The hidden benefits of adding a CTO to your board

The pandemic forced companies around the world to adjust to a “new normal,” which caused many leaders to pivot their business strategies and adopt new technologies to continue operations. In a time of chaos and change, there is no senior leader that can navigate this sort of change better than a CTO.

Not only do CTOs understand the ever-changing tech landscape, they also provide invaluable insights to help organizations go beyond traditional IT conversations and leverage technology to successfully scale businesses.

Boards are facing pressure to be strategic and thoughtful on how to evolve in the rapidly iterating world of technology, and a CTO is uniquely positioned to address specific challenges.

There are now more reasons than ever to consider adding a CTO to your board. As a CTO myself, I know how important and impactful it can be to have technical-minded leaders on a company’s board of directors. At a time when companies are accelerating their digital transformation, it’s critical to have diverse technical perspectives and people from varying backgrounds, as transformations are a mix of people, process and technology.

Drawing on my experience on Lightbend’s board of directors, here are five hidden benefits of making space at the table for a CTO.

A unique mind (and skill) set

Currently, most boards of directors are composed of former CEOs, CFOs and investors. While such executives bring vast experience, they have very specific expertise, and that frequently does not include technical proficiency. In order for a company to be successful, your board needs to have people with different backgrounds and expertise.

Inviting different perspectives forces companies out of the groupthink mentality and find new, creative solutions to their problems. Diverse perspectives aren’t just about the title –– racial ethnicity and gender diversity are clearly a play here as well.

Deep understanding of tech

For a product-led company, having a CTO who has been close to product development and innovation can bring deep insights and understanding to the boardroom. Boards are facing pressure to be strategic and thoughtful on how to evolve in the rapidly iterating world of technology, and a CTO is uniquely positioned to address specific challenges.

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Google spinoff Cartken and REEF Technologies launch Miami’s first delivery robots

Self-driving and robotics startup Cartken has partnered with REEF Technologies, a startup that operates parking lots and neighborhood hubs, to bring self-driving delivery robots to the streets of downtown Miami.

With this announcement, Cartken officially comes out of stealth mode. The company, founded by ex-Google engineers and colleagues behind the unrequited Bookbot, was formed to develop market-ready tech in self-driving, AI-powered robotics and delivery operations in 2019, but the team has kept operations under wraps until now. This is Cartken’s first large deployment of self-driving robots on sidewalks.

After a few test months, the REEF-branded electric-powered robots are now delivering dinner orders from REEF’s network of delivery-only kitchens to people located within a 3/4-mile radius in downtown Miami. The robots, which are insulated and thus can preserve the heat of a plate of spaghetti or other hot food, are pre-stationed at designated logistics hubs and dispatched with orders for delivery as the food is prepared.

“We want to show how future-forward Miami can be,” Matt Lindenberger, REEF’s chief technology officer, told TechCrunch. “This is a great chance to show off the capabilities of the tech. The combination of us having a big presence in Miami, the fact that there are a lot of challenges around congestion as Covid subsides, still shows a really good environment where we can show how this tech can work.”

Lindenberg said Miami is a great place to start, but it’s just the beginning, with potential for the Cartken robots to be used for REEF’s other last-mile delivery businesses. Currently, only two restaurant delivery robots are operating in Miami, but Lindenberger said the company is planning to expand further into the city and outward into Fort Lauderdale, as well as other large metros the company operates in, such as Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and eventually New York.

Lindenberger is hoping the presence of robots in the streets can act as a “force multiplier” allowing them to scale while maintaining quality of service in a cost-effective way.

“We’re seeing an explosion in deliveries right now in a post-pandemic world and we foresee that to continue, so these types of no-contact, zero-emission automation techniques are really critical,” he said.

Cartken’s robots are powered by a combination of machine learning and rules-based programming to react to every situation that could occur, even if that just means safely stopping and asking for help, Christian Bersch, CEO of Cartken, told TechCrunch. REEF would have supervisors on site to remotely control the robot if needed, a caveat that was included in the 2017 legislation that allowed for the operation of self-driving delivery robots in Florida.

“The technology at the end of the day is very similar to that of a self-driving car,” said Bersch. “The robot is seeing the environment, planning around obstacles like pedestrians or lampposts. If there’s an unknown situation, someone can help the robot out safely because it can stop on a dime. But it’s important to also have that level of autonomy on the robot because it can react in a split second, faster than anybody remotely could, if something happens like someone jumps in front of it.”

REEF marks specific operating areas on the map for the robots and Cartken tweaks the configuration for the city, accounting for specific situations a robot might need to deal with, so that when the robots are given a delivery address, they can make moves and operate like any other delivery driver. Only this driver has an LTE connection and is constantly updating its location so REEF can integrate it into its fleet management capabilities.

Image Credits: REEF/Cartken

Eventually, Lindenberger said, they’re hoping to be able to offer the option for customers to choose robot delivery on the major food delivery platforms REEF works with like Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash or GrubHub. Customers would receive a text when the robot arrives so they could go outside and meet it. However, the tech is not quite there yet.

Currently the robots only make it street-level, and then the food is passed off to a human who delivers it directly to the door, which is a service that most customers prefer. Navigating into an apartment complex and to a customer’s unit is difficult for a robot to manage just yet, and many customers aren’t quite ready to interact directly with a robot. 

“It’s an interim step, but this was a path for us to move forward quickly with the technology without having any other boundaries,” said Lindenberger. “Like with any new tech, you want to take it in steps. So a super important step which we’ve now taken and works very well is the ability to dispatch robots within a certain radius and know that they’re going to arrive there. That in and of itself is a huge step and it allows us to learn what kind of challenges you have in terms of that very last step. Then we can begin to work with Cartken to solve that last piece. It’s a big step just being able to do this automation.”

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This Y Combinator startup is taking lab grown meat upscale with elk, lamb, and wagyu beef cell lines

Last week a select group of 20 employees and guests gathered at an event space on the San Francisco Bay, and, while looking out at the Bay Bridge dined on a selection of choice elk sausages, wagyu meatloaf, and lamb burgers — all of which were grown from a petrie dish.

The dinner was a coming out party for Orbillion Bio, a new startup pitching today in Y Combinator’s latest demo day, that’s looking to take lab-grown meats from the supermarket to high end, bespoke butcher shops.

Instead of focusing on pork, chicken and beef, Orbillion is going after so-called heritage meats — the aforementioned elk, lamb, and wagyu beef to start.

By focusing on more expensive end products, Orbillion doesn’t have as much pressure to slash costs as dramatically as other companies in the cellular meat market, the thinking goes.

But there’s more to the technology than its bourgie beef, elite elk, and luscious lamb meat.

“Orbillion uses a unique accelerated development process producing thousands of tiny tissue samples, constantly iterating to find the best tissue and media combinations,” according to Holly Jacobus, whose firm, Joyance Partners, is an early investor in Orbillion. “This is much less expensive and more efficient than traditional methods and will enable them to respond quickly to the impressive demand they’re already experiencing.”

The company runs its multiple cell lines through a system of small bioreactors. Orbillion couples that with a high throughput screening and machine learning software system to build out a database of optimized tissue and media combinations. “The key to making lab grown meat work scalably is choosing the right cells cultured in the most efficient way possible,” Jacobus wrote.

Co-founded by a deeply technical and highly experienced team of executives that’s led by Patricia Bubner, a former researcher at the German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim. Joining Bubner is Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, a former director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, who was a post-doc at Berkeley with Bubner and serves as the company’s chief technology officer. Rounding out the senior leadership is Samet Yildirim, the chief operating officer at Orbillion and a veteran executive of Boehringer Ingelheim (he actually served as Bubner’s boss).

Orbillion Bio co-founders Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, CTO, Patricia Bubner, CEO, and Samet Yildirim, COO. Image Credit: Orbillion Bio

For Bubner, the focus on heritage meats is as much a function of her background growing up in rural Austria as it is about economics. A longtime, self-described foodie and a nerd, Bubner went into chemistry because she ultimately wanted to apply science to the food business. And she wants Orbillion to make not just meat, but the most delicious meats.

It’s an aim that fits with how many other companies have approached the market when they’re looking to commercialize a novel technology. Higher end products, or products with unique flavor profiles that are unique to the production technologies available are more likely to be commercially viable sooner than those competing with commodity products. Why focus on angus beef when you focus on a much more delicious breed of animal?

For Bubner, it’s not just about making a pork replacement, it’s about making the tastiest pork replacement.

“I’m just fascinated and can see the future in us being able to further change the way we produce food to be more efficient,” she said. “We’re at this inflection point. I’m a nerd, i’m a foodie and I really wanted to use my skills to make a change. I wanted to be part of that group of people that can really have an impact on the way we eat. For me there’s no doubt that a large percentage of our food will be from alternative proteins — plant based, fermentation, and lab-grown meat.”

Joining Boehringer Ingelheim was a way for Bubner to become grounded in the world of big bioprocessing. It was preparation for her foray into lab grown meat, she said.

“We are a product company. Our goal is to make the most flavorful steaks. Our first product will not be whole cuts of steak. The first product is going to be a Wagyu beef product that we plan on putting out in 2023,” Bubner said. “It’s a product that’s going to be based on more of a minced product. Think Wagyu sashimi.”

To get to market, Bubner sees the need not just for a new approach to cultivating choice meats, but a new way of growing other inputs as well, from the tissue scaffolding needed to make larger cuts that resemble traditional cuts of meat, or the fats that will need to be combined with the meat cells to give flavor.

That means there are still opportunities for companies like Future Fields, Matrix Meats, and Turtle Tree Scientific to provide inputs that are integrated into the final, branded product.

Bubner’s also thinking about the supply chain beyond her immediate potential partners in the manufacturing process. “Part of my family were farmers and construction workers and the others were civil engineers and architects. I hold farmers in high respect… and think the people who grow the food and breed the animals don’t get recognition for the work that they do.”

She envisions working in concert with farmers and breeders in a kind of licensing arrangement, potentially, where the owners of the animals that produce the cell lines can share in the rewards of their popularization and wider commercial production.

That also helps in the mission of curbing the emissions associated with big agribusiness and breeding and raising livestock on a massive scale. If you only need a few animals to make the meat, you don’t have the same environmental footprint for the farms.

“We need to make sure that we don’t make the mistakes that we did in the past that we only breed animals for yield and not for flavor,” said Bubner. 

Even though the company is still in its earliest days, it already has one letter of intent, with one of San Francisco’s most famous butchers. Guy Crims, also known as “Guy the Butcher” has signed a letter of intent to stock Orbillion Bio’s lab grown Wagyu in his butcher shop, Bubner said. “He’s very much a proponent of lab-grown meat.”

Now that the company has its initial technology proven, Orbillion is looking to scale rapidly. It will take roughly $3.5 million for the company to get a pilot plant up and running by the end of 2022 and that’s in addition to the small $1.4 million seed round the company has raised from Joyant and firms like VentureSoukh.

“The way i see an integrated model working later on is to have the farmers be the breeders of animals for cultivated meat. That can reduce the number of cows on the planet to a couple of hundred thousand,” Bubner said of her ultimate goal. “There’s a lot of talking about if you do lab grown meat you want to put me out of business. It’s not like we’re going to abolish animal agriculture tomorrow.”

Image Credit: Getty Images

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Bill Gates wants Western countries to eat “synthetic meat”; Meatable has raised $47 million to make it

In a recent interview discussing Bill Gates’ recent book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster“, the Microsoft and Breakthrough Energy founder (and the world’s third wealthiest man) advocated for citizens of the richest countries in the world to switch to diets consisting entirely of what he called synthetic meat in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Gates’ call is being met by startups and public companies hailing from everywhere from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, London to Los Angeles, and Berkeley to… um… Chicago.

Indeed, two of the best funded companies in the lab-grown meat market hail from The Netherlands, where Mosa Meat is being challenged by a newer upstart, Meatable, which just announced $47 million in new financing.

The company aims to have its first product approved by European regulators by 2023 and notching commercial sales by 2025.

Meatable has a long road ahead of it, because, as Gates acknowledged in his interview with MIT Technology Review (ed. note: I’m available for a call, too, Bill), “the people like Memphis Meats who do it at a cellular level—I don’t know that that will ever be economical.”

Beyond the economics, there’s also the open question of whether consumers will be willing to make the switch to lab grown meat. Some companies, like the San Francisco-based Just Foods and Tel Aviv’s Supermeat are already selling chicken patties and nuggets made from cultured cells at select restaurants.

These products don’t get at the full potential for cellular technology according to Daan Luining, Meatable’s chief technology officer. “We have seen the nugget and the chicken burger, but we’re working on whole muscle tissue,” Luining said.

The sheer number of entrants in the category — and the capital they’ve raised — points to the opportunity for several winners if companies can walk the tightrope balancing cost at scale and quality replacements for free range food.

“The mission of the company is to be a global leader in providing proteins for the planet. Pork and beef and regularly eaten cuts have on environmental and land management,” Luining said. “The technology that we are using allows us to go into different species. First we’re focused on the animals that have the biggest impact on climate change and planetary health.”

For Meatable right now, price remains an issue. The company is currently producing meat at roughly $10,000 per pound, but, unlike its competitors, the company said it is producing whole meat. That’s including the fat and connective tissue that makes meat… well… meat.

Now with 35 employees and new financing, the company is trying to shift from research and development into a food production company. Strategic investors like DSM, one of the largest food biotech companies in Europe should help. So should angel investors like Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, the executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; and Dr. Rick Klausner, the former executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a founder of Juno Therapeutics, GRAIL, and Mindstrong Health, after leaving Illumina where he served as chief medical officer.

Institutional investors in the company’s latest round include Google Ventures founder Bill Maris’ new fund, Section 32,  and existing investors like: BlueYard Capital, Agronomics, Humboldt, and Taavet Hinrikus. 

The company’s first commercial offering will likely be a lab-grown pork product, but with expanded facilities in Delft, the location of one of the top universities in The Netherlands, a beef product may not be far behind.

“[Meatable has] a great team and game-changing technology that can address the challenges around the global food insecurity issues our planet is facing,” said Klausner. “They have all the right ingredients to become the leading choice for sustainably and efficiently produced meat.”


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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.

 

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Wireless charging tech developer Powermat pivots to industrial applications with Jetsons Robotics partnerhsip

When the two year-old Indian company Jetsons Robotics began searching for a partner to help design charging stations for their autonomous rooftop solar installation cleaning robots, the Israeli company Powermat was an obvious choice.

While the company had made its name as the designer for wireless charging technologies for consumer electronics, over the past two years the company was shifting its focus to more industrial applications. So it made sense to work with the Indian company on new form factors and applications for its charging technologies.

Indeed, the consumer market that Powermat had hoped to capture had been, by that point, broadly commoditized, so the tech developer needed a new direction.

Cleaning rooftop solar installations can be a costly endeavor, running companies anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 per year, according to Jetsons Robotics chief executive, Jatin Sharma. The use of robots to replace human labor can save money, but the autonomous solution that the company wanted to build necessitated some kind of wireless charging dock, he said.

Contact-based charging meant too many variables in the outdoor environment, but an inductive charger would be too costly. Until the company worked with Powermat on a solution, Sharma said.

Backed by 100x.vc, Sharma’s robots are already cleaning roughly 1.7 megawatts of solar installations on a daily basis.

For Powermat, the solar cleaning robots are a good test of the company’s new industrial focus, according to chief technology officer Itay Sherman.

“You can look at it like maturation of the market,” Sherman said. “Powermat had been a pioneer in driving wireless technology. This market is maturing and we are moving on to markets where the technology and innovation is important. We have decided to shift our efforts to these emerging markets. Robotics is one, medical devices, IOT, and the automotive market are others.”

 

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Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners looks to make CA power grids more reliable with a $100 million investment

Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, the investment firm which spun out of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to fund and develop the next generation of infrastructure, has unveiled its latest project — Reslia, which focuses on upgrading the efficiency and reliability of power grids.

Through a $20 million equity investment in the startup OhmConnect, and an $80 million commitment to develop a demand response program leveraging OhmConnect’s technology and services across the state of California, Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners intends to plant a flag for demand-response technologies as a key pathway to ensuring stable energy grids across the country.

‘We’re creating a virtual power plant,” said Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners co-CEO, Jonathan Winer. “With a typical power plant … it’s project finance, but for a virtual power plant… We’re basically going to subsidize the rollout of smart devices.”

The idea that people will respond to signals from the grid isn’t a new one, as Winer himself acknowledged in an interview. But the approach that Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners is taking, alongside OhmConnect, to roll out the incentives to residential customers through a combination of push notifications and payouts, is novel. “The first place people focused is on commercial and industrial buildings,” he said. 

What drew Sidewalk to the OhmConnect approach was the knowledge of the end consumer that OhmConnect’s management team brought to the table The company’s chief technology officer was the former chief technology officer of Zynga, Winer noted.

“What’s cool about the OhmConnect platform is that it empowers participation,” Winer said. “Anyone can enroll in these programs. If you’re an OhmConnect user and there’s a blackout coming, we’ll give you five bucks if you turn down your thermostat for the next two hours.”

Illustration of Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners Resilia Power Plant. Image Credit: Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners

The San Francisco-based demand-response company already has 150,000 users on its platform, and has paid out something like $1 million to its customers during the brownouts and blackouts that have roiled California’s electricity grid over the past year.

The first collaboration between OhmConnect and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners under the Resilia banner will be what the companies are calling a “Resi-Station” — a 550 megawatt capacity demand response program that will use smart devices to power targeted energy reductions.

At full scale, the companies said that the project will be the largest residential virtual power plant in the world. 

“OhmConnect has shown that by linking together the savings of many individual consumers, we can reduce stress on the grid and help prevent blackouts,” said OhmConnect CEO Cisco DeVries. “This investment by SIP will allow us to bring the rewards of energy savings to hundreds of thousands of additional Californians – and at the same time build the smart energy platform of the future.” 

California’s utilities need all the help they can get. Heat waves and rolling blackouts spread across the state as it confronted some of its hottest temperatures over the summer. California residents already pay among the highest residential power prices in the counry at 21 cents per kilowatt hour, versus a national average of 13 cents.

During times of peak stress earlier in the year, OhmConnect engaged its customers to reduce almost one gigawatt hour of total energy usage. That’s the equivalent of taking 600,000 homes off the grid for one hour.

If the Resilia project was rolled out at scale, the companies estimate they could provide 5 gigawatt hours of energy conservation — that’s the full amount of the energy shortfall from the year’s blackouts and the equivalent of not burning 3.8 million pounds of coal.

Going forward, the Resilia energy efficiency and demand response platform will scale up other infrastructure innovations as energy grids shift from centralized power to distributed, decentralized generation sources, the company said. OhmConnect looks to be an integral part of that platform.

“The energy grid used to be uni-directional.. .we believe that in the near future the grid is going to be become bi-directional and responsive,” said Winer. “With our approach, this won’t be one investment. We’ll likely make multiple investments. [Vehicle-to-grid], micro-grid platforms, and generative design are going to be important.” 

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Florida-based logistics provider ShipMonk raises $290 million on the back of rising eCommerce demand

Jan Bednar started ShipMonk with $70,000 in winnings from a string of student business plan competitions and launched the business that just closed on $290 million in new funding from a small warehouse with no air conditioning in the middle of Florida.

While Bednar’s new offices are still inside the warehouse his company operates, they now have air conditioning… and a $290 million financing round from Summit Partners to grow its business.

The Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based ShipMonk provides a slew of shipping and logistics services for small to medium-sized eCommerce businesses and right now — given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic — business is good.

We help SMBs and mid-market direct to consumer companies manage their supply chains. Help get their products from suppliers to facilities and connect with all of their sales channels including B2B … order management, transportation management, reverse logistics,” said Bednar. 

The company’s largest customers can book anywhere from $150 million to $250 million in revenue, but most of ShipMonk’s customers are actually small businesses pulling in between $1 million and $10 million on average.

It’s for these businesses that ShipMonk will fill its warehouses in Pennsylvania, California and Florida with 60,000 stock keeping units — managing around 50 different items for each customer it serves.

Bednar said ShipMonk would use the new cash to continue to upgrade its automation services and increase its staffing while also looking to expand internationally.

Profitable from the outset, ShipMonk just came off one of its best years, taking in upwards of $140 million in revenue. 

Bednar began the business alone, but quickly brought on co-founders Kevin Seitz, who handles marketing for the business, and Bosch Jares, a fellow native of the Czech Republic (like Bednar) who serves as the company’s chief technology officer.

The story of how Jares joined the business is indicative of the type of hustle that’s allowed Bednar to grow a booming tech and logistics business from the Ft. Lauderdale beaches.

It was the Florida weather that sold Jares, a college student from one of the Czech Republic’s top technical institutions, on the move to ShipMonk. Bednar had posted an internship opportunity to work (unpaid, but offering room and board) at his company on a college job board in the middle of January. The applications came pouring in, but it was Jares, a programmer who had been working with computers since age 14 who took the slot.

The rest… is ShipMonk history. Jares built the bulk of the backend for the company’s initial services spending nearly 20 hours a day coding.

 The thriftiness and hard work has won ShipMonk a booming business that has grown from 15,000 square feet of warehousing space into nearly 1 million square feet of storage space and a logistics service that spans the U.S. 

Timing for the new round couldn’t be better, as National Retail Federation estimates are banking on a 20% bump in new online sales — which could reach $202 billion this year. 

Black Friday alone raked in $9 billion in online purchases, according to data from Adobe Analytics provided by the company, and consumer spending is only going to continue to move online as the pandemic continues to threaten the health and safety of American consumers.  

ShipMonk’s technology integrates with shopping cart and marketplace platforms like Shopify to import orders across sales channels, which are then processed at the company’s warehouse locations. Customers can save up to 50% on their operational costs, according to the company.

“We believe ShipMonk truly demonstrates the power of a bootstrapped, durable growth mindset. Jan identified a significant gap in the market and, together with the ShipMonk team, has scaled the business in a deliberate and capital efficient manner to address that need. The results have been impressive,” said Christopher Dean, a Managing Director at Summit Partners who is taking a seat on the company’s board. 

 

#articles, #business, #california, #chief-technology-officer, #czech-republic, #e-commerce, #florida, #logistics, #online-purchases, #online-sales, #online-shopping, #order-management, #pennsylvania, #programmer, #shopify, #summit-partners, #supply-chain-management, #tc, #united-states

0

Splunk acquires network observability service Flowmill

Data platform Splunk continues to make acquisitions as it works to build out its recently launched observability platform. After acquiring Plumbr and Rigor last month, the company today announced that it has acquired Flowmill, a Palo Alto-based network observability startup. Flowmill focuses on helping its users find network performance issues in their cloud infrastructure in real time and measure their traffic by service to help them control cost.

Like so many other companies in this space now, Flowmill utilizes eBPF, the Linux kernel’s relatively new capability to run sandboxed code inside it without having to change the kernel or load kernel modules. That makes it ideal for monitoring applications.

“Observability technology is rapidly increasing in both sophistication and ability to help organizations revolutionize how they monitor their infrastructure and applications. Flowmill’s innovative NPM solution provides real-time observability into network behavior and performance of distributed cloud applications, leveraging extended Berkeley Packet Filter (eBPF) technologies,” said Tim Tully, Splunk’s chief technology officer. “We’re excited to bring Flowmill’s visionary NPM technology into our Observability Suite as Splunk continues to deliver best-in-class observability capabilities to our customers.”

While Spunk has made some larger acquisitions, including its $1.05 billion purchase of SignalFx, it’s building out its observability platform by picking up small startups that offer very specific capabilities. It could probably build all of these features in-house, but the company clearly believes that it has to move fast to get a foothold in this growing market as enterprises look for new observability tools as they modernize their tech stacks.

“Flowmill’s approach to building systems that support full-fidelity, real-time, high-cardinality ingestions and analysis aligns well with Splunk’s vision for observability,” said Flowmill CEO Jonathan Perry. “We’re thrilled to join Splunk and bring eBPF, next-generation NPM to the Splunk Observability Suite.”

The companies didn’t disclose the purchase price, but Flowmill previously raised funding from Amplify, Felicis Ventures, WestWave Capital and UpWest.

#ceo, #chief-technology-officer, #cloud-applications, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #data-security, #linux, #npm, #palo-alto, #real-time, #software, #splunk, #system-administration, #tc

0

Index ventures into Latin America to back Sofia, a Mexico City-based telemedicine and health insurer

Arturo Sanchez and his co-founders have spent the past two years developing the telemedicine and insurance platform, Sofia, as a way to give customers across Mexico better access to quality healthcare through their insurance plan.

Along with his co-founders, Sebastian Jimenez, a former Google employee who serves as the company’s chief product officer, and Manuel Andere an ex-Patreon employee who’s now Sofia’s chief technology officer, Sanchez  (a former Index Ventures employee) is on a path to provide low-cost insurance for middle class consumers across Latin America, starting in Mexico City.

Backing that vision are a clutch of regional and international investors including Kaszek Ventures, Ribbit Capital, and Index Ventures. When Index Ventures came in to lead the company’s $19 million round earlier this year, it was the first commitment that the venture firm had made in Latin America, but given the strength of the market, it likely won’t be their last.

In Sofia, Index has found a good foothold from which to expand its activity. The company which initially started as a telemedicine platform recently received approvals to operate as an insurer as well — part of a long-term vision for growth where it provides a full service health platform for customers.

Founded by three college friends who graduated from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (Mexico’s version of MIT), the company initially launched with COVID-19 related telemedicine service as the pandemic took hold in Mexico.

That service was a placeholder for what Sanchez said was the broader company vision. And while that product alone had 10,000 users signed up for it, the new vision is broader.

“We registered as an insurance company because we want to go deeper into people’s health. We have built a telemedicine solution, which is a core component of the product. The goal is to be an integrated provider that provide primary care and handles more significant types of illnesses,” said Sanchez.

The company already has a core group of 100 physicians in Mexico City and initially will be serving the city with 70 different specialist areas.

All the virtual consultations are covered without an additional payment and in-person or specialty consultations come at a 30% reduced rate to an out-of-pocket payment, according to Sanchez.

Fees depend on age and gender, but Sanchez said a customer would typically pay around $500 per-year or roughly between $40 and $50 per-month.

The company covers 70% of the cost of most treatments that’s capped at $2,000 per-year and coverage maxes out at $75,000. “In Mexico that covers north of 98% of all illnesses or treatment episodes,” said Sanchez.

In Mexico, insurance is even less common than in the US.

90% of private health spend happens out of pocket. The problem that we’re trying to solve is for these people that are already spending money on healthcare but doing it in an unpredictable and risky way,” said Sanchez. “They buy [our service] and they have access to great quality healthcare that they buy it and it’s a significant step up from what they’ve been living with.”

 

#articles, #chief-technology-officer, #google, #heal, #healthcare, #insurance, #kaszek-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #mit, #ribbit-capital, #science-and-technology, #tc, #technology, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #united-states

0

Merging Airbnb and the traditional hotel model, Mexico City’s Casai raises $23 million to grow in Latin America

With travel and tourism rising across Latin America, Casai, a startup combining Airbnb single unit rentals with hotel room amenities, has raised $23 million to expand its business across Latin America.

The company, which initially was as hit hard by regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as other businesses in the hospitality industry has recovered to reach nearly 90 percent of total capacity on the 200 units it manages around Mexico City.

The company was co-founded by chief executive Nico Barawid, a former head of international expansion at Nova Credit and consultant with BCG, and chief operating officer María del Carmen Herrerías Salazar, who previously worked at one of Mexico’s largest hotel operators, Grupo Presidente.

The two met two years ago at a barbecue in Mexico City and began speaking about ways to update the hospitality industry taking the best of Airbnb’s short term rental model of individual units and pairing it with the quality control and standards that guests expect from a hotel chain.

“I wanted to define a product from a consumer angle,” said Barawid. “I wanted this to exist.”

Before the SARS-Cov-2 outbreak Casai’s units were primarily booked through travel partners like HotelTonight or Expedia. Now the company has a direct brisk direct booking business thanks to the work of its chief technology officer, a former engineer at Google named Andres Martinez.

The company’s new financing was led by Andreessen Horowitz and included additional commitments from the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, Kaszek Ventures, Monashees Capital, Global Founders Capital, Liquid 2 Ventures, and individual investors including the founders of Nova Credit, Loft, Kavak and Runa.

Casai also managed to nab a debt facility of up to $25 million from TriplePoint Capital, bringing its total cash haul to $48 million in equity and debt.

Image Credit: Casai

The big round is in part thanks to the company’s compelling value proposition, which offers guest not only places to stay equipped with a proprietary smart hardware hub and the Casai app, but also a Google Home, smart lights, and Chromecast-kitted televisions, but also a lounge where guests can stay ahead of their check-in or after check-out.

And while the company’s vision is focused on Latin America now, its management team definitely sees the opportunity to create a global brand and business.

The founding team also includes a chief revenue officer, Alberto Ramos, who worked at McKinsey and a chief growth officer, Daniel Hermann, who previously worked at the travel and lifestyle company, Selina. The head of design, Alexa Backal, used to work at GAIA Design, and its vice president of experience, Cristina Crespo, formerly ran WeWork’s international design studio.

“To successfully execute on this opportunity, a team needs to bring together expertise from consumer technology, design, hospitality, real estate and financial services to develop world-class operations needed to deliver on a first-class experience,” said Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who’s taking a seat on the Casai board. “It was obvious when I met Nico and Maricarmen that they are operationally laser-focused and have uniquely blended expertise across verticals, with unique views on the consumer experience.”

#airbnb, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #angela-strange, #chief-operating-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #engineer, #financial-services, #general-partner, #global-founders-capital, #hoteltonight, #kaszek-ventures, #laser, #latin-america, #liquid-2-ventures, #mckinsey, #mexico, #mexico-city, #monashees-capital, #nova-credit, #real-estate, #runa, #selina, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #triplepoint-capital, #vacation-rental, #wework

0

Austin-based EmPath’s employee training and re-skilling service snags seed funding from B Capital

By the time Felix Ortiz III left the Army in 2006, the Brooklyn, NY native had spent time taking classes at the City University of New York and St. John’s. Those experiences led him to found ViridisLearning, which aimed to give universities a better way to track student development to help graduates land jobs.

Now he’s taken the learnings of that attempt to reshape education into the corporate world and raised over $1 million in financing from investors including B Capital, the investment firm launched jointly by the Boston Consulting Group and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, and Subversive Capital.

The goal of Ortiz’s newest startup, EmPath, is to provide corporate employees with a clear picture of their current skills based on the work they’re already doing at a company and give them a roadmap to up-skilling and educational opportunities that could land them a better, higher paying job.

The company has an initial customer in AT&T, which has rolled out its services across its entire organization, according to Ortiz.

From starting out in a shared apartment in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, Ortiz’s family history took a turn as his father became assistant speaker of the house in New York’s legislature and his mother operated a mental health clinic in the city.

When Ortiz enlisted in the Army at 17, he continued to pursue his education, and served as a Judge Advocate General for the Army at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. From there, Ortiz launched his first education venture, a failed startup that attempted to teach skills for renewable energy jobs online. The Green University may no longer exist, but it was the young entrepreneur’s first foray into education.

A road that would continue with ViridisLearning and lead to the launch of EmPath.

Along the way, Ortiz enlisted the help of an experienced developer in the online education space — Adam Blum.

The creator of OpenEd, the largest educational open resource catalog online, which used machine learning to infer skills from the online activity of children, and the founder of Auger.ai, a toolkit to bring machine learning and predictive modeling to skill development, Blum immediately saw the opportunity EmPath presented.

“Inferring skills for employees using their corporate digital footprint and inferring those skills for potential jobs… where you identified skill gaps using inferred skills for courses to suggest remedial resources to plug education gaps,” just makes sense, Blum said. “It was a much more powerful vision.”

Blum still holds an equity stake in Auger.ai, but considers the work he’s doing with EmPath as the company’s chief technology officer to be his full time job now. “Building this out with felix was more exciting in terms of the impact it would have,” Blum said. 

EmPath already is fully deployed with AT&T and will be adding three Fortune 1,000 companies as customers by the end of the month, according to Ortiz.

The young startup also has a powerful and well-connected supporter in Carlos Gutierrez, the former chief executive officer of Kellogg, and the Secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush White House.

“Lacking a college degree throughout my career, I had to develop my own skills to enable my climb up the corporate ladder. The technology didn’t exist to help guide me, but in today’s world, professionals should not have to upskill blindly,” said former Commerce Secretary and EmPath co-founder Carlos Gutierrez, in a statement. “We created a technology platform that can help transform an organization’s culture by empowering employees and strengthening talent development. This technology was a game changer even before the Covid-19 pandemic, and now that corporate budgets are tighter, it is even more important for companies to accelerate skills development and talent growth.” 

#army, #articles, #att, #b-capital, #bush, #business, #chief-executive-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #co-founder, #economy, #eduardo-saverin, #entrepreneurship, #facebook, #founder, #machine-learning, #north-carolina, #private-equity, #skill, #startup, #startup-company, #tc, #white-house

0

Pitching access management on the fly, Los Angeles-based Britive raises $5.4 million

It seems Los Angeles is becoming an enterprise software hotspot.

LA saw its first big enterprise exit in recent memory with the recent acquisition of Signal Sciences for $775 million, and less than a month later a hometown startup, Britive has raised $5.4 million from LA’s own venture fund, Upfront Ventures and a clutch of security experts.

For chief executive Artyom Poghosyan and chief technology officer Alex Gudanis, Britive is simply the latest initiative in a decades-long effort to reshape security technology.

Both Poghosyan and Gudanis have long histories in identity and access management, back in 2009 Poghosyan founded Advancive Technology Solutions, which was acquired by Optiv in 2015 to bulk up its identity access management service.

Now, he and Gudanis are trying to solve the issues of identity access management that the new, ubiquitous cloud computing model presents for security officers and developers.

“When Optiv acquired us, we were already seeing interesting and strong signals in the technolog space about the disruption that was being driven by cloud technologies,” said Poghosyan.

Those cloud technologies presented new challenges for the kind of privileged access management technologies that Poghosyan had developed.

The solution that Britive pitches is a dynamic model for granting permissions for access, Poghosyan said. Instead of granting permanent access to, there re policy-based pre authorizations that a company can set up defined for specific tasks and roles.

Based on a developer’s role and work, they can request and receive access automatically based on the specific parameters defined by a company or security officer.

The company already has over a dozen customers using its technology after launching merely two years ago. It’s a customer base that includes one of the world’s largest carmakers and a global clothing brand — companies Poghosyan declined to identify, citing contractual obligations.

The company charges based on the number of users who are requesting permission for access, Poghosyan said.

As more companies move to remote work in the COVID-19 era and distributed teams become the norm, streamlining the provisioning and access management process for companies is going to become even more important.

Undoubtedly, that’s why Britive was able to land investors like Upfront Ventures and why their partner, Kara Nortman is joining the company’s board of directors. It’s also the reason the company was able to attract some of LA’s leading enterprise executives to back the company, including Andrew Peterson, CEO of Signal Sciences and Dave Cole, CEO of Open Raven.

 

#access-management, #ceo, #chief-technology-officer, #dave-cole, #identity-access-management, #kara-nortman, #los-angeles, #signal-sciences, #tc

0

Higher Steaks brings home the bacon, revealing lab-grown pork belly and bacon strips

In what could be a starting gun for the commercialization of the cell-based meat business, upstart cultivated meat company Higher Steaks said it has managed to produce samples of its first products — bacon strips and pork belly made in a lab from cellular material.

With the revelation, Higher Steaks, a bootstrapped Cambridge, UK-based company, leapfrogs into a competitive position with a number of far larger companies that have raised far more capital.

“There’s still a lot of work until it’s commercial,” said Higher Steaks chief executive Benjamina Bollag, but the revelation of a pork belly product that’s made from 50 percent cultivated cells and a bacon product which contains 70 percent meat grown from a cell material in a laboratory is something of a milestone for the industry.  

The remaining ingredients in Higher Steaks bacon and pork belly are a mixture of plant based, proteins, fats, and starches to bind the cellular material together. To achieve this first step on its road to commercialization, HIgher Steaks tapped the expertise of an undisclosed chef to formulate the meat into an approximation of the pork belly and bacon.

Higher Steaks head of research and development, Ruth Helen Faram and chief executive Benjamina Bollag Image Credits: Higher Steaks (opens in a new window)

At this stage, the pilot was more to show what Higher Steaks can do rather than what the company will do, said Bollag.

“In the future it will be scaffolding,” said Bollag. “It’s more showing what our meat can do and what we’re working on. In the future it will be with scaffolding.”

A number of companies including Tantti Laboratories, Matrix Meats, and Prellis Biologics all make the kind of biomaterial nano-scale scaffolding that could be used as a frame on which to grow structures equivalent to the fibrous textures of muscle.

The commercial viability of products from companies like Higher Steaks, Memphis Meats, Aleph Farms, Meatable, Integriculture, Mosa Meat and Supermeat, depends on more than just companies like Tantti and Matrix. but also on the ability of Thermo Fisher, Future Fields, and Merck to bring down the cost of the cell cultures that are required to grow the animal cells.

In all, some thirty cell-based meat startups have launched globally since 2014 and they’re all looking for a slice of the $1.4 trillion meat market.

Meanwhile demand for pork continues to rise even as supplies have been decimated by an outbreak of African Swine Fever that could have killed as much as 40 percent of China’s population of pigs in 2019.

“Our mission is to provide meat that is healthy and sustainable without the consumer making any sacrifices on taste,” said Bollag in a statement. “The production of the first ever cultivated bacon and pork belly is proof that new techniques can help meet overwhelming demand for pork products globally.”

Given the highly capitalized competitors that Higher Steaks faces off against, the company is looking for industry partners to help commercialize its technology.

To improve its competitive position, Higher Steaks recently hired Dr. James Clark, the former chief technology officer of PredictImmune.

“I was always quite intrigued by cultured meat production, a mix of both science and food production. In 2013 I watched the first cultured meat burger from Mark Post costing £250k, cooked on the BBC,” said Clark. “I was approached about joining Higher Steaks earlier this year and was attracted to joining primarily by the science along with the ambition and energy of the Higher Steaks founder Benjamina Bollag. I believe Higher Steaks is a company with a technology to be disruptive in the cultured meat area and at my career stage I was looking for a challenge.”

Brought in to scale the cultivated meat process at Higher Steaks, Clark has led the development of biotech and pharma products at early stage and publicly traded companies.

“The addition of Dr James Clark to the team gives Higher Steaks a significant advantage,” said Dr. Ruth Helen Faram, Head of R&D. “Cultivated pork belly and bacon have never been demonstrated before and Higher Steaks is the first to develop a prototype containing over 70% cultivated pork muscle, without the use of bovine serum.”

Consumers shouldn’t expect to see Higher Steaks’ pork belly on store shelves or in restaurants anytime soon, Bollag cautioned. “We’re still in the thousands of pounds per kilogram.”

The company does expect to have a larger tasting event later this year.

#bacon, #cambridge, #cellular-agriculture, #chief-technology-officer, #china, #cultured-meat, #energy, #food-and-drink, #food-production, #head, #matrix, #meat, #meatable, #memphis-meats, #merck, #steak, #supermeat, #tc, #thermo-fisher, #united-kingdom

0

Nuggs rebrands as Simulate with new cash, a new CTO and an expanded line of faux-meat foods

Nuggs, the alternative-meat company founded by serial entrepreneur Ben Pasternak (who previously co-founded the social media app Monkey), has raised $4.1 million and gotten itself a new name and a new CTO as it looks to move beyond chicken nuggets.

Now called Simulate, Pasternak’s startup is readying the launch of new products including spicy nuggets, a “chicken burger product” and, eventually, a hot dog, that required a branding change to befit its newly broadened ambitions in the ultra-competitive industry out to reform consumers’ carnivorous impulses.

Since Pasternak first began pitching his direct to consumer chicken nugget replacements a bit over a year ago, the company has sold 1 million pounds of nuggets. Over the next week, Simulate’s frozen nuggets will make their debut in around 30 Gelson’s supermarkets in California. The company has plans to release its chicken patty within the next few months and a hot dog replacement, DOGGS, in the fourth quarter.

Pasternak began to rebrand earlier this summer when his company launched the second iteration of its nuggets in June.

In addition to his new brand, and new investors including Lerer Hippeau,<span style=”font-weight: 400;”> AgFunder, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian; former Whole Foods chief executive Walter Robb, and model Jasmine Tookes; Pasternak also has a new chief technology officer. 

Bringing Thierry Saint-Denis, the former senior director of research and innovation at Danone, on as CTO is a coup for the company. As a business Nuggs seemed to be more of a marketing play backed by a savvy founder and a frozen food giant that wanted to make a play for the burgeoning market for meat substitutes and replacements. Now, with Saint-Denis, the company brings on a developer of food products that have reached nearly $1 billion in sales who holds over 14 patents related to functional ingredients, probiotics, and enzymes. 

With the new executive in place, new and previous investors like McCain Foods, Rainfall Ventures, Maven Ventures, NOMO Ventures, MTV founder Bob Pittman, and Casper founder Neil Parikh are now backing a company with a bit more technical heft behind it.  

Not that Nuggs wasn’t improving its product line over the past year. Pasternak touts the company’s iterative approach to product development, embodied in its different “release notes” as the company toyed with different formulations.

That software driven approach may also yield other sales options, like a subscription service, Pasternak said. “We have seen this core community of people obsessively purchasing the new versions. We are looking at launching some kind of beta testing subscription thing shortly.”

#alexis-ohanian, #bob-pittman, #casper, #chief-technology-officer, #co-founder, #cto, #initialized, #lerer-hippeau, #tc, #whole-foods

0

Join us June 17 for a live discussion on COVID-19 contact tracing and safe reopening strategies

Contact tracing is a practice almost as old as epidemiology itself, but today’s technology means the way that we go about tracking the spread of a contagious illness within and between communities is changing very quickly. This presents an opportunity for learning more about the opportunities and challenges presented in extending contact tracing and exposure notification via digital means, especially as contact tracing is likely a key ingredient in any successful reopening of economy in light of ongoing challenges posed by COVID-19.

To that end, we’re happy to be working with the COVID-19 Technology Task Force, as well as Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center, NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, Betaworks Studios and Hangar. We’ll be playing host on TC to their live-streamed discussion (embedded above) around contact-tracing and exposure-notification efforts, as well as how and when businesses can safely reopen, and what tools can help them to do so. The day’s events will include panel chats and software demonstrations, beginning at 11 AM EDT (8 AM PDT) on Wednesday, June 17.

Below, we’ve included an agenda of the confirmed speakers and demonstrations for the day, and in case you missed it, here’s a roundup of demonstrations of contact tracing and app demonstrations built by a number of companies thus far. RSVP for tomorrow’s free event here.

Agenda

I. Contact Tracing [11AM – 12:30PM EDT]

Contact tracing: what it is, how it works, how tech can help [11:00 – 11:45AM EDT]

Using technology to enable scaled contact tracing [11:45AM – 12:05PM EDT]

Contact tracing considerations for state and city government [12:05 – 12:30PM EDT]

II. Reopening Businesses Safely [12:30-2:00PM EDT]

Reopening businesses safely [12:30-1:15PM EDT]

Demos of tools business leaders can use to help reopen safely [1:15-2:00PM EDT]

Speakers

Margaret Bourdeaux, MD, MPH, is the policy liaison for Partners in Health COVID-19 Contact Tracing Program, and holds appointments at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Daniel Burka is supporting New York State’s COVID-19 response efforts through Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, a global health initiative led by former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

Mike Flowers is leading implementation for contact tracing technology and data strategy for the State of New Jersey as a Senior Fellow with the NJ Office of Innovation. Over the last 25 years he has worked in data intelligence with companies and federal, state and local governments, including as New York City’s first Chief Analytics Officer under Mayor Mike Bloomberg

Mary L. Gray is a senior principal researcher at Microsoft Research and an Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Fellow at Harvard University.

Jonathan Jackson is the founder and CEO at Dimagi, a social enterprise that develops innovative technology solutions for front-line workforces and underserved populations. They have an extensive background in global health and are a leader in mobile health data collection.

Irina Krechmer is the Chief Technology Officer at Blue Apron, the premier meal-kit company whose mission is to make incredible home cooking accessible to everyone. Before joining Blue Apron, Krechmer most recently served as VP of Engineering at XO Group Inc., the premier technology company with industry-leading digital brands, including The Knot, The Bump, The Nest and GigMasters. Krechmer has over 20 years of experience designing, developing and implementing customer-focused technology solutions, primarily at e-commerce, media and consumer technology companies.

Andrew McLaughlin is helping lead the Task Force’s contact tracing/exposure notification initiative. Andrew is the Chairman of Access Now, the Former Deputy U.S. CTO for the White House, and the Former Director of Global Public Policy at Google.

Andy Moss is currently a Visiting Professor at NYU Tandon teaching entrepreneurship and innovation, as well developing the COR Methodology. He’s an active advisor/mentor to startups and business leaders, and a former Microsoft executive.

Chelsea Raiten is Of Counsel at Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, LLP. Her practice primarily focuses on providing strategic advice and counseling to employers on all aspects of the employment relationship, including hiring and firing practices, layoffs and RIF’s, wage and hour laws, reasonable accommodation, leaves of absence, employee discipline, restrictive covenants, and workplace policies and procedures.

Harper Reed is helping lead the Task Force’s contact-tracing/exposure-notification initiative. Harper is a Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab, a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and was the CTO of Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Mona Sloane is an NYU-based sociologist working on inequality in the context of AI design and policy. At NYU, she helps form NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology, and is Co-Principal Investigator on the COVID-19 Tech Project. Mona also leads the project Terra Incognita: Mapping NYC’s New Digital Public Spaces in the COVID-19 Outbreak.

Connor Spelliscy is Director of New Platforms at Hangar, a partner at Connectivity Fund, and helps lead COVID-19 Tech Task Force initiatives.

Minerva Tantoco has served in senior technology roles at Palm, Merrill Lynch, and UBS, holds four US patents on intelligent workflow, and served as New York City’s first-ever Chief Technology Officer. Most recently, Tantoco co-founded Grasshopper Bank, an OCC-chartered digital de novo commercial bank, and is currently a consultant and speaker on AI, smart cities, digital transformation, and equity in tech.

Randall Thomas is assisting Resolve to Save Lives and other stakeholders with the New York State response to COVID-19. Randall is the CTO of Geometer, a technology incubator.

Jonathan Zittrain is a professor of law and computer science, and co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. Jonathan’s work focuses on topics including control of digital property, privacy frameworks and the roles of intermediaries in internet architecture.

Dr. Margaret (Peggy) Hamburg is the Foreign Secretary of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Dr. Hamburg previously held the post of Commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) and served as Commissioner of Health for the City of New York.

#advisor, #andrew-mclaughlin, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #bank, #barack-obama, #ceo, #chairman, #chief-technology-officer, #co-founder, #contact-tracing, #cto, #daniel-burka, #director, #e-commerce, #executive, #franklin, #google, #harper-reed, #harvard-university, #jonathan-zittrain, #leader, #mayor, #microsoft, #microsoft-research, #minerva-tantoco, #mit-media-lab, #new-jersey, #new-york-city, #new-york-university, #nyu, #palm, #partner, #public-health, #tc, #technology, #ubs, #united-states, #white-house

0

The Station: Audi punts on Level 3, Lyft layoffs and Nio’s $1 billion deal

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hi readers. Welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

While COVID-related stay-at-home orders have been extended in places like the San Francisco Bay area, officials in other counties and states in the U.S. have decided to open up for business. The rest of us are watching and waiting to see how these two experiments play out.

These opposing approaches have managed to create even more tension in the United States. If politics didn’t divide us before, how and when to open amid a health pandemic is proving to be an effective wedge.

The “how” is as important, or even more so, than the “when.” What will life and business look like? Wuhan, China, a transportation and manufacturing metropolis of 11 million people and where COVID-19 started, offers a view into one approach. (The photo below shows a worker disinfecting a bus in Wuhan on April 30.)

China-wuhan-bus-covid

A staff member sprays disinfectant on a bus at a long-distance bus station in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 30, 2020, ahead of the Labor Day holiday which started May 1.

When those stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, returning to work won’t be quick or easy. Wuhan was placed on lockdown January 23. Wuhan officials eased outgoing travel restrictions April 8. While the strictest component of that lockdown has been lifted, many businesses remain closed. Didi didn’t reopened its ride-hailing services in the city until April 30.

In short, it’s going to be complex. Ford’s back-to-work playbook is a case in point. The plan includes a number of daily measures such as online health self-certifications completed before work every day, face masks and no-touch temperature scans upon arrival. But that’s just a sliver of what it will take. Check it out their complete playbook.

Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

I’ll alrighty folks, shall we dig in? Vamos. 

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility. Over at Lyft, the company laid off 982 employees and furloughed 288 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft also permanently ceased scooter operations in Oakland, San Jose and Austin.

“We’re focusing our resources where we can have the biggest impact and best serve cities and riders,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to invest in our bike and scooter business, but have made the tough decision to shift resources away from three scooter markets and toward opportunities where we are set up for longer-term success.”

At Lime, the startup let go 13% of its staff while the very next day relaunching its electric scooters in Baltimore and Ogden, Utah.

“Almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micromobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing,” Lime CEO Brad Bao wrote in a note to employees.

Just one day after those layoffs, the company relaunched scooters in Baltimore to help support essential medical workers as well as in Ogden.

Uber is weighing its own layoffs. The Information reported that the company could cut up to 20% of its staff. That translates to more than 5,000 jobs. Those cuts could be announced in stages over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Thuan Pham, who was hired as Uber’s chief technology officer by former CEO Travis Kalanick back in 2013, is leaving the company in three weeks, the ride-share giant revealed in an SEC filing.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

money the station

Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio secured a $1 billion investment from several state-owned companies in Hefei in return for agreeing to establish headquarters in the city’s economic development hotspot and giving up a stake in one of its business units.

The injection of capital comes from several investors, including Hefei City Construction and Investment Holding Group, CMG-SDIC Capital and Anhui Provincial Emerging Industry Investment Co.

Why deal of the week? The deal alleviates some concerns about Nio’s liquidity. It also marks the latest Chinese EV startup to turn to the state as private capital has shrunk.

There is no free lunch, however. The deal itself is complex and involves some asset shuffling. Nio is transferring its core businesses in China into a new company called Nio China. The investors will get a 24.1% stake in Nio China. The shareholding structure of the parent company is unchanged.

Other deals announced this week are below. Keep in mind that just because a deal is announced that doesn’t mean it closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising rounds often close weeks and even months before they’re announced.

Otonomo, an automotive data services startup based in Israel, raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The company has a software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

KlearNow, a startup that has built a software platform to automate the customs clearance process, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital. Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.

Skycell, a Switzerland-based startup that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport pharmaceuticals has raised $62 million.

A merger between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com has been approved by regulators. The merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.

Cheetah, a San Francisco-based startup that provided a wholesale delivery service and has pivoted to selling to consumers during COVID-19, raised $36 million in Series B funding.

Innovation of the week

Computer vision company Eyesight Technologies has tweaked its driver monitoring system so it can detect driver distraction and drowsiness even while wearing a medical face mask.

This “innovation of the week” gets back to my opening remarks about “how” we get back to work. Face masks will likely be a part of our world for some time.

Driver monitoring systems, which are increasingly being used by commercial fleets, are trained to detect and monitor facial features of the driver. The system will take in data points like head pose, mouth, eyes and eyelids and use the gathered visual data to detect signs of drowsiness and distraction. If the sensor can’t read one or more of these features the system could fail to detect a drowsy truck driver or inattentive transit worker.

Driver Monitoring with mask

Eyesight Technologies

Eyesight Technologies says that its computer vision and AI algorithms have been trained to detect distraction and drowsiness even if a driver is wearing a mask and glasses.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Eyesight Technologies CEO David Tolub said. “Without a concrete end date to the current situation, wearing medical masks may be a reality for the foreseeable future. Eyesight Technologies is forging ahead and adapting to provide a reliable solution to help guarantee safety even under less than ideal circumstances.”

Audi punts on Level 3

Audi has scrapped plans to roll out a Level 3 automated driving system in its A8 flagship sedan. Automotive News Europe broke the story.

The feature, which is branded Traffic Jam Pilot, theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed.

Traffic Jam Pilot was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. It’s now 2020. What happened? Regulations, or lack of them, have been the primary scapegoat. But it’s not quite the whole story.

TechCrunch reached out to Audi to dig into why? In short, the company told us, that it’s complicated. The lack of a legal framework has raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 is now progressing through its generational life cycle. And Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of framework progressing.

Here’s a few tidbits from the folks at Audi.

On the legal framework:

As of now, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving. Consistently it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series production car. It is still very challenging to plan the exact introduction scenarios for level 3 systems, as we continuously moving in an intensive interplay between the findings from ongoing testing and the requirements that legislators and approval authorities are now defining for conditional automated driving.

On development costs:

As these clarifications and safeguards continue to take time, we also monitor economic aspects in addition. This includes development costs, which are summing up continuously. Secondly, the remaining life of the determined target model A8 combined with the forecasted installation rate and the expected market greediness in the individual countries are playing an important role.

This has brought us to the following decision: We will not see the traffic jam pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle.

Audi’s belief in automated driving:

We still believe in the technology of automated driving and today we know better than almost anyone when it comes to the decisive technological key factors. During the development phase we continuously learned more and more technical “unknown unknowns” and developed approaches how to handle the fact, that there will appear more.

Together with the above mentioned dependencies concerning legislation and type approval, we believe that actually it is not the right moment to deliver the function to the customer. This is our attitude of responsibility.

How Audi is moving forward:

An important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive. Our aim more than ever before is to generate the greatest possible synergies.

Within the VW group we therefore have the best preconditions. We have consolidated our efforts to further develop level 3 automated driving in the Car.Software organization. This is a new organization within the Volkswagen Group .

Former Audi managers will be head of two out of the five domains within this new organization: Thomas Müller will manage the automated driving area, and Dr. Klaus Büttner will manage the Intelligent Body&Cockpit area. Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organization is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group.

#audi, #audi-a8, #austin, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #baltimore, #bessemer-venture-partners, #cars, #chief-technology-officer, #china, #covid-19, #driver, #ford, #greatpoint-ventures, #here, #israel, #kirsten-korosec, #klearnow, #labor-day, #lyft, #monta-vista-capital, #netherlands, #oakland, #otonomo, #pharmaceuticals, #pilot, #porsche, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #sedans, #skycell, #software-platform, #takeaway-com, #techcrunch, #thuan-pham, #transportation, #travis-kalanick, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uber, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #utah, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #vw-group

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Can API vendors solve healthcare’s data woes?

A functioning healthcare system depends on caregivers having the right data at the right time to make the right decision about what course of treatment a patient needs.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 epidemic and the acceleration of the consumer adoption of telemedicine, along with the fragmentation of care to a number of different low-cost providers, access to a patient’s medical records to get an accurate picture of their health becomes even more important.

Opening access to developers also could unlock new, integrated services that could give consumers a better window into their own health and consumer product companies opportunities to develop new tools to improve health.

While hospitals, urgent care facilities and health systems have stored patient records electronically for years thanks to laws passed under the Clinton administration, those records were difficult for patients themselves to access. The way the system has been historically structured has made it nearly impossible for an individual to access their entire medical history.

It’s a huge impediment to ensuring that patients receive the best care they possibly can, and until now it’s been a boulder that companies have long tried to roll uphill, only to have it roll over them.

Now, new regulations are requiring that the developers of electronic health records can’t obstruct interoperability and access by applications. Those new rules may unlock a wave of new digital services.

At least that’s what companies like the New York-based startup Particle Health are hoping to see. The startup was founded by a former emergency medical technician and consultant, Troy Bannister, and longtime software engineer for companies like Palantir and Google, Dan Horbatt.

Particle Health is stepping into the breach with an API -based solution that borrows heavily from the work that Plaid and Stripe have done in the world of financial services. It’s a gambit that’s receiving support from investors including Menlo Ventures, Startup Health, Collaborative Fund, Story Ventures and Company Ventures, as well as angel investors from the leadership of Flatiron Health, Clover Health, Plaid, Petal and Hometeam.

Image via Getty Images / OstapenkoOlena

“My first reaction when I met Troy, and he was describing what they’re doing, was that it couldn’t be done,” said Greg Yap, a partner with Menlo Ventures, who leads the firm’s life sciences investments. “We’ve understood how much of a challenge and how much of a tax the lack of easy portability of data puts on the healthcare system, but the problem has always felt like there are so many obstacles that it is too difficult to solve.”

What convinced Yap’s firm, Menlo Ventures, and the company’s other backers, was an ability to provide both data portability and privacy in a way that put patients’ choice at the center of how data is used and accessed, the investor said.

“[A service] has to be portable for it to be useful, but it has to be private for it to be well-used,” says Yap. 

The company isn’t the first business to raise money for a data integration service. Last year, Redox, a Madison, Wis.-based developer of API services for hospitals, raised $33 million in a later-stage round of funding. Meanwhile, Innovaccer, another API developer, has raised more than $100 million from investors for its own take.

Each of these companies is solving a different problem that the information silos in the medical industry presents, according to Patterson. “Their integrations are focused one-to-one on hospitals,” he said. Application developers can use Redox’s services to gain access to medical records from a particular hospital network, he explained. Whereas using Particle Health’s technology, developers can get access to an entire network.

“They get contracts and agreements with the hospitals. We go up the food chain and get contracts with the [electronic medical records],” said Patterson.

One of the things that’s given Particle Health a greater degree of freedom to acquire and integrate with existing healthcare systems is the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016. That law required that the providers of electronic medical records like Cerner and EPIC had to remove any roadblocks that would keep patient data siloed. Another is the Trusted Exchange Framework and Common Agreement, which was just enacted in the past month.

“We don’t like betting on companies that require a change in law to become successful,” said Yap of the circumstances surrounding Particle’s ability to leapfrog well-funded competitors. But the opportunity to finance a company that could solve a core problem in digital healthcare was too compelling.

“What we’re really saying is that consumers should have access to their medical records,” he said.

Isometric Healthcare and technology concept banner. Medical exams and online consultation concept. Medicine. Vector illustration

This access can make consumer wearables more useful by potentially linking them — and the health data they collect — with clinical data used by physicians to actually make care and treatment decisions. Most devices today are not clinically recognized and don’t have any real integration into the healthcare system. Access to better data could change that on both sides.

“Digital health application might be far more effective if it can take into context information in the medical record today,” said Yap. “That’s one example where the patient will get much greater impact from the digital health applications if the digital health applications can access all of the information that the medical system collected.” 

With the investment, which values Particle Health at roughly $48 million, Bannister and his team are looking to move aggressively into more areas of digital healthcare services.

“Right now, we’re focusing on telemedicine,” said Bannister. “We’re moving into the payer space… As it stands today we’re really servicing the third parties that need the records. Our core belief is that patients want control of their data but they don’t want the stewardship.”

The company’s reach is impressive. Bannister estimates that Particle Health can hit somewhere between 250 and 300 million of the patient records that have been generated in the U.S. “We have more or less solved the fragmentation problem. We have one API that can pull information from almost everywhere.”

So far, Particle Health has eight live contracts with telemedicine and virtual health companies using its API, which have pulled 1.4 million patient records to date.

The way it works right now, when you give them permission to access your data it’s for a very specific purpose of use… they can only use it for that one thing. Let’s say you were using a telemedicine service. I allow this doctor to view my records for the purpose of treatment only. After that we have built a way for you to revoke access after the point,” Bannister said.

Particle Health’s peers in the world of API development also see the power in better, more open access to data. “A lot of money has been spent and a lot of blood and sweat went into putting [electronic medical records] out there,” said Innovaccer chief digital officer Mike Sutten.

The former chief technology officer of Kaiser Permanente, Sutten knows healthcare technology. “The next decade is about ‘let’s take advantage of all of this data.’ Let’s give back to physicians and give them access to all that data and think about the consumers and the patients,” Sutten said.

Innovaccer is angling to provide its own tools to centralize data for physicians and consumers. “The less friction there is in getting that data extracted, the more benefit we can provide to consumers and clinicians,” said Sutten.

Already, Particle Health is thinking about ways its API can help application developers create tools to help with the management of COVID-19 populations and potentially finding ways to ease the current lockdowns in place due to the disease’s outbreak.

“If you’ve had an antibody test or PCR test in the past… we should have access to that data and we should be able to provide that data at scale,” said Bannister. 

“There’s probably other risk-indicating factors that could at least help triage or clear groups as well… has this person been quarantined has this person been to the hospital in the past month or two… things like that can help bridge the gap,” between the definitive solution of universal testing and the lack of testing capacity to make that a reality, he said. 

“We’re definitely working on these public health initiatives,” Bannister said. Soon, the company’s technology — and other services like it — could be working behind the scenes in private healthcare initiatives from some of the nation’s biggest companies as software finally begins to take bigger bites out of the consumer health industry.

#api, #cerner, #chief-digital-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #collaborative-fund, #digital-healthcare, #digital-services, #disease, #financial-services, #flatiron-health, #getty-images, #google, #greg-yap, #health, #health-care, #health-systems, #healthcare-technology, #innovaccer, #kaiser-permanente, #madison, #menlo-ventures, #new-york, #palantir, #partner, #practice-fusion, #primary-care, #redox, #software-engineer, #startup-health, #story-ventures, #tc, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #united-states, #wisconsin

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CrowdStrike’s new CTO says the coronavirus era is ‘business as usual’

Two months ago, seemingly out of nowhere, CrowdStrike’s co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch decided it was time to depart.

Alperovitch, who served as the cybersecurity giant’s chief technology office since its 2011 debut, said he was leaving to launch a non-profit policy accelerator. CrowdStrike named Michael Sentonas, who managed the firm’s tech strategy for three years, as his replacement.

The news came at a critical time for the maker and seller of subscription-based endpoint security software that protects against breaches and cyberattacks. The company’s stock was in recovery after it fell below its IPO price, just months after popping 90% on its first day on the public market. It was one of the biggest offerings of the year, reaching more than $11 billion in value by the end, a far cry from a decade earlier when the security giant started out as a few notes scribbled on a napkin in a hotel lobby.

And then the pandemic happened.

By the time of his appointment, Sentonas was preparing to move to the U.S. from his native Australia, but “that hasn’t been the easiest thing to work through,” he told TechCrunch in a recent call. Despite having to balance the time difference and often swapping days with nights, the newly-appointed chief technology officer says it’s largely been “business as usual” for CrowdStrike.

Here’s why.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

TechCrunch: Two months ago, you were appointed chief technology officer at CrowdStrike. Prior to that you were vice president of tech strategy. How have things been since the promotion?

Michael Sentonas: In some respects, things have been business as usual. A lot of the work I was doing around tech strategy and longer-term vision about [what] we should be working on hasn’t changed for me. Obviously, when one of the co-founders moves on, they have big shoes to fill. So, I’ve inherited a larger team. It’s working with the team around what can I assist them with to help us continue to focus. Probably the biggest change is just being stuck here because of what’s going on around the world and just adjusting to largely covering a U.S. timezone from Australia, which isn’t easy.

That can’t be easy?

We’re a globally-spread and globally-diverse organization. The last statistic that I looked at a few weeks ago was that 70% of our staff logins are remote. I’m dealing with Europe and the U.S., that’s just the way we’re spread. It’s all around the world.

#albums, #central-europe, #chief-technology-officer, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #crowdstrike, #europe, #extra-crunch, #personnel, #security, #startups, #united-states, #work

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