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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ve reached out to OpenSea for further comment.

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

Early-stage benchmarks for young cybersecurity companies

We’re quick to celebrate the extraordinary victories of Israel’s multiplying cybersecurity unicorns, but every success story must start somewhere. The early days of any young startup decide how successful it can be, which is why we’ve developed a focused, value-add program to support cybersecurity founders during this most critical stage and maximize their potential in building market-leading companies.

However, the early stages of cybersecurity company-building are often shrouded in mystery, only coming into the light for fundraising and feature announcements. This leaves many entrepreneurs we speak with asking what exactly cybersecurity companies are achieving behind the curtain to earn these huge victories.

Though every company’s journey is unique, we can tease out trends and patterns to establish performance benchmarks for the cybersecurity ecosystem as a whole. To most entrepreneurs, however, the sensitive data required to understand the early success of a company is often unavailable or obscured. Moreover, the industry has yet to formally define proxies for growth and momentum beyond fundraising — leaving cybersecurity founders aiming for landmarks without guideposts.

When it comes to contracts, timing can provide important insight into the quality and performance of the sales pipeline. On average, successful companies will have closed their first paying customers in the U.S. within 12 months of their seed round.

Entrepreneurs require guideposts to aspire to when building large companies, and critical customer and revenue expectations can be best established by looking at what already successful cybersecurity companies have accomplished. Such metrics have been previously established for wider areas of technology, such as SaaS.

Leveraging our experience and resources, we collect this knowledge to keep our founders informed with the most up-to-date cybersecurity-specific metrics for long-term and large-scale growth. We hope that sharing these unique insights into early-stage cybersecurity companies — based on our own portfolio companies’ average performance — will help entrepreneurs in the wider Israeli ecosystem more confidently build their budgets and roadmaps with industry evidence.

Benchmarks for early-stage cybersecurity companies

Image Credits: YL Ventures

What should revenue look like over the first few years?

Though today’s investors are growing more aggressive, $500,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR) is a traditional baseline requirement for a successful Series A from strong investors, and hitting that mark quickly should remain every entrepreneur’s goal. Hitting this target indicates product-market fit and customer willingness to commit to your solution.

Discounting variances in pricing, the best companies we’ve seen are able to reach the $500,000 benchmark in less than 18 months. From there, top-performing companies can expect to gain momentum and reach $1 million in ARR in 18 to 24 months. Such momentum is contingent on a number of factors for Israeli cybersecurity entrepreneurs, but growth is mainly reliant on how well founders connect with relevant customers outside the Israeli market.

#banking, #column, #computer-security, #customer-success, #cybersecurity, #ec-column, #ec-cybersecurity, #entrepreneur, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #healthcare, #israel, #private-equity, #security, #startup-company, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital, #yl-ventures

GSA blocks senator from reviewing documents used to approve Zoom for government use

The General Services Administration has denied a senator’s request to review documents Zoom submitted to have its software approved for use in the federal government.

The denial was in response to a letter sent by Democratic senator Ron Wyden to the GSA in May, expressing concern that the agency cleared Zoom for use by federal agencies just weeks before a major security vulnerability was discovered in the app.

Wyden said the discovery of the bug raises “serious questions about the quality of FedRAMP’s audits.”

Zoom was approved to operate in government in April 2019 after receiving its FedRAMP authorization, a program operated by the GSA that ensures cloud services comply with a standardized set of security requirements designed to toughen the service from some of the most common threats. Without this authorization, federal agencies cannot use cloud products or technologies that are not cleared.

Months later, Zoom was forced to patch its Mac app after a security researcher found a flaw that could be abused to remotely switch on a user’s webcam without their permission. Apple was forced to intervene since users were still affected by the vulnerabilities even after uninstalling Zoom. As the pandemic spread and lockdowns were enforced, Zoom’s popularity skyrocketed — as did the scrutiny — including a technical analysis by reporters that found Zoom was not truly end-to-end encrypted as the company long claimed.

Wyden wrote to the GSA to say he found it “extremely concerning” that the security bugs were discovered after Zoom’s clearance. In the letter, the senator requested the documents known as the “security package,” which Zoom submitted as part of the FedRAMP authorization process, to understand how and why the app was cleared by GSA.

The GSA declined Wyden’s first request in July 2020 on the grounds that he was not a committee chair. In the new Biden administration, Wyden was named chair of the Senate Finance Committee and requested Zoom’s security package again.

But in a new letter sent to Wyden’s office late last month, GSA declined the request for the second time, citing security concerns.

“GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)

“The security package you have requested contains highly sensitive proprietary and other confidential information relating to the security associated with the Zoom for Government product. Safeguarding this information is critical to maintaining the integrity of the offering and any government data it hosts,” said the GSA letter. “Based on our review, GSA believes that disclosure of the Zoom security package would create significant security risks.”

In response to the GSA’s letter, Wyden told TechCrunch that he was concerned that other flawed software may have been approved for use across the government.

“The intent of GSA’s FedRAMP program is good — to eliminate red tape so that multiple federal agencies don’t have to review the security of the same software. But it’s vitally important that whichever agency conducts the review do so thoroughly,” said Wyden. “I’m concerned that the government’s audit of Zoom missed serious cybersecurity flaws that were subsequently uncovered and exposed by security researchers. GSA’s refusal to share the Zoom audit with Congress calls into question the security of the other software products that GSA has approved for federal use.”

Of the people we spoke with who have first-hand knowledge of the FedRAMP process, either as a government employee or as a company going through the certification, FedRAMP was described as a comprehensive but by no means an exhaustive list of checks that companies have to meet in order to meet the security requirements of the federal government.

Others said that the process had its limits and would benefit from reform. One person with knowledge of how FedRAMP works said the process was not a complete audit of a product’s source code but akin to a checklist of best practices and meeting compliance requirements. Much of it relies on trusting the vendor, said the person, describing it like ” an honor system.” Another person said the FedRAMP process cannot catch every bug, as evidenced by executive action taken by President Biden this week aimed at modernizing and improving the FedRAMP process.

Most of the people we spoke to weren’t surprised that Wyden’s office was denied the request, citing the sensitivity of a company’s FedRAMP security package.

The people said that companies going through the certification process have to provide highly technical details about the security of their product, which if exposed would almost certainly be damaging to the company. Knowing where security weaknesses might be could tip off cyber-criminals, one of the people said. Companies often spend millions on improving their security ahead of a FedRAMP audit but companies wouldn’t risk going through the certification if they thought their trade secrets would get leaked, they added.

When asked by GSA why it objected to Wyden’s request, Zoom’s head of U.S. government relations Lauren Belive argued that handing over the security package “would set a dangerous precedent that would undermine the special trust and confidence” that companies place in the FedRAMP process.

GSA puts strict controls on who can access a FedRAMP security package. You need a federal government or military email address, which the senator’s office has. But the reason for GSA denying Wyden’s request still isn’t clear, and when reached a GSA spokesperson would not explain how a member of Congress would obtain a company’s FedRAMP security package

“GSA values its relationship with Congress and will continue to work with Senator Wyden and our committees of jurisdiction to provide appropriate information regarding our programs and operations,” said GSA spokesperson Christina Wilkes, adding:

“GSA works closely with private sector partners to provide a standardized approach to security authorizations for cloud services through the [FedRAMP]. Zoom’s FedRAMP security package and related documents provide detailed information regarding the security measures associated with the Zoom for Government product. GSA’s consistent practice with regard to sensitive security and trade secret information is to withhold the material absent an official written request of a congressional committee with jurisdiction, and pursuant to controls on further dissemination or publication of the information.”

GSA wouldn’t say which congressional committee had jurisdiction or whether Wyden’s role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee suffices, nor would the agency answer questions about the efficacy of the FedRAMP process raised by Wyden.

Zoom spokesperson Kelsey Knight said that cloud companies like Zoom “provide proprietary and confidential information to GSA as part of the FedRAMP authorization process with the understanding that it will be used only for their use in making authorization decisions. While we do not believe Zoom’s FedRAMP security package should be disclosed outside of this narrow purpose, we welcome conversations with lawmakers and other stakeholders about the security of Zoom for Government.”

Zoom said it has “engaged in security enhancements to continually improve its products,” and received FedRAMP reauthorization in 2020 and 2021 as part of its annual renewal. The company declined to say to what extent the Zoom app was audited as part of the FedRAMP process.

Over two dozen federal agencies use Zoom, including the Defense Department, Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Executive Office of the President.

#apps, #biden, #biden-administration, #chair, #cloud-computing, #cloud-services, #computing, #congress, #department-of-defense, #executive, #federal-government, #fedramp, #government, #head, #internet, #internet-security, #official, #president, #ron-wyden, #security, #senator, #software, #spokesperson, #technology, #u-s-government, #united-states, #web-conferencing, #zoom

Cybereason raises $275M at Series F, adds Steven Mnuchin to board

Cybereason, a US-Israeli late-stage cybersecurity startup that provides extended detection and response (XDR) services, has secured $275 million in Series F funding. 

The investment was led by Liberty Strategic Capital, a venture capital fund recently founded by Steven Mnuchin, who served as U.S. Treasury Secretary under the Trump administration. As part of the deal, Mnuchin will join Cybereason’s board of directors, along with Liberty advisor Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Trump until his retirement in 2019.

Lior Div, CEO and co-founder of Cybereason, tells TechCrunch that the startup’s decision to work with Liberty Strategy Capital came down to the firm’s “massive network” and the “understanding of the financial and government markets that Mnuchin and Gen. Joseph Dunford bring to our team.”

“For example, the executive order on cybersecurity put out by the Biden Administration recommends that endpoint detection and response solutions be deployed on all endpoints,” Dior added. “This accelerates the importance of solutions like ours in the public market, and Liberty Strategic Capital has the relationships to help accelerate our go-to-market strategy in the federal sector.”

This round, which will be used to fuel “hypergrowth driven by strong market demand,” follows $389 million in prior funding from SoftBank, CRV, Spark Capital, and Lockheed Martin. The company didn’t state at what valuation it raised the funds, but it is estimated to be in the region of $3 billion.

Cybereason’s recent growth, which saw it end 2020 at over $120 million in annual recurring revenue, has been largely driven by its AI-powered platform. Unlike traditional alert-centric models, Cybereason’s Defense Platform is operation-centric, which means it exposes and remediates entire malicious operations. The service details the full attack story from root cause to impacted users and devices, which the company claims significantly reduces the time taken to investigate and recover from an enterprise-wide cyber attack. 

The company, whose competitors include the likes of BlackBerry-owned Cylance and CrowdStrike, also this week expanded its channel presence with the launch of its so-called Defenders League, a global program that enables channel partners to use its technology and services to help their customers prevent and recover from cyberattacks. Cybereason claims its technology has helped protect customers from the likes of the recent SolarWinds supply-chain attack and other high-profile ransomware attacks launched by DarkSide, REvil, and Conti groups. 

Today’s $275 million funding round is likely to be Cybereason’s last before it goes public. Div previously said in August 2019 the company planned to IPO within two years, though he wouldn’t be pressed on whether the company is gearing up to go public when asked by TechCrunch. However, the company did compare its latest investment to SentinelOne‘s November 2020 Series F round, which was secured just months before it filed for a $100 million IPO.

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #companies, #computing, #crowdstrike, #crv, #cybereason, #cylance, #donald-trump, #executive, #funding, #lockheed-martin, #neuberger-berman, #president, #security, #softbank, #softbank-group, #solarwinds, #spark-capital, #steve-mnuchin, #techcrunch, #united-states

Biden’s sweeping executive order takes on big tech’s ‘bad mergers,’ ISPs and more

The Biden administration just introduced a sweeping, ambitious plan to forcibly inject competition into some consolidated sectors of the American economy — the tech sector prominent among them — through executive action.

“Today President Biden is taking decisive action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses,” a new White House fact sheet on the forthcoming order states.

The order, which Biden will sign Friday, initiates a comprehensive “whole-of-government” approach that loops in more then twelve different agencies at the federal level to regulate monopolies, protect consumers and curtail bad behavior from some of the world’s biggest corporations.

In the fact sheet, the White House lays out its plans to take matters to regulate big business into its own hands at the federal level. As far as tech is concerned, that comes largely through emboldening the FTC and the Justice Department — two federal agencies with antitrust enforcement powers.

Most notably for big tech, which is already bracing for regulatory existential threats, the White House explicitly asserts here that those agencies have legal cover to “challenge prior bad mergers that past Administrations did not previously challenge” — i.e. unwinding acquisitions that built a handful of tech companies into the behemoths they are today. The order calls on antitrust agencies to enforce antitrust laws “vigorously.”

Federal scrutiny will prioritize “dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.” Facebook, Google and Amazon are particularly on notice here, though Apple isn’t likely to escape federal attention either.

“Over the past ten years, the largest tech platforms have acquired hundreds of companies—including alleged ‘killer acquisitions’ meant to shut down a potential competitive threat,” the White House wrote in the fact sheet. “Too often, federal agencies have not blocked, conditioned, or, in some cases, meaningfully examined these acquisitions.”

The biggest tech companies have regularly defended their longstanding strategy of buying up the competition by arguing that because those acquisitions went through without friction at the time, they shouldn’t be viewed as illegal in hindsight. In no uncertain terms, the new executive order makes it clear that the Biden administration isn’t having any of it.

The White House also specifically singles out internet service providers for scrutiny, ordering the FCC to prioritize consumer choice and institute broadband “nutrition labels” that clearly state speed caps and hidden feeds. The FCC began working on the labels in the Obama administration but the work was scrapped after Trump took office.

The order also directly calls on the FCC to restore net neutrality rules, which were stripped in 2017 to the widespread horror of open internet advocates and most of the tech industry outside of the service providers that stood to benefit.

The White House will also tell the FTC to create new privacy rules meant to guard consumers against surveillance and the “accumulation of extraordinarily amounts of sensitive personal information,” which free services like Facebook, YouTube and others have leveraged to build their vast empires. The White House also taps the FTC to create rules that protect smaller businesses from being pre-empted by large platforms, which in many cases abuse their market dominance with a different sort of data-based surveillance to out-compete up-and-coming competitors.

Finally, the executive order encourages the FTC to put right to repair rules in place that would free consumers from constraints that discourage DIY and third-party repairs. A new White House Competition Council under the Director of the National Economic Council will coordinate the federal execution of the proposals laid out in the new order.

The antitrust effort from the executive branch mirrors parallel actions in the FTC and Congress. In the FTC, Biden has installed a fearsome antitrust crusader in Lina Khan, a young legal scholar and fierce Amazon critic who proposes a philosophical overhaul to the way the federal government defines monopolies. Khan now leads the FTC as its chair.

In Congress, a bipartisan flurry of bills intended to rein in the tech industry are slowly wending their way toward becoming law, though plenty of hurdles remain. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee debated the six bills, which were crafted separately to help them survive opposing lobbying pushes from the tech industry. These legislative efforts could modernize antitrust laws, which have failed to keep pace with the modern realities of giant, internet-based businesses.

“Competition policy needs new energy and approaches so that we can address America’s monopoly problem,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a prominent tech antitrust hawk in Congress, said of the executive order. “That means legislation to update our antitrust laws, but it also means reimagining what the federal government can do to promote competition under our current laws.”

Citing the acceleration of corporate consolidation in recent decades, the White House argues that a handful of large corporations dominates across industries, including healthcare, agriculture and tech and consumers, workers and smaller competitors pay the price for their outsized success. The administration will focus antitrust enforcement on those corners of the market as well as evaluating the labor market and worker protections on the whole.

“Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation… Economists find that as competition declines, productivity growth slows, business investment and innovation decline, and income, wealth, and racial inequality widen,” the White House wrote.

 

#amazon, #america, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #broadband, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #executive, #facebook, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-government, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #healthcare, #internet-service-providers, #lina-khan, #president, #tc, #white-house, #youtube

Zero trust unicorn Illumio closes $225M Series F led by Thoma Bravo

Illumio, a self-styled zero trust unicorn, has closed a $225 million Series F funding round at a $2.75 billion valuation. 

The round was led by Thoma Bravo, which recently bought cybersecurity vendor Proofpoint by $12.3 billion, and supported by Franklin Templeton, Hamilton Lane, and Blue Owl Capital. 

The round lands more than two years after Illumio’s Series E funding round in which it raised $65 million, and fueled speculation of an impending IPO. The company’s founder, Andrew Rubin, still isn’t ready to be pressed on whether the company plans to go public, though he told TechCrunch: “If we do our job right, and if we make our customers successful, I’d like to think that would be part of our journey.”

Illumio’s latest funding round is well-timed. Not only does it come amid a huge rise in successful cyberattacks which show that some of the more traditional cybersecurity measures are no longer working, from the SolarWinds hack in early 2020 to the more recent attack on Colonial Pipeline, but it also comes just weeks after President Joe Biden issued an executive order pushing federal agencies to implement significant cybersecurity initiatives, including a zero trust architecture. 

“And just a couple of weeks ago, Anne Neuberger [deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity] put out a memo on White House stationary to all of corporate America saying we’re living through a ransomware pandemic, and here’s six things that we’re imploring you to do,” Rubin says. “One of them was to segment your network.”

Illumio focuses on protecting data centers and cloud networks through something it calls micro-segmentation, which it claims makes it easier to manage and guard against potential breaches, as well as to contain a breach if one occurs. This zero trust approach to security — a concept centered on the belief that businesses should not automatically trust anything inside or outside its perimeters — has never been more important for organizations, according to Illumio. 

“Cyber events are no longer constrained to cyber space,” says Rubin. “That’s why people are finally saying that, after 30 years of relying solely on detection to keep us safe, we cannot rely on it 100% of the time. Zero trust is now becoming the mantra.”

Illumio tells TechCrunch it will use the newly raised funds to make a “huge” investment in its field operations and channel partner network, and to invest in innovation, engineering and its product. 

The late-stage startup, which was founded in 2013 and is based in California, says more than 10% of Fortune 100 companies — including Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas SA and Salesforce — now use its technology to protect their data centers, networks and other applications. It saw 100% international growth during the pandemic, and says it’s also broadening its customer base across more industries. 

The company has raised more now raised more $550 million from investors include Andreessen Horowitz, General Catalyst and Formation 8.

#america, #andreessen-horowitz, #anne-neuberger, #california, #colonial-pipeline, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberwarfare, #executive, #formation-8, #franklin-templeton, #funding, #general-catalyst, #information-technology, #joe-biden, #morgan-stanley, #network-management, #president, #proofpoint, #salesforce, #security, #solarwinds, #system-administration, #thoma-bravo, #unicorn, #white-house

Before an exit, founders must get their employment law ducks in a row

Successfully selling a business has much to do with timing. For many entrepreneurs, it’s the high-stakes end game where they cash out and reap the rewards of their efforts. At a certain point, when both buyers and sellers are working hard to close the deal, negotiations can move very quickly. If you’re the seller, this is not the time to discover unanticipated problems in your business.

Distressingly often, these problems are related to employment. Inattention to employment issues can have a significant impact on deals — from preventing closings and reducing the deal value to altering the deal terms or significantly limiting the pool of potential buyers.

Poor compliance, lack of policies or flawed practices mean potential liability exposure or expensive policy revisions and employee retraining — all of which can devalue your business.

Fortunately, such issues typically can be resolved well in advance with a little forethought and legal guidance. It’s important to get your employment ducks in a row long before you start planning your exit.

What follows is an overview of the three main categories of employment issues that can derail or delay a sale. For the most part, these assume an asset sale, but may vary in the case of a stock sale.

Compliance

By far the most significant problem is general employment law compliance. This means creating strong employment policies and practices that are documented, in place and operating long before you pursue a deal. The key area is wage and hour issues — timekeeping and payroll practices, worker classification issues (employee vs. independent contractor; exempt vs. non-exempt), meal and rest periods, PTO policies and payouts at termination.

#articles, #column, #ec-column, #employment, #employment-laws, #executive, #hiring, #labor, #law, #startups

Atomic-backed Jumpcut uses data to advance diversity in film

Jumpcut founder Kartik Hosanagar is a professor at the Wharton School, but about ten years ago, he spent his summer in an unlikely way: he wrote a screenplay. Set in India, his script garnered some interest from producers, but no one took the plunge to fund a film by a first-time Indian director.

Now, films featuring diverse casts are gaining traction – this year, Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color, and only the second woman ever, to win the Academy Award for Best Director. At the previous ceremony, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Still, according to a recent report from McKinsey & Company, Hollywood leaves $10 billion on the table each year due to the industry’s lack of diversity.

“How do you make a bet on underrepresented voices or underrepresented stories?” asked Hosanagar. “While there’s awareness, there’s no action, because nobody knows how to do it. So that’s what got me into Jumpcut. It’s this rare company where 20 years of my work on data science and entrepreneurship meets with who I am outside of my work.”

At Wharton, Hosanagar is the Faculty Lead for the AI for Business program. He was a founder of Yodle, which was acquired by web.com for $340 million in 2016. But for this next venture, he wanted to tackle Hollywood’s homogeneity hands-on by using his experience with data science to de-risk media projects from underrepresented creators.

“The vision is to create a more inclusive era of global content creation,” he said to TechCrunch.

Hosanagar started working on Jumpcut in 2019, but today, the Atomic-backed company launches out of stealth as the first data science-driven studio working to elevate underrepresented voices in film. Already the studio has 12 TV and film projects in the works with partners like 36-time Academy Award nominee Lawrence Bender (“Pulp Fiction,” “Good Will Hunting”), Emmy Award-winning producer Shelby Stone (“Bessie,” “The Chi”), and showrunner Scott Rosenbaum (“Chuck,” “The Shield”).

Jumpcut models itself after Y-Combinator in its approach, pairing emerging talent with buyers and producers. First, Jumpcut uses an algorithm to scan hundreds of thousands of videos from platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Wattpad to find promising talent. The algorithm narrows down the extensive field to locate creators who are consistently finding new audiences and increasing their engagement. Then, the Jumpcut team – including advisors and veterans from Netflix, Buzzfeed, CBS, Sony, and WarnerMedia – identifies who to connect with.

In one example of the algorithm’s success, Hosanagar pointed to Anna Hopkins, an actress who has appeared on shows like “The Expanse” and “Shadowhunters.” Though Hopkins has found some success in front of the camera, she also wants to write.

“We discovered some of her short films, and the algorithm identified it because people had strong emotional reactions in the comments, like, ‘heartwarming but in a positive way,’ or ‘give me a tissue,’” Hosanagar explained. Since Hopkins isn’t publicly known as a writer, she assumed that Jumpcut found her through a television network she had pitched a script to, but that wasn’t the case. “We said, ‘no, our algorithms found you.’”

Once a creator is identified by Jumpcut, they can A/B test their ideas with audiences of over 100,000 potential viewers, which helps the company prove to funders through data science that these ideas can sell.

“The idea there is that we don’t wait for creators to get discovered by the traditional Hollywood agencies, because that requires the creators to have access to the top agents, and that again brings you back to the old boys club,” Hosanagar said. “We’re automating a lot of that process and discovering these people who are creating great stories that are resonating with audiences, not waiting for some Hollywood agency to discover them.”

Once the creators have an idea that tests well with a wide audience, they’re invited to Jumpcut Collective, an incubator program that helps artists develop an idea from a concept to a pitch in 6 weeks. Then, Jumpcut helps match projects with producing partners and buyers.

So far, Jumpcut has hosted three incubator programs. Out of the twelve Jumpcut projects currently underway, Hosanagar says that nine or ten of them came out of the incubator. One project, for example, is now being developed in partnership with Disney’s Asia Pacific Division.

Jumpcut isn’t disclosing the amount raised in this round of seed funding, but confirms that Atomic is the only investor in their seed round.

Hosanagar is joined on the project by Dilip Rajan, his former student and a former product manager at BuzzFeed, and Winnie Kemp, a former SVP of Originals at Super Deluxe and CBS. There, she developed and executive produced “Chambers,” the first show with a Native American lead, and “This Close,” the first show with deaf creators and cast. Most of their funding will go toward payroll, which includes engineers, data scientists, and product managers on the product side of the company, as well as development executives on the creative side, who run the incubator.

#actress, #advisors, #artificial-intelligence, #atomic, #buzzfeed, #chuck, #director, #disney, #executive, #founder, #funding, #hollywood, #india, #jumpcut, #media, #netflix, #producer, #product-manager, #sony, #startups, #svp, #tc, #warnermedia, #wattpad, #writer, #youtube

Tiger Global leads $30M investment into Briq, a fintech for the construction industry

Briq, which has developed a fintech platform used by the construction industry,  has raised $30 million dollars in a Series B funding round led by Tiger Global Management.

The financing is among the largest Series B fundraises by a construction software startup, according to the company, and brings Briq’s total raised to $43 million since its January 2018 inception. Existing backers Eniac Ventures and Blackhorn Ventures also participated in the round.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy is a former executive at construction tech giant Procore (which recently went public and has a market cap of $10.4 billion) Canadian software giant CMIC. Wall Street veteran Ron Goldshmidt is co-founder and COO.

Briq describes its offering as a financial planning and workflow automation platform that “drastically reduces” the time to run critical financial processes, while increasing the accuracy of forecasts and financial plans.

Briq has developed a toolbox of proprietary technology that it says allows it to extract and manipulate financial data without the use of APIs. It also has developed construction-specific data models that allows it to build out projections and create models of how much a project might cost, and how much could conceivably be made. Currently, Briq manages or forecasts about $30 billion in construction volume.

Specifically, Briq has two main offerings: Briq’s Corporate Performance Management (CPM) platform, which models financial outcomes at the project and corporate level and BriqCash, a construction-specific banking platform for managing invoices and payments. 

Put simply, Briq aims to allow contractors “to go from plan to pay” in one platform with the goal of solving the age-old problem of construction projects (very often) going over budget. Its longer-term, ambitious mission is to “manage 80% of the money workflows in construction within 10 years.”

The company’s strategy, so far, seems to be working.

From January 2020 to today, ARR has climbed by 200%, according to Hamdy. Briq currently has about 100 employees, compared to 35 a year ago.

Briq has 150 customers, and serves general and specialty contractors from $10 million to $1 billion in revenue.  They include Cafco Construction Management, WestCor Companies and Choate Construction and Harper Construction. The company is currently focused on contractors in North America but does have long-term plans to address larger international markets, Hamdy told TechCrunch.  

Some context

Hamdy came up with the idea for Santa Barbara, California-based Briq after realizing the vast amount of inefficiencies on the financial side of the construction industry. His goal was to do for construction financials what Procore did to document management, and PlanGrid to construction drawing. He started Briq with his own cash, amassed through secondary sales as Procore climbed the ranks of startups to become a construction industry unicorn.

Briq CEO and co-founder Bassem Hamdy

“I wanted to figure out how to bring the best of fintech into a construction industry that really guesses every month what the financial outcomes are for projects,” Hamdy told me at the time of the company’s last raise – a $10 million Series A led by Blackhorn Ventures announced in May of 2020. “Getting a handle on financial outcomes is really hard. The vast majority of the time, the forecasted cost to completion is plain wrong. By a lot.”

In fact, according to McKinsey, an astounding 80 percent of projects run over budget, resulting in significant waste and profit loss.

So at the end of a project, contractors often find themselves having doled out more money and resources than originally planned. This can lead to negative cash flow and profit loss. Briq’s platform aims to help contractors identify outliers, and which projects are more at risk.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Briq has proven to be “extremely valuable” to contractors, Hamdy said.

“In an industry where margins are so thin, we have given contractors the ability to truly understand where they stand on cash, profit and labor,” he added.

#articles, #blackhorn-ventures, #briq, #california, #construction, #construction-software, #construction-tech, #economy, #eniac-ventures, #executive, #finance, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #mckinsey, #north-america, #plangrid, #procore, #recent-funding, #saas, #startups, #tiger-global-management, #venture-capital

Cybersecurity unicorn Exabeam raises $200M to fuel SecOps growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook VR exec Hugo Barra is leaving

Four years after joining as Facebook’s first VP of VR, ex-Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra has left the company, he said in a social media post Tuesday.

Barra led Facebook’s VR efforts during a particularly tumultuous time for Oculus, coming aboard to helm the division as the once independent arm was folded deeper into its parent company after the departure of co-founder and CEO Brendan Iribe. During Barra’s time at Facebook, the company pivoted from PC-based VR systems towards all-in-one designs, relying on a partnership with Barra’s previous employer Xiaomi to help the company scale its entry-level Oculus Go headset which has since been discontinued.

The executive was eventually replaced in his role leading AR/VR inside Zuck’s inner circle by long-time Facebook veteran Andrew Bosworth and subsequently moved to a role leading partnerships. Barra leaves months after the launch of Facebook’s $299 Quest 2 headset, which arrived to positive reviews, and on the cusp of the company’s first foray into AR-based smart glasses.

“When Mark Zuckerberg approached me 5 years ago to come to Facebook to lead the Oculus team and work on virtual reality, I knew I was jumping into an ambitious journey to help build the next computing platform but I couldn’t have imagined just how much this team would get done in just a few years,” Barra wrote in a public Facebook post.

Barra didn’t detail where he’ll be landing next, but said he’s joining an effort in the healthcare technology space.

#andrew-bosworth, #arkansas, #brendan-iribe, #companies, #computing, #display-technology, #executive, #facebook, #hugo-barra, #mark-zuckerberg, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #quest, #technology, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices, #xiaomi, #zuck

Dear Sophie: Does it make sense to sponsor immigrant talent to work remotely?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

Extra Crunch members receive access to weekly “Dear Sophie” columns; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one- or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie,

My startup is in big-time hiring mode. All of our employees are currently working remotely and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future — even after the pandemic ends. We are considering individuals who are living outside of the U.S. for a few of the positions we are looking to fill.

Does it make sense to sponsor them for a visa to work remotely from somewhere in the United States?

— Selective in Silicon Valley

Dear Selective,

Thanks for reaching out — I’m always happy to hear about another fast-growing startup! If some of your leadership team is also abroad, check out the recent announcement about the new International Entrepreneur Parole program for founders.

It can make great business sense to sponsor international talent for a visa even if the position involves working remotely from a location inside the U.S. With the right legal setup, your team can work from home in Silicon Valley, nearby in California, or in another state where the cost of living is not quite as high. We’ve received this question from many employers, and many of our clients are proceeding with sponsoring international talent with visas and green cards for work-from-home positions.

I discussed this and other issues related to recruiting and work trends with Katie Lampert for my podcast. Lampert leads the talent acquisition and infrastructure group at General Catalyst, a VC firm that invests in seed to growth-stage startups in the U.S. and abroad. She advises companies in the General Catalyst portfolio on all things talent-related, including establishing company culture, creating a company’s infrastructure for recruiting and retaining talent, and planning for the future.

“Recruiting is going to be more global, which is exciting,” Lampert said during our discussion. “This will have a really positive effect on cultural diversity in the workforce. Studies show that a more diverse workforce leads to greater financial success.”

In fact, the latest McKinsey & Co. report on diversity, “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters,” found that companies with ethnically and culturally diverse executive teams are 36% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than companies with less diverse teams. McKinsey has issued three reports on diversity, and with each subsequent report, the business case for ethnic and cultural diversity and gender diversity in corporate leadership has grown stronger.

In addition to boosting profitability, bringing international talent to the United States to join your startup offers a host of other benefits as well.

#column, #dear-sophie, #diversity, #ec-column, #ec-future-of-work, #employment-law, #executive, #green-card, #h-1b-visa, #immigration-law, #lawyers, #sophie-alcorn, #startups, #technology, #verified-experts

HoneyBook raises $155M at $1B+ valuation to help SMBs, freelancers manage their businesses

HoneyBook, which has built out a client experience and financial management platform for service-based small businesses and freelancers, announced today that it has raised $155 million in a Series D round led by Durable Capital Partners LP.

Tiger Global Management, Battery Ventures, Zeev Ventures, 01 Advisors as well as existing backers Norwest Venture Partners and Citi Ventures also participated in the financing, which brings the New York-based company’s valuation to over $1 billion. With the latest round, HoneyBook has now raised $215 million since its 2013 inception. The Series D is a big jump from the $28 million that HoneyBook raised in March 2019. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, HoneyBook’s leadership team was concerned about the potential impact on their business and braced themselves for a drop in revenue.

Rather than lay off people, they instead asked everyone to take a pay cut, and that included the executive team, who cut theirs “by double” the rest of the staff.

“I remember it was terrifying. We knew that our customers’ businesses were going to be impacted dramatically, and would impact ours at the same time dramatically,” recalls CEO Oz Alon. “We had to make some hard decisions.”

But the resilience of HoneyBook’s customer base surprised even the company, who ended up reinstating those salaries just a few months later. And, as corporate layoffs driven by the COVID-19 pandemic led to more people deciding to start their own businesses, HoneyBook saw a big surge in demand.

“Our members who saw a hit in demand went out and found demand in another thing,” Oz said. As a result, HoneyBook ended up doubling its number of members on its SaaS platform and tripling its annual recurring revenue (ARR) over the past 12 months. Members booked more than $1 billion in business on the platform in the past nine months alone. 

HoneyBook combines tools like billing, contracts, and client communication on its platform with the goal of helping business owners stay organized. Since its inception, service providers across the U.S. and Canada such as graphic designers, event planners, digital marketers and photographers have booked more than $3 billion in business on its platform. And as the pandemic had more people shift to doing more things online, HoneyBook prepared to help its members adapt by being armed with digital tools.

Image Credits: HoneyBook

“Clients now expect streamlined communication, seamless payments, and the same level of exceptional service online, that they were used to receiving from business owners in person,” Alon said.

Oz and co-founder/wife, Naama, were both small business owners themselves at one time, so they had firsthand insight on the pain points of running a service-based business. 

HoneyBook’s software not only helps SMBs do more business, but helps them “convert potentials to actual clients,” Oz said.

“We help them communicate with potential clients so they can win their business, and then help them manage the relationship so they can keep them,” Naama said.

The company plans to use its new capital toward continued product development and to “dramatically” boost its 103-person headcount across its New York and Tel Aviv offices.

“We’re seeing so much demand for additional services and products, so we definitely want to invest and create better ways for our members to present themselves online,” Alon told TechCrunch. “We’re also seeing demand for financial products and the ability to access capital faster. So that’s just a few of the things we plan to invest in.”

The company also wants to make its platform “more customizable” for different categories and verticals.

Chelsea Stoner, general partner at Battery Ventures, said her firm recognized that the expansive market of productivity tools to serve small businesses and entrepreneurs was “a market of discrete and separate productivity tools.”

HoneyBook, she said, is a true platform for SMBs, “providing a huge array of functionality in one cohesive UX.”

“It unites and connects every task for the solopreneurs, from creating and distributing marketing collateral, to organizing and executing proposals, to sending invoices and collecting payments,” Stoner said. “The company is constantly innovating and iterating in response to its members; we also see a lot of opportunity with payments going forward…And, due to Covid-19 and other factors, the company is sitting on pent-up demand that will accelerate growth even more.”

#advisors, #articles, #battery-ventures, #business, #business-models, #canada, #ceo, #chelsea-stoner, #citi-ventures, #co-founder, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #funding, #fundings-exits, #general-partner, #honeybook, #new-york, #norwest-venture-partners, #payments, #productivity-tools, #recent-funding, #saas, #small-business, #startups, #tel-aviv, #tiger-global-management, #united-states, #venture-capital, #zeev-ventures

Geothermal technology has enormous potential to power the planet and Fervo wants to tap it

Tapping the geothermal energy stored beneath the Earth’s surface as a way to generate renewable power is one of the new visions for the future that’s captured the attention of environmentalists and oil and gas engineers alike.

That’s because it’s not only a way to generate power that doesn’t rely on greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons, but because it uses the same skillsets and expertise that the oil and gas industry has been honing and refining for years.

At least that’s what drew former the former completion engineer (it’s not what it sounds like) Tim Latimer to the industry and to launch Fervo Energy, the Houston-based geothermal tech developer that’s picked up funding from none other than Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures (that fund… is so busy) and former eBay executive, Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Group.

With the new $28 million cash in hand Fervo’s planning on ramping up its projects which Latimer said would “bring on hundreds of megawatts of power in the next few years.”

Latimer got his first exposure to the environmental impact of power generation as a kid growing up in a small town outside of Waco, Texas near the Sandy Creek coal power plant, one of the last coal-powered plants to be built in the U.S.

Like many Texas kids, Latimer came from an oil family and got his first jobs in the oil and gas industry before realizing that the world was going to be switching to renewables and the oil industry — along with the friends and family he knew — could be left high and dry.

It’s one reason why he started working on Fervo, the entrepreneur said.

“What’s most important, from my perspective, since I started my career in the oil and gas industry is providing folks that are part of the energy transition on the fossil fuel side to work in the clean energy future,” Latimer said. “I’ve been able to go in and hire contractors and support folks that have been out of work or challenged because of the oil price crash… And I put them to work on our rigs.”

Fervo Energy chief executive, Tim Latimer, pictured in a hardhat at one fo the company’s development sites. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

When the Biden administration talks about finding jobs for employees in the hydrocarbon industry as part of the energy transition, this is exactly what they’re talking about.

And geothermal power is no longer as constrained by geography, so there’s a lot of abundant resources to tap and the potential for high paying jobs in areas that are already dependent on geological services work, Latimer said (late last year, Vox published a good overview of the history and opportunity presented by the technology).

“A large percentage of the world’s population actually lives next to good geothermal resources,” Latimer said. “25 countries today that have geothermal installed and producing and another 25 where geothermal is going to grow.” 

Geothermal power production actually has a long history in the Western U.S. and in parts of Africa where naturally occurring geysers and steam jets pouring from the earth have been obvious indicators of good geothermal resources, Latimer said.

Fervo’s technology unlocks a new class of geothermal resource that is ready for large-scale deployment. Fervo’s geothermal systems use novel techniques, including horizontal drilling, distributed fiber optic sensing, and advanced computational modelling, to deliver more repeatable and cost effective geothermal electricity,” Latimer wrote in an email. “Fervo’s technology combines with the latest advancements in Organic Rankine Cycle generation systems to deliver flexible, 24/7 carbon-free electricity.”

Initially developed with a grant from the TomKat Center at Stanford University and a fellowship funded by Activate.org at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Cyclotron Road division, Fervo has gone on to score funding from the DOE’s Geothermal Technology Office and ARPA-E to continue work with partners like Schlumberger, Rice University and the Berkeley Lab.

The combination of new and old technology is opening vast geographies to the company to potentially develop new projects.

Other companies are also looking to tap geothermal power to drive a renewable power generation development business. Those are startups like Eavor, which has the backing of energy majors like bp Ventures, Chevron Technology Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource and Vickers Venture Partners; and other players including GreenFire Energy, and Sage Geosystems.

Demand for geothermal projects is skyrocketing, opening up big markets for startups that can nail the cost issue for geothermal development. As Latimer noted, from 2016 to 2019 there was only one major geothermal contract, but in 2020 there were ten new major power purchase agreements signed by the industry. 

For all of these projects, cost remains a factor. Contracts that are being signed for geothermal that are in the $65 to $75 per megawatt range, according to Latimer. By comparison, solar plants are now coming in somewhere between $35 and $55 per megawatt, as The Verge reported last year

But Latimer said the stability and predictability of geothermal power made the cost differential palatable for utilities and businesses that need the assurance of uninterruptible power supplies. As a current Houston resident, the issue is something that Latimer has an intimate experience with from this year’s winter freeze, which left him without power for five days.

Indeed, geothermal’s ability to provide always-on clean power makes it an incredibly attractive option. In a recent Department of Energy study, geothermal could meet as much as 16% of the U.S. electricity demand, and other estimates put geothermal’s contribution at nearly 20% of a fully decarbonized grid.

“We’ve long been believers in geothermal energy but have waited until we’ve seen the right technology and team to drive innovation in the sector,” said Ion Yadigaroglu of Capricorn Investment Group, in a statement.  “Fervo’s technology capabilities and the partnerships they’ve created with leading research organizations make them the clear leader in the new wave of geothermal.”

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

#africa, #alternative-energy, #articles, #berkeley-lab, #biden-administration, #bp-ventures, #capricorn-investment-group, #chevron-technology-ventures, #department-of-energy, #ebay, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #executive, #fiber-optic, #geothermal-energy, #greenhouse-gas, #houston, #jeff-skoll, #renewable-energy, #rice-university, #schlumberger, #stanford-university, #tc, #temasek, #texas, #united-states, #vickers-venture-partners

Solar roof-tile and energy startup SunRoof closes €4.5M led by Inovo Venture Partners

SunRoof is a European startup that has come up with a clever idea. It has its own roof-tile technology which generates solar power. It then links up those houses, creating a sort of virtual power plant, allowing homeowners to sell surplus energy back to the grid.

It’s now closed a €4.5 million round (Seed extension) led by Inovo Venture Partners, with participation from SMOK Ventures (€2m of which came in the form of convertible notes). Other investors include LT Capital, EIT InnoEnergy, FD Growth Capital and KnowledgeHub. 

Sweden-based SunRoof’s approach is reminiscent of Tesla Energy, with its solar roof tiles, but whereas Tesla runs a closed energy ecosystem, SunRoof plans to work with multiple energy partners.

To achieve this virtual power company, SunRoof CEO and serial entrepreneur Lech Kaniuk (formerly of Delivery Hero, PizzaPortal, and iTaxi), acquired the renewable energy system, Redlogger, in 2020.

SunRoof’s platform consists of 2-in-1 solar roofs and façades that generate electricity without needing traditional photovoltaic modules. Instead, they use monocrystalline solar cells sandwiched between two large sheets of glass which measure 1.7 sq meters. Because the surface area is large and the connections fewer, the roofs are cheaper and faster to build. 

SunRoof give homeowners an energy app to manage the solar, based on Redlogger’s infrastructure

Tesla’s Autobidder is a trading platform that manages the energy from roofs but is a closed ecosystem. SunRoof, by contrast, works with multiple partners.

Kaniuk said: “SunRoof was founded to make the move to renewable energy not only easy, but highly cost-effective without ever having to sacrifice on features or design. We’ve already grown more than 500% year-on-year and will use the latest funding to double down on growth.” 

Michal Rokosz, Partner at Inovo Venture Partners, commented: “The market of solar energy is booming, estimated to reach $334 billion by 2026. Technology of integrated solar roofs is past the inflection point. It is an economical no-brainer for consumers to build new homes using solar solutions. With a more elegant and efficient substitute to a traditional hybrid of rooftops and solar panels, SunRoof clearly stands out and has a chance to be the brand for solar roofs, making clean-tech more appealing to a wider customer-base.”

The team includes co-founder Marek Zmysłowski (ex-(Jumia Travel and HotelOnline.co), former Google executive, Rafal Plutecki, and former Tesla Channel Sales Manager, Robert Bruchner.

There are rollout plans for Sweden, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and the US.

#automotive-industry, #co-founder, #delivery-hero, #electricity, #energy, #europe, #executive, #germany, #google, #italy, #partner, #poland, #renewable-energy, #smok-ventures, #solar-cell, #solar-energy, #spain, #sweden, #switzerland, #tc, #united-states

Scale AI founder and CEO Alexandr Wang will join us at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9

Last week, Scale AI announced a massive $325 million Series E. Led by Dragoneer, Greenoaks Capital and Tiger Global, the raise gives the San Francisco data labeling startup a $7 billion valuation.

Alexandr Wang founded the company back in 2016, while still at MIT. A veteran of Quora and Addepar, Wang built the startup to curate information for AI applications. The company is now a break-even business, with a wide range of top-notch clients, including General Motors, NVIDIA, Nuro and Zoox.

Backed by a ton of venture capital, the company plans a large-scale increase in its headcount, as it builds out new products and expands into additional markets. “One thing that we saw, especially in the course of the past year, was that AI is going to be used for so many different things,” Wang told TechCrunch in a recent interview. “It’s like we’re just sort of really at the beginning of this and we want to be prepared for that as it happens.”

The executive will join us on stage at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9 to discuss how the company has made a major impact on the industry in its short four years of existence, the role AI is playing in the world of transportation and what the future looks like for Scale AI.

In addition to Wang, TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 will feature an incredible lineup of speakers, presentations, fireside chats and breakouts all focused on the current and future state of mobility — like EVs, micromobility and smart cities for starters — and the investment trends that influence them all.

Investors like Clara Brenner (Urban Innovation Fund), Quin Garcia (Autotech Ventures) and Rachel Holt (Construct Capital) — all of whom will grace our virtual stage. They’ll have plenty of insight and advice to share, including the challenges that startup founders will face as they break into the transportation arena.

You’ll hear from CEOs like Starship Technologies’ Ahti Heinla. The company’s been busy testing delivery robots in real-world markets. Don’t miss his discussion touching on challenges ranging from technology to red tape and what it might take to make last-mile robotic delivery a mainstream reality.

Grab your early bird pass today and save $100 on tickets before prices go up in less than a month.

#addepar, #alexandr-wang, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #autotech-ventures, #clara-brenner, #deliv, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #executive, #general-motors, #greenoaks-capital, #micromobility, #mit, #nuro, #nvidia, #quora, #rachel-holt, #san-francisco, #scale-ai, #starship-technologies, #startup-company, #tc-sessions-mobility, #technology, #tiger-global, #transportation, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital, #wang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apple invests $50M into music distributor UnitedMasters alongside A16z and Alphabet

Independent music distribution platform and tool factory UnitedMasters has raised a $50M series B round led by Apple. A16z and Alphabet are participating again in this raise. United Masters is also entering a strategic partnership with Apple alongside this investment. 

If you’re unfamiliar with UnitedMasters, it’s a distribution company launched in 2017 by Steve Stoute, a former Interscope and Sony Music executive. The focus of UnitedMasters is to provide artists with a direct pipeline to data around the way that fans are interacting with their content and community, allowing them to connect more directly to offer tickets, merchandise and other commercial efforts. UnitedMasters also generally allows artists to retain control of their own masters.

Neither of these conditions are at all typical in the music industry. In a typical artist deal, recording companies retain all audience and targeting data as well as masters. This limits an artist’s ability to be agile, taking advantage of new technologies to foster a community. 

While Apple does invest in various companies, it typically does so out of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to promote US manufacturing or strategically in partners that make critical components of its hardware like silicon foundries or glass manufacturing. Apple does a lot more purchasing than investing, typically, buying a company every few weeks or so to supplement one product effort or another. UnitedMasters, then, would be a relatively unique partnership, especially in the music space. 

I spoke to UnitedMasters CEO Steve Stoute about the deal and what it means for the businesses 1M current artists and new ones. Stoute credits Apple executive Eddy Cue having a philosophy aligned with the UnitedMasters vision with getting this deal done. 

“We want all artists to have the same opportunity,” says Stoute. “Currently, independent artists have less opportunity for success and we’re trying to remove that stigma.”

This infusion, Stoute says, will be used to hire talent that are mission oriented to take UnitedMasters global. They’re seeking local technical talent and artists talent to build out the platform worldwide. 

“Every artist needs access to a CTO,” Stoute says. “Some of the value of what a manager is today for an artist needs to be transferred to that role.”

UnitedMasters wants to provide that technical edge at scale, allowing artists to build out their fanbase at a community level.

Currently, UnitedMasters has deals with the NBA, ESPN, TikTok, Twitch and others that allow artists to tap big brand deals that would normally be brokered by a label and manager. It also has a direct distribution app that allows publishing to all of the major streaming services. Most importantly, they can check stream, fan and earnings data at a glance. 

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue in a release statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

“UnitedMasters has completely transformed the way artists create, retain ownership in their work, and connect with their fans,” said Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz in a release. “We are excited to work with Steve and team to build a better, bigger, and far more profitable world for musical artists.” 

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry. Recent developments like NFTs, DAOs and social tokens, as well as an explosion of DTC frameworks have begun to re-write that deal. But the major players have yet to make the truly aggressive strides they need to in order to embrace this ‘artist centric’ new world. 

The mechanics of distribution have been based on a framework defined by DRM and the DMCA for decades. This framework was always marketed as a way to protect value for the artist but was in fact architected to protect value for the distributor. We need a rethinking of the entire distribution layer.

As I mentioned when reporting the UnitedMasters + TikTok deal, it’s going to be instrumental in a more equitable future for artists:

It’s beyond time for the creators of The Culture to benefit from that culture. That’s why I find this UnitedMasters deal so interesting. Offering a direct pipeline to audiences without the attendant vulture-ism of the recording industry apparatus is really well-aligned with a platform like TikTok, which encourages and enables “viral sounds” with collaborative performances. Traditional deal structures are not well-suited to capturing viral hype, which can rise and fall within weeks without additional fuel.

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community. 

A UnitedMasters tie up isn’t a straight line to that goal, but it’s definitely got the ingredients. I’m looking forward to seeing what this produces. 

Image Credits: Steve Stoute

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Virgin Galactic debuts its first third-generation spaceship, ‘VSS Imagine’

Commercial human spaceflight company Virgin Galactic has unveiled the first ever Spaceship III, the third major iteration of its spacecraft design. The first in this new series is called ‘VSS (Virgin SpaceShip) Imagine,’ and will start ground testing now with the aim of beginning its first glide flights starting this summer. VSS Imagine has a snazzy new external look, including a mirrored wraparound finish that’s designed to reflect the spacecraft’s changing environment as it makes its way from the ground to space — but more importantly, it moves Virgin Galactic closer to achieving the engineering goals it requires to produce a fleet of spacecraft at scale.

I spoke to Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier about VSS Imagine, and what it represents for the company.

“We can build these at a faster pace,” he explained. “These are still relatively slow, versus what we want in our next class of spaceships. But what we do expect to have here is, we’ve taken all the learnings from [VSS] Unity, and built-in what we need to do so that we can turn these ships at a faster pace, because obviously, the number of flights we can do is the product of how many ships you have, and how quickly you can turn them.”

Unlike Unity, which is the spacecraft that Virgin Galactic first flew in September 2016, and that it ‘s still using in New Mexico now for its testing and commercial launch preparation program, Imagine has a “modular design” that makes it much easier to maintain, and increases the rate at which it can fly subsequent missions. As Colglazier mentioned, there’s still more work to be done in that regard to get the Spaceship design to the point where it’s able to support the company’s target of around 400 flights per year, per individual spaceport, but it’s a big upgrade, and the company is already beginning manufacturing work on a second Spaceship III-class vehicle, ‘VSS Inspire.’

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

Imagine and Inspire are technical achievements, to be sure, but Colglazier, who came to Virgin Galactic from Disney Parks International in July 2020, also emphasized the importance of this spacecraft debut in terms of the company’s consumer brand.

“What you’re seeing in the images, the choice of the livery, the film that we’ve put out, is a very clear step, as a consumer brand launch, and as we’re stepping in and building that, that will build over the course of the summer as we build up towards Richard [Branson]’s flight,” he said. “Very purposefully, we’ve used these lofty words of ‘democratizing space’ — but space is meant for everyone. It may take a while, just for everyone to get there, but it’s coming. And so this was leading with a very consumer facing, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

In fact, that focus on the consumer side of the business has been a lot of Colglazier’s work over the past eight months since joining the company. He said that the Virgin Galactic he joined had a “world-class team” that had the aerospace pieces completely locked in, but that his particular contribution has been in building up the commercial side of the business to match.

“We’re now bringing some talent in that is used to scaling this kind of a business, so Swami Iyer actually started Monday of last week,” he said. “And when you see a guy like Joe Rohde, who came in on the experience side, there’s no replacement — that’s additive to building out now the shoulders around this experience.”

Iyer joined as President of Aerospace Systems, and brings years of experience in the commercial space and defense industry, across GKN Advanced Defernce Systems, Honeywell Aerospace and more. Rohde, on the other hand, boasts a very different background, as a longtime Disney Imagineer, who joins the company as its first ‘Experience Architect,’ focused squarely on defining what the Virgin Galactic experience is for its astronaut customers, their friends and family, and the broader public, too.

Colglazier said that their vision for what the experience will look like will also be different depending on what part of the world you’re flying from, noting that weather you fly from a spaceport in Europe, Asia, India or Australia should result in something “dramatically different,” even if the spacecraft themselves are all used in the same way as they are in New Mexico. That definitely seems like a logical approach from an executive whose prior experience includes leading Disney’s parks in Burbank, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

In the end, Colglazier said that the core philosophy Virgin Galactic will pursue in terms of consumer brand will be one focused on inclusion, even if the actual ‘going to space’ part of its offering remains out of reach for most in the short term.

“This is for everyone, it has to be for everyone,” he said. That aspiration may take some number of years to actually be realized, but in the meantime, we have to find a way that our brand and our company can be accessed, that what we do can be accessed by all sorts of people at all different layers of engagement, so we’re going to be very purposeful about that. You’re going to hear us talking mostly about, effectively the apex experience — actually taking the new ships to space. But the ability to tier down out of that is really, really important, and the ability for us to be a brand that’s reaching out to everyone is incredibly important.”

That begins with the approach to this spacecraft debut today, Colglazier says, and is apparent in the tone of the video the company debuted (embedded above) to mark the reveal. And Virgin Galactic also still has 600 passengers booked and waiting for their own flights, so that’s obviously a key focus after Branson’s flight targeted for later this year.

Finally, I asked Colglazier when he himself intends to go up, since he said he definitely plans to when joining the company. Mostly, he said, he doesn’t want to cut in front of any paying customers.

“Okay, there are 600 or so people that are going to be a little ticked at me, if I jumped the line, so I’m going to keep focused at the consumer level,” he said. “But nobody else is in line yet, so I’m gonna get in before anybody else comes in line.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credit: Getty Images

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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!

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Taiwanese reassurances that water shortages won’t hit chipmaking show climate change’s direct threat to tech

A weekend statement from the Taiwanese government over its ability to provide water to the nation’s chip manufacturers in the face of an unprecedented drought make it clear that climate change is a direct threat to the foundations of the tech industry.

As reported by Bloomberg, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook on Sunday to post about the nation’s capacity to provide water to its citizens and businesses in the face of the worst drought the nation has faced in 56 years.

The nation said that it would have sufficient water reserves to ensure manufacturing of semiconductors by companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing wouldn’t stop.

These chips sit at the foundation of the tech industry and any disruption in production could have disastrous consequences for the global economy. Already, supply constraints have caused stoppages at automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen, and chip manufacturing facilities are running close to capacity.

The Biden administration has emphasized the need for the U.S. to strengthen its semiconductor manufacturing supply when it issued an executive order last month to address ongoing chip shortages that have idled manufacturing plants around the country.

“Taiwan’s water shortage and its effect on semis is a wake up call for every technology investor, every founder and the entire venture ecosystem. It is complexity theory made manifest and only serves to show that scalable, data-driven solutions rapidly deployed across large industrial markets are our only hope in correcting the course,” wrote Vaughn Blake, a partner at the energy-focused investment firm Blue Bear Capital.

Taiwan’s water woes and their ability to severely impact the semiconductor industry aren’t new. They were even flagged in a 2016 Harvard Business School case study analysis. And TSMC is already working to address its water consumption.

By 2016, TSMC had already worked to improve its water purification and recycling efforts — necessary for an industry that consumes between 2-9 million gallons of water per day. (Intel alone used 9 billion gallons of water in 2015). At least some of TSMC’s fabrication facilities have managed to achieve recycling rates of 90% on industrial wastewater, according to the Harvard case study.

But as Moore’s Law drives down the size and increases the demand for even more precision and fewer impurities in the manufacturing process, water use at fabs is going up. Next generation chips may be consuming as much as 1.5 times more water, which means better recycling is needed to compensate.

For startups, we need to be looking at ways to lower the cost and improve the performance of wastewater recycling and desalination, both increasingly energy-intensive propositions.

Some companies are doing just that. These are businesses like Blue Boson out of the UK, which purports to have developed a quantum-based water treatment technology. Its claims sound more like science fiction, but its website touts some of the best research universities in the world. Fido, a leak detection company also out of the UK tracks potential spots where water is wasted, and both Pontic Technology and Micronic are American companies developing water and fluid sterilization systems.

Numix, another purification startup, seems designed to remove the heavy metals that are part and parcel of industrial manufacturing. And Divining Labs out of Los Angeles is using artificial intelligence to better predict and manage stormwater runoff to collect more resources for water use.

“Upton Sinclair said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it,’” Blake of Blue Bear Capital wrote. “Well, to all the founders and investors out there, it looks like all tech is climate tech for the foreseeable future, lest there be no tech at all.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #energy, #executive, #fido, #general-motors, #harvard, #harvard-business-school, #intel, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #president, #sanitation, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #taiwan, #tc, #tsai-ing-wen, #tsmc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #volkswagen, #water-treatment

The Department of Defense is establishing a working group to focus on climate change

The U.S. Department of Defense is setting up a working group to focus on climate change.

The new group will be led by Joe Bryan, who was appointed as a Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense focused on climate earlier this year.

The move is one of several steps that the Biden administration has taken to push an agenda that looks to address the dangers posed by global climate change.

Bryan, who previously served as Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy for Energy under the Obama administration, will oversee a group intended to coordinate the Department’s responses to Biden’s recent executive order and subsequent climate and energy-related directives and track implementation of climate and energy-related actions and progress, according to a statement.

The Department of Defense controls the purse strings for hundreds of billions of dollars in government spending and is a huge consumer of electricity, oil and gas, and industrial materials. Any steps it takes to improve the efficiency of its supply chain, reduce the emissions profile of its fleet of vehicles, and use renewable energy to power operations could make a huge contribution to the commercialization of renewable and sustainable technologies and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Pentagon is already including security implications of climate change in its risk analyses, strategy development and planning guidance, according to the statement, and is including those risk analyses in its intallation planning, modeling, simulation and war gaming, and the National Defense Strategy.

“Whether it is increasing platform efficiency to improve freedom of action in contested logistics environments, or deploying new energy solutions to strengthen resilience of key capabilities at installations, our mission objectives are well aligned with our climate goals,” wrote Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a statement. “The Department will leverage that alignment to modernize the force, strengthen our supply chains, identify opportunities to work closely with allies and partners, and compete with China for the energy technologies that are essential to our future success.”

#articles, #biden, #biden-administration, #china, #climate-change, #electricity, #energy, #executive, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #navy, #oil-and-gas, #pentagon, #renewable-energy, #secretary, #simulation, #supply-chain, #tc