Verve Motion raises $15M following exosuit pilot with grocery workers

The exoskeleton/exosuit category has been heating up over the past few years. It makes sense, really. There are two giant — and dramatically different — potential customer bases. On one end are those sorts of jobs that could benefit from some wearable assistance. On the other are people with mobility issues for whom such technology might go a long way.

Founded last year by a team spun out of Conor Walsh‘s lab at Harvard’s Wyss Institute and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Verve Motion is targeting the former for now. You probably don’t need a bunch of stats to realize that labor-intensive work often ends in injury, but here are a trio from the startup’s site anyway:

  • One million back injuries occur in U.S. workplaces each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • 260+ million work days are lost every year due to back injury, according to the United States Bone and Joint Initiative
  • $14 billion in direct costs hit U.S. employers annually, according to Liberty Mutual Workplace Index 2018

Image Credits: ADUSA Distribution

If you can’t appeal to people’s sense of common decency, then at least you can appeal to their wallets. Whichever the case, Verve Motion is announcing some fresh funding, following both a seed round and a successful pilot with ADUSA (Ahold Delhaize), a large grocery distribution firm. That funding arrived during the pandemic, when many essential workers in the food supply chain were being pushed to their physical limits on a daily basis.

This time out, the firm has raised a $15 million Series A, led by Construct Capital and featuring a bunch of existing investors, like Founder Collective, Pillar VC, Safar Partners and OUP.

“This new round of funding will fuel the continued development of our solution and scale operations to meet the growing demand for our product in order to get it to the workers who need it most right now,” co-founder and CEO Ignacio Galiana said in a release. “We are grateful for the support of this exceptional group of new and existing investors, and are thrilled to welcome Construct Capital as we create solutions for the industrial workforce of the future.”

Verve’s first product is the SafeLift, a fabric-based soft exosuit capable of adapting to its wearer’s movements and reducing up to 30 to 40% of back strain.

 

#construct-capital, #exoskeleton, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups, #verve-motion

Tezlab CEO Ben Schippers to discuss the Tesla effect and the next wave of EV startups at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As Tesla sales have risen, interest in the company has exploded, prompting investment and interest in the automotive industry, as well as the startup world.

Tezlab, a free app that’s like a Fitbit for a Tesla vehicle, is just one example of the numerous startups that have sprung up in the past few years as electric vehicles have started to make the tiniest of dents in global sales. Now, as Ford, GM, Volvo, Hyundai along with newcomers Rivian, Fisker and others launch electric vehicles into the marketplace, more startups are sure to follow.

Ben Schippers, the co-founder and CEO of Tezlab, is one of two early-stage founders who will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to talk about their startups and the opportunities cropping up in this emerging age of EVs. The six-person team behind TezLab was born out of HappyFunCorp, a software engineering shop that builds apps for mobile, web, wearables and Internet of Things devices for clients that include Amazon, Facebook and Twitter, as well as an array of startups.

HFC’s engineers, including Schippers, who also co-founded HFC, were attracted to Tesla  because of its techcentric approach and one important detail: the Tesla API endpoints are accessible to outsiders. The Tesla API is technically private. But it exists allowing the Tesla’s app to communicate with the cars to do things like read battery charge status and lock doors. When reverse-engineered, it’s possible for a third-party app to communicate directly with the API.

Schippers’ experience extends beyond scaling up Tezlab. Schippers consults and works with companies focused on technology and human interaction, with a sub-focus in EV.

The list of speakers at our 2021 event is growing by the day and includes Motional’s president and CEO Karl Iagnemma and Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, who will discuss the past, present and future of AVs. On the electric front is Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili, who will talk about scaling his startup from a one-man enterprise in a garage to more than 1,000 people and contracts with major automakers.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel Li, Huan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Other guests include, GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, and Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

And we may even have one more surprise — a classic TechCrunch stealth company reveal to close the show.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at our virtual door.

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ChargerHelp co-founder, CEO Kameale C. Terry is heading to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Thousands of electric vehicle charging stations will be built around the country over the next decade. ChargerHelp!, founded in January 2020 by Kameale C. Terry and Evette Ellis, wants to make sure they stay up and running.

The idea for the on-demand repair app for EV charging stations came to Terry when she was working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles including director of programs and head of customer experience. She noticed long wait times to fix non-electrical issues at charging stations due to the industry practice to use electrical contractors.

“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said in an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year.

After Terry quit her job to start ChargerHelp!, she joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a first-of-its-kind EV Network Technician Training Curriculum. Shortly after, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator and have landed contracts with major EV charging network providers like EV Connect and SparkCharge.

The company uses a workforce-development approach to hiring, meaning that they only hire in cohorts. Workers receive full training, earn two safety licenses, are guaranteed a wage of $30 an hour and receive shares in the startup, Terry said.

We’re excited to announce that Kameale Terry will be joining us at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a one-day virtual event that is scheduled June 9. We’ll be covering a lot of ground with Terry, from how she developed her EV repair curriculum to what she sees in the company’s future.

Each year TechCrunch brings together founders, investors, CEOs and engineers who are working on all things transportation and mobility. If it moves people and packages from Point A to Point B, we cover it. This year’s agenda is filled with leaders in the mobility space who are shaping the future of transportation, from EV charging to autonomous vehicles to urban air taxis.

Among the growing list of speakers are Rimac Automobili founder Mate RimacRevel Transit CEO Frank Reig, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler and Remix/Via co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu, who will come together to discuss how (and if) urban mobility can increase equity while still remaining a viable business.

Other guests include Motional’s President and CEO Karl Iagnemma, Aurora co-founder and CEO Chris Urmson, GM‘s VP of Global Innovation Pam FletcherScale AI CEO Alexandr WangJoby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation FundQuin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct CapitalZoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson.

We also recently announced a panel dedicated to China’s robotaxi industry, featuring three female leaders from Chinese AV startups: AutoX’s COO Jewel LiHuan Sun, general manager of Momenta Europe with Momenta, and WeRide’s VP of Finance Jennifer Li.

Don’t wait to book your tickets to TC Sessions: Mobility as prices go up at the door. Grab your passes right now and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders.

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China’s autonomous vehicle startups AutoX, Momenta and WeRide are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

As the autonomous vehicle industry in the United States marches towards consolidation, a funding spree continues to exhilarate China’s robotaxi industry. Momenta, Pony.ai, WeRide, and Didi’s autonomous vehicle arm have all raised hundreds of millions of dollars over the past year. 21-year-old search engine giant Baidu competes alongside the startups with a $1.5 billion fund launched in 2017 to help cars go driverless.

Their strategies are similar in some regards and diverge elsewhere. The biggest players have deployed small fleets of robotaxis, manned with safety drivers, onto certain urban roads and are diligently testing driverless vehicles inside pilot zones. Some companies embrace lidars to detect the cars’ surroundings while others agree with Elon Musk on a vision-only future.

The industry is still years from being truly driverless and operational at scale, so some contestants are seeking easier cases to tackle and monetize first, putting self-driving software inside buses, trucks and tractors that roam inside industrial parks.

Will investors continue to back the lofty dreams and skyrocketing valuations of China’s robotaxi leaders? And how is China’s autonomous driving race playing out differently from that in the U.S.?

We hope to find out at the upcoming TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, where we speak to three female leaders from Chinese autonomous vehicle startups that have an overseas footprint: Jewel Li from AutoX, which is backed by Chinese state-owned automakers Dongfeng Motor and SAIC Motor; Huan Sun from Momenta, which attracted Bosch, Daimler and Toyota in its $500 million round closed in March; and Jennifer Li from WeRide, of which valuation jumped to $3 billion after a financing round in May.

We can’t wait to hear from this panel! Among the growing list of speakers at this year’s event are GM’s VP of Global Innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman (whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby), investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in these final weeks. Book your general admission pass for $125 today and join this year’s deep dive into the world of all things transportation at TC Sessions: Mobility.

#alexandr-wang, #articles, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #baidu, #bosch, #ceo, #china, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #daimler, #dongfeng-motor, #driverless, #frank-reig, #jesse-levinson, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #linkedin, #momenta, #musk, #pam-fletcher, #pony, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #robotaxi, #robotics, #saic-motor, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #search-engine, #self-driving-cars, #starship-technologies, #tamika-l-butler, #tc, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #toyota, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #zoox

Autonomous vehicle pioneers Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

Long before the multi-million-dollar acquisitions and funding rounds pushed autonomous vehicles to the top of the hype cycle, Karl Iagnemma and Chris Urmson were researching and, later, developing the foundations of the technology.

These pioneers, Iagnemma coming from MIT, Urmson from Carnegie Mellon University — would eventually go on to launch their own autonomous vehicle startups in an aim to finally bring years of R&D to the public.

That task isn’t over quite yet. Urmson, who is co-founder and CEO of Aurora, and Iagnemma, who is president and CEO of Motional, are still working on unlocking the technical and business problems that stand in the way of commercialization.

TechCrunch is excited to announce that Urmson and Iagnemma will be joining us on the virtual stage of TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The one-day event, scheduled for June 9, is bringing together engineers and founders, investors and CEOs who are working on all the present and future ways people and packages will get from Point A to Point B. Iagnemma and Urmson will come to discuss the past, the present challenges and what both aim to do in the future. We’ll tackle questions about the technical problems that remain to be solved, the war over talent, the best business models and applications of autonomous vehicles and maybe even hear a few stories from the early days of testing and launching a startup.

Both guests have a long list of accolades and accomplishments — and too many, to cover them all here.

Urmson has been working on AVs for more than 15 years. He earned his Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and his BSc in computer engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1998. He was a faculty member of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University where he worked with house-sized trucks, drove robots in the desert, and was the technical director of the DARPA Urban and Grand Challenge teams. Urmson has authored more than 60 patents and 50 publications.

He left CMU and was one of the founding members of Google’s self-driving program, serving as its CTO. In 2017, Urmson co-founded Aurora with Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell.

Iagnemma is also considered an authority on robotics and driverless vehicles. He was the director of the Robotic Mobility Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where his research resulted in more than 150 technical publications, 50 issued or filed patents, and numerous edited volumes, including books on the DARPA Grand Challenge and Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle competitions. He holds MS and PhD degrees from MIT, where he was a National Science Foundation fellow, and a BS from the University of Michigan, where he graduated first in his class.

In 2013, Iagnemma co-founded autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy, one of the first to launch ride-hailing pilots. The company was acquired by Aptiv in late 2017. Aptiv and Hyundai formed the joint venture, which he now heads, in 2020. 

Iagnemma and Urmson are two of the many of the best and brightest minds in transportation who will be joining us on our virtual stage in June. Among the growing list of speakers is GM’s vp of global innovation Pam Fletcher, Scale AI CEO Alexandr Wang, Joby Aviation founder and CEO JoeBen Bevirt, investor and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital, Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla, Zoox co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson, community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event. Early Bird sales ends tonight, May 7 at 11:59 pm PT. Be sure to book your tickets ASAP and save $100.

#alexandr-wang, #aptiv, #aurora, #automotive, #autonomous-vehicles, #autotech-ventures, #b, #carnegie-mellon-university, #ceo, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #cto, #director, #electric-vehicles, #frank-reig, #grand-challenge, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #michigan, #mit, #mobility, #motional, #national-science-foundation, #nutonomy, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #revel, #robotics-institute, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #starship-technologies, #sterling-anderson, #tamika-l-butler, #technology, #tiffany-chu, #transportation, #uber-atg, #university-of-michigan, #urban-innovation-fund, #zoox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Investors Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The transportation industry is abuzz with upstarts, legacy automakers, suppliers and tech companies working on automated vehicle technology, digital platforms, electrification and robotics. Then there are shared mobility companies from cars to scooters and mopeds to ebikes. And who can forget the emerging air taxi companies?

At the center of this evolving industry are the investors. Simply put: TechCrunch can’t hold an event on mobility without hearing from the people who are hunting for the best opportunities in the industry and tracking all of its changes. That’s why we’re happy to announce investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital will join us on our virtual stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The virtual event, which features the best and brightest minds in the world of mobility, will be held on June 9.

p.s. Early Bird tickets to the show are now available – book today and save 35% before prices go up.

Brenner, Garcia and Holt will come on stage to discuss their near and long-term investment strategies, overlooked opportunities, and challenges that face startups trying to break into the transportation sector. They’ll lean on their considerable experience to provide the advice and insight that will help attendees understand the state of the industry and where it is headed.

Brenner is a serial co-founder. She is co-founder and managing partner of the Urban Innovation Fund, a venture capital firm that provides seed capital and regulatory support to entrepreneurs solving urban challenges. Urban Innovation Fund has backed curbflow, Electriphi and Kyte among others. She also co-founded Tumml, a startup hub for urban tech that provided 38 startups with seed funding and mentorship, and hosts events around urban innovation. In 2014, Forbes listed her as one of its “30 Under 30” for Social Entrepreneurship.

Garcia, a lifelong ‘car guy’ with an MS degree in management science and automotive engineering from Stanford University, is managing director at Autotech Ventures. He’s also a board director, board observer and advisory board member to a number of mobility companies including Lyft, Peloton Technology, and Connected Signals.

Garcia has been on the ground floor of startups, notably as part of the initial team at the electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place, where he was responsible for partnerships with automakers and parts suppliers while living in Israel, Japan and China.

Holt is co-founder and Managing Partner of early-stage venture firm Construct Capital, which is focused on finding founders that are trying to change foundational industries such as manufacturing and supply chain, logistics and transportation. The company’s transportation-focused investments include ChargeLab. Holt also sits on the board of MotoRefi.

Prior to Construct, Holt was at Uber, where she was one of the company’s first 30 employees. During her 8.5-year stint at Uber, Holt rose through the ranks of the company, including roles running the U.S.  and Canada “Rides” business as well as global marketing and customer support. She was a longtime member of the company’s executive leadership team. Her last position at Uber was leading the company’s new mobility organization, which focused on its e-bike and scooter businesses as well as running its incubator, which funded and developed new products and services.

Rachel began her career at Bain & Company, advising companies in the private equity, financial services and healthcare industries. She was ranked No. 9 on Fortune’s 40 under 40 and was named by Fast Company as One of the Most Creative People in Business.

We can’t wait to hear from this investor panel at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9. Make sure to grab your Early Bird pass before May 6 to save 35% on tickets and join the fun!

#articles, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #better-place, #board-member, #business, #canada, #china, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #e-bike, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #events, #executive, #fast-company, #financial-services, #forbes, #innovation, #israel, #japan, #lyft, #manufacturing, #motorefi, #peloton-technology, #private-equity, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #stanford-university, #startup-company, #supply-chain, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #transportation, #uber, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital

ChargeLab raises seed capital to be the software provider powering EV charging infrastructure

As money floods into the electric vehicle market a number of small companies are trying to stake their claim as the go-to provider of charging infrastructure. These companies are developing proprietary ecosystems that work for their own equipment but don’t interoperate.

ChargeLab, which has raised $4.3 million in seed financing led by Construct Capital and Root Ventures, is looking to be the software provider providing the chargers built by everyone else.

“You’ll find everyone in every niche and corner,” says ChargeLab chief executive Zachary Lefevre. Lefevre likens Tesla to Apple with its closed ecosystem and compares Chargepoint and Blink, two other electric vehicle charging companies to Blackberry — the once dominant smartphone maker. “What we’re trying to do is be android,” Lefevre said.

That means being the software provider for manufacturers like ABB, Schneider Electric and Siemens. “These guys are hardware makers up and down the value stack,” Lefevre said.

ChargeLab already has an agreement with ABB to be their default software provider as they go to market. The big industrial manufacturer is getting ready to launch their next charging product in North America.

As companies like REEF and Metropolis revamp garages and parking lots to service the next generation of vehicles, ChargeLab’s chief executive thinks that his software can power their EV charging services as they begin to roll that functionality out across the lots they own.

Lefevre got to know the electric vehicle charging market first as a reseller of everyone else’s equipment, he said. The company had raised a pre-seed round of $1.1 million from investors including Urban.us and Notation Capital and has now added to that bank account with another capital infusion from Construct Capital, the new fund led by Dayna Grayson and Rachel Holt, and Root Ventures, Lefevre said.

Eventually the company wants to integrate with the back end of companies like Chargepoint and Electrify America to make the charging process as efficient for everyone, according to ChargeLab’s chief executive.

As more service providers get into the market, Lefevre sees the opportunity set for his business expanding exponentially. “Super open platforms are not going to be building an EV charging system any more than they would be building their own hardware,” he said.

#abb, #android, #apple, #chargelab, #chargepoint, #charging-stations, #companies, #construct-capital, #dayna-grayson, #electric-vehicles, #electrical-engineering, #electrify-america, #inductive-charging, #north-america, #notation-capital, #rachel-holt, #reef, #root-ventures, #siemens, #smartphone, #software, #tc

10 investors predict MaaS, on-demand delivery and EVs will dominate mobility’s post-pandemic future

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just upend the transportation industry. It laid bare its weaknesses, and conversely, uncovered potential opportunities.

Electric bikes sales spiked as public transit ridership evaporated. The public, and investors, began to recognize the utility of autonomous sidewalk delivery bots, which had once been viewed as mere novelties; the rising popularity of on-demand delivery prompted major retailers like Walmart to put more resources towards meeting consumers needs and was one of the driving forces behind Uber’s decision to dump nearly every business unit and acquire Postmates.

The upshot? The transformation isn’t over. Following up on our May of 2020 survey of the sector and about the impact of COVID-19 in particular, TechCrunch spoke with 10 investors about the state of mobility, which trends they’re most excited about and what they’re looking for in their next investments. They see opportunities within software, particularly around mobility-as-a-service ventures and fleet management, continued demand for delivery and the push for electrification and batteries as well as the financial instrument — SPACs — that so many startups turned to in 2020. But there’s a lot more; they even see tailwinds for eVTOLs.

Here’s who we interviewed:


Clara Brenner, co-founder and managing partner, Urban Innovation Fund

COVID-19 disrupted virtually every sector of the transportation industry. E-bike demand spiked, shared scooters initially struggled with some rebounding, ridership dwindled in ride-hailing and plummeted in public transit as consumers turned to cars and other alternatives. Meanwhile, demand for delivery skyrocketed and the autonomous vehicle industry went through a consolidation. What sectors will recover in 2021 and where are the new and unlikely opportunities to invest?

COVID has exposed how rickety, insolvent and inequitable transit is in the U.S. Tools that empower cities to get compensated for private enterprise monetizing public infrastructure, and that ensure more equitable mobility access are exciting to me. Companies like Ride Report that help cities wrap their arms around all of the various public and private transit happening on their streets are exciting to me.

What are the remaining opportunities for new startups, now that the autonomous vehicle industry is maturing with unprecedented consolidation, billion-dollar funding rounds and even a few low-volume commercial operations kicking off?

Autonomous vehicles still have a long way to go, and there is still lots of room for new startups to make their mark on this space. In particular, we’ve been interested to see new entrants working on software tools to facilitate regulation and parking.

What are the overlooked areas that you want to invest in, now that legacy automakers are shifting their portfolios to electric and new EV manufacturers are preparing to start production?

We are very interested in the emerging fleet management space — and this is reflected in a number of our recent investments, including Electriphi (software to help fleets transition to electric) and Kyte (activating underutilized fleets to deliver a magical car rental experience). There are so many efficiencies that come from the fleet model for transportation — we think this will be an increasingly important area in the coming years.

What is the fundraising model of success for transportation startups of the future? Do you expect early-stage funding in this sector to stay hot indefinitely? Do you see SPACs as the path to liquidity long term for a large number of startups in this sector?

Transportation is important to basically all people and is a real mess, so it will likely continue to be a hot topic and a source of investor interest for years to come. However, for capital intensive transportation companies, the rounds have gotten so huge and expensive that they often make little sense for early-stage funders to participate in (they get diluted down hugely). Not that this seems to be dissuading many investors at the moment.

At the Urban Innovation Fund, we are spending a lot of time looking at software tools that enable larger hardware systems to work more efficiently. In terms of longer-term liquidity, SPACs represent a good option for many companies. That said, consolidation/mergers seems the most logical outcome for most companies in the transportation space — where strategic partnerships and integrations represent critical competitive advantages.

What do you want to see from the Biden administration to accelerate innovation in the transportation sector?

I’d like to see the Biden administration invest in our urban public transit systems — we know those systems can work beautifully. This may not accelerate “innovation,” but it will accelerate progress. This is a fundamental confusion in the VC space — innovation does not always equal progress.

Shawn Carolan, partner, Menlo Ventures

COVID-19 disrupted virtually every sector of the transportation industry. E-bike demand spiked, shared scooters initially struggled with some rebounding, ridership dwindled in ride-hailing and plummeted in public transit as consumers turned to cars and other alternatives. Meanwhile, demand for delivery skyrocketed, and the autonomous vehicle industry went through consolidation. What sectors will recover in 2021, and where are the new and unlikely opportunities to invest?

Pretty much all aspects of transportation will show recovery in 2021 with the population’s strong desire to get closer to normal, daily infections dropping, better mask compliance and increased vaccinations. The slowest will be commute-to-work use cases where the “new normal” for many will be 50%-100% fewer trips to the office on a monthly basis.

Personal above shared movement: The psychological aftermath of the pandemic will persist for some time; people do and will continue to prefer more distance from others. This will lead to an acceleration of personal e-mobility solutions, both outright purchase and subscription models, including scooters and e-bikes (Unagi, where we are investors), asset-sharing models where riders aren’t in close proximity to strangers (GetAround, Turo, Lime, Bird), and single-ridership Ubers and Lyfts over UberPools and the like.

E-commerce supply chain: E-commerce has experienced a step-function in demand that will persist. Many shippers, trucking companies, manufacturers, distributors, etc., are still poorly connected, inefficient, and managed with paper and manual labor. The entire supply chain is ripe for Amazon-like efficiency and clarity; this will be driven by factory/warehouse level automation, robotics, best-of-breed fulfillment, and logistics software like our investments in Alloy, Fox Robotics and ShipBob.

Local delivery: Instacart, DoorDash, UberEats, etc. have brought local delivery mainstream. This trend will continue, and the larger incumbents will be working hard to get their act together for streamlining fulfillment rather than let the delivery fleets capture all of the upsides. Here companies like AnyCart that streamline ordering for grocery and recipes can partner versus compete with large grocery chains to deliver a compelling user experience and more reasonable prices.

What are the remaining opportunities for new startups, now that the autonomous vehicle industry is maturing with unprecedented consolidation, billion-dollar funding rounds and even a few low-volume commercial operations kicking off?

Until there is a teleporter, opportunities will always exist to make transportation better, faster and cheaper for a given distance. The big levers coming are:

Electric propulsion (on ground and air) yields a much lower cost per mile with lower opex motors and lower cost of recharge versus burning fuel. Opportunities exist here mostly for component companies making better batteries, motors and quiet propellers.

Better asset utilization: More efficient routing of vehicles (via routing software), higher capacity utilization (via more efficient marketplaces), and less downtime (through better scheduling and optimization algorithms) bring prices down.

Autonomy: Drivers are a big part of both the cost structure of transportation and also accidents. Human-level autonomy is still several years off, but we see lots of opportunity for autonomy in constrained environments (vehicles moving in repetitive patterns with few obstacles) and through the air.

What are the overlooked areas that you want to invest in? Now that legacy automakers are shifting their portfolios to electric, and new EV manufacturers are preparing to start production, what are the overlooked areas that you want to invest in?

We believe there are many transportation options beyond the car. Electric scooters, bikes, eVTOLs and others will keep growing in popularity for both utility and fun.

What is the fundraising model of success for transportation startups of the future? Do you expect early-stage funding in this sector to stay hot indefinitely? Do you see SPACs as the path to liquidity long term for a large number of startups in this sector?

Transportation will be a perennial sector of opportunity given how large a piece of consumer spend it occupies. Till the late 2000s, Silicon Valley barely touched transportation; this has, of course, changed dramatically since that period, particularly with the rise of Tesla.

It’s often quite capital intensive, though. Proving solid unit economics at a small scale before scaling will become more of a mandate given the machinations in the shared scooter market and how it showed that rapid growth doesn’t solve all woes.

We’d love to see better debt financing for electric vehicle companies. With their much lower operating costs and the low-interest macro environments, we find ourselves in, if there were large pools of clean transportation debt capital that could get more vehicles in consumers’ lives via modest monthly fees that would go a long way in accelerating adoption. For example, Unagi all-access subscription offers a beautiful personal scooter for $30-$40 per month with great ROI given the usage patterns and reliability. If the debt markets line up to finance these at scale, it could be a nice win-win.

SPACs prove to be a good option for companies with high R&D costs and a long horizon to reach traditional IPO milestones (i.e., >$100 million ARR). Some of these projects aren’t going to work out, though and retail investors will be left holding the bag when the stocks crater. This will be the kickstarter “failed launch” phenomenon at a much larger scale, and there will be some nasty fallout.

Corporate venture capital, mainly industrial and automative focused companies, are getting more aggressive as the industry recognizes their need to adapt.

What do you want to see from the Biden administration to accelerate innovation in the transportation sector?

We’d love to see aggressive policies to further the acceleration of clean technology. Aside from the obvious environmental imperative to reduce carbon emissions, it makes good economic sense. Some examples would be personal and corporate tax credits for investing in anything that offers lower environmental impact. Electric vehicles of all sorts (scooters, bikes, cars, boats, etc.), installing solar for home and utility plants, using EVs for materials handling, etc.

Make the U.S. the testing ground for AVs by making regulation more favorable relative to competitors like Europe and China both on the ground and in the air.

Own the future of lithium-ion extraction and manufacturing. This is the “white oil” of our generation.

Aggressive funding of R&D initiatives at universities and commercial research labs that have a shot at changing the cost equations for batteries, motors, propellers, the power grid, etc. that can improve the fundamental building blocks.

#capitalg, #construct-capital, #ec-investor-survey, #ec-mobility-software, #expa, #inmotion-ventures, #menlo-ventures, #playground-global, #rachel-holt, #shawn-carolan, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital

5 consumer hardware VCs share their 2021 investment strategies

Consumer hardware has always been a tough market to crack, but the COVID-19 crisis made it even harder.

TechCrunch surveyed five key investors who touch different aspects of the consumer electronics industry, based on our TechCrunch List of top VCs recommended by founders, along with other sources.

We asked these investors the same six questions, and each provided similar thoughts, but different approaches:

Despite the pandemic, each identified bright spots in the consumer electronic world. One thing is clear, investors are generally bullish on at-home fitness startups. Multiple respondents cited Peloton, Tonal and Mirror as recent highlights in consumer electronics.

Said Shasta Venture’s Rob Coneybeer, “With all due respect to my friends at Nest (where Shasta was a Series A investor), Tonal is the most exciting consumer connected hardware company I’ve ever been involved with.”

Besides asking about the trends and opportunities they’re pursuing in 2021, the investors we spoke to also identified other investors, founders and companies who are leaders in consumer hardware and shared how they’ve reshaped their investment strategies during the pandemic. Their responses have been edited for space and clarity.


Hans Tung, GGV Capital

Which consumer hardware sector shows the most promise for explosive growth?

For consumer hardware, offering end users a differentiated experience is extremely important. Social interactions, gamification and high-quality PGC (professionally generated content) such as with Peloton, Xiaomi and Tonal is a must to drive growth. It’s also easy to see how the acceleration of the digital economy created by COVID-19 will also drive growth for hardware.

First, services improved by the speed and reliability of 5G such as live streaming, gaming, cloud computing, etc. will create opportunity for new mobile devices and global mass market consumers will continue to demand high-quality, low-cost hardware. For example, Arevo is experimenting with “hardware as a service” with a 3D printing facility in Vietnam.

For enterprise hardware, security, reliability and fast updates are key competitive advantages. Also as a result of 5G… manufacturing automation and industrial applications. Finally IoT for health and safety may find its sweet spot thanks to COVID-19 with new wearables that track sleep, fitness and overall wellness.

How did COVID-19 change consumer hardware and your investment strategy?

One opportunity for consumer hardware companies to consider as a result of COVID-19 is how they engage with their customers. They should think of themselves more like e-commerce companies, where user experience, ongoing engagement with the consumer and iteration based on market feedback rule the day. While Peloton had this approach well before COVID, it has built a $46 billion company thinking about their products in this way.

For example, some consumers felt the bike was too expensive so instead of responding with a low-end product, the company partnered with Affirm to make their hardware more affordable with pay-as-you-go plans. A Peloton bike is not a one-and-done purchase; there is constant interaction between users, and the company that drives more satisfaction in the hardware adds more value in the business.

Entering 2021, in what way is hardware still hard?

Hardware is still hard because it takes more to iterate fast. The outcome for competitors relative to speed-to-market can be dramatic. For example, every year I look at future generation of EVs with lots of innovations and cool features from existing OEMs but see very few of these making it to market compared to Tesla and other pure players that are cranking out vehicles. Their speed of execution is impressive.

Who are some leaders in consumer hardware — founders, companies, investors?

  • John Foley, founder and CEO of Peloton. John and the Peloton team have cracked the code on the integration of community experience and hardware.
  • Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit and founder/CEO of Arevo, maker of ultrastrong, lightweight continuous carbon fiber products on demand. Experienced founder and team with 3D printing manufacturing know-how at scale are now able to offer breakthrough consumer and industrial products at competitive prices.
  • Manu Jain, head of Xiaomi’s business in India where Xiaomi is the #1-selling smart phone. He built the Indian operation from the ground up; had zero dollar marketing budget for the first three years; and localized manufacturing for all Xiaomi phones sold in India.
  • Jim Xiao, founder and CEO of Mason, a rising star who is creating “mobile infrastructure as a service.”
  • Irving Fain, founder and CEO of Bowery Farming. Irving and his team are on a mission to reimagine modern farming.

Is there anything else you would like to share with TechCrunch readers?

Worry less about trends and build products that resonate with customers.

 

Dayna Grayson, Construct Capital

#construct-capital, #consumer-electronics, #consumer-electronics-show, #consumer-hardware, #covid-19, #cyril-ebersweiler, #dayna-grayson, #ggv-capital, #hans-tung, #hardware, #health, #lux-capital, #rob-coneybeer, #shasta-ventures, #sosv, #tc, #venture-capital, #wearable-devices

E-commerce optimization startup Tradeswell raises $15.5M

After launching in October, Tradeswell is announcing today that it has raised $15.5 million in Series A funding.

Co-founder and CEO Paul Palmieri previously led digital ad company Millennial Media (now owned by TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon Media), and he said the e-commerce market today is similar to the online ad market when he was leading Millennial — ready for more optimization and automation.

Tradeswell focuses on six components of e-commerce businesses — marketing, retail, inventory, logistics, forecasting, lifetime value and financials — with the key goal of allowing those businesses to improve their net margins, rather than simply driving more clicks or purchases. The platform can fully automate some processes, such as buying online ads.

To illustrate what it can accomplish, Tradeswell pointed to the work it did with a personal care brand on Amazon Prime Day, with total sales doubling versus the previous Prime Day and profits increasing 67%.

The startup has now raised a total of $18.8 million. The Series A was led by SignalFire, which also led Tradeswell’s seed round, while Construct Capital, Allen & Company and The Emerson Group also participated.

“With the explosion of ecommerce over the past year, Tradeswell is perfectly positioned to help brands manage the complexity of online sales across an ever-increasing number of platforms and marketplaces,” said SignalFire founder and CEO Chris Farmer in a statement. “Paul and his team bring together a unique blend of experience in data, marketing and logistics to address the challenges of today and a rapidly evolving market in the years ahead with a central command center to optimize profitable growth.”

Palmieri said the new funding will allow Tradeswell to continue investing in the product, which will also mean building more integrations so that more types of data become “more liquid,” which in turn means that the platform can “make much more real-time decisions.”

When Tradeswell launched publicly last fall, it already had 100 customers, and Palmieri told me that number has subsequently grown past 150. Nor does he expect the consumer shift in e-commerce to disappear once the pandemic ends.

“Some of it probably goes back to the way it was, some of it stays online,” he said. “I do think it’s important to point out there’s something in the middle — that something is this notion of high convenience, that is semi-brick-and-mortar with [elements of e-commerce], whether that’s mobile ordering or something like an Instacart.”

Naturally, he sees Tradeswell as the key platform to help businesses navigate that shift.

 

#chris-farmer, #construct-capital, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #millennial-media, #paul-palmieri, #signalfire, #startups, #tradeswell

A must-see conversation on the state of VC, this year at Disrupt

On a surface level, the world of venture capital doesn’t look to change much year to year. But in truth, the industry is very much in flux, with many firms grappling with a lack of diversity, dealing with succession questions, and confronting a growing pipeline of aging portfolio companies — to name just a few of the issues of the day.

In fact, one of the biggest shifts in the industry — one that’s years in the making but with no end in sight — is its atomization. Once a clubby industry, the landscape today sees new players, backed up by real dollars, every day, all over the world.

Indeed, at this year’s Disrupt, we’re very excited to be sitting down with three venture investors who spent much of their careers with powerful outfits before more recently — and boldly — striking out on their own to build their own brands.

It’s with their help that we’re going to take stock of many of the trends roiling the industry right now.

Lo Toney was a VP at Cake Financial, a general manager with Zynga, and the CEO of an online coding startup before jumping into the world of venture capital, first at Comcast Ventures and later at GV where he spent several years as a partner.

If he was tempted to stay with Alphabet’s influential venture arm, he didn’t, instead turning his work at GV — which centered increasingly on finding and funding promising and diverse fund managers and startups — into the opportunity to create his own shop. Now, Plexo Capital not only counts Alphabet among its biggest financial backers, but it has amassed stakes in roughly two dozen funds and many more startups. With most of them run exclusively or in part by people of color, Toney has also become a leading light for others who recognize diversity as a competitive advantage.

Then there’s Renata Quintini, who has spent the last year quietly building a new outfit, Renegade Partners, with cofounder Roseanne Wincek. Wincek previously worked at the venture giant IVP. Quintini, similarly, has held a number of investing roles at esteemed institutions. Among them is the Stanford Management Company, where she was an investment manager focused on VC and private equity investments, and Felicis Ventures, where as a general partner she worked with a wide number of rising stars, including the satellite company Planet, the self-driving startup Cruise Automation (now owned by GM), Dollar Shave Club (which sold to Unilever), and Bonobos (snapped up by Walmart).

It wasn’t a surprise when Lux Capital poached Quintini, in fact. But even Lux, which prides itself on the kind of deep science expertise that Quintini shares, couldn’t keep her from leaving to create something all her own.

The story isn’t so dissimilar for Dayna Grayson, who studied systems engineering and worked in product design before jumping into the world of venture capital, first as a principal with the Boston-based firm Northbridge Venture Partners and afterward, as a partner with the venture giant NEA.

There, based in Washington, D.C., Grayson led a wide number of deals for the firm, including in the metal 3D printing company Desktop Metal —  a five-year-old company that, absent an unforeseen development, is soon to be a publicly traded and valued in the multiple billions of dollars.

Undoubtedly Grayson could have stayed longer. Instead, nearly eight years into her career with NEA, she left late last year to cofound the early-stage venture firm Construct Capital with Rachel Holt, one of Uber’s first employees.

There is so much to talk about with these entrepreneurial investors, from how they compete against the heavyweights, to how they think about startups in a post COVID world, to whether or not there VCs have begun to over-index on business-facing investments to their own detriment — or if, conversely that opportunity remains limitless right now. That’s saying nothing about SPACs, rolling funds, and the latest twist in direct listings.

You definitely won’t want to miss this very timely conversation about the state of VC.

Disrupt 2020 runs from September 14 through September 18 and will be 100% virtual this year. Get your front row seat to see Grayson, Quintini and Toney live with a Disrupt Digital Pro Pass or a Digital Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. We’re excited to see you there.

#construct-capital, #dayna-grayson, #disrupt, #gv, #lo-toney, #lux-capital, #nea, #plexo-capital, #renata-quintini, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital