YouTube TV expands its live TV service with more Spanish-language networks

Google’s streaming TV service, YouTube TV, announced today it’s adding more Spanish-language networks to its base membership package and is preparing to launch an add-on package that will include even more Spanish-language content. Starting today, all subscribers will gain access to three new TV networks at no additional cost: Univision, UniMás, and Galavisión. These will join YouTube TV’s existing lineup of over 85 live TV channels, which today include top networks like Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and others, in addition to entertainment networks like those from Discovery and ViacomCBS.

The additions will bring to YouTube TV members a range of new Spanish-language content, including primetime series like “La Desalmada” and “Vencer El Pasado” arriving this fall, reality competition series “Nuestra Belleza Latina” on September 26, plus the 22nd Annual Latin Grammy Awards on November 18. The additions also bring sports programming like the Campeones Cup on September 29, and ongoing match-ups from Liga MX, UEFA Champions League, MLS, and the Mexican National Team, the company says.

Univision also noted that subscribers in top Hispanic markets, including Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, and others, will be able to access Univision and UniMás’ local news, weather, and other programming. Plus, YouTube TV will carry Univision’s video-on-demand content library at launch, and subscribers will be able to use their YouTube TV credentials to authenticate with the company’s “TV everywhere”-powered Univision app.

The companies did not disclose the financial terms of their new agreement, but the deal hasn’t come with a price increase. YouTube TV, however, has been steadily hiking prices since its debut. It increased the service’s pricing to $64.99 last summer, following the new additions of 14 ViacomCBS networks, for example. But last month, YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan said there would be no new price increases in the near-term.

While the new channels will reach all subscribers, YouTube TV also announced plans to introduce a new add-on package that will be available for an additional monthly cost. This will include other Spanish-language networks like Sony Cine, CNN Español, Discovery en Español, Estrella TV, Cinelatino, Fox Deportes, and others. YouTube TV is not yet sharing the full lineup nor the price of the add-on just yet, but said it would offer more details in the “coming months.”

The Spanish-language network Pantaya will also be offered in the weeks ahead for an additional $5.99 per month, providing access to Spanish-language movies and exclusive original series, all of which are on-demand.

“We are delighted to partner with YouTube TV to expand Univision’s robust portfolio of networks and stations to include YouTube TV,” said Hamed Nasseri, Univision Vice President, Content Distribution, in a statement. “Amid the popularity of streaming services as well as the growing influence of our Hispanic community, this is an important step to ensure that our audience has access to our leading Spanish-language news, sports, and entertainment wherever they consume content. We are excited for today’s launch and recognize YouTube TV’s continued commitment to serving our growing and influential Hispanic audience.”

YouTube TV is not the first streamer to cater to an audience looking for Spanish-language content. In 2018, Hulu added its own Spanish-language bundle called ‘Español,’ which now gives subscribers live programming from networks including ESPN Deportes, NBC Universo, CNN En Español, History Channel En Español, Discovery en Español, and Discovery Familia. Hulu, however, doesn’t carry Univision but does offer Telemundo. Fubo TV, meanwhile, offers Univision and Telemundo and provides an Español plan with dozens of Spanish-language channels.

If anything, YouTube TV had been behind in terms of catering to Spanish speakers until now, and this offering will make it more competitive with rival services.

 

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Please stop adding more lanes to busy highways—it doesn’t help

The intersection of Interstates 10 and 610 in Houston, Texas, during evening rush hour.

Enlarge / The intersection of Interstates 10 and 610 in Houston, Texas, during evening rush hour. (credit: Getty Images)

You often hear people say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I bring this up because of an interesting—if infuriating—thread I read this morning about Texas’ plan to widen I-35 as it cuts through the heart of Austin.

Unsurprisingly, the state wants to build more lanes, which it thinks will ease congestion. At some points, this could leave I-35 as much as 20 lanes wide; this will require bulldozing dozens of businesses along the way. An alternative that would have buried 12 lanes of the highway in two levels of underground tunnels was apparently considered too costly.

But it would be wrong to single out this 8-mile proposal as an outlier. In Houston, the state plans to widen I-45 despite plenty of opposition, including from the Federal Highway Administration. And you don’t have to look far to see other state governments wanting to build new roads to reduce congestion.

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VC Geoff Lewis on moving to Austin and popping Silicon Valley’s ‘self-referential’ bubble

Austin has made headlines over the past year for a number of reasons: It’s home to Oracle’s new headquarters. Tesla is building a massive gigafactory in the Texas capital. People, mostly tech workers, are leaving the Bay Area in droves to settle in the city, driving up home prices in the process.

But, it’s not just tech workers. A number of venture capitalists have set up shop in Austin, including Jim Breyer of Breyer Capital and Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, who said last year he was moving his venture capital firm, 8VC, from Silicon Valley to the city.

‘I don’t believe everyone should move to Austin. I don’t think it’s right for everyone, but I do think it’s right for us.’

The latest VC to call Austin home is Geoff Lewis, founder and managing partner of Bedrock Capital, a 4-year-old early-stage venture capital firm with $1 billion in assets under management. Lewis started his investing career at Founders Fund, where he was a partner for several years. He either serves or has served on the board of companies such as Lyft, Nubank, Vercel and Workrise.

Lewis also led early investments in Wish, Upstart, Tilray, Canva, Rippling, ClearCo, Flock Safety and a number of other unicorns. He’s largely credited with popularizing the phrase “narrative violation” to describe promising companies that are overlooked or underestimated because they are incongruent with popular narratives.

In making the move to Austin, the investor said he had grown disillusioned with Silicon Valley and the region’s continued lack of focus on solving what he described as real-world problems.

In a Medium post, Lewis said he was first introduced to Austin after backing Workrise (formerly called RigUp), a marketplace for skilled trade workers. In fact, he was the company’s first seed investor eight years ago and has gone on to invest in the company eight subsequent times. Today, Workrise is valued at nearly $3 billion.

Lewis said he was drawn to the company not just because it was “going to be huge” but also because it was “much more concerned with real people and real places than today’s Silicon Valley behemoths.”

“Put simply, it is a more humane technology company,” Lewis writes. “And it’s my search for this more humane genre of technological innovation that brought me to Texas. I’ve lived on the coasts and built my career as a Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur and investor, but I’ve never felt of the coasts or as an insider in Silicon Valley — I didn’t go to Stanford nor grow up rich.”

TechCrunch talked with Lewis to get more details around his decision to move his firm to Austin, learn more of his views on why Silicon Valley is too much of “a bubble” (spoiler alert: they may not be popular with many of you!) and how he plans to invest in more of Texas’ nexus of startups.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

I understand that you grew up in Canada. How did you first get involved in the tech industry to begin with?

I started off as an entrepreneur myself, building a SaaS company in the travel space [Topguest]. I founded that business in New York City, and in 2009 ended up moving my team to San Francisco. I spent most of my career from 2009 to 2021 bouncing between New York and SF. We ended up selling that company in 2011 and it was a reasonably OK outcome. I joined Founders Fund in 2012, where I just fell in love with investing. I ended up really having a special trajectory there and 2012 was a great time to be a young VC in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I ended up specializing in marketplaces, both consumer and enterprise, backing companies like Lyft and Canva early. I also did the firm’s first fintech investment in Latin America, backing Nubank, and now that company has a $30 billion valuation.

I grew up with pretty modest means and by 2017, I figured I had done well enough as a VC and I should strike out on trying to get back to what I wanted to do, which was more entrepreneurial. So we founded Bedrock in late 2017. We’re on Fund III now and it’s been consistent with the investment philosophy I pursued — trying to find what we call narrative violations, or these counternarrative companies that are being overlooked or underestimated. We were very early investors in Cameo, which is now obviously a pretty well-known business, for example.

You initially chose to base Bedrock in New York. Why?

When I was at Founders Fund I had a home in both cities (SF and NYC), so I was the kid who grew up in Calgary, Canada and wanted to live on the coasts and be in the center of the action. But we decided to actually headquarter Bedrock in New York in 2017 because we had an inclination that Silicon Valley was becoming a little bit overly self-referential and wanted to be a bit outside of the noise. New York is less of a one-horse town, so we decided to base the firm there, but really invested in, and continue to invest, everywhere across the country and quite honestly around the world. We invested in WordPress in the early days and more recently in Argyle and Lambda School.

#bedrock-capital, #dallas, #ec-news-analysis, #funding, #geoff-lewis, #houston, #interview, #investment, #silicon-valley, #tc, #texas, #venture-capital

Here’s what the inevitable friendly neighborhood robot invasion looks like

In early 2021, a Nuro autonomous delivery vehicle pulled to a halt at a four-way stop in its hometown of Mountain View, California to let a user cross. This seemingly humdrum moment quickly looked like a decidedly science fiction storyline — the user was a small sidewalk robot from another startup on its own mission.

“Obviously, we yielded to it, but it was, wow, we have entered a different world,” said Amy Jones Satrom, head of Operations at Nuro.

Mountain View is home to competitor Waymo and other autonomous vehicle testing activity. But for those who want to take part in that science fiction scene, Houston provides the full experience.

Nuro’s operations team has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as the company embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.

Waymo is testing self-driving trucks in Houston, and a fully driverless shuttle service is due to start public service there early next year. Nuro’s Texas effort started in April, when an R2 robot began its commercial pizza delivery service in partnership with Domino’s. Some customers ordering pizzas from the Domino’s Woodland Heights store will see the option to have their pies delivered by robot.

Customers can trace the progress of the self-driving vehicle on the Domino’s app and, when it pulls up outside their home, tap in a unique PIN on its touchscreen to access their order. Nuro is also operating in Houston with Kroger supermarkets and FedEx.

Nuro-validation test

Nuro team on test track during early validation in AZ, before first ever public road deployment in Arizona. Image credit: Nuro

“One of the things we laugh about is how customers constantly talk to the bot,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief innovation pfficer said. “It’s almost like they think it’s ‘Knight Rider.’ It’s very common for customers to thank it or say goodbye, which is great because that indicates we’re creating an engaging experience that they’re not frustrated by.”

Creating an experience, where people want to chat with their new robot neighbors instead of chasing them down the street with pitchforks, falls to Jones Satrom’s operations team. It has to delicately balance speed, safety, convenience and congestion, even as Nuro embarks on a growth spurt that will see robots spreading to other cities, states and partners in the months ahead.

Here’s how it manages that, and what the future holds for Nuro’s ever-so-gentle robot invasion.

Mapping the territory

Few people are as well suited to overseeing Nuro’s high-stakes robot rollout as Jones Satrom, who started her career as a nuclear engineer on an aircraft carrier and previously managed the integration of Kiva Systems’ robots into Amazon’s warehouses.

#artificial-intelligence, #autonomous-vehicles, #av, #dave-ferguson, #dominos-pizza, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #greylock-capital, #houston, #john-lilly, #nuro, #nuro-ec-1, #refraction-ai, #robotics, #self-driving-cars, #startups, #tc, #transportation, #walmart, #waymo

Amazon expands same-day Prime delivery to 6 more U.S. cities

Amazon announced this morning it’s expanding its faster, same-day delivery service to half a dozen more U.S. cities. The service, which the retailer has been working to make same-day delivery even faster over the past year, now offers consumers in a number of markets the ability to shop up to 3 million items on Amazon.com, then receive their orders in only a few hours.

To do so, Amazon invested in what it called “mini-fulfillment centers” closer to where customers lived in select U.S. markets, initially in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando, and Dallas. Those customers could then shop across a dozen merchandise categories, including Baby, Beauty & Health, Kitchen & Dining, Electronics, Pet Supplies, and more. As the pandemic continued to impact Amazon’s business, in November 2020, Amazon expanded its faster same-day service to more cities, to include Nashville and Washington, D.C.

With today’s expansion, Amazon is rolling out same-day delivery to Prime members in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Tampa, Charlotte, and Houston, bringing the total markets served to 12. In these markets, shoppers will be able to place orders online throughout the day then have items on their doorstep in as fast as 5 hours, Amazon says. Customers can also place orders by midnight to have their orders arrive the following morning.

The service continues to be free with no additional charges on orders over $35 that qualify for same-day delivery. Orders under $35 have a $2.99 fee for Prime customers, and a $12.99 fee for non-members. Prime membership, meanwhile, is $12.99 per month or $119 per year.

The time frame commitments for same-day delivery are the same as those Amazon promised last year when it first announced its plans to speed up Prime delivery. Orders placed between midnight and 8 AM will arrive today by 1 PM. Orders placed between 8 AM and 1 PM arrive by 6 PM; those placed between 1 PM and 5 PM will arrive by 10 PM; and those placed between 5 PM and midnight will arrive overnight by 8 AM. That means customers can place orders fairly late and receive their items before they head out of the house the next day.

Faster same-day delivery has been one of the most significant services Amazon has used to challenge rivals like Walmart and Target, who both benefit from having a large brick-and-mortar footprint that allows them to more quickly serve their customers through same-day order pickup, curbside pickup, and same-day delivery services. While Walmart partners with third-parties on its same-day service, Express delivery, largely focused on grocery, Target acquired delivery service Shipt in 2017 to bring its fast delivery services in-house.

In response to the growing competition, Amazon has been recently acquiring smaller warehouse space inside major urban metros, including in these six new markets where it’s now announcing same-day delivery, as well as larger markets, like New York, and even suburban neighborhoods. It also acquired Whole Foods for $137.7 billion in 2017, not only to more fully participate in the online grocery business, but also in part because of its large retail footprint.

As Amazon has sped up the pace of what’s available under “Prime” delivery, it has wound down its older “Prime Now” business, which was retired Aug. 30 and will be fully shut down by year-end. The separate app had allowed customers to shop items that were available in one or two hours for an additional fee.

The news follows Amazon’s earning miss last week, when the retailer fell short of Wall St.’s estimates for revenue, and gave a weaker than-expected outlook for the quarter ahead, which Amazon attributed to difficult comparisons with a time frame that included Covid lockdowns during height of the pandemic in 2020. The company reported $113.08 billion in revenue and earnings of $15.12, versus expectations of $115.2 billion and $12.30.

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Austin-based Fetch Package secures $60M in equity & debt after tripling ARR in 2020

Fetch Package, a last-mile package delivery company for apartment communities, has raised $50 million in a Series C round of funding and closed on a $10 million venture debt facility.

Michael Patton founded Fetch in May 2016 after being frustrated by having packages lost at the apartment community in which he was living. 

“I took the time to research how communities were handling packages. What I found was that some communities are receiving up to 300 to 400 packages a week and trying to manage that volume manually, adding a significant time burden on the team,” he told TechCrunch. “I knew there had to be a better way and that solution needed to be one that could easily handle the future of package delivery as e-commerce was gaining significant traction.”

Fetch launched its operations in Dallas in February of 2017 with the goal of solving “the package problem” for apartment communities. The startup, which later moved its headquarters to Austin, has seen impressive growth.

By the end of 2017, the SaaS company was servicing approximately 2,000 apartments in the Dallas area. Over the next three years that number grew to almost 150,000 doors being serviced out of 25 warehouses in 15 markets, including Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Orlando, Portland, Phoenix, Arizona and Seattle.

Fetch currently has just over 200,000 doors, or around 700 communities, across the country under contract. It says it works with seven of the top 10 nationally recognized apartment management companies in the country, in addition to “a majority of the largest owners and developers.” Last December, it inked a national preferred vendor agreement with management giant Greystar. Fetch delivered about 3.5 million packages in 2020, and hit the 2.5 million mark for volume in June 2021. The company says it’s currently on track to deliver more than 8 million packages by the end of the year. 

While the company would not disclose hard revenue figures, Patton says it tripled its year-over-year ARR (annual recurring revenue) in 2020 and GAAP revenue grew 6x year-over-year. Over the last two years, Fetch has seen “record sales,” he added, and is on pace to surpass 300,000 units by year’s end. Austin-based Ocelot Capital led its Series C round, which also included participation from Greenpoint Partners, Alpaca VC and Rose Park Advisors. Existing backers Iron Gate Capital, Signal Peak Ventures, Venn Ventures, Pando Ventures and Seamless also put money in the round. 

In addition to the equity raise, Signature Bank provided the company with a $10 million venture debt facility. The latest financing brings Fetch’s total funding to more than $92 million, and triples its valuation from its $18 million Series B raise last August.

Andrew Townsend, managing member at Ocelot Capital, believes that Fetch is “solving for a major bottleneck within the supply chain that is often overlooked.”

“We expect e-commerce delivery volume to continue to grow for the foreseeable future and Fetch is the only scalable solution available to multifamily operators,” he said. 

What makes Fetch stand out, in his view, is that the company can “efficiently” manage the fluctuations in package volume in ways that traditional parcel storage solutions cannot. It also provides apartment residents with the “unique convenience of on-demand doorstep delivery that aligns with the varied schedules of apartment dwellers,” Townsend added.

All packages at Fetch’s client communities are sent to the company’s facilities using a unique code identifier. The company then coordinates scheduled, direct-to-door delivery with residents directly via its app in a time frame that it says “works best for their schedule.”

“This takes the property out of the package management business and provides residents with a convenient amenity,” Patton said.

Fetch works with a mix of W2 employees as well as 1099 contractors to fulfill their service. On the W2 side, Fetch has had a 50% increase in total employees since the middle of last year, with about 350 employees today. This is in addition to the “thousands” of independent contractors/gig economy workers who also serve as drivers in all their markets.

Looking ahead, Fetch will use its new capital primarily to expand into new markets, with plans to launch in South Florida, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Nashville, Minneapolis and a “few other markets” over the next two quarters. Over the next 18 months, the company intends to launch around 20 new markets. The money will also go toward investing in its tech stack and operational infrastructure, Patton said.

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A $26-billion plan to save the Houston area from rising seas

When Hurricane Ike made landfall in 2008, Bill Merrell took shelter on the second floor of a historic brick building in downtown Galveston, Texas, along with his wife, their daughter, their grandson, and two Chihuahuas. Sustained winds of 110 mph lashed the building. Seawater flooded the ground floor to a depth of over 8 feet. Once, in the night, Merrell caught glimpses of a near-full moon and realized they had entered the hurricane’s eye.

Years earlier, Merrell, a physical oceanographer at Texas A&M University at Galveston, had toured the gigantic Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, a nearly 6-mile-long bulwark that prevents North Sea storms from flooding the southern Dutch coast. As Ike roared outside, Merrell kept thinking about the barrier. “The next morning, I started sketching what I thought would look reasonable here,” he said, “and it turned out to be pretty close to what the Dutch would have done.”

These sketches were the beginning of the Ike Dike, a proposal for a coastal barrier intended to protect Galveston Bay. The core idea: combining huge gates across the main inlet into the Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, known as Bolivar Roads, with many miles of high seawalls.

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#houston, #science

Former Zillow execs raise $70M seed round for Tomo, which wants to simplify the mortgage process

There are so many startups pledging to reinvent the mortgage process that it’s hard to keep up. But for anyone who has had to go through the process of applying for one, it’s clear that there’s plenty of room for improvement.

The latest startup to raise venture money with the goal of making the process “smarter and faster” is one that was founded by a pair of executives that spent years at real estate giant Zillow. Tomo is very early stage — so early stage that it is only launching operations in conjunction with announcing it has just raised $70 million in seed funding. That’s a massive seed round by any standards (the third-largest in the U.S., according to Crunchbase), but especially for the real estate tech space (perhaps the largest ever).

Ribbit Capital led the financing, which also included participation from DST Global, NFX and Zigg Capital.

Former Zillow executives Greg Schwartz and Carey Armstrong founded Stamford, CT-based Tomo in the fall of 2020 to take on big banks when it comes to providing mortgages to consumers. CEO Schwartz first joined Zillow in 2007, where he says he “built the sales and revenue operations from the ground up.” Armstrong, who serves as Tomo’s chief revenue officer, previously led business strategy, product strategy and core operations for Zillow’s $1 billion buyer services business. 

Launching today in Seattle, Dallas and Houston, Tomo says it will do things like issue fully underwritten pre-approvals “within hours, not days” and guarantee on-time closing. This is particularly important in competitive markets with multiple buyers making offers on homes.

It plans to use data to get homebuyers to closing in as little as 21 days, which they say is less than half of the industry average of 47 days. And, on top of all that, it claims it will offer “the lowest rates in the industry” with “customer-obsessed service.”

The company claims that besides having founders that have years of experience at a company with a reach like Zillow’s, they also aim to be different from other competitors in the space in that they are strictly focused on the buyer. For example, it won’t do any refinancing for existing homeowners but focus strictly on helping buyers secure new mortgage loans.

“The big banks have never made more money, yet an experience with their mortgage business has never been worse,” Schwartz told TechCrunch. “And it’s because the incumbents have no reason to fundamentally change.”

While it’s early days yet, only time will tell if Tomo can live up to its lofty goals. No doubt it has plenty of competition. In the past week alone, we’ve reported on two other digital mortgage startups raising significant funding rounds, including Lower and Accept.

Tomo’s investors are clearly confident about its potential.

Ribbit Capital’s Nick Huber said his firm had been connected to Schwartz and Armstrong prior to their even starting Tomo.

“When we learned that the two of them were working together, we immediately knew that we had to be a part of the journey,” he said. “We gained the conviction to lead the seed round as the team shared more of their vision for the future of home buying, which is a broken experience that they deeply understand and have the insight and relationships to fix.”

NFX founder and general partner Pete Flint has known Schwartz and Armstrong under a different capacity. They were once rivals. Flint co-founded another online real estate giant, Trulia and was its CEO and chairman from its 2005 inception until it was acquired by Zillow for $2.5 billion in 2015.

“We were initially competitors and then deep collaborators after the Trulia/Zillow merger,” Flint said. Once the pair formed Tomo, Flint says NFX “had not seen a team that was so experienced and thoughtful about the entire real estate experience that was going after the mortgage and home buying opportunity.”

In fact, the investment represents NFX’s largest initial investment to date.

“They are rethinking the entire software stack and building a modern fintech company, free of legacy constraints,” he added.

#dallas, #dst-global, #finance, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #houston, #mortgage, #nfx, #nick-huber, #pete-flint, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #ribbit-capital, #seattle, #startups, #trulia, #united-states, #venture-capital, #zillow

Meet Nickson, the furniture-as-a-service startup that Barack Obama’s ex-financial adviser just backed

Ever toured an apartment and fall in love with the model unit?

You’re not alone. Harvard Business School grad Cameron Johnson is a former institutional real estate investor and Greystar exec turned startup founder that realized that very often, “renters would try to rent the model apartment.”

This got him thinking. People would love to rent a model apartment in a building, and no one likes to move. This spelled opportunity in Johnson’s mind.

So in 2017, he came up with the idea of Nickson, a Dallas-based startup that fully furnishes apartments on demand.

Image Credits: CEO and founder Cameron Johnson / Nickson

“I thought ‘What if you gave people the ability to simply rent the model, or the ability to add everything in their space needs with a few clicks, similar to how a cable modem comes to your house ’ ” CEO Johnson said. “I wondered, ‘Why can’t we do that for everything else?’ ”

But Nickson doesn’t just provide furniture such as beds and sofas, it delivers all the essentials too — from extension cords to pots and pans to silverware to curtain rods. By partnering with a variety of retailers, the startup claims that it allows users “to make their new spaces move-in ready in as little as 3 hours.” 

Users take a style quiz and share apartment layout details. Nickson’s designers create an initial layout based on the dimensions of an apartment, desired functions (such as work from home) and the volume of furnishings based on a person’s lifestyle. Once the layout is complete, Nickson creates a custom design, including all furnishings and home goods. 

Upon signing up, users pay a one-time installation fee for the furniture-as-a-service offering, and then a monthly subscription charge for the duration of a lease — starting at $199 a month for a studio to $500 a month for a 3 bedroom apartment. The startup also offers concierge services such as a household supply starter kit and maid service, as an add-on to its flat monthly subscription.

Nickson is currently only live in the Dallas market, but plans to expand into other cities over the next 12 months, including expanding its beta tests in Austin and Houston. And it’s just raised a $12 million Series A to help it advance on that goal. 

A fund managed by Pendulum Opportunities LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pendulum Holdings LLC, led the Series A round, which also included participation from Motley Fool Ventures, Revolution’s Rise of the Rest and Backstage Capital. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global supply chain, leading to delivery delays for consumers. Nickson has purchased items over time that it stores as local inventory, making it even more attractive to renters who don’t want to deal with delays and hunting down furniture and essentials, Johnson said. The convenience Nickson offers led to its user base growing 700% in 2020 compared to the year prior, he added.

Robbie Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Pendulum, said his firm was drawn to invest in Nickson due to a combination of Johnson’s “vision, secular shifts toward renting and subscription consumption and the company’s disruptive business model.” (Robinson is President Barack Obama’s former financial adviser, and recently founded Pendulum to invest $250 million in founding startups of color).

Kabir Ahmed, vice president at Pendulum, added that he believes Nickson’s model is superior to the concept of renting one-off furniture pieces in that it offers an “end-to-end, turnkey solution.”

This seamless experience is highly differentiated and offers a compelling value proposition for the consumer,” he said.

Of course, Nickson is not the only company attempting to turn the stodgy furniture rental industry on its head. Other startups offering similar services as Nickson include Oliver Space, Fernish and The Landing.

But Nickson claims that it stands out from the competition in that it “takes care of everything” beyond furniture (including artwork and toilet wand brushes) and that it can curate space and bring it all in before a renter even shows up.

“No other competitor in this space offers this level of service, detail or turnaround,” Johnson says. “You can literally arrive at your new home with a suitcase and toothbrush, and it’s ready to ‘live in.’”

#apartment, #austin, #backstage-capital, #barack-obama, #cable-modem, #ceo, #dallas, #funding, #fundings-exits, #harvard-business-school, #houston, #motley-fool-ventures, #president, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #venture-capital, #vice-president

Judge slams hospital staff for comparing COVID vaccine mandate to Nazi crimes

Multistory glass-and-steel hospital.

Enlarge / An American flag flies outside the Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

A federal judge over the weekend dismissed a lawsuit brought by 117 employees of a Houston-based hospital system, who, among other things, claimed that the hospital’s requirement that staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 was akin to medical atrocities carried out by Nazis.

US District Judge Lynn Hughes called that argument “reprehensible” and issued sweeping rejections of their other claims that the mandate violates state and federal laws. In the five-page ruling filed Saturday, Judge Hughes wrote that the lawsuit by the 117 employees—led by coronavirus-unit nurse Jennifer Bridges—contained false statements, misconstrued legal provisions, wrongly claimed coercion, and made otherwise invalid arguments.

Houston Methodist Hospital system issued a mandate April 1 that all staff must be vaccinated against the pandemic coronavirus. Though the vast majority of the hospital system’s nearly 26,000 employees readily complied, 178 did not meet the June 7 deadline and were suspended for two unpaid weeks. If they fail to get fully vaccinated in that window, they face termination.

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Hospital suspends 178 health care workers for failing to get COVID vaccine

Multistory glass-and-steel hospital.

Enlarge / An American flag flies outside the Houston Methodist Hospital at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas, on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

As of Tuesday, 178 health care workers employed by a Houston-based hospital system are on a two-week unpaid suspension after failing to meet the hospital system’s mandate to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Monday, June 7.

Houston Methodist CEO Marc Boom announced the mandate in April, telling hospital staffers that if they failed to get vaccinated, they would be fired. The 178 suspended employees now have the two unpaid weeks to become fully vaccinated before termination. They can do so by getting the one-shot COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson or a second dose of either of the two mRNA vaccines. Boom noted in a letter to employees sent Tuesday that 27 of the 178 suspended employees have received one dose of vaccine.

The Texas hospital system stood out in issuing the vaccination mandate. Many employers have shied away from mandates, though more employers have followed Houston Methodist’s lead in recent weeks. Overall, the mandate appears successful: about 97 percent of the hospital’s nearly 26,000 employees are fully vaccinated. Boom reported that 24,947 staffers were fully vaccinated, while 285 received a medical or religious exemption, and 332 were granted deferrals for pregnancy and other reasons.

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Eano’s Stella Wu is not your typical construction tech startup founder

Renovating a home is an exciting, yet often fraught-filled, endeavor.

One startup that aims to help make the process simpler, cheaper and less stressful by helping people manage the home renovation process has raised $6 million to help it grow even faster. Builders VC led the round, which included participation from Celtic, Newfund and Wish co-founder Danny Zhang, who also sits on Eano’s board.

Stella Wu, who formerly worked as a growth product manager at Wish, got firsthand experience of the pain points related to the process when she bought her own house in 2017.

“I realized there were a lot of fragmented issues in the renovation space, especially when it came to the individual workers,” she recalls. “They were not reliable and bad at communication.”

So in 2019 she founded Eano, a San Francisco-based startup that aims to walk a homeowner through a renovation and help connect individual contractors with new clients. Eano also works on projects like building ADUs (accessory dwelling units).

As more people spent time at home last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the startup saw its contract revenue spike by 5x, Wu says. And in the first quarter of this year, business was up 70% year over year.

Image Credits: Eano CEO and founder Stella Wu / Eano

Eano, she said, offers competitive and transparent pricing so that homeowners aren’t surprised as a remodeling project goes on. Its automated process tracks all communications and progress in one place and the company has grown what it describes as a “network of experienced, local professionals” that are fully licensed, vetted and insured that it pairs homeowners with on projects.

“There’s all these individual contractors out there and even though they are very affordable, it’s very hard for them to get to the homeowners, as they don’t have much resources,” Wu, a Chinese immigrant, told TechCrunch. “So they come to us and we basically take care of it all.” For now, Eano is operating in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, with plans to expand to Seattle and Houston this year.

The company plans to take its new capital and “go deep into the product side.”

Once they become a client, homeowners can use Eano to select a certain remodeling package, and then they can check the project progress, communicate with the team and even see the progress through videos.

“We’re also helping contractors make communicating and receiving payment much easier,” Wu said. “We’re also helping these individual contractors increase the brand, and helping them with the administration and customer support side with our software.”

Jim Kim of Builders VC, said he first encountered Wu and Jung while they were at Wish.

“We invest in people, and when you can find extremely talented entrepreneurs who have built successful companies and still have the hunger to win, you jump in with a blank check,” he said. “We love Eano’s mission — combining a similar product sourcing strategy as Wish with technology to bring a better experience to all constituents in the antiquated construction industry.”

Kim is also impressed by the fact that Wu is driven to prove “that you don’t need to be a 55-year-old man wearing steel-toed boots to have a meaningful impact on construction.”

“We love that ethos — it matches with our thinking about backing entrepreneurs who don’t fit into the stereotypical box,” Kim said.

#builders-vc, #construction-tech, #danny-zhang, #eano, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #funding, #fundings-exits, #home-improvement, #houston, #jim-kim, #los-angeles, #newfund, #private-equity, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #renovation, #san-francisco, #seattle, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital, #wish

This founder raised millions to build Fair, a neobank for immigrants

Fair, a multilingual digital bank and financial services platform, is launching to the public after raising $20 million in 40 days earlier this year.

Founder Khalid Parekh raised the capital primarily from the very demographic that Houston-based Fair aims to serve: from a group consisting of a number of immigrants, many of whom were first-time investors.

“There was not a single check from a VC or bank or from a family office,” Parekh told TechCrunch. “Ninety percent of our investors are minorities or are immigrants like myself that believed in the concept of Fair.”

One could say that it’s also fitting that Fair’s headquarters are in Houston, which at the time of the last census was the most ethnically diverse city in the United States.

Parekh is not your traditional fintech founder. He doesn’t have banking or financial services experience, although he does have experience founding and running a successful company: AMSYS Group, which is valued at nearly $350 million. His mission with Fair is largely personal. Upon arriving in the U.S. from India with just $100 in his pocket 22 years ago, he struggled to not only get a loan but also to open a bank account. 

Image Credits: Founder and CEO Khalid Parekh / Fair

“I was an engineer by background, but was very confused with the American banking system. There is not a lot of help for immigrants who don’t understand it well,” Parekh recalls. “My biggest challenge was sending money back home. There was just a lack of welcome.”

In 2020, he used his own cash to build out the technology behind Fair, which is designed to be an option to those who are new to the country, have no credit or need access to interest-free loans. Fair operates with Coastal Community Bank as its sponsor bank. Parekh’s goal with Fair is to provide “ethical, transparent banking” – to anyone – via a membership model that eliminates all banking fees. Members can pay a one-time membership fee of $99 (paid in full or in installments) to have access to all of Fair’s online banking and financial services.

“Another challenge that I saw is that there were hardly any options for insurance and retirement services for immigrants and low-income people,” Parekh said. “All big institutions catered to people with a lot of money. But we want to create an institution where we are fair to everybody, regardless of religion, race, color, net worth or how much is in their bank account. We want everyone to be treated the same.”

Over the past year, the nation has seen a surge of neobanks emerge aimed at specific demographics, including Greenwood, First Boulevard and Cheese. Welcome Technologies is also aimed at serving the immigrant population. 

Fair aims to differentiate itself, according to Parekh, by offering interest-free lending, as well as the ability to invest, get insurance and plan for retirement in one platform that is available in English, Arabic and Spanish (with more languages to come). Ultimately, his goal in Fair is to help address the “longstanding racial income inequalities and widening wealth disparities in the U.S.” He won’t get a salary for his role as CEO.

Among Fair’s features are free international transfer, early access to paycheck funds, “instant, interest-free” microloans — essentially buy now, pay later at the register — an annual dividend account, debit card accounts for kids and interest-free loans for home, auto and business that are equity-based. Those equity-based loans are Sharia compliant, meaning that it’s not kosher to take interest. They also comply with Jewish law.

Instead, if a member wants to buy a home, they can put 20% down, and Fair will provide 80% via an LLC, of which the member and bank will be co-owners.

“The members will have the option of buying out our shares on whatever schedule they wish,” Parekh said.

In partnership with Avibra, Fair is offering free supplemental life, accident medical and AD&D insurance to all members as part of its banking services.

Fair aims to practice socially responsible investing (SRI), an approach to investing that reduces exposure to companies that are deemed to have a negative social impact. The fintech also practices ESG investing, which measures the sustainability of an investment and its overall impact in three specific categories: environmental, social and corporate governance. And, it’s also working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and World Relief, and will donate 2.5% of profits to refugee missions globally, as well as racial economic empowerment initiatives.

Among Fair’s advisors are Manolo Sánchez, a director at Fannie Mae and Stewart Information Systems and former chair & CEO of BBVA Compass, and Samuel Golden, managing director at management consulting firm Alvarez & Marsal and founder of A&M’s Financial Industry practice.

#apps, #bank, #banking, #diversity, #economy, #engineer, #fair, #finance, #financial-services, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #houston, #india, #ing-group, #money, #neobank, #online-banking, #recent-funding, #startup, #startups, #tc, #united-states

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fervo Energy drilling site. Image Credit: Fervo Energy

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

Elon Musk denies Autopilot was active before deadly crash in Texas

Elon Musk denies Autopilot was active before deadly crash in Texas

Enlarge (credit: felixmizioznikov / Getty)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is fighting back against speculation that a deadly Tesla crash in the Houston area on Saturday might have occurred while Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance software was active.

“Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled,” Musk tweeted on Monday afternoon.

The vehicle was totaled, so it’s not clear if crash data on the vehicle survived. But Tesla vehicles are equipped with cellular connections, and the 2019 Model S may have transmitted key data wirelessly to Tesla’s servers in the seconds after the crash.

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Hustle Fund backs Fintor, which wants to make it easier to invest in real estate

Farshad Yousefi and Masoud Jalali used to drive through Palo Alto neighborhoods and marvel at the outrageous home prices. But the drives sparked an idea. They were not in a financial position to purchase a home in those neighborhoods (to be clear, not many people are) either for investment or to live. But what if they could invest in homes in up and coming cities throughout the U.S.?

Then they realized that even that might be a challenge considering that with all their student debt, affording a down payment would be impossible.

“There was nothing available out there besides a crowdfunding platform, which when we first signed up, took away $1,000 from our account that we didn’t have, and then our capital would be locked up for 3 to 10 years,” recalls Yousefi.

So the pair started doing research and spoke to 1,000 individuals under the age of 35. Eight out of 10 said they would like to invest in real estate but were deterred by all the barriers to entry.

“There is clearly a large demand for access to real estate,” Yousefi said. “And we wanted to give people a way to invest in it like they can in stocks, via a mobile app.”

And so the idea for Fintor was born.

Yousefi and Jalali founded the company in 2020 with the goal of purchasing homes via an LLC, and turning each into shares through a SEC-approved broker dealer. Individuals can then buy shares of the homes via Fintor’s platform. Its next step is to sign agreements with individual real estate investors or bigger real estate development firms to list their properties on the platform and give people the opportunity to buy shares.

And now Fintor has raised $2.5 million in seed money to continue building out its fractional real estate investing platform. The startup aims to “fractionalize” houses and other residential property, giving people in the U.S. access to investment opportunities “starting with as little as $5.” The company attracted the interest of investors such as 500 Startups, Hustle Fund, Graphene Ventures, Houston-based real estate investor Manny Khoshbin, Mana Ventures and other angel investors such as Cindy Bi, Skyler Fernandes, VU Venture Partners, Minal Hasan, Andrew Zalasin, Alluxo CEO and Founder Safa Mahzari, SquareFoot CEO and founder Jonathan Wasserstrum and Teachable CEO and founder Ankur Nagpal.

Image Credits: Fintor

Fintor is eying markets such as Kansas City, South Carolina, and Houston, Texas, where it already has some properties. It’s looking for homes in the $80,000 to $350,000 price range, and millennials and GenZers are its target demographic.

“Fintor can give the same return as the stock market, but at half the risk,” Yousefi said. “As two [Iranian] immigrants, we’ve seen how much this country has to offer and how real estate sits at the top of everything, yet is so inaccessible.”

The pair had originally set out to raise just $1 million but the round was quickly “way oversubscribed,” according to Yousefi, and they ended up raising $2.5 million at triple the original valuation.

Jalali said the company will use machine learning technology to filter and rate properties as it scales its business model.

“We’ll use ML to categorize neighborhoods and to come up with the price of properties to offer to potential sellers,” he added. “Our ultimate goal is to create indexes so that people can invest in multiple properties in a given city. That creates diversification right away.”

.Elizabeth Yin, co-founder and general partner of Hustle Fund, believes that Fintor is solving a generational problem with real estate.

“Retail investors have almost no access to great real estate investments today and the best opportunities are reserved for the select few,” she told TechCrunch. “Not to mention that in addition to access, retail investors often need a lot of capital in order to have a diversified portfolio or be accredited to join funds.”

Fintor’s approach to securitize real estate assets will give millions of investors who are not accredited investors access they would otherwise not have had, Yin added. 

“Simultaneously, it provides increased liquidity to property owners, while improving the user experience for both parties,” she said. “Effectively this becomes a new asset class, because it’s entirely turnkey and is fractionalized, which opens up many new pockets of investors.”

#ankur-nagpal, #articles, #ceo, #cindy-bi, #crowdfunding, #elizabeth-yin, #entrepreneurship, #financial-technology, #fintech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #graphene-ventures, #houston, #hustle-fund, #kansas-city, #machine-learning-technology, #ml, #palo-alto, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #retail-investors, #south-carolina, #squarefoot, #startups, #tc, #technology, #texas, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states, #venture-capital

Domino’s, Nuro to begin autonomous pizza deliveries in Houston

Starting this week, some Domino’s customers in Houston can have a pizza delivered without ever interacting with a human.

The pizza delivery giant said Monday it has partnered with autonomous delivery vehicle startup Nuro to allow select customers to have their pizzas dropped at their door via Nuro’s R2 robot.

“There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer said in a statement. “This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations.”

On certain days and times, customers ordering from the Woodland Heights store on the Domino’s website can request R2, which uses radar, 360-degree cameras and thermal imaging to direct its movement. They’ll get texts to let them know where the robot is and what PIN they’ll need to access their pizza via the bot’s touchscreen.

Over the course of the pandemic, the contactless, autonomous food delivery industry has accelerated quickly, and Nuro is currently poised to become a leader in this space.

“Nuro’s mission is to better everyday life through robotics,” Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, said in a statement. “We’re excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino’s customers in Houston. We can’t wait to see what they think.”

This is the first time meals will be delivered by an electric, self-driving, occupant-less vehicle on the roads in Houston. Woodland Heights, which is mainly residential, is one of the oldest historic neighborhoods in Houston, flanked by the I-45 and I-10 highways. The Domino’s there is right on Houston Avenue, a main thoroughfare, making this a substantially challenging space in which to pilot this technology.

Nuro originally announced the Domino’s partnership and began testing in Houston in 2019. That same year, the company began deploying its vehicles to transport Kroger groceries in Houston and Phoenix. At the end of 2020, it was approved to begin testing on public roads in California, delivering goods from partners like Walmart and CVS. Nuro is the first company to be granted regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a self-driving vehicle exemption.

Domino’s appears to be Nuro’s first large foray into restaurant delivery, but it certainly won’t be the last. The company just announced its $500 million Series C round, funded in part by Chipotle. Woven Capital, the investment arm of Toyota’s innovation-focused subsidiary Woven Planet, also invested, kicking off the fund’s portfolio.

#autonomous-vehicles, #dominos, #electric-vehicles, #houston, #nuro, #on-demand-delivery, #robotics, #tc, #transportation

Closing on $103M, MaC VC is changing the face of venture capital

The partners at MaC Venture Capital, the Los Angeles-based investment firm that has just closed on $103 million for its inaugural fund, have spent the bulk of their careers breaking barriers.

Formed when M Ventures (a firm founded by former Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty); the first Black talent agency partner in the history of Hollywood, Charles D. King; and longtime operating executive (and former agent) Michael Palank joined forces with Marlon Nichols, a co-founder of the LA-based investment firm Cross Culture Capital, MaC Venture Capital wanted to be a different kind of fund.

The firm combines the focus on investing in software that Fenty had honed from his years spent as a special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz, where he spent five years before setting out to launch M Ventures; and Nichols’ thesis-driven approach to focusing on particular sectors that are being transformed by global cultural shifts wrought by changing consumer behavior and demographics.

“There’s a long history and a lot of relationships here,” said King, one of Hollywood’s premier power players and the founder of the global media company, Macro. “Adrian and I go back to 93 [when] we were in law school. We went on to conquer the world, where he went out to Washington DC and I became a senior partner at WME.”

Palank was connected to the team through King as well, since the two men worked together at William Morris before running business development for Will Smith and others.

“There was this idea of having connectivity between tech and innovation… that’s when we formed M Ventures [but] that understanding of media and culture… that focus… was complimentary with what Marlon was doing at Cross Culture,” King said.

Few firms could merge the cultural revolutions wrought by DJ Herc spinning records in the rec room of a Bronx apartment building and Sir Tim Berners Lee’s invention of the internet, but that’s exactly what MaC VC aims to do.

And while the firm’s founding partnership would prefer to focus on the financial achievements of their respective firms and the investments that now comprise the new portfolio of their combined efforts — it includes StokeGoodfairFinessePureStream, and Sote — it’s hard to overstate the significance that a general partnership that includes three Black men have raised $103 million in an industry that’s been repeatedly called out for problems with diversity and inclusion.

MaC Venture Capital co-founders Marlon Nichols, Michael Palank, Charles King, and Adrian Fenty. Image Credit: MaC Venture Capital

“Our LPs invested in us… for lots of different reasons but at the top of the list was that we are a diverse team in so many ways. We’re going to show them a set of companies that they would not have seen from any [other] VC fund,” said Fenty. “We also, in turn, have the same investing thesis when we look at companies. We want to have women founders, African American founders, Latino founders… In our fund now we have some companies that are all women, all African American or all Latino.”

The diversity of the firm’s ethos is also reflected in the broad group of limited partners that have come on to bankroll its operations: it includes Goldman Sachs, the University of Michigan, Howard University, Mitch and Freada Kapor, Foot Locker, and Greenspring Associates.

“We are thrilled to join MaC Venture Capital in this key milestone toward building a new kind of venture capital firm that is anchored around a cultural investment thesis and supports transformative companies and dynamic founders,” said Daniel Feder, Managing Director with the University of Michigan Investment Office, in a statement. “Their unified understanding of technology, media, entertainment, and government, along with a successful track record of investing, give them deep insights into burgeoning shifts in culture and behavior.”

And it extends to the firm’s portfolio, a clutch of startup companies headquartered around the globe — from Seattle to Houston and Los Angeles to Nairobi.

“We look at all verticals. We’re very happy to be generalists,” said Fenty.

A laser focus on software-enabled businesses is complemented by the thesis-driven approach laid out in position papers staking out predictions for how the ubiquity of gaming; conscious consumerism; new parenting paradigms; and cultural and demographic shifts will transform the global economy.

Increasingly, that thesis also means moving into areas of frontier technologies that include the space industry, mixed reality and everything at the intersection of computing and the transformation of the physical world — drawn in part by the firm’s close connection to the diverse tech ecosystem that’s emerging in Los Angeles. “We’re seeing these SpaceX and Tesla mafias spin out, entrepreneurs who have had best-in-class training at an Elon Musk company,” said Palank. “It’s a great talent pool, and LA has more computer science students graduating every year than Northern California.”

With its current portfolio, though early, the venture firm is operating in the top 5% of funds — at least on paper — and its early investments are up 3 times what the firm invested, Nichols said. 

“The way to think about it is MaC is essentially an extension of what we were building before,” the Cross Culture Ventures co-founder said. “We’re sticking with the concept that talent is ubiquitous but access to capital and opportunity is not. We want to be the source and access to capital for those founders.”

#adrian-fenty, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #california, #co-founder, #computing, #cross-culture-ventures, #finance, #finesse, #foot-locker, #goldman-sachs, #greenspring-associates, #houston, #investment, #king, #laser, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-venture-capital, #macro, #marlon-nichols, #mayor, #media, #michigan, #money, #nairobi, #seattle, #sote, #spacex, #stoke, #tc, #tesla, #tim-berners-lee, #university-of-michigan, #venture-capital, #washington-dc, #will-smith

Planting seed investments on tech’s frontiers nets KdT Ventures $50 million for its latest fund

Like other venture investors over the past year, Cain McClary, co-founder of the investment firm KdT Ventures, recently made the jump to Austin. But unlike the rest of them, he was coming from Black Mountain, NC.

McClary had spent the better part of the last three years with his co-founder Mack Healy building out a portfolio that would be the envy of almost any investor looking at financing startups whose businesses depend on innovations at the borders of current technological achievement.

Since 2017, when the firm closed on the first $3.5 million of what ended up being a $15 million fund (they had targeted $30 million), McClary and Healy managed to find their way onto the cap table of businesses like the green chemicals manufacturer, Solugen; health diagnostics technology developer, PathAI; the Nigerian genetic dataset developer, 54Gene; the novel biomaterials developer, Checkerspot; and the genetics-focused therapy company, Dyno Therapeutics. 

That portfolio — and the subsequent top decile performance that Cambridge Associates has said comes with it — has allowed McClary and Healy to close on an oversubscribed $50 million new fund to invest in promising startup companies.

KdT co-founders Cain McClary and Mack Healy. Image Credit: KdT Ventures

Hailing from a small Tennessee town outside of Leipers Fork (itself a small Tennessee town) McClary studied medicine at Tulane and business at Stanford where he linked up with Healy through a mutual friend.

Healy, who had done stints throughout big Bay Area startups like Airbnb, Databricks, and Facebook brought the software expertise (and some capital to stake the firm) while McClary provided the life sciences know-how.

Together the two men set out to hang their investment shingle at the intersection of software and life sciences that was proving to be fertile ground for new business creation. Each company in the firm’s portfolio depends on both the advances in understanding how to code computers and living cells.

McClary had left California for personal reasons when he launched the fund in 2017 and in 2020 relocated to Austin for professional ones. Healy had already set up shop in the city and it was easier, McClary said to fly out to San Francisco to look for companies from the Austin airport than it was from Ashville.

Also, both men were placing big bets on the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas to become the breeding ground for the type of entrepreneurs that the firm is looking to back.

Mack was there… the Dell Medical School and we think it’s going to be produce the types of entrpereneurs that we want to support. Houston has a med system. I firmly believe that texas has a place at the table in the future 

“The way that we define it is that we like to invest in the physical layer of the world,” said McClary. “That includes not only medicine, but chemicals and agriculture. All of that is driven by some of the things that we have this sourcecode for the physical world.”

Mapping the unmapped corners of the frontier tech startup world means that the firm not only has a presence in Austin, but has hired principals to scour Houston and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina for hot deals.

That doesn’t mean the firm is forsaking California though. One of the most recent deals in the KdT portfolio is Andes Ag, an Emeryville, Calif.-based startup that’s applying yield-boosting microbes directly to seeds in an effort to improve crop performance for farmers.

“The KdT team speaks the language of science, making them an outlier in this area of venture investing,” said JD Montgomery of Canterbury Consulting, a limited partner in KdT’s first and second fund. “They are passionate about building the science companies of the future that will tackle some of the significant challenges our world faces in the next decade and beyond.”

#54gene, #airbnb, #austin, #california, #cambridge-associates, #chemicals, #co-founder, #corporate-finance, #databricks, #dell, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #facebook, #finance, #fork, #houston, #money, #north-carolina, #partner, #pathai, #private-equity, #san-francisco, #solugen, #stanford, #startup-company, #tc, #texas, #tulane, #university-of-texas, #venture-capital

Curran Biotech’s new nanocoating could prevent indoor transmission of COVID-19

A new nanocoating from Curran Biotech could dramatically improve air filtration to prevent the spread of COVID-19 indoors.

Their Capture Coating technology acts as a supplement to any household or commercial HVAC system by bonding to the filter fibers, giving them greater hydrophobic properties. This combined effect prevents virus-carrying droplets from traveling through the filter fibers, which, without the treatment, only prevent some viral transmission.

“’Capture Coating’ is designed to mitigate and significantly decrease viral transmission of COVID-19 through specified air filtration media by forming a breathable, flexible, non-leaching, water-repellent barrier against aqueous respiratory droplets that act as virion carriers that can potentially be recirculated through conventional air-filters,” wrote Curran Biotech founder and University of Houston physics professor Shay Curran in an email. Despite the molecular complexity of the coating, the product itself can simply be sprayed onto an HVAC system’s filter.

This new droplet-targeting coating is an improvement over current filtration methods, which typically only target dry molecules. Not only do those methods often have at least some potential of viral droplet transmission, but current solutions to improve them aren’t always energy efficient.

“In the world where energy management is very important, that means recycling the same air in the building with the risk of cross contamination,” wrote Curran. “Taking outside air is one way to dilute the air, but that means we also lose a huge amount in terms of energy, and still don’t solve the problem of taking the virus away from places where people congregate.”

Indoor air ventilation remains an important tool in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 across schools, small businesses, and other public buildings, but updating old HVAC systems to the recommended CDC standards can be costly. Curran hopes that his company’s approach can help address this issue, as the Capture Coating requires only a simple spray, rather than a completely new system of filters. “That really means for a few dollars when used on a standard issue MERV8, you can have huge indoor protection and stop its spread throughout the building,” he wrote.

Because of the nature of the nanocoating, Curran’s technology can help prevent viral droplet transmission long after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hydrophobic qualities of the coating prevent respiratory droplets from actions like sneezing or coughing from passing through the filter, while the HVAC system itself retains its normal capabilities for dry molecule filtration. With the Capture Coating, common droplet-transmitting viruses like the flu or cold will also be filtered out of circulation.

Similarly, the nanocoating would work in preventing transmission of any variant of the COVID-19 virus, as all of those variants also undergo droplet transmission. “It does not mean we get away from taking precautions such as hand washing, wearing masks etc, but it does mean we can work indoors far more safely,” wrote Curran.

So far, Curran Biotech’s Capture Coating technology is in use in 11 states, and will soon be announcing partnerships with distributors and filter companies to directly provide consumers with coated filters. Curran wrote that the company has also had successful trials of the technology in New York City, and hopes to expand use of the product even further across businesses and institutions around the country.


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#biotech, #covid, #covid-19, #health, #houston, #materials-science, #nanotechnology, #science, #startup, #tc, #transmission

Axiom Space raises $130 million for its commercial space station ambitions

One of the new space startups with the loftiest near-term goals has raised $130 million in a Series B round that demonstrates investor confidence in the scope of its ambitions: Axiom Space, which has been tapped by NASA to add privately-developed space station modules to the ISS, announced the new funding led by C5 Capital on Tuesday.

This is the latest in a string of high-profile announcements for Axiom, which was founded in 2016 by a team including space professionals with a history of demonstrated expertise working on the International Space Station. Eventually, Axiom hopes to go from adding the first private commercial modules to the existing station, to creating their own, wholly private on-orbital platforms – for research, space tourism and more.

Axiom announced the people who will take part it it first ever private astronaut launch to the ISS, which is set to fly next January using a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket. Axiom is the service provider for the mission, brokering the deal for the private spacefarers and setting up training and mission profile. That should be the first time we see a crew made up entirely of private individuals (ie., not astronauts selected, trained and employed by their respective national government) make its way to the station.

The company was also in discussions with Tom Cruise about filming at least part of an upcoming film aboard the ISS, and it’s in development with a production company on a forthcoming competition reality show that will see contestants vie for a spot on a private flight to the station.

Axiom is emerging as the leading linkage between private human spaceflight and the existing infrastructure and industry, covering both public sector partners like NASA, and the ‘rails’ of the bourgeoning industry – SpaceX and its ilk. It’s been focused on this unique opportunity longer than most in the private market, and it has all the relationships and in-house expertise to make it work.

This new, significant injection of capital will help the company hire, as well as boost its ability to construct the pieces of its forthcoming private space station modules, as well as its eventual station itself. The Houston-based company aims to put its ISS modules on the station by 2024, and it has raised $150 million to date.

#aerospace, #axiom-space, #c5-capital, #funding, #houston, #international-space-station, #outer-space, #recent-funding, #science, #space, #space-station, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startups, #tc

Battery companies are the latest SPAC target as EVs get a huge regulatory boost

Batteries are the latest landing pad for investors.

In the past week alone, two companies have announced plans to become publicly traded companies by merging with special purpose acquisition companies. European battery manufacturer FREYR said Friday it would become a publicly traded company through a special purpose acquisition vehicle with a valuation at $1.4 billion. Houston area startup Microvast announced Monday its own SPAC, at a $3 billion valuation.

A $4.4 billion combined valuation for two companies with a little over $100 million in revenue (FREYR has yet to manufacture a battery) would seem absurd were it not for the incredible demand for batteries that’s coming.

Legacy automakers like GM and Ford have committed billions of dollars to shifting their portfolios to electric models. GM said last year it will spend $27 billion over the next five years on the development of electric vehicles and automated technology. Meanwhile, a number of newer entrants are either preparing to begin production of their electric vehicles or scaling up. Rivian, for instance, will begin delivering its electric pickup truck this summer. The company has also been tapped by Amazon to build thousands of electric vans.

The U.S. government could end up driving some of that demand.  President Biden announced last week that the U.S. government would replace the entire federal fleet of cars, trucks and SUVs with electric vehicles manufactured in the U.S. That’s 645,047 vehicles. That’s going to mean a lot of new batteries need to be made to supply GM and Ford, but also U.S.-based upstarts like Fisker, Canoo, Rivian, Proterra, Lion Electric and Tesla.

Meanwhile, some of the largest cities in the world are planning their own electrification initiatives. Shanghai is hoping to have electric vehicles represent roughly half of all new vehicle purchases by 2025 and all public buses, taxis, delivery trucks, and government vehicles will be zero-emission by the same period, according to research from the Royal Bank of Canada.

The Chinese market for electric vehicles is one of the world’s largest and one where policy is significantly ahead of the rest of the world.

A potential windfall from China’s EV market is likely one reason for the significant investment into Microvast by investors including the Oshkosh Corp., a 100 year-old industrial vehicles manufacturer; the $8.67 trillion money management firm, BlackRock; Koch Strategic Platforms; and InterPrivate, a private equity fund manager. That’s because Microvast’s previous backers include CDH Investments and CITIC Securities, two of the most well-connected private equity and financial services firms in China.

So is the company’s focus on commercial and industrial vehicles. Microvast believes that the market for commercial electric vehicles could be $30 billion in the near term. Currently, commercial EV sales represent just 1.5% of the market, but that penetration is supposed to climb to 9% by 2025, according to the company.

“In 2008, we set out to power a mobility revolution by building disruptive battery technologies that would allow electric vehicles to compete with internal combustion engine vehicles,” said Microvast chief executive Yang Wu, in a statement. “Since that time we have launched three generations of battery technologies that have provided our customers with battery performance far superior to our competitors and that successfully satisfy, over many years of operation, the stringent requirements of commercial vehicle operators.”

Roughly 30,000 vehicles are using Microvast’s batteries and the investment in Microvast includes about $822 million in cash that will finance the expansion of its manufacturing capacity to hit 9 gigawatt hours by 2022. The money should help Microvast meet its contractual obligations which account for about $1.5 billion in total value, according to the company.

If Chinese investors stand to win big in the upcoming Microvast public offering, a clutch of American investors and one giant Japanese corporation are waiting expectantly for FREYR’s public offering. Northbridge Venture Partners, CRV, and Itochu Corp. are all going to see gains from FREYR’s exit — even if they’re not backers of the European company.

Those three firms, along with the International Finance Corp. are investors in 24m, the Boston-based startup licensing its technology to FREYR to make its batteries.

FREYR’s public offering will also be another win for Yet-Ming Chiang, a serial entrepreneur and professor who has a long and storied history of developing innovations in the battery and materials science industry.

The MIT professor has been working on sustainable technologies for the last two decades, first at the now-defunct battery startup A123 Systems and then with a slew of startups like the 3D printing company Desktop Metal; lithium-ion battery technology developer, 24m; the energy storage system designer, Form Energy; and Baseload Renewables, another early-stage energy storage startup.

Desktop Metal went public last year after it was acquired by a Special Purpose Acquisition Company, and now 24m is getting a potential boost from a big cash infusion into one of its European manufacturing partners, FREYR.

The Norwegian company, which has plans to build five modular battery manufacturing facilities around a site in its home country intends to develop up to 43 gigawatt hours of clean batteries over the next four years.

For FREYR chief executive Tom Jensen there were two main draws for the 24m technology. “It’s the production process itself,” said Jensen. “What they basically do is they mix the electrolyte with the active material, which allows them to make thicker electrodes and reduce the inactive materials in the battery. Beyond that, when you actually do that you remove the need fo a number of traditional production steps… Compared to conventional lithium battery production it reduces production from 15 steps to 5 steps.”

Those process efficiencies combined with the higher volumes of energy bearing material in the cell leads to a fundamental disruption in the battery production process.

Jensen said the company would need $2.5 billion to fully realize its plans, but that the float should get FREYR there. The company is merging with Alussa Energy Acquisition Corp. in a SPAC backed by investors including Koch Strategic Platforms, Glencore, Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Franklin Templeton, Sylebra Capital and Van Eck Associates.

All of these investments are necessary if the world is to meet targets for vehicle electrification on the timelines that have been established.

As the Royal Bank of Canada noted in a December report on the electric vehicle industry. “We estimate that globally, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will represent ~3% of 2020 global demand, while plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) will represent another ~1.3%,” according to RBC’s figures. “But we see robust growth off these low figures. By 2025, when growth is still primarily regulatory driven, we see ~11% BEV global penetration of new demand representing a ~40% CAGR from 2020’s levels and ~5% PHEV penetration representing a ~35% CAGR. By 2025, we see BEV penetration in Western Europe at ~20%, China at ~17.5%, and the US at 7%. Comparatively, we expect internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to grow (cyclically) at a 2% CAGR through 2025. On a pure unit basis, we see “peak ICE” in 2024.”

#3d-printing, #amazon, #automotive-industry, #biden, #blackrock, #boston, #cdh-investments, #china, #crv, #desktop-metal, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #energy, #energy-storage, #ford, #franklin-templeton, #gm, #houston, #itochu-corp, #lithium-ion-battery, #mit, #northbridge-venture-partners, #plug-in-hybrid, #president, #proterra, #rivian, #royal-bank-of-canada, #shanghai, #sylebra-capital, #tc, #tesla, #u-s-government, #united-states

Forsaking funding at a $1 billion valuation, Solugen preps a new green chemical product and a big 2021

Late last year, Solugen, a startup using synthetic biology to take hydrocarbons out of the chemicals industry, decided against pursuing a new round of funding that would have valued the company at over $1 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

Instead, the Houston-based bio-manufacturing company raised an internal round of roughly $30 million from existing investors and continued working on its latest project — a new bio-based manufacturing process for a high-value specialty chemical that can act as an anti-corrosive agent.

That work represents a potentially lucrative new product line for the company and charts a course for a host of other businesses that are refashioning the basic building blocks of life in an attempt to supplant chemistry with biology for manufacturing and production.

If Solugen can get its high value chemical into commercial production, the company can follow the path that sustainable tech companies like Tesla have mastered — moving from a pricy specialty product into the mass market. And rather than over-promise and underdeliver. Solugen wanted to get the product line right first before raising big bucks, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking.

As the world looks to move away from oil and its byproducts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down or reverse global climate change, the chemicals industry is in the crosshairs as a huge target for disruption. Vehicle electrification solves only one part of the oil problem. The extractive industry doesn’t just produce fuel, but also the chemicals that make up most of the products that defined consumer goods in the twentieth century.

Chemicals are everywhere and they’re a huge business.

Companies like Zymergen raised hundreds of millions of dollars last year to develop industrial applications for synthetic biology, and they’re not alone. Startups including Geltor, Impossible Foods, Ginkgo Bioworks, Lygos, Novomer, and Perfect Day have all raised significant amounts of capital to reduce the environmental footprint of food, chemicals, ingredients, and plastics through synthetic biology.

Some of these companies are seeing early success in food replacements and ingredients, but the promise of biologically based chemicals have been elusive — until now.

Solugen’s new product will produce glucaric acid, a tough-to-make chemical that can be used in water treatment facilities and as an anti-corrosive agent — and the company can make it with a zero carbon (or potentially carbon negative) manufacturing process, according to Solugen co-founder and chief technology officer, Sean Hunt.

The glucaric acid from Solugen is cheaper to produce and more environmentally friendly than existing phsophonates that are used for water treatment — and the company has the benefit of competing against chemicals manufacturers in China.

Given the continuing tensions between the two countries, the U.S. is looking to make more high value products — including chemicals — domestically, and Solugen’s technology is a good way forward to have home grown supplies of critical materials.

Solugen still intends to raise more capital, the company just wanted to wait until its latest production plant for the acid came online, according to Hunt.

It’s also the fruit of years of planning. The two co-founders, Hunt and Gaurab Chakrabarti first realized they could potentially use the technology they’d developed to make specialty chemicals back n 2017, according to Hunt. But first the company had to make the hydrogen peroxide as a precursor chemical, Hunt said.

“It’s advantageous for us to focus on this,” said Hunt. “As we scale, we can enter more commodity type markets down the road.”

It’s all part of the significant strides the entire industry is making, said Hunt. “Synthetic biology has really made significant strides,” he said. “We have our commercial plant coming online this summer [and it proves] synthetic biology has gotten to the point where we can compete on price and performance.”

So the capital infusion will come as the company gets closer to the completion of these commercial scale facilities.

“It’s not like we were sitting on a term sheet and we said no,” Hunt said. “We want to make sure that we are hitting the milestones and the goals at a commensurate pace which is this year. I’m extremely bullish and optimistic of 2021.”

Solugen’s co-founder sees the path that his company is on as one that other startups working in the synthetic biology space will pursue to bring profitable products to market at the higher end before competing with more sustainable versions of commodity chemicals.

“How do you start a company that has this level of capital intensity?” Hunt asked. “You can start in the fine chemicals space where everything sells for tens to hundreds of dollars per pound. For us, glucaric acid is that specialty chemical and then we will do commodity.”

#articles, #chemicals, #china, #co-founder, #food, #geltor, #ginkgo-bioworks, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #houston, #impossible-foods, #lygos, #manufacturing, #oil, #perfect-day, #plastics, #solugen, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #united-states

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VenoStent has a new technology to improve outcomes for dialysis patients

Timothy Bouré and his co-founder Geoffrey Lucks were both near broke when they moved to Dallas to join the first accelerator they entered after forming VenoStent, a company that aims to improve outcomes for dialysis patients.

Failed dialysis surgeries occur in roughly 55% to 65% of patients with end-stage renal disease, according to the company. Caring for these patients can cost the Medicare and Medicaid Services system roughly $2 billion per year — and Bouré and Lucks believed that they’d come up with a solution.

So after years developing the technology at the core of VenoStent’s business at Vanderbilt University, the two men relocated from Nashville to South Texas to make their business work.

Bouré had first started working on the technology at the heart of VenoStent’s offering as part of his dissertation in 2012. Lucks, a graduate student at the business school was introduced to the material scientist and became convinced that VenoStent was on the verge of having a huge impact for the medical community. Five years later, the two were in Dallas where they met the chief of vascular surgery at Houston Medicine and were off to the races.

A small seed round in 2018 kept the company going and a successful animal trial near the end of the year gave it the momentum it needed to push forward. Now, as it graduates from the latest Y Combinator cohort, the company is finally ready for prime time.

In the interim, a series of grants and its award of a Kidney XPrize kept the company in business.

The success was hard won, as Bouré spent nearly three sleepless nights in the J-Labs, Johnson and Johnson’s  medical technology and innovation accelerator in Houston, synthesizing polymers and printing the sleeve stents that the company makes to keep replace the risky and failure-prone surgeries for end stage kidney disease patients.

The key discovery that Bouré made was around a new type of polymer that can be used to support cell growth as it heals from the dialysis surgery.

In 2012, Bouré stumbled upon the polymer that would be the foundation for the work. Then, in 2014, he did the National Science Foundation Core program and started thinking about the wrap for blood vessels. Through a series of discussions with vascular surgeons he realized that the problem was especially acute for end stage renal disease patients.

Already the company has raised $2.4 million in grant funding and small equity infusions. and the KidneyX Prize from the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology. VenoStent was one of six winners.

“It’s part of this whole ongoing effort by the executive office to improve dialysis,” said Bouré. “[They are] some of the most expensive patients to treat in the world… Basically the government is highly incentivized to find technologies that improve patient’s lives.”

Now the company is heading into its next round of animal testing and will seek to conduct its first human trials outside of the United States in 2021.

And while the company is focused on renal failure first, the materials that Bouré has developed have applications for other conditions as well. “This can be a material for the large intestine,” says Bouré. “It has tunability in terms of all its properties. And we can modify it for a particular application.”

 

#chief, #co-founder, #core, #dallas, #houston, #medicare, #medicine, #national-science-foundation, #tc, #united-states, #y-combinator

Humana partners with Heal and invests $100 million in the company’s doctor-on-demand service

“The doctor’s office is dead.”

That’s the way Nick Desai, the co-founder and chief executive of the Los Angeles-based startup Heal describes the future of traditional healthcare delivery.

While Desai’s bluster may be wishful thinking, the doctor’s office is certainly changing, and that’s thanks in part to companies like Heal, which offer in-home and telemedical consultations — and health insurance providers like Humana that are backing them.

The two companies have announced a new partnership that will see Humana pushing Heal’s in-home and virtual care delivery services to the patients it covers and committing $100 million to spur the Los Angeles-based startup’s growth.

“Humana has a more strategic view of home-based care,” said Desai. “We want all payers to be this strategic. Most insurance partners offer Heal now but we want them to view it more strategically.”

For Desai, the home is the best place to get care because doctors can see the environment that may influence (and in some cases complicate or worsen) a patient’s condition. Heal, Desai says, also works with the digital technologies to provide more remote and persistent patient monitoring, so that doctors can have a better sense of a patient’s health over time, rather than at an acute moment of care.

“You want to talk to the doctor and get continuity of care,” said Desai. “We think we are…  an accelerant for the adoption of those services.”

Things like iPhone-based EKG machines, remote diagnostics to determine diabetic retinopathy, digital hubs to provide remote monitoring of body mass and movement are all hardware offerings within Heal’s panoply of care and diagnostic solutions. “We want to be able to gather more and more of those diagnostics remotely,” Desai said. “Anything that makes care more accurate, more data driven, more timely we want to use and ask our patients to utilize so that they can get better care, more quickly and more affordably.”

The new financing from Humana will go to support Heal’s geographic expansion, product development, and sales and marketing, Desai said. Already, the company has expanded into new treatment areas, including teletherapy for mental health.

Discussion between Heal and the Louisville-based Humana began back in December and the two businesses only inked the final terms of their deal last week.

Heal telemedicine, telepsychology (CA only), and digital monitoring services are currently available in New York, New Jersey, Washington, California, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. To date, the company has linked patients with over 200,000 home visits from doctors since its launch in 2015.

Under the terms of the agreement with Humana, will expand to geographies in Chicago, Charlotte and Houston as part of Humana’s “Bold Goal” program focusing on addressing and creating healthcare services that address social determinants and social needs for its population of insured patients.

“The partnership with Heal is part of Humana’s efforts to build a broader set of offerings across the spectrum of home based care, with high quality, value-based primary care being a key foundational element,” said Susan Diamond, Humana’s Segment President, Home Business, who is joining Heal’s Board of Directors as part of the partnership and investment. “We continue to see high levels of customer satisfaction and improved health outcomes when care is delivered in the home. Our goal is to make the healthcare experience easier, more personalized and caring for the people we serve—and is the hallmark of how Humana delivers human care.”

For Desai, the deal is also an indicator of not just his company’s growth, but the growth of the entire Los Angeles technology ecosystem.

“Heal’s funding just proves that LA is  as much an epicenter of venture backed ecosystem as any in the country including Silicon Valley,” he said. 

#articles, #california, #charlotte, #chicago, #georgia, #heal, #health, #houston, #humana, #iphone, #los-angeles, #louisville, #maryland, #new-jersey, #new-york, #tc, #technology, #telehealth, #telemedicine, #virginia, #washington, #washington-d-c