SoftBank pours up to $150M into GBM, a Mexico City-based investment platform

Grupo Bursátil Mexicano (GBM) is a 35-year-old investment platform in the Mexican stock market. In its first three decades of life, GBM was focused on providing investment services to high net worth individuals and local and global institutions.

Over the past decade, the Mexico City-based brokerage has ramped up its digital efforts, and, in the past five years, has evolved its business model to offer services to all Mexicans with the same products and services it offers large estates.

Today, GBM is announcing it has received an investment of “up to” $150 million from SoftBank via the Japanese conglomerate’s Latin America Fund at a valuation of “over $1 billion.” The investment is being made through one of GBM’s subsidiaries and is not contingent on anything, according to the company.

Co-CEO Pedro de Garay Montero told TechCrunch that GBM has built an app, GBM+, that organizes and invests clients’ money through three different tools: Wealth Management, Trading and Smart Cash.

Last year was a “historic” one for the company, he said, and GBM went from having 38,000 investment accounts in January 2020 to more than 650,000 by year’s end. In the first quarter of 2021, that number had grown to over 1 million — representing more than 30x growth from the beginning of 2020.

For some context, according to the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV), there were only 298,000 brokerage accounts in Mexico at the end of 2019, and that number climbed to 940,000 by the end of 2020 — with GBM holding a large share of them.

Most of GBM’s clients are retail clients, but the company also caters to “most of the largest investment managers worldwide,” as well as global companies such as Netflix, Google and BlackRock. Specifically, it services 40% of the largest public corporations in Mexico and a large base of ultra high net worth individuals.

The company is planning to use its new capital in part to invest “heavily” in customer acquisition.

Montero said that half of its team of 450 are tech professionals, and that the company plans to also continue hiring as it focuses on growth in its B2C and B2B offerings and expanding into new verticals.

“We are improving our already robust financial education offering,” he added, “so that Mexicans can take control of their finances. GBM’s mission is to transform Mexico into a country of investors.”

Because Mexico is such a huge market — with a population of over 120 million and a GDP of more than $1 trillion — GBM is laser-focused on growing its presence in the country.

“The financial services industry is dominated by big banks and is inefficient, expensive and provides a poor client experience. This has resulted in less than 1% of individuals having an investment account,” Montero told TechCrunch. “We will be targeting clients through our own platform and internal advisors, as well as growing our base of external advisors to reach as many people as possible with the best investment products and user experience.”

When it comes to institutional clients, he believes there is “enormous potential” in serving both the large corporations and the SMEs “who have received limited services from banks.”

Juan Franck, investment lead for SoftBank Latin America Fund in Mexico, believes the retail investment space in Mexico is at an inflection point.

“The investing culture in Mexico has historically been low compared to the rest of the world, even when specifically compared to other countries in Latin America, like Brazil,” he added. “However, the landscape is quickly changing as, through technology, Mexicans are being provided more education around investing and more investment alternatives.”

In the midst of this shift, SoftBank was impressed by GBM’s “clear vision and playbook,” Franck said.

So, despite being a decades-old company, SoftBank sees big potential in the strength of the digital platform that GBM has built out.

“GBM is the leading broker in Mexico in terms of trading activity and broker accounts,” he said. “The company combines decades of industry know-how with an entrepreneurial drive to revolutionize the wealth management space in the country.”

#apps, #blackrock, #brazil, #broker, #finance, #financial-services, #funding, #fundings-exits, #google, #laser, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #money, #netflix, #softbank, #softbank-group, #tc, #ubs, #venture-capital, #vodafone

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Lidar startup Innovusion closes $64M round led by Temasek

More investors are joining the wave to bet on lidar, the remote sensing method that uses laser light to measure distances and has garnered ample interest from automakers in recent times. But it’s also a technology that has long been scorned by Elon Musk partly due to its once exorbitant costs.

Innovusion, a five-year-old lidar company and a supplier to Chinese electric car upstart Nio, just landed a Series B funding round of $64 million. The new proceeds boost its total investment to over $100 million, not a small amount but the startup is in a race crowded with much bigger players that have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, like Velodyne and Luminar.

Temasek, the Singaporean government’s sovereign wealth fund, led Innovusion’s latest financing round. Other investors included Bertelsmann Asia Investment Fund, Joy Capital, Nio Capital, Eight Roads Ventures, and F-Prime Capital.

Innovusion runs core development teams out of Sunnyvale, California and Suzhou, an eastern Chinese city near Shanghai that the robotaxi unicorn Momenta also calls home.

Junwei Bao, Innovusion’s co-founder and CEO, is not deterred by the industry’s existing giants. Back at Baidu where Bao oversaw sensors and onboarded computing systems for autonomous driving, he also worked on the Chinese search engine leader’s investment in Velodyne.

“They were designing things more like a college student designing in their labs,” Bao said of Velodyne.

Lidar was a niche market up until about five years ago, the founder explained, for the technology was mostly used by a small community of amateurs and areas such as military, surveying and mapping. These were relatively small markets in terms of shipping volume and Velodyne filled the demand.

“They were not thinking about industrialization, volume manufacturing, or roadmap extensibility. They were a pioneer and we [Baidu] recognized their value… but we also knew their weakness.”

In fairness, Silicon Valley-based Velodyne today is a $2.2 billion company supplying to some of the world’s largest automakers, including Toyota and Volkswagen. It also pocketed a hefty sum of cash after going public via a SPAC merger last year. Innovusion’s strategy is to make sensors for automakers that are “good enough for the next five years,” according to Bao. The startup chooses “mature components” so it can quickly ramp up production to 100,000 units a year.

Its biggest customer at the moment is Nio, a Chinese challenger to Tesla which has backed Innovusion through its corporate venture fund Nio Capital. For mass production of its auto-grade lidar, Innovusion is partnering with Joynext, a smart vehicle arm of the Chinese auto component supplier, Joyson Electronics.

For now, China is the largest market for Innovusion. The startup is scheduled to ship a few thousand units this year, mainly for smart transportation and industrial use. Next year, it has a target to deliver several tens of thousands of units to Nio’s luxury sedan, ET7, which is said to have a scanning range of up to 500 meters, an ambitious number, and a standard 120-degree field of view.

Similar alliances between carmakers and lidar suppliers have played out in China as the former race to fulfill their “autonomous driving” promises with the aid of lidar. Xpeng, a competitor to Nio, recently rolled out a sedan powered by Livox, a lidar maker affiliated with DJI that markets its consumer-grade affordability.

Price is similarly important to Innovusion, which sells lidars to automakers for about $1,000 apiece at the volume of 100,000 per year.

“Adding a $1,000 upfront cost plus another couple thousand dollars for a car that’s selling for $30,000 or $50,000 is affordable,” Bao suggested.

With the fresh capital, Innovusion plans to increase the production volume of its auto-grade lidar and put more R&D efforts into smart cities and vehicles. The company has over 100 employees and plans to expand its headcount to over 200 this year.

#artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automotive, #baidu, #china, #eight-roads-ventures, #f-prime-capital, #joy-capital, #laser, #lidar, #livox, #momenta, #nio, #self-driving-cars, #shanghai, #tc, #temasek, #tesla, #toyota, #transportation, #velodyne, #volkswagen, #xpeng

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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

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Co-founded by a leader of SpaceX’s missions operations, Epsilon3 wants to be the OS for space launches

Laura Crabtree spent a good chunk of her childhood watching rocket launches on television and her entire professional career launching rockets, first at Northrup Grumman and then at SpaceX.

Now, the former senior missions operations engineer at SpaceX is the co-founder and chief executive of a new LA-based space startup called Epsilon3, which says it has developed the operating system for launch operations.

“The tools I had wanted did not exist,” said Crabtree. So when she left SpaceX to pursue her next opportunity, it was a no-brainer to try and develop the toolkit she never had, the first-time entrepreneur said. “I started looking at ways in which I could help the space industry become more efficient and reduce errors.”

Joining Crabtree in the new business is Max Mednik, a serial entrepreneur whose last company, Epirus, raised at least $144.7 million from investors including 8VC, Bedrock Capital and L3 Harris Technologies, and Aaron Sullivan, a former Googler who serves as the chief software engineer. Mednik worked at Google too before turning his attention to entrepreneurship. His previous businesses ranged from financial services software to legal services software, Mednik too had an interest in aerospace. His first job offers out of school were with SpaceX, JPL, and Google. And Aaron Sullivan another former

Part of a growing network of SpaceX alumni launching businesses, Epsilon3, like its fellow travelers First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge, is creating a product around an aspect of the design, manufacturing mission management and operations of rockets that had previously been handled manually or with bespoke tools.

“They make mission management software for the launchers and for the satellite companies that are going to be the payload of the rocket companies,” said Alex Rubacalva, the founder and managing partner of Stage Venture Partners, an investor in the company’s recent seed round. “It’s not just the design and spec but for when they’re actually working what are they doing; when you’re uplinking and downlinking data and changing software.”

Rubacalva acknowledged that the market for Epsilon3 is entirely new, but it’s growing rapidly.

“This was an analysis based on the fact that access to space used to be really expensive and used to be the provenance of governments and ten or 20 commercial satellite operators in the world. And it was limited by the fact that there were only a handful of companies that could launch,” Rubacalva said. “Now all of a sudden there’s going to be thirty different space flights. Thirty different companies that have rockets… access to space used to scarce, expensive, and highly restricted and it’s no longer any of those things now.” 

Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket, artist's rendering

Image Credits: Relativity Space

The demand for space services is exploding with some analysts estimating that the launch services industry could reach over $18 billion by 2026.

“It’s a very similar story and we all come from different places within SpaceX,” said Crabtree. First Resonance, provides software that moves from prototyping to production; Prewitt Ridge, provides engineering and management tools; and Epsilon3 has developed an operating system for launch operations.

“You’ve got design development, manufacturing, integration tests and operations. We’re trying to support that integration of tests and operations,” said Crabtree. 

While First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge have applications in aerospace and manufacturing broadly, Crabtree’s eyes, and her company’s mission, remain fixed on the stars.

“We’re laser focused on space and proving out that the software works in the highest stakes and most complex environments,” said Mednik. There are applications in other areas that require complex workflows for industries as diverse as nuclear plant construction and operations, energy, mining, and aviation broadly, but for now and the foreseeable future, it’s all about the space business.

Mednik described the software as an electronic toolkit for controlling and editing workflows and procedures. “You can think of it as Asana project management meets Github version control,” he said. “It should be for integration of subsystems or systems and operations of the systems.”

Named for the planet in Babylon Five, Epsilon3 could become an integral part of the rocket missions that eventually do explore other worlds. At least, that’s the bet that firms like Stage Venture Partners and MaC Ventures are making on the business with their early $1.8 million investment into the business.

Right now, the Epislon3’s early customers are coming from early stage space companies that are using the platform for live launches. These would be companies like Stoke Space and other new rocket entrants. 

“For us, space and deeptech is hot,” said MaC Ventures co-founder and managing partner, Adrian Fenty. The former mayor of Washington noted that the combination of Mednik’s serial entrepreneur status and Crabtree’s deep, deep expertise in the field.

“We had been looking at operating systems in general and thinking that there would be some good ones coming along,” Fenty said. In Epsilon3 the company found the combination of deep space, deep tech, and a thesis around developing verticalized operating systems that ticked all the boxes. 

“In doing diligence for the company… you just see how big space is and will become as a business,” said Michael Palank, a co-founder and managing partner at MaC Ventures predecessor, M Ventures alongside Fenty. “A lot of the challenges here on earth will and only can be solved in space. And you need better operating systems to manage getting to and from space.”

The view from Astra’s Rocket 3.2 second stage from space.

#adrian-fenty, #aerospace, #asana, #bedrock-capital, #elon-musk, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #github, #google, #hyperloop, #l3, #laser, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-ventures, #managing-partner, #manufacturing, #mayor, #mining, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #outer-space, #project-management, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #washington

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Epic Games buys photogrammetry software maker Capturing Reality

Epic Games is quickly becoming a more dominant force in gaming infrastructure M&A after a string of recent purchases made to bulk up their Unreal Engine developer suite. Today, the company announced that they’ve brought on the team from photogrammetry studio Capturing Reality to help the company improve how it handles 3D scans of environments and objects.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Photogrammetry involves stitching together multiple photos or laser scans to create 3D models of objects that can subsequently be exported as singular files. As the computer vision techniques have evolved to minimize manual fine-tuning and adjustments, designers have been beginning to lean more heavily on photogrammetry to import real world environments into their games. 

Using photogrammetry can help studio developers create photorealistic assets in a fraction of the time it would take to create a similar 3D asset from scratch. It can be used to quickly create 3D assets of everything from an item of clothing, to a car, to a mountain. Anything that exists in 3D space can be captured and as game consoles and GPUs grow more capable in terms of output, the level of detail that can be rendered increases as does the need to utilize more detailed 3D assets.

The Bratislava-based studio will continue operating independently even as its capabilities are integrated into Unreal. Epic announced some reductions to the pricing rates for Capturing Reality’s services, dropping the price of a perpetual license fee from €15,000 to $3,750 USD. In FAQs on the studio’s site, the company notes that they will continue to support non-gaming use clients moving forward.

In 2019, Epic Games acquired Quixel which hosted a library of photogrammetry “mega scans” that developers could access.

 

#3d-imaging, #3d-modeling, #computer-graphics, #epic-games, #forward, #gaming, #laser, #photogrammetry, #tc, #tencent, #unreal-engine, #video-gaming

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Israeli startup CYE raises $100M to help companies shore up their cyber-defenses

Cybersecurity startup CYE has raised $100 million in a new growth round, led by investment firm EQT and with participation from 83North.

CYE was founded in 2012 by Reuven Aronashvili to help companies shore up their security posture. It does this in large part by conducting offensive operations against their customers — with their explicit consent — to find weaknesses in their network defenses before malicious hackers do. The company also provides incident response and security consultants, as well as its flagship product, Hyver, which helps companies assess their entire network and assets.

It’s a bet that’s working: CYE says it has been profitable since it was founded, and has customers in the Fortune 500. The company has presence in London, and recently opened a New York office.

CYE’s chief marketing officer Sharon Argov told TechCrunch that the company will use the $100 million investment to expand its operations, invest in research and development, sales and marketing, and plans to double its 80-person workforce.

Aronashvili said in remarks that the company is “laser-focused on building a company that fundamentally changes the way organizations approach cybersecurity, enabling them to accurately assess the most urgent threats to their business.”

#computer-security, #computing, #cryptography, #cybercrime, #data-protection, #data-security, #eqt, #laser, #london, #malware, #new-york, #security, #technology

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LyteLoop raises $40 million to launch satellites that use light to store data

Soon, your cloud photo backups could reside on beams of light transmitted between satellites instead of in huge, power-hungry server farms here on Earth. Startup LyteLoop has spent the past five years doing tackling the physics challenges that can make that possible, and now it’s raised $40 million to help it leapfrog the remaining engineering hurdles to make its bold vision a reality.

LyteLoop’s new funding will provide it with enough runway to achieve its next major milestone: putting three prototype satellites equipped with its novel data storage technology into orbit within the next three years. The company intends to build and launch six of these, which will demonstrate how its laser-based storage medium operates on orbit.

I spoke to LyteLoop CEO Ohad Harlev about the company’s progress, technology and plans. Harlev said five years into its founding, the company is very confident in the science that underlies its data storage methods – and thrilled about the advantages it could offer over traditional data warehousing technology used today. Security, for instance, gets a big boost from LyteLoop’s storage paradigm.

“Everybody on every single data center has the same same possible maximum level of data security,” he said. “We can provide an extra four layers of cyber security, and they’re all physics-based. Anything that can be applied on Earth, we can apply in our data center, but for example, the fact that we’re storing data on photons, we could put in quantum encryption, which others can’t. Plus, there are big security benefits because the data is in motion, in space, and moving at the speed of light.”

On top of security, LyteLoop’s model also offers benefits when it comes to privacy, because the data it’s storing is technically always in transit between satellites, which means it’ll be subject to an entirely different set of regulations vs. those that come into play when you’re talking about data which is warehoused on drives in storage facilities. LyteLoop also claims advantages in terms of access, because the storage and the network are one in the same, with the satellites able to provide their information to ground stations anywhere on Earth. Finally, Harlev points out that it’s incredibly power efficient, and also ecologically sound in terms of not requiring million of gallons of water for cooling, both significant downsides of our current data center storage practices.

On top of all of that, Harlev says that LyteLoop’s storage will not only be cost-competitive with current cloud-based storage solutions, but will in fact be more affordable – even without factoring in likely decreases to come in launch costs as SpaceX iterates on its own technology and more small satellite launch providers, including Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab, come online and expand their capacity.

“Although it’s more expensive to build and launch the satellite, it is still a lot cheaper to maintain them in the space,” he said. “So when we do a total cost of ownership calculation, we are cheaper, considerably cheaper, on a total cost of ownership basis. However […] when we compare what the actual users can do, you know, we can definitely go to completely different pricing model.”

Harlev is referring to the possibility of bundled pricing for combining storage and delivery – other providers would require that you supply the network, for instance, in order to move the data you’re storing. LyteLoop’s technology could also offset existing spend on reducing a company’s carbon footprint, because of its much-reduced ecological impact.

The company is focused squarely on getting its satellites to market, with a plan to take its proof of concept and expand that to a full production satellite roughly five years form now, with an initial service offering made available at that time. But LyteLoop’s tech could have equally exciting applications here on Earth. Harlev says that if you created a LyteLoop data center roughly the size of a football field, it would be roughly 500 times as efficient at storing data vs. traditional data warehousing.

The startup’s technology, which essentially stores data on photons instead of physical media, just requires far less matter than do our current ways of doing things, which not only helps its environmental impact, but which also makes it a much more sensible course for in-space storage when compared to physical media. The launch business is all about optimizing mass to orbit in order to reduce costs, and as Harlev notes, photons are massless.

#aerospace, #ceo, #cloud-computing, #computing, #data-management, #elon-musk, #funding, #hyperloop, #laser, #physical-media, #quantum-encryption, #recent-funding, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #small-satellite, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #startup, #startups, #tc, #technology, #virgin-orbit

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Nikola’s stock crashes after announcing cancelation of contract with Republic Services for 2,500 garbage trucks

The undoing of Nikola continues. Today, the company announced the termination of its contract with Republic Services for 2,500 garbage trucks. Announced back in August, the deal had Nikola building garbage trucks in 2023 with on-road testing scheduled for 2024. This is the latest deal to unravel for Nikola as it tries to patch up following devastating reports.

According to Nikola, the separation of the two companies was mutual though it’s hard to picture Nikola’s SEC troubles didn’t weigh heavily upon Republic Services.

“This was the right decision for both companies given the resources and investments required,” said Nikola CEO Mark Russell said in a released statement. “We support and respect Republic Services’ commitment to achieving environmentally responsible, sustainable solutions for their customers. Nikola remains laser-focused on delivering on our battery-electric and fuel-cell electric commercial truck programs, and the energy infrastructure to support them.”

News of this deal is sending Nikola’s stock down 10% in pre-market trading. If this level holds upon the stock market’s open, Nikola will be trading at its lowest levels following it’s monumental rise over the summer months.

The deal with Republic Services was originally a victory banner for the once-high flying electric vehicle startup. Signaled as mainstream acceptance of the company, Republic Services’ contract came before a mega $2 billion investment from General Motors. That deal is also cancelled following several key revelations about the company that lead to an SEC investigation and the company’s chairman stepping down.

In a statement, Nikola says deliveries will begin of Nikola Tre battery-electric semi-trucks in the US in 2021 and the company expects to break ground on its first commercial hydrogen station in 2021, too. And then in 2023, the company expects to produce its fuel-cell-electric semi-trucks at Nikola’s Coolidge, Arizona facility.

#arizona, #ceo, #chairman, #companies, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #general-motors, #laser, #nikola, #nikola-motors, #tc, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #united-states

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Astroscale ships its space junk removal demonstration satellite for March 2021 mission

Japanese startup Astroscale has shipped its ELSA-d spacecraft to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan, where it will be integrated with a Soyuz rocket for a launch scheduled for March of next year. This is a crucial mission for Astroscale, since it’ll be the first in-space demonstration of the company’s technology for de-orbiting space debris, a cornerstone of its proposed space sustainability service business.

The ELSA-d mission by Astroscale is a small satellite mission that will demonstrate two key technologies that enable the company’s vision for orbital debris removal. First will be a targeting component, demonstrating an ability to locate and dock with a piece of space debris, using positioning sensors including GPS and laser locating technologies. That will be used by a so-called ‘servicer’ satellite to find and attach to a ‘target’ satellite launched at the same time, which will stand in for a potential piece of debris.

Astroscale intends to dock and release with the ‘target’ using its ‘servicer’ multiple times over the course of the mission, showing that it can identify and capture uncontrolled objects in space, and that it can maneuver them for controlled de-orbit. This will basically prove out the feasibility of the technology underlying its business model, and set it up for future commercial operations.

In October, Astroscale announced that it had raised $51 million, making its total raised to date $191 million. The company also acquired the staff and IP of a company called Effective Space Solutions in June, which it will use to build out the geostationary servicing arm of its business, in addition to the LEO operations that ELSA-d will demonstrate.

#aerospace, #articles, #astroscale, #effective-space-solutions, #gps, #laser, #outer-space, #robotics, #science, #space, #space-debris, #spaceflight, #tc

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IonQ plans to launch a rack-mounted quantum computer for data centers in 2023

Quantum computing startup IonQ today announced its road map for the next few years — following a similar move from IBM in September — and it’s quite ambitious, to say the least.

At our Disrupt event earlier this year, IonQ CEO and president Peter Chapman suggested that we were only five years away from having desktop quantum computers. That’s not something you’ll likely hear from the company’s competitors — who also often use a very different kind of quantum technology — but IonQ now says that it will be able to sell modular, rack-mounted quantum computers for the data center in 2023 and that by 2025, its systems will be powerful enough to achieve broad quantum advantage across a wide variety of use cases.

In an interview ahead of today’s announcement, Chapman showed me a prototype of the hardware the company is working on for 2021, which fits on a workbench. The actual quantum chip is currently the size of a half-dollar and the company is now working on essentially putting the core of its technology on a single chip, with all of the optics that make its system work integrated.

Image Credits: IonQ

“That’s the goal,” he said about the chip. “As soon as you get to 2023, then you get to go to scale in a different way, which is, I just tell somebody in Taiwan to start and give me 10,000 of those things. And you get to scale through manufacturing, as well. There’s nothing quantum in any of the things that in any of the hardware we’re doing,” he said, though IonQ co-founder and chief scientist Chris Monroe quickly jumped in and noted that that’s true, “except for the atoms.”

And that’s an important point, because thanks to betting on trapped ion quantum computing as the core technology for its machines, IonQ doesn’t have to contend with the low-temperatures that IBM and others need to run their machines. Some sceptics have argued that IonQ’s technology will be hard to scale, but that’s something Chapman and Monroe easily dismiss, and IonQ’s new road map points at systems with thousands of algorithmic qubits (which are made out of a factor of 10 or 20 more physical qubits for handling error corrections) by 2028.

“As soon as you hit about 40 qubits — algorithmic qubits — in the beginning of 2024, then you’ll start to see quantum advantage probably in machine learning,” Chapman explained. “And then, I think it’s pretty well accepted that at 72 qubits is roughly when you start to do quantum advantage fairly broadly. So that would be in 2025. When you start to get into 2027, you’re now getting into hundreds of qubits if not early 1000s of qubits in [2028]. And now you’re starting to get into full-scale fault tolerance.”

We’ll see slow growth in the number of additional algorithmic qubits — which is what IonQ calls a qubit that can be used in running a quantum algorithm. Others in the industry tend to talk about “logical qubits,” but IonQ’s definition is slightly different.

Talking about how to compare different quantum systems, Chapman noted that “fidelity is not good enough.” It doesn’t matter if you have 72 or 72 million qubits, he said, if only three of those are usable. “When you see a road map that says, ‘I’m going to have umpteen 1000 qubits, it’s kind of like, ‘I don’t care, right?’ On our side, since we’re using individual atoms, I could show you a little vial of gas and say, ‘look, I’ve got a trillion qubits, all ready to be do computation!’ But they’re not particularly useful. So what we tried to do in the road map, was to talk about useful qubits.”

He also argued that quantum volume, a measurement championed by IBM and others in the quantum ecosystem, isn’t particularly useful because at some point, the numbers just get far too high.” But essentially, IonQ is still using quantum volume, but it defines its algorithmic qubits as the log(2, x) of the quantum volume of a given system.

Once IonQ is able to get to 32 of these algorithmic qubits — its current systems have 22 — it’ll be able to achieve a quantum volume of 4.2 billion instead of the 4 million it claims for its current system.

As Monroe noted, the company’s definition of algorithmic qubits also takes variable error correction into account. Error correction remains a major research area in quantum computing, but for the time being, IonQ argues that its ability to keep gate fidelity high means it doesn’t yet have to worry about it and it has already demonstrated the first fault-tolerant error-corrected operations with an overhead of 13:1.

“Because our native errors are so low, we don’t need to do error correction today, with these 22 algorithmic qubits. But to get that [99.99%] of fidelity, we’re going to leak in a little bit of error correction — and we can sort of do it on the fly. It’s almost like a little bit of an adjustment. How much error correction do you want? It’s not all or nothing,” Monroe explained.

IonQ isn’t afraid to say that it believes that “other technologies, because of their poor gate fidelity and qubit connectivity, might need 1,000, 10,000 or even 1,000,000 qubits to create a single error-corrected qubit.”

To put all of this into practice, IonQ today launched an Algorithmic Qubit Calculator that it argues will make it easier to compare system.

For the near future, IonQ expects to use a 16:1 overhead for error correction — that is, it expects to use 16 physical qubits to create a high-fidelity algorithmic qubit. Once it hits about 1,000 logical qubits, it expects to use a 32:1 overhead. “As you add qubits, you need to increase your fidelity,” Chapman explained, and so for its 1,000-qubit machine in 2028, IonQ will need to control 32,000 physical qubits.

IonQ has long argued that scaling its technology doesn’t necessitate any technological breakthroughs. And indeed, the company argues that by packing a lot of its technology on a single chip, its system will become more stable by default (noise, after all, is the archenemy of qubits), in part because the laser beams won’t have to travel very far.

Chapman, who has never been afraid to push for a bit of publicity, even noted that the company wants to fly one of its quantum computers in a small plane one of these days to show how stable it is. It’s worth noting, though, that IonQ is far more bullish about scaling up its systems in the short term than any of its competitors. Monroe acknowledged as much, but argues that it’s basic physics at this point.

“Especially in the solid-state platforms, they’re doing wonderful physics,” Monroe said. “They’re making a little bit of progress every year, but a roadmap in 10 years, based on a solid-state qubit, relies on breakthroughs in material science. And maybe they’ll get there, it’s not clear. But, you know, the physics of the atom is all sewn up and we’re very confident on the engineering path forward because it’s engineering based on proven protocols and proven devices.”

“We don’t have a manufacturing problem. You want a million qubits? No problem. That’s easy,” Chapman quipped.

#computing, #emerging-technologies, #ibm, #ionq, #laser, #machine-learning, #manufacturing, #peter-chapman, #quantum-computers, #quantum-mechanics, #quantum-supremacy, #qubit, #science, #taiwan, #tc

0

LA-based Boulevard raises $27 million for its spa management software

Boulevard, a spa management and payment platform, has raised $27 million in a new round of funding despite a business slowdown caused by the COVID0-19 pandemic.

Founded four years ago by Matt Danna and Sean Stavropoulos, Boulevard was inspired by Stavropoulos’ inability to book a haircut and Danna’s hunch that the inability of salons and spas to cater to customers like the busy programmer could be indicative of a bigger problem.

The two spent months pounding the pavement in Los Angeles pretending to be college students doing research on the industry. They spoke with salon owners in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and other trendy neighborhoods trying to get a sense of where software and services were falling short.

Through those months of interviews the two developed the booking management and payment platform that would become Boulevard. The inspiration was one part Shopify and one part ServiceTitan, Danna said.

The idea was that the Boulevard could build a pretty large business catering to the needs of a niche industry that hadn’t traditionally been exposed to a purpose-built toolkit for its vertical.

Investors including Index Ventures, Toba Capital, VMG Partners, Bonfire Ventures, Ludlow Ventures and BoxGroup agreed.

That could be because of the size of the industry. There’s over $250 billion spent per year across roughly 3 million businesses in the salon and spa category, according to data provided by the company. By comparison, fitness attracts roughly $34 billion in annual spending from 150,000 businesses.

“With limited access to the professionals that help us look and feel our best, I think the world has realized something that our team has always recognized: salons and spas are more than a luxury, they are essential to our well-being,” said Danna, in a statement. “We are humbled that so many businesses are placing their trust in us during such a turbulent time. This new capital will help accelerate our mission and deliver value to salons and spas that they never imagined was possible from technology.”

According to data provided by the company, Boulevard is definitely giving businesses a boost. On average, businesses increase bookings by 16%, retail revenue jumps by 18%, and gratuity paid out to stylists jumps by 24% for businesses that use Boulevard, the company said. It also reduces no-shows and cancellations, and halves time spent on the phone.  

“Boulevard is revitalizing the salon and spa industry, as evidenced by the company’s sustained 300-400% revenue growth over the last three years,” said Damir Becirovic of Index Ventures, whose firm led the company’s Series A round and has doubled down with the new capital infusion. 

Customers using the company’s software include: Chris McMillan the Salon, Heyday, MèCHE Salon, Paintbox, Sassoon Salon, SEV Laser, Spoke & Weal, and TONI&GUY.

Boulevard now has 90 employees and will look to increase that number as it continues to expand across the country.

Investors have taken a run at the spa market in the past, with company’s like MindBody valued at over $1 billion for its software services. Indeed, that company was taken private two years ago in a $1.9 billion transaction by Vista Equity Partners.

As Boulevard expands, the company may look to get deeper into financial services for the salons and spas that it’s already working with. Given the company’s window into these businesses’ financing, it’s not impossible to image a new line of business providing small business loans to these companies.

It’s something that the founders would likely not rule out. And it’s a way to provide more tools to entrepreneurs that often fall outside of the traditional sweet spot for banks and other lenders, Danna said.

 

#articles, #bonfire-ventures, #boulevard, #boxgroup, #business, #business-software, #economy, #financial-services, #laser, #los-angeles, #ludlow-ventures, #mindbody, #shopify, #small-business, #tc, #toba-capital, #vista-equity-partners

0

Spying a pivot to ghost kitchens, Softbank’s second Vision Fund pours $120 million into Ordermark

“We’re building a decentralized ghost kitchen,” is a sentence that could launch a thousand investor calls, and Alex Canter, the chief executive officer behind Ordermark, knows it.

The 29 year-old CEO has, indeed, built a decentralized ghost kitchen — and managed to convince Softbank’s latest Vision Fund to invest in a $120 million round for that the company announced today.

“We have uncovered an opportunity to help drive more orders into restaurants through this offering we have called Nextbite,” Canter said. “Nextbite is a portfolio of delivery-only restaurant brands that exist only on UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates.”

After hearing about Nextbite, Softbank actually didn’t take much convincing.

Investors from the latest Vision Fund first reached out to Canter shortly after the company announced its last round of funding in 2019. Canter had just begun experimenting with Nextbite at the time, but now the business is driving a huge chunk of the company’s revenues and could account for a large percentage of the company’s total business in the coming year.

“We believe Ordermark’s leading technology platform and innovative virtual restaurant concepts are transforming the restaurant industry,” said Jeff Housenbold, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “Alex and the Ordermark team have a deep understanding of the challenges that independent restaurants face. We are excited to support their mission to help independent restaurants optimize online ordering and generate incremental revenue from under-utilized kitchens.”

It’s an interesting pivot for a company that began as a centralized hub for restaurants to manage all of the online delivery orders coming in through various delivery services like GrubHub, Postmates and Uber Eats .

Canter is no stranger to the restaurant business. His family owns one of Los Angeles’ most famous delicatessens, the eponymous Canters, and Ordermark apocryphally started as a way to manage the restaurant’s own back-of-the-house chaos caused by a profusion of delivery service orders.

Now, instead of becoming the proprietor of one restaurant brand, Canter is running 15 of them. Unlike Cloud Kitchens, Kitchen United or Reef, Ordermark isn’t building or operating new kitchens. Instead, the company relies on the unused kitchen capacity of restaurants that the company has vetted to act as its quasi-franchisees.

Ordermark logos for some of the company’s delivery-only restaurant concepts. Image Credit: Ordermark

While most of the restaurant concepts have been developed internally, Ordermark isn’t above the occasional celebrity sponsorship. Its Nextbite service has partnered with Wiz Khalifa on a delivery-only restaurant called HotBox by Wiz, featuring “stoner-friendly munchies”.

The first brand Canter launched was The Grilled Cheese Society, which took advantage of unused kitchens at places like a Los Angeles nightclub and mom-and-pop restaurants across the East Coast to build out a footprint that now covers 100 locations nationwide.

It’s perhaps the growth of the HotBox brand that shows what kind of growth Nextbite could promote. Since the brand’s launch in early October, it has grown to a footprint that will reach 50 cities by the end of the month, according to Canter.

In some ways, Nextbite couldn’t exist without Ordermark’s delivery aggregation technology. “The way that Ordermark’s technology is designed, not only can we aggregate online orders into the device, but we can aggregate multiple brands into the device.”

For restaurants that sign up to be fulfillment partners for the Nextbite brands, there are few additional upfront costs and a fair bit of upside, according to Canter. Restaurants are making 30% margin on every order they take for one of Ordermark’s brands, Canter said.

To become a part of Nextbite’s network of restaurants the business has to be vetted by Ordermark. The company takes cues on what kinds of restaurants are performing well in different regions and develops a menu that is suited to match those trends. For instance, Nextbite recently launched a hot chicken sandwich brand after seeing the item rise in popularity on different digital delivery services.

Restaurants are chosen that can match the menu style of the delivery-only brand that Ordermark’s Nextbite business creates.

Behind those menus is Guy Simsiman, a Denver-based chef who is in charge of developing new menus for the company.

“We’re building things that we know can scale and we do a lot of upfront vetting to find the right types of fulfillment partners,” said Canter. “When a restaurant signs up to become a fulfillment partner, we’re vetting them and training them on what they need to do to … We’re guiding them to become fulfillment partners for these concepts. There’s a whole bunch of training that happens. Then there’s secret shopping and review monitoring to monitor quality.”

While Nextbite may be the future of Ordermark’s business, its overall health looks solid. The company is about to cross $1 billion worth of orders processed through its system.

“We are laser focused right now on helping our restaurants survive COVID and the best way we can do that is by doubling down on the incremental revenues of the Nextbite business,” said Canter when asked where the company’s emphasis would be going forward.

Nextbite is something we’ve been developing for a while now. We took it to market at the end of last year prior to COVID. When COVID kicked in every restaurant in America needed to be more creative. People were looking for alternative ways to supplement the loss in foot traffic,” he said. Nextbite provided an answer.

#america, #business, #ceo, #chef, #chief-executive-officer, #companies, #covid, #delivery-services, #denver, #doordash, #east-coast, #grubhub, #jeff-housenbold, #laser, #los-angeles, #managing-partner, #menu, #online-food-ordering, #ordermark, #postmates, #restaurant, #tc, #uber, #uber-eats, #vision-fund, #websites, #wiz

0

The Freewrite Traveler is an outstanding, but expensive, dedicated portable writing laptop

As a hardware startup, Astrohaus stands apart because of its unique offerings focused specifically on writers and writing. Its debut product, the Freewrite, looked like an old-school travel typewriter with an e-ink screen. Now, it’s back with a new device it’s been working on for the past couple of years: The Freewrite Traveler. This more portable e-ink typewriter has a clamshell design and isn’t much larger than a Nintendo Switch, making it a flexible, go-anwyhere writing companion.

The basics

Astrohaus began teasing the Traveler a few years ago, before eventually launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in November 2018 to get it made. The crowdfunding was very successful, raising over $600,000 on the platform before the campaign ended, and then another $200,000+ in pre-orders after that. Like many hardware efforts, it encountered a few delays relative to its original delivery timeline, but now the Freewrite Traveler is shipping out to pre-order customers.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of specs, it has up to four weeks of battery life with regular usage, and weighs under two pounds, with a folding design that’s roughly half the surface area of most laptops. The screen on the top half is an e-ink display, and there’s a sub-screen for providing info like network status. The bottom half houses the keyboard, which boasts over 2mm of travel for a great keypress feel.

The case is plastic, as are most of the components, and the exterior is a glossy black. The Traveler connects via wifi, like the original Freewrite, and allows you to register an account to sync to up to three separate folders of documents. When out of wifi range, your work is stored locally, and it can sync to the cloud service of your choice via Freewrite’s integrations whenever you’re connected.

Design and features

The Traveler’s design is all about portability and convenience, while retaining the core usability features that make the original Freewrite such an ideal device for focused writing. The clamshell design is intentionally large enough to fit that full-sized keyboard comfortably, but keeps the screen small like with the original, which makes it more portable and ensures that distractions are kept to a minimum – aided by the fact that all you can do on it is type text, since there are no apps, browser or other functions.

Astrohaus has stayed very close to their original vision for the Traveler, with some minor tweaks including the hinge design. The end result is a light and durable-feeling portable digital typewriter, with a keyboard that feels excellent to type on – better than any laptop in my experience. The keyboard is really the star of the show here, since this is a purpose-built device created for typing. The travel feels ample, especially for a notebook-style device, and the raised, rounded keycap wells make it easy to touch type comfortably all day if you want.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The display, while small, provides excellent legibility and contrast, though it’s worth noting that you’ll have to supply your own light source, because as with the original Freewrite, there’s no backlight or frontlight built in, and e-ink doesn’t provide its own light like LED.

E-ink is incredibly power efficient, however, which is why you’ll get so much useful life out of the Traveler. In my testing, it’s been operating on its original charge for nearly two weeks now, which is in line with the Astrohaus estimates.

The Traveler’s case features a piano black glossy exterior, which looks great, but quickly picks up fingerprints. And existing Freewrite users might notice that the display has a slightly glossy sheen as well, where the original was fully matte. That’s because of a thin piece of optically transparent plastic that goes across the entire width of the clamshell to protect the e-ink display against the keyboard, according to Astrohaus. To me, it hasn’t been an issue in terms of usability or quality, just something to note in terms of differences.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Astrohaus has created a design that stands out, regardless of what you think of the piano black finish. The contrast of the black with the white interior gives it a unique, quirky and attractive design that helps ensure you’ll never confuse the Traveler with any other gadget. And the materials keep it lightweight and durable for easily taking it with you anywhere you might want to go.

The Traveler’s hinge allows it it to open up to roughly 135 degrees, which is a good position for laptop typing. It can also be positioned at any angle less than that for when you have it elevated at a table or desk.

Bottom line

The Freewrite Traveler is a unique device, with a special appeal for people who are hyper-focused on a writing tool that offers all the benefits of cloud-connectivity with none of the downsides of a multipurpose tool like a laptop or computer. It can sync to Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive so that you can easily create a cross-device workflow for finishing up manuscripts and drafts, but on its own, the Traveler will ensure you remain focused on the task at hand – and enjoy yourself while doing so.

A portable, digital writing device like this one isn’t unique in the world – many distraction-free writing enthusiasts use the Pomera line of products from Japan for this purpose. But Astrohaus is unique in providing hardware tailor-made for North American and European markets, and they’ve done an amazing job at delivering on the potential of this device even in a field of relatively few competitors.

The Traveler is fairly expensive at $599, but there’s truly nothing else like it, if what you want is a laser-focused writing device that combines portability with great ergonomics, long-lasting battery and cloud storage convenience.

#articles, #astrohaus, #computing, #dropbox, #e-ink, #e-book, #evernote, #freewrite, #gadgets, #google, #hardware, #hardware-startup, #indiegogo, #industrial-design, #japan, #laptop, #laser, #microsoft-surface, #nintendo, #reviews, #tc, #typewriter, #writing

0

Merging Airbnb and the traditional hotel model, Mexico City’s Casai raises $23 million to grow in Latin America

With travel and tourism rising across Latin America, Casai, a startup combining Airbnb single unit rentals with hotel room amenities, has raised $23 million to expand its business across Latin America.

The company, which initially was as hit hard by regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic as other businesses in the hospitality industry has recovered to reach nearly 90 percent of total capacity on the 200 units it manages around Mexico City.

The company was co-founded by chief executive Nico Barawid, a former head of international expansion at Nova Credit and consultant with BCG, and chief operating officer María del Carmen Herrerías Salazar, who previously worked at one of Mexico’s largest hotel operators, Grupo Presidente.

The two met two years ago at a barbecue in Mexico City and began speaking about ways to update the hospitality industry taking the best of Airbnb’s short term rental model of individual units and pairing it with the quality control and standards that guests expect from a hotel chain.

“I wanted to define a product from a consumer angle,” said Barawid. “I wanted this to exist.”

Before the SARS-Cov-2 outbreak Casai’s units were primarily booked through travel partners like HotelTonight or Expedia. Now the company has a direct brisk direct booking business thanks to the work of its chief technology officer, a former engineer at Google named Andres Martinez.

The company’s new financing was led by Andreessen Horowitz and included additional commitments from the firm’s Cultural Leadership Fund, Kaszek Ventures, Monashees Capital, Global Founders Capital, Liquid 2 Ventures, and individual investors including the founders of Nova Credit, Loft, Kavak and Runa.

Casai also managed to nab a debt facility of up to $25 million from TriplePoint Capital, bringing its total cash haul to $48 million in equity and debt.

Image Credit: Casai

The big round is in part thanks to the company’s compelling value proposition, which offers guest not only places to stay equipped with a proprietary smart hardware hub and the Casai app, but also a Google Home, smart lights, and Chromecast-kitted televisions, but also a lounge where guests can stay ahead of their check-in or after check-out.

And while the company’s vision is focused on Latin America now, its management team definitely sees the opportunity to create a global brand and business.

The founding team also includes a chief revenue officer, Alberto Ramos, who worked at McKinsey and a chief growth officer, Daniel Hermann, who previously worked at the travel and lifestyle company, Selina. The head of design, Alexa Backal, used to work at GAIA Design, and its vice president of experience, Cristina Crespo, formerly ran WeWork’s international design studio.

“To successfully execute on this opportunity, a team needs to bring together expertise from consumer technology, design, hospitality, real estate and financial services to develop world-class operations needed to deliver on a first-class experience,” said Angela Strange, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, who’s taking a seat on the Casai board. “It was obvious when I met Nico and Maricarmen that they are operationally laser-focused and have uniquely blended expertise across verticals, with unique views on the consumer experience.”

#airbnb, #andreessen, #andreessen-horowitz, #angela-strange, #chief-operating-officer, #chief-technology-officer, #engineer, #financial-services, #general-partner, #global-founders-capital, #hoteltonight, #kaszek-ventures, #laser, #latin-america, #liquid-2-ventures, #mckinsey, #mexico, #mexico-city, #monashees-capital, #nova-credit, #real-estate, #runa, #selina, #sharing-economy, #tc, #tourism, #travel, #triplepoint-capital, #vacation-rental, #wework

0

With a Warby Parker playbook, SISU raises funding from Greycroft to face-off against cosmetic clinics

With so many people getting ‘botox’ and ‘filler’ treatments to their faces these days (or are they, during the pandemic?), it’s probably no wonder that Venture Capital has decided to look at the space. In the same way that the small and scattered market of spectacle/optometrist shops were disrupted by startups like Warby Parker, so the extremely variable experience of back-street cosmetic clinics are ripe for targeting.

Step in SISU, a chain of cosmetic clinics created by a serial tech entrepreneur who will apply tech startup methodology to this relatively untapped world.

SISU has now raised a $5.5M Series A fundraise, led by Greycroft and Bullpen Capital. Mana Ventures and the Gaingels Syndicate also participated in the round, alongside angel investors, including Liam Casey, founder ans CEO of PCH, and Dan and Linda Kiely, the co-founders of Voxpro.

The funds will be used to go into the US cosmetic clinics market and standardize ‘facial feature’ pricing for things like lips, chin, under-eye, cheeks and brow. It will also offer treatments such as anti-wrinkle injections, dermal and facial fillers, laser and teeth whitening. There is even going to be a “Face as a service”. So that would be FaaS…

According to SISU, botox consumers are charged per unit, and often sold the maximum number of units, regardless of the results. SISU will set a price for what you want done, and that’s it. A web site will have “instant online evaluations”, and digital bookings.

The company will launch an e-commerce platform in the US and 20 medical-retail clinics are planned for the East Coast. It already eight now in Ireland.

Dubbed by its founders as the ‘One Medical for aesthetic treatments’, SISU is led by Dr. James Cotter, Dr. Brian Cotter, and Irish entrepreneur Pat Phelan, who previously made his name in the telecoms market. Phelan founded both Trustev, which exited to TransUnion in 2015 for $44M, and Cubic Telecom, which exited in 2012.

They are taping into to big market. The ‘medical aesthetics’ market is projected to reach $14.5B by 2023, according to some estimates.

#bullpen-capital, #cubic-telecom, #drugs, #east-coast, #entrepreneur, #europe, #greycroft, #ireland, #laser, #liam-casey, #pch, #tc, #transunion, #united-states, #warby-parker

0

SpaceX confirms Starlink internet private beta underway, showing low latency and speeds over 100MBps

SpaceX has confirmed some details of its Starlink internet service beta test, via SpaceX engineer Kate Tice on today’s launch webcast for its most recent Starlink satellite mission. Tice said that SpaceX’s service has demonstrated latency low enough to allow it to play the “fastest multiplayer” networked online games, and that it has also shown download speeds in excess of 100Mbps, which she added is fast enough to stream multiple HD video streams at once, with additional bandwidth to spare.

Anyone who has spent any time using an existing connection a rural, poorly covered area that relies on either traditional satellite or perhaps limited cellular-based service will know that both these parameters far exceed the capabilities of most existing options. Starlink’s goal is to leapfrog what’s out there already with its low Earth orbit constellation, which has the advantage of transmitting its signal much closer in to Earth than the far-out geostationary satellites that provide legacy networking capabilities.

Tice also said that while performance so far has been impressive during the private beta, the company expects both more features and greater capabilities to be unlocked over time through updates. She also said that SpaceX recently completed it first inter-satellite link between Starlink spacecraft – which can transfer 100s of gigabytes of data between satellites via optical laser, at speeds that will be the fastest available anywhere for inter-satellite communications. This is a core capability for the network, which will rely on handoffs between Starlink satellites to maintain connections as they orbit the Earth.

While the current private beta is essentially limited to SpaceX employees, and designed to help them fine-tune the network as it comes online for the first time, Tice said that the public Starlink beta is still on track to kick off later this year. SpaceX has asked those interested in participating to sign up via its Starlink website, and earlier this year a leak from said website provide a detailed look at how the public beta will operate when live.

#aerospace, #engineer, #laser, #outer-space, #satellite, #satellite-communications, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

0

ClimaCell raises $23M Series C for its weather intelligence platform

ClimaCell, the weather forecasting and intelligence service that is using a number of interesting new techniques to gather weather data, today announced that it has raised a $23 million Series C round co-led by new investor Pitango Growth and existing investor Square Peg Captial. With this new round, the Boston- and TelAviv-based company’s total funding now exceeds $100 million.

As ClimaCell co-founder and CEO Shimon Elkabetz told me, the round came together well after the worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns had started and the team never met with its new investors in person. Because the pandemic affected many of ClimaCell’s customers in the travel industry, in recent months, the company did take some steps to reduce cost and expand its overall runway, but Elkabetz stressed that the company didn’t need to raise this new round and that the investors approached the company.

“We took some aggressive but respectful actions around reducing our expenses and created a significant runway,” Elkabetz explained. “We didn’t really need to raise money now, but this opportunity came to us and we decided to take it, because it gives us a significant opportunity to invest in strategic things.”

Image Credits: ClimaCell

Given the changing business climate, the company did double down on its efforts to brand its service as an intelligence platform that helps businesses make smart decisions about the operations, even if they are not meteorologists. In practice, this means a stronger focus on its Insights service, which helps operators in various industries to make smart decisions based on the company’s forecasts. With this, ClimaCell can help a construction company ensure that a worksite is safe when a storm is coming and when it should shut down its crane operations because of wind, for example, or when a logistics company should expect slowdowns because of heavy rains. Instead of just giving its users a weather forecast, the company’s tools provide actionable suggestions instead.

“65% of the world’s GDP is being impacted by weather events. ClimaCell is the only SaaS company that enables actionable items ahead of weather events rather than reacting to them and their implications and ramifications,” said Aaron Mankovski, Managing General Partner at Pitango Growth, in today’s announcement. “The opportunities coming to ClimaCell across industries including supply chain and logistics, railroads, trucking, shipping, on-demand, energy, insurance, and more represent a complete upending of the existing competitive landscape and is a testament to being laser-focused on customer value.”

Image Credits: ClimaCell

Elkabetz noted that the company plans to use the new funding to expand both its go-to-market efforts and to focus on the fundamental R&D that makes its platform work. He wasn’t quite ready to share what those R&D efforts will look like, but he expects to be able to announce these new capabilities “soon.”

The company also expects to launch some updates to its consumer mobile app soon. While the consumer app may not be ClimaCell’s main focus, it uses the same technology in the backend, including a version of Insights for leisure activities, for example. For Elkabetz, the consumer app helps spread the ClimaCell brand but he also expects that it can become a real business in its own right.

#boston, #climacell, #general-partner, #laser, #pitango, #recent-funding, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc

0

Ford to use Boston Dynamics’ dog-like robots to map their manufacturing facilities

Ford is going to employ two of Boston Dynamics’ ‘Spot’ robots, which are four-legged, dog-like walking robots that weigh roughly 70 lbs each, to help them update the original engineering plans for one of the transmission manufacturing plans. The plants, Ford explains, have undergone any number of changes since their original construction, and it’s difficult to know if the plans they have match up with the reality of the plants as they exist today. The Spot robots, with their laser scanning and imaging capabilities, will be able to produce highly-detailed and accurate maps that Ford engineers can then use to modernize and retool the facility.

There are a few benefits that Ford hopes to realize by employing the Spot robots in place of humans to map the facility: First, they should save a considerable amount of time, since they replace a time-intensive process of setting up a tripod with a laser scanner at various points throughout the facility and spending a while at each location manually capturing the environment. The Spot dogs are roving and scanning continuously, providing a reduction of up to 50% in terms of actual time to complete the facility scan.

The robot dogs are also equipped with five cameras as well as laser scanners, and can operate for up to two hours travelling at around 3 mph continuously. The data they collect can then be synthesized for a more complete overall picture, and because of their small size and nimble navigation capabilities, they can map areas of the plant that aren’t necessarily reachable by people attempting to do the same job.

This is a pilot program that Ford is conducting, using two Spot robots leased by Boston Dynamics . But if it works out the way they seem to think it will, you can imagine that the automaker might seek to expand the program to cover other efforts at more of its manufacturing facilities.

#automotive, #boston-dynamics, #companies, #ford, #imaging, #laser, #optics, #robot, #robotics, #tc, #transportation

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Researchers develop laser-based underwater WiFi system for sub-sea data networks

A team of researchers working out of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) have developed a two-way wireless data connection for use underwater. Strong wireless data connections are basically taken for granted in our daily lives, from cell service to home WiFi networks, but it’s actually tremendously challenging to create high-speed wireless connections in a medium like water. That could be very valuable for keeping underwater data centers connected with surface network infrastructure.

KUAST’s researchers approached the challenge using simple, readily available off-the-shelf components, including a Raspberry Pi that acts as the modem. They also built it to be compatible with existing 802.11 wireless standards, so that it can easily connect into the larger global internet for consistent and reliable connections.

The Raspberry Pi provides the compute need to convert the standard wireless signal into one that can be transmitted optically via laser. The signal comes in over the air to a buoy at the ocean’s surface, where the Pi then does the conversion and transmits the information via blue and green lasers, which then beam it down to an optical receiver located underwater, with a maximum practical transfer speed of 2.11 Mbps across a distance of 20 meters (around 66 feet).

The research team managed to use their system to do Skype calls and move files back and forth – but they also burned out the Raspberry Pi using lasers that overwhelmed its capabilities. This could be shored up by swapping in a dedicated optical modem, they said. A bigger problem that exists when using this so-called Aqua-Fi networking tech is dealing with the optical variation that can result underwater from currents and water movement.

To overcome those limitations, the team is considering a number of options, including a two-laser system in which a low-powered one does way finding to plot the course for the more powerful data connection, and can readjust orientation if a connection fails. They could also broaden the receiver with an array of multiple receivers – similar to how MIMO antenna arrays work on modern networking hardware.

#laser, #lasers, #mimo, #modem, #photonics, #raspberry-pi, #science, #tc, #technology, #telecommunications, #wi-fi, #wireless, #wireless-networking

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Logitech’s new Mac-specific mouse and keyboards are the new best choices for Mac input devices

Logitech has released new versions of its MX peripherals in Mac-friendly finishes, as well as a new K380 wireless Bluetooth keyboard designed for Apple devices. These aren’t dramatically different devices from the existing versions that Logitech offers – but that’s a good thing in this case, and it elevates what were already amazing peripherals to no-brainer default choices for Mac users.

MX Master 3 for Mac

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The MX Master 3 for Mac is a very slightly altered twist on the MX Master 3 – consisting mostly of a new paint job that actually pretty closely resembles the old one. Specs are the same for the Mac-specific version, including its quiet scroll wheel with 1,000 lines per second maximum scroll speed, and Logitech’s MagSpeed tech that dynamically enables freewheel scrolling when you’re going fast.

The MX Master 3 for Mac does ship with a USB-C to USB-C cord in the box, instead of the USB-A to USB-C cable that comes with the non-Mac version, and that’s much more convenient for charging and using it dongle-free with modern MacBook computers. It can run for 70 days on a full charge, and you can get three full hours of use out of just 60 seconds of charge time. The mouse uses Logitech’s Darkfield laser tracking which provides 1000 dpi on average of accuracy and the ability to track on virtually every surface, and it can also work across Macs and iPads with Logitech’s Easy-Switch technology for connecting to multiple devices.

In terms of major differences, the main one any owners of the MX Master 3 will notice is that the MX Master 3 for Mac is listed as only offering Bluetooth connectivity on Logitech’s website – and it doesn’t ship with Logitech’s Unifying USB receiver, which connects its peripherals via a dedicated RF network instead of Bluetooth for greater reliability. That’s odd, because the MX Master 3 for Mac definitely still works with Logitech’s Unifying Retriever, and that’s exactly how I had it set up, using the USB dongle that shipped with the MX Master Keys for Mac.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

This is noteworthy because Logitech is charging $129.99 for the MX Master 3 for Mac – the same as the non-Mac version, but it doesn’t include the receiver and bills itself as a Bluetooth mouse. It’s a bit of an odd choice, but if you’ve used Logitech gear over the years, you probably have an abundance of unifying receivers on hand, and the Space Gray colorway on the Mac version does match better with actual Mac hardware.

Performance-wise, the MX Master 3 for Mac is still one of the best full-size mice you can get. It’s extremely comfortable to use, features a healthy array of controls that are customizable with Logitech’s Options software, and provides smooth, high-precision tracking, with the ability to use it while charging.

MX Keys for Mac

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Like the mouse, the Mac version of the MX Keys is mostly an aesthetic change. It’s also done up in Space Gray to match Apple’s colorway of the same name, and it features contrast-coloured black keys and a top bar that houses the wireless and battery electronics. The key layout also gets Mac-specific, ditching the hybrid key labelling of Logitech’s existing MX Keys for actual dedicated Command and Option keys, as well as a hardware eject key.

Also like the Mac Master 3, the MX Keys can work across devices, including those running macOS, iPadOS and iOS. It ships with a USB-C to USB-C charging cable (again, more convenient than the USB-A to USB-C one in the standard MX Keys configuration) and a unifying receiver. It’s also able to connect via Bluetooth, and can be connected to up to 3 devices with dedicated keys to switch between each.

The MX Keys is already probably your best choice for a third-party keyboard that offers great performance and key feel, unless you’re specifically into clicky mechanical keyboards. It includes smart backlighting that activates automatically when your hands approach, and turns off automatically when not in use to preserve battery life. While it’s made of plastic, it still feels heavy in a good way, ensuring it’ll rest flat on your desk. Since it’s based on the MX Keys, I can also attest to its durability, as I’ve been using that keyboard since its launch and have not had any problems with it at all thus far.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of battery life, you can expect 10 days of use with the backlighting active – but if you go without the underlay lighting, it’ll stretch out to as much as five months. And as mentioned, it’s easy to charge up directly from your Mac with the included USB-C cable – which also allows you to use it while charging.

Logitech’s work on the color scheme here really does a good job of matching the look of Apple’s aluminum treatment, right down to the metal-like speckles on the Space Gray surfaces. If you’re already using an MX Keys, stick with it, but if you’re in the market for something new, this is the new best choice for a Mac user – at the same $129.99 price point as the original.

K380 Bluetooth Keyboard for Mac, iPad and iPhone

The K380 is a much more portable keyboard option, with rounded keys and a lighter plastic shell. It’s Bluetooth-only, but still offers the ability to connect up to there devices at once. The Mac version comes in either a white or pink version, and it features Mac-specific keys like the MX.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

It works across macOS, iOS and iPadOS, and can switch between each seamlessly, making it a great choice for working on the road with a setup that includes both a Mac and your iPad or iPhone. It’s powered by two AAA batteries (included), and is rated at around two years of use on a single pair.

The typing feel is a bit shallower than the MX series, but still impressive, and it’s near-silent which makes it better for use in shared or busy spaces. It’s available now for $49.99.

Bottom line

Logitech hasn’t reinvented the mouse wheel with any of these products (it already did that with the MX Master 3’s original launch) but these are all welcome updates that make its hardware feel more at home with Mac and other Apple devices. Even Apple itself charges a premium for the dark-coated versions of its input devices, too, so it’s nice to see pricing stay the same along with the facelift.

If you’re in the market for new peripherals and don’t already own the MX series, these are obvious choices. Ditto the K380 for Mac if you want a durable, all-in-one keyboard to use across your devices that won’t add too much weight to your pack, and that looks and feels great.

#apple, #apple-inc, #apple-keyboard, #bluetooth, #computer-mouse, #computing, #gadgets, #hardware, #input-devices, #ipad, #ipads, #iphone, #laser, #logitech, #mac, #options, #paint-job, #reviews, #tc, #usb, #wireless

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First commercial Earth-to-Moon communication relay satellite planned for 2023

Communications between Earth and the Moon actually requires a huge amount of equipment under current circumstances. The transmission distance for any data sent from our large natural satellite and us here on Earth is 225,000 miles – which means a transmission signal requires significant power, and that translates to heavy, bulky transmission equipment to get the job done. In space, weight and bulk immediately translates to costs that ramp up fast.

A new private venture by a new private space company called CommStar Space Communications could help defray that cost, by installing a data relay satellite in between the Moon and Earth, lowering the weight, power and cost requirements of any communications equipment that needs to be brought along on missions to the Moon in future.

CommStar Space Communications plans to do this by putting a relay satellite closer to the Moon, which would also include optical laser communications to make it possible to increase significantly the speed of communications of any assets operating in cislunar (aka, between the Earth and the Moon) space. The company’s goal is to replicate the efficiencies realized by the advent of commercial private space launch companies, including SpaceX and Rocket Lab, but for the lunar communications market. Ultimately, that could mean big leaps in affordability and practicality for commercial lunar exploration or mining ventures.

The startup is working with Thales Alenia Space for the design of its first satellite, which is named ‘CommStar-1,’ and which will kick-off planned development of an entire privately owned and operated network of satellites that the company hopes will act as a communications infrastructure backbone between Earth, the Moon, and eventually, other deep space destination.

The goal for the company is to have the first satellite deployed by 2023. Launch partner and plans aren’t yet available, but that’s an ambitious timeline so expect them to follow as CommStar builds out its approach.

#aerospace, #laser, #mining, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

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R&D Roundup: ‘Twisted light’ lasers, prosthetic vision advances and robot-trained dogs

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances, along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups.

In this edition: a new type of laser emitter that uses metamaterials, robot-trained dogs, a breakthrough in neurological research that may advance prosthetic vision and other cutting-edge technology.

Twisted laser-starters

We think of lasers as going “straight” because that’s simpler than understanding their nature as groups of like-minded photons. But there are more exotic qualities for lasers beyond wavelengths and intensity, ones scientists have been trying to exploit for years. One such quality is… well, there are a couple names for it: Chirality, vorticality, spirality and so on — the quality of a beam having a corkscrew motion to it. Applying this quality effectively could improve optical data throughput speeds by an order of magnitude.

The trouble with such “twisted light” is that it’s very difficult to control and detect. Researchers have been making progress on this for a couple of years, but the last couple weeks brought some new advances.

First, from the University of the Witwatersrand, is a laser emitter that can produce twisted light of record purity and angular momentum — a measure of just how twisted it is. It’s also compact and uses metamaterials — always a plus.

The second is a pair of matched (and very multi-institutional) experiments that yielded both a transmitter that can send vortex lasers and, crucially, a receiver that can detect and classify them. It’s remarkably hard to determine the orbital angular momentum of an incoming photon, and hardware to do so is clumsy. The new detector is chip-scale and together they can use five pre-set vortex modes, potentially increasing the width of a laser-based data channel by a corresponding factor. Vorticality is definitely on the roadmap for next-generation network infrastructure, so you can expect startups in this space soon as universities spin out these projects.

Tracing letters on the brain-palm

#biotech, #electronics, #extra-crunch, #health, #laser, #market-analysis, #optics, #prosthesis, #rd-roundup, #robotics, #science, #startups, #tc, #university-of-pennsylvania

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Volvo to use Luminar’s lidar in production vehicles to unlock automated driving on highways

Volvo Cars will start producing vehicles in 2020 that are equipped with lidar and a perception stack — technology developed by Silicon Valley startup Luminar that the automaker will use to deploy an automated driving system for highways.

For now, the lidar will be part of a hardware package that consumers can add as an option to their Volvo vehicle, starting with the second-generation XC90. Volvo will combine Luminar’s lidar with cameras, radar, software and back-up systems for functions such as steering, braking and battery power to enable its highway pilot feature.

Volvo, which is known for making its advanced safety features standard, sees a bigger opportunity in its partnership with Luminar. The Swedish automaker said Luminar will help it improve advanced driver assistance systems and may lead to all of its second-generation Scalable Product Architecture (SPA2) vehicles to come with lidar as a standard feature.

Luminar and Volvo didn’t reveal how much this highway pilot package might cost. Luminar has previously said its Iris lidar unit will cost less than $1,000 per unit for production vehicles seeking full autonomy and about $500 for version used for more limited purposes like driver assistance.

The announcement is a milestone for Luminar and its whiz founder Austin Russell, who burst onto the autonomous vehicle startup scene in April 2017 after operating for years in secrecy. It also makes Volvo the first automaker to equip production vehicles with lidar — the light detection and ranging radar that measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world around the car.

Luminar’s Iris lidar sensors — which TechCrunch has described as about the size of really thick sandwich and one-third smaller than its previous iterations — will be integrated in the roof. The sensor’s tucked away placement is a departure from the bucket style spinning lidars that have become synonymous with autonomous vehicle development.

Image Credits: Volvo

Shipping a vehicle with the proper hardware and perception stack doesn’t mean customers will be able to let their Volvo take over driving on highways from the get go. The software, which is being developed by Zenuity, is still underway, Volvo CTO Henrik Green said.

The software will be activated wirelessly once it is verified to be safe in individual geographic locations. Volvo will continue to expand the capability of the software such as pushing up the maximum speed a vehicle can travel while driving autonomously. This hardware first-continual software update strategy is similar to Tesla, which has sold an automated driving package to consumers for years that has improved over time, but still does not allow for so-called “full self-driving.”

“Soon, your Volvo will be able to drive autonomously on highways when the car determines it is safe to do so,” Green said. “At that point, your Volvo takes responsibility for the driving and you can relax, take your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Over time, updates over the air will expand the areas in which the car can drive itself. For us, a safe introduction of autonomy is a gradual introduction.”

A turning point for lidar

Lidar sensors are considered by many automakers and tech companies an essential piece of technology to safely roll out autonomous vehicles. In the past 18 months, as the timeline to deploy commercial robotaxi fleets has expanded, automakers have turned back to developing nearer term tech for production vehicles.

“It’s a very isolated problem to solve and becomes a lot more solvable in a safe way than trying to solve autonomous driving through the inner city of Los Angeles or San Francisco,” Green said. “By narrowing the use case to those particular highways, we can bring safe autonomy into vehicles for personal use in the timeframe we’re talking about.”

Advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, that was pushed aside in pursuit of fully autonomous vehicles has become a darling once again. It’s prompted a pivot within the industry, particularly with lidar companies. Dozens of lidar startups once grappling to become the supplier of choice for fully driverless vehicles are now hawking their wares for use in regular old passenger cars, trucks and SUVs. Some lidar startups such as Luminar have developed the perception software as well in an effort to diversify their business and offer a more appealing package to automakers.

The companies will deepen their collaboration to ensure Luminar’s lidar technology is validated for series production. Volvo Cars said it has signed an agreement to possibly increase its minority stake in Luminar.

Luminar built its lidar from scratch, a lengthy process that it says has resulted in a simpler design and better performance. The company made a leap forward in April 2018 with the introduction of a new lidar unit that performs better, is cheaper and is able to be assembled in minutes rather than hours. Luminar also acquired Black Forest Engineering as part of its strategy to improve the quality along with efficiency. And it opened a 136,000-square-foot manufacturing center in Orlando, Florida, where it does all of its engineering and development as well as the mass manufacturing.

The startup has continued to improve its lidar as well as attract investors. Luminar announced last year it had raised $100 million, bringing its total to more than $250 million. The company unveiled a perception platform and its compact Iris lidar unit, which will now go into the Volvo.

“This is really kind of the holy grail that we’ve been working towards for the entire course of the business,” Russell said.

#austin-russell, #automotive, #automotive-industry, #cto, #driver, #iris, #laser, #lidar, #luminar, #tc, #techcrunch, #technology, #tesla, #volvo, #volvo-cars, #zenuity

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Gousto, a UK meal-kit service, raises another $41M as business booms under lockdown

Food delivery — be it ready-made restaurant meals, groceries, or anything in between — has seen a huge surge of activity in the last few weeks as people have sheltered in place to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus. Today, one of the startups that’s built a business specifically in meal-kits in the UK is announcing funding to double down on its growth.

Gousto, a London-based meal-kit service, has closed £33 million ($41 million) in funding, money that it’s going to be using to continue investing in its technology — both in the AI engine that it says customers use to get more personalised recommendations of what to cook and eat, and in the backend tech used to optimise its own logistics and other operations — and in building more capacity to meet rising demand and expanding next-day delivery in the near future (it mainly operates on a three-day turnaround between ordering and delivery currently).

The company said that it’s currently delivering some 4 million meals to 380,000 UK households each month and is on course to cross 400 million meals delivered by 2025. It offers currently a choice of more than 50 recipes each week and gives people the option to tailor what they get, with the whole system running in an automated packing process, working out to average price per meal per person to £2.98 at its cheapest.

The funding — which was being raised before the novel coronavirus hit — is being led by Perwyn, with participation also from BGF Ventures, MMC Ventures and Joe Wicks — a hugely popular YouTube fitness coach who has built a lifestyle brand around healthy eating. This brings the total raised by Gousto to around £130 million ($162 million). It’s not disclosing its valuation with this round. It has 100 employees today and plans to expand that to 700 by 2022.

CTO Shaun Pearce said that Gousto was in high-growth mode before COVID-19, operating on forecasts of growing 70% year-on-year. That number — as with so many other delivery and specifically food-based delivery businesses right now — has spiked upward in recent weeks, not just from paying customers but also for Gousto’s own efforts to do something for the relief efforts, with food businesses like Gousto’s some of the remaining “key” businesses that have been allowed to stay open when others like restaurants have closed.

“We continue to be laser-focused on our vision to become the UK’s most-loved way to eat dinner. This additional investment is not only a validation of our track record, but it is also an endorsement of our strategic vision of the future which is rooted in investing in innovative technology to transform the way we search for, shop for, and cook our food,” said Timo Boldt, CEO and founder, in a statement. “In these challenging times, we want to continue offering people more choice and especially more convenience. We will maintain our close relationships with the government and other charitable partners to ensure those already struggling don’t see their situation worsen.”

In the last several weeks, Pearce said Gousto has also seen big changes in customer behavior from pre-existing customers, with a 28% increase in family boxes. “Those who buy from us want to buy more,” he said. Like some other smaller food delivery companies (and small can be as big as the online grocery Ocado) it’s also no longer accepting new customer sign-ups and is focused just on meeting the demand of pre-existing customers.

Gousto’s has also been trying to do its part in relief operations. It’s been working with the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to produce meal kits for vulnerable people, and it has donated some 6,000 meals to The Trussell Trust foodbank network and to the homeless charity, Shelter. It’s also ensuring that when its system is overcrowded that NHS employees get priority access to its ordering platform. (This is in addition to the contactless and other safety procedures that Pearce said that Gousto has put in place to minimise the risk of spreading the virus both to its workers and customers.)

Meal kit services in recent years have taken a beating in recent years, typified perhaps most publicly by Blue Apron, which saw its stock drop drastically after going public in part because of the huge amount of competition (not just from other pure-play meal kit companies but a plethora of others like Amazon that have added on meal kits to other existing business lines such as other grocery delivery).

Pearce said that Gousto’s growth and popularity and flexibility that it offers users by way of the AI engine to craft recipes they might actually want to use sets it apart from current competition, which in the UK includes HelloFresh, Mindful Chef, offerings from most major grocers, and many more.

“We continue to be impressed by Gousto and its dedication to its customers,” said Andrew Wynn, founder and managing partner at Perwyn, in a statement. “The business has adapted quickly to continue providing an essential service to so many. This reaffirms the decision we took far before COVID-19, that we’re investing in the right people and a business set for even greater success.”

 

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #bgf-ventures, #blue-apron, #ceo, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #cto, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #europe, #food, #food-delivery, #foodservice, #funding, #gousto, #hellofresh, #laser, #london, #managing-partner, #meal-kit, #meals, #mmc-ventures, #nhs, #online-food-ordering, #recent-funding, #restaurant, #startups, #subscription-services, #united-kingdom

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