Wasabi scores $112M Series C on $700M valuation to take on cloud storage hyperscalers

Taking on Amazon S3 in the cloud storage game would seem to be a fool-hearty proposition, but Wasabi has found a way to build storage cheaply and pass the savings onto customers. Today the Boston-based startup announced a $112 million Series C investment on a $700 million valuation.

Fidelity Management & Research Company led the round with participation from previous investors. It reports that it has now raised $219 million in equity so far, along with additional debe financing, but it takes a lot of money to build a storage business.

CEO David Friend says that business is booming and he needed the money to keep it going. “The business has just been exploding. We achieved a roughly $700 million valuation on this round, so  you can imagine that business is doing well. We’ve tripled in each of the last three years and we’re ahead of plan for this year,” Friend told me.

He says that demand continues to grow and he’s been getting requests internationally. That was one of the primary reasons he went looking for more capital. What’s more, data sovereignty laws require that certain types of sensitive data like financial and healthcare be stored in-country, so the company needs to build more capacity where it’s needed.

He says they have nailed down the process of building storage, typically inside co-location facilities, and during the pandemic they actually became more efficient as they hired a firm to put together the hardware for them onsite. They also put channel partners like managed service providers (MSPs) and value added resellers (VARs) to work by incentivizing them to sell Wasabi to their customers.

Wasabi storage starts at $5.99 per terabyte per month. That’s a heck of a lot cheaper than Amazon S3, which starts at 0.23 per gigabyte for the first 50 terabytes or $23.00 a terabyte, considerably more than Wasabi’s offering.

But Friend admits that Wasabi still faces headwinds as a startup. No matter how cheap it is, companies want to be sure it’s going to be there for the long haul and a round this size from an investor with the pedigree of Fidelity will give the company more credibility with large enterprise buyers without the same demands of venture capital firms.

“Fidelity to me was the ideal investor. […] They don’t want a board seat. They don’t want to come in and tell us how to run the company. They are obviously looking toward an IPO or something like that, and they are just interested in being an investor in this business because cloud storage is a virtually unlimited market opportunity,” he said.

He sees his company as the typical kind of market irritant. He says that his company has run away from competitors in his part of the market and the hyperscalers are out there not paying attention because his business remains a fraction of theirs for the time being. While an IPO is far off, he took on an institutional investor this early because he believes it’s possible eventually.

“I think this is a big enough market we’re in, and we were lucky to get in at just the right time with the right kind of technology. There’s no doubt in my mind that Wasabi could grow to be a fairly substantial public company doing cloud infrastructure. I think we have a nice niche cut out for ourselves, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to grow,” he said.

#boston-startups, #cloud, #cloud-storage, #enterprise, #fidelity-investments, #funding, #recent-funding, #startups, #storage, #tc, #wasabi

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Robinhood, Under the Gun, Raises $2.4 Billion

The high volume of trading by its customers, many of them egged on by social media, has put a strain on the company’s balance sheet.

#banking-and-financial-institutions, #depository-trust-and-clearing-corporation, #fidelity-investments, #gamestop-corporation, #hedge-funds, #sequoia-capital, #stocks-and-bonds, #tenev-vladimir, #venture-capital

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The Silicon Valley Start-Up That Caused Wall Street Chaos

Robinhood pitched itself to investors as the antithesis of Wall Street. It didn’t say that it also entirely relies on Wall Street. This past week, the two realities collided.

#banking-and-financial-institutions, #charles-schwab-corporation, #e-trade-financial-corporation, #fidelity-investments, #financial-brokers, #futures-and-options-trading, #gamestop-corporation, #jpmorgan-chasecompany, #mobile-applications, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #robinhood-financial-llc, #securities-and-exchange-commission, #silicon-valley-calif, #stocks-and-bonds, #td-ameritrade-holding-corp, #venture-capital

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Workers Tap Retirement Savings as a Last Resort

At least two million workers have turned to their workplace retirement plans for cash under temporary rules created during the pandemic. But so far, most people have left their accounts alone.

#401k-403b-and-457-plans, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #coronavirus-aid-relief-and-economic-security-act-2020, #fidelity-investments, #personal-finances, #vanguard-group-inc

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AWS expands on SageMaker capabilities with end-to-end features for machine learning

Nearly three years after it was first launched, Amazon Web Services’ SageMaker platform has gotten a significant upgrade in the form of new features making it easier for developers to automate and scale each step of the process to build new automation and machine learning capabilities, the company said.

As machine learning moves into the mainstream, business units across organizations will find applications for automation,  and AWS is trying to make the development of those bespoke applications easier for its customers.

“One of the best parts of having such a widely-adopted service like SageMaker is that we get lots of customer suggestions which fuel our next set of deliverables,” said AWS vice president of machine learning, Swami Sivasubramanian. “Today, we are announcing a set of tools for Amazon SageMaker that makes it much easier for developers to build end-to-end machine learning pipelines to prepare, build, train, explain, inspect, monitor, debug and run custom machine learning models with greater visibility, explainability, and automation at scale.”

Already companies like 3M, ADP, AstraZeneca, Avis, Bayer, Capital One, Cerner, Domino’s Pizza, Fidelity Investments, Lenovo, Lyft, T-Mobile, and Thomson Reuters are using SageMaker tools in their own operations, according to AWS.

The company’s new products include Amazon SageMaker Data Wrangler, which the company said was providing a way to normalize data from disparate sources so the data is consistently easy to use. Data Wrangler can also ease the process of grouping disparate data sources into features to highlight certain types of data. The Data Wrangler tool contains over 300 built-in data transformers that can help customers normalize, transform and combine features without having to write any code.

Amazon also unveiled the Feature Store, which allows customers to create repositories that make it easier to store, update, retrieve and share machine learning features for training and inference.

Another new tool that Amazon Web Services touted was its workflow management and automation toolkit, Pipelines. The Pipelines tech is designed to provide orchestration and automation features not dissimilar from traditional programming. Using pipelines, developers can define each step of an end-to-end machine learning workflow, the company said in a statement. Developers can use the tools to re-run an end-to-end workflow from SageMaker Studio using the same settings to get the same model every time, or they can re-run the workflow with new data to update their models.

To address the longstanding issues with data bias in artificial intelligence and machine learning models, Amazon launched SageMaker Clarify. First announced today, this tool allegedly provides bias detection across the machine learning workflow, so developers can build with an eye towards better transparency on how models were set up. There are open source tools that can do these tests, Amazon acknowledged, but the tools are manual and require a lot of lifting from developers, according to the company.

Other products designed to simplify the machine learning application development process include SageMaker Debugger, which enables to developers to train models faster by monitoring system resource utilization and alerting developers to potential bottlenecks; Distributed Training, which makes it possible to train large, complex, deep learning models faster than current approaches by automatically splitting data cross multiple GPUs to accelerate training times; and SageMaker Edge Manager, a machine learning model management tool for edge devices, which allows developers to optimize, secure, monitor and manage models deployed on fleets of edge devices.

Last but not least, Amazon unveiled SageMaker JumpStart, which provides developers with a searchable interface to find algorithms and sample notebooks so they can get started on their machine learning journey. The company said it would give developers new to machine learning the option to select several pre-built machine learning solutions and deploy them into SageMaker environments.

#3m, #adp, #amazon, #amazon-sagemaker, #amazon-web-services, #artificial-intelligence, #astrazeneca, #avis, #aws-reinvent-2020, #bayer, #capital-one, #cerner, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #deep-learning, #dominos-pizza, #enterprise, #fidelity-investments, #lenovo, #lyft, #machine-learning, #sagemaker-studio, #t-mobile, #tc, #workflow-management

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SpaceX raises $1.9 billion in largest funding found to date

SpaceX has raised $1.9 billion in new funding, per a filing with the SEC from Tuesday which was first spotted by Reuters. The company had been reported to be in the funding process earlier by Bloomberg, which pegged the post-money valuation of SpaceX at $46 billion following this raise.

The new funding for the still private SpaceX hardly comes as a surprise; The Elon Musk -led private launch company has been seeking funding since earlier this year, but Bloomberg reported last week that it increased the size of investment it was seeking owing to strong demand from the investment community.

The round was reportedly oversubscribed, though there isn’t yet much information available about who participated in the round (Bloomberg’s report said Fidelity Investments was among the largest in, but they did not confirm). SpaceX might be better positioned than ever to seek significant resources from investors, given the string of high-profile successes it has recorded recently.

Those include completing the first ever private human spaceflight mission to take off from U.S. soil. That mission, Demo-2, took off from Florida in May and returned the astronauts it carried to Earth earlier this month after a two-month stint at the International Space Station. Its successful completion means SpaceX can now regularly supply transportation services to and from the ISS – and puts them closer than ever to offering commercial spaceflight services for private tourists, researchers and more.

SpaceX has also made good progress on its Starlink spacecraft development program, with a successful short test flight of the prototype this month, and it won multiple multi-year contracts from NASA and the U.S. government for launch services this year.

It’s currently in the process of a very capital-intensive endeavor, too, which could explain the size of the round: Deploying Starlink, the massive satellite constellation that it will own and operate, and that will provide commercial and residential broadband internet services to customers in hard to reach areas once it’s active. Just this morning, SpaceX launched 58 more Starlink satellites, but it will have to launch many more before it can achieve its goal of global coverage.

#aerospace, #broadband, #elon-musk, #fidelity-investments, #florida, #hyperloop, #international-space-station, #launch-services, #outer-space, #private-spaceflight, #recent-funding, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #startups, #tc, #u-s-government, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

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You Now Get Almost Nothing for Your Money, but It Could Be Worse

In this crisis, money is priceless, yet banks and money market funds will pay you close to zero in interest for years. That’s if everything turns out well.

#asset-allocation-personal-finances, #banking-and-financial-institutions, #blackrock-inc, #crane-peter-g, #credit-and-debt, #federal-deposit-insurance-corp, #federal-reserve-system, #fidelity-investments, #finances, #interest-rates, #money-market-accounts, #mutual-funds, #nonprofit-organizations, #pensions-and-retirement-plans, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #stocks-and-bonds, #subprime-mortgage-crisis, #t-rowe-price-group-inc, #vanguard-group-inc

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With $84 million in new cash, Commonwealth Fusion is on track for a demonstration fusion reactor by 2025

Commonwealth Fusion Systems closed on its latest $84 million in new funding two weeks ago. The U.S. was still very much in the lockdown phase and getting a deal done, especially a multi-million dollar investment in a new technology aiming to make commercial nuclear fusion a reality after decades of hype, was “an interesting thing” in the words of Commonwealth’s chief executive, Bob Mumgaard. 

It was actually one time when the technical complexity of what Commonwealth Fusion is trying to achieve and the longterm horizon for the company’s first test technology was a benefit instead of an obstacle, Mumgaard said. 

We’re in a unique position where it’s still something that’s far enough in the future that any of the recovery models are not going to affect the underlying needs that the world still has a giant climate problem,” he said. 

Commonwealth Fusion Systems purports to be one solution to that problem. The company is using technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to leapfrog the current generation of nuclear fusion reactors currently under development (there are, in fact, several nuclear fusion reactors currently under development) and bring a waste-free energy source to industrial customers within the next ten years.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems core innovation was the development of a high power superconducting magnet that could theoretically be used to create the conditions necessary for a sustained fusion reaction. The reactor uses hydrogen isotopes that are kept under conditions of extreme pressure using these superconducting magnets to sustain the reaction and contain the energy that’s generated from the reaction. Designs for reactors require their hydrogen fuel source to be heated to tens of millions of degrees.

The design that Commonwealth is pursuing is akin to the massive, multi-decade International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project that’s currently being completed in France. Begun under the Reagan Administration in the eighties, as a collaboration between the U.S., the Soviet Union, various European nations and Japan. Over the years, membership in the project expanded to include India, South Korea, and China.

While the ITER project also expects to flip the switch on its reactor in 2025, the cost has been dramatically higher — totaling well over $14 billion dollars. The project, which began construction in 2013, will also represent a much longer timeframe to completion compared with the schedule that Commonwealth has set for itself.

Picture taken on January 17, 2013 in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, southern France shows the model of the reactor of the future International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) . The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), based at the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) research center of Cadarache in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, was set up by the EU, which has a 45 percent share, China, India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the US to research a clean and limitless alternative to dwindling fossil fuel reserves. AFP PHOTO / GERARD JULIEN (Photo credit should read GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images)

“We have set off to build what has been our big goal all along, which is to build the full scale demonstration magnet… we’re in the act of building that,” said Mumgaard. “We’ll turn that on next year.”

Upon completion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems will have built a ten-ton magnet that has the magnetic force equivalent to twenty MRI machines, said Mumgaard. “After we get the magnet to work, we’ll be building a machine that will generate more power than it takes to run. We see that as the Kitty Hawk moment,” for fusion, he said.

Other startup companies are also racing to bring technologies to market and hit the 2025 timeline. They include the Canadian company General Fusion and the United Kingdom’s Tokamak Energy.

Within the next six to eight months, Commonwealth Energy hopes to have a site selected for its first demonstration reactor.

Financing the company’s most recent developments are a slew of investors new and old who have committed over $200 million to the company, which formally launched in 2018.

The round was led by Temasek with participation from new investors Equinor, a multinational energy company, and Devonshire Investors, the private equity group affiliated with FMR LLC, the parent company of Fidelity Investments.

Current investors including the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures; MIT’s affiliated investment fund, The Engine; the Italian energy firm ENI Next LLC; and venture investors like Future Ventures, Khosla Ventures; Moore Strategic Ventures, Safar Partners LLC, Schooner Capital, and Starlight Ventures also participated. 

“We are investing in fusion and CFS because we believe in the technology and the company, and we remain committed to providing energy to the world, now and in a low carbon future,” said Sophie Hildebrand, Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Research and Technology at Equinor, in a statement.

The company said it would use the new financing to continue developing its technology which would offer fusion power plants, fusion engineering services, and HTS magnets to customers. Funding will also be used to support business development initiatives for other applications of the company’s proprietary HTS magnets, the key component to its SPARC reactor, which also has various other commercial uses, the company said. 

Helping the cause, and potentially accelerating the timelines for many fusion players is a new initiative from the federal government that could see government dollars go to support construction of new facilities. The Department of Energy recently released a request for information (RFI) on potential cost share programs for the development of nuclear fusion reactors in the U.S.

Modeled after the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program which brought the world SpaceX, Blue Origin, and other U.S. private space companies, a cost-sharing program for fusion development could accelerate the development of low-cost, pollution free fusion reactors across the U.S.

“The COTS program transitioned the space industry from ‘Here’s a government dictated space sector’ to a vibrant commercial launch industry,” said Mumgaard.

One investor who’s seen the value of public private partnerships to spur commercial innovation is Steve Jurvetson, the founder of Future Ventures, and a backer of Commonwealth Fusion Systems. Jurvetson acknowledged the necessity of fusion investment for the future of the energy industry.

“Fusion energy is an investment in our future that offers an important path toward combating climate change. Our continued investment in CFS fits strongly within our mission as we seek long-term solutions to address the world’s energy challenges,” said Steve Jurvetson, Managing Director and Founder, Future Ventures.

#blue-origin, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #china, #department-of-energy, #devonshire-investors, #energy, #energy-industry, #federal-government, #fidelity-investments, #founder, #france, #fusion-power, #future-ventures, #india, #japan, #khosla-ventures, #kitty-hawk, #massachusetts-institute-of-technology, #mri, #nuclear-fusion, #physics, #plasma-physics, #private-equity, #south-korea, #spacex, #sparc, #steve-jurvetson, #superconductivity, #tc, #temasek, #united-kingdom, #united-states

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Nigeria’s Okra raises $1M from TLcom connecting bank accounts to apps

A new Nigerian fintech venture, Okra, has racked up a unique mix of accomplishments in less than a year.

The Lagos based API developer created a product that generates revenues from both payment startups and established financial institutions.

Okra has raised $1 million in pre-seed funding from TLcom Capital — a $71 million Africa focused VC firm that rarely invests in early-stage companies or fintech.

The startup is also poised to enter new markets and it’s hiring.

Founded in June 2019 by Nigerians Fara Ashiru Jituboh and David Peterside, Okra casts itself as a motherboard for the continent’s 21st century financial system.

“We’re building a super-connector API that…allows individuals to connect their bank accounts directly to third party applications. And that’s their African bank accounts starting in the largest market in Africa, Nigeria,” said Ashiru Jituboh.

As a sector, fintech has become the continent’s highest funded tech space, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to African startups in 2019. Those ventures, and a number of the continent’s established banks, are in a race to build market share through financial inclusion.

By several estimates — including The Global Findex Database — the continent is home to the largest percentage of the world’s unbanked population, with a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

With 54 countries, 1.2 billion people and thousands of relatively young startups, there are a lot of moving parts in Africa’s fintech space. Similar to U.S. company Plaid, Okra is shaping a platform that connects accounts and financial data to banking apps into a revenue generating product.

With Africa’s largest population of 200 million people, Nigeria serves as a major financial hub — but there’s still a disconnect between fintech apps and banks, according to Okra’s Ashiru Jituboh.

“Here in this market there’s no way to directly connect your bank account through an API or directly to an application,” she said.

Okra offers several paid packages for those types of integrations and opens up the code to its five product categories —  authorization, balance, transactions, identity and accounts — to developers.

Image Credits: Okra

Okra has already created a diverse client list that includes mobile payments startup PalmPay, insurer Axa Mansard and Nigerian digital lender Renmoney.

The startup generates revenues through product fees and earns each time a user connects a bank account to a customer, according to Ashiru Jituboh.

On how the Okra differs from other well-funded fintech companies in Nigeria, such as Flutterwave or Interswitch, “The answer is we’re not doing payments, but what we’re doing is making processes with [payment providers] even smoother,” she said.

Ashiru Jituboh comes to her CEO position with a software engineering background and a strong connection to the U.S. Born in Nigeria, she grew up in and studied computer science in North Carolina.

She did stints in finance — JP Morgan Chase and Fidelity Investments — and then in tech companies before making the leap to founder. “I went to work in startups, but I was always employee number two or three,” said Ashiru Jituboh.

She decided to go all in on Okra after returning to Nigeria and noting the need for linking together the country’s emerging digital financial infrastructure.

“When we knew that it was a big addressable market is when we realized that all these fintech CEOs and CTOs were struggling with this use case,” she said.

Shortly after its launch, Okra attracted the attention of TLcom Capital in second quarter 2019, according to VC Andreata Muforo.

With offices in London, Lagos, and Nairobi, the group closed its $71 million Tide Africa fund this year. TLcom has focused primarily on Series A and later investments, including backing Kenyan agtech startup Twiga Foods and Nigerian trucking logistics company Kobo360.

In an interview last year, the fund’s managing partner, Maurizio Caio, explained that TLcom was steering more toward investments in infrastructure oriented tech companies and away from Africa’s more commoditized payments and lending startups.

The VC firm was attracted to Okra for its ability to serve the continent’s broader financial sector. “It’s a service that other fintechs can plug into and utilize, so it’s accelerating the growth of fintech across the continent…That to us was a big hook,” TLcom’s Andreata Muforo told TechCrunch on a call.

Founder Fara Ashiru Jituboh was also a factor in the fund making a $1 million pre-seed investment in Okra. “We found her to be very strong and also liked the fact that she’s a technical founder,” said Muforo. As part of the investments, she and TLcom Capital partner Ido Sum will join Okra’s board.

In addition to hiring fresh engineering talent, the startup aims to take its product offerings that connect bank accounts to apps to new African countries — though it would not disclose where or when.

“We’re looking at three target markets that our clients are already in,” said Ashiru Jituboh. Okra investor Andreata Muforo named Kenya — with one of the highest mobile money penetration rates in the world — as a likely candidate for the startup’s product services.

#africa, #african-business, #african-tech, #api, #axa, #bank, #banking, #ceo, #david-peterside, #early-stage-funding, #economy, #fara-ashiru-jituboh, #fidelity-investments, #finance, #financial-inclusion, #financial-technology, #ido-sum, #jp-morgan-chase, #kenya, #kobo360, #lagos, #london, #managing-partner, #maurizio-caio, #money, #nairobi, #nigeria, #north-carolina, #okra, #palmpay, #tc, #tech-in-africa, #techcrunch, #tlcom-capital, #twiga-foods, #united-states

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