began when Trump’s DOJ sued California in September 2018 in US District Court for the Eastern District of California, trying to block a state net neutrality law similar to the US net neutrality law repealed by the Ajit Pai-led FCC. Though Pai’s FCC lost an attempt to impose a blanket, nationwide preemption of any state net neutrality law, the US government’s lawsuit against the California law was moving forward in the final months of the Trump administration.
The Biden DOJ’s voluntary dismissal of the case puts an end to that. “I am pleased that the Department of Justice has withdrawn this lawsuit,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said today. “When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open Internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land.”
Monday: New coronavirus infections are declining in California. That’s the good news. But there are still open questions about moving forward.
For months, far-right activists have rallied against masks and lockdowns imposed during the coronavirus pandemic. Now some protesters have shifted their focus to the Covid-19 vaccine.