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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#alexandr-wang, #amazon, #api, #articles, #aurora, #automation, #autotech-ventures, #autox, #av, #ben-schippers, #ceo, #china, #chris-urmson, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #coo, #facebook, #fitbit, #founder, #happyfuncorp, #hyundai, #jesse-levinson, #jewel-li, #joby, #joby-aviation, #joeben-bevirt, #karl-iagnemma, #linkedin, #major, #mate-rimac, #momenta, #motional, #pam-fletcher, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #reid-hoffman, #rimac-automobili, #rivian, #robotaxi, #robotics, #scale-ai, #science-and-technology, #self-driving-cars, #startup-company, #tc, #technology, #tesla, #tezlab, #urban-innovation-fund, #volvo, #weride, #zoox

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Synctera raises $33M Series A to pair fintechs with banks

Synctera, which aims to serve as a matchmaker for community banks and fintechs, has raised $33 million in a Series A round of funding led by Fin VC.

The raise comes just under six months after the fintech raised $12.4 million in a seed round of funding.

New investors Mastercard and Gaingels also participated in the latest round, which included follow-on investments from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Diagram Ventures, SciFi Ventures and Scribble Ventures. Several angel investors put money in the Series A including Omri Dahan, Marqeta’s Chief Revenue Officer, Feedzai Chairman and CEO Nuno Sebastiao and Greenlight co-founder and CEO Tim Sheehan. 

Alongside the Series A, Synctera is also announcing its commitment to the new Cap Table Coalition – which includes funding from Gaingels, Neythri Futures Fund, Plexo Capital and over 20 angels – alongside other startups by allocating 10% of all funding rounds to “traditionally marginalized,” or underrepresented, investors via an SPV. (Fellow fintech Finix led the initiative earlier this year before forming this coalition but more on that later).

“This has exposed us to find great folks who we otherwise might not have known,” said Synctera’s co-founder and CEO Peter Hazlehurst. “That’s why we pledge to reserve 10% of this round and all future rounds to diverse investors.”

In a nutshell, San Francisco-based Synctera has developed a platform designed to help facilitate partnership banking. It was founded on the premise that some community banks and credit unions are actually turning down deals with young fintechs because the relationships can be too complicated or time-consuming to manage. Synctera’s goal is to connect community banks and fintechs to streamline the process with its “Banking-as-a-Service” (BaaS) platform.

TechCrunch recently caught up with Hazlehurst, who most recently served as former head of Uber Money and previously also led development of Google Wallet and products related to its payments system.

Put simply, Synctera wants to make it easier for community banks and fintechs to partner with each other. It examines banks’ needs and then sets them up with a fintech that is best suited to meet those needs. It claims to “do the work for both parties,” managing the partnership from its back-end platform, while dealing with issues like regulatory compliance, which can be a deterrent for some companies. The process of managing, reconciling and billing banks can result in “a lot of operational overhead and complexity,” according to the company.

The company says it’s built a “diverse” marketplace of banks and fintech companies so that it can apply a “personalized touch to each match” and make sure that the parties “align on geography, brand ethos, and desired business goals.”

So far, Synctera has signed three banks with plans to sign on three more this month. The startup has already paired Coastal Community Bank – a local bank serving the greater Puget Sound community – with One, a new digital banking platform, and Ellevest, a new fintech. 

By using Synctera’s platform, the company claims, banks can more freely allow their fintech counterparts to offer FDIC-insured mobile checking, debit cards, savings accounts or innovations in payments to their prospective customers, the company claims. They can also make more money doing so, Hazlehurst said, by bringing in more revenue beyond interchange fees.

“Like most small businesses, community banks have been hit hard by COVID-19,” he added. “We hope to further diversify community banks’ revenue streams.”

Banks can also more easily manage multiple relationships with various fintechs as the companies agree to adopt Synctera’s tech stack, the company claims.

“We build a single dashboard for a bank, so there’s a consolidated position across all fintechs,” Hazlehurst told me at the time of the company’s last raise. “It’s all about visibility for the bank.”

Currently Synctera has about 50 employees, including about two dozen engineers, most of whom are located in Canada, Hazlehurst said. The company plans to ramp up to 160 employees by year’s end with a focus on engineering, sales, marketing and customer success staff.

Looking ahead, Hazlehurst predicts that the fourth quarter will be “all about support for small business fintechs.”

“We want to create a neobank for gig economy workers, and want to add lending as a service,” he said. “But our next big phase is to onboard a lot of fintechs, and learn from them.”

Logan Allin, managing general partner and founder at Fin VC, believes that Banking-as-a-Service in general will transform legacy national and regional banks, credit unions, fintecs, corporate tech and retailers alike “as these players either seek to vertically integrate financial services or accelerate their digitization process.”

Synctera, he adds, has taken an approach with its tech stack that allows for integration with legacy community banks and their respective cores. This, Allin believes, will help ensure a “cloud native and scalable model” and made it an attractive investment. (Fin VC has also backed the likes of other fintechs such as Pipe and SoFi).

“Synctera’s peers are simply abstracting bank cores and serving as ‘API wrappers’ in a kludgy short-term approach and having come from the legacy bank and modern fintech worlds, we recognized that these players had not built sufficiently strong bridges across the ecosystem,” Allin told TechCrunch.

For his part, Finix Founder Richie Serna is thrilled that other startups are following his lead in the pledge to make their cap tables more diverse.

“After Finix announced our special purpose vehicle for Black and Latinx investors, the response was overwhelmingly positive,” he told TechCrunch. “Startups in every sector and at every stage have asked us how to recreate our SPV. In response, we started the Cap Table Coalition to make it as easy as possible for more high-growth startups, like Synctera, to take control over their cap tables,” said Richie Serna, CEO and co-founder of Finix. “We see this as an inflection point that will completely upend how the VC world functions.”

Meanwhile, Synctera is not the only player trying to help banks and fintechs forge partnerships. Last week, TechCrunch reported on Visa said it has expanded its Visa Fintech Partner Connect program, which is designed to help financial institutions quickly connect with a “vetted and curated” set of technology providers. 

#api, #articles, #bank, #banking-as-a-service, #canada, #diversity, #economy, #fdic, #finance, #financial-services, #financial-technology, #finix, #fintech, #founder, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #greenlight, #head, #lightspeed-venture-partners, #marqeta, #mastercard, #peter-hazlehurst, #player, #plexo-capital, #recent-funding, #richie-serna, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #uber, #venture-capital

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Meet Justos, the new Brazilian insurtech that just got backing from the CEOs of 7 unicorns

Here in the U.S. the concept of using driver’s data to decide the cost of auto insurance premiums is not a new one.

But in markets like Brazil, the idea is still considered relatively novel. A new startup called Justos claims it will be the first Brazilian insurer to use drivers’ data to reward those who drive safely by offering “fairer” prices.

And now Justos has raised about $2.8 million in a seed round led by Kaszek, one of the largest and most active VC firms in Latin America. Big Bets also participated in the round along with the CEOs of seven unicorns including Assaf Wand, CEO and co-founder of Hippo Insurance; David Velez, founder and CEO of Nubank; Carlos Garcia, founder and CEO Kavak; Sergio Furio, founder and CEO of Creditas; Patrick Sigris, founder of iFood and Fritz Lanman, CEO of ClassPass. Senior executives from Robinhood, Stripe, Wise, Carta and Capital One also put money in the round.

Serial entrepreneurs Dhaval Chadha, Jorge Soto Moreno and Antonio Molins co-founded Justos, having most recently worked at various Silicon Valley-based companies including ClassPass, Netflix and Airbnb.

“While we have been friends for a while, it was a coincidence that all three of us were thinking about building something new in Latin America,” Chadha said. “We spent two months studying possible paths, talking to people and investors in the United States, Brazil and Mexico, until we came up with the idea of creating an insurance company that can modernize the sector, starting with auto insurance.”

Ultimately, the trio decided that the auto insurance market would be an ideal sector considering that in Brazil, an estimated more than 70% of cars are not insured. 

The process to get insurance in the country, by any accounts, is a slow one. It takes up to 72 hours to receive initial coverage and two weeks to receive the final insurance policy. Insurers also take their time in resolving claims related to car damages and loss due to accidents, the entrepreneurs say. They also charge that pricing is often not fair or transparent.

Justos aims to improve the whole auto insurance process in Brazil by measuring the way people drive to help price their insurance policies. Similar to Root here in the U.S., Justos intends to collect users’ data through their mobile phones so that it can “more accurately and assertively price different types of risk.” This way, the startup claims it can offer plans  that are up to 30% cheaper than traditional plans, and grant discounts each month, according to the driving patterns of the previous month of each customer. 

“We measure how safely people drive using the sensors on their cell phones,” Chadha said. “This allows us to offer cheaper insurance to users who drive well, thereby reducing biases that are inherent in the pricing models used by traditional insurance companies.”

Justos also plans to use artificial intelligence and computerized vision to analyze and process claims more quickly and machine learning for image analysis and to create bots that help accelerate claims processing. 

“We are building a design driven, mobile first and customer experience that aims to revolutionize insurance in Brazil, similar to what Nubank did with banking,” Chadha told TechCrunch. “We will be eliminating any hidden fees, a lot of the small text and insurance specific jargon that is very confusing for customers.”

Justos will offer its product directly to its customers as well as through distribution channels like banks and brokers.

“By going direct to consumer, we are able to acquire users cheaper than our competitors and give back the savings to our users in the form of cheaper prices,” Chadha said.

Customers will be able to buy insurance through Justos’ app, website, or even WhatsApp. For now, the company is only adding potential customers to a waitlist but plans to begin selling policies later this year..

During the pandemic, the auto insurance sector in Brazil declined by 1%, according to Chadha, who believes that indicates “there is latent demand rearing to go once things open up again.”

Justos has a social good component as well. Justos intends to cap its profits and give any leftover revenue back to nonprofit organizations.

The company also has an ambitious goal: to help make insurance become universally accessible around the world and the roads safer in general.

“People will face everyday risks with a greater sense of safety and adventure. Road accidents will reduce drastically as a result of incentives for safer driving, and the streets will be safer,” Chadha said. “People, rather than profits, will become the focus of the insurance industry.”

Justos plans to use its new capital to set up operations, such as forming partnerships with reinsurers and an insurance company for fronting, since it is starting as an MGA (managing general agent).

It’s also working on building out its products such as apps, its back end and internal operations tools as well as designing all its processes for underwriting, claims and finance. Justos’ data science team is also building out its own pricing model. 

The startup will be focused on Brazil, with plans to eventually expand within Latin America, then Iberia and Asia.

Kaszek’s Andy Young said his firm was impressed by the team’s previous experience and passion for what they’re building.

“It’s a huge space, ripe for innovation and this is the type of team that can take it to the next level,” Young told TechCrunch. “The team has taken an approach to building an insurance platform that blends being consumer centric and data driven to produce something that is not only cheaper and rewards safety but as the brand implies in Portuguese, is fairer.”

#airbnb, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #assaf-wand, #auto-insurance, #banking, #brazil, #cell-phones, #ceo, #classpass, #creditas, #david-velez, #driver, #finance, #founder, #fritz-lanman, #funding, #fundings-exits, #hippo-insurance, #ifood, #insurance, #insurance-policies, #insurtech, #kaszek, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #mexico, #mobile-phones, #netflix, #nubank, #recent-funding, #silicon-valley, #startup, #startups, #united-states, #venture-capital

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Blockchain startup Propy plans first-ever auction of a real apartment as a collectible NFT

We previously wrote about Propy using blockchain technology to smooth real-world real estate sales by introducing the concept of smart contracts. Propy was the first blockchain startup to make that work. Now the company is pushing the boundaries again, by auctioning a real apartment as an NFT. Although one might want to brush this aside as a stunt, the event is designed to make the point that it could well be done legally. And, by golly, they are going to try.

The auction will be of the NFT attached to a modern, brand new, one-bedroom apartment in Kiev, Ukraine, that Propy previously made history with by making it the first-ever level blockchain-based real estate sale.

The NFT created by Propy will, it says, transfers real ownership of the property. Just in case you haven;t been paying attention, NFTs, or Non-Fungible Tokens, are cryptographic ‘tokens’ that represent a unique asset — such as a piece of art, music, or other collectibles — and certify ownership digitally. NFTs have set the crypto-world alight with their potential to be applied to just about anything, including a work of art by Banksy which was then burnt.

Once someone has won the NFT of the apartment at auction, the NFT will include access to the ownership transfer paperwork; a digital artwork NFT by a popular Kiev graffiti artist, Chizz (a physical painting of the digital artwork is painted on a wall of the apartment)’ and the apartment pictures. But obviously, the apartment is the main asset here. 


The auction itself will happen over a 24hr period with the initial listing starting at $20,000. Details for the NFT sale are available here and will be updated with any new information as the auction proceeds.

The apartment in question is currently owned by Michael Arrington, founder of this very news site, and now a Crypto investor with Arrington XRP Capital.

Investors in Propy – which says it has so far processed $1bn worth of transactions via its platform – include Arrington himself and Tim Draper, former founder of DFJ.

Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy said: “This NFT will go down in history. For Propy it is a major milestone in leveraging the promise of blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens (NFT) to achieve ‘self-driving’ real estate transactions and real estate participation in the decentralized finance economy.”

Here’s how this is all going to work: Arrington has signed legal papers designed by Propy’s lawyers for the NFT to transfer ownership to a future buyer. Propy then conducts the NFT auction and receives payment in cryptocurrency. The winner in the auction becomes the owner within a minute, after filling out KYC details.

The Kiev property is owned by a USA-based entity, and when the auction completes, the new owner of the NFT becomes the owner of the entity and thus the property itself. This process is repeated every time the NFT attached to the property is resold. 

In an interview with me, Karayaneva said: “We were brainstorming and this appeared to be a natural development of our white paper of 2017. And in fact, many things we transact, real estate, via property, we are actually already kind of doing NF T’s, but with our unique smart contracts. But now the NFT concept provides a different approach, where a property can be transferred between two wallets, peer to peer.”

“Thus we do not need to change the name of the owner in the land registry. And this applies to many countries, as well as the United States. This model will work for the United States, and overall, there is this notion of buying real estate via LLC in the United States to preserve the privacy of the owner.”

Over the same call, Arrington added: “Coming at this from a crypto angle, we’ve seen what happens how DeFi gets plugged into credit markets. If I have an NFT or any DeFI asset I can then borrow against it, without a middleman. Right now, if I have a real piece of real estate, there is no way for me to borrow against it, without a middleman, because I have to go through a bank and get a mortgage or whatever. And it’s also the friction all of the costs in terms of speed and how long it takes.”

“If we can find a way to plug real estate and other real-world assets into DeFi, I think that the amount of credit that can be created around that is in the trillions, eventually. And so I think that has to happen. The questions around this are legal and regulatory… The legal stuff around this is tough, and so Propy has done a lot of work with that. But if they do, I think that the idea of an NFT representation of a real-world asset purely from the point of view of ease of trade and ease of access to credit markets is a big idea.”

#arrington-xrp-capital, #articles, #auction, #bank, #blockchains, #ceo, #crypto-art, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptography, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #dfj, #ethereum, #europe, #founder, #michael-arrington, #peer-to-peer, #propy, #real-estate, #smart-contract, #tc, #tim-draper, #ukraine, #united-states

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Echelon exposed riders’ account data, thanks to a leaky API

Image Credits: Echelon (stock image)

Peloton wasn’t the only at-home workout giant exposing private account data. Rival exercise giant Echelon also had a leaky API that let virtually anyone access riders’ account information.

Fitness technology company Echelon, like Peloton, offers a range of workout hardware — bikes, rowers, and a treadmill — as a cheaper alternative for members to exercise at home. Its app also lets members join virtual classes without the need for workout equipment.

But Jan Masters, a security researcher at Pen Test Partners, found that Echelon’s API allowed him to access the account data — including name, city, age, sex, phone number, weight, birthday, and workout statistics and history — of any other member in a live or pre-recorded class. The API also disclosed some information about members’ workout equipment, such as its serial number.

Masters, if you recall, found a similar bug with Peloton’s API, which let him make unauthenticated requests and pull private user account data directly from Peloton’s servers without the server ever checking to make sure he (or anyone else) was allowed to request it.

Echelon’s API allows its members’ devices and apps to talk with Echelon’s servers over the internet. The API was supposed to check if the member’s device was authorized to pull user data by checking for an authorization token. But Masters said the token wasn’t needed to request data.

Masters also found another bug that allowed members to pull data on any other member because of weak access controls on the API. Masters said this bug made it easy to enumerate user account IDs and scrape account data from Echelon’s servers. Facebook, LinkedIn, Peloton and Clubhouse have all fallen victim to scraping attacks that abuse access to APIs to pull in data about users on their platforms.

Ken Munro, founder of Pen Test Partners, disclosed the vulnerabilities to Echelon on January 20 in a Twitter direct message, since the company doesn’t have a public-facing vulnerability disclosure process (which it says is now “under review”). But the researchers did not hear back during the 90 days after the report was submitted, the standard amount of time security researchers give companies to fix flaws before their details are made public.

TechCrunch asked Echelon for comment, and was told that the security flaws identified by Masters — which he wrote up in a blog post — were fixed in January.

“We hired an outside service to perform a penetration test of systems and identify vulnerabilities. We have taken appropriate actions to correct these, most of which were implemented by January 21, 2021. However, Echelon’s position is that the User ID is not PII [personally identifiable information,” said Chris Martin, Echelon’s chief information security officer, in an email.

Echelon did not name the outside security company but said while the company said it keeps detailed logs, it did not say if it had found any evidence of malicious exploitation.

But Munro disputed the company’s claim of when it fixed the vulnerabilities, and provided TechCrunch with evidence that one of the vulnerabilities was not fixed until at least mid-April, and another vulnerability could still be exploited as recently as this week.

When asked for clarity, Echelon did not address the discrepancies. “[The security flaws] have been remediated,” Martin reiterated.

Echelon also confirmed it fixed a bug that allowed users under the age of 13 to sign up. Many companies block access to children under the age of 13 to avoid complying with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, a U.S. law that puts strict rules on what data companies can collect on children. TechCrunch was able to create an Echelon account this week with an age less than 13, despite the page saying: “Minimum age of use is 13 years old.”

#api, #chief-information-security-officer, #computer-security, #computing, #cyberwarfare, #echelon, #facebook, #founder, #health, #peloton, #pen-test-partners, #security, #software, #software-testing, #technology, #united-states, #vulnerability

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France’s SOS Accessoire raises £12M to help people repair their home appliances themselves

SOS Accessoire, a French startup that helps people diagnose and repair their home appliances, has raised €10M/$12M in a funding round led by ETF Partners. The round was joined by Quadia, Starquest, and Seed for Good.

There is now a growing home repair market, powered by startups like this, which allow people to save money, but also reduce waste, and ultimately help the environment.

Around 80% of home appliances get replaced instead of repaired, creating an enormous environmental problem. At the same time, says SOS Accessoire, the spare parts market is worth €4.1bn in the European Union alone. So why not tap into that consumer desire? Why indeed not.

However, sourcing spare parts is not easy, there are hundreds of suppliers, and instructions are aimed at professionals, not amateur repairers.

SOS Accessoire provides tools to diagnose home appliance problems, access spare parts, and provides video tutorials for the repair process.

The company says it estimates it has now saved half a million appliances in 2020, equivalent to 20,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions, or the annual equivalent of CO2 emissions from 4,375 French people a year.

Olivier de Montlivault, the founder of SOS Accessoire, said: “We have a huge opportunity to help reduce household appliance waste and, in doing so, disrupt the perceived thinking that once something is broken, it must be replaced.”

Its direct competitors are other digital players focusing on the retail customer such as Spareka and Adepem. But SOS Accessoire says its competitive advantages include its size, availability of spare parts and catalog/database.

Remy de Tonnac, a partner at ETF Partners, said: “We’re seeing an increasingly conscious consumer wanting to maintain their appliances, rather than just throw them away. SOS Accessoire is ideally placed to meet that need, with a management team that has a deep understanding of the market and the business model to not only dominate this niche within the e-commerce sector but disrupt the broader market itself.”

#europe, #european-union, #founder, #partner, #tc

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‘Pure’ nutritional supplements startup Feel closes $6.2M investment, led by Fuel Ventures

Earlier this year we covered the launch of Heights, a new supplements startup in an increasingly hot category. Feel, is a year-old UK startup with another twist on this world: pure nutritional supplements. It’s now closed a $6.2 million investment, led by Fuel Ventures, with participation from TMT Investments, Sova VC, Richard Longhurst (founder of LoveHoney.com) and Igor Ryabenkiy (founder and GP of Altair Capital).

Feel founder Boris Hodakel says he spun his startup up after looking at the UK’s big health and retail brands including Graze, Tesco, Bulk Powders and Simba Sleep.

In many ways Feel is very akin to Graze. The supplements arrive in a post-box-friendly box and is available in a range of subscription packages. This is basically ‘Graze nuts, but for supplements.’

Feel has a direct-to-consumer subscription model, and is claiming a 60x growth in its first year and 21,000 active subscriptions.

Hodakel’s contention is that while Feel provides higher grade supplements to consumers which cost more to produce, it manages to keep costs down for consumers via direct-to-consumer model.

Hodakel, founder and CEO of Feel said: “Not all vitamins are created equal and the majority you find on retail shelves have a dirty formula that is difficult to absorb by the body, missing natural elements. We’re the cleanest alternative in the market – backed up by science –  and continually invest in making our formulas as effective as possible while still affordable.”

He says he started Feel because, having a skin problem, supplements were part of his health routine, but “the aha moment” happened he realized how many fillers were in normal supplements. “All our formulas are researched and formulated in-house, and we keep updating them, like our flagship multivitamin in just two years is already in its 3rd version,” he said.

Mark Pearson, managing partner at Fuel Ventures added: “The growth and the expansion of Feel’s product line present a really exciting time for Feel and we are supporting them in becoming a significant disruptor to the health supplement market.” 

Alexander Chikunov, Partner at Sova VC added, “Feel is in the process of disrupting consumer habits around vitamin intake, and changing a marketplace worth $144bn by providing its customers with top-quality products, combined with flawless and friendly service.”

#altair-capital, #ceo, #europe, #founder, #fuel-ventures, #managing-partner, #mark-pearson, #startup-company, #tc, #tesco, #tmt-investments, #united-kingdom, #vitamins

0

How one founder build a startup around compassion and care facilitated by AI

In the second episode of our new podcast Found, our guest is Brie Code. Code is the founder and CEO of TRU LUV, a startup based out of Toronto that has its roots in the game industry, but that is taking a radically different approach to designing interactive experiences based on a historically-overlooked motivating paradigm called ‘tend-and-befriend,’ an alternative to the ‘fight-or-flight’ response aimed at by most AAA game studios.

Code’s startup developed #SelfCare, a mobile app that encourages users to explore a variety of interactive experiences that are meant to do more than simply encourage them to engage in competitive behavior either with other players, or with computer-controlled antagonists. The motivation for creating this kind of thing for Code came from recognizing its absence in the existing market, and identifying a huge demand gap that just wasn’t being addressed. Building on her expertise in the game industry engineering interactions for non-player characters (NPCs) and her exploration of academic research on the subject of ‘tend-and-befriend,’ Code set up to build a venture-scalable business to define a new category of entertainment.

TRU LUV’s first touchpoint with users may be its app, but the startup has big ambitions that extend all the way to a larger mission of “healing our relationship with technology.” Chatting with the founder behind that pursuit reveals how deeply that mission runs both with her, and her startup.

We hope you get as much out of this deep and engrossing discussion as we did, and don’t forget to subscribe in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your podcast app of choice. We always love to get your feedback, too so please reach out via Twitter or email, and check back next week for our next episode.

#found, #founder, #startups, #tc

0

The Chainsmokers, Alexis Ohanian, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Mark Cuban, Marshmello, and Snoop Dogg back Pearpop

Pearpop, the marketplace for social collaborations between the teeming hordes of musicians, craftspeople, chefs, clowns, diarists, dancers, artists, actors, acrobats, aspiring celebrities and actual celebrities, has raised $16 million in funding that includes what seems like half of Hollywood, along with Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six venture firm and Bessemer Venture Partners.

The funding was actually split between a $6 million seed funding round co-led by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary’s Sound Ventures and Slow Ventures, with participation from Atelier Ventures and Chapter One Ventures and a $10 million additional investment led by Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six with participation from Bessemer.

TechCrunch first covered pearpop last year and there’s no denying that the startup is on to something. It basically takes Cameo’s celebrity marketplace for private shout-outs and makes it public. Allowing social media personalities to boost their followers by paying more popular personalities to shout out, duet, or comment on their posts.

“I’ve invested in pearpop because it’s been on my mind for a while that the creator economy has resulted in a lot of not equitable outcomes for creators. Where i talked about the missing middle class of the creator economy,” said Li Jin, the founder of Atelier Ventures and author of a critical piece on creator economics, “The creator economy needs a middle class“. 

“When I saw pearpop I felt like there was a really big potential for pearpop to be the one of the creators of the creative middle class. They’ve introduced this mechanism by which larger creators can help smaller creators and everyone has something of value to offer something to everyone else in the ecosystem.”

Jin discovered pearpop through the TechCrunch piece, she said. “You wrote that article and then i reached out to the team,” said Jin.

The idea was so appealing, it brought in a slew of musicians, athletes, actors and entertainers, including: Abel Makkonen (The Weeknd), Amy Schumer, The Chainsmokers, Diddy, Gary Vaynerchuk, Griffin Johnson, Josh Richards, Kevin Durant (Thirty 5 Ventures), Kevin Hart (HartBeat Ventures), Mark Cuban, Marshmello, Moe Shalizi, Michael Gruen (Animal Capital), MrBeast (Night Media Ventures), Rich Miner (Android co-founder) and Snoop Dogg.

“Pearpop has the potential to benefit all social media platforms by delivering new users and engagement, while simultaneously leveling the playing field of opportunity for creators,” said Alexis Ohanian, Founder, Seven Seven Six, in a statement. “The company has created a revolutionary new marketplace model that is set to completely reimagine how we think of social media monetization. As both a social media founder and an investor, I’m excited for what’s to come with pearpop.”

Already Heidi Klum, Loren Gray, Snoop Dogg, and Tony Hawk have gotten paid to appear in social media posts from aspiring auteurs on the social media platform TikTok.

Using the platform is relatively simple. A social media user (for now, that means just TikTok) sends a post that exists on their social feed and requests that another social media user interacts with it in some way — either commenting, posting a video in response, or adding a sound. If the request seems okay, or “on brand”, then the person who accepts the request performs the prescribed action.

Pearpop takes a 25% cut of all transactions with the social media user who’s performing the task getting the other 75%.

The company wouldn’t comment on revenue numbers, except to say that it’s on track to bring in seven figures this year.

Users on the platform set their prices and determine which kinds of services they’re willing to provide to boost the social media posts of their contractors.

Prices range anywhere from $5 to $10,000 depending on the size of a user’s following and the type of request that’s being made. Right now, the most requested personality on the marketplace is the TikTok star, Anna Banana.

These kinds of transactions do have impacts. The company said that personalities on the platform were able to increase their follower count with the service. For instance, Leah Svoboda went from 20K to 141K followers, after a pearpop duet with Anna Shumate.

If this all makes you feel like you’ve tripped and fallen through a Black Mirror into a dystopian hellscape where everything and every interaction is a commodity to be mined for money, well… that’s life.

“What I appreciate most about pearpop is the control it gives me as a creator,” said Anna Shumate, TikTok influencer @annabananaxdddd. “The platform allows me to post what I want and when I want. My followers still love my content because it’s authentic and true to me, which is what sets pearpop apart from all of the other opportunities on social media.”

Talent agencies, too, see the draw. Early adopters include Talent X, Get Engaged, and Next Step Talent and The Fuel Injector, which has added its entire roster of talent to pearpop, which includes Kody Antle, Brooke Monk and Harry Raftus, the company said.

“The initial concept came out of an obvious gap within the space: no marketplace existed for creators of all sizes to monetize through simple, authentic collaborations that are mutually beneficial,” said Cole Mason, co-founder & CEO, pearpop.  “It soon became clear that this was a product that people had been waiting for, as thousands of people rely on our platform today to gain full control of their social capital for the first time starting with TikTok.”

#alexis-ohanian, #amy-schumer, #android, #anna-shumate, #ashton-kutcher, #atelier-ventures, #author, #bessemer-venture-partners, #bytedance, #cole-mason, #founder, #gary-vaynerchuk, #instagram, #kevin-durant, #kevin-hart, #li-jin, #mark-cuban, #pearpop, #slow-ventures, #snoop-dogg, #social-media, #social-media-monetization, #social-media-platforms, #software, #tc, #techcrunch, #tiktok, #tony-hawk, #video-hosting

0

China’s Xpeng in the race to automate EVs with lidar

Elon Musk famously said any company relying on lidar is “doomed.” Tesla instead believes automated driving functions are built on visual recognition and is even working to remove the radar. China’s Xpeng begs to differ.

Founded in 2014, Xpeng is one of China’s most celebrated electric vehicle startups and went public when it was just six years old. Like Tesla, Xpeng sees automation as an integral part of its strategy; unlike the American giant, Xpeng uses a combination of radar, cameras, high-precision maps powered by Alibaba, localization systems developed in-house, and most recently, lidar to detect and predict road conditions.

“Lidar will provide the 3D drivable space and precise depth estimation to small moving obstacles even like kids and pets, and obviously, other pedestrians and the motorbikes which are a nightmare for anybody who’s working on driving,” Xinzhou Wu, who oversees Xpeng’s autonomous driving R&D center, said in an interview with TechCrunch.

“On top of that, we have the usual radar which gives you location and speed. Then you have the camera which has very rich, basic semantic information.”

Xpeng is adding lidar to its mass-produced EV model P5, which will begin delivering in the second half of this year. The car, a family sedan, will later be able to drive from point A to B based on a navigation route set by the driver on highways and certain urban roads in China that are covered by Alibaba’s maps. An older model without lidar already enables assisted driving on highways.

The system, called Navigation Guided Pilot, is benchmarked against Tesla’s Navigate On Autopilot, said Wu. It can, for example, automatically change lanes, enter or exit ramps, overtake other vehicles, and maneuver another car’s sudden cut-in, a common sight in China’s complex road conditions.

“The city is super hard compared to the highway but with lidar and precise perception capability, we will have essentially three layers of redundancy for sensing,” said Wu.

By definition, NGP is an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS) as drivers still need to keep their hands on the wheel and take control at any time (Chinese laws don’t allow drivers to be hands-off on the road). The carmaker’s ambition is to remove the driver, that is, reach Level 4 autonomy two to four years from now, but real-life implementation will hinge on regulations, said Wu.

“But I’m not worried about that too much. I understand the Chinese government is actually the most flexible in terms of technology regulation.”

The lidar camp

Musk’s disdain for lidar stems from the high costs of the remote sensing method that uses lasers. In the early days, a lidar unit spinning on top of a robotaxi could cost as much as $100,000, said Wu.

“Right now, [the cost] is at least two orders low,” said Wu. After 13 years with Qualcomm in the U.S., Wu joined Xpeng in late 2018 to work on automating the company’s electric cars. He currently leads a core autonomous driving R&D team of 500 staff and said the force will double in headcount by the end of this year.

“Our next vehicle is targeting the economy class. I would say it’s mid-range in terms of price,” he said, referring to the firm’s new lidar-powered sedan.

The lidar sensors powering Xpeng come from Livox, a firm touting more affordable lidar and an affiliate of DJI, the Shenzhen-based drone giant. Xpeng’s headquarters is in the adjacent city of Guangzhou about 1.5 hours’ drive away.

Xpeng isn’t the only one embracing lidar. Nio, a Chinese rival to Xpeng targeting a more premium market, unveiled a lidar-powered car in January but the model won’t start production until 2022. Arcfox, a new EV brand of Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC, recently said it would be launching an electric car equipped with Huawei’s lidar.

Musk recently hinted that Tesla may remove radar from production outright as it inches closer to pure vision based on camera and machine learning. The billionaire founder isn’t particularly a fan of Xpeng, which he alleged owned a copy of Tesla’s old source code.

In 2019, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Cao Guangzhi alleging that the former Tesla engineer stole trade secrets and brought them to Xpeng. XPeng has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Cao no longer works at Xpeng.

Supply challenges

While Livox claims to be an independent entity “incubated” by DJI, a source told TechCrunch previously that it is just a “team within DJI” positioned as a separate company. The intention to distance from DJI comes as no one’s surprise as the drone maker is on the U.S. government’s Entity List, which has cut key suppliers off from a multitude of Chinese tech firms including Huawei.

Other critical parts that Xpeng uses include NVIDIA’s Xavier system-on-the-chip computing platform and Bosch’s iBooster brake system. Globally, the ongoing semiconductor shortage is pushing auto executives to ponder over future scenarios where self-driving cars become even more dependent on chips.

Xpeng is well aware of supply chain risks. “Basically, safety is very important,” said Wu. “It’s more than the tension between countries around the world right now. Covid-19 is also creating a lot of issues for some of the suppliers, so having redundancy in the suppliers is some strategy we are looking very closely at.”

Taking on robotaxis

Xpeng could have easily tapped the flurry of autonomous driving solution providers in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide in its backyard Guangzhou. Instead, Xpeng becomes their competitor, working on automation in-house and pledges to outrival the artificial intelligence startups.

“The availability of massive computing for cars at affordable costs and the fast dropping price of lidar is making the two camps really the same,” Wu said of the dynamics between EV makers and robotaxi startups.

“[The robotaxi companies] have to work very hard to find a path to a mass-production vehicle. If they don’t do that, two years from now, they will find the technology is already available in mass production and their value become will become much less than today’s,” he added.

“We know how to mass-produce a technology up to the safety requirement and the quarantine required of the auto industry. This is a super high bar for anybody wanting to survive.”

Xpeng has no plans of going visual-only. Options of automotive technologies like lidar are becoming cheaper and more abundant, so “why do we have to bind our hands right now and say camera only?” Wu asked.

“We have a lot of respect for Elon and his company. We wish them all the best. But we will, as Xiaopeng [founder of Xpeng] said in one of his famous speeches, compete in China and hopefully in the rest of the world as well with different technologies.”

5G, coupled with cloud computing and cabin intelligence, will accelerate Xpeng’s path to achieve full automation, though Wu couldn’t share much detail on how 5G is used. When unmanned driving is viable, Xpeng will explore “a lot of exciting features” that go into a car when the driver’s hands are freed. Xpeng’s electric SUV is already available in Norway, and the company is looking to further expand globally.

#alibaba, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automation, #automotive, #baic, #bosch, #cars, #china, #cloud-computing, #driver, #electric-car, #elon-musk, #emerging-technologies, #engineer, #founder, #huawei, #lasers, #li-auto, #lidar, #livox, #machine-learning, #nio, #norway, #nvidia, #qualcomm, #robotaxi, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #semiconductor, #shenzhen, #tc, #tesla, #transport, #transportation, #u-s-government, #united-states, #wu, #xavier, #xiaopeng, #xpeng

0

ConsenSys raises $65M from JP Morgan, Mastercard, UBS to build infrastructure for DeFi

ConsenSys, a key player in crypto and a major proponent of the Ethereum blockchain, has raised a $65 million funding round from J.P. Morgan, Mastercard, and UBS AG, as well as major blockchain companies Protocol Labs, the Maker Foundation, Fenbushi, The LAO and Alameda Research. Additional investors include CMT Digital and the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund. As well as fiat, several funds invested with Ethereum-based stablecoins, DAI and USDC, as consideration.

Sources told TechCrunch that this is an unpriced round because of the valuation risk, and the funding instrument is “full”, so the round is being closed now.

The fundraise looks like a highly strategic one, based around the idea that traditional institutions will need visibility into the increasingly influential world of ‘decentralized finance’ (DeFi) and the Web3 applications being developed on the Ethereum blockchain.

In a statement on the fundraise, ConsenSys said it has been through a “period of strategic evolution and growth”, but most outside observers would agree that this is that’s something of an understatement.

After a period of quite a lot of ‘creative disruption’ to put it mildly (at one point a couple of years ago, ConsenSys seemed to have everything from a VC fund, to an accelerator, to multiple startups under its wing), the company has restructured to form two main arms: ConsenSys, the core software business; and ConsenSys Mesh, the investment arm, incubator, and portfolio. It also acquired the Quorum product from J.P. Morgan which has given it a deeper bench into the enterprise blockchain ecosystem. This means it now has a very key product suite for the Etherum platform, including products such as Codefi, Diligence, Infura, MetaMask, Truffle, and Quorum.

This suite allows it to serve both public and private permissioned blockchain networks. It can also support Layer 2 Ethereum networks, as well as facilitate access to adjacent protocols like IPFS, Filecoin, and others. ConsenSys is also a major contributor to the Ethereum 2.0 project, for obvious reasons.

Commenting on the fundraise, Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder, Ethreum said in a statement: “When we set out to raise a round, it was important to us to patiently construct a diverse cap table, consistent with our belief that similar to how the web developed, the whole economy would join the revolutionaries on a next-generation protocol. ConsenSys’ software stack represents access to a new automated objective trust foundation enabled by decentralized protocols like Ethereum. We are proud to partner with preeminent financial firms alongside leading crypto companies to further converge the centralized and decentralized financial domains at this particularly exciting time of growth for ConsenSys and the entire industry.”

With financial institutions able to see, ‘in public’ DeFi happening on Ethereuem, because of the public chain, they can see how much of the financial system is gradually starting to merge with the blockchain world. So it’s becoming clearer what attracts these major institutions.

Mike Dargan, Head of Group Technology at UBS said: “Our investment in ConsenSys adds proven expertise in distributed ledger technology to our UBS Next portfolio.”

For MasterCard this appears to be not just a pure investment – Consensys has been working with it on a private permissioned network.

Raj Dhamodharan, executive vice president of digital asset and blockchain products and partnerships at Mastercard said: “Enterprise Ethereum is a key infrastructure on which we and our partners are building payment and non-payment applications to power the future of commerce… Our investment and partnership with ConsenSys helps us bring secure and performant Enterprise Ethereum capabilities to our customers.”

Colleen Sullivan, Co-Founder and CEO of CMT Digital said: “ConsenSys is the pioneer in bridging the gaps across traditional finance, centralized crypto, and DeFi, and more broadly, between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. We are proud to participate in this funding round as the ConsenSys team continues to pave the way for global users  — retail and institutional — to easily access the crypto ecosystem.”

TechCrunch understands that the fundraise was started around the time of the Quorum acquisition, last June. The $65 million round is in majority fiat currency as opposed to cryptocurrency and is an adjunct to the round done with JP Morgan last summer.

The presence of significant crypto players such as Maker Protocol Labs shows the significance of the fund-raise, beyond the simple transaction. The announcement also comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO, which makes for interesting timing.

ConsenSys’ products have become highly significant in the world where developers, enterprises, and consumers meet blockchain and crypto. In its statement, the company claims MetaMask now has over three million monthly active users across mobile and desktop, a 3x increase in the last five or six months, it says. This is roughly the same amount of monthly active customers as Coinbase.

The ConsenSys announcement comes just ahead of the Coinbase IPO. While Coinbase is acting as an exchange to turn fiat into crypto and vice versa, it has also been getting into DeFi of late. Where there are also resemblances with ConsenSys, is that Coinbase, with 3 million users, is used as a wallet, and MetMask, which also has 3 million users, can also be used as a wallet. The comparison ends there, but it’s certainly interesting, given Coinbase’s $100 billion valuation.

As Jeremy Millar, Chief Development Officer, told me: “Coinbase has pioneered an exchange, in one of the world’s most regulated financial markets, the US. And it has helped drive significant interest in the space. We enjoy a very positive relationship with Coinbase, trying to further enable the ecosystem and adoption of the technology.”

The background to this raise is that a lot of early-stage blockchain and crypto companies have been raising a lot of money recently, but much of this has been through crypto investment firms. Only a handful of Silicon Valley VCs are backing blockchain, such as Andreessen Horowitz.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that these incumbent financial giants are not only taking an interest, but working alongside ConsenSys to both invest and build products on Ethereum.

It’s ConsenSys’ view that every payment service provider, banks will need this financial infrastructure in the future, especially for DeFI.

Given there is roughly $43 billion collateralized in DeFi, it’s increasingly the case that major investors are involved, and there are increasingly higher returns than traditional yield and bond or bond yields.

The moves by Central Banks into digital currencies is also forcing companies and governments to realize digital currency, and the ‘blockchain rails’ on which it runs, is here to stay. This is what is suggested by the Greater Bay Area Homeland Development Fund’s (a Shenzhen / Hong Kong joint partnership) decision to get involved.

Another aspect of this story is that ConsenSys is sitting on some extremely powerful products. Consensys has six products that serve three different types of people.

Service developers who are building on Ethereum are using Truffle to develop smart contracts. Users joining the NFT hype are using MetaMask underneath it all.

The MetaMask wallet allows users to swap one token for another. This has proved quite lucrative for ConsenSys, which says it has resulted in $1.8 billion in volume in decentralized exchange use. ConsenSys takes a 0.875 percent cut on every swap that it serves.

And institutions are using Consensys’ products. The company says more than 150,000 developers use Infura’s APIs, and 4.5 million developers create and deploy smart contracts using Truffle, while its Protocols group — developer of Hyperledger Besu and ConsenSys Quorum — are building Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs) for six central banks, says Consensys.

Consensys is also making hay with the NFT boom. Developers are using Consensys products for the nodes and infrastructure on Ethereum which stores the NFT files.

Consensys is also riding two waves. One is the developer eave and the other is the financial system wave.

As a spokesperson said: “Where the interest in money and invention started happening was on public networks like Ethereum. So we really believe that these are converging and they will continue to, and every one of our products offers public main net compatibility because we think this is the future.”

Millar added: “If we want to help the world adopt the technology we need to meet it at its adoption point, which for many large enterprises means inside the firewall first. But similarly, we think, just like the public Internet, the real value – the disruptive value – changes the ability to do this on a broader permissionless basis, especially when you have sufficient privacy and authentication available.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #blockchains, #co-founder, #coinbase, #consensys, #cryptocurrencies, #decentralization, #decentralized-finance, #energy, #ethereum, #finance, #firewall, #founder, #joseph-lubin, #jp-morgan, #mastercard, #player, #protocol-labs, #quorum, #shenzhen, #smart-contract, #software, #spokesperson, #tc, #technology, #united-states

0

European tech event mainstays Shift and TOA find new homes, new models, post-COVID

Given the pandemic, huge changes are being wrought in tech events, something which used to be the lifeblood of the industry. Many a startup has pitched to win funding, and many a hackathon has formed teams that went on to greater things. It’s a sad fact that this era is over, at least until the pandemic has fully passed, but this could take some time. Two significant European events have now had to change in order to carry their brands into new realms.

European breakout success story Infobip (which has raised over $200 million) was born out of Croatia. And so was the seminal developer conference Shift. With Infobipo needing that engineering community, and Shift needing a more stable home in uncertain times, it seems only natural that Infobip would put developers front and center of their company strategy with the acquisition of Shift, and appointing its founder and CEO Ivan Burazinto the board as Chief Developer Experience Officer. Shift will now form the basis of Infobip’s all-new Developer Experience department.
 
As Burazin said: “The vision was always to become one of the largest developer conferences in the world, and also to strengthen Croatia’s connection to the world of software developers. So now with the backing of a Unicorn and the freedom to keep working on independently – the vision seems to have finally become possible.”

He says Shift won’t disappear, but will now expand globally, first to the US and then to Latin America and southeast Asia, initially in remote events.
 
Infobip CEO Silvio Kutić said: “Infobip is on a growth trajectory to expand rapidly into the B2C vertical, or more specifically Business-to-Developer (B2D) space. Having Ivan on board with his experience as the founder of Codeanywhere, a B2D SaaS company, and creator of Shift, the largest developer conference in the region, will be an asset to us going forward.”
  
Meanwhile, a key startup and founder/investor-oriented conference “Tech Open Air Berlin” is also changing.

Tech Open Air (TOA), was known for its technology and startup festival, which attracted upwards of 20,000 people in Berlin every summer, but it has now pivoted into a new brand: TOA Klub. This will now be a “cohort-based learning and doing platform.” The 4-6 weeks of online programs will be aimed at help professionals progress in the tech industry.

TOA Klub will offer Founders Klub (for founders learning to startup); Investors Klub (for newbie investors); Crypto Klub (a “crash course in the crypto field”); and Co-Creators Klub (for founders looking to pivot and grow).

The first confirmed mentors and speakers include Rolf Schrömgens (Founder, Trivago), Dominik Richter (Founder, HelloFresh) or Jeanette zu Fürstenberg (Founding Partner, La Famiglia VC).

Nikolas Woischnik, founder of TOA said: “The world will come out of this pandemic having digitally aged by decades, not years.  The complexity of our business environment has greatly accelerated. At TOA this gives our long-time mission of “making people, organizations and the planet futureproof” ever more purpose. With the launch of Klub, it is time for us to leverage technology to deliver on our mission in a more impactful and accessible way.”

I for one am glad these greats brands have found new homes, because I know the brands and the founders both carry huge respect in the European startup scene.

#articles, #berlin, #business, #ceo, #codeanywhere, #croatia, #europe, #founder, #hellofresh, #latin-america, #south-east-asia, #startup-company, #tc, #trivago, #united-states

0

Saying hello to TechCrunch’s newest podcast: Found

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

For this week’s deep dive, the Equity team sat down not with external investors or founders, but with two of our own. Yes, this week, for the first time Natasha and Alex got to break a little internal news instead of focusing on the world outside.

Why did we have Jordan Crook and Darrell Etherington on the show? Because we’re jazzed to add a second startups-focused podcast to a slowly but surely growing TC podcast network: Found. Found lands April 9, so tune in! The show will focus on talking to early-stage founders about building their company, from the emotional rollercoaster moments to tactical insights no one tells you until you’ve raised your first dollar.

Equity will keep its eyes on the news, with extra attention to all the dollar signs that are to be found in startup-land and the venture capital world.  At the same time, Found will bring a number of startup founders aboard to talk about the more human, and procedural work of building the next great tech company.

We hope you love a new show from our friends as much as we do, and remember Equity will be back on Friday with news, banter, and fun soon. In the meantime, here’s where you can find Found:

Chat soon!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#early-stage, #equity, #found, #founder, #podcast, #startups, #tc

0

LIVEKINDLY screams its way to the top of new plant brands with the close of a $335 million round

LIVEKINDLY Collective, the shouty parent company behind a family of plant-based food brands, has snagged cash from the global impact investing arm of $103 billion dollar investment firm TPG to close its latest round of funding at $335 million.

The company’s fundraising shows that investors still have high hopes for plant-based food brands and that despite the money that’s flowed to companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods — and the resurgence of older brands in the category like Quorn or Kelloggs’ Morningstar Farms —  there’s still a healthy appetite among investors for more brands.

LIVEKINDLY was founded by some heavy hitters from the food industry including Kees Kruythoff, the former president of Unilever North America; Roger Lienhard, the founder of Blue Horizon Corp; and Jodi Monelle, the chief executive and founder of LIVEKINDLY Media. Food industry veterans like Mick Van Ettinger, a former Unilever employee and Aldo Uva, a former Nestle employee round out the team.

Founded as a rollup for a number of different vegetarian and alternative protein food brands, the LIVEKINDLY collective is now one of the largest plant-based food companies, by funding.

The company said it would use the money to expand into the U.S. and China and to power additional acquisitions, partnerships and investments in plant-based foods.

The company raised money previously from S2G Ventures and Rabo Corporate Investments, the investment arm f the giant Dutch financial services firm, Rabobank.

Fundamentally, the founding investors behind LIVEKINDLY believe that the technology has a long way to go before it matures. And it’s likely that this latest round will be LIVEKINDLY’s last before an initial public offering of its own. 

“We are building a global pureplay in plant-based alternatives – which we believe is the future of food,” said Roger Lienhard, Founder and Executive Chairman of Blue Horizon Group and Founder of LIVEKINDLY Collective. “In just one year, we have raised a significant amount of capital, which testifies to the urgency of our mission and the enormous investment opportunity it represents. We believe the momentum behind plant-based living will continue to grow in both the private and public markets.”

As a result of its investment, Steve Ellis, Co-Managing Partner of The Rise Fund, has joined the LIVEKINDLY Collective Board of Directors, effective March 1, 2021.

“We are excited to work with LIVEKINDLY Collective and its ecosystem of innovative companies and world-class leaders to meet the growing global demand for healthy, plant-based, clean-label options,” said Ellis. “The company’s unique, mission-driven model operates across the entire value chain, from seed to fork, to drive worldwide adoption of plant-based alternatives and create a healthier planet for all.”

#beyond-meat, #cellular-agriculture, #china, #companies, #eat-just, #food, #food-and-drink, #founder, #impossible-foods, #nestle, #plant-based-food, #president, #rabobank, #rise-fund, #s2g-ventures, #tc, #unilever, #united-states

0

Bluu Biosciences raises cash to become Europe’s first purveyor of lab grown salmon, trout, and carp

A startup from Europe is joining the race to become the first big provider of lab grown fish.

Bluu Biosciences has raised €7 million in a round of financing from investors including Manta Ray Ventures, Norrsken VC, Be8, CPT Capital and Lever VC to compete with a host of startups like BluNalu, Wild Type, and Shiok Meats in a bid to market with a lab-grown fish replacement.

The market for sustainable fish is huge and growing. Already, concerns over the effects of overfishing and industrial fish farming are mounting as demand for fish increases. It’s the same problem that other animal-based sources of protein face. The amount of demand for high quality sources of protein from the Earth’s several billion people cannot sustainably keep up with the available supply.

That’s why a number of cellular meat companies are focusing on fish instead of other meats like beef, pork, or chicken.

There is a lot of talent in Europe and very little companies built in this space. If you compare it t0 the mammalian space there are a lot fewer companies,” said Simon Fabich, co-founder and managing director of Bluu.  

At Berlin-based Bluu, the focus is on salmon, trout, and carp (the most popular fish in China). Other companies are tackling tuna, salmon, and shrimp, but Bluu sees carp as an especially attractive target, given its popularity in one of the world’s most populous companies.

One advantage for Bluu, its founders argue, is the deep experience that co-founder Sebastian Rakers has in the wild world of cultivated fish cells.

A marine and cell biologist who was working for several years at the Munich-based Fraunhofer Institute, one of Europe’s most celebrated research institutes, Rakers led a task force that looked at potential commercial viability of cell-based meat, after conducting research on the viability of using fish cells as a component for viral production for the pharmaceutical industry.

Bluu Biotechnologies co-founder Sebastian Rakers. Image Credit: Bluu Biosciences

During his research Rakers cultivated 80 different cell cultures for more than 20 different species of fish. What’s more, he was able to make these cell lines immortal.

Before envisioning an endless, ever-producing mass of fish cells that could overwhelm the world, it might be worth explaining what immortal cell lines mean… Actually… the endless, ever-producing mass of self-reproducing fish cells comes pretty close.

Most cell lines tend to die off after reprodcuing a certain number of times, which means that to manufacture meat at scale can require several biopsies of the same animal to cultivate multiple cell lines at a time. Rakers said that Bluu could avoid that step, thanks to the work that had already been done to develop these “immortal” salmon, trout, and carp cell cultivars.

“It’s such a strong competitive advantage,” said Fabich. “If you have normal cells that are not immortalized you can only proliferate 20 to 25 times and then you need to start again from another biopsy. With immortalized cells you can grow up to 100,000 times and we can double it every day.” 

With this technology in hand, Rakers said he was thinking about what could come next in his own career and met up with Gary Lin, an impact investor and the founder of Purple Orange Ventures.

Lin connected Rakers with Fabich and the two men set off to commercialize Rakers’ research as Bluu. And even though there are several companies that have a head start in the market (and in funding), Rakers said that there are certain advantages to coming in late.

Five years ago there was hardly any company looking into media development, hardly any companies focused on bioreactor technologies at a very large scale and there was no company looking for scaffolding alternatives for cell-based meat,” he said. Now there are. 

The company is picking up speed quickly thanks to those other technology providers that are coming to market and will look to have a prototype product out by the end of 2022.

The company is also pushing for regulation, which both Fabich and Rakers said were one of the last remaining obstacles to commercialization. Ultimately, the company has its eye firmly on the Asian market. “That’s the one that moves the needle,” in terms of sustainability, Fabich said. “We can have the biggest impact if we change production behavior there.”

Bluu Biosciences co-founders Sebastian Rakers and Simon Fabich. Image Credit: Bluu Biosciences

 

#aquaculture, #articles, #berlin, #biotechnology, #china, #co-founder, #cultured-meat, #europe, #fish, #founder, #gary-lin, #manta-ray-ventures, #media-development, #munich, #norrsken-vc, #tc, #wild-type

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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#amsterdam, #articles, #bill-gates, #bill-maris, #blueyard-capital, #cellular-agriculture, #chicago, #chief-technology-officer, #cultured-meat, #eat-just, #europe, #food-and-drink, #food-production, #founder, #google-ventures, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #illumina, #juno-therapeutics, #london, #los-angeles, #meat, #meatable, #memphis, #memphis-meats, #mit, #netherlands, #san-francisco, #tc, #tel-aviv

0

Credit-and-collect fintech start-up Diem raises $5.5M Seed led by Fasanara Capital

Diem, a London, UK-based fintech start-up has raised a seed round of $5.5 million led by Fasanara Capital, and Angel investor Chris Adelsbach, founder of Outrun Ventures. Additional investors include Andrea Molteni (early investor in Farfetch), Ben Demiri (co-chairman at fashion tech PlatformE) and Nicholas Kirkwood (founder of the eponymous brand). 

Diem is a debit card with an app affording instant cash access, traditional banking service benefits (debit card, domestic and international bank transfers), but also allowing consumers to dispose of goods for eventual resale. The idea here is that this feeds into the so-called circular economy, making Diem attractive from an environmental point of view. Some estimates put the amount of worth of goods disposed of in the last 15 years at $6.9Tn.

Here’s how it works: You have an old time of clothing, phone, book or bag, for instance. You load the item it into the app. The app makes you an offer for what the item is worth. If you accept, cash is loaded into your account and there’s a facility to spend in the item, which is then resold. The incentive, therefore, is not to throw away the object and add to landfill, because you have now turned it into cash. Think “neo bank meets people who sell your stuff on eBay”

Geri Cupi said in a statement: “Diem’s mission is to empower consumers to value, unlock, and enjoy wealth they never knew they had. All of this while fuelling the circular economy and supporting the commitment to sustainability as our key value proposition. DIEM makes it possible for capitalism and sustainability to co-exist.”

Lead Investor and CEO at Fasanara Capital, Francesco Filia, said: “Fasanara is excited to announce our partnership with DIEM and Geri Cupi… [it’s] a new generation fintech powered by principles of circular economy and look forward to support its growth.”

#bank, #bank-transfers, #banking, #cash, #ceo, #debit-card, #europe, #farfetch, #founder, #london, #money, #outrun-ventures, #tc, #united-kingdom

0

Whereby, which allows more collaboration over video calls, raises $12M from Point Nine and 20 Angels

Zoom, Microsoft and Google all rocketed to the top of the charts in the virtual meetings stakes during the pandemic but a plucky startup from Norway had others ideas. Video meeting startup Whereby has now raised $12 million from German VC Point Nine, SaaStr fund and a group of more than 20 angel investors.

Angels investors include Josh Buckley(CEO, Producthunt), Elizabeth Yin (Hustlefund) and Jason M. Lemkin (founder of Saastr).

Øyvind Reed, CEO at Whereby said in a statement: “The past year has led many of us to question the future of work, with video meetings set to remain a big part of our lives. More than ever, the tools we use to connect have to enable effective and enjoyable meetings, providing focus, collaboration and wellbeing. .”

Whereby’s platform has three pricing plans (including free) and allows users to embed tools like Google Docs, Trello and Miro directly in their meetings, unlike other video platforms.

Whereby was demonstrated to me by co-founder Ingrid Ødegaard on a coffee table during 2016’s Oslo Innovation Week. I immediately set-up my username, which has existed even as the startup changed it name from Appear.in. Ingrid told me during an interview that they “tried to be much more human-centric and really focus on some of the human problems that come with collaborating remotely. One of the big mistakes that a lot of people making is just replicating the behavior that they had in the office… whereas we think that you actually need to work in a fundamentally different way. We want to help people do that and by making it really easy to jump in and have a meeting when you need to. But our goal is not to push people to have more meetings, quite the opposite.”

The startup’s secret weapon is enterprise integrations. If you had a video meeting with a UK GP over video in the last year it was probably over Whereby (indeed, mine was!). Whereby won a contract with the NHS for its remote video patient consultations during the pandemic. Competitors for this include Jitsi and AccurX. The company claims it saw a 450% increase in users across 150 countries last year.

“Last year we saw the mass adoption of video meetings,” said Christoph Janz, Partner at Point Nine. “Now it’s about taking the user experience to the next level and Whereby will be leading that charge. It’s amazing to see a Scandinavian startup playing in the same league as the tech giants.”

#ceo, #christoph-janz, #co-founder, #elizabeth-yin, #europe, #founder, #free-software, #google, #ingrid, #jitsi, #josh-buckley, #microsoft, #miro, #nhs, #norway, #point-nine, #producthunt, #reed, #saastr, #shakil-khan, #spotify, #tc, #technology, #trello, #web-conferencing, #zoom

0

With 1v1Me, anyone can gamble on their ability to crush an opponent in player vs. player games

Anthony Geranio has played video games for the past thirteen years. The 26 year-old first time founder of 1v1Me, a new company that lets anyone gamble on their ability to win in a player vs. player game, tried to make it as a professional gamer, but when that didn’t work, he turned to the tech industry.

Geranio and his co-founder Alex Emmanuel bounced between companies like TextNow, Skillshare, and Grailed to combine both of their passions — gaming and entrepreneurship into a new company.

“The reason I got into programming was because I wanted to be my own boss one day,” Geranio said. And even though he was making $200,000 a year working at mission driven companies like SkillShare, Geranio said he still wasn’t fulfilled.

The COVID-19 pandemic finally convinced Geranio and Emmanuel to take the plunge. All of Geranio’s friends had started lockdown whiling away the hours by playing poker online for money. Then poker turned into Call of Duty, which turned into Madden, which became whatever else the kids play these days (my gaming days ended with Mortal Kombat II).

Geranio then went to OnDeck and, after graduating, began knocking on investors’ doors. The company managed to raise over $2 million from investors including On Deck, Erik Torenberg at Village Global, Turner Novak at GeltVC, Niv Dror at Shrug, SterlingVC, Ali Hamed at Crossbeam, Cody Hock and Cole Hock from UpNorth, Lightshed Ventures and BettorCapital. Notable angels also wanted in on the action including Justin Waldron, Brud founder Trevor McFedries, Ian Borthwick, Albert Cheng, Stephen Sikes and Anthony Pompliano.

The company is launching its app on the app store with an invite only approach, with the first invites going to content creators who already play games like Call of Duty. The longterm goal is to create content creators around wagering. “We’re trying to create a network where wagering is the engagement tool,” said Geranio.

For now, the company is only supporting bets on games like Call of Duty and Fortnite. The service acts as a marketplace which exchanges contact information on a PlayStation or Xbox. To win a wager, competitors have to link their bank accounts, settle on an amount, and 1v1Me puts that money in escrow. Gamers stream their game on Twitch and 1v1Me monitors the game to determine the winner. Once the competition is over, the winner gets the money transferred to their account.

The company is launching with gamers like  NoisyButters (who invested as well), LunchtimeRLaw, and Vonniezugz.

To juice signups and invites, which can either be obtained through a creator or by following the company on Twitter where 1v1Me will give codes away, the company is also hosting a $500 challenge to whichever competitor wins the most games at the end of the week.

“When I worked at YouTube, I met many gaming creators that desired to entertain their fans and hone their skills, but it can be a struggle to make significant money along the way,” said Albert Cheng, Co-lead of Socially Financed and Director of Product at Duolingo. “1v1 is the most promising platform for esports gamers to make a living, and I’m thrilled to back them on their journey.”

#ali-hamed, #anthony-pompliano, #call-of-duty, #co-founder, #duolingo, #erik-torenberg, #founder, #gamer, #gaming, #grailed, #justin-waldron, #madden, #online-poker, #player, #skillshare, #stereotypes, #tc, #turner-novak, #twitch, #video-gaming, #village-global

0

Does Atlantic Canada have a blueprint for rural revival in the post-pandemic era?

When Mike Morrison left his hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick, for Calgary, Alberta, he assumed he’d never go back except to visit.

Morrison was following a well-trodden path of Atlantic Canadians heading west to find work rom which few returned. During the mid-aughts, Alberta was booming thanks to the high price of oil. To Morrison, migrating west seemed an easy choice. “If I stayed, my options were to be a supply teacher or work in a call center.”

When he arrived in Alberta, Morrison worked three jobs. During his free time, he started a blog to tell his friends back home about his life out west, and also to recommend TV shows. Slowly, Mike’s Bloggity Blog became one of Canada’s premier entertainment sites, and Morrison found himself with a local newspaper column as well as regular television and radio appearances. He then started Social West, a Calgary-based digital marketing conference that, before long, expanded to three cities. His identity and public persona were intertwined with his adopted city.

“For a while, I would tell people that I was being paid to be a professional Calgarian.” Then, in 2021, Morrison left Calgary for Halifax, Nova Scotia, back east.

Morrison and his partner are part of a wave of skilled young people reversing Canada’s natural current of internal migration. In doing so, they’re participating in an economic revival that could change the destiny of the depressed Atlantic region.

When they return, young people like Morrison are finding that Atlantic Canadians have quietly built a robust startup ecosystem that has resulted in a dozen acquisitions to companies like IBM and Salesforce, the sum of which likely surpasses $5 million in cash and stock.

The Atlantic Canada story may provide a blueprint for other rural regions looking to take advantage of the decentralizing impact of COVID-19 to swap resource-based economies for the knowledge economy.

If you’ve never thought of Atlantic Canada before, you’re not alone. Indeed, many Canadians refer to Toronto as “east”’ despite there being 1,900 miles between Drake and The Weeknd’s hometown and St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, the easternmost point of Canada and North America. The four provinces that make up Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador) are easy to overlook for their remoteness. Known within Canada for its sleepy seaside towns, kitchen parties, trouble-making red-headed orphans and lobster galore, Atlantic Canada has had a rough few decades.

After the collapse of the cod fishing industry in the 1990s followed by the migration of shipbuilding to Asia, Atlantic Canada defined itself as the have-not region of America’s rational northern neighbor. Despite booming from the war years onward due to its abundant natural resources, since the ’90s Atlantic Canada has watched its young people migrate west to the oil fields of Alberta for blue-collar work and to Toronto and Montreal for white-collar work.

Soon, the region’s hard-luck narrative stuck. Stephen Harper, the country’s prime minister from 2006 to 2015, famously quipped that the region suffered from “a culture of defeatism.” The narrative of the death of the coastal region became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then, during the pandemic, the narrative drastically changed. In September 2020, Halifax-based fitness data management company Kinduct was acquired by mCube. In November 2020, Newfoundland-based Verafin was acquired by Nasdaq for $2.75 billion in cash. In January 2021, Prince Edward Island-based ScreenScape Networks was acquired by Spectrio for an undisclosed fee, then Halifax-based storytelling platform Wattpad was acquired by Naver in a deal worth $600 million. Atlantic Canada had four major tech acquisitions in a five-month period.

Outsiders were surprised by the sudden upsurge in exits, but momentum had been building for some time. Business writer Gordon Pitts pinpoints 2011 as the game-changing year for the Atlantic startup scene. In his book “Unicorn in the Woods: How East Coast Geeks and Dreamers are Changing the Game,” Pitts recounts how in March 2011 Salesforce purchased New Brunswick-based social media monitoring company Radian6 for approximately $300 million. Then, in November of the same year, IBM purchased another New Brunswick-based startup, cybersecurity company Q1 labs, for a reported $600 million. If anyone considered the Radian6 acquisition a one-off chance event, the subsequent success of Q1 labs demonstrated there was a there there.

Under normal circumstances, one might expect the founders of Radian6 and Q1 labs to disappear into the suburbs of Cambridge or Marin Country, but that never happened. Rather than uproot their newly acquired companies, both Salesforce and IBM opened engineering offices in Fredericton. Verafin would appear to be following suit: in the press release announcing the acquisition, Nasdaq committed to keeping the company’s headquarters in Newfoundland, investing in the local university and contributing to the development of the local ecosystem.

Once lone rangers, Q1 Labs and Radian6 are now surrounded by thriving copycats in a self-sustaining ecosystem. According to Peter Moreira, founder of Entrevestor, a publication that has tracked the Atlantic Canadian startup scene since 2011, the ecosystem has attracted over a billion dollars in investment spread among 700 companies, creating more than 6,000 direct jobs. About 100 companies are created every year in fields as diverse as life sciences, cleantech and ocean tech.

VC firms have taken notice: notable investors in Atlantic Canadian startups include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund supported by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Indeed, what’s remarkable about the string of recent exits is their diversity across industries and their inside-baseball inclinations, spanning everything from fraudulent credit card transactions to fitness data and video technology.

Sandy Bird is one of the protagonists of the Atlantic Canada tech-driven economic revival. Sandy co-founded Q1 Labs and then, after the acquisition, became the CTO of IBM’s security division. In 2017, Bird and the former CEO of Q1 Labs founded a new cybersecurity company, this one focused on public clouds, called Sonrai Security, which has since raised nearly $40 million in venture capital. Bird takes great pride in having lived his entire life within a 30-minute radius and showing the world that his prior exit was not a one-off event.

According to Bird, IBM was happy to keep an engineering division in New Brunswick because the quality of the engineers is high and employee attrition, one of the obstacles for any fast-growing company operating in the competitive labor market of the San Francisco Bay Area, is low. Atlantic Canada is a place where the idea of the “company man/woman” is still alive and thriving.

Bird noted that “thanks to our high retention, we’re able to build a company culture that makes up for any of the disadvantages of a smaller labor market.” Bird also pointed out that the Atlantic time zones are ideal, enabling effective communications with Europe as well as the rest of North America.

Bird is also honest about the region’s shortcomings. For example, airline connections to Atlantic Canada can be tricky. Getting to places like Denver can take a day and multiple connections. Sonrai Security, for example, has its core engineering team in Fredericton while sales and marketing are in New York, with regional salespeople spread out around North America.

In terms of starting a company, the local ecosystem can provide those first checks to get a company up and running, but growth from Series B onward requires tapping into U.S. venture capital. Another challenge is hiring fast enough to meet the demands of a thriving tech company. Though companies like his can recruit recent graduates and exiled Atlantic Canadians eager to return, Bird mentioned that Q1 Labs opened a parallel engineering office in Belfast, Ireland, to scale-up hiring.

So what is the playbook for other rural regions hoping to copy the Atlantic Canada model of generating tech jobs? Speaking to insiders, all cite the low cost of living and high quality of life as enabling startups to both attract and retain talent. Second, a welcoming attitude toward immigration helps. Even prior to COVID-19, Canada cheekily took advantage of anxiety around U.S. immigration policies to launch a startup visa program to attract entrepreneurs and H1-B visa holders away from the United States, and many cite that program as acting as a strategic advantage for the coastal provinces.

Atlantic Canada’s recent success is owed in part to proactive government. After years of failed top-down economic development initiatives, both the provincial and the federal governments have found formulas to kickstart new companies through grants as well as repayable and non-repayable non-dilutive funding.

Entrepreneurs cite IRAP, the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, as key to obtaining funds that subsidize wages for staff and contractors. Another federal government agency, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), awards funding between CA$500,000 and CA$3 million (roughly $400,000 USD to $2.4 million USD) through its Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF). Each of the four provincial governments has its own incentive programs, which include grants and wage subsidies as well as incentives for private investors.

Despite these government programs, local entrepreneurs stress that the region’s modest success is primarily driven by the private sector. Each province tends to have a godfather/cheerleader who has championed local startups through investment, advice and connections. Notable also is the accessibility of the success stories of the region’s protagonists. In a place where ostentatious displays of wealth are avoided, successful founders are easy to get a hold of and happy to provide advice, contacts and in some cases capital. Also notable is the region’s mix of 16 public-private universities that produce graduates with varied skill sets across STEM and humanities programs.

Even with these advances, obstacles abound, and it remains to be seen whether politicians and policy-makers can match entrepreneurs with bold initiatives. While countries like Ireland and Estonia have rewritten their corporate tax codes to encourage tech companies to set up in their previously disadvantaged jurisdictions, Atlantic Canada continues to have tax rates above neighboring provinces and U.S. states. Past innovation hubs have relied on physical proximity in order to build networks of human and social capital. Atlantic Canada as a region spans 500,000 square kilometers (193,256 square miles), much of which is hard to get to and poorly connected to the rest of the world.

Having done the hard work of providing the region with a new narrative, and a newfound sense of self-belief, many entrepreneurs hope to finally transition away from a declining resource-based economic model. They want to create a world where ambitious Atlantic Canadians don’t need to choose between staying close to home and pursuing exciting careers.

There are reasons to be hopeful: With every exit, future entrepreneurs are provided the success stories that, like supernovas, explode and act as the base material for new ventures. With every VC investment, the region’s network of startups builds the social capital that can enable the next round of funding. With every innovation, the region’s breadth of knowledge deepens through newfound expertise.

And with Atlantic Canada’s traditional migratory patterns seeming to reverse themselves as workers return to seek a lower cost of living and higher quality of life in small towns with coastal views, the pool of talent has only increased.

In the post-COVID world, talent can go anywhere, proving that constant proximity is not a prerequisite to building high-performing companies. To replicate the Atlantic Canada model, however, rural areas will need to offer more than a lower cost of living, as housing prices quickly catch up to demand.

Atlantic Canada’s modest success can be summarized as the result of fomenting a highly collaborative ecosystem that includes companies, universities, investors and government to ensure that the human capital, social capital and financial capital are available to propel new companies forward. Only by building an ecosystem can we create economic models where instead of talent chasing opportunity, opportunity chases talent.

#canada, #column, #founder, #north-america, #opinion, #startups, #venture-capital

0

Celebs like Rob Dyrdek, Joe Jonas, and Travis Barker are backing the nootropic nosh company, Mindright

It was only a matter of time before someone married the nascent nootropic supplements for brain health to the snack bar craze that continues to attract dollars and exits.

That time is apparently now, as Rob Dyrdek, the MTV-famous celebrity, pro-skater and entrepreneur, and Chris Bernard announce a new investment in the company they co-founded, Mindright, alongside celebrity investors including Joe Jonas, Travis Barker, and The Profit’s Marcus Lemonis. 

“When we started down the path of condition-specific food and beverage… we started doing a lot of research into the nootropics and adaptogens space,” said co-founder Bernard. Working with a food scientist who did not want to be named (which isn’t sketchy at all), Dyrdek and Bernard were introduced to several companies producing Ashwagandha, which the two had settled on as the new key ingredient in their snack bars.

Along with ginseng and cordyceps mushrooms, the company has a trifecta of new (and old) supplements that have taken the nutraceutical world by storm.

Bernard had initially approached the Dyrdek Machine group about another product, but the company was too far along and not something that Dyrdek felt passionate about backing. The story changed when Bernard returned with plans for this nootropic nosh.

“[Bernard] brought back the concept of the path of what’s evolved from functional foods and probiotics and collagen and sort of the mental health and adaptogen and the supplement world and said here’s how to merge these,” Dyrdek said of Bernard’s second pitch. “It was a home-run for us. Our process is supporting a solopreneur where we help shape and build the company together and provide the outsourced resources. We fund the development of the idea to go to the capital markets.”

So far, Drydek and his team have made 15 investments in consumer and entertainment businesses, and five of those business have since been acquired.

Most deals from Dyrdek Machine follow a similar trajectory. The firm becomes a co-founder and shares common stock and then negotiate a preferred equity investment for the capital infusion. Typically those deals will range from $250,000 to $500,000.

“We co-found it and we share that common share class and our first money is preferred and pick a valuation that balances out the deal,” Dyrdek said. “How much equity do we want to develop it with you is what we negotiate with that initial capital.”

Portrait of Rob Dyrdek, founder of Dyrdek Machine

Dyrdek describes his investment firm as founder-driven and market agnostic. “We want a well-rounded, multi-dimensional founder and then we look at the market and how do we evolve it into something that has a larger, broader appeal,” Dyrdek said. “Rather than chasing down nootropics, we found that ‘good mood’ was the important thing to the consumer base. That’s why we drove ‘Good mood superfood.’”

Bernard’s faith in Dyrdek’s ability to move the business forward has been proven in the evolution of other companies in the firm’s portfolio. Dyrdek pointed to Outstanding Foods, another investment, which he said had recently closed a $10 million round at a $100 million valuation. Another startup in the portfolio, Momentous, a supplement manufacturer, also closed on a big round recently after raising $5 million in 2019, Dyrdek said.

For Mindright, Dyrdek’s involvement brought in other celebrity names once they tried the product. The company counts Joe Jonas and Travis Barker among its seed investors.

“They were excited to get involved in this because they believed in what we took the time to create,” Bernard said. 

#articles, #co-founder, #food, #founder, #health, #rob-dyrdek, #tc

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Marc Benioff and this panel of judges will decide who gets one seat on the first all-civilian spaceflight

SpaceX’s first all-civilian human spaceflight mission, which will carry four passengers to orbit using a Crew Dragon capsule later this year if all goes to plan, will include one passenger selected by a panel of judges weighing the submissions of entrepreneurs. The panel will include Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Fast Company Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Mehta, YouTuber Mark Rober and Bar Rescue TV host Jon Taffer. It may seem like an eclectic bunch, but there is some reason to the madness.

This seat is one of four on the ride – the first belongs to contest and mission sponsor Jared Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments and a billionaire who has opted to spend a not insignificant chunk of money funding the flight. The second, Isaacman revealed earlier this week, will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital employee and cancer survivor Hayley Arceneaux.

That leaves two more seats, and they’re being decided by two separate contests. One is open to anyone who is a U.S. citizen and who makes a donation to St. Jude via the ongoing charitable contribution drive. The other will be decided by this panel of judges, and will be chosen from a pool of applicants who have build stores on Shift4’s Shift4Shop e-commerce platform.

That’s right: This absurdly expensive and pioneering mission to space is also a growth marketing campaign for Isaacman’s Shopify competitor. But to be fair, the store of the winning entrant doesn’t have to be news – existing customers can also apply and are eligible.

The stated criteria for deciding the winner is “a business owner or entrepreneur the exhibits ingenuity, innovation and determination” so in other words it could be just about anybody. I’m extremely curious to see what Benioff, Mehta, Rober (also a former NASA JPL engineer in addition to a YouTuber) and Taffer come up with between them as a winner.

The Inspiration4 mission is currently set to fly in the fourth quarter of 2021, and mission specifics including total duration and target orbit are yet to be determined.

#aerospace, #benioff, #ceo, #e-commerce, #editor-in-chief, #entrepreneur, #founder, #salesforce, #shopify, #space, #spacex, #tc, #television-in-the-united-states, #united-states

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LA’s Splice gets $55 million for its software bringing beats from bedrooms to bandstands

Splice, the LA-based, AI-infused, beat-making software service for music producers created by the founder of GroupMe, has managed to sample another $55 million in financing from investors for its wildly popular service.

The github for music producers ranging from Hook N SlingMr Hudson, SLY, and Steve Solomon to TechCrunch’s own Megan Rose Dickey, Splice gained a following for its ability to help electronic dance music creators save, share, collaborate and remix music.

The company’s popularity has made it from bedroom djs to the Goldman Sachs boardroom as the financial services giant joined MUSIC, a joint venture between the music executive Matt Pincus and boutique financial services firm, Liontree, in leading the company’s latest $55 million round.  The company’s previous investors include USV, True Ventures, DFJ Growth, and Flybridge.

“The music creation process is going through a digital transformation. Artists are flocking to solutions that offer a user-friendly, collaborative, and affordable platform for music creation,” said Stephen Kerns, a VP with Goldman Sachs’ GS Growth, in a statement. “With 4 million users, Splice is at the forefront of this transformation and is beloved by the creator community. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Steve Martocci and his team at Splice.”

Splice’s financing follows an incredibly acquisitive 2020 for the company, which saw it acquiring music technology companies Audiaire and Superpowered.

In addition to the financing, Splice also nabbed Kakul Srivastava, the vice president of Adobe Creative Cloud Experience and Engagement as a director for its board.

The funding news comes on the heels of Splice’s recent acquisitions of music-tech companies Audiaire and Superpowered, creating more ways to improve and inspire the audio and music-making process. Splice is also pleased to announce that Kakul Srivastava has joined the company’s board.

Steve Martocci at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2016. Image Credits: Getty Images

Splice’s beefed up balance sheet comes as new entrants have started vying for a slice of Splice’s music-making market. These are companies like hardware maker Native Instruments, which launched the Sounds.com marketplace last year, and there’s also Arcade by Output that’s pitching a similar service. 

Meanwhile Splice continues to invest in new technology to make producers’ lives easier. In November 2019 it unveiled its artificial intelligence product that lets producers match samples from different genres using machine learning techniques to find the matches.

“My job is to keep as many people inspired to create as possible” Splice founder and chief executive, Steve Martocci told TechCrunch.

It’s another win for the serial entrepreneur who famously sold his TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon chat app Group.Me to Skype for $85 million just a year after launching.

#artificial-intelligence, #computing, #dfj-growth, #draper-fisher-jurvetson, #financial-services, #founder, #goldman-sachs, #groupme, #hudson, #louisiana, #machine-learning, #matt-pincus, #megan-rose-dickey, #microsoft, #music-technology, #native-instruments, #serial-entrepreneur, #skype, #splice, #steve-martocci, #tc, #true-ventures, #vice-president, #vp

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SESO Labor is providing a way for migrant farmworkers to get legally protected work status in the U.S.

As the Biden Administration works to bring legislation to Congress to address the endemic problem of immigration reform in America, on the other side of the nation a small California startup called SESO Labor has raised $4.5 million to ensure that farms can have access to legal migrant labor.

SESO’s founder Mike Guirguis raised the round over the summer from investors including Founders Fund and NFX. Pete Flint, a founder of Trulia joined the company’s board. The company has 12 farms it’s working with and negotiating contracts with another 46.

Working within the existing regulatory framework that has existed since 1986, SESO has created a service that streamlines and manages the process of getting H-2A visas, which allow migrant agricultural workers to reside temporarily in the U.S. with legal protections.

At this point, SESO is automating the visa process, getting the paperwork in place for workers and smoothing the application process. The company charges about $1,000 per application, but eventually as it begins offering more services to workers themselves, Guirguis envisions several robust lines of revenue. Eventually, the company would like to offer integrated services for both farm owners and farm workers, Guirguis said.

SESO is currently expecting to bring in 1,000 workers over the course of 2021 and the company is, as of now, pre-revenue. The largest industry player handling worker visas today currently brings in 6,000 workers per year, so the competition, for SESO, is market share, Guirguis said.

America’s complicated history of immigration and agricultural labor

The H-2A program was set up to allow agricultural employers who anticipate shortages of domestic workers to bring in non-immigrant foreign workers to the U.S. to work on farms temporarily or seasonally. The workers are covered by U.S. wage laws, workers’ compensation and other standards, including access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.

Employers who use the the visa program to hire workers are required to pay inbound and outbound transportation, provide free or rental housing, and provide meals for workers (they’re allowed to deduct the costs from salaries).

H-2 visas were first created in 1952 as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which reinforced the national origins quota system that restricted immigration primarily to Northern Europe, but opened America’s borders to Asian immigrants for the first time since immigration laws were first codified in 1924. While immigration regulations were further opened in the sixties, the last major immigration reform package in 1986 served to restrict immigration and made it illegal for businesses to hire undocumented workers. It also created the H-2A visas as a way for farms to hire migrant workers without incurring the penalties associated with using illegal labor.

For some migrant workers, the H-2A visa represents a golden ticket, according to Guirguis, an honors graduate of Stanford who wrote his graduate thesis on labor policy.

“We are providing a staffing solution for farms and agribusiness and we want to be Gusto for agriculture and upsell farms on a comprehensive human resources solution,” says Guirguis of the company’s ultimate mission, referencing payroll provider Gusto.

As Guirguis notes, most workers in agriculture are undocumented. “These are people who have been taken advantage of [and] the H-2A is a visa to bring workers in legally. We’re able to help employers maintain workforce [and] we’re building software to help farmers maintain the farms.”

Opening borders even as they remain closed

Farms need the help, if the latest numbers on labor shortages are believable, but it’s not necessarily a lack of H-2A visas that’s to blame, according to an article in Reuters.

In fact, the number of H-2A visas granted for agriculture equipment operators rose to 10,798 from October through March, according to the Reuters report. That’s up 49% from a year ago, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor cited by Reuters.

Instead of an inability to acquire the H-2A visa, it was an inability to travel to the U.S. that’s been causing problems. Tighter border controls, the persistent global pandemic and travel restrictions that were imposed to combat it have all played a role in keeping migrant workers in their home countries.

Still, Guirguis believes that with the right tools, more farms would be willing to use the H-2A visa, cutting down on illegal immigration and boosting the available labor pool for the tough farm jobs that American workers don’t seem to want.

Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images.

David Misener, the owner of an Oklahoma-based harvesting company called Green Acres Enterprises, is one employer who has struggled to find suitable replacements for the migrant workers he typically hires.

“They could not fathom doing it and making it work,” Misener told Retuers, speaking about the American workers he’d tried to hire.

“With H-2A, migrant workers make 10 times more than they would get paid at home,” said Guirguis. “They’re taking home the equivalent of $40 an hour. The H-2A is coveted.”

Guirguis thinks that with the right incentives and an easier onramp for farmers to manage the application and approval process, the number of employers that use H-2A visas could grow to be 30% to 50% of the farm workforce in the country. That means growing the number of potential jobs from 300,000 to 1.5 million for migrants who would be under many of the same legal protections that citizens enjoy, while they’re working on the visa.

Protecting agricultural workers through better paperwork

Interest in the farm labor nexus and issues surrounding it came to the first-time founder through Guirguis’ experience helping his cousin start her own farm. Spending several weekends a month helping her grow the farm with her husband, Guirguis heard his stories about coming to the U.S. as an undocumented worker.

Employers using the program avoid the liability associated with being caught employing illegal labor, something that crackdowns under the Trump Administration made more common.

Still, it’s hard to deny the program’s roots in the darker past of America’s immigration policy. And some immigration advocates argue that the H-2A system suffers from the same kinds of structural problems that plague the corollary H-1B visas for tech workers.

“The H-2A visa is a short-term temporary visa program that employers use to import workers into the agricultural fields … It’s part of a very antiquated immigration system that needs to change. The 11.5 million people who are here need to be given citizenship,” said Saket Soni, the founder of an organization called Resilience Force, which advocates for immigrant labor. “And then workers who come from other countries, if we need them, they have to be able to stay … H-2A workers don’t have a pathway to citizenship. Workers come to us afraid of blowing the whistle on labor issues. As much as the H-2A is a welcome gift for a worker it can also be abused.” 

Soni said the precarity of a worker’s situation — and their dependence on a single employer for their ability to remain in the country legally — means they are less likely to speak up about problems at work, since there’s nowhere for them to go if they are fired.

“We are big proponents that if you need people’s labor you have to welcome them as human beings,” Soni said. “Where there’s a labor shortage as people come, they should be allowed to stay … H-2A is an example of an outdated immigration tool.”

Guirguis clearly disagrees and said a platform like SESO’s will ultimately create more conveniences and better services for the workers who come in on these visas.

“We’re trying to put more money in the hands of these workers at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re going to be setting up remittance and banking services. Everything we do should be mutually beneficial for the employer and the worker who is trying to get into this program and know that they’re not getting taken advantage of.”

#america, #banking, #biden-administration, #california, #congress, #founder, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #immigration, #labor, #nfx, #oklahoma, #pete-flint, #stanford, #startups, #tc, #trulia, #trump-administration, #u-s-department-of-labor, #united-states

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