Croatia’s Gideon Brothers raises $31M for its 
3D vision-enabled autonomous warehouse robots

Proving that Central and Eastern Europe remains a powerhouse of hardware engineering matched with software, Gideon Brothers (GB), a Zagreb, Croatia-based robotics and AI startup, has raised a $31 million Series A round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), the venture and growth arm of Koch Industries Inc., with participation from DB Schenker, Prologis Ventures, and Rite-Hite.

The round also includes participation from several of Gideon Brothers’ existing backers: Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Pentland Ventures, Peaksjah, HCVC (Hardware Club), Ivan Topčić, Nenad Bakić, and Luca Ascani.

The investment will be used to accelerate the development and commercialization of GB’s AI and 3D vision-based ‘autonomous mobile robots’ or ‘AMRs’. These perform simple tasks such as transporting, picking up, and dropping off products in order to free up humans to perform more valuable tasks.

The company will also expand its operations in the EU and US by opening offices in Munich, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively.

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers founders

Gideon Brothers make robots and the accompanying software platform that specializes in horizontal and vertical handling processes for logistics, warehousing, manufacturing, and retail businesses. For obvious reasons, the need to roboticize supply chains has exploded during the pandemic.

Matija Kopić, CEO of Gideon Brothers, said: “The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are ready to meet the unprecedented market demand. The best way to do it is by marrying our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers out there. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they’re seizing the incredible opportunity right now to effect robotic-powered change to some of the world’s most innovative organizations.”

He added: “Partnering with these forward-thinking industry leaders will help us expand our global footprint, but we will always stay true to our Croatian roots. That is our superpower. The Croatian start-up scene is growing exponentially and we want to unlock further opportunities for our country to become a robotics & AI powerhouse.”

Annant Patel, Director at Koch Disruptive Technologies said: “With more than 300 Koch operations and production units globally, KDT recognizes the unique capabilities of and potential for Gideon Brothers’ technology to substantially transform how businesses can approach warehouse and manufacturing processes through cutting edge AI and 3D AMR technology.”

Xavier Garijo, Member of the Board of Management for Contract Logistics, DB Schenker added: “Our partnership with Gideon Brothers secures our access to best in class robotics and intelligent material handling solutions to serve our customers in the most efficient way.”

GB’s competitors include Seegrid, Teradyne (MiR), Vecna Robotics, Fetch Robotics, AutoGuide Mobile Robots, Geek+ and Otto Motors.

#articles, #artificial-intelligence, #boston, #central-europe, #ceo, #co-founder, #croatia, #db-schenker, #director, #eastern-europe, #europe, #european-union, #fetch-robotics, #geek, #germany, #gideon-brothers, #hardware-club, #koch-disruptive-technologies, #manufacturing, #massachusetts, #munich, #otto-motors, #robot, #robotics, #science-and-technology, #software-platform, #taavet-hinrikus, #tc, #teradyne, #transferwise, #united-states, #zagreb

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Goldman Sachs leads $202M investment in project44, doubling its valuation to $1.2B in a matter of months

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted a lot in the world, and supply chains are no exception. 

A number of applications that aim to solve workflow challenges across the supply chain exist. But getting real-time access to information from transportation providers has remained somewhat elusive for shippers and logistics companies alike. 

Enter Project44. The 7-year-old Chicago-based company has built an API-based platform that it  says acts as “the connective tissue” between transportation providers, third-party logistics companies, shippers and the systems. Using predictive analytics, the platform provides crucial real-time information such as estimated time of arrivals (ETAs).

“Supply chains have undergone an incredible amount of change – there has never been a greater need for agility, resiliency, and the ability to rapidly respond to changes across the supply chain,” said Jason Duboe, the company’s Chief Growth Officer.

And now, project44 announced it has raised $202 million in a Series E funding round led by Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Emergence Capital. Girteka and Lineage Logistics also participated in the financing, which gives project44 a post-money valuation of $1.2 billion. That doubles the company’s valuation at the time of its Insight Partners-led $100 million Series D in December.

The raise is quite possibly the largest investment in the supply chain visibility space to date.

Project44 is one of those refreshingly transparent private companies that gives insight into its financials. This month, the company says it crossed $50 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), which is up 100% year over year. It has more than 600 customers including some of the world’s largest brands such as Amazon, Walmart, Nestle, Starbucks, Unilever, Lenovo and P&G. Customers hail from a variety of industries including CPG, retail, e-commerce, manufacturing, pharma, and chemical.

Over the last year, the pandemic created a number of supply chain disruptions, underscoring the importance of technologies that help provide visibility into supply chain operations. Project44 said it worked hard to help customers to mitigate “relentless volatility, bottlenecks, and logistics breakdowns,” including during the Suez Canal incident where a cargo ship got stuck for days.

Looking ahead, Project44 plans to use its new capital in part to continue its global expansion. Project44 recently announced its expansion into China and has plans to grow in the Asia-Pacific, Australia/New Zealand and Latin American markets, according to Duboe.

We are also going to continue to invest heavily in our carrier products to enable more participation and engagement from the transportation community that desires a stronger digital experience to improve efficiency and experience for their customers,” he told TechCrunch. The company also aims to expand its artificial intelligence (AI) and data science capabilities and broaden sales and marketing reach globally.

Last week, project44 announced its acquisition of ClearMetal, a San Francisco-based supply chain planning software company that focuses on international freight visibility, predictive planning and overall customer experience. WIth the buy, Duboe said  project44 will now have two contracts with Amazon: road and ocean. 

“Project44 will power what they are chasing,” he added.

And in March, the company also acquired Ocean Insights to expand its ocean offerings.

Will Chen, a managing director of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, believes that project44 is unique in its scope of network coverage across geographies and modes of transport.  

“Most competitors predominantly focus on over-the-road visibility and primarily serve one region, whereas project44 is a truly global business that provides end-to-end visibility across their customers’ entire supply chain,” he said.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management, noted project44 CEO and founder Jett McCandless, will help the company grow not only by providing capital but through its network and resources.

#amazon, #api, #articles, #artificial-intelligence, #asia-pacific, #australia, #business, #chicago, #chief, #china, #clearmetal, #companies, #e-commerce, #emergence-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #goldman-sachs, #insight-partners, #lenovo, #logistics, #manufacturing, #nestle, #new-zealand, #officer, #pg, #recent-funding, #san-francisco, #starbucks, #startup, #startups, #supply-chain, #supply-chain-management, #transportation, #unilever, #venture-capital, #walmart

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Experts from Toyota, Ford and Hyundai will discuss automotive robotics at TC Sessions: Mobility

The events of the past year have only served to accelerate interest in all things robotics and automation. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen across a broad range of categories, and automotive is certainly no different.

Of course, carmakers are no strangers to the world of robotics. Automation has long played a key role in manufacturing, and more recently, robotics have played another central role in the form of self-driving vehicles. For this panel, however, we’re going to look past those much-discussed categories. Of late, carmakers have been investing heavily to further fuel innovation in the category.

It’s a fascinating space – and one that covers a broad range of cross-sections, from TRI’s (Toyota) Woven City project to Ford’s recent creation of a research facility at U of M to Hyundai’s concept cars and acquisition of Boston Dynamics. At TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9, we will be joined by a trio of experts from those companies for what’s sure to be a lively discussion on the topic.

Max Bajracharya is Vice President of Robotics at Toyota Research Institute. Previously serving as its Director of Robotics, he leads TRI’s work in robotics. He previously served at Alphabet’s X, as part of the Google Robotics team.

Mario Santillo is a Technical Expert at Ford. Previously serving as a Research Engineer for the company, he’s charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The work includes both Ford’s own robotics work, as well as partnerships with startups like Agility.

Ernestine Fu is a director at Hyundai Motor Group. She heads development at the newly announced New Horizons Studio, a group tasked with creating Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs). She also serves as an adjunct professor at Stanford University, where she received a BS, MS, MBA and PhD.

Get ready to talk robots at TC Sessions: Mobility. Grab your passes right now for $125 and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders before our prices go up at the door.

 

#alphabet, #boston-dynamics, #companies, #director, #engines, #ernestine-fu, #google, #hyundai-motor-group, #manufacturing, #max-bajracharya, #michigan, #new-horizons, #robot, #stanford-university, #tc, #toyota, #toyota-research-institute, #university-of-michigan

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Shein overtakes Amazon as the most installed shopping app in US

Shein‘s quiet rise has reached a crescendo as the fast fashion e-commerce app takes the crown from Amazon as the most downloaded shopping app on iOS and Android in the United States, according to data from app tracking firms App Annie.

Its ascent is quiet because the startup, despite reportedly exceeding a $15 billion valuation, maintains an unusually low profile and doesn’t try to make itself known to the media. The app, dubbed the “TikTok for e-commerce” by China-focused internet analyst Matthew Brennan in this thorough piece on the startup, manufactures in China as many apparel retailers do.

The difference is Shein controls its own production chain, from design and prototype to procurement to manufacturing. Each step is highly digitized and integrated with another, which allows the company to churn out hundreds of new products tailored to different regions and user tastes at a daily rate. The strategy is not unlike TikTok matching content creators with users by using algorithms to understand their habits in real-time.

On May 11, Shein became the most installed shopping app on Android in the U.S., and six days later took the top spot on iOS as well.

The origin of Shein, which was previously named “She Inside,” is little understood. On its official website, it describes itself as an “international B2C fast fashion e-commerce platform” founded in 2008. There is no mention of its founder and CEO Chris Xu. In a 2018 corporate blog posted on WeChat, it wrote that it was headquartered in Nanjing, an eastern Chinese city home known for its historical heritages and home to Chinese appliance giant Suning. It also opened offices in other major Chinese cities as well as the U.S., Belgium and the United Arab Emirates.

Shein’s low profile is perhaps expected in times of geopolitical tensions and heightened regulatory scrutiny over China-related tech companies around the world. Shein owns its sales channel and user data, which distinguishes it from the swathe of generic consumer brands relying on Amazon for customer acquisition without meaningful access to user data.

As of May 17, Shein was the top iOS shopping app in 54 countries and ranked top in the category on Android devices across 13 countries.

Shein has not announced who its investors are, but Chinese media reports have listed Capital Nuts, JAFCO Asia, Greenwoods Asset Management, IDG Capital, Sequoia Capital China, Tiger Global, and Xiaomi founder’s Shunwei Capital among its backers.

We’ve reached out to Shein for comments on the story. Sequoia Capital China confirmed it’s an investor in Shein.

#amazon, #asia, #china, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #japan, #likee, #manufacturing, #nanjing, #sequoia-capital-china, #shein, #shunwei-capital, #tc, #tiger-global, #tiktok, #wechat, #xiaomi

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SightCall raises $42M for its AR-based visual assistance platform

Long before Covid-19 precipitated “digital transformation” across the world of work, customer services and support was built to run online and virtually. Yet it too is undergoing an evolution supercharged by technology.

Today, a startup called SightCall, which has built an augmented reality platform to help field service teams, the companies they work for, and their customers carry out technical and mechanical maintenance or repairs more effectively, is announcing $42 million in funding, money that it plans to use to invest in its tech stack with more artificial intelligence tools and expanding its client base.

The core of its service, explained CEO and co-founder Thomas Cottereau, is AR technology (which comes embedded in their apps or the service apps its customers use, with integrations into other standard software used in customer service environments including Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce and ServiceNow). The augmented reality experience overlays additional information, pointers and other tools over the video stream.

This is used by, say, field service engineers coordinating with central offices when servicing equipment; or by manufacturers to provide better assistance to customers in emergencies or situations where something is not working but might be repaired quicker by the customers themselves rather than engineers that have to be called out; or indeed by call centers, aided by AI, to diagnose whatever the problem might be. It’s a big leap ahead for scenarios that previously relied on work orders, hastily drawn diagrams, instruction manuals, and voice-based descriptions to progress the work in question.

“We like to say that we break the barriers that exist between a field service organization and its customer,” Cottereau said.

The tech, meanwhile, is unique to SightCall, built over years and designed to be used by way of a basic smartphone, and over even a basic mobile network — essential in cases where reception is bad or the locations are remote. (More on how it works below.)

Originally founded in Paris, France before relocating to San Francisco, SightCall has already built up a sizable business across a pretty wide range of verticals, including insurance, telecoms, transportation, telehealth, manufacturing, utilities, and life sciences/medical devices.

SightCall has some 200 big-name enterprise customers on its books, including the likes of Kraft-Heinz, Allianz, GE Healthcare and Lincoln Motor Company, providing services on a B2B basis as well as for teams that are out in the field working for consumer customers, too. After seeing 100% year-over-year growth in annual recurring revenue in 2019 and 2020, SightCall’s CEO says it’s looking like it will hit that rate this year as well, with a goal of $100 million in annual recurring revenue.

The funding is being led by InfraVia, a European private equity firm, with Bpifrance also participating. The valuation of this round is not being disclosed, but I should point out that an investor told me that PitchBook’s estimate of $122 million post-money is not accurate (we’re still digging on this and will update as and when we learn more).

For some further context on this investment, InfraVia invests in a number of industrial businesses, alongside investments in tech companies building services related to them such as recent investments in Jobandtalent, so this is in part a strategic investment. SightCall has raised $67 million to date.

There has been an interesting wave of startups emerging in recent years building out the tech stack used by people working in the front lines and in the field, a shift after years of knowledge workers getting most of the attention from startups building a new generation of apps.

Workiz and Jobber are building platforms for small business tradespeople to book jobs and manage them once they’re on the books; BigChange helps manage bigger fleets; and Hover has built a platform for builders to be able to assess and estimate costs for work by using AI to analyze images captured by their or their would-be customers’ smartphone cameras.

And there is Streem, which I discovered is a close enough competitor to SightCall that they’ve acquired Adwords ads based on SightCall searches in Google. Just ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic breaking wide open, General Catalyst-backed Streem was acquired by Frontdoor to help with the latter’s efforts to build out its home services business, another sign of how all of this is leaping ahead.

What’s interesting in part about SightCall and sets it apart is its technology. Co-founded in 2007 by Cottereau and Antoine Vervoort (currently SVP of product and engineering), the two are both long-time telecoms industry vets who had both worked on the technical side of building next-generation networks.

SightCall first started life as a company called Weemo that built video chat services that could run on WebRTC-based frameworks, which emerged at a time when we were seeing a wider effort to bring more rich media services into mobile web and SMS apps. For consumers and to a large extent businesses, mobile phone apps that work ‘over the top’ (distributed not by your mobile network carrier but the companies that run your phone’s operating system, and thus partly controlled by them) really took the lead and continue to dominate the market for messaging and innovations in messaging.

After a time, Weemo pivoted and renamed itself as SightCall, focusing on packaging the tech that it built into whichever app (native or mobile web) where one of its enterprise customers wanted the tech to live.

The key to how it works comes by way of how SightCall was built, Cottereau explained. The company has spent ten years building and optimizing a network across data centers close to where its customers are, which interconnects with Tier 1 telecoms carriers and has a lot of latency in the system to ensure uptime. “We work with companies where this connectivity is mission critical,” he said. “The video solution has to work.”

As he describes it, the hybrid system SightCall has built incorporates its own IP that works both with telecoms hardware and software, resulting in a video service that provides 10 different ways for streaming video and a system that automatically chooses the best in a particular environment, based on where you are, so that even if mobile data or broadband reception don’t work, video streaming will. “Telecoms and software are still very separate worlds,” Cottereau said. “They still don’t speak the same language, and so that is part of our secret sauce, a global roaming mechanism.”

The tech that the startup has built to date not only has given it a firm grounding against others who might be looking to build in this space, but has led to strong traction with customers. The next steps will be to continue building out that technology to tap deeper into the automation that is being adopted across the industries that already use SightCall’s technology.

“SightCall pioneered the market for AR-powered visual assistance, and they’re in the best position to drive the digital transformation of remote service,” said Alban Wyniecki, partner at InfraVia Capital Partners, in a statement. “As a global leader, they can now expand their capabilities, making their interactions more intelligent and also bringing more automation to help humans work at their best.”

“SightCall’s $42M Series B marks the largest funding round yet in this sector, and SightCall emerges as the undisputed leader in capital, R&D resources and partnerships with leading technology companies enabling its solutions to be embedded into complex enterprise IT,” added Antoine Izsak of Bpifrance. “Businesses are looking for solutions like SightCall to enable customer-centricity at a greater scale while augmenting technicians with knowledge and expertise that unlocks efficiencies and drives continuous performance and profit.”

Cottereau said that the company has had a number of acquisition offers over the years — not a surprise when you consider the foundational technology it has built for how to architect video networks across different carriers and data centers that work even in the most unreliable of network environments.

“We want to stay independent, though,” he said. “I see a huge market here, and I want us to continue the story and lead it. Plus, I can see a way where we can stay independent and continue to work with everyone.”

#ai, #ar, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #customer-service, #enterprise, #europe, #field-service, #funding, #industrial, #manufacturing, #service-engineers, #sightcall, #tc, #weemo

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Tesla supplier Delta Electronics invests $7M in AI chip startup Kneron

Despite a persistent semiconductor shortage that is disrupting the global automotive industry, investors remain bullish on the chips used to power next-generation vehicles.

Kneron, a startup that develops semiconductors to give devices artificial intelligence capabilities by using edge computing, just got funded by Delta Electronics, a Taiwanese supplier of power components for Apple and Tesla. The $7 million investment boosts the startup’s total financing to over $100 million to date.

As part of the deal, Kneron also agreed to buy Vatics, a part of Delta Electronics’ subsidiary Vivotek, for $10 million in cash. The new assets nicely complement Kneron’s business as the startup extends its footprint to the booming smart car industry.

Vatics, an image signal processing provider, has been selling system-on-a-chip (SoC) and intellectual property to manufacturers of surveillance, consumer, and automotive products for many years across the United States and China.

Headquartered in San Diego with a development force in Taipei, Kneron has emerged in recent years as a challenge to AI chip incumbents like Intel and Google. Its chips boast of low-power consumption and enable data processing directly on the chips using the startup’s proprietary software, a departure from solutions that require data to be computed through powerful cloud centers and sent back to devices.

The approach has won Kneron a list of heavyweight backers, including strategic investor Foxconn, Qualcomm, Sequoia Capital, Alibaba, and Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures.

Kneron has designed chips for scenarios ranging from manufacturing, smart homes, smartphones, robotics, surveillance and payments to autonomous driving. In the automotive field, it has struck partnerships with Foxconn and Otus, a supplier for Honda and Toyota.

Following the acquisition, Vatics executives will join Kneron to lead its surveillance and security camera division. The merged teams will jointly develop surveillance and automotive products for Kneron going forward. Image signal processors, coupled with neural processing units, are helpful in detecting objects and ensuring the safety of automated cars.

“This acquisition will allow us to offer full-stack AI solutions, along with our current class-leading NPUs [neural processing units], and will significantly speed up our go-to-market strategy,” said Kneron’s founder and CEO, Albert Liu.

#albert-liu, #alibaba, #apple, #apple-inc, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #automotive, #china, #computing, #foxconn, #honda, #horizons-ventures, #intel, #kneron, #li-ka-shing, #manufacturing, #qualcomm, #san-diego, #semiconductor, #sequoia-capital, #system-on-a-chip, #taipei, #tesla, #toyota

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Investment in construction automation is essential to rebuilding US infrastructure

With the United States moving all-in on massive infrastructure investment, much of the discussion has focused on jobs and building new green industries for the 21st century. While the Biden administration’s plan will certainly expand the workforce, it also provides a massive opportunity for the adoption of automation technologies within the construction industry.

Despite the common narrative of automating away human jobs, the two are not nearly as much in conflict, especially with new investments creating space for new roles and work. In fact, one of the greatest problems facing the construction industry remains a lack of labor, making automation a necessity for moving forward with these ambitious projects.

In fact, one of the greatest problems facing the construction industry remains a lack of labor, making automation a necessity for moving forward with these ambitious projects.

The residential construction industry alone had some 223,000 and 332,000 unfilled construction job vacancies at the peak unemployment rate of 15% in 2020, but that’s actually about the same when unemployment was only at 4.1%. Between 1985 and 2015, the average age of construction workers increased from 36 to 42.5, while those aged 55 and older increased from 12% to over 20%. The 2018 Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau found that workers under 25 comprised just 9% of the construction industry, compared to 12.3% of the overall U.S. labor force.

Productivity in the construction industry has likewise remained static since 1995, primarily driven by the aging demographic of the existing labor force, the apprenticeship nature of the job, and difficulty in attracting and retaining new workers. In short, there is insufficient labor to do the job, while existing staff are becoming increasingly less productive as skilled workers that have accumulated decades of experience in their crafts are lost due to retirement.

Automation will need to be a key element of any major infrastructure push, especially if we hope to meet the ambitious goals of current proposals. That being said, not all areas of the construction industry are primed, or even viable, for this shift to automation.

The challenges of construction automation

Construction is one of the world’s largest industries but has two major challenges: market fragmentation and complex stakeholders.

The construction industry as a whole is nationally fragmented but occasionally locally concentrated. This differs depending on the segment and type of construction company, with each generally comprising less than 10 workers. The top 100 general contractors account for less than 20% of the total construction market. Subcontractors are even more fragmented, with top players accounting for less than 1% of the total market share. This makes sales processes and scaling very slow and highly inefficient.

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #business-process-management, #column, #construction, #ec-column, #ec-real-estate-and-proptech, #hardware, #manufacturing, #real-estate, #startups, #united-states

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Vista Equity takes minority stake in Canada’s Vena with $242M investment

Vena, a Canadian company focused on the Corporate Performance Management (CPM) software space, has raised $242 million in Series C funding from Vista Equity Partners.

As part of the financing, Vista Equity is taking a minority stake in the company. The round follows $25 million in financing from CIBC Innovation Banking last September, and brings Vena’s total raised since its 2011 inception to over $363 million.

Vena declined to provide any financial metrics or the valuation at which the new capital was raised, saying only that its “consistent growth and…strong customer retention and satisfaction metrics created real demand” as it considered raising its C round.

The company was originally founded as a B2B provider of planning, budgeting and forecasting software. Over time, it’s evolved into what it describes as a “fully cloud-native, corporate performance management platform” that aims to empower finance, operations and business leaders to “Plan to Growtheir businesses. Its customers hail from a variety of industries, including banking, SaaS, manufacturing, healthcare, insurance and higher education. Among its over 900 customers are the Kansas City Chiefs, Coca-Cola Consolidated, World Vision International and ELF Cosmetics.

Vena CEO Hunter Madeley told TechCrunch the latest raise is “mostly an acceleration story for Vena, rather than charting new paths.”

The company plans to use its new funds to build out and enable its go-to-market efforts as well as invest in its product development roadmap. It’s not really looking to enter new markets, considering it’s seeing what it describes as “tremendous demand” in the markets it currently serves directly and through its partner network.

“While we support customers across the globe, we’ll stay focused on growing our North American, U.K. and European business in the near term,” Madeley said.

Vena says it leverages the “flexibility and familiarity” of an Excel interface within its “secure” Complete Planning platform. That platform, it adds, brings people, processes and systems into a single source solution to help organizations automate and streamline finance-led processes, accelerate complex business processes and “connect the dots between departments and plan with the power of unified data.”            

Early backers JMI Equity and Centana Growth Partners will remain active, partnering with Vista “to help support Vena’s continued momentum,” the company said. As part of the raise, Vista Equity Managing Director Kim Eaton and Marc Teillon, senior managing director and co-head of Vista’s Foundation Fund, will join the company’s board.

“The pandemic has emphasized the need for agile financial planning processes as companies respond to quickly-changing market conditions, and Vena is uniquely positioned to help businesses address the challenges required to scale their processes through this pandemic and beyond,” said Eaton in a written statement. 

Vena currently has more than 450 employees across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., up from 393 last year at this time.

#banking, #business-process-management, #canada, #coca-cola, #enterprise, #exit, #finance, #funding, #fundings-exits, #healthcare, #information-technology, #ma, #manufacturing, #private-equity, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #united-kingdom, #vista-equity-partners

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Apple commits to 20,000 US jobs, new North Carolina campus

Apple this morning announced a sweeping plan to invest north of $430 billion over the next five years. The company says the deal involves “economic benefits” in all 50 states and would create, all told, 20,000 additional jobs in the United States over that time period.

The plan is an extension of one it announced in 2018, raising the original $350 billion goal by 20%. At the center of the announcement is the long anticipated creation of an additional campus in North Carolina. That involves a $1 billion investment in the Research Triangle, including 3,000 jobs that will focus on emerging fields like machine learning and AI.

“Innovation has long been North Carolina’s calling card and Apple’s decision to build this new campus in the Research Triangle showcases the importance of our state’s favorable business climate, world-class universities, our tech-ready workforce, and the welcoming and diverse communities that make so many people want to call North Carolina home,” state leaders said in a joint statement. “This announcement will benefit communities across our state and we are proud to work together to continue to grow our economy and bring transformational industries and good paying jobs to North Carolina.”

The company has also outlined a $100 million fund for community and schools in the surrounding Raleigh-Durham area, as well as a $110 million spend on infrastructure.

“At this moment of recovery and rebuilding, Apple is doubling down on our commitment to US innovation and manufacturing with a generational investment reaching communities across all 50 states,” Tim Cook said in a release tied to the news. “We’re creating jobs in cutting-edge fields — from 5G to silicon engineering to artificial intelligence — investing in the next generation of innovative new businesses, and in all our work, building toward a greener and more equitable future.”

Other US operation initiatives have been outlined for the company’s native California, as well as Colorado, Texas, Washington and Iowa. California gets the biggest initial boost here, with 5,000 more employees being added to its San Diego office and 3,000 more for Culver City. Indiana, Kentucky and Texas has already begun adding positions as part of the $5 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund the company launched in 2017.

The news comes a week after Wisconsin announced plans to dramatically scale back the creation of a Foxconn plant set to manufacture flatscreen TVs. During his presidency, Donald Trump had called the planned factory, “the eighth wonder of the world,” and central to his plans to return manufacturing to the U.S. while courting various high profile tech executives, including Cook.

#apple, #labor, #manufacturing, #north-carolina

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SOSV’s burgeoning climate portfolio is worth nearly $6 billion as planetary health bets pay off

The burgeoning climate focused portfolio from early stage investor SOSV Investments has managed to raise nearly $2 billion in follow on financing since the startup companies graduated from the investment firm’s various accelerator programs. Taken together those companies have a collective market capitalization of nearly $6 billion.

Ahead of Earth Day this year, the early stage investor responsible for a series of accelerators including HAX, IndieBio, Chinaccelerator, and Food Labs, tallied up the results of the $89 million the firm has committed to these companies and the results, were impressive — especially considering the average age fo a company in the portfolio is only four years old.

SOSV tallied the companies into the Climate Tech 100 and divided them into categories that included startups developing technologies and services that have a direct impact on the planet and those that are adjacent to carbon removal — a further bucket was a group of startups that developed marketplaces for low carbon goods and services.

This all starts from trying to do meaningful things and purposeful things. We are trying to invest in these unstoppable forces and unstoppable trends and there has never been a more unstoppable force than climate change,” said SOSV Investments founder Sean O’Sullivan. “What we discovered we were in the right place at the right time in the climate.”

In the six years since the firm launched IndieBio with Arvind Gupta (now at the Mayfield Fund), SOSV’s life sciences accelerator had a dual focus on human and planetary health. By pursuing both areas, the firm was able to see the wave of climate tech applications in life sciences begin to rise and crest — and that’s led to early investments in companies like Perfect Day, Memphis Meats, Geltor, and MycoWorks, which are all companies using biological materials to replace traditional animal products.

Planetary health is very much our thesis here. Arvind didn’t have to talk Sean into putting $100 million at the time,” said IndieBio’s new head Po Bronson (a longtime business writer who co-authored “Decoding the World” with Gupta and partnered with him at IndieBio).

SOSV Investments founder Sean O’Sullivan

The emphasis on food, Bronson said, was because it was an area where consumers were putting pressure on companies by changing their own habits and looking for alternatives. The decision to move to plant based products is one consumer choice that can make a significant difference in planetary health — as well as their own individual health. Other systems are much harder to change without legislation or industrial support, said Bronson.

Meanwhile, the hardware group in HAX Shenzhen run by Duncan Turner is beginning to see industrial companies embrace the demands for more sustainable manufacturing practices. Indeed, the 3D printing company Formlabs is another startup that’s brought in big dollars with a process that directly impacts the carbon footprint of manufacturing.

“How we make things used to be invisible before. Every publicly traded company has to do some sort of accounting in this space,” said Bronson. “The entire manufacturing sector is being interrogated on ths front. It’s coming through and it’s driving adoption.”

Looking ahead, Bronson sees opportunities in green chemistry to move the needle beyond life sciences applications in the food space. Those new technologies include services on offer from startups like Zymochem which is making a biorecyclable material for diapers that’s better for the planet, or Pili, which is making biologically based dyes and pigments. Bronson is also looking for biological solutions that can create massive, passive systems to sequester greenhouse gases in oceans or in soil.

Meanwhile, Turner is hoping to find companies like Socure, which removes the need for a chemical separation agent for oil separation; or DivyGas, which has a method for manufacturing green hydrogen.

“Not only are the opportunities available, but this is a way people can make money,” said O’Sullivan. “Our net IRR is in the 30% plus range. You can make money in climate tech. So don’t be afraid to invest in these companies.” 

#3d-printing, #arvind-gupta, #duncan-turner, #earth-day, #entrepreneurship, #food, #formlabs, #geltor, #hardware, #head, #indiebio, #manufacturing, #mayfield-fund, #memphis-meats, #mycoworks, #perfect-day, #po-bronson, #private-equity, #sean-osullivan, #sosv, #startup-company, #tc

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As capital pours in to climate investments, Congruent Ventures closes on $175 million for early stage bets

Congruent Ventures, the early stage investment firm focused on technologies and services designed to avert the current climate emergency, has raised $175 million in financing for its latest fund.

The firm, which now has $300 million in assets under management, is focused on investing in pre-seed, seed and Series A rounds and was founded by Abe Yokell and Joshua Posamentier, two longtime investors in the climate space with over twenty years of experience investing in the sector.

“With the dawn of a new administration dedicated to infrastructure [and] climate and a long-overdue influx of capital towards pressing global issues surrounding climate change, we cover the gamut with a portfolio of over three dozen companies working in transportation, energy transition, food and agriculture to sustainable production and consumption,” Yokell wrote in an email.

Companies in the portfolio include the mycelium meat producer Meati; Milk Run, a farm to table food marketplace; PicoMES, which develops software for efficient manufacturing; Parallel Systems, a developer of electrified, autonomous rail cars; Alloy Enterprises, which is an additive manufacturer for aluminum; Hippo Harvest, which provides autonomous greenhouse growing systems; and Amp Robotics, a provider of recycling robots to improve efficiencies among hard-pressed waste recycling organizations.

The firm counts some high profile limited partners like Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, affiliates of Prelude Ventures; the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Turst and Surdna Foundation, along with UC Investments.

“Until very recently, there was a total dearth of early-stage capital focused on climate and sustainability,” said Joshua Posamentier, managing partner and co-founder, Congruent Ventures. “We invest at the earliest stages where we can help entrepreneurs avoid a myriad of pitfalls, help them build strong companies, raise additional capital, and as a result, tackle the world’s most pressing environmental problems in some of the world’s largest sectors.”

One third of Congruent’s companies are working directly with energy or civil infrastructure and could stand to gain tremendously from any infrastructure spending bill that could come from Washington. Beyond that, the firm’s limited partners include infrastructure investors with over $700 billion of assets under management that are all potential customers for the technologies developed by the firm’s portfolio companies, the firm said in a statement.

#additive-manufacturing, #biden-administration, #cambridge-associates, #congruent-ventures, #consumer-products, #energy, #food, #manufacturing, #prelude-ventures, #tc, #venture-capital

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Foxconn’s Wisconsin factory plans scaled back dramatically

It was “the eighth wonder of the world,” Donald Trump said, driving a golden shovel into the ground. The then-president touted Foxconn’s planned Wisconsin factory as a major win for his economic goals.

A year and a half later, the future of the manufacturing deal is far less certain. Earlier this week, the state announced a dramatic scaling back of a plan it had hoped would return blue-collar jobs back to the hard hit state. The Taiwanese manufacturing giant is scaling back its investment from $10 billion to $672 million.

The new plans also call for a massive cut to potential headcount — to 1,454, down from 13,000. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers framed the reduction as a tax-saving deal in a press release issued this week.

“When I ran to be governor, I made a promise to work with Foxconn to cut a better deal for our state—the last deal didn’t work for Wisconsin, and that doesn’t work for me,” Evers said. “Today I’m delivering on that promise with an agreement that treats Foxconn like any other business and will save taxpayers $2.77 billion, protect the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments the state and local communities have already made, and ensure there’s accountability for creating the jobs promised.”

Evers stepped into the role of Governor in 2019, following Scott Walker, who played a key role in negotiating the deal under Trump. The package included in the neighborhood of $4 billion in incentives for Foxconn, a record-breaking deal for the firm.

Plans for the TV factory shifted considerably since it was announced nearly four years ago, and in early 2019, it appeared that Foxconn had abandoned it altogether, before a phone call from Trump apparently put plans back on track.

As Reuters notes, the state has already spent in excess of $200 million on infrastructure, training and other aspects ahead of the planned factory opening.

 

#foxconn, #labor, #manufacturing, #policy, #trump, #wisconsin

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Hadrian is building the factories of the future for rocket ships and advanced manufacturing

If the eight person team behind the new startup Hadrian has their way, they’ll have transformed the manufacturing industry within the next decade.

At least, that’s the goal for the new San Francisco-based startup, founded only last year, which has set its sights on building out a new model for advanced manufacturing to enable the satellite, space ship, and advanced energy technology companies to build the future they envision better and faster.

We view our job as to provide the world’s most efficient space and defense component factory,” said Hadrian founder, Chris Power.

Initially, the company is building factories to make the parts that go on rocket ships, according to Power, but the business has implications for any company that needs bespoke components to make their equipment.

“Let me tell you how bad it is at the moment and what’s going to happen over the next 20 years. Right now everyone in space and defense, [including] SpaceX and Lockheed Martin, outsources their parts and manufacturing to small factories across the country. They’re super expensive, they’re unreliable and they’re completely invisible to the customers,” said Power. “This causes big problems with space and defense manufacturers in the design phase, because the lead time is so long and the iteration time is super long. Imagine running software and being able to iterate on your product once every 20 days? If you can imagine a Gantt chart of how to build a rocket, about 60% of that is buffer time… A lot of the delays in launches and stuff like that happen because parts got delivered three months ago. It’d be like running a McDonalds and realizing that your fries and burger providers could not tell you when the food would arrive.”

It’s hard to overstate the strategic importance of the parts suppliers to the operations of aerospace, defense, and advanced machining companies. As no less an authority on manufacturing than Elon Musk noted in a tweet, “The factory is the product.” It’s also hard to overstate the geopolitical importance of re-establishing the U.S. as a center of manufacturing excellence, according to Hadrian’s investors Lux Capital, Founders Fund, and Construct Capital. Which is one reason why they’re investing $9.5 million into the very early stage business.

“America made massive strategic mistakes in the early 90s which have left our national manufacturing ecosystem completely dilapidated,” said Founders Fund principal Delian Asparouhov. “The only way to get out of this disaster is to re-invent the most basic input into our aerospace and defense supply chains, machining metal parts quickly and with high tolerance. Right now, America’s most innovative company, SpaceX, relies on a network of near-retired machinists to produce space-worthy metal parts, and no one in technology is. focused on solving this.”

 

Power got to understand the problem at his previous company, Ento, which sold workforce management software to blue collar customers. It was there he realized the issue of. the aging workforce and the need for manufacturers to upgrade almost every aspect of their own technology stack. “I realized that the right way to bring technology to the industrial space is not to sell software to these companies, it’s to build an industrial business from scratch with software.”

Initially, Hadrian is focusing all of its efforts on the space industry, where the component manufacturing problem is especially acute, but the manufacturing capabilities the company is building out have broad relevance across any industry that requires highly engineered components.

“The demand for manufacturing from both the large SpaceX and Blue Origin all the way to this growing long tail of companies from Anduril to Relativity to Varda,” said Lux Capital co-founder Josh Wolfe. “Most of these guys are using mom and pop machine shops… [and] those shops are horribly inefficient. They’re not consistent, and they’re not reliable. Between the software automation, the hardware, you can cut down on inefficiency every step of the process… I like to think of value creation as waste reduction… so mundane things like quoting, scheduling, bidding, and planning all the way to the programming of the manufacturing… every one of those things takes hours to tens of hours to days and weeks, so if you can do that in minutes, it’s just a no-brainer. [Hadrian] will be the cutting edge choice for all of the new and explicitly dedicated and focused aerospace and defense companies.”

Power envisions a network of manufacturing facilities that can initially cover roughly 65% of all space and defense components, and will eventually take that number up to 95% of components. Already several of the biggest launch vehicle and satellite manufacturers are in talks with the company to produce hundreds of units for them, Power said. Some of those companies just happen to be in the Construct, Lux, and Founders Fund portfolio.

And the company’s founder sees this as a new way to revitalize American manufacturing jobs as well. “Manufacturing jobs in space and defense can easily be as high paying as a software engineering job at Google,” he said. In an ideal world, Hadrian would like to offer an onramp to high paying manufacturing careers in the 21st century in the same way that automakers provided good union jobs in the twentieth.

“We haven’t built any of this. If you look at the sheer number of people that we need to train and hire on our new technology and new systems, that people problem and that training problem is part of growing our business.”

A render of Axiom’s future commercial space station design.

#aerospace, #america, #blue-origin, #co-founder, #construct-capital, #elon-musk, #entrepreneurship, #factory, #food, #founders-fund, #google, #josh-wolfe, #lockheed-martin, #lux-capital, #manufacturing, #mcdonalds, #san-francisco, #software-automation, #spacex, #startup-company, #tc, #united-states

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Rapid raises $12M for its manufacturing robotics

Bay Area-based Rapid Robotics today announced a $12 million Series A. The new round, led by NEA, brings the company’s total funding up to $17.5 million. It joins a recently closed seed round, announced way back in November of last year. Existing investors Greycroft, Bee Partners and 468 Capital also took part in the round.

We noted at that stage that COVID-19 had a sizable impact on robotics investment. At the very least, the pandemic has served to accelerate interest in automation, as many “non-essential” workers have been unable to travel to their jobs. At present, manufacturing jobs often lack the ability to perform remotely.

Rapid notes that the company’s tech has been involved with the production of some 50 million parts over the past year, over a wide variety of different manufacturing verticals. And, like his predecessor, President Biden has already begun talking up strategies to return manufacturing jobs to the U.S. Of course, ambitious as it might be, any plan is going to have to be a balancing act between human jobs and automation.

The company notes the longstanding issue with human operators in these roles. “If we don’t solve this problem, U.S. manufacturers will never be able to compete in a global market,” CEO Jordan Kretchmer said in a release. “It’s really that simple.”

Rapid’s main value add here is ease of use. The company creates systems designed to get up and running quickly.

#funding, #manufacturing, #nea, #rapid-robotics, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups

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Startups have about $1 trillion worth of reasons to love the Biden infrastructure plan

The sweeping infrastructure package put forward today by President Joe Biden comes with a price tag of roughly $2 trillion (and hefty tax hikes) but gives startups and the broader tech industry about $1 trillion worth of reasons to support it.

Tech companies have spent the past decade or more developing innovations that can be applied to old-world industries like agriculture, construction, energy, education, manufacturing and transportation and logistics. These are industries where structural impediments to technology adoption have only recently been broken down by the advent of incredibly powerful mobile devices.

Now, these industries are at the heart of the President’s plan to build back better, and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are earmarked to make America great again will, either directly or indirectly, be a huge boost to a number of startups and large tech companies whose hardware and software services will enable much of the work the Biden administration wants done.

“The climate-oriented investment in Biden’s new plan would be roughly ten times what came through ARRA,” wrote Shayle Kann, a partner with the investment firm, Energy Impact Partners. “It would present a huge opportunity for a variety of climate tech sectors, ranging from clean electricity to carbon management to vehicle electrification.”

Much of this will look and feel like a Green New Deal, but sold under a package of infrastructure modernization and service upgrades that the country desperately needs.  Indeed, it’s hard to invest in infrastructure without supporting the kind of energy efficiency and renewable development plans that are at the core of the Green New Deal, since efficiency upgrades are just a part of the new way of building and making things.

Over $700 billion of the proposed budget will go to improving resiliency against natural disasters; upgrading critical water, power, and internet infrastructure; and rehabilitating and improving public housing, federal buildings, and aging commercial and residential real estate.

Additionally there’s another roughly $400 billion in spending earmarked for boosting domestic manufacturing of critical components like semiconductors; protecting against future pandemics; and creating regional innovation hubs to promote venture capital investment and startup development intended to “support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.”

Climate resiliency 

Given the steady drumbeat of climate disasters that hit the U.S. over the course of 2020 (and their combined estimated price tag of nearly $100 billion), it’s not surprising that the Biden plan begins with a focus on resiliency.

The first big outlay of cash outlined in the Biden plan would call for $50 billion in financing to improve, protect and invest in underserved communities most at risk from climate disasters through programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and new initiatives from the Department of Transportation. Most relevant to startups is the push to fund initiatives and technologies that can help prevent or protect against extreme wildfires; rising sea levels and hurricanes; new agriculture resource management; and “climate-smart” technologies.

As with most of Biden’s big infrastructure initiatives, there are startups tackling these issues. Companies like Cornea, Emergency Reporting, Zonehaven are trying to solve different facets of the fire problem; while flood prediction and weather monitoring startups are floating up their services too. Big data analytics, monitoring and sensing tools, and robotics are also becoming fixtures on the farm. For the President’s water efficiency and recycling programs, companies like Epic CleanTec, which has developed wastewater recycling technologies for residential and commercial buildings.

Fables of the reconstruction

Energy efficiency and building upgrades represent by far the biggest chunk of the Biden infrastructure package — totaling a whopping $400 billion of the spending package and all devoted to upgrading homes, offices, schools, veteran’s hospitals and federal buildings.

It gives extra credence to the thesis behind new climate-focused funds from Greensoil Proptech Ventures and Fifth Wall Ventures, which is raising a $200 million investment vehicle to focus on energy efficiency and climate tech solutions.

As Fifth Wall’s newest partner Greg Smithies noted last year, there’s a massive opportunity in building retrofits and startup technologies to improve efficiency.

“What excites me about this space is that there’s so much low-hanging fruit. And there’s $260 trillion worth of buildings,” Smithies said last year. “The vast majority of those are nowhere up to modern codes. We’re going to have a much bigger opportunity by focusing on some not-so-sexy stuff.”

Decarbonizing real estate can also make a huge difference in the fight against global climate change in addition to the its ability to improve quality of life and happiness for residents. “Real estate consumes 40% of all energy. The global economy happens indoors,” said Fifth Wall co-founder Brendan Wallace, in a statement. “Real estate will be the biggest spender on climate tech for no other reason than its contribution to the carbon problem.”

The Biden plan calls on Congress to enact new grant programs that award flexible funding to jurisdictions that take concrete steps to eliminate barriers to produce affordable housing. Part of that will include $40 billion to improve the infrastructure of the public housing in America.

It’s a project that startups like BlocPower are already deeply involved in supporting.

“Get the superhero masks and capes out. The Biden Harris Climate announcement is literally a plan to save the American economy and save the planet. This is Avengers Endgame in real life. We can’t undo the last five years… but we can make smart, massive investments in the climate infrastructure of the future,” wrote Donnel Baird, the chief executive and founder of BlocPower. “Committing to electrify 2 million American buildings, moving them entirely off of fossil fuels is exactly that — an investment in America leading theway towards creating a new industry creating American jobs that cannot be outsourced, and beginning to reduce the 30% of greenhouse gas emissiosn that come from buildings.”

As part of the package that directly impacts startups, there’s a proposal for a $27 billion Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to mobilize private investment, according to the White House. The focus will be on distributed energy resources, retrofits of residential, commercial and municipal buildings; and clean transportation. A focus there will be on disadvantaged communities that haven’t had access to clean energy investments.

Financing the future startup nation

“From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains,” the White House wrote. “President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.”

To enable that, Biden is proposing another $480 billion in spending to boost research and development — including $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to focus on semiconductors and advanced communications technologies, energ technologies and biotechnology. Another $30 billion is designed to be targeted toward rural development; and finally the $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure.

There’s also an initiative to create ARPA-C, a climate focused Advanced Research Projects Agency modeled on the DARPA program that gave birth to the Internet. There’s $20 billion heading toward funding climate-focused research and demonstration projects for energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear and rare earth  element separations, floating off shore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing and electric vehicles.

The bulk of Biden’s efforts to pour money into manufacturing represents another $300 billion in potential government funding. That’s $30 billion tickets for biopreparedness and pandemic preparedness; another $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research; $46 billion for federal buying power for new advanced nuclear reactors and fuel, cars, ports, pumps and clean materials.

Included in all of this is an emphasis on developing economies fairly and equally across the country — that means $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund, which is designed to support innovative, community-led redevelopment efforts and $52 billion in investing in domestic manufacturers — promoting rural manufacturing and clean energy.

Finally for startups there’s a $31 billion available for programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. Specifically, the proposal calls for funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support growth in communities of color and underserved communites.

Water and power infrastructure 

America’s C- grade infrastructure has problems extending across the length and breadth of the country. It encompasses everything from crumbling roads and bridges to a lack of clean drinking water, failing sewage systems, inadequate recycling facilities, and increasing demands on power generation, transmission and distribution assets that the nation’s electricity grid is unable to meet.

“Across the country, pipes and treatment plants are aging and polluted drinking water is endangering public health. An estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines,” the White House wrote in a statement.

To address this issue, Biden’s calling for an infusion of $45 billion into the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act grants. While that kind of rip and replace project may not directly impact startups, another $66 billion earmarked for upgrades to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and monitoring and managing the presence of contaminants in water will be a huge boon for the vast array of water sensing and filtration startups that have flooded the market in the past decade or more (there’s even an entire incubator dedicated to just water technologies).

The sad fact is that water infrastructure in America has largely failed to keep up in large swaths of the country, necessitating this kind of massive capital infusion.

And what’s true for water is also true increasingly true for power. Outages cost the U.S. economy upwards of $70 billion per year, according to the White House. So when analysts compare those economic losses to a potential $100 billion outlay, the math should be clear. For startups that math equals dollar signs.

Calls to build a more resilient transmission system should be music to the ears of companies like Veir, which is developing a novel technology for improving capacity on transmission lines (a project that the Biden administration explicitly calls out in its plan).

The Biden plan also includes more than money, calling for the creation of a new Grid Deployment Authority within the Department of Energy to better leverage rights-of-way along roads and railways and will support financing tools to develop new high-voltage transmission lines, the White House said.

The administration doesn’t stop there. Energy storage and renewable technologies are going to get a boost through a clutch of tax credits designed to accelerate their deployment. That includes a ten-year extension and phase down of direct-pay investment tax credits and production tax credits. The plan aslo calls for clean energy block grants and calls for the government to purchase nothing but renewable energy all day for federal buildings.

Complimenting this push for clean power and storage will be a surge in funding for waste remediation and cleanup, which is getting a $21 billion boost under Biden.

Companies like Renewell Energy, or various non-profits that are trying to plug abandoned oil wells, can play a role here. There’s also the potential to recover other mineral deposits or reuse the wastewater that comes from these wells. And here, too, investors can find early stage businesses looking for an angle. Part of the money frm the Biden plan will aim to redevelop brownfields and turn them into more sustainable businesses.

That’s where some of the indoor agriculture companies, like Plenty, Bowery Farms, AppHarvest could find additional pots of money to turn unused factory and warehouse space into working farms. Idled factories could also be transformed into hubs for energy storage and community based power generation and distribution facilities, given their position on the grid.

“President Biden’s plan also will spur targeted sustainable, economic development efforts through the Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER grant program, Department of Energy retooling grants for idled factories (through the Section 132 program), and dedicated funding to support community-driven environmental justice efforts – such as capacity and project grants to address legacy pollution and the cumulative impacts experienced by frontline and fenceline communities,” the White House wrote.

Key to these redevelopment efforts will be the establishment of pioneer facilities that demonstrate carbon capture retrofits for large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities. But if the Biden Administration wanted to, its departments could go a step further to support lower emission manufacturing technologies like the kind companies including Heliogen, which is using solar power to generate energy for a massive mining operation, or Boston Metal, which is partnering with BMW on developing a lower emission manufacturing process for steel production.

Critical to ensuring that this money gets spent is a $25 billion commitment to finance pre-development activities, that could help smaller project developers, as Rob Day writes in Forbes.

“As I’ve written about elsewhere, local project developers are key to getting sustainability projects built where they will actually do the most good — in the communities hit hardest by both local pollution and climate change impacts. These smaller project developers have lots of expenses they must pay just to get to the point where private-sector infrastructure construction investments can come in,” Day wrote. “Everyone in sustainability policy talks about supporting entrepreneurs, but in reality much of the support is aimed at technology innovators and not these smaller project developers who would be the ones to actually roll out those technology innovations. Infrastructure investors are typically much more reticent to provide capital before projects are construction-ready.”

Building a better Internet

“Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected,” the White House wrote. “Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live.”

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration is earmarking for broadband infrastructure includes goals to meet 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage and prioritizes support for networks owned, operated, or faffiliated with local governments, non-profits and cooperatives.

Attendant with the new cash is a shift in regulatory policy that would open up opportunities for municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing with prive providers and requiring internet providers to be more transparent about their pricing. This increased competition is good for hardware vendors and ultimately could create new businesses for entrepreneurs who want to become ISPs of their own.

Wander is one-such service providing high speed wireless internet in Los Angeles.

“Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money,” the White House wrote.

 

#agriculture, #america, #articles, #biden-administration, #biotechnology, #blocpower, #brendan-wallace, #broadband, #co-founder, #congress, #construction, #cornea, #department-of-transportation, #education, #electricity, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #fifth-wall-ventures, #forbes, #greg-smithies, #infrastructure, #joe-biden, #kamala-harris, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #mobile-devices, #national-science-foundation, #oecd, #plenty, #president, #quantum-computing, #real-estate, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #steel, #supply-chains, #tc, #united-states, #venture-capital, #venture-capital-investment, #white-house

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Apple invests $50M into music distributor UnitedMasters alongside A16z and Alphabet

Independent music distribution platform and tool factory UnitedMasters has raised a $50M series B round led by Apple. A16z and Alphabet are participating again in this raise. United Masters is also entering a strategic partnership with Apple alongside this investment. 

If you’re unfamiliar with UnitedMasters, it’s a distribution company launched in 2017 by Steve Stoute, a former Interscope and Sony Music executive. The focus of UnitedMasters is to provide artists with a direct pipeline to data around the way that fans are interacting with their content and community, allowing them to connect more directly to offer tickets, merchandise and other commercial efforts. UnitedMasters also generally allows artists to retain control of their own masters.

Neither of these conditions are at all typical in the music industry. In a typical artist deal, recording companies retain all audience and targeting data as well as masters. This limits an artist’s ability to be agile, taking advantage of new technologies to foster a community. 

While Apple does invest in various companies, it typically does so out of its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to promote US manufacturing or strategically in partners that make critical components of its hardware like silicon foundries or glass manufacturing. Apple does a lot more purchasing than investing, typically, buying a company every few weeks or so to supplement one product effort or another. UnitedMasters, then, would be a relatively unique partnership, especially in the music space. 

I spoke to UnitedMasters CEO Steve Stoute about the deal and what it means for the businesses 1M current artists and new ones. Stoute credits Apple executive Eddy Cue having a philosophy aligned with the UnitedMasters vision with getting this deal done. 

“We want all artists to have the same opportunity,” says Stoute. “Currently, independent artists have less opportunity for success and we’re trying to remove that stigma.”

This infusion, Stoute says, will be used to hire talent that are mission oriented to take UnitedMasters global. They’re seeking local technical talent and artists talent to build out the platform worldwide. 

“Every artist needs access to a CTO,” Stoute says. “Some of the value of what a manager is today for an artist needs to be transferred to that role.”

UnitedMasters wants to provide that technical edge at scale, allowing artists to build out their fanbase at a community level.

Currently, UnitedMasters has deals with the NBA, ESPN, TikTok, Twitch and others that allow artists to tap big brand deals that would normally be brokered by a label and manager. It also has a direct distribution app that allows publishing to all of the major streaming services. Most importantly, they can check stream, fan and earnings data at a glance. 

“Steve Stoute and UnitedMasters provide creators with more opportunities to advance their careers and bring their music to the world,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue in a release statement. “The contributions of independent artists play a significant role in driving the continued growth and success of the music industry, and UnitedMasters, like Apple, is committed to empowering creators.”

“UnitedMasters has completely transformed the way artists create, retain ownership in their work, and connect with their fans,” said Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz in a release. “We are excited to work with Steve and team to build a better, bigger, and far more profitable world for musical artists.” 

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry. Recent developments like NFTs, DAOs and social tokens, as well as an explosion of DTC frameworks have begun to re-write that deal. But the major players have yet to make the truly aggressive strides they need to in order to embrace this ‘artist centric’ new world. 

The mechanics of distribution have been based on a framework defined by DRM and the DMCA for decades. This framework was always marketed as a way to protect value for the artist but was in fact architected to protect value for the distributor. We need a rethinking of the entire distribution layer.

As I mentioned when reporting the UnitedMasters + TikTok deal, it’s going to be instrumental in a more equitable future for artists:

It’s beyond time for the creators of The Culture to benefit from that culture. That’s why I find this UnitedMasters deal so interesting. Offering a direct pipeline to audiences without the attendant vulture-ism of the recording industry apparatus is really well-aligned with a platform like TikTok, which encourages and enables “viral sounds” with collaborative performances. Traditional deal structures are not well-suited to capturing viral hype, which can rise and fall within weeks without additional fuel.

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community. 

A UnitedMasters tie up isn’t a straight line to that goal, but it’s definitely got the ingredients. I’m looking forward to seeing what this produces. 

Image Credits: Steve Stoute

#advanced-manufacturing-fund, #alphabet, #andreessen-horowitz, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #apple-store, #artist, #ben-horowitz, #ceo, #co-founder, #companies, #cto, #eddy-cue, #espn, #executive, #general-partner, #manufacturing, #music-industry, #national-basketball-association, #nba, #operating-systems, #social-media, #software, #sony-music, #spotify, #steve-stoute, #streaming-services, #tc, #twitch, #united-states, #unitedmasters

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To rebuild manufacturing, the US needs to beef up the Small Business Innovation Research program

I grew up in poverty in upstate New York, but I was lucky enough to study engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I founded a company that went public when I was 28, and I used that wealth to invest in startups.

It’s been exhilarating to watch many founders flourish, but when I return to upstate New York, the desolate remains of long-closed factories remind me of the sectors that the tech revolution never reached.

The numbers behind those empty facades could not be more dire. In late 2019, even before COVID struck, U.S. manufacturing fell to 11% of GDP, the lowest level in 72 years. We ceded much of that ground to low-cost competitors in China, which became the world’s top manufacturer back in 2011. We now have only a small window of time to restore manufacturing as a foundation of American prosperity, and a remarkable but underappreciated federal program has a big role to play.

My firm, SOSV, specializes in running programs that help founders take technically difficult ideas from research to product. Many of these companies represent the future of American industry, especially when it comes to such national priorities as industrial automation and decarbonization.

You might think those startups would be ripe for venture investment, but in reality, only a fraction of venture capital flows to them. They are simply too risky compared with categories like SaaS and consumer.

SBIR’s brilliant design has helped thousands of technology-minded entrepreneurs cross the chasm from research to real products, new markets and venture backing.

That is exactly why in 1982 the U.S. Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which, in the words of its founder, Roland Tibbetts, aimed to “provide funding for some of the best early-stage innovation ideas — ideas that, however promising, are still too high risk for private investors, including venture capital firms.”

For a little more than $3 billion per year in contracts and grants disbursed by federal agencies, the SBIR has produced 70,000 patents, $41 billion in follow-on venture capital investments and 700 public companies.

SBIR’s brilliant design has helped thousands of technology-minded entrepreneurs cross the chasm from research to real products, new markets and venture backing. We’ll need thousands more brilliant scientists, technologists and entrepreneurs to step up in the decade ahead. They can do this from their garage, but they can’t do it out of thin air. Congress should act quickly to create an “SBIR 2.0” with three critical improvements over how SBIR works today.

First, we need at least 10 times more SBIR funding. Even at $30 billion, SBIR’s funding would be a rounding error compared to many budgets in Washington, like $693 billion for defense in 2020, and just a fraction of total U.S. venture investing, which in 2020 reached $156 billion. Yet, arguably, nothing in the federal budget could do more to help American industry.

Second, we need to focus new SBIR funding on critical strategic areas, especially decarbonization and advanced manufacturing. The first will save humanity’s future on this planet. The second will help us leap over our missed generation of manufacturing investment to establish leads in critical areas, including robotics, battery technology, artificially intelligent devices and additive manufacturing. Who could ask for better markets?

Finally, the review and reward process needs to be fast. One great example is the innovative U.S. Air Force “pitch day” programs in 2019 and 2020, which granted funds to the best founder pitches (carefully pre-qualified) in a matter of minutes. In our almost frictionless market for talent, long waits to deliberate and disburse funds is not a winning approach.

The Biden administration’s late-February issuance of an executive order on America’s supply chains suggests that the White House is already working hard on policy measures. No doubt the administration’s effort will draw on many approaches, but the key must be a relentless focus on America’s primary unspent fuel: the ingenuity and drive of our people.

We will only pull the depressed regions of this country out of poverty by giving them the tools to, with their own hands, rebuild American manufacturing through entrepreneurship.

Editor’s note: Former TechCrunch COO Ned Desmond is now senior operating partner at SOSV.

#column, #manufacturing, #opinion, #sbir, #small-business-innovation-research, #startup-company, #venture-capital, #washington

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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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Investors Clara Brenner, Quin Garcia and Rachel Holt are coming to TC Sessions: Mobility 2021

The transportation industry is abuzz with upstarts, legacy automakers, suppliers and tech companies working on automated vehicle technology, digital platforms, electrification and robotics. Then there are shared mobility companies from cars to scooters and mopeds to ebikes. And who can forget the emerging air taxi companies?

At the center of this evolving industry are the investors. Simply put: TechCrunch can’t hold an event on mobility without hearing from the people who are hunting for the best opportunities in the industry and tracking all of its changes. That’s why we’re happy to announce investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital will join us on our virtual stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021. The virtual event, which features the best and brightest minds in the world of mobility, will be held on June 9.

p.s. Early Bird tickets to the show are now available – book today and save 35% before prices go up.

Brenner, Garcia and Holt will come on stage to discuss their near and long-term investment strategies, overlooked opportunities, and challenges that face startups trying to break into the transportation sector. They’ll lean on their considerable experience to provide the advice and insight that will help attendees understand the state of the industry and where it is headed.

Brenner is a serial co-founder. She is co-founder and managing partner of the Urban Innovation Fund, a venture capital firm that provides seed capital and regulatory support to entrepreneurs solving urban challenges. Urban Innovation Fund has backed curbflow, Electriphi and Kyte among others. She also co-founded Tumml, a startup hub for urban tech that provided 38 startups with seed funding and mentorship, and hosts events around urban innovation. In 2014, Forbes listed her as one of its “30 Under 30” for Social Entrepreneurship.

Garcia, a lifelong ‘car guy’ with an MS degree in management science and automotive engineering from Stanford University, is managing director at Autotech Ventures. He’s also a board director, board observer and advisory board member to a number of mobility companies including Lyft, Peloton Technology, and Connected Signals.

Garcia has been on the ground floor of startups, notably as part of the initial team at the electric vehicle infrastructure startup Better Place, where he was responsible for partnerships with automakers and parts suppliers while living in Israel, Japan and China.

Holt is co-founder and Managing Partner of early-stage venture firm Construct Capital, which is focused on finding founders that are trying to change foundational industries such as manufacturing and supply chain, logistics and transportation. The company’s transportation-focused investments include ChargeLab. Holt also sits on the board of MotoRefi.

Prior to Construct, Holt was at Uber, where she was one of the company’s first 30 employees. During her 8.5-year stint at Uber, Holt rose through the ranks of the company, including roles running the U.S.  and Canada “Rides” business as well as global marketing and customer support. She was a longtime member of the company’s executive leadership team. Her last position at Uber was leading the company’s new mobility organization, which focused on its e-bike and scooter businesses as well as running its incubator, which funded and developed new products and services.

Rachel began her career at Bain & Company, advising companies in the private equity, financial services and healthcare industries. She was ranked No. 9 on Fortune’s 40 under 40 and was named by Fast Company as One of the Most Creative People in Business.

We can’t wait to hear from this investor panel at TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9. Make sure to grab your Early Bird pass before May 6 to save 35% on tickets and join the fun!

#articles, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #better-place, #board-member, #business, #canada, #china, #clara-brenner, #construct-capital, #e-bike, #economy, #entrepreneurship, #events, #executive, #fast-company, #financial-services, #forbes, #innovation, #israel, #japan, #lyft, #manufacturing, #motorefi, #peloton-technology, #private-equity, #quin-garcia, #rachel-holt, #stanford-university, #startup-company, #supply-chain, #tc, #tc-sessions-mobility, #techcrunch, #transportation, #uber, #united-states, #urban-innovation-fund, #venture-capital

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Energy Impact Partners has set up an index for climate tech… and it’s crushing the overall market

Given the deluge of climate focused companies flooding public markets, it’s getting hard to keep track of who’s doing what, where they’re traded and how they’re performing. That’s why the folks at Energy Impact Partners have set up an index tracking tech companies that are focused on sustainability, energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For the past few months the firm, whose investors include some of the largest energy consumers and utilities in the world, has been working on setting up the index of representative climate tech offerings that are available on public markets and discovered one thing — these companies are crushing returns compared to the overall market.

Since the beginning of 2020, EIP Climate Index has outperformed NASDAQ by approximately 2.8 times — it’s up 127% compared to 45% for the NASDAQ. Of the companies on the list, about 20 out of the 27 companies are new offerings that have been public less than a year and have outperformed NASDAQ during that period. About16 of them are up over 100% during that time. That’s true even with the overall index down about 20 percent from its January peaks.

The index isn’t actually available for public investment, it’s an educational tool more than anything else, but it does show the breadth of companies working on climate-related solutions and reveals the overwhelming appetite of public market investors to back these companies.

“There’s been a really incredibly positive run in the climate tech run in the public markets and not just from SPACs,” said Shayle Kann, a partner at Energy Impact Partners. “Part of our motivation for creating this climate tech index let’s see if we can put together as diverse a group of companies as possible.”

Included in the EIP index are companies like Beyond Meat, which is a sustainability darling, and businesses that are a bit longer in the tooth like hydrogen fuel cell companies Ballard Power and Bloom Energy. The companies run the gamut from electric storage to renewable energy production, to vehicle charging and infrastructure to alternative protein providers.

“The idea was, how was the sector, if you include all this stuff, performing as a whole. We created this index and tried to be inclusive. It has been dramatically outperforming the market.”

While the EIP list is intended to be informative, there’s no reason someone couldn’t take this index and turn it into an exchange traded fund for the industry. Most of the ETFs that are currently on the market are focused narrowly on energy production, or infrastructure, this index is potentially the first to track the broadly diversified world of companies focused on mitigating the impacts of climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There are even additive manufacturers in the mix like Desktop Metal, which Kann said had a huge climate component to its technology.

“Additive manufacturing has a fairly strong climate case in reduced waste, reduced transportation, electrification of the manufacturing process,” Kann said. 

It’s also a signal that early stage private investors can take note of too, said Kann.

“It provides a broader pathway to public markets. The companies that see their share prices run up here. What it suggests for us and for everybody else in this venture capital world is the exit pathways are improved when this index does well,” he said. 

 

#articles, #beyond-meat, #bloom-energy, #desktop-metal, #energy, #energy-impact-partners, #finance, #fuel-cell, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #manufacturing, #nasdaq, #partner, #renewable-energy, #tc

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Taiwanese reassurances that water shortages won’t hit chipmaking show climate change’s direct threat to tech

A weekend statement from the Taiwanese government over its ability to provide water to the nation’s chip manufacturers in the face of an unprecedented drought make it clear that climate change is a direct threat to the foundations of the tech industry.

As reported by Bloomberg, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook on Sunday to post about the nation’s capacity to provide water to its citizens and businesses in the face of the worst drought the nation has faced in 56 years.

The nation said that it would have sufficient water reserves to ensure manufacturing of semiconductors by companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing wouldn’t stop.

These chips sit at the foundation of the tech industry and any disruption in production could have disastrous consequences for the global economy. Already, supply constraints have caused stoppages at automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen, and chip manufacturing facilities are running close to capacity.

The Biden administration has emphasized the need for the U.S. to strengthen its semiconductor manufacturing supply when it issued an executive order last month to address ongoing chip shortages that have idled manufacturing plants around the country.

“Taiwan’s water shortage and its effect on semis is a wake up call for every technology investor, every founder and the entire venture ecosystem. It is complexity theory made manifest and only serves to show that scalable, data-driven solutions rapidly deployed across large industrial markets are our only hope in correcting the course,” wrote Vaughn Blake, a partner at the energy-focused investment firm Blue Bear Capital.

Taiwan’s water woes and their ability to severely impact the semiconductor industry aren’t new. They were even flagged in a 2016 Harvard Business School case study analysis. And TSMC is already working to address its water consumption.

By 2016, TSMC had already worked to improve its water purification and recycling efforts — necessary for an industry that consumes between 2-9 million gallons of water per day. (Intel alone used 9 billion gallons of water in 2015). At least some of TSMC’s fabrication facilities have managed to achieve recycling rates of 90% on industrial wastewater, according to the Harvard case study.

But as Moore’s Law drives down the size and increases the demand for even more precision and fewer impurities in the manufacturing process, water use at fabs is going up. Next generation chips may be consuming as much as 1.5 times more water, which means better recycling is needed to compensate.

For startups, we need to be looking at ways to lower the cost and improve the performance of wastewater recycling and desalination, both increasingly energy-intensive propositions.

Some companies are doing just that. These are businesses like Blue Boson out of the UK, which purports to have developed a quantum-based water treatment technology. Its claims sound more like science fiction, but its website touts some of the best research universities in the world. Fido, a leak detection company also out of the UK tracks potential spots where water is wasted, and both Pontic Technology and Micronic are American companies developing water and fluid sterilization systems.

Numix, another purification startup, seems designed to remove the heavy metals that are part and parcel of industrial manufacturing. And Divining Labs out of Los Angeles is using artificial intelligence to better predict and manage stormwater runoff to collect more resources for water use.

“Upton Sinclair said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it,’” Blake of Blue Bear Capital wrote. “Well, to all the founders and investors out there, it looks like all tech is climate tech for the foreseeable future, lest there be no tech at all.”

#artificial-intelligence, #biden-administration, #energy, #executive, #fido, #general-motors, #harvard, #harvard-business-school, #intel, #los-angeles, #manufacturing, #president, #sanitation, #semiconductor, #semiconductors, #taiwan, #tc, #tsai-ing-wen, #tsmc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #volkswagen, #water-treatment

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Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck explains why the company needs a bigger rocket, and why it’s going public to build it

Rocket Lab packed a ton of news into Monday to kick off this week: It’s going public via a SPAC merger, for one, and it’s also building a new, larger launch vehicle called Neutron to support heavier payloads. I spoke to Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck about why it’s building Neutron now, and why it’s also choosing to go public at the same time. Unsurprisingly, the two things are tightly linked.

“We have the benefit of flying Electron [Rocket Lab’s current, smaller launch vehicle] for a lot of customers. and we also have a Space Systems Division that supplies components into a number of spacecraft, including some of the mega constellations,” Beck told me. “So we have very strong relationships with, with a lot of different customers, and I think we get unique insight on where the industry is going, and where the where the pain points are.”

Those pain points informed Neutron, which is a two-stage reusable rocket. Rocket Lab already broke with Beck’s past thinking on what the launch market needed by developing partial reusability for Electron, and it’s going further still with Neutron, which will include a first-stage that returns to Earth and lands propulsively on a platform stationed at sea, much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9. But the market has shifted since Rocket Lab built Electron – in part because of what it helped unlock.

“The creation of Neutron came from from two discrete factors: One, the current need in the marketplace today. Also, if you project it forward a little bit, you know, Neutron will deliver the vast majority – over 90% of – all the satellites that, that are around or in some form of planning. And if you look at those satellites, 80% of them are mega constellations, by volume. So, in talking with, with a bunch of different customers, it was really, really apparent that a mega constellation-building machine is what the market really needs.”

Beck says that combining that market needs with a historical analysis that showed most large launch vehicles have taken off half-full resulted in them arriving at Neutron’s 8 metric ton (just over 17,600 lbs) total cargo mass capacity. it should put it in the sweet spot where it takes off full nearly every time, but also can still meet the mass requirement needs of just about every satellite customer out there, both now and in the future.

“We’re covered in scars and battle wounds from the development of Electron,” “The one thing that that Elon and I agree on very strongly is, by far the hardest part of a rocket is actually scaling it – getting to orbit is hard, but actually scaling manufacturing is ridiculously hard. Now, the good news is that we’ve been through all of that, and manufacturing ins’t just as product on the floor; it’s ERP systems, quality systems, finance, supply chain and so on and so forth. So all that infrastructure is is built.”

In addition to the factory and manufacturing processes and infrastructure, Beck notes that Electron and Neutron will share size-agnostic elements like computing and avionics, and much of the work done to get Electron certified for launch will also apply to Neutron, realizing further cost and time savings relative to what was required to get Electron up and flying. Beck also said that the process of making Electron has just made Rocket Lab extremely attuned to costs overall, and that will definitely translate to how competitive it can be with Neutron.

“Because electron has a $7.5 million sticker price, we’ve just been forced into finding ways to do things hyper efficiently,” he said. “If you’ve got a $7.5 million sticker price, you can’t spend $2 million on flight safety analysis, payload environmental analysis, etc – you just can’t do that. With a $60 or $80 million vehicle that you can amortize that. So we’ve kind of been forced into doing everything hyper, hyper efficiently. And it’s not just systems; it includes fundamental launch vehicle design. So when we apply all of those learnings to nNutron, we really feel like we’re gonna bring a highly competitive product to the marketplace.”

As for the SPAC merger, Beck said that the decision to go public now really boils down to two reasons: The first is to raise the capital required to build Neutron, as well as fund “other” projects. The other is to acquire the kind of “public currency” to pursue the kinds of acquisitions in terms of business that Rocket Lab is hoping to achieve. Why specifically pursue a SPAC merger instead of a traditional IPO? Efficiency and a fixed capital target, essentially.

“We were actually sort of methodically stepping towards an IPO at the time and, we were just sort of minding our own business, but it was clear we were pursued very vigorously by a tremendous number of potential SPAC partners,” Beck told me. “Ultimately, on the balance of timelines, this just really accelerated our ability to do the things we want to do. Because, yes, as you pointed out, that this kind of streamlined the process, but also provided certainty around proceeds.”

The SPAC transaction, once complete will result in Rocket Lab having approximately $750 million in cash to work with. One of the advantages of the SPAC route is that how much you raise via the public listing isn’t reliant on how the stock performs on the day – Beck and company know and can plan on that figure becoming available to them, barring any unexpected and unlikely barriers to the transaction’s closing.

“Having all the capital we need, sitting there ready to go, that really sets us up for a strong execution,” he said. “If you look at Rocket Lab’s history, we’ve only raised spend a couple of hundred million dollars to date, within all the things we’ve done. So capitalizing the company with $750 million – I would expect big things at that point.”


Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear firsthand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in — there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

#aerospace, #ceo, #computing, #electron, #elon, #finance, #launch, #manufacturing, #peter-beck, #rocket, #rocket-lab, #rocket-launch, #rocketry, #science, #spac, #space, #spacex, #supply-chain, #tc

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Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

Enlarge (credit: Rockwell Automation)

Hardware that is widely used to control equipment in factories and other industrial settings can be remotely commandeered by exploiting a newly disclosed vulnerability that has a severity score of 10 out of 10.

The vulnerability is found in programmable logic controllers from Rockwell Automation that are marketed under the Logix brand. These devices, which range from the size of a small toaster to a large bread box or even bigger, help control equipment and processes on assembly lines and in other manufacturing environments. Engineers program the PLCs using Rockwell software called Studio 5000 Logix Designer.

On Thursday, the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Administration warned of a critical vulnerability that could allow hackers to remotely connect to Logix controllers and from there alter their configuration or application code. The vulnerability requires a low skill level to be exploited, CISA said.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #industrial-control-systems, #logix, #manufacturing, #programmable-logic-controllers, #rockwell, #tech, #vulnerabilities

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Allbirds is investing in plant-based leather substitute as it looks to further green its supply chain

The sustainability focused shoe maker Allbirds has taken another step to green its supply chain with a small $2 million investment in a new company called Natural Fiber Welding.

Announced this morning, the investment in Natural Fiber Welding will see Allbirds bring a vegan leather replacement option to customers by December 2021. It’s a natural addition for a company that has always billed itself as focused on environmental impact in other aspects of its apparel manufacturing.

Allbirds these days is far more than a shoe company and Natural Fiber Weldings suite of products that include both a purportedly tougher cotton fiber made using the company’s proprietary processing technology and a plant-based leather substitute.

Those materials could find their way into Allbirds array of socks, shoes, tshirts, underwear, sweaters, jackets, and face masks. Natural Fiber Welding already touts a relationship with Porsche on its website, so Allbirds isn’t the only company that’s warmed to the Peoria, Ill.-based startup’s new materials.

With the addition of Allbirds Natural Fiber Welding has raised roughly $15 million, according to data from Pitchbook. Other investors in the company include Central Illinois Angels, Prairie Crest Capital, Ralph Lauren Corp. and Capital V, an investment firm focused on backing vegan products.

Allbirds is far from the only clothier to make the jump to plant-based materials in the past year. The buzzy clothing company Pangaia invested $2 million into a company called Kintra which is making a bio-based polyester substitute in December.

By the far the biggest startup name in the sustainable fashion space is a company like Bolt Threads, which has inked deals with companies including Stella McCartney, Adidas, and the owner of the Balenciaga fashion house (among others).

Other startups that have raised significant capital for plant-based fabrics and materials are companies like Mycoworks, which raised $45 million last year from backers include John Legend, Natalie Portman along with more traditional investors like WTT Investment Ltd. (Taipei, Taiwan), DCVC Bio, Valor Equity Partners, Humboldt Fund, Gruss & Co., Novo Holdings, 8VC, SOSV, AgFunder, Wireframe Ventures and Tony Fadell.

With Natural Fiber Welding’s products Allbirds is boasting about a significantly reduced environmental footprint for its leather-like material. Natural Fiber Welding claims its material reduce the associated carbon footprint by 40 times and uses 17 times less carbon in its manufacturing than synthetic leather made from plastic.

The company does say that the plant leather will use natural rubber, an industry with its own history of human rights abuses, that’s also trying to clean up its act.

“For too long, fashion companies have relied on dirty synthetics and unsustainable leather, prioritizing speed and cost over the environment,” says Joey Zwillinger, co-founder and co-CEO of Allbirds, in a statement. “Natural Fiber Welding is creating scalable, sustainable antidotes to leather, and doing so with the potential for a game-changing 98% reduction in carbon emissions. Our partnership with NFW and planned introduction of Plant Leather based on their technology is an exciting step on our journey to eradicate petroleum from the fashion industry.”

TechCrunch has reached out to Allbirds for additional comment, but had not received a reply at the time of publication.

#adidas, #allbirds, #articles, #bolt-threads, #culture, #illinois, #john-legend, #leather, #manufacturing, #novo-holdings, #porsche, #shoe, #supply-chain, #sustainability, #taipei, #taiwan, #tc, #textiles, #tony-fadell, #valor-equity-partners, #welding

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