SpotOn raises $125M in a16z-led Series D, triples valuation to $1.875B

Certain industries were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others, especially in its early days.

Small businesses, including retailers and restaurants, were negatively impacted by lockdowns and the resulting closures. They had to adapt quickly to survive. If they didn’t use much technology before, they were suddenly being forced to, as so many things shifted to digital last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For companies like SpotOn, it was a pivotal moment. 

The startup, which provides software and payments for restaurants and SMBs, had to step up to help the businesses it serves. Not only for their sake, but its own.

“We really took a hard look at what was happening to our clients. And we realized we needed to pivot, just to be able to support them,” co-CEO and co-founder Matt Hyman recalls. “We had to make a decision because our revenues also were taking a big hit, just like our clients were. Rather than lay off staff or require salary deductions, we stayed true to our core values and just kept plugging away.”

All that “plugging away” has paid off. Today, SpotOn announced it has achieved unicorn status with a $125 million Series D funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

Existing backers DST Global, 01 Advisors, Dragoneer Investment Group and Franklin Templeton also participated in the financing, in addition to new investor Mubadala Investment Company. 

Notably, the round triples the company’s valuation to $1.875 billion compared to its $625 million valuation at the time of its Series C raise last September. It also marks San Francisco-based SpotOn’s third funding event since March 2020, and brings the startup’s total funding to $328 million since its 2017 inception.

Its efforts have also led to impressive growth for the company, which has seen its revenue triple since February 2020, according to Hyman.

Put simply, SpotOn is taking on the likes of Square in the payments space. But the company says its offering extends beyond traditional payment processing and point-of-sale (POS) software. Its platform aims to give SMBs the ability to run their businesses “from building a brand to taking payments and everything in-between.” SpotOn’s goal is to be a “one-stop shop” by incorporating tools that include things such as custom website development, scheduling software, marketing, appointment scheduling, review management, analytics and digital loyalty.

When the pandemic hit, SpotOn ramped up and rolled out 400 “new product innovations,” Hyman said. It also did things like waive $1.5 million in fees (it’s a SaaS business, so for several months it waived its monthly fee, for example, for its integrated restaurant management system). It also acquired a company, SeatNinja, so that it could expand its offering.

“Because a lot of these businesses had to go digital literally overnight, we built a free website for them all,” Hyman said. SpotOn also did things like offer commission-free online ordering for restaurants and helped retail merchants update their websites for e-commerce. “Obviously these businesses were resilient,” Hyman said. “But such efforts also created a lot of loyalty.” 

Today, more than 30,000 businesses use SpotOn’s platform, according to Hyman, with nearly 8,000 of those signing on this year. The company expects that number to triple by year’s end.

Currently, its customers are split about 60% retail and 40% restaurants, but the restaurant side of its business is growing rapidly, according to Hyman.

The reason for that, the company believes, is while restaurants initially rushed to add online ordering for delivery or curbside pickup, they soon realized they “wanted a more affordable and more integrated solution.”

Image Credits: SpotOn co-founders Zach Hyman, Doron Friedman and Matt Hyman / SpotOn

What makes SpotOn so appealing to its customers, Hyman said, is the fact that it offers an integrated platform so that businesses that use it can save “thousands of dollars” in payments and software fees to multiple, “à la carte” vendors. But it also can integrate with other platforms if needed.

In addition to growing its customer base and revenue, SpotOn has also boosted its headcount to about 1,250 employees (from 850 in March of 2020). Those employees are spread across its offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Mexico City, Mexico and Krakow, Poland.

SpotOn is not currently profitable, which Hyman says is “by choice.”

“We could be cash flow positive technically whenever we choose to be. Right now we’re just so focused on product innovation and talent to exceed the needs of our clients,” he said. “We chose the capital plan so that we could really just double down on what’s working so well.”

The new capital will go toward further accelerating product development and expanding its market presence.

“We’re doubling down on our single integrated restaurant management system,” Hyman said. 

The raise marks the first time that a16z has put money in the startup, although General Partner David George told TechCrunch he was familiar with co-founders Matt Hyman and Zach Hyman through mutual friends.

George estimates that about 80% of restaurants and SMBs use legacy solutions “that are clunky and outdated, and not very customer friendly.” The COVID-19 pandemic has led to more of these businesses seeking digital options.

“We think we’re in the very early days in the transition [to digital], and the opportunity is massive,” he told TechCrunch. “We believe we’re at the tipping point of a big tech replacement cycle for restaurant and small business software, and at the very early stages of this transition to modern cloud-native solutions.”

George was also effusive in his praise for how SpotOn has executed over the past 14 months.

“There are companies that build great products, and companies that can build great sales teams. And there are companies that offer really great customer service,” he said. “It’s rare that you find two of those and extremely rare to find all three of those as we have in SpotOn.”

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Construction tech upstart Assignar adds a Fifth Wall with $20M Series B

Construction technology may not be the sexiest of industries, but it is one where tremendous opportunity lies — considering it has historically lagged in productivity. And, lags in productivity means project delays, which typically costs everyone involved more time and more money.

There are a number of larger players in the space (think Procore, PlanGrid and Autodesk) that are tackling the problems from the perspective of the general contractor. But when it comes to the subcontractors that are hired by the general contractor to do 95% of the work, the pickings are few and far between.

Enter Assignar, a cloud-based construction tech startup that was originally born in Australia and is now based in Denver, Colorado. Co-founder and CEO Sean McCreanor was a contractor himself for many years, and grew frustrated with the lack of offerings available to him. So, as in the case of many founders, he set out to create the technology he wished existed.

And today, Assignar has raised $20 million in a Series B funding round led by real estate tech-focused venture firm Fifth Wall. 

Existing backer Tola Capital and new investor Ironspring Ventures also put money in the round, which brings Assignar’s total raised since its 2014 inception to $31 million.

“I had 100 crews and workers out in the field, lots of heavy equipment and project work, and was running the entire business on spreadsheets and whiteboards,” McCreanor recalls. “With Assignar, we essentially help the office connect to the field and vice versa.”

In a nutshell, Assignar’s operations platform is designed for use by “self-perform general and subcontractors” on public and private infrastructure projects. The company’s goal is to make the whole process smoother for large general contractors, developers and real estate owner-operators by providing a “real-time snapshot of granular field activity.”

Specifically, Assignar aims to streamline operations and schedules, track crews and equipment, and improve quality and safety, as well as measure and monitor productivity and progress with data on all projects. For example, it claims to be able to help match up the best crews and equipment for a specific job “more efficiently.”

The startup says it has hundreds of international customers working on multibillion-dollar projects in infrastructure, road, rail, heavy civil, utilities and other construction disciplines. Those customers range from specialist contractors with as few as five crews to multi-national, multibillion-dollar companies. Projects include things such as bridges and roads, for example.

Image Credits: Assignar

Assignar historically has “more than doubled” its revenue every year since inception and in 2020, saw revenue increase by 75%.

“We could have grown faster but wanted to manage cash flow,” McCreanor told TechCrunch.

Assignar’s focus is particularly significant these days considering that the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Bill is nearing agreement, likely signaling an investment in infrastructure for communities across the U.S. 

The heavy civil and horizontal construction industry has long lacked a well-designed and ubiquitous operations platform, according to Fifth Wall Partner Vik Chawla.

“Assignar’s cloud-based software offers a detailed view on when and where different types of field activities are being performed,” he said. “It streamlines communications between headquarters and the field, allows for a reduction in paperwork, and brings time and cost savings to an industry where much of the planning, tracking and reporting are still done by hand, in Excel or on white boards.”

Assignar plans to use its new capital to grow its business in North America (which currently makes up about 25% of its revenue) and double its 65-person team by hiring for roles across all departments. The company also plans to invest in R&D and product development to further build out its core platform. Among the features it’s planning to develop is a contractor hub and a schedule recommendation engine that McCreanor says will leverage data, AI and machine learning “to support planning and execution processes.”

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How 4 New Jersey pools turned into a startup that just raised $10M

As the oldest of 12 children, Bunim Laskin spent much of his teen years looking for ways to help keep his siblings entertained. Noticing that a neighbor’s pool was often empty, Laskin reached out to ask if his family could use her pool. To make it worth her while, he suggested that they could help cover her expenses for maintaining the pool.

Soon after, five other families had made the same arrangement with her and the pool owner had six families covering 25% of her expenses. This meant that the neighbor was actually making money off her pool. The arrangement sparked a business idea in Laskin’s mind. At the age of 20, he founded Swimply, a marketplace for homeowners to rent out their underutilized pools to local swimmers, with Asher Weinberger.

The Cedarhurst, New York-based company launched a beta in 2018, starting with four pools in the New Jersey area. 

“We used Google Earth to find houses, and then knocked on 80 doors with a pool,” Laskin recalls. “We got to 100 pools organically. Word of mouth really helped us grow.” The site was pretty bare bones, he admits, with potential customers only able to view photos of the pools and connect with the pool owner by phone.

That year, Swimply did around 400 reservations and raised $1.2 million from friends and family.

In 2019, Swimply launched what he describes as a “proper” website and app with an automated platform. It grew “4 to 5 times” that year, again mostly organically. In an episode that aired in March 2020, the company appeared on Shark Tank but went home without a deal.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Swimply, Laskin said, pivoted right into the pandemic.

“We were the perfect solution for people when the world was falling on its head,” he said. The company restructured its offering to ensure that pool owners did not have to interact with guests. “It was the perfect, contact-free, self-serve experience to hang out and be with people you quarantined with.”

The CDC then came out to say that it was safe to swim because chlorine could help kill the virus, and that proved to be a big boon to its business.

“On one end, it was a way for people to have a normal day and on the other, it helped give owners a way to earn an income, at a time when many people were being affected financially,” Laskin told TechCrunch.

Business took off in 2020 with revenue growing 4,000% and now Swimply is announcing a $10 million Series A round. Norwest Venture Partners led the financing, which also included participation from Trust Ventures and a number of angel investors such as Poshmark founder and CEO Manish Chandra; Rob Chesnut, former general counsel and chief ethics officer at Airbnb; Ancestry.com CEO Deborah Liu and Michael Curtis. 

Swimply is now operating in a total of 125 U.S. markets, two markets in Canada and five markets in Australia. It plans to use its new capital in part to expand into new markets and toward product development.

Image Credits: Swimply

The way it works is pretty straightforward. Swimply simply connects homeowners that have underutilized backyard spaces and pools with those seeking a way to gather, cool off or exercise, for example. People or families can rent pools by the hour, ranging in price from $15 to $60 per hour (at an average of $45/hour) depending on the amenities. New markets that Swimply has recently expanded to include Portland, Oregon; Raleigh, NC and the California cities of Oakland, San Luis Obispo and Los Gatos. 

“The shifting mindset from younger generations about ownership is a huge contributor to increased growth of the Swimply marketplace,” said co-founder Weinberger, who serves as Swimply’s COO. “Swimming is the third most popular activity for adults and number one for children, and yet no other company has tackled the aquatic space to make swimming more affordable and accessible…until now.”

While the company declined to provide hard revenue figures, Laskin said Swimply was seeing “7 digits a month in revenue” and 15,000 to 20,000 reservations a month. Families represent the most popular reservation.

“People can book and pay through our platform, and only 20% of hosts ever meet their guests,” Laskin said. “We’re enabling a new kind of consumer behavior with what we’re doing.”

The company is planning to use its new capital to also rebuild much of its tech infrastructure and boost its customer support team to be more “readily available.”

It is also now offering a complimentary up to $1 million worth of insurance per booking for liability as well as $10,000.

Swimply has a little over 20 employees, up 10 times from 2 people in December of 2020. It plans to double that number over the next few months.

The company’s model has proven quite lucrative for some owners, according to Laskin.

“Last year, there were some owners who earned $10,000 a month. One owner in Denver earned $50,000 last year and he had signed up toward the end of the summer. He should make over $100,000 this year,” Lasken projects.

Its only criteria is that owners offer a clean pool. Eighty five percent of hosts offer restrooms as well. If they don’t, they are limited to one-hour reservations with a max of five guests. Swimply has also partnered with local pool companies, and if they pay one of its owners a visit and certify that pool, that owner gets a badge on the site “so guests get an additional level of security,” Laskin said.

Ed Yip of Norwest Venture Partners admits that when he first heard of the concept of Swimply, he “didn’t know what to make of it.”

But the more he heard about it, the more excited he got.

“This is the holy grail for a consumer investor. We’re not changing consumer behavior, but rather productize the experience and make it safer and easier on both sides,” Yip told TechCrunch.

What also gets the investor excited is the potential for Swimply beyond just swimming pools in the future.

“We’re seeing a ton of demand from hosts wanting to list hot tubs and tennis courts, for example,” Yip said. “So this can turn into a marketplace for shared outdoor resources and that’s a huge market opportunity that adds value on both sides.”

Indeed, the concept of monetizing underutilized space is a growing concept. Earlier this year, we reported on Neighbor, which operates a self-storage marketplace, raising $53 million in a Series B round of funding. Neighbor’s unique model aims to repurpose under-utilized or vacant space — whether it be a person’s basement or the empty floor of an office building — and turn it into storage.

 

 

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Crusoe Energy is tackling energy use for cryptocurrencies and data centers and greenhouse gas emissions

The two founders of Crusoe Energy think they may have a solution to two of the largest problems facing the planet today — the increasing energy footprint of the tech industry and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the natural gas industry.

Crusoe, which uses excess natural gas from energy operations to power data centers and cryptocurrency mining operations, has just raised $128 million in new financing from some of the top names in the venture capital industry to build out its operations — and the timing couldn’t be better.

Methane emissions are emerging as a new area of focus for researchers and policymakers focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global warming within the 1.5 degree targets set under the Paris Agreement. And those emissions are just what Crusoe Energy is capturing to power its data centers and bitcoin mining operations.

The reason why addressing methane emissions is so critical in the short term is because these greenhouse gases trap more heat than their carbon dioxide counterparts and also dissipate more quickly. So dramatic reductions in methane emissions can do more in the short term to alleviate the global warming pressures that human industry is putting on the environment.

And the biggest source of methane emissions is the oil and gas industry. In the U.S. alone roughly 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas is flared daily, said Chase Lochmiller, a co-founder of Crusoe Energy. About two thirds of that is flared in Texas with another 500 million cubic feet flared in North Dakota, where Crusoe has focused its operations to date.

For Lochmiller, a former quant trader at some of the top American financial services institutions, and Cully Cavmess, a third generation oil and gas scion, the ability to capture natural gas and harness it for computing operations is a natural combination of the two men’s interests in financial engineering and environmental preservation.

NEW TOWN, ND – AUGUST 13: View of three oil wells and flaring of natural gas on The Fort Berthold Indian Reservation near New Town, ND on August 13, 2014. About 100 million dollars worth of natural gas burns off per month because a pipeline system isn’t in place yet to capture and safely transport it . The Three Affiliated Tribes on Fort Berthold represent Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nations. It’s also at the epicenter of the fracking and oil boom that has brought oil royalties to a large number of native americans living there. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The two Denver natives met in prep-school and remained friends. When Lochmiller left for MIT and Cavness headed off to Middlebury they didn’t know that they’d eventually be launching a business together. But through Lochmiller’s exposure to large scale computing and the financial services industry, and Cavness assumption of the family business they came to the conclusion that there had to be a better way to address the massive waste associated with natural gas.

Conversation around Crusoe Energy began in 2018 when Lochmiller and Cavness went climbing in the Rockies to talk about Lochmiller’s trip to Mt. Everest.

When the two men started building their business, the initial focus was on finding an environmentally friendly way to deal with the energy footprint of bitcoin mining operations. It was this pitch that brought the company to the attention of investors at Polychain, the investment firm started by Olaf Carlson-Wee (and Lochmiller’s former employer), and investors like Bain Capital Ventures and new investor Valor Equity Partners.

(This was also the pitch that Lochmiller made to me to cover the company’s seed round. At the time I was skeptical of the company’s premise and was worried that the business would just be another way to prolong the use of hydrocarbons while propping up a cryptocurrency that had limited actual utility beyond a speculative hedge against governmental collapse. I was wrong on at least one of those assessments.)

“Regarding questions about sustainability, Crusoe has a clear standard of only pursuing projects that are net reducers of emissions. Generally the wells that Crusoe works with are already flaring and would continue to do so in the absence of Crusoe’s solution. The company has turned down numerous projects where they would be a buyer of low cost gas from a traditional pipeline because they explicitly do not want to be net adders of demand and emissions,” wrote a spokesman for Valor Equity in an email. “In addition, mining is increasingly moving to renewables and Crusoe’s approach to stranded energy can enable better economics for stranded or marginalized renewables, ultimately bringing more renewables into the mix. Mining can provide an interruptible base load demand that can be cut back when grid demand increases, so overall the effect to incentivize the addition of more renewable energy sources to the grid.”

Other investors have since piled on including: Lowercarbon Capital, DRW Ventures, Founders Fund, Coinbase Ventures, KCK Group, Upper90, Winklevoss Capital, Zigg Capital and Tesla co-founder JB Straubel.

The company now operate 40 modular data centers powered by otherwise wasted and flared natural gas throughout North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Next year that number should expand to 100 units as Crusoe enters new markets such as Texas and New Mexico. Since launching in 2018, Crusoe has emerged as a scalable solution to reduce flaring through energy intensive computing such as bitcoin mining, graphical rendering, artificial intelligence model training and even protein folding simulations for COVID-19 therapeutic research.

Crusoe boasts 99.9% combustion efficiency for its methane, and is also bringing additional benefits in the form of new networking buildout at its data center and mining sites. Eventually, this networking capacity could lead to increased connectivity for rural communities surrounding the Crusoe sites.

Currently, 80% of the company’s operations are being used for bitcoin mining, but there’s increasing demand for use in data center operations and some universities, including Lochmiller’s alma mater of MIT are looking at the company’s offerings for their own computing needs.

“That’s very much in an incubated phase right now,” said Lochmiller. “A private alpha where we have a few test customers… we’ll make that available for public use later this year.”

Crusoe Energy Systems should have the lowest data center operating costs in the world, according to Lochmiller and while the company will spend money to support the infrastructure buildout necessary to get the data to customers, those costs are negligible when compared to energy consumption, Lochmiller said.

The same holds true for bitcoin mining, where the company can offer an alternative to coal powered mining operations in China and the construction of new renewable capacity that wouldn’t be used to service the grid. As cryptocurrencies look for a way to blunt criticism about the energy usage involved in their creation and distribution, Crusoe becomes an elegant solution.

Institutional and regulatory tailwinds are also propelling the company forward. Recently New Mexico passed new laws limiting flaring and venting to no more than 2 percent of an operator’s production by April of next year and North Dakota is pushing for incentives to support on-site flare capture systems while Wyoming signed a law creating incentives for flare gas reduction applied to bitcoin mining. The world’s largest financial services firms are also taking a stand against flare gas with BlackRock calling for an end to routine flaring by 2025.

“Where we view our power consumption, we draw a very clear line in our project evaluation stage where we’re reducing emissions for an oil and gas projects,” Lochmiller said. 

#air-pollution, #alpha, #artificial-intelligence, #bain-capital-ventures, #bitcoin, #bitcoin-mining, #blackrock, #china, #co-founder, #coinbase-ventures, #colorado, #computing, #cryptocurrency, #cryptography, #denver, #energy, #energy-consumption, #energy-efficiency, #everest, #founders-fund, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #jb-straubel, #lowercarbon-capital, #methane, #mining, #mit, #montana, #natural-gas, #new-mexico, #north-dakota, #tc, #tesla, #texas, #trader, #united-states, #upper90, #valor-equity-partners, #winklevoss-capital, #world-bank, #wyoming

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Casa Blanca raises $2.6M to build the ‘Bumble for real estate’

Casa Blanca, which aims to develop a “Bumble-like app” for finding a home, has raised $2.6 million in seed funding.

Co-founder and CEO Hannah Bomze got her real estate license at the age of 18 and worked at Compass and  Douglas Elliman Real Estate before launching Casa Blanca last year.

She launched the app last October with the goal of matching home buyers and renters with homes using an in-app matchmaking algorithm combined with “expert agents.” Buyers get up to 1% of home purchases back at closing. Similar to dating apps, Casa Blanca’s app is powered by a simple swipe left or right.

Samuel Ben-Avraham, a partner and early investor of Kith and an early investor in WeWork, led the round for Casa Blanca, bringing its total raise to date to $4.1 million.

The New York-based startup recently launched in the Colorado market and has seen some impressive traction in a short amount of time. 

Since launching the app in October, Casa Blance has “made more than $100M in sales” and is projected to reach $280 million this year between New York and its Denver launch. 

Bomze said the app experience will be customized for each city with the goal of creating a personalized experience for each user. Casa Blanca claims to streamline and sort listings based on user preferences and lifestyle priorities.

Image Credits: Casa Blanca

“People love that there is one place to book, manage feedback, schedule and communicate with a branded agent for one cohesive experience,” Bomze said. “We have a breadth of users from first time buyers to people using our platform for $15 million listings.”

Unlike competitors, Casa Blanca applies to a direct-to-consumer model, she pointed out.

“While our agents are an integral part of the company, they are not responsible for bringing in business and have more organizational support, which allows them to focus on the individual more and creates a better end-to-end experience for the consumer,” Bomze said.

Casa Blanca currently has over 38 agents in NYC and Colorado, compared to about 15 at this time last year.

“We are in a growth phase and finding a unique opportunity in this climate, in particular, because there are many women exploring new, more flexible job opportunities,” Bomze noted. 

The company plans to use its new capital to continue expanding into new markets, nationally and globally; enhancingits technology and scaling.

“As we continue to grow in new markets, the app experience will be curated to each city – for example, in Colorado you can edit your preferences based on access to ski areas – to make sure we’re offering a personalized experience for each user,” Bomze said.

#colorado, #companies, #corporate-finance, #denver, #funding, #fundings-exits, #model, #new-york, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #social-software, #startup, #startups, #tc, #wework

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Saltbox raises $10.6M to help booming e-commerce stores store their goods

E-commerce is booming, but among the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs of online businesses are finding a place to store the items they are selling and dealing with the logistics of operating.

Tyler Scriven, Maxwell Bonnie and Paul D’Arrigo co-founded Saltbox in an effort to solve that problem.

The trio came up with a unique “co-warehousing” model that provides space for small businesses and e-commerce merchants to operate as well as store and ship goods, all under one roof. Beyond the physical offering, Saltbox offers integrated logistics services as well as amenities such as the rental of equipment and packing stations and access to items such as forklifts. There are no leases and tenants have the flexibility to scale up or down based on their needs.

“We’re in that sweet spot between co-working and raw warehouse space,” said CEO Scriven, a former Palantir executive and Techstars managing director.

Saltbox opened its first facility — a 27,000-square-foot location — in its home base of Atlanta in late 2019, filling it within two months. It recently opened its second facility, a 66,000-square-foot location, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is currently about 40% occupied. The company plans to end 2021 with eight locations, in particular eyeing the Denver, Seattle and Los Angeles markets. Saltbox has locations slated to come online as large as 110,000 square feet, according to Scriven.

The startup was founded on the premise that the need for “co-warehousing and SMB-centric logistics enablement solutions” has become a major problem for many new businesses that rely on online retail platforms to sell their goods, noted Scriven. Many of those companies are limited to self-storage and mini-warehouse facilities for storing their inventory, which can be expensive and inconvenient. 

Scriven personally met with challenges when starting his own e-commerce business, True Glory Brands, a retailer of multicultural hair and beauty products.

“We became aware of the lack of physical workspace for SMBs engaged in commerce,” Scriven told TechCrunch. “If you are in the market looking for 10,000 square feet of industrial warehouse space, you are effectively pushed to the fringes of the real estate ecosystem and then the entrepreneurial ecosystem at large. This is costing companies in significant but untold ways.”

Now, Saltbox has completed a $10.6 million Series A round of financing led by Palo Alto-based Playground Global that included participation from XYZ Venture Capital and proptech-focused Wilshire Lane Partners in addition to existing backers Village Capital and MetaProp. The company plans to use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets.

The company’s customers are typically SMB e-commerce merchants “generating anywhere from $50,000 to $10 million a year in revenue,” according to Scriven.

He emphasizes that the company’s value prop is “quite different” from a traditional flex office/co-working space.

“Our members are reliant upon us to support critical workflows,” Scriven said. 

Besides e-commerce occupants, many service-based businesses are users of Saltbox’s offering, he said, such as those providing janitorial services or that need space for physical equipment. The company offers all-inclusive pricing models that include access to loading docks and a photography studio, for example, in addition to utilities and Wi-Fi.

Image Credits: Saltbox

Image Credits: Saltbox

The company secures its properties with a mix of buying and leasing by partnering with institutional real estate investors.

“These partners are acquiring assets and in most cases, are funding the entirety of capital improvements by entering into management or revenue share agreements to operate those properties,” Scriven said. He said the model is intentionally different from that of “notable flex space operators.”

“We have obviously followed those stories very closely and done our best to learn from their experiences,” he added. 

Investor Adam Demuyakor, co-founder and managing partner of Wilshire Lane Partners, said his firm was impressed with the company’s ability to “structure excellent real estate deals” to help them continue to expand nationally.

He also believes Saltbox is “extremely well-positioned to help power and enable the next generation of great direct to consumer brands.”

Playground Global General Partner Laurie Yoler said the startup provides a “purpose-built alternative” for small businesses that have been fulfilling orders out of garages and self-storage units.

Saltbox recently hired Zubin Canteenwalla  to serve as its chief operating offer. He joined Saltbox from Industrious, an operator co-working spaces, where he was SVP of Real Estate. Prior to Industrious, he was EVP of Operations at Common, a flexible residential living brand, where he led the property management and community engagement teams.

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Fluent Forever raises $4.9M for its language learning system

Fluent Forever, a startup that uses a novel learning system to help its users master a new language faster, has raised a $4.9 million funding round led by Denver-based Stout Street Capital. Other investors in this round include The Syndicate, LAUNCH, Mana Ventures, Noveus VC, Flight.VC, Insta VC, UpVentures, Firebrand Ventures, Cultivation Capital, Spero Ventures and Lofty Ventures.

In many ways, Fluent Forever is a direct competitor to Duolingo, Babbel and similar online language learning services. What sets it apart is a focus on a personalized learning system that emphasizes ear training, visual aids and something akin to spaced-repetition for helping you memorize new words and phrases. It’s a paid service (after a 14-day free trial) with subscriptions starting at $10 per month for a monthly subscription and the usual discounts for longer-term commitments.

To teach himself his first languages, the company’s founder and CEO Gabriel Wyner used the popular flashcard service Anki, wrote a book about his approach, and taught workshops on language learning using his system with Anki. But as he noted, Anki is a serious tool, and simply learning how to get the most out of it takes a lot of time and energy.

Image Credits: Fluent Forever

“I’ve watched everyone else fail at language learning,” he told me. “And the first thought is, okay, well, if you just learn how to do it right, then that’s a fixable thing. That’s exciting. And then once you have a solution for people and they’re all excited about it — but then you watch them fail because of IT reasons. That’s extra frustrating.”

In many ways then, Fluent Forever uses Wyner’s flashcard approach — because building those flashcards by hand is at the core of his learning system — and turns it into a far-easier-to-use application.

What people want, Wyner acknowledged, is a tool where you just press some buttons and learn something. But that doesn’t work. “I had to have a really strong reaction to this — a really strong answer — and say, ‘absolutely not. That is the one thing that teaches you is building it.’ ”

Wyner is not afraid to compare his approach to Duolingo’s and argues that its focus on translation exercises doesn’t translate to real language skills in the long run. At the same time, he freely acknowledges that the Duolingo user experience and gamification are far better than Fluent Forever. But he also believes that learners see far better results with his system.

Image Credits: Fluent Forever

“We ask [our users]: ‘Why are you with us? Why would you pay for us when you could just get Duolingo for free?” What they come back with is, ‘yeah, your product is rough around the edges. I wish you would fix this, this and that, but you had me thinking in Spanish in two weeks,” Wyner said.

Fluent Forever currently supports nine languages: Japanese, French, Russian, Mexican and Spanish Spanish, Italian, Korean, German and Brazilian Portuguese, with Dutch being the next language the team is tackling.

As Wyner told me, the company had trouble raising in 2019, in part because the service was seeing pretty flat growth at the time. “People are very skeptical about language learning — that is not a sexy field. People don’t like it. The idea of jumping and trying to be competitive with Duolingo was just not appealing to anyone,” he told me. Come 2020, though, growth picked up, even before the COVID pandemic. At the same time, Fluent Forever also participated in Jason Calacanis’ Launch Accelerator.

Looking ahead, Wyner tells me that Fluent Forever is looking at ways to bring live tutors into the loop. Live tutoring online has been done before, of course, and there are some companies like Preply that specialize in it already, but what Fluent Forever wants to do is combine the online language learning service with short live sessions and then use the online component to go back to that conversation over the course of a week or so. One advantage here is that these users — who will likely pay a premium for the live service — will also use their time with live tutors to create their own personalized sentences in the Fluent Forever system, which could then over time become content that’s available to all users, too.

#anki, #babbel, #crowdsourcing, #denver, #duolingo, #education, #fluent-forever, #jason-calacanis, #language-learning, #launch-accelerator, #learning, #recent-funding, #startups, #stout-street-capital, #tc

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

Lettuce celebrate the rise of indoor agriculture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AWS updates its edge computing solutions with new hardware and Local Zones

AWS today closed out its first re:Invent keynote with a focus on edge computing. The company launched two smaller appliances for its Outpost service, which originally brought AWS as a managed service and appliance right into its customers’ existing data centers in the form of a large rack. Now, the company is launching these smaller versions so that its users can also deploy them in their stores or office locations. These appliances are fully managed by AWS and offer 64 cores of compute, 128GB of memory and 4TB of local NVMe storage.

In addition, the company expanded its set of Local Zones, which are basically small extensions of existing AWS regions that are more expensive to use but offer low-latency access in metro areas. This service launched in Los Angeles in 2019 and starting today, it’s also available in preview in Boston, Houston and Miami. Soon, it’ll expand to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland and Seattle. Google, it’s worth noting, is doing something similar with its Mobile Edge Cloud.

The general idea here — and that’s not dissimilar from what Google, Microsoft and others are now doing — is to bring AWS to the edge and to do so in a variety of form factors.

As AWS CEO Andy Jassy rightly noted, AWS always believed that the vast majority of companies, “in the fullness of time” (Jassy’s favorite phrase from this keynote), would move to the cloud. Because of this, AWS focused on cloud services over hybrid capabilities early on. He argues that AWS watched others try and fail in building their hybrid offerings, in large parts because what customers really wanted was to use the same control plane on all edge nodes and in the cloud. None of the existing solutions from other vendors, Jassy argues, got any traction (though AWSs competitors would surely deny this) because of this.

The first result of that was VMware Cloud on AWS, which allowed customers to use the same VMware software and tools on AWS they were already familiar with. But at the end of the day, that was really about moving on-premises services to the cloud.

With Outpost, AWS launched a fully managed edge solution that can run AWS infrastructure in its customers’ data centers. It’s been an interesting journey for AWS, but the fact that the company closed out its keynote with this focus on hybrid — no matter how it wants to define it — shows that it now understands that there is clearly a need for this kind of service. The AWS way is to extend AWS into the edge — and I think most of its competitors will agree with that. Microsoft tried this early on with Azure Stack and really didn’t get a lot of traction, as far as I’m aware, but it has since retooled its efforts around Azure Arc. Google, meanwhile, is betting big on Anthos.

#amazon-web-services, #atlanta, #aws-reinvent-2020, #boston, #chicago, #cloud, #cloud-applications, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-services, #computing, #dallas, #denver, #developer, #enterprise, #google, #houston, #kansas-city, #las-vegas, #los-angeles, #miami, #microsoft, #minneapolis, #mobile-edge, #new-york, #philadelphia, #phoenix, #portland, #seattle, #tc, #vmware, #web-hosting, #web-services

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Recycling robotics company AMP Robotics could raise up to $70M

AMP Robotics, the recycling robotics technology developer backed by investors including Sequoia Capital and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, is close to closing on as much as $70 million in new financing, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the company’s plans.

The new financing speaks to AMP Robotics’ continued success in pilot projects and with new partnerships that are exponentially expanding the company’s deployments.

Earlier this month the company announced a new deal that represented its largest purchase order for its trash sorting and recycling robots.

That order, for 24 machine learning-enabled robotic recycling systems with the waste handling company Waste Connections, was a showcase for the efficacy of the company’s recycling technology.

That comes on the back of a pilot program earlier in the year with one Toronto apartment complex, where the complex’s tenants were able to opt into a program that would share recycling habits monitored by AMP Robotics with the building’s renters in an effort to improve their recycling behavior.

The potential benefits of AMP Robotic’s machine learning enabled robots are undeniable. The company’s technology can sort waste streams in ways that traditional systems never could and at a cost that’s far lower than most waste handling facilities.

As TechCrunch reported earlier the tech can tell the difference between high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate, low-density polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene. The robots can also sort for color, clarity, opacity and shapes like lids, tubs, clamshells and cups — the robots can even identify the brands on packaging.

AMP’s robots already have been deployed in North America, Asia and Europe, with recent installations in Spain and across the U.S. in California, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

At the beginning of the year, AMP Robotics  worked with its investor, Sidewalk Labs on a pilot program that provided residents of a single apartment building representing 250 units in Toronto with detailed information about their recycling habits. Sidewalk Labs is transporting the waste to a Canada Fibers material recovery facility where trash is sorted by both Canada Fibers employees and AMP Robotics.

Once the waste is categorized, sorted and recorded, Sidewalk communicates with residents of the building about how they’re doing in their recycling efforts.

It was only last November that the Denver-based AMP Robotics raised a $16 million round from Sequoia Capital and others to finance the early commercialization of its technology.

 

As TechCrunch reported at the time, recycling businesses used to be able to rely on China to buy up any waste stream (no matter the quality of the material). However, about two years ago, China decided it would no longer serve as the world’s garbage dump and put strict standards in place for the kinds of raw materials it would be willing to receive from other countries.

The result has been higher costs at recycling facilities, which actually are now required to sort their garbage more effectively. At the time, unemployment rates put the squeeze on labor availability at facilities where trash was sorted. Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on those recycling and waste handling facilities, despite their identification as “essential workers”.

Given the economic reality, recyclers are turning to AMP’s technology — a combination of computer vision, machine learning and robotic automation to improve efficiencies at their facilities.

And, the power of AMP’s technology to identify waste products in a stream has other benefits, according to chief executive Matanya Horowitz.

“We can identify… whether it’s a Coke or Pepsi can or a Starbucks cup,” Horowitz told TechCrunch last year. “So that people can help design their product for circularity… we’re building out our reporting capabilities and that, to them, is something that is of high interest.”

AMP Robotics declined to comment for this article.

 

#amp, #amps, #articles, #asia, #california, #china, #colorado, #denver, #europe, #florida, #machine-learning, #materials, #matter, #michigan, #minnesota, #new-york, #north-america, #pepsi, #recycling, #robot, #robotics, #sequoia-capital, #sidewalk-infrastructure-partners, #sidewalk-labs, #spain, #starbucks, #tc, #texas, #toronto, #united-states, #virginia, #water-conservation, #wisconsin

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Moon exporation startup ispace opens new U.S. office and hires SpaceX to lead development of next lander

Japanese startup ispace, which is developing lander technology to support exploration of the Moon, is opening an office in Denver, the company announced today. The Colorado location was chosen because of its access to local aerospace engineering talent, and the plan is for the company to quickly staff up a full local engineering team. ispace also announced that it has hired Kursten O’Neill, a seven year SpaceX vet, who will oversee development of ispace’s next-generation lunar lander craft.

The U.S. expansion comes as ispace looks to work more closely together with NASA, both through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, where ispace is currently partnering with U.S.-based space specialist Draper on its bid to provide lunar lander transportation services for the agency. ispace also hopes to leverage its international footprint to help be a strategic linkage between the U.S. and its international partners more broadly across the Artemis program, which is NASA’s mission series intended to help humans return to the Moon and establish a more permanent presence there for continued science and research purposes.

ispace is set to launch its first lunar landers for its Mission 1 and Mission 2 operations, currently planned to take place starting with a debut launch in 2021. Its planned Mission 3 will be the first to carry its forthcoming next-generation lander, to be designed and manufactured in the U.S. by a team led by O’Neill, which will boast a larger footprint and greater payload capacity.

#aerospace, #artemis-program, #colorado, #commercial-lunar-payload-services, #denver, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #lunar-lander, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #united-states

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Spying a pivot to ghost kitchens, Softbank’s second Vision Fund pours $120 million into Ordermark

“We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,” is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it.

The 29 year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince Softbank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round for that the company announced today.

“We have uncovered an opportunity to help drive more orders into restaurants through this offering we have called Nextbite,” Canter said. “Nextbite is a portfolio of delivery-only restaurant brands that exist only on UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates.”

After hearing about Nextbite, Softbank actually didn’t take much convincing.

Investors from the latest Vision Fund first reached out to Canter shortly after the company announced its last round of funding in 2019. Canter had just begun experimenting with Nextbite at the time, but now the business is driving a huge chunk of the company’s revenues and could account for a large percentage of the company’s total business in the coming year.

“We believe Ordermark’s leading technology platform and innovative virtual restaurant concepts are transforming the restaurant industry,” said Jeff Housenbold, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Alex and the Ordermark team have a deep understanding of the challenges that independent restaurants face. We are excited to support their mission to help independent restaurants optimize online ordering and generate incremental revenue from under-utilized kitchens.”

It’s an interesting pivot for a company that began as a centralized hub for restaurants to manage all of the online delivery orders coming in through various delivery services like GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats .

Canter is no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owns one of Los Angeles’ most famous delicatessens, the eponymous Canters, and Ordermark apocryphally started as a way to manage the restaurant’s own back-of-the-house chaos caused by a profusion of delivery service orders.

Now, instead of becoming the proprietor of one restaurant brand, Canter is running 15 of them. Unlike Cloud Kitchens, Kitchen United or Reef, Ordermark isn’t building or operating new kitchens. Instead, the company relies on the unused kitchen capacity of restaurants that the company has vetted to act as its quasi-franchisees.

Ordermark logos for some of the company’s delivery-only restaurant concepts. Image Credit: Ordermark

While most of the restaurant concepts have been developed internally, Ordermark isn’t above the occasional celebrity sponsorship. Its Nextbite service has partnered with Wiz Khalifa on a delivery-only restaurant called HotBox by Wiz, featuring “stoner-friendly munchies”.

The first brand Canter launched was The Grilled Cheese Society, which took advantage of unused kitchens at places like a Los Angeles nightclub and mom-and-pop restaurants across the East Coast to build out a footprint that now covers 100 locations nationwide.

It’s perhaps the growth of the HotBox brand that shows what kind of growth Nextbite could promote. Since the brand’s launch in early October, it has grown to a footprint that will reach 50 cities by the end of the month, according to Canter.

In some ways, Nextbite couldn’t exist without Ordermark’s delivery aggregation technology. “The way that Ordermark’s technology is designed, not only can we aggregate online orders into the device, but we can aggregate multiple brands into the device.”

For restaurants that sign up to be fulfillment partners for the Nextbite brands, there are few additional upfront costs and a fair bit of upside, according to Canter. Restaurants are making 30% margin on every order they take for one of Ordermark’s brands, Canter said.

To become a part of Nextbite’s network of restaurants the business has to be vetted by Ordermark. The company takes cues on what kinds of restaurants are performing well in different regions and develops a menu that is suited to match those trends. For instance, Nextbite recently launched a hot chicken sandwich brand after seeing the item rise in popularity on different digital delivery services.

Restaurants are chosen that can match the menu style of the delivery-only brand that Ordermark’s Nextbite business creates.

Behind those menus is Guy Simsiman, a Denver-based chef who is in charge of developing new menus for the company.

“We’re building things that we know can scale and we do a lot of upfront vetting to find the right types of fulfillment partners,” said Canter. “When a restaurant signs up to become a fulfillment partner, we’re vetting them and training them on what they need to do to … We’re guiding them to become fulfillment partners for these concepts. There’s a whole bunch of training that happens. Then there’s secret shopping and review monitoring to monitor quality.”

While Nextbite may be the future of Ordermark’s business, its overall health looks solid. The company is about to cross $1 billion worth of orders processed through its system.

“We are laser focused right now on helping our restaurants survive COVID and the best way we can do that is by doubling down on the incremental revenues of the Nextbite business,” said Canter when asked where the company’s emphasis would be going forward.

Nextbite is something we’ve been developing for a while now. We took it to market at the end of last year prior to COVID. When COVID kicked in every restaurant in America needed to be more creative. People were looking for alternative ways to supplement the loss in foot traffic,” he said. Nextbite provided an answer.

#america, #business, #ceo, #chef, #chief-executive-officer, #companies, #covid, #delivery-services, #denver, #doordash, #east-coast, #grubhub, #jeff-housenbold, #laser, #los-angeles, #managing-partner, #menu, #online-food-ordering, #ordermark, #postmates, #restaurant, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #vision-fund, #websites, #wiz

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The Shed is a startup out of Virginia trying to revive the rental-for-everything business

Reducing consumption by expanding the notion of the rental economy and giving people access to tools and equipment has been something of a startup holy grail for some time.

It’s a model that’s worked famously well for fashion and accessories (just ask investors in Rent the Runway), but has had not had the same resonance for white label goods.

The Shed, out of Richmond, Va., hopes to change that.

Launched by Karen Rodgers O’Neil, a longtime marketing executive, and Daniel Perrone, a serial entrepreneur and technology executive whose previous company, BroadMap, was acquired by Apple; The Shed hopes to take the rental model that Home Depot has turned into a billion dollar business line and take it to the masses.

Unlike Home Depot, The Shed touts its presence in eight categories. Stanley Black & Decker is a marquee early partner and the company’s executives said that others have come on board.

“We don’t buy product,” said Perrone. “We take delivery of all the products and rent them out in the local marketplaces where we do business.”

The only thing the manufacturer provides is the products and some servicing starter kit so that The Shed and its employees can manage and maintain the product.

The Shed founders Karen Rodgers O’Neil and Daniel Perrone. Image Credit: The Shed

Since its launch in April the company has expanded beyond its Richmond, Va. home base to Denver — and will be looking to expand further into Portland, Austin, and San Jose, according to Perrone.

Among the features that the company intends to roll out as it expands is a dynamic pricing capability that will enable manufacturers to wring the most out of their goods when they’re in high demand.

Rodgers O’Neil came up with the concept back in 2012 when she was working as a marketing executive for General Electric out of Boston.  Perrone met Rodgers O’Neil at a networking event in Boston and became convinced that her notion of offering more rental options to encourage a more circular economy and reduce consumption was something that could resonate with consumers.

To be sure, The Shed isn’t the first company to attempt to bring the rental business to a broader array of consumer products in an effort to cut down on consumption. The Los Angeles-based startup Joymode was attempting to do much the same thing. That company sold to an early stage investment firm out of New York.

Joymode’s chief executive, Joe Fernandez spoke about the difficulty of running the business. “Part of the thesis was that by making things available for rental, people would want to do more stuff,” said Fernandez, but what happened was that consumers needed additional reasons to use the company’s service, and there weren’t enough events to drive demand.

By contrast, The Shed isn’t owning any of the inventory, just acting as a broker and managing inventory between local retailers and manufacturers who want to take advantage of the company’s service.

In addition to Stanley Black & Decker, companies like Primus camping equipment have placed their products on The Shed along with Mobility Plus, which added wheelchairs and mobility scooters; and Replacements, the largest china dealer in the country, which is offering a “Party in a Box” for dinner, cocktail or tea parties.

To date, the company has raised $1.75 million from investors and entrepreneurs from the Richmond, Va. area. Now, with 60 manufacturers on board and another 15 to 18 vendors signing up monthly, the company is looking to expand even further.

“I joined with Karen because I saw that this would be a game changer in the rental space,” said Perrone. There are a number of retailers in specific verticals that still don’t transact online, so The Shed becomes their avenue to reach the market, he said.

#apple, #articles, #austin, #boston, #brand, #broadmap, #broker, #business, #consumer-products, #denver, #general-electric, #graphic-design, #home-depot, #joe-fernandez, #joymode, #los-angeles, #marketing, #new-york, #portland, #product-management, #richmond, #san-jose, #tc, #virginia

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StackHawk, the Denver-based bug-detecting service, hires developer of open-source project Zed Attack Proxy

StackHawk, the Denver-based software startup offering service to detect and fix security bugs, is doubling down on its support for the popular open-source OWASP Zed Attack Proxy web app security scanner by bringing on board its founder, Simon Bennetts.

At StackHawk, Bennetts will continue to focus on the development of the open-source project, which the company said is among the world’s most frequently used security scanning tools.

StackHawk already uses the open-source project for its underlying scanning technology and has built a business by layering on security test automation, integrations with development tools and functionality for new development paradigms. 

“Since founding ZAP, the vision has always been to deliver application security to developers,” Bennetts said, in a statement. “While the project has been widely adopted by security teams and pen testers, I’m excited to work with a team dedicated to delivering our original vision of AppSec for devs and that also believes in growing the open source community.” 

StackHawk founders Joni Klippert, Scott Gerlach and Ryan Severns and Bennetts found common cause in their belief that bug-editing tools are too often built for external enterprise security teams instead of the developers who are closest to the apps they’re building.

“Simon’s work on the ZAP project has both changed the security and open-source worlds for the better. It became clear that we were highly aligned in our mission to bring application security into the hands of developers,” said Klippert, the chief executive and founder of StackHawk, in a statement. “Simon joining the StackHawk team provides an exciting opportunity to invest more in the ZAP open source project, while also building capabilities that make it easy for enterprise development teams to streamline AppSec into their CI/CD pipelines.” 

In the eleven years since Bennetts first began working on ZAP, the OWASP Foundation-incorporated security scanner has become popular among the developer community for its dynamic application security testing.

After the hire, StackHawk said that nothing much will change. Bennetts will continue to work on the open-source project while the company will continue to build functionality around the scanner.

The Denver-based company has raised nearly $5 million in financing from investors including Flybridge, Costanoa Ventures, Matchstick Ventures and Foundry Group .

#application-security, #computer-security, #computing, #costanoa-ventures, #cyberwarfare, #denver, #flybridge, #foundry-group, #matchstick-ventures, #penetration-test, #security, #simon-bennetts, #software-testing, #stackhawk, #startups, #tc, #web-applications

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Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18

After a series of closed alpha tests, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Studios and Asobo Studios today announced that the next-gen Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 will launch on August 18. Pre-orders are now live and FS 2020 will come in three editions, standard ($59.99), deluxe ($89.99) and premium deluxe ($119.99), with the more expensive versions featuring more planes and handcrafted international airports.

The last part may come as a bit of a surprise, given that Microsoft and Asobo are using assets from Bing Maps and some AI magic on Azure to essentially recreate the Earth — and all of its airports — in Flight Simulator 2020. Still, the team must have spent some extra time on making some of these larger airports especially realistic and today, if you were to buy even one of these larger airports as an add-on for Flight Simulator X or X-Plane, you’d easily be spending $30 or more.

The default edition features 20 planes and 30 hand-modeled airports, while the deluxe edition bumps that up to 25 and 35 and the high-end version comes with 30 planes and 40 airports.

Among those airports not modeled in all their glorious detail in the default edition (they are still available there, by the way — just without some of the extra detail) are the likes of Amsterdam Schiphol, Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Frankfurt, Heathrow and San Francisco.

The same holds true for planes, with the 787 only available in the deluxe package, for example. Still, based on what Asobo has shown in its regular updates so far, even the 20 planes in the standard edition have been modeled in far more detail than in previous versions and maybe even beyond what some add-ons provide today.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Since a lot of what Microsoft and Adobo are doing here involves using cloud technology to, for example, stream some of the more detailed scenery to your computer on demand, chances are we’ll see regular content updates for these various editions as well, though the details here aren’t yet clear.

“Your fleet of planes and detailed airports from whatever edition you choose are all available on launch day as well as access to the ongoing content updates that will continually evolve and expand the flight simulation platform,” is what Microsoft has to say about this for the time being.

Chances are we will get more details in the coming weeks, as Flight Simulator 2020 is about to enter its closed beta phase.

Image Credits: Microsoft

#alpha, #artificial-intelligence, #cloud-technology, #computing, #denver, #frankfurt, #heathrow, #microsoft, #microsoft-flight-simulator, #pc-games, #san-francisco, #simulation, #tc, #video-games, #x-plane, #xbox-one

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With partnerships at major children’s hospitals, Manatee seeks clinical validation of its CBT-based app

When Manatee founder Damayanti Dipayana’s brother was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, the family took all the steps to ensure that he was properly cared for. All of the things that could have been an obstacle to getting treatment weren’t for Dipayana’s family.

A comfortably middle class background, a supportive family and ready access to care were all available, but still the therapy didn’t take. For Dipayana, it was witnessing the breakdown between the care provided at sessions and the differences in treatment at home, that led her to create Manatee.

“Therapy just sucks for kids,” Dipayana said. “My brother hated it.. It can’t be the best thing for children to put them in a room with an adult and have them talk about their problems for an hour.”

Now the graduate from Techstars Los Angeles has $1.5 million in funding from investors including the Michigan-based investment firm, Grand Ventures; Telosity, a fund launched by Vinaj Ventures & Innovation, that invests in companies improving children’s and young adult’s mental health; and the American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact, will pursue clinical validation for its suite of apps and services to provide a continuum of care for children with cognitive and behavioral disorders. 

Beginning with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Manatee has started a trial with ten clinicians and fifty families to evaluate the commercial use case for Dipayana’s service.

The first targets for care are anxiety and oppositional disorder, Dapayana said.

Image credit: Manatee

“I really want to focus on children. From a social [return on investment] perspective it seems insane to me that we don’t invest more in the early wellbeing of children,” said Dipayana. “If we did then we probably wouldn’t have to deal with a  ballooning juvenile detention system.”

From the company’s earliest days the stars seemed to align for Dipayana. She found her technical co-founder, Shawn Kuenzler, thanks to a post on AngelList. A veteran in the health tech startup world, Kuenzler ran engineering at Health Language and Zen Planner and has two exits under his belt. If that wasn’t serendipitous enough, Kuenzler’s wife is a clinical psychologist.

The two Denver-based entrepreneurs then took their startup on the road to the Techstars Los Angeles accelerator. It was there that they were introduced to contacts at companies including Headspace and LA Children’s Hospital that are paving the way for clinical validation of digitally delivered cognitive behavioral healthcare.

“We’re going to spend money and resources on launching our research with Children’s LA to understand the impact for a health system,” Dipayana said. “We position it as everyday therapy for kids. We provide the platform for providers to make it the day-to-day therapy for kids.” 

Manatee sells its services directly to healthcare systems to ensure that it can reach the broadest population of users rather than just ones who could afford to access the company’s app-based offerings. Doctors use Manatee as a clinical dashboard and way to communicate to both a child and their family around care plans and treatment.

“I thought about this really long and hard… Looking from my personal experience. Parents and families that have kids with autism… there’s so much snake oil that gets pushed down their throat that they’ll try anything,” Dipayana said. “It was very important to me that one i understand the clinical workflow and understood how the workforce manages behavioral healthcare and whether the work we were doing was valuable.”

#angellist, #denver, #grand-ventures, #headspace, #los-angeles, #mental-health, #tc, #techstars

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Uber pushes into on-demand public transit with its first SaaS partnership

Uber will manage an on-demand service for Marin County in the San Francisco Bay area with a Software as a Service product as part of the ride-hailing company’s broader strategy to push into public transit.

Marin Transit will pay Uber a subscription fee to use its management software to facilitate requesting, matching and tracking of its high-occupancy vehicle fleet, starting with a service that operates along the Highway 101 corridor. Marin Transit trips will show up in the Uber app and let users book and even share rides.

Users in Marin County will see a new option called Marin Connect when they open the Uber app. The feature allows customers to book a ride on the six-seater and wheelchair-accessible vans operated by Marin Transit. Fares are $4 per mile or $3 for Marin Access riders. There is no booking fee, Uber said. The app will allow riders to share the ride if they’re traveling in the same direction. For now, the maximum occupancy is two riders.

The service will operate weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. PDT and run down the Highway 101 corridor between Mill Valley and Novato.

The deal marks the first SaaS partnership for Uber and a likely pathway moving forward. Uber will generate revenue by offering this as a subscription. All of the fares will head directly to Marin Transit. The company, which recently offloaded its micromobility unit Jump in a deal with Lime, has reshaped its strategy as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended its business. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said during the company’s last earnings call that the company is focused on growing Eats, its food delivery business, as well as public transit.

This is not Uber’s first foray into public transit. The company already has a public transit feature called Journey Planning that is available in more than 15 cities around the world, including the Marin area since 2019. The company has also worked with Denver and Las Vegas. In 2018, Uber partnered with mobile ticketing platform Masabi to let people book and use transit tickets from within the Uber app.

This SaaS partnership with Marin Transit is a bigger push into public transit and has more potential to generate revenue if Uber can convince other transit authorities to follow suit. It also puts it in direct competition with Via, an on-demand shuttle startup that hit a $2.25 billion valuation in March 2020 following a Series E funding round led by Exor, the Agnelli family holding company that owns stakes in PartnerRe, Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Transit Authority of Marin (TAM) is also partnering with Uber to launch a first/last-mile voucher program to and from transit stops. These vouchers can be used for Marin Connect as well.

Both services will begin July 1.

#california, #dara-khosrowshahi, #denver, #food-delivery, #las-vegas, #mill-valley, #on-demand-service, #ride-hailing, #transportation, #uber

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Polestar to open first U.S. stores in the second half of 2020

Polestar’s first U.S. retail stores will open in Los Angeles, New York City and two locations in San Francisco later this year — the latest milestone for the automaker as it gets closer to bringing its all-electric vehicle to market.

Polestar, which is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China, was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. The 2021 Polestar 2 is the first EV to come out of Polestar since it was recast as an electric performance brand in 2017.

The company has had plans to open physical retail showrooms called “Polestar Spaces.” Those plans have been delayed by stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The stores are expected to open the second half of 2020.

Polestars plans to expand its retail footprint in the first half of 2021 with locations in Boston, Denver, Texas, Washington D.C. and Florida regions. More than 80% of Polestar 2 reservation holders reside within a 150-mile range of the stores scheduled to open by mid 2021, according to Gregor Hembrough, head of Polestar USA.

Unlike the traditional dealership model, Polestar will sell or lease its cars online to customers in all 50 states. The physical stores, which will be in partnership with retailers such as Manhattan Motorcars, Galpin Motors and Price-Simms Automotive Group, are meant to supplement its digital strategy.

#automotive, #boston, #cars, #china, #denver, #florida, #geely, #los-angeles, #new-york-city, #polestar, #retail-stores, #san-francisco, #texas, #transportation, #united-states, #volvo-cars, #washington-d-c

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Minneapolis-based Yardbird raised $4.4 million for furniture made from recycled ocean-bound plastic

The Minneapolis-based outdoor furniture brand Yardbird, which makes its wares in part from recycled plastic harvested from beaches and ocean-bound waterways, has raised $4.4 million in financing.

Even heading into the teeth of a pandemic, American consumers won’t be denied their sustainably manufactured patio furniture.

Yardbird, which closed the round in March, makes its furniture from recycled plastic that the company says is repurposed ocean plastic sourced from beaches, waterways and ocean-bound susceptible locations. The company said it incorporated over 75,000 pounds of this material into its furniture in 2020 alone — meaning roughly half of every piece of resin-based wicker furniture that the company makes contains that recycled material.

It’s not only the feedstock that makes the company green. The company said it offsets its entire carbon footprint — from commuting, product transportation, and warehouse, showroom and office electricity and heating — with a service called CarbonFund.

Since the coroanvirus outbreak hit in late March, the company has worked to change several aspects of its business, according to company co-founder Jay Dillon.

The digital nature of the business means that the company didn’t have much in the way of a physical footprint to shut down, but its emphasis on building a direct to consumer brand has meant increased investment in the company’s website.

“Our supply chain runs through China and in mid-February when the outbreak hit them the hardest, I was very concerned about supply concerns and was up all night talking with factories. At the time, we wanted to get as much product in-hand as possible to manage inventory, but now we are scaling that back because there are so many unknowns in the U.S. even though China is back on the grid,” wrote Dillon in an email.

The company moved to contactless delivery of its furniture in late March and has seen steady online sales for its outdoor furniture as consumers invest in sprucing up the only outdoor spaces they can access in some fases.

“We still believe in our model, and so do our investors—we have secured bank lines of credit to help us weather this storm but as of right now, we don’t know how long the storm will last,” Dillon wrote.

#articles, #brand, #business, #china, #denver, #detroit, #furniture, #kansas-city, #marketing, #minneapolis, #tc, #united-states

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