OpenSea admits incident as top exec is accused of trading NFTs on insider information

The “eBay of NFTs” is running into a scandal as it admits one of its employees traded the crypto digital assets using insider information from the platform.

Yesterday, a top executive at NFT platform OpenSea was accused of front-running sales on the platform, purchasing pieces from NFT collections before they were featured on the homepage of the platform. According to Twitter user @ZuwuTV, the startup’s Head of Product was using secret crypto wallets to buy drops before they listed on the main page of OpenSea, selling them shortly after they were highlighted publicly by OpenSea, and funneling the profits back to his main account. Users linked to a handful of transactions from accounts linked back to the executive on the public blockchain including an NFT drop that was, at the time, actively listed on the front page of the platform.

Today, OpenSea seemed to acknowledge the incident, saying in a blog post that it had “learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly.” The company did not identify the employee but said that they were conducting an “immediate” review of the incident. The startup, which was recently valued at $1.5 billion after raising a $100 million Series B from Andreessen Horowitz, added in the unsigned blog post that this incident was “incredibly disappointing.”

“We’re conducting a thorough review of yesterday’s incident and are committed to doing the right thing for OpenSea users,” OpenSea CEO Devin Finzer said in a tweet.

OpenSea, which did a record $3.4 billion in transaction volume last month, appears not to have had any rules in places preventing employees from using confidential information to buy or sell NFTs on its own platform to its own users. The company detailed that it was now implementing a policy that team members could not buy or sell “from collections or creators while we are featuring or promoting them,” and that they are “prohibited from using confidential information to purchase or sell any NFTs, whether available on the OpenSea platform or not.”

Most NFTs are not generally assumed to be securities, despite little official guidance from the SEC on the crypto asset class. Some in the space have questioned whether different mechanics around buying and selling, alongside ongoing rewards structures may be pushing some NFT sales further into securities territory.

“Many have been enticed by dramatic jumps in the value of new digital assets,” Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown said in a hearing yesterday — as transcribed by The Block — where the relationship between crypto markets and SEC enforcement was discussed. “Some professional investors and celebrities make earning millions look easy. But, as we are reminded time and again, it’s never that simple – and too often, someone’s quick profit comes at the expense of workers and entire communities.”

We’ve reached out to OpenSea for further comment.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchains, #ceo, #chairman, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #distributed-computing, #ebay, #ethereum, #executive, #head, #opensea, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission

Crypto community slams ‘disastrous’ new amendment to Biden’s big infrastructure bill

Biden’s major bipartisan infrastructure plan struck a rare chord of cooperation between Republicans and Democrats, but changes it proposes to cryptocurrency regulation are tripping up the bill.

The administration intends to pay for $28 billion of its planned infrastructure spending by tightening tax compliance within the historically under-regulated arena of digital currency. That’s why cryptocurrency is popping up in a bill that’s mostly about rebuilding bridges and roads.

The legislation’s vocal critics argue that the bill’s effort to do so is slapdash, particularly a bit that would declare anyone “responsible for and regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets” to be a broker, subject to tax reporting requirements.

While that definition might be more straightforward in a traditional corner of finance, it could force cryptocurrency developers, companies and even anyone mining digital currencies to somehow collect and report information on users, something that by design isn’t even possible in a decentralized financial system.

Now, a new amendment to the critical spending package is threatening to make matters even worse.

Unintended consequences

In a joint letter about the bill’s text, Square, Coinbase, Ribbit Capital and other stakeholders warned of “financial surveillance” and unintended impacts for cryptocurrency miners and developers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, two privacy-minded digital rights organizations, also slammed the bill.

Following the outcry from the cryptocurrency community, a pair of influential senators proposed an amendment to clarify the new reporting rules. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) pushed back against the bill, proposing an amendment with fellow finance committee member Pat Toomey (R-PA) that would modify the bill’s language.

The amendment would establish that the new reporting “does not apply to individuals developing block chain technology and wallets,” removing some of the bill’s ambiguity on the issue.

“By clarifying the definition of broker, our amendment will ensure non-financial intermediaries like miners, network validators, and other service providers—many of whom don’t even have the personal-identifying information needed to file a 1099 with the IRS—are not subject to the reporting requirements specified in the bipartisan infrastructure package,” Toomey said.

Wyoming Senator Cynthia Lummis also threw her support behind the Toomey and Wyden amendment, as did Colorado Governor Jared Polis.

Picking winners and losers

The drama doesn’t stop there. With negotiations around the bill ongoing — the text could be finalized over the weekend — a pair of senators proposed a competing amendment that isn’t winning any fans in the crypto community.

That amendment, from Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Warner (D-VA), would exempt traditional cryptocurrency miners who participate in energy-intensive “proof of work” systems from new financial reporting requirements, while keeping those rules in place for those using a “proof of stake” system. Portman worked with the Treasury Department to author the cryptocurrency portion of the original infrastructure bill.

Rather than requiring an investment in computing hardware (and energy bills) capable of solving increasingly complex math problems, proof of stake systems rely on participants taking a financial stake in a given project, locking away some of the cryptocurrency to generate new coins.

Proof of stake is emerging as an attractive, climate-friendlier alternative that could reduce the need for heavy computing and huge amounts of energy required for proof of work mining. That makes it all the more puzzling that the latest amendment would specifically let proof of work mining off the hook.

Some popular digital currencies like Cardano are already built on proof of stake. Ethereum, the second biggest cryptocurrency, is in the process of migrating from a proof of work system to proof of stake to help scale its system and reduce fees. Bitcoin is the most notable digital currency that relies on proof of work.

The Warner-Portman amendment is being touted as a “compromise” but it’s not really halfway between the Wyden-Toomey amendment and the existing bill — it just introduces new problems that many crypto advocates view as a fresh existential threat to their work. Prominent members of the crypto community including Square founder and Bitcoin booster Jack Dorsey have thrown their support behind the Wyden-Lummis-Toomey amendment while slamming the second proposal as misguided and damaging.

Unfortunately for the crypto community — and the promise of the proof of stake model — the White House is apparently throwing its weight behind the Warner-Portman amendment, though that could change as eleventh hour negotiations continue.

#biden, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #broker, #cardano, #chairman, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #democrats, #digital-currency, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #government, #internal-revenue-service, #jack-dorsey, #proof-of-stake, #proof-of-work, #republicans, #ribbit-capital, #ron-wyden, #tc, #white-house

Cent, the platform that Jack Dorsey used to sell his first tweet as an NFT, raises $3M

Cent was founded in 2017 as an ad-free creator network that allows users to offer each other crypto rewards for good posts and comments — it’s like gifting awards on Reddit, but with Ethereum. But in late 2020, Cent’s small, San Fransisco-based team created Valuables, an NFT market for tweets, and by March, the small blockchain startup was thrown a serendipitous curveball.

“We just wrapped up for the day, and I was about to go eat dinner, and all these people started texting me,” remembers CEO Cameron Hejazi. Then, he realized that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had minted Twitter’s first ever Tweet through Cent’s Valuables application. “I was basically like, mildly shivering for the rest of the night. The whole team, we were like, ‘Okay, battle stations, prepare to get hacked!’”

Dorsey ended up selling his NFT for $2.9 million, and he donated the proceeds to Give Directly’s Africa Response fund for COVID-19 relief. But for Cent, it was as if the small company had just been handed a free marketing campaign. Now, about five months later, Cent is announcing a $3 million round of seed funding with investors like Galaxy Interactive, former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, Will.I.Am, and Zynga founder Mark Pincus.

On Valuables, anyone on the internet can place an offer on any tweet, which then makes it possible for someone else to make a counter-offer. If the author of the tweet accepts an offer (logging into Valuables requires you to validate your Twitter account), then Cent will mint the tweet on the blockchain and create a 1-of-1 NFT.

The NFT itself contains the text of the tweet, the username of the creator, the time it was minted, and the creator’s digital signature. The NFT also includes a link to the tweet, though the linked content lives outside the blockchain.

There’s nothing proprietary about minting tweets as NFTs — another company could do the same thing that Cent is doing. Even Twitter itself has recently dabbled in giving away free NFT art, though it hasn’t tried to sell actual tweets as NFTs like Cent. Still, Hejazi sees Dorsey’s use of Cent like an endorsement — he thinks it would be difficult for Twitter to shut them down, since Dorsey made $2.9 million on the platform himself. After all, Dorsey chose Cent instead of taking a screenshot of his first tweet, minting the .JPG as an NFT, and posting it on a larger NFT platform, like OpenSea.

“We’ve spoken with people at Twitter. I’m positive that we have a healthy relationship going,” Hejazi said (Twitter declined to comment on or confirm whether that’s true). “We thought about applying this approach to other social platforms, like Instagram and TikTok, but we hypothesized that this is particularly suited for Twitter, because it’s a conversation platform, and it’s where all of the crypto people are actually living.”

With Cent’s seed funding Hejazi hopes to continue building the platform. The company’s goal is to enable anyone creative to make an income through the use of NFTs — that means developing tools to make it simpler for its users to mint NFTs, but also, building out its existing creator-focused social network. The content people post on Cent is usually creative work, like art and writing, rather than short posts — it’s closer to DeviantArt than it is to Reddit. These are lofty goals for a $3 million seed funding round, but there are aspects of Cent’s Beta platform that make it promising.

“There’s already value in what we post on social media. It’s just being proxied through ad dollars, and it doesn’t have to be the case that there’s so much wealth concentration in a single entity. We can work toward a system that decentralizes that wealth,” said Hejazi. “These networks as they exist have monopolies on distribution — you can’t take your Twitter audience, download it as a .CSV, and send them all an email.”

A screenshot of Cent’s social platform.

In addition to independent distribution lists, Hejazi wants to move away from the ad-supported internet. He references Substack as an example of a company where the creator has control of their list, and at the same time, the platform can remain ad-free, since the money that propels it comes from the users who pay to subscribe to newsletters (and also, venture capital helps).

But Cent does something different by allowing users to essentially invest in creators who they think have the potential to take off on their platform.

Users can “seed” a post, which is how you subscribe to a creator participating on the creatives side of Cent’s platform. As the seeder, you pay a set fee of at least one dollar per month. There’s an incentive to support up-and-coming creators on the platform, because seeders get a portion of the creators’ future profit — it’s like making a bet on them that they will continue to make great content in the future. Five percent of profits go toward Cent, but the remaining 95% is split 50/50 between the creator and all of their past seeders. Participating on this platform would allow creators to network and show support for one another, but doesn’t prevent them from more directly monetizing their work on other creator platforms, like Patreon.

In addition to seeding posts, users can also “spot” other people’s posts — Cent’s version of a “like” button. Each “spot” is the equivalent of one cent from the user’s crypto wallet. Cent’s argument is that getting 1,000 likes on a post on other platforms yields nothing but a vague sensation of social clout. But on Cent, if a user gets 1,000 “spots,” that’s $10. Still, a project like this can only work if enough people use the platform.

“When we started Cent, we chose cryptocurrencies because we loved the idea of someone being able to earn money with nothing more than their creativity and a crypto address,” Hejazi said. “Over time, we’ve found it to be limiting as a payment type — very few people actually own it and have it ready to spend. We’re working on ways to make payments to creators using Cent easier, and are exploring both crypto-native and non-crypto options.”

This mindset echoes other NFT startups like Yat, which allows payments via credit card as part of its “progressive decentralization” model. So much of these companies’ success depends on public buy-in toward an eventual decentralized, blockchain-based internet. But until then, companies like Cent will continue to experiment in reimagining how creatives can get paid online.

#apps, #author, #blockchain, #ceo, #chairman, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #deviantart, #disney, #ethereum, #funding, #jack-dorsey, #jeffrey-katzenberg, #mark-pincus, #operating-systems, #penny, #social-media, #software, #spokesperson, #twitter, #venture-capital, #zynga

Connected car insurance startup Flock raises $17M Series A led by Chamath Palihapitiya

Cast your mind back to that scene in Minority Report where all those autonomous cars are whizzing through the city. The more practically-minded of you may well have gone: “Yeah, but what about the insurance…?”.

Among the startups building the on-demand, connected insurance world for the vehicles of tomorrow right now are UK-based Zego which has raised $201.7 million. Another is Flock.

Emerging from an academic project to look at drones, Flock shifted into providing drones insurance then commercial vehicle insurance. The twist is that it hooks into the telematics of cars so that the vehicle only triggers insurance cover when it’s actually moving, not when it’s sitting on the lot, incapable of causing any accidents.

Flock has now raised $17 million in a Series A funding led by Social Capital, the investment vehicle run by Chamath Palihapitiya, best known as a SPAC investor and Chairman of Virgin Galactic. Flock’s existing investors Anthemis and Dig Ventures also participated. This round brings Flock’s total funding to $22 million. Justin Saslaw (Social Capital’s Fintech Partner) joins Flock’s Board of Directors as does Ross Mason (Founder of Dig Ventures & MuleSoft).

Ed Leon Klinger, CEO of Flock said: “Transportation is changing faster than ever, but the traditional insurance industry can’t keep up! The proliferation of electric cars, new business models such as ridesharing, and the emergence of autonomous vehicles pose huge challenges that traditional insurers just aren’t equipped for.”

He added: “Modern fleets need an equally modern insurance company that moves as fast as they do. Commercial motor insurance is a $160Bn market, crying out for disruption. The opportunity ahead of us is enormous.”

In a statement Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO of Social Capital said: “Flock is bridging the gap between today’s insurance industry and tomorrow’s transportation realities. By using real-time data to truly understand vehicle risk, Flock is meeting the demands of our rapidly evolving, hyper-connected world. Flock has the potential to help unlock and enable a truly autonomous world, and even save lives. We’re excited to be a part of their journey.”

Speaking to me over a call, Klinger outlined how the company had hit a sweet spot by hooking into Telematics APIs for cars, or by doing special integrations with existing providers and OEMs: “We’ve built our own integrated approach whereby we partner with some and we build bespoke integrations with them. Often they are not as advanced as others. So we’ll either use our integration platform or or we’ll use their approach. We’re highly flexible. The core value proposition at Flock is its flexibility, so we don’t force our own integration approach.”

#car, #ceo, #chairman, #chamath-palihapitiya, #computing, #europe, #flock, #insurance, #mulesoft, #social-capital, #software, #tc, #technology, #telematics, #virgin-galactic

Pink Floyd drummer invests in Disciple Media, a platform aimed at the creator economy

Much has been made of the rise of the “creator economy” in the last year. With the Pandemic biting, millions flooded online, looking for a way to make money or promote themselves. The podcasting world has exploded, and with it platforms like Patreon, Clubhouse, and many others. But the thorny problem remains: Do you really own your audience as a creator, or does the platform own you? Companies like Mighty Networks, Circle and Tribe have tried to address this, giving creators greater control than social networks do over their audiences. Now another joins the fray.

Disciple Media bills itself as a SaaS platform to enable online creators to build community-led businesses. It’s now raised $6 million in funding in what it calls a ‘large Angel round’. It already claims to have garnered 2 million members and 500 communities since launching in 2018. Investors include Nick Mason (drummer in Pink Floyd), Sir Peter Michael (CEO of Cray Computers, founder of classic FM, Quantel and Cosworth Engineering), Rob Pierre (founder and CEO of Jellyfish), and Keith Morris (ex. chairman Sabre Insurance). It’s also announced a new Chairman, Eirik Svendsen, a expert in online marketplaces, SaaS and the publishing and media industry.

On its communities so far it has American country star and American Idol judge Luke Bryan, Gor Tex, and Body by Ciara. The platform is also available on iOS and Android and comes with community management tools, a CRM, and monetization options. The company claims its creators are now “earning millions in revenue each year.”

Benji Vaughan, Founder and CEO said: “The scale and rapid growth of the creator economy is extraordinary, and today that growth is being driven by entrepreneurial creators looking to build independent businesses outside of Youtube and the social networks.”

Vaughan, a Techno DJ and artist-turned-entrepreneur, says he came up with the idea after building similar communities for clients. He says the data created on Disciple communities is owned entirely by the host who built the network, “removing third-party risk and allowing insights to be actioned immediately”.

He told me: “We are moving from a position of effectively having ‘gig economy workers for social networks’ to owners of businesses who use social networks for their needs, not the other way around. Therefore, these people are starting to leave social networks to build their businesses and using social networks as marketing channels, as the rest of the world does. Once that migration happens where they move away from social networks as their prime platform, they need a hub where their data is going to get pulled together, they have an audience, which we see as a community that connects with itself as much as they do with the host.”

He thinks the equivalent of Salesforce or HubSpot in the creative economy is going to be a community platform: “That’s where they’re going to aggregate all the information about their valuable audience or community engagement. So, we are looking to, over time, to build out something very akin to what HubSpot sites they have for tech companies or SaaS businesses: a complete package, a complete platform to manage your engagement with your users, grow your user base and then convert that into revenue.”

Rob Pierre, founder and CEO Jellyfish said: “Creating and engaging with your community digitally has never been more important. Disciple allows you to do both of those things with a fully functional, feature-rich platform which requires very little upfront capital expenditure. It also provides numerous options to monetize your community.”

#american-idol, #android, #ceo, #chairman, #cloud-applications, #computing, #crm, #europe, #founder, #hubspot, #jellyfish, #marketing, #mighty-networks, #online-creators, #online-marketplaces, #patreon, #pink-floyd, #sabre, #salesforce, #search-engine-optimization, #social-networks, #software, #software-as-a-service, #tc, #tribe, #united-states, #youtube

Andreessen Horowitz triples down on blockchain startups with massive $2.2 billion Crypto Fund III

While the cryptocurrency market’s most recent hype wave seems to be dying down after a spectacular rise, Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto arm is reaffirming its commitment to startups building blockchain projects with a hulking new $2.2 billion crypto fund.

It’s the firm’s largest vertical-specific fund ever — by quite a bit.

Andreessen Horowitz’s 2018 crypto fund ushered in $300 million of LP commitments and its second fund, which it closed in April of last year, clocked in at $515 million. The new multi-billion dollar fund not only showcases how institutional backers are growing more comfortable with cryptocurrencies, but also how Andreessen Horowitz’s assets under management have been quickly swelling to compete with other deep-pocketed firms including the ever-prolific Tiger Global.

With this announcement, Andreessen now has some $18.8 billion assets under management.

LPs are likely far less wary to take a chance on crypto after Andreessen Horowitz’s stake in Coinbase equated to some $11.2 billion at the time of the direct listing’s first trades, though the stock has slid back some 30% in recent months as the crypto market has shrunk.

Some of the firm’s other major crypto bets include NBA Top Shot maker Dapper Labs which hit a $7.5 billion valuation this spring. Blockchain infrastructure startup Dfinity raised at a $9.5 billion valuation this past September. Last year, the firm led the Series A of Uniswap, which is poised to be a major player in the Ethereum ecosystem. In addition to equity investments, a16z has also made major bets on the currencies themselves.

An earlier report from Newcomer last month reported a16z was targeting a $2 billion crypto fund and that they had already unloaded some of their crypto holdings before most cryptocurrencies took a major dive in recent weeks.

Crypto Fund III will continue to be managed by GPs Chris Dixon and Katie Haun, but the firm has also begun spinning out a more robust management team around the crypto vertical.

Anthony Albanese, who joined the firm last year from the NYSE, has been appointed COO of the division. Tomicah Tillemann, who previously served as a senior advisor to now-President Joe Biden and as chairman of the Global Blockchain Business Council, will be a16z Crypto’s Global Head of Policy. Rachael Horwitz is also coming aboard as an Operating Partner leading marketing and communications for a16z crypto; leaving Google after a stint as Coinbase’s first VP of Communications as well.

A couple other folks are also coming on in advisory capacity, including entrepreneur Alex Price and a couple others who will likely be a tad helpful in regulatory maneuverings including Bill Hinman, formerly of the SEC, and Brent McIntosh, who recently served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs.

#andreessen-horowitz, #blockchain, #blockchains, #chairman, #chris-dixon, #coinbase, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #dapper-labs, #decentralization, #entrepreneur, #ethereum, #finance, #google, #gps, #joe-biden, #joseph-lubin, #katie-haun, #money, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #rachael-horwitz, #tc, #technology, #tiger-global, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uniswap

Iceland’s Frumtak Ventures raises its third, $57M, fund focusing on post-seed and Series A

Frumtak Ventures, one of the few VCs in Iceland, has raised its third fund, Frumtak III. The $57 million (ISK 7b, €48m) fund will focus on post-seed and Series A startups. The firm says its typical ticket size will range from $1-5 million (€850k-4.2m).

Frumtak was a somewhat lesser-known European VC until it popped up on our radar as the backers behind the Controlant real-time supply chain monitoring startup, the technology from which was pictured beside Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, when he held up a box containing the first-ever shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine to the city. Controlant has been a key player in the global distribution cold chain associated with vaccines.

However, the fund has also backed digital banking solutions provider Meniga, digital therapeutics scaleup Sidekick Health, travel CRM and travel booking system provider Kaptio, live event and fan engagement data analytics company Activity Stream, and Data Market, which was acquired by Qlik in 2014.

Svana Gunnarsdottir, managing partner of Frumtak Ventures said: “We are proud of the accomplishments of our portfolio companies and their teams, as well as the investment decisions we made through our first two funds. We look forward to continuing our support of high-potential startups and brilliant founders with Frumtak III. We are also grateful for the confidence shown to us by our LP’s, many of whom have been with us since our first fund in 2009.”

Concurrently, Asthildur Otharsdottir has joined the firm as partner and Frumtak III’s lead investment manager. Otharsdottir was previously Frumtak’s Chairman for 6 years and has been on the board of Marel and Icelandair Group.

#andrew-cuomo, #business, #chairman, #companies, #crm, #europe, #frumtak-ventures, #governor, #iceland, #managing-partner, #meniga, #new-york, #player, #private-equity, #startup-company, #tc

Productivity startup Time is Ltd raises $5.6M to be the ‘Google Analytics for company time’

Productivity analytics startup Time is Ltd wants to be the Google Analytics for company time. Or perhaps a sort of “Apple Screen Time” for companies. Whatever the case, the founders reckon that if you can map how time is spent in a company enormous productivity gains can be unlocked and, money better spent.

It’s now raised a $5.6 million late seed funding round led by Mike Chalfen, of London-based Chalfen Ventures, with participation from Illuminate Financial Management and existing investor Accel. Acequia Capital and former Seal Software chairman Paul Sallaberry are also contributing to the new round, as is former Seal board member Clark Golestani. Furthermore, Ulf Zetterberg, founder and former CEO of contract discovery and analytics company Seal Software, is joining as President and co-founder.

The venture is the latest from serial entrepreneur Jan Rezab, better known for founding SocialBakers, which was acquired last year.

We are all familiar with inefficient meetings, pestering notifications chat, video conferencing tools and the deluge of emails. Time is Ltd. says it plans to address this by acquiring insights and data platforms such as Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, Zoom, Webex, MS Teams, Slack, and more. The data and insights gathered would then help managers to understand and take a new approach to measure productivity, engagement, and collaboration, the startup says.

The startup says it has now gathered 400 indicators that companies can choose from. For example, a task set by The Wall Street Journal for Time is Ltd. found the average response time for Slack users vs. email was 16.3 minutes, comparing to emails which was 72 minutes.

Chalfen commented: “Measuring hybrid and distributed work patterns is critical for every business. Time Is Ltd.’s platform makes such measurement easily available and actionable for so many different types of organizations that I believe it could make work better for every business in the world.”

Rezab said: “The opportunity to analyze these kinds of collaboration and communication data in a privacy-compliant way alongside existing business metrics is the future of understanding the heartbeat of every company – I believe in 10 years time we will be looking at how we could have ignored insights from these platforms.”

Tomas Cupr, Founder and Group CEO of Rohlik Group, the European leader of e-grocery, said: “Alongside our traditional BI approaches using performance data, we use Time is Ltd. to help improve the way we collaborate in our teams and improve the way we work both internally and with our vendors – data that Time is Ltd. provides is a must-have for business leaders.”

#accel, #analytics, #apple, #articles, #board-member, #business-intelligence, #ceo, #chairman, #computing, #digital-marketing, #e-grocery, #europe, #google, #leader, #london, #microsoft, #mike-chalfen, #seal-software, #serial-entrepreneur, #slack, #socialbakers, #software, #tc, #the-wall-street-journal, #time-is-ltd, #video-conferencing, #webex

Honeywell and Cambridge Quantum form joint venture to build a new full-stack quantum business

Honeywell, which only recently announced its entry into the quantum computing race, and Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQ), which focuses on building software for quantum computers, today announced that they are combining Honeywell’s Quantum Solutions (HQS) business with Cambridge Quantum in the form of a new joint venture.

Honeywell has long partnered with CQ and invested in the company last year, too. The idea here is to combine Honeywell’s hardware expertise with CQ’s software focus to build what the two companies call “the world’s highest-performing quantum computer and a full suite of quantum software, including the first and most advanced quantum operating system.”

The merged companies (or ‘combination,’ as the companies’ press releases calls it) expect the deal to be completed in the third quarter of 2021. Honeywell Chairman and CEO Darius Adamczyk will become the chairman of the new company. CQ founder and CEO Ilyas Khan will become the CEO and current Honeywell Quantum Solutions President Tony Uttley will remain in this role at the new company.

The idea here is for Honeywell to spin off HQS and combine it with CQC to form a new company, while still playing a role in its leadership and finances. Honeywell will own a majority stake in the new company and invest between $270 and $300 million. It will also have a long-term agreement with the new company to build the ion traps at the core of its quantum hardware. CQ’s shareholders will own 45% of the new company.

Image Credits: Honeywell

“The new company will have the best talent in the industry, the world’s highest-performing quantum computer, the first and most advanced quantum operating system, and comprehensive, hardware-agnostic software that will drive the future of the quantum computing industry,” said Adamczyk. “The new company will be extremely well positioned to create value in the near-term within the quantum computing industry by offering the critical global infrastructure needed to support the sector’s explosive growth.”

The companies argue that a successful quantum business will need to be supported by large-scale investments and offer a one-stop shop for customers that combines hardware and software. By combining the two companies now, they note, they’ll be able to build on their respective leadership positions in their areas of expertise and scale their businesses while also accelerate their R&D and product roadmaps.

“Since we first announced Honeywell’s quantum business in 2018, we have heard from many investors who have been eager to invest directly in our leading technologies at the forefront of this exciting and dynamic industry – now, they will be able to do so,” Adamczyk said. “The new company will provide the best avenue for us to onboard new, diverse sources of capital at scale that will help drive rapid growth.”

CQ launched in 2014 and now has about 150 employees. The company raised a total of $72.8 million, including a $45 million round, which it announced last December. Honeywell, IBM Ventures, JSR Corporation, Serendipity Capital, Alvarium Investments and Talipot Holdings invested in this last round — which also means that IBM, which uses a different technology but, in many ways, directly competes with the new company, now owns a (small) part of it.

#ceo, #chairman, #emerging-technologies, #enterprise, #honeywell, #operating-system, #president, #quantum-computing, #tc, #technology

Cybersecurity unicorn Exabeam raises $200M to fuel SecOps growth

Exabeam, a late-stage startup that helps organizations detect advanced cybersecurity threats, has landed a new $200 million funding round that values the company at $2.4 billion.

The Series F growth round was led by the Owl Rock division of Blue Owl Capital, with support from existing investors Acrew Capital, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Norwest Venture Partners.

The announcement of Exabeam’s latest funding, which the company says will help it on its mission to become “the number one trusted cloud SeCops platform in the market”, coincides with the news that CEO Nir Polak, who co-founded the company in 2013, will be replaced by former ForeScout chief executive Michael DeCesare.

DeCesare is a big name in the cybersecurity space, with more than 25 years of experience leading high-growth security companies. He joined ForeScout as CEO and president in February 2015 after four years as president of McAfee, which at the time was owned by Intel. Under his leadership, ForeScout raised nearly $117 million in an upsized IPO that valued the IoT security vendor at $800 million.

Polak, meanwhile, will shift to a chairman role at Exabeam and “will continue on as an active member of the executive team and remain at the company,” according to the funding announcement.

“Nir has built an incredibly robust, diverse and inclusive culture at Exabeam, and I am committed to helping it flourish,” said DeCesare. “I’m thrilled to join Nir and the whole leadership team to help drive the company through its next phase of growth.”

Exabeam, which has now raised $390 million in six rounds of outside funding, says it expects to use the new money to fuel scale, innovate and extend the company’s leadership. “It gives us the opportunity to triple down on our R&D efforts and continue engineering the most advanced UEBA, XDR and SIEM cloud security products available today,” commented Polak.

The company adds that it has made significant investments in its partner program over the last 12 months, which now includes more than 400 reseller, distributor, systems integrator, MSSP, MDR and consulting partners globally. Exabeam also has more than 500 technology integrations with cloud network, data lake and endpoint vendors including CrowdStrike, Okta and Snowflake.

It’s clearly expecting these investments to pay off, describing its “outcome-based approach” to external security as perfectly suited to support organizations as they manage exponential amounts of data and return to the post-COVID workplace in a variety of hybrid scenarios. After all, hackers are already beginning to target employees who have started making a return to the office, and this threat is only likely to increase as more companies begin to dial back on remote working and start welcoming staff back into workplaces.

“Exabeam is poised to be the next-gen leader in the cloud security analytics, XDR and SIEM markets,” Pravin Vazirani, Blue Owl Capital’s managing director and co-head of tech investing, said in a statement. “We led this round of funding to provide the company with the resources necessary to support its sustainable, long-term growth and value creation.”

#acrew-capital, #ceo, #chairman, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #companies, #crowdstrike, #exabeam, #executive, #forescout, #funding, #intel, #leader, #lightspeed, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #mcafee, #norwest-venture-partners, #okta, #president, #security, #software

Alchemy raises $80M at a $505M valuation to be the ‘AWS for blockchain’

Blockchain developer platform Alchemy announced today it has raised $80 million in a Series B round of funding led by Coatue and Addition, Lee Fixel’s new fund. The company previously raised a total of $15.5 million, so the latest financing brings its total raised to $95.5 million since it launched in 2017.

The latest round caught our attention for a few reasons.

First, the company, which describes itself as the backend technology behind the blockchain industry, went from public launch to a $505 million valuation in a matter of just eight months. During that time, Alchemy says it powered over $30 billion in transactions for tens of millions of users all over the world. Second, the startup says it also already powering the majority of the NFT industry.

And finally, its investors in the round include a high-profile mix of institutions and individuals such as DFJ Growth, K5 Global, the Chainsmokers, actor Jared Leto and the Glazer family (owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United). They joined existing backers including Yahoo co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang, Pantera Capital, Coinbase, SignalFire, Samsung, Stanford University, Google chairman and Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, Charles Schwab, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and others.

Sources with inside knowledge of Alchemy’s operations tell TechCrunch that the company has already grown its business more than eightfold since it signed the Series B term sheet. They also said Alchemy had over $300 million of investor demand wanting to enter the round and is being inbounded to do another financing at “many times” the current valuation.

TechCrunch talked with Alchemy co-founders Nikil Viswanathan (CEO) and Joe Lau (CTO) about the raise and their passion for the startup’s mission was clear. As is its explosive growth.

“We realized that in order for space to thrive and build to its full potential, we needed to build a developer platform layer for blockchain,” Viswanathan told TechCrunch.

Alchemy’s goal is to be the starting place for developers considering to build a product on top of a blockchain or mainstream blockchain applications. Its developer platform aims to remove the complexity and costs of building infrastructure while improving applications through “necessary” developer tools.

The startup powers a range of transactions across nearly every blockchain vertical, including financial institutions, exchanges, billion-dollar decentralized finance projects and multinational organizations such as UNICEF. It has also quickly become the technology behind every major NFT platform, including Makersplace, OpenSea, Nifty Gateway, SuperRare and CryptoPunks.  

“Every time you open DoorDash, you’re using Amazon’s infrastructure,” Lau said. “Every time you interact with an NFT, you’re using Alchemy. It’s being powered by Alchemy underneath the hood.”

While the pair would not provide hard revenue figures, the company – which operates as a SaaS business – says it increased its revenue by 600% in 2020.

For inside players, Alchemy’s efforts are paving the way for the whole industry. 

“The cryptoeconomy is innovating faster than any technological movement that came before it, and Alchemy has been a key driver of that,” said Coinbase President and COO Emilie Choi. “Alchemy enables developers to build the rich ecosystem of applications necessary for mainstream blockchain adoption.”

Pantera Capital’s Paul Veradittakit describes Alchemy as “the Amazon Web Services (AWS) of the blockchain industry” that is “enabling the vision of a decentralized web.”

“While in Web 2.0, Microsoft, Apple and AWS are three of the most valuable companies in the world because they are the developer platform powering the computer and internet industries, Alchemy is primed to do the same for the blockchain,” he said.

The company believes the comparison to AWS is fair, noting that: “Just as AWS provides the platform that powers Uber, Netflix and much of the technology industry, Alchemy powers infrastructure for many large players in the blockchain industry.”

Alchemy plans to use its new capital to expand its developer platform to new blockchains, fuel global expansion and to open new offices in the U.S. and globally. The startup is based in San Francisco and is planning to open an office in New York.  

“We are going to use the funds to support new chains with our developer platform,” Viswanathan said. “We also expect to 5x the team this year.”

But to be clear, Alchemy prides itself on being lean and mean.

“We just went from 14 to 22 employees,” Lau said. “We have intentionally wanted to keep the team as small as possible.”

The blockchain space has been the subject of increased investor interest as of late.

In March, BlockFi, which describes itself a financial services company for crypto market investors, announced it had closed on a massive $350 million Series D funding that valued it at $3 billion. Also last month, Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis company, revealed the close of $100 million in Series D financing, which doubled its valuation to over $2 billion.

#alchemy, #amazon, #amazon-web-services, #apple, #articles, #bank, #bitcoin, #blockchain, #ceo, #chairman, #charles-schwab, #co-founder, #coinbase, #computing, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #cto, #decentralization, #dfj-growth, #doordash, #driver, #emilie-choi, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #jared-leto, #jerry-yang, #linkedin, #manchester-united, #microsoft, #netflix, #new-york, #nikil-viswanathan, #pantera-capital, #president, #recent-funding, #reid-hoffman, #saas, #samsung, #san-francisco, #stanford-university, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #uber, #united-states, #venture-capital, #yahoo

Triller owner gets a new CEO with acquisition of Amplify.AI; also acquires live streaming service FITE TV

Would be TikTok competitor Triller, operated by parent company TrillerNet, is gaining a new CEO, the company announced today. The short-form video app said it’s acquiring an A.I.-based customer engagement platform, Amplify.AI, whose co-founder Mahi de Silva will now become TrillerNet’s CEO. Existing CEO Mike Lu will transition to President of TrillerNet and will focus on investor relations. The company separately announced the acquisition of FITE TV, a live event and pay-per-view combat sports streaming platform.

New CEO Mahi de Silva had been closely involved with Triller before today. The company’s press release today says he’s been serving as non-executive chairman since 2016, but his LinkedIn notes the year was 2019 (which would be following Triller’s 2019 funding by Proxima Media, when the press release at the time noted he was assuming the role of “chairman.”)  These are both wrong, the company discovered when we reached out for clarity. The correct year is 2018.

Ahead of the acquisition, de Silva had been serving as CEO and co-founder to Amplify.AI since 2017, and before that was CEO of Opera Mediaworks, the marketing and advertising arm of Opera Software, and co-founder and CEO of Botworx.

Amplify.AI, which works with brands in CPG, financial services, automotive, telecom, politics, and digital media, among others, will continue to operate as a subsidiary of TrillerNet following the deal. Other team members include former RSA and Verisign executive Ram Moskowitz who helped design and develop the digital certificates for SSL and code signing; and Amplify.ai co-founder and CTO Manoj Malhotra, a pioneer in B2C SMS messaging, the company notes.

TrillerNet also today announced it’s acquiring another strategic property to help shift its business further into the direction of live events: FITE TV. This deal gives Triller more of a foothold in the live events and pay-per-view streaming market, it says. As a result, FITE, which touts 10 million users, will become the exclusive digital distributor of all Triller Fight Club boxing events going forward.

“Acquiring FITE is part of the larger Triller strategy to bring together content, creators and commerce for the first time and the only place where they truly interact,” said Triller’s Ryan Kavanaugh, the former head of movie studio Relativity Media (and controversial figure) whose Proxima Media became Triller’s majority investor in 2019. “We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars and believe we have created a better more efficient e-commerce content platform,” he added.

The acquisition follows several others TrillerNet has made to expand into live events, now that becoming a TikTok replacement in the U.S. is no longer a viable option, as the Trump ban was put on hold by the Biden administration. Triller also in March acquired live music streaming platform Verzuz, founded by Swizz Beats and Timbaland. And it operates Triller Flight Club in partnership with Snoop Dogg, as well as a streaming platform Triller TV.

While specific deal terms were not revealed, Triller told TechCrunch it’s spent $250 million in the aggregate on its acquisitions, including Halogen, Mashtraxx, Verzuz, FITE and Amplify today.

#amplify, #apps, #biden-administration, #ceo, #chairman, #co-founder, #computing, #digital-media, #executive, #financial-services, #fundings-exits, #internet-culture, #mike-lu, #opera-mediaworks, #opera-software, #president, #sms, #snoop, #software, #ssl, #tiktok, #triller, #trump, #united-states, #verisign, #video-hosting

Hiro Capital puts $2.3M into team sports tracking platform PlayerData — as does Sir Terry Leahy

Hiro Capital has gradually been making a name for itself as an investor in the area know as ‘Digital Sports’ or DSports for shorts. It’s now led a $2.3m funding round in PlayerData. While the round might sound small, the area it’s going into is large and growing. Also investing in the round is Sir Terry Leahy, previously the CEO of Tesco, the largest British retailer.

Edinburgh, UK-based PlayerData uses wearable technology and software tracking to give grass-roots and professional sports teams feedback on their training. It can, for instance, allow coaches to replay key moments from a game, even modeling different outcomes based on player positioning.

This is Hiro Capital’s 4th DSports and ‘connected fitness’ investment, and it joins Zwift, FitXR and NURVV. Hiro has also invested in eight games startups in the UK, USA and Europe, as befits the heritage of cofounder and partner Ian Livingstone, OBE,CBE, who is the former chairman of Tomb Raider publisher Eidos plc and all-round gaming pioneer.

PlayerData says it has captured more than 10,000 team sessions across UK soccer and rugby, and logged over 50 million meters of play. It also has strong network effects, it says. Every time a new team encounters one using Playerdata’s platform, it generates 5 more clubs as users.

Roy Hotrabhvanon is cofounder and CEO of PlayerData, and is a former international-level archer. He’s joined by Hayden Ball, cofounder and CTO, a firmware and cloud infrastructure expert.

playerdata app

playerdata app

In a statement Hotrabhvanon said: “Our mission is to bring fine-grained data and insight to clubs across team sports, helping them supercharge their game-making, improve player performance, and avoid injury… Our ultimate goal is to implement cutting-edge insights from pioneering wearables that are applicable to any team in any discipline at any level.”

Cherry Freeman, co-founding Partner at Hiro says: “PlayerData ticks all of our key boxes: a huge TAM with over 3m grass-roots clubs; a deep moat built on shared player data, machine learning and highly actionable predictive algorithms; compelling customer network effects; and a really impressive yet humble founding team.”

The PlayerData news forms part of a wider growth in digital sports, which includes such breakout names as Peloton, Tonal, Mirror, as well as Hiro’s portfolio investment, Zwift. With the pandemic putting an emphasison both home workouts and general health, the fascination with digital measurement of performance now has a growing grip on the sector.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Freeman added: “We think there are something like 3 million teams that are potential customers for PlayerData. Obviously the number of runners is enormous, and they only need to get a small slice of that market to have a very, very large business. At the end of the day everyone, everyone works out, even if you just go for a walk, so the target market’s huge and they started with running but their technology is applicable to a whole raft of other sports.”

#capital, #ceo, #chairman, #cofounder, #cycling, #edinburgh, #europe, #fiction, #finance, #hiro, #machine-learning, #partner, #player, #tc, #tesco, #tonal, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #wearable-technology, #zwift

Aldea Ventures creates ‘hybrid’ European €100M fund to invest both in Micro VCs, plus follow-on

The historical trajectory of venture capital has been to move to earlier and earlier finding rounds in order to capture the greatest potential multiple on exit. In the US, we’ve seen an explosion of Pre-series A funds, and similarly in Europe. But there’s been an opportunity to tie a lot of that activity together and also produce data that can feed into decision-making about growth rounds, further up the funding pipeline. Now, newly-formed Aldea Ventures intends to do just that.

Today’s it’s announcing a €60M first close of its Pan-European fund with the aim of reaching its target €100M first fund. The idea is ambitious: to invest in 700 startups across Europe, but with an unusual, “hybrid” strategy. First up, it will operate as a fund-of-funds, investing in up to 20 early-stage ‘micro VC funds’ across Europe. Second of all, it will act as a co-investment platform from Series A upwards.  So far it has invested in London-based Job and Talent and most recently, Copenhagen-based Podimo.

The model is more common in Silicon Valley than in Europe, so Aldea Ventures hopes to capitalize on this trend as one of the earlier players with this strategy. Aldea is also effectively stepping into the gap where corporate VCs in the US would normally fill, but in Europe is generally a gaping hole.

Aldea Ventures is led by managing partners Carlos Trenchs, formerly at Caixa Capital Risc; Alfonso Bassols, previously at Nauta Capital; Josep Duran, formerly with the European Investment Fund; and Gonzalo Rodés, Chairman. Aldea Ventures is partnering with Meridia Capital, a leading Spanish alternative investment fund manager.

Carlos Trenchs, managing partner of Aldea Ventures, said: “We believe Europe will continue to grow in influence and play an integral part in the next decade of technology… Our dual model as a fund of funds and co-investor into scaleups is the first of its kind in Europe. Seen only in Silicon Valley until today, we’re putting this model to work to fuel the next generation of growth across the European ecosystem.”

Aldea will look for five factors to selecting micro VCs: the firm’s thesis (specialist, thematic or generalist); location (pan-European or local); the experience of the partners; the size of the fund, and whether the fund is emerging or established. The fund will also take a long hard look at AI, Blockchain and DeepTech companies.

Trenchs explained to me during an interview that “we will have exposure to seed capital in different geographies with the 700 companies, and we reserve the other half of the fund to invest directly on the growth stage in the best performers in their portfolios.” This, he says, will establish a roadmap from direct investing all the way up to later-stage rounds.

Aldea has so far made investments into six micro VCs; Air Street Capital and Moonfire in London; Helloworld in Luxembourg; Inventures in Munich; Mustard Seed Maze in Lisbon; and Nina Capital in Barcelona. 

Nathan Benaich, Founding Partner of Air Street Capital, commented: “Investing in  European AI-first companies is a huge opportunity, with almost one-quarter of top global AI talent earning their university degrees here.. Our partnership with Aldea demonstrates a shared conviction that specialist managers with deep sector-specific knowledge will accelerate the success of tomorrow’s category-defining European companies that are AI-first by design.”

There’s clearly also a data play here because Aldea is likely to end up with a lot of data across companies, sectors and also across various stages.

And that was confirmed by Trenchs: “We want to make the VC world more transparent. If you have the 700 companies, in a few years from now, we’ll be able to collect a lot of data about what’s going on at seed stage in European valuations, geographies and sectors. Our intention is of course to use it as intelligence.” He also said the firm intended to share a lot of anonymized data with the wider European ecosystem.

“There is a funnel of few thousands of companies that get funded, but only a few make it through the funnel. As investors, we are looking for venture capitalists that can transform their seed portfolio into a portfolio that graduates from Series A to Series B,” he added.

#accel, #air-street-capital, #barcelona, #chairman, #copenhagen, #corporate-finance, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #european-investment-fund, #finance, #investment, #lisbon, #london, #luxembourg, #managing-partner, #money, #munich, #nauta-capital, #partner, #private-equity, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital

The Robinhood competitor landscape intensifies as Invstr raises $20M

One of the biggest gripes about investing apps is that they are not acting responsibly by not educating users properly and allegedly letting them fend for themselves. This can result in people losing a lot of money, as evidenced by the number of lawsuits against Robinhood.

Today, an eight-year-old company that has been focused on nothing but financial education is now offering trading and banking services in the U.S..

Over the years, London-based Invstr has built out an educational platform with features such as an investing Academy. It’s created a Fantasy Finance game, which gives users the ability to manage a virtual $1 million portfolio so they can learn more about the markets before risking their own money for real. Via social gamification, Invstr has set out to make the educational process fun.

It has also built a community around users so they can learn from each other (something another Robinhood competitor Gatsby is also doing).

Over 1 million users have downloaded the platform globally.

Invstr, according to CEO and founder Kerim Derhalli, is taking a different approach from competitors by offering education and learning tools upfront. And in addition to giving users the ability to make commission-free stock trades, it’s also giving them a way to digitally bank and invest using their Invstr+ accounts “without ever needing to move money from one place to another.”

Invstr takes it all a step further for subscribers who have access to an “Invstr Score,” performance stats and behavioral analytics among other things.

Derhalli said moving in this direction with the company was part of his business plan from day one.

“I think the most powerful trend in the U.S. is self directed investing,” Derhalli told TechCrunch. “Younger generations have grown up in an app world and they expect to be autonomous and do things for themselves. Many distrust the banking system, and they don’t want to follow in their parents’ footsteps when it comes to banking and finance. We think this is a massive opportunity.”

In the unveiling of its new offerings, Invstr also announced Wednesday that it has closed on a $20 million Series A in the form of a convertible offering. This builds upon $20 million it previously raised across two seed rounds from investors such as Ventura Capital, Finberg, European angel investor Jari Ovaskainen and Rick Haythornthwaite, former global chairman of Mastercard.

Derhalli said he felt compelled to found Invstr after seeing firsthand how a lack of knowledge and confidence can prevent individuals from starting to invest. He worked for three decades in senior leadership roles at Deutsche Bank, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan before founding Invstr “so that anyone, anywhere could learn how to invest.”

Invstr is offering its new investing services in partnership with Apex Clearing, which formerly provided execution and settlement services to Robinhood. Its digital banking services are being offered through a partnership with Vast Bank. To address the security piece, Invstr said its user data is also protected by technology from Okta.

The company, which also has offices in New York and Istanbul, plans to use the new capital to launch new brokerage and analytics tools and a portfolio builder.

#apps, #bank, #banking, #ceo, #chairman, #deutsche-bank, #economy, #finance, #funding, #gamification, #investor, #invstr, #istanbul, #london, #mastercard, #money, #new-york, #recent-funding, #robinhood, #startups, #united-states, #ventura-capital

Carbon Engineering inks Shopify as its first partner for carbon removal as a service

Carbon Engineering is moving ahead with its carbon removal service business, allowing customers to buy the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using its direct air capture technology.

The launch of the service, and the announcement that Shopify will be the company’s first customer, comes as the company’s most direct competitor, Climeworks, made moves of its own — striking a deal with the Swedish sequestration services company Northern Lights to move forward with its own direct air capture as a service offering.

With the  Shopify agreement, Carbon Engineering has the first paying customer for 10,000 tonnes of permanent carbon removal capacity from a large-scale DAC project. The removal and sequestration will be done by CE’s plant development partner, 1PointFive – the US development company that’s currently engineering CE’s first industrial-scale facility, the company said. That facility is due to be completed in 2024. 

“Early customers for direct air capture (DAC) — especially companies with ambitious climate goals — can have outsized impact today: not only does procuring DAC services enable companies to hit ‘net-zero’ pledges faster, but it helps DAC technology come down the ‘learning curve,’ driving cost reductions and making DAC services more affordable and accessible for a wider customer base in the future,” said Noah Deich, president and founder of the climate focused advocacy group Carbon180. “I’m very excited to see Carbon Engineering announce a way for early corporate leaders — and hopefully a wave of fast followers — to devote more of their climate spend towards DAC.”

Their timeframe puts the Carbon Engineering timetable on roughly even footing with Climeworks for getting to market. Luckily for both firms, given the billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions that need to be captured and sequestered it’s a market that’s definitely big enough for both of them. 

With its commitment, Shopify becomes the largest publicly-announced purchaser of direct air capture-based carbon removal.

“Carbon Engineering’s mission has always been to deliver a highly scalable and affordable solution for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said CE CEO, Steve Oldham, in a statement. “We’re on the brink of large-scale deployment of our technology and the next critical step is accumulating market interest and securing customers. This new service allows us to do that. It also makes it easy for companies and governments to include permanent carbon removal in their net-zero plans. We’re thrilled to expand our relationship with Shopify and welcome them as our first carbon removal customer, and we look forward to supporting others so we can collectively make large-scale carbon removal a reality.”

Carbon removal unit purchases will be fulfilled by distributed air capture facilities deployed by 1PointFive, Carbon Engineering’s development partner, which is backed by deep-pocketed investors including Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, LLC, a subsidiary of Occidental, and Rusheen Capital Management.

Carbon Engineering is also working with Pale Blue Dot Energy out of the UK to bring its direct air capture technology across the Atlantic.

“We welcome this news and applaud Shopify on their climate leadership position,” said 1PointFive Chairman Richard Jackson. “Alongside climate experts like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we recognize that permanent carbon removal is going to be necessary to achieve our vision of a sustainable low-carbon world. 1PointFive looks forward to bringing large-scale carbon removal capability based on CE’s technology to the market, helping customers worldwide to achieve their climate goals.” 

#advocacy, #air-pollution, #articles, #carbon-dioxide, #ce, #ceo, #chairman, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greenhouse-gases, #president, #shopify, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Max Q: Starship’s good landing (and less good post-landing)

Max Q is a weekly newsletter from TechCrunch all about space. Sign up here to receive it weekly on Mondays in your inbox.

Sometimes even the biggest successes look like failures on video. That’s the theme of this week, because the biggest news by far was SpaceX’s test launch of its latest Starship prototype in South Texas.

It looked fake – but the fireball proved it wasn’t

SpaceX’s test flight was a launch of the 10th Starship prototype to a height of around 32,000 feet, at which point it used its Raptor engines to flip into a flop maneuver and then fall back to Earth in a roughly horizontal orientation, before re-lighting its engines very near the ground and flipping back vertical for a soft landing. All of which actually happened as described, for the first time, causing many TC readers to suggest it was an elaborate CG fake.

It wasn’t – after SpaceX cameras cut away, but while others were luckily still filming, the SN10 prototype met the same fiery end as the last two SpaceX rockets to do the high-flying act. The explosion that totally destroyed the rocket happened a few minutes after it sat stationary post-landing, and while it maybe didn’t provide the best optics, the real takeaway is that SpaceX proved the crazy landing maneuver Starship will use for reusability actually works in real-world conditions.

Starlink’s UT antenna for residential customers.

SpaceX kinda needs the Starship to start working more and more often, because the big new rocket has a lot of work to do. As the space company continues to launch its Starlink satellites, including 60 more this past week, it really wants to be launching up to 400 at a time using Starship’s generous cargo compartment. And there are humans waiting in the wings for a Starship ride, too: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who bought out an entire Starship mission for a trip around the Moon and back in 2023 has opened applications for 8 other passengers who will join him – at his expense.

The SPAC man closes out his personal stake

Chamath Palihapitiya, the Chairman of Virgin Galactic, has sold his entire personal stake in the company after ushering it into the public markets last year via a SPAC merger with his Social Capital Hedosophia. Palihapitiya still retains a 6.2% ownership stake via that vehicle, in partnership with Ian Osborne, but his own independent holdings are now at zero.

Chamath Palihapitiya

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Palihapitiya says he “remains as dedicated as ever to Virgin Galactic’s team, mission and prospects,” and that the only reason he liquidated his position was to provide funds for a climate-focused investment he’ll be taking the lid off soon. Public market investors seem not to have retained the same confidence, however, with price down consistently since news of the Chairman’s sale came out last week.

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#aerospace, #chairman, #chamath-palihapitiya, #hyperloop, #outer-space, #premier, #raptor, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #virgin-galactic, #yusaku-maezawa

Virgin Galactic Chairman Chamath Palihapitiya sells off remaining personal stake in the space company

The man who arguably ushered in the current SPAC rush with the merger of Virgin Galactic with his Social Capital Hedosophia holding company has divested the remainder of his personal holdings in the space tourism company. Chamath Palihapitiya, who serves as the Chairman of Virgin Galactic’s board, still holds 6.2% ownership in the company in partnership with investor Ian Osborne, but his solo holdings are now at zero.

Palihapitiya sold 3.8 million shares in December 2020, noting that he was selling that equity “to help manage [his] liquidity” in order to provide funding for “several new projects starting in 2021.” At the time, Palihapitiya said he “remained committed and excited fore the future of SPCE [Virgin Galactic’s stock ticker on the NYSE].”

The sale this week comprised 6.2 million shares, netting Palihapitiya roughly $213 million in the process. He has yet to comment on this most recent sale, and we’ve reached out to Virgin Galactic for additional context, and will update if we hear back.

Virgin Galactic has had some setbacks in its testing program that pushed the projected date of its first paying commercial tourists flights out into 2022, from an earlier target of sometime this year. The company installed Disney Parks leader Michael Colglazier as its new CEO last July, replacing George Whitesides, who moved into a Chief Space Officer role, before it was revealed Thursday that he’s departing the company.

Space as a sector has been a hotbed of SPAC activity of late, with mergers from a number of companies including Astra, Spire, Rocket Lab, BlackSky, and Momentus announced over the course of the past year. Virgin Galactic, as one of the earliest, will be closely watched by anyone looking for a yard stick by which to measure the tactic. The company’s share value is down just over 5% pre-market, and has been on a steady decline since reaching an all-time peak around mid-February.

#aerospace, #blacksky, #ceo, #chairman, #chamath-palihapitiya, #companies, #corporate-finance, #disney, #george-whitesides, #michael-colglazier, #momentus, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #social-capital, #space, #tc, #virgin-galactic, #virgin-group

Berlin’s MorphAIs hopes its AI algorithms will put its early-stage VC fund ahead of the pack

MorphAIs is a new VC out of Berlin, aiming to leverage AI algorithms to boost its investment decisions in early-stage startups. But there’s a catch: it hasn’t raised a fund yet.

The firm was founded by Eva-Valérie Gfrerer who was previously head of Growth Marketing at FinTech startup OptioPay and her background is in Behavioural Science and Advanced Information Systems.

Gfrerer says she started MorphAIs to be a tech company, using AI to assess venture investments and then selling that as a service. But after a while, she realized the platform could be applied an in-house fund, hence the drive to now raise a fund.

MorphAIs has already received financing from some serial entrepreneurs, including: Max Laemmle, CEO & Founder Fraugster, previously Better Payment and SumUp; Marc-Alexander Christ, Co-Founder SumUp, previously Groupon (CityDeal) and JP Morgan Chase; Charles Fraenkl, CEO SmartFrog, previously CEO at Gigaset and AOL; Andreas Winiarski, Chairman & Founder awesome capital Group.

She says: “It’s been decades since there has been any meaningful innovation in the processes by which venture capital is allocated. We have built technology to re-invent those processes and push the industry towards more accurate allocation of capital and a less-biased and more inclusive start-up ecosystem.”

She points out that over 80% of early-stage VC funds don’t deliver the minimum expected return rate to their investors. This is true, but admittedly, the VC industry is almost built to throw a lot of money away, in the hope that it will pick the winner that makes up for all the losses.

She now plans to aim for a pre-seed/seed fund, backed by a team consisting of machine learning scientists, mathematicians, and behavioral scientists, and claims that MorphAIs is modeling consistent 16x return rates, after running real-time predictions based on market data.

Her co-founder is Jan Saputra Müller, CTO and Co-Founder, who co-founded and served as CTO for several machine learning companies, including askby.ai.

There’s one problem: Gfrerer’s approach is not unique. For instance, London-based Inreach Ventures has made a big play of using data to hunt down startups. And every other VC in Europe does something similar, more or less.

Will Gfrerer manage to pull off something spectacular? We shall have to wait and find out.

#artificial-intelligence, #berlin, #ceo, #chairman, #chase, #citydeal, #co-founder, #cto, #economy, #europe, #finance, #head, #inreach-ventures, #jp-morgan-chase, #london, #machine-learning, #money, #sumup, #tc, #venture-capital

Tesla’s Bitcoin investment could be bad for the company’s climate reputation and its bottom line

Tesla’s $1.5 billion investment in Bitcoin may be good for Elon Musk, but it’s definitely risky for the company that made him the world’s richest man, according to investors, analysts and money managers at some of the country’s largest banks.

As a standard bearer for the consumer electric vehicle industry and the broader climate tech movement rallying around it, Tesla’s bet to go all in on crypto could damage its climate bonafides and its reputation with customers even as other automakers pour in to the EV market.

Given Bitcoin’s current environmental footprint, the deal flies in the face of Tesla’s purported interest in moving the world to cleaner sources of energy and commerce.

Until the energy grid decarbonizes in places like Russia and China, mining bitcoin remains a pretty dirty business (from an energy perspective), according to some energy investors who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about Musk’s plans.

We were talking about people doing this in Russia back in 2018 and how they were tapping coal power to run their mining operations,” one investor said. “The cost per transaction from an energy intensity standpoint has only gotten more intense. I don’t see how those things coalesce, climate and crypto.”

The stake makes Tesla one of the largest corporate hodlers of Bitcoin but represents a massive portion of the company’s $19 billion in cash and cash equivalents on hand.

“Given the size of their treasury it feels irresponsible, IMO,” wrote one investor whose firm backed Tesla from its earliest days. The company’s move could be seen as another example of the absurdity of U.S. capital markets in today’s investment climate — and the underlying cynicism of some of its biggest beneficiaries.

Meanwhile, Bitcoin investors welcomed the move, which sent the value of their holdings rocketing up by roughly 18% over the course of the day.

“The announcement that Tesla has diversified its treasury through the addition of bitcoin is not surprising, nor is the assuredness implied by an 8% allocation of cash-on-hand. Equal to Tesla’s R&D expenditure for 2020, this investment is significant to the Company and shows a commitment to maximizing shareholder returns,” wrote Stillmark founding partner Alyse Killeen. “Elon Musk has a long history of operating at the precipice of what’s possible technically and setting the trend of what’s to later become common operationally. I suspect the same will be true here, and that Tesla is the first of a larger cohort of publicly-traded companies that will aim to optimize the returns of their cash via bitcoin.”

Industry observers on Wall Street also criticized the company’s big bet on Bitcoin.

“Tesla buying $1.5 billion in BTC is interesting. Am assuming they haven’t hedged it, so they will either be cash rich in the future or have a hole in the balance sheet. Elon Musk stays wild,” wrote one capital planning executive at a major Wall Street bank who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the press. “[It’s] not dissimilar from a large company throwing cash into a wildly volatile emerging market currency.”

Still, in the short term, the deal is showing dividends. The price of Bitcoin has risen nearly $8,000, or 18.73%, over the course of the day since Tesla made its announcement.

But the investment represents the equivalent of the company’s entire research and development budget, as Killeen noted. That’s… something. There’s also the question is whether any regulator will step in to punish Musk.

Musk has been tweeting his support for Bitcoin and other, more arcane (or useless) cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin for the past several weeks, in what seems to be a violation of his agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The world’s richest man has previously been fined by regulatory agencies for his tweeting habits. Back in 2018, the SEC charged Musk with fraud for tweets about privatizing the electric vehicle company at $420 per share.

Musk eventually settled with the SEC, at the price of his role as chairman of Tesla’s board and a $20 million personal fine — with Tesla paying out another $20 million to the SEC.

The volatility of the cryptocurrency could impact more than just Tesla’s bottom line, but also hit its customers should they use the currency to buy cars.

“Bitcoin jumped over 15% to a new high of $44,000 on Monday. This sort of hype-based price power should be worrying to investors and consumers alike – especially if this is to be used as medium of exchange,” wrote GlobalData analyst Danyaal Rashid, Head of Thematic Research at GlobalData.

“If Elon Musk can help dictate the price of this asset with a tweet or large order, the same could happen to send the price back down. The task of purchasing a vehicle should not be speculative. Consumers who may have thought of buying bitcoin to use as a substitute for fiat – could very easily end up with more or less than they bargained for.”

 

#bank, #bitcoin, #chairman, #china, #corporate-buyers, #corporate-governance, #cryptocurrencies, #elon, #elon-musk, #energy, #mining, #musk, #russia, #securities-and-exchange-commission, #tc, #tesla, #united-nations

Three dimensional search engine Physna wants to be the Google of the physical world

In June of 1999, Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins invested $25 million into an early stage company developing a new search engine called Google, paving the way for a revolution in how knowledge online was organized and shared.

Now, Sequoia Capital is placing another bet on a different kind of search engine, one for physical objects in three dimensions, just as the introduction of three dimensional sensing technologies on consumer phones are poised to create a revolution in spatial computing.

At least, that’s the bet that Sequoia Capital’s Shaun Maguire is making on the Cincinnati, Ohio-based startup Physna.

Maguire and Sequoia are leading a $20 million bet into the company alongside Drive Capital, the Columbus, Ohio-based venture firm founded by two former Sequoia partners, Mark Kvamme and Chris Olsen.

“There’s been this open problem in mathematics, which is how you do three dimensional search. How do you define a metric that gives you other similar three dimensional objects. This has a long history in mathematics,” Maguire said. “When I first met [Physna founder] Paul Powers, he had already come up with a wildly novel distance metric to compare different three dimensional objects. If you have one distance metric, you can find other objects that are a distance away. His thinking underlying that is so unbelievably creative. If I were to put it in the language of modern mathematics… it just involves a lot of really advanced ideas that actually also works.”

Powers’ idea — and Physna’s technology — was a long time coming.

A lawyer by training and an entrepreneur at heart, Powers came to the problem of three dimensional search through his old day job as an intellectual property lawyer.

Powers chose IP law because he thought it was the most interesting way to operate at the intersection of technology and law — and would provide good grounding for whatever company the serial entrepreneur would eventually launch next. While practicing, Powers hit upon a big problem, while some intellectual property theft around software and services was easy to catch, it was harder to identify when actual products or parts were being stolen as trade secrets. “We were always able to find 2D intellectual property theft,” Powers said, but catching IP theft in three dimensions was elusive.

From its launch in 2015 through 2019, Powers worked with co-founder and chief technology officer Glenn Warner Jr. on developing the product, which was initially intended to protect product designs from theft. Tragically just as the company was getting ready to unveil its transformation into the three dimensional search engine it had become, Warner died.

Powers soldiered on, rebuilding the company and its executive team with the help of Dennis DeMeyere, who joined the company in 2020 after a stint in Google’s office of the chief technology officer and technical director for Google Cloud.

“When I moved, I jumped on a plane with two checked bags and moved into a hotel, until I could rent a fully furnished home,” DeMeyere told Protocol last year.

Other heavy hitters were also drawn to the Cincinnati-based company thanks in no small part to Olsen and Kvamme’s Silicon Valley connections. They include Github’s chief technology officer, Jason Warner, who has a seat on the company’s board of directors alongside Drive Capital’s co-founder Kvamme, who serves as the chairman.

In Physna, Kvamme, Maguire, and Warner see a combination of Github and Google — especially after the launch last year of the company’s consumer facing site, Thangs.

That site allows users to search for three dimensional objects by a description or by uploading a model or image. As Mike Murphy at Protocol noted, it’s a bit like Thingiverse, Yeggi or other sites used by 3D-printing hobbyists. What the site can also do is show users the collaborative history of each model and the model’s component parts — if it involves different objects.

Hence the GitHub and Google combination. And users can set up profiles to store their own models or collaborate and comment on public models.

What caught Maguire’s eye about the company was the way users were gravitating to the free site. “There were tens of thousands of people using it every day,” he said. It’s a replica of the way many successful companies try a freemium or professional consumer hybrid approach to selling products. “They have a free version and people are using it all the time and loving it. That is a foundation that they can build from,” said Maguire.

And Maguire thinks that the spatial computing wave is coming sooner than anyone may realize. “The new iPhone has LIDAR on it… This is the first consumer device that comes shipped with a 3D scanner with LIDAR and I think three dimensional is about to explode.”

Eventually, Physna could be a technology hub where users can scan three dimensional objects into their phones and have a representational model for reproduction either as a virtual object or as something that can be converted into a file for 3D printing.

Right now, hundreds of businesses have approached the company with different requests for how to apply its technology, according to Powers.

One new feature will allow you to take a picture of something and not only show you what that is or where it goes. Even if that is into a part of the assembly. We shatter a vase and with the vase shards we can show you how the pieces fit back together,” Powers said.

Typical contracts for the company’s software range from $25,000 to $50,000 for enterprise customers, but the software that powers Physna’s product is more than just a single application, according to Powers.

“We’re not just a product. We’re a fundamental technology,” said Powers. “There is a gap between the physical and the digital.”

For Sequoia and Drive Capital, Physna’s software is the technology to bridge that gap.

 

#california, #chairman, #chief-technology-officer, #chris-olsen, #cincinnati, #co-founder, #columbus, #computing, #drive-capital, #entrepreneur, #executive, #github, #google, #google-cloud, #iphone, #kleiner-perkins, #lawyer, #mark-kvamme, #ohio, #printing, #search-engine, #sequoia, #sequoia-capital, #sequoia-partners, #serial-entrepreneur, #shaun-maguire, #tc

Want a job in tech? Flockjay pitches its sales training service as an on-ramp to tech careers

“Most people don’t even know that a job in tech sales is even a possibility,” says Shaan Hathiramani, the founder and chief executive of Flockjay, a company offering a tech sales training curriculum to the masses.

Hathiramani sees his startup as an onramp to the tech industry for legions of workers who have the skillsets to work in tech, but lack the network to see themselves in the business. Just like coding bootcamps have enabled thousands to get jobs as programmers in the tech business, Flockjay can get talented people who had never considered a job in tech into the industry.

The company, which had previously raised $3 million from investors including Serena Williams and Will Smith, along with tech industry luminaries like Microsoft chairman John Thompson; Airtable head of sales Liat Bycel; Gmail inventor Paul Buchheit; and former Netflix CPO Tom Willerer, has just raised new capital to expand its business in a time when accelerated onramps to new jobs have never been more important.

The healthcare response to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, which has closed businesses and torn through the American economy. The unemployment rate in the country sits at 6.4% and the nation lost 140,000 jobs again in December — with all of those job losses coming from women.

A former financier with the multi-billion dollar investment firm, Citadel, Hathiramani sees Flockjay, and the business of tech sales as a way for a number of people to transform their lives.

“We provide a premier sales academy,” Hathiramani said. “It costs zero dollars if you take the course and don’t get a job and costs 10% of your income for the first year if you do get a job. That nets out to 6 or 7K.”

A few hundred students have gone through the program so far, Hathiramani said, and the goal is to train 1,000 people over the course of 2021. The average income of a student before they go through Flockjay’s training program is $30,000 to $35,000 typically, Hathiramani said.

Upon graduation, those students can expect to make between $75,000 and $85,000, he said.

Increasing access among those students who have not necessarily been exposed to the tech world is critical for what Hathiramani wants to do with his sales bootcamp.

Flockjay founder Shaan Hathiramani. Image Credit: Flockjay

The entrepreneur said roughly 40% of students don’t have a four-year college degree; half of the students identify as female or non-binary, and half of the company’s students identify as Black or hispanic. About 80% of the company’s students find a job within the first six months of graduation.

These are students like Elise Cox, a former Bojangles’ manager and Flockjay graduate, who moved from Georgia to Denver to be a sales tech representative for Gusto. Tripling her salary from $13 an hour in the food service industry to a salaried position with wages and benefits.

“I enjoy being able to generate revenue for the company,” Cox, a 41-year-old grandmother, whose five-year plans include a sales leadership role, told Fast Company two years ago. “The revenue is the lifeblood of the company and being part of the team gives me sense of fulfillment.”

Partnerships with Opportunity@Work, Hidden Genius Project, Peninsula Bridge, and TechHire Oakland, help to ensure a diverse pool of applicants and a more diverse workforce for the tech industry — where diversity is still a huge problem.

As Hathiramani looks to take his company from training a couple of hundred students to over a thousand, the founder has raised new cash from previous investors including Lightspeed, Coatue, and Y Combinator, and new investors like eVentures, Salesforce Ventures, along with the Impact America Fund, Cleo Capital and Gabrielle Union.

For the New Jersey-born entrepreneur, Flockjay was a way to give back to a community that he knew intimately. After his family settled in New Jersey after immigrating to the United States, Hathiramani went first to Horace Mann on a scholarship and then attended Harvard before getting his job at Citadel.

Even while he was working at the pinnacle of the financial services world he started non-profits like the Big Shoulders Fund and taught financial literacy.

After a while, he moved to the Bay Area to begin plotting a way to merge his twin interests in education and financial inclusion.

“That led to me spending a year helping startups for free and trying to understand their problems with hiring and training” said Hathiramani. “It helped me surface this economic waste in plain sight. There were all these people talking to customers and they were spending three months on the job learning the job and they didn’t want to do the job or they weren’t very good at it.”

Tech salesforces were a point of entry in the system that almost anyone could access, if they could get in through the door, Hathiramani said. Flockjay wants to be the key to opening the door.

So, the company now has $11 million in new funding to bring its sales training bootcamp to a larger audience. Hathiramani also wants to make the bootcamp model more of a community with continuous development after a student completes the program. “I view education as a membership and not a transaction,” he said. “We focus on continuous learning and continuous up-skilling.”

Part of that is the flywheel of building up networks in a manner similar to YCombinator, the accelerator program from which Flockjay graduated in 2019.

“We went through YC to learn… how they manufacture the privilege in the world that they have afforded,” said Hathiramani. “How do you take some of that and provide it to someone who is starting their careers in tech. You get better at your job the more connections you have. As we accelerate the alumni piece… they can draw on other alums that they’re selling into.”

 

#chairman, #cleo-capital, #coatue, #computing, #entrepreneur, #flockjay, #harvard, #impact-america-fund, #microsoft, #netflix, #new-jersey, #paul-buchheit, #salesforce, #salesforce-ventures, #tc, #tom-willerer, #united-states, #will-smith, #y-combinator

Nikola’s stock crashes after announcing cancelation of contract with Republic Services for 2,500 garbage trucks

The undoing of Nikola continues. Today, the company announced the termination of its contract with Republic Services for 2,500 garbage trucks. Announced back in August, the deal had Nikola building garbage trucks in 2023 with on-road testing scheduled for 2024. This is the latest deal to unravel for Nikola as it tries to patch up following devastating reports.

According to Nikola, the separation of the two companies was mutual though it’s hard to picture Nikola’s SEC troubles didn’t weigh heavily upon Republic Services.

“This was the right decision for both companies given the resources and investments required,” said Nikola CEO Mark Russell said in a released statement. “We support and respect Republic Services’ commitment to achieving environmentally responsible, sustainable solutions for their customers. Nikola remains laser-focused on delivering on our battery-electric and fuel-cell electric commercial truck programs, and the energy infrastructure to support them.”

News of this deal is sending Nikola’s stock down 10% in pre-market trading. If this level holds upon the stock market’s open, Nikola will be trading at its lowest levels following it’s monumental rise over the summer months.

The deal with Republic Services was originally a victory banner for the once-high flying electric vehicle startup. Signaled as mainstream acceptance of the company, Republic Services’ contract came before a mega $2 billion investment from General Motors. That deal is also cancelled following several key revelations about the company that lead to an SEC investigation and the company’s chairman stepping down.

In a statement, Nikola says deliveries will begin of Nikola Tre battery-electric semi-trucks in the US in 2021 and the company expects to break ground on its first commercial hydrogen station in 2021, too. And then in 2023, the company expects to produce its fuel-cell-electric semi-trucks at Nikola’s Coolidge, Arizona facility.

#arizona, #ceo, #chairman, #companies, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #general-motors, #laser, #nikola, #nikola-motors, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

New stimulus bill includes $35.2 billion for new energy initiatives

The new economic stimulus proposal that has been approved by Congress includes roughly $35.2 billion for energy initiatives, according to summary documents seen by TechCrunch.

“This is probably the biggest energy bill we’ve seen in a decade,” said policy analyst Dr. Leah Stokes, an Assistant Professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  

The spending is split between the Energy Act of 2020 and the Energy for the Environment Act, and both include new money for big technology initiatives.

“[The Energy Act of 2020] is a bipartisan, bicameral energy innovation package that authorizes over $35 billion in RD&D activities across DOE’s portfolio and strengthens or creates programs crucial to advancing new technologies into the market,” a summary document for the legislation reads.

Included in the spending package is over $4.1 billion for new technology initiatives.

The biggest winners are photovoltaics, new transportation technologies, and energy efficiency technologies.

There’s a $1.5 billion for new solar technologies including modules, concentrating solar technology, new photovoltaic technologies and initiatives to expand solar manufacturing and recycling technologies. And $2.6 billion set aside for transportation technologies. Finally, energy efficiency and weatherization programs are continuing to be supported through a $1.7 billion reauthorization of the Weatherization Assistance Program. 

Energy grid technologies get a $3.44 billion boost through $1.08 billion in support for short-term, long-term, seasonal and transportation energy storage technologies and $2.36 billion for smart utility and energy distribution technologies. 

Another $625 million is dedicated to new research, development and commercialization for both onshore and offshore wind technologies. While $850 million is being set aside for geothermal technology development and $933 million for marine energy and hydropower tech. finally, there’s $160 million earmarked for hydropower generator upgrades, and upgrades to existing federal infrastructure through $180 million earmarked to the Federal Energy Management Program. 

In an attempt to ensure that the money and innovation is used in the industries where decarbonization is the most technically challenging, there’s a $500 million pot for stakeholders in industries like iron, steel, aluminum, cement and chemicals as well as transportation businesses like shipping, avaiation, and long-distance transport that are looking to decarbonize.

By making these critical investments now, the Energy Act of 2020 will to help reduce our  nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, bring good paying jobs back to the United States, and allow us to export these technologies to growing markets abroad for years to come,” the summary report reads. 

If the next generation of technologies that already have broad commercial support is one area getting a boost, then another big pool of money is going to support the commercialization of technologies whose viability has yet to be demonstrated at commercial scale.

These include carbon capture utilization and storage technologies that are getting a $6.2 billion boost for roll out at industrial and energy sites. Congress is also approving a $447 milion research and development program for large-scale commercial carbon dioxide removal projects — with a $100 million carve out grant for direct air capture competition at facilities that capture at least 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Nuclear technologies are also getting their day in the sun thanks to $6.6 billion in funding for the modernization of existing nuclear power plants and the development of advanced reactors. And, the nascent fusion industry can add another $4.7 billion to their calculus for available capital thanks to a carve out for basic and applied research investments.

All of this spending also comes with money to ensure that emerging technologies aren’t left out. Theres a $2.9 billion allocation to ARPA-E, the energy advanced research arm of the government whose structure is similar to the DARPA program that was responsible for the development of the Internet. And, taking a page from the NASA playbook that commercialized a number of technologies, the Office of Technology Transitions, which promotes national lab partnerships, is being codified and supporting the kind of milestone-based projects that have been effectively used by the Air Force and the Department of Defense broadly.

To cap it off, the new energy bill includes a directive to the Department of the Interior to target the generation of 25 gigawatts of solar, wind, and geothermal production on public lands by 2025.

“My understanding of it is that they’re trying to look at what the federal government has done for solar and wind and see how we can do that for other technologies,” Stokes said. 

For her, what’s in other portions of the stimulus are equally important from a climate perspective. There’s a commitment to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a huge contributor to global warming and climate change by 2035. Phasing out the use of these chemicals globally in refrigeration and other applications could reduce warming by half a degree centigrade (which is a big deal).

Stokes took issue with the duration of some of the tax credits, whose extensions were relatively short, and the absence of a tax credit for electric vehicles. “The tax credits for EVs are a consumer-facing benefit that are absolutely critical to adoption,” Stokes said. “That was a massive equalizer between EVs and combustion engine cars.”

For all of the good news for climate activists baked into this portion of the stimulus, Stokes warns that no one concerned about global climate change should break out the bubbly.

“This package is not going to solve the climate crisis full-stop,” Stokes said. “Next year if the republicans are in control there’s going to be a new chairman and he’s not going to be as generous… We have to learn to celebrate the wins and give credit but recognize what’s missing. Which is a lot.”

#air-force, #aluminum, #arpa-e, #articles, #california, #chairman, #chemicals, #congress, #department-of-defense, #energy, #energy-efficiency, #federal-government, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #iron, #solar-manufacturing, #steel, #tc, #united-states, #university-of-california

OneWeb launches 36 satellites to join its global broadband constellation on orbit

In a return to active launch, constellation satellite operator OneWeb has sent 36 new satellites to join its existing spacecraft on orbit. This is the third large batch of OneWeb satellites to be delivered, after an initial launch of six in 2019, and then a second and third launch of 34 satellites each in February and March of this year. The company then ran into financial difficulties that led to its filing for bankruptcy protection in March, before emerging from said bankruptcy in July thanks to a deal funded in part by the UK government, and in part by Bharti Global. In short, it’s been a year for OneWeb.

Today’s launch took off from the Vostochny cosmodrome, and used a Russian Soyuz-2.1b rocket to make the trip. This is the first ever commercial launch from Vostochny (prior commercial launches handled by Roscosmos have used the Baikonur cosmodrome), and it meant that OneWeb could launch 36 satellites instead of 34, because of its position relative to OneWeb’s target orbit.

OneWeb is building a constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites that will provide high-bandwidth connectivity for use in Earth-based networks. The company aims to ultimately have 648 satellites on orbit, and intends to speed up the pace of its launches in order to achieve its target by 2022, which will enable it to offer global network coverage to its customers.

Getting ramped and operational is key to OneWeb being able to generate revenue from its offering. The company is also competing with major, well-capitalized LEO networks being created by both SpaceX and Amazon – but we heard from Amazon’s Dave Limp just this past week at TC Sessions: Space that there should be plenty of room for multiple winners in the LEO broadband market, since there’s no shortage of demand for high-quality connectivity at a global scale.

While OneWeb’s arrangement with Bharti and the UK has helped it emerge from bankruptcy, Bharti founder and Chairman Sunil Mittal noted earlier this week that the company will likely need to raise a total of $2.5 billion to finish its constellation – half of which is provided by the UK/Bharti consortium.

#aerospace, #amazon, #bharti-global, #broadband, #chairman, #oneweb, #outer-space, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #telecommunications, #uk-government, #united-kingdom

Food robotics startup Karakuri unveils automated canteen, plus $8.4M investment led by firstminute

Last week I witnessed for myself how a new kind of robot really could — as sci-fi has been telling us for many years — create and serve us food. Today, Karakuri, a food robotics startup, unveils its first automated canteen to make meals: the “DK-One” robot. It’s also revealing a $8.4 million (£6.3million) investment, led by firstminute capital, which includes funding from Hoxton Ventures, Taylor Brothers, Ocado Group and the UK’s government-backed Future Fund. It has now closed a total of £13.5m in funding.

Karakuri’s robotic system has been initially designed to make breakfast bowls. But the technology will end up being employed in a large array of scenarios, including restaurants, canteens, buffets, hotels and supermarkets. Posibly even tending vertical farms. It’s particular strength is in being able to create extremely tailor-made combinations of food, putting ‘personalized nutrition’ within practical reach. Remember those movies where the food is tailored by a robot? That.

The post-Covid world is also highly likely to embrace this technology due to the robot’s inherent cleanliness and efficiency, compared to human-made food. That said, Karakuri is not positioned to replace humans but to augment them, taking on the boring and repetitive tasks which typically see kitchen staff have far more itinerant careers due to the sheer pressure of low-level jobs where a robot would be far more suitable.

The DK-One robot is Karakuri’s first pre-production machine which uses the latest in robotics, sensing and control technologies. It’s capable of creating high quality hot and cold meals, which maximize nutritional benefits, restaurant performance and minimize food waste.

Post-COVID restrictions, further on-customer-site trials of the DK-One are expected to take place in the first half of 2021.

The DK-One robot zips around a circular enclosure at a rate of knots, each time measuring accurate portion sizes as determined by an app, where the customer can tailor to their tastes. It means anyone ordering something would be able to track the ingredients, nutrients, calories, and quantity of literally every meal.

Up to 18 ingredients can be dispensed per installation, with each ingredient temperature controlled. It will dispense of any ingredient type including wet, dry, soft, or hard food onto plates, bowls, or a range of meal containers

Because it’s so accurate it, therefore, reduces food waste around portions and allows for real-time data on ingredients. The thin margins restaurateurs typically have could be improved by using such a robot in repetitive tasks, and means employees can be tasked with more complex and fruitful and fulfilling work. It’s also easily integrated into existing commercial kitchens.

Barney Wragg, CEO and co-founder of Karakuri, said in a statement: “This will be the first time we can use a pre-production machine to demonstrate the DK-One’s commercial and nutritional benefits in the real world and thus demonstrate our vision for the future of food.”

Karakuri was founded by Simon Watt and Wragg, two longtime friends and colleagues who previously worked together at ARM. In April 2018 the Founders Factory venture studio invested in Karakuri and Brent Hoberman joined the board as Chairman and is also listed as a co-founder.

#brent-hoberman, #chairman, #co-founder, #europe, #food, #food-waste, #hoxton-ventures, #karakuri, #robot, #tc, #united-kingdom