A Lego guitar and a “war tuba” are among the highlights of this year’s Guthman Musical Instrument Competition.
It’s becoming harder for the U.S. to ignore the very real effects of global climate change — and despite the efforts of naysayers, it’s not a push to renewables that’s to blame for the outages sweeping the nation. It’s the country’s energy infrastructure.
Severe weather conditions caused by global warming have now caused massive blackouts across some of the largest cities in the United States. The inability of the U.S. power grid to withstand the stresses caused by extreme weather events show that the nation needs a massive investment plan to upgrade energy infrastructure in an effort to make it more resilient.
These problems are now painfully apparent to the 29 million residents of Texas who are now subject to rolling blackouts caused by the frigid weather sweeping across the country.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said it had “entered emergency conditions and initiated rotating outages at 1:25 a.m. today,” in a statement. The Texas grid shed 10.5 gigawatts of load — or enough to power 2 million homes at its peak.
“Extreme weather conditions caused many generating units – across fuel types – to trip offline and become unavailable,” the energy provider said in a statement.
Part of the problem lies with natural gas generators that supply much of the power to the grid in Texas, according to Princeton professor, Jesse Jenkins, who has a joint appointment in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment.
Citing a market participant, Jenkins noted on Twitter that roughly 26 gigawatts of thermal energy is offline because natural gas is being diverted to provide heat instead of power. Only about 4 gigawatts of wind is offline because of icing, Jenkins noted.
The current blackouts have nothing to do with renewables and everything to do with cold weather slowing down natural gas production because of freeze offs and spiking demand for heating at the same time.
As Dr. Emily Grubert, an assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and, by courtesy, of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, noted, the problem is more of a total systems issue than one associated with renewable power.
“Let us be absolutely clear: if there are grid failures today, it shows the existing (largely fossil-based) system cannot handle these conditions either,” Grubert wrote on Twitter. “These are scary, climate change-affected conditions that pose extreme challenges to the grid. We are likely to continue to see situations like this where our existing system cannot easily handle them. Any electricity system needs to make massive adaptive improvements.”
Renewable energy and energy storage can potentially provide a solution to the problem and help contribute to a more resilient grid. Residential energy developer Swell Energy raised $450 million in financing late last year to begin development of several projects across three states that would pair distributed, residential solar energy generation with battery storage to create what are called virtual power plants that can ease stress on energy grids in times of increased demand.
“Utilities are increasingly looking to distributed energy resources as valuable ‘grid edge’ assets,” said Suleman Khan, CEO of Swell Energy, in a statement, at the time of the announcement. “By networking these individual homes and businesses into virtual power plants, Swell is able to bring down the cost of ownership for its customers and help utilities manage demand across their electric grids.”
Other companies, like Evolve Energy or Griddy, try to help consumers manage costs by charging them wholesale rates for power. Those companies can only be economical when the rates for wholesale power are low. Right now, with demand for power skyrocketing, prices for energy in the ERCOT have surged above $5,000 per MW and hit the $9,000 cap in many nodes, according to Bloomberg Energy reporter Javier Bias.
The blackouts in Texas today and in California in January show that the current grid in the United States needs an overhaul. Whether it’s heavily regulated markets like California or a free market like Texas, current policy can’t stop the weather from wreaking havoc and putting people’s lives at risk.
Sanguina, an Atlanta-based health technology developer, is launching its a mobile app in the Google Play Store that uses pictures of fingernails to determine whether or not someone is getting enough iron.
The app measures hemoglobin levels, which are a key indicator of anemia, by analyzing the color of a person’s fingernail beds in a picture.
These fingernail selfies could be used to determine anemia for the more than 2 billion people who are affected by the condition — including women, children, athletes and the elderly.
Iron deficiencies can cause fatigue, pregnancy complications, and in severe cases, even cardiac arrest, the company said. AnemoCheck is the first smartphone application to measure hemoglobin levels, the company said — and through its app people can not only determine whether or not they’re anemic but also use the app’s information to address the condition, the company said.
Sanguina’s technology uses an algorithm to determine the amount of hemoglobin in the blood based on an examination and analysis of the coloration of the nail bed.
Created by Dr. Wilbur Lam, Erika Tyburski, and Rob Mannino, the company was born out of research conducted at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.
“This non-invasive anemia detection tool is the only type of app-based system that has the potential to replace a common blood test,” said Dr. Lam, a clinical hematologist-bioengineer at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, and a faculty member in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Emory University and Georgia Tech.
So far, Sanguina has raised over $4.2 million in funding from The Seed Lab, XRC Labs, as well as grants from The National Science Foundation and The National Institutes of Health, according to a statement.
Founded by longtime developers and Georgia Institute of Technology alumni, Ken Ahrens, Matthew LeRay and Nate Lee had known each other for roughly twenty years before making the jump to working together.
A circuitous path of interconnecting programming jobs in the devops and monitoring space led the three men to realize that there was an opportunity to address one of the main struggles new programmers now face — making sure that updates to api integrations in a containerized programming world don’t wind up breaking apps or services.
“We were helping to solve incident outages and incidents that would cause downtime,” said Lee. “It’s hard to ensure the quality between all of these connection points [between applications]. And these connection points are growing as people add apis and containers. We said, ‘How about we solve this space? How could we preempt all of this and ensure maintaining release velocity with scalable automation?’”
Typically companies release new updates to code in a phased approach or in a test environment to ensure that they’re not going to break anything. Speedscale proposes test automation using real traffic so that developers can accelerate the release time.
“They want to change very frequently,” said Ahrens, speaking about the development life cycle. “Most of the changes are great, but every once in a while they make a change and break part of the system. The state of the art is to wait for it to be broken and get someone to fix it quickly.”
The pitch SpeedScale makes to developers is that its service can give coders the ability to see the problems before the release. They automate the creation of the staging environment, automation suite and orchestration to create that environment.
“One of the big things for me was when I saw the rise of Kubernetes was what’s really happening is that engineering leaders have been able to give more autonomy to developers, but no one has come up with a great way to validate and I really think that Speedscale can solve that problem.”
The Atlanta-based company, which only just graduated from Y Combinator a few months ago, is currently in a closed alpha with select pilot partners, according to LeRay. And the nine month-old company has raised $2.2 million from investors including Sierra Ventures from the Bay Area and Atlanta’s own Tech Square Ventures to grow the business.
“Apis are a huge market,” Ahrens said of the potential opportunity for the company. “there’s 11 million developers who develop against apis… We think the addressable market for us is in the billions.”
Patrick Chopson and Sandeep Ahuja started cove.tool, an Atlanta-based company developing software to optimize building design for sustainability and cost, because of problems they’d faced in their careers as architects.
Along with Patrick’s brother, Daniel Chopson, the two Georgia Institute of Technology graduates have developed a suite of software products that are now used by thousands of architects, engineers, contractors and developers like EYP, P2S, Skanska, and JLL in 22 countries around the world. The company’s software is also taught in universities including California Polytechnic State University, the University of Illinois, and UNC Charlotte, along with their alma matter, Georgia Tech.
Now the company is $5.7 million richer following the close of its series A funding led by the Los Angeles-based investment firm Mucker Capital and including previous investors Urban.us, Knoll Ventures, and Atlanta’s own Techsquare Labs.
The company’s first product is software that helps model the energy consumption of a building and provides insights on how to improve energy efficiency. The product turns what used to be a manual process that involved outside consultants and roughly 150 hours of work into a job that can be done in 30 minutes, according to the cove.tool.
The software can account for factors such as energy consumption, light exposure, glare, radiation, water and embodied carbon targets for new and existing buildings and offers the ability to compare different options, allowing architects and developers to determine the most cost-efficient way to meet energy targets. In its most recent update, the company added an occupancy tool to help developers understand the safest designs for reducing the potential spread of airborne diseases like COVID-19.
Buildings and building construction are a huge contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, accounting for roughly 39 percent of carbon emissions annually, according to data released by the Global Alliance for Building and Construction and the International Energy Agency. And the continuing global migration to cities means that demand for new buildings and construction won’t slow down anytime soon. As demand for buildings increases, technologies like cove.tool’s software could save the equivalent of 40,000 trees on a typical construction project, the company said.
“We only have about 10 years to lower buildings to actually be net zero before the action would be useless in terms of stopping climate change,” said Ahuja, the company’s chief executive.
With the new funds in hand cove.tool intends to expand global sales and marketing efforts and develop some new projects, according to Ahuja. Both founders said that the software is already designed to meet the building standards for Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. And the company has a plan to see if it can design energy efficient structures for a martian environment.
“For fun, we’re going to do Mars,” Ahuja said. “We want to see what the model looks like.”
The big selling point for the software is that environmental sustainability is baked into the product so even if developers only care about cost-cutting, they’ll be improving their carbon footprint anyway.
“Every developer that uses our platform may or may not care about sustainability, but they definitely save on cost,” said Ahuja.
Next on the product roadmap is a marketplace that can provide energy efficient materials that construction managers and developers would need to turn the cove.tool designs into actual buildings.
“Everybody is using a completely different bad workflow,” Chopson, the company’s co-founder and product development lead, said. “This brings it together in terms of cost and the offset carbon targets that every building and every city actually need to meet.”
The roadmap is to create easier workflows from the architect to the contractor so everyone involved can coordinate more closely. As it moves into this side of the construction market, cove.tool will find itself facing some very well-funded competitors, but that’s because the construction management and procurement side of the market is massive.
Companies like Procore have become billion dollar businesses on the back of. their pitch to simplify the construction management process.
The cove.tool marketplace product will be arriving sometime in the middle of 2021 and the company has already amassed a database of over 1,000 products from hundreds of vendors that it intends to list, according to Ahuja.
“There’s a lot of product databases, but no one can analyze it,” said Chopson. “We’re the only ones who can analyze that glass is better than any other glass.. It’s highly disorganized and you can’t compare one thing versus another.. The key is to be able to analyze things and put the analysis you do in the context of a building.”
Ultimately, the focus will still be on efficiency and sustainability, the founders said. And in a rapidly warming world, there are few things that are important.
As Omar Hamoui, a partner at Mucker Capital and the new director on the cove.tool board, said in a statement, “Sustainable design is rapidly becoming a necessity in the built world.”
Ten years after state agents raided his home, an engineer fights to prove he was wrongfully attacked over a computer chip start-up.
To provide some semblance of the campus experience during a pandemic, colleges say large chunks of the student body will have to stay away and study remotely for all or part of the year.
Most universities plan to bring students back to campus. But many of their teachers are scared to join them.
“Things that are important to African-Americans in a sports setting get labeled a distraction. That’s a painful word when you’re talking about matters of life and death.”
The three founders of Collab Capital, the newly launched Atlanta-based fund with a $50 million target and a mission to help Black entrepreneurs, are intimately aware of the struggles that Black founders face — because they are all Black founders themselves.
Managing Partners Jewel Burks, Justin Dawkins, and Barry Givens have all founded companies, have backgrounds in coding and engineering, and know the struggles Black entrepreneurs face when they sit across the table from (predominantly) white investors writing checks.
As the US continues to grapple with its history of systemic racism in the wake of the Memorial Day murder of George Floyd, the financial industry which operates at the engine of commerce and wealth creation is having its own reckoning.
And although the venture capital industry represents a small cog in the greater machine of finance that moves the world’s wealth, given the industry’s outsized role in creating companies that represent a large fraction of the trillions of dollars flowing through the global economy, it’s no surprise that investors are taking stock of their own roles in perpetuating injustices (whether through myopia or malignance).
As the co-founder of Goodie Nation, Dawkins has already helped to build one successful entrepreneur development program focused on social good; while Jewel Burks co-founded Partpic, an object recognition company sold to Amazon in 2016 and the tech behind Amazon’s Part Finder service, and serves as the current Head of Google for Startups in the US. Last but not least is Barry Givens, the founder and developer of the robotic bartender startup, Monsieur (a TechCrunch Battlefield alumnus), and the managing director of Techstars’ Social Impact Accelerator (whose first virtual Demo Day TechCrunch covered here).
“We all started our companies in 2012, and we all went through our own difficult journeys,” said Givens. “We started coming together and having these meetings with each other as we were getting ready to exit and we decided we wanted to do something for the next set of Black entrepreneurs.”
Those meetings began in 2017, after Burks had already sold her company and as Dawkins and Givens were moving on to other roles. Initially, the founders of Collab started out with a studio program designed to work with emerging entrepreneurial talent in the Atlanta area that may not have had access to mentors providing the same kind of advice on the basic blocking and tackling of starting a business.
The studio provided resources and tools on the pre-capital side of the business, while the newly launched fund, with its $50 million target, is designed to help those early entrepreneurs get the capital they need to truly launch their businesses.
First-time fund managers typically raise from a relatively tight network of smaller family offices and high net worth individuals, and for Black investors launching a first fund, that circle can be even tighter — and may be coming from a set of wealthy individuals and investors who aren’t as well-versed in the world of venture capital finance, the Collab Capital founders said.
So in addition to setting up a new fund, the founders have launched a new kind of investment vehicle, modeled after the Simple Agreement for Future Equity popularized by the Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y Combinator .
The Collab team’s portfolio companies ink something that the firm calls a SPACE deal, which stands for shared profit agreement with a collaborative endorsement. Since many of Collab’s investors, to-date, are high net worth individuals coming from the worlds of sports and entertainment, who may not have as much familiarity with the concept of venture capital investing, these collaborative endorsement agreements bridge the gap between an equity deal and a more typical endorsement contract that these athletes, entertainers or even many corporate executives might not be familiar with, according to Givens.
While the firm is heading toward a $50 million hard target, it’s launching with a more modest $2 million capital commitment (roughly the same initial amount that Andreessen Horowitz raised internally for its donor-advised non-profit fund targeting underserved founders).
Like every other initiative planned for 2020, Collab Capital’s fundraising faltered as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world. “We lost several [limited partners] that first weekend when the stock market crashed,” said Givens. “Other LPs came back and said we need to wait until Q3 and Q4.”
Many of the young firm’s early investors come from the entertainment community and had to put their commitments on hold thanks to shortened or canceled seasons and the loss of touring revenues.
Still, Collab has managed to move ahead, and has committed its first capital to a new investment, the consumer focused rain hat company, Hairbrella.
And the spotlight that George Floyd’s murder has put on racial injustice in the US has proven to be a spark for change across America’s social and economic landscape.
“The murder of George Floyd has turned the spotlight on [racial injustice] a little brighter,” said Dawkins. “[But] this is not the first time that you have seen a Black man or Black woman abused or murdered by police…What happens in the industry isn’t going to change by having a Black male get killed on the street.”
The industry needs to change by investing in more Black entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, and as the industry changes, the access to that engine of wealth creation can have huge implications for disenfranchised communities, the Collab Capital co-founders said.
“If you want to make a difference this is how you make a difference,” said Givens. “[And] because of the way the system has worked you may need to change the rules a little bit.”
Arguably, the system hasn’t worked in the way it was intended. Givens pointed to fundraising meetings from his days as an entrepreneur where he spent the first twenty minutes assuring investors that he — an engineering graduate from Georgia Institute of Technology (one of the nation’s best research universities) — had actually built the technology he was pitching.
Collab Capital isn’t the first fund founded by Black entrepreneurs to try and tap into the depth of capital, technological talent pool and startup ecosystem that exists in Atlanta. Last year, Clifford Harris Jr. (better known as T.I.) and partner Jason Geter launched Tech Cypha, which wanted to take the syndicate model for investing and form a quasi-institutional vehicle around it. The firm’s first (and only?) deal was in the Los Angeles and Atlanta-affiliated startup, Culture Genesis.
For Givens, the example of Tech Cypha is indicative of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for investors. “There are a lot of people that recognize that tech is a way to build wealth in our community,” he said. “[But] you need so much money… You need to make 15 investments, not one.”
Collab’s initiative is also tapping into some of the geographic discrepancies that have limited the tech industry’s growth and now present still another opportunity for savvy investors.
“If you’re in Hollywood you see Hollywood problems. If you live in the Valley you’re seeing solutions to Valley problems. What was missed in the last couple of decades is that a lot of innovators have been grossly overlooked because investors did not see the talent in other geographies,” said Dawkins.
The coronavirus forced a shift to virtual classes, but their continuation could be beneficial even after the pandemic ends.
Craig McFarland, the valedictorian of his high school in Jacksonville, Fla., received acceptance letters from 17 colleges and universities in all.