It’s not easy to control police use of tech—even with a law

It’s not easy to control police use of tech—even with a law

Enlarge (credit: Roy Rochlin | Getty Images)

In 2018, Oakland enacted an innovative law giving citizens a voice in police use of surveillance technology. The Electronic Frontier Foundation called it “the new gold standard in community control of police surveillance.” Since then, about 20 other cities have adopted similar laws.

Now, Brian Hofer, one of the architects of Oakland’s law, says it’s not working. Earlier this month, Hofer filed suit against the city and the police department, saying they had repeatedly violated the law.

“We ignored human nature,” Hofer says in an interview. “Police don’t like to be transparent. Surveillance technology use is by design secretive, and no self-interested party is going to voluntarily highlight anything negative about their own proposal.” A spokesperson for the Oakland Police Department says it doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters.

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#law-enforcement, #license-plate-readers, #oakland, #police, #policy, #privacy

Is the best way to solve climate change to “do nothing?”

When it comes to climate change, it might seem that a book entitled “How to Do Nothing” would not only be irrelevant, but also downright obscene and even dangerous. Not to mention that after more than a year of pandemic living, many people are understandably fatigued at the prospect of continuing to keep their lives empty of social activities.

Yet, messing with our notions of action and contemplation is precisely the plan that Jenny Odell has laid out in her lapidary work, a meditation that is, ironically, a call to action.

Odell is a Bay Area star, who has been an artist in residence at a variety of institutions from the Internet Archive to Recology, San Francisco’s trash pickup and processing company. Her artistic work centers on attention, of focusing on the details that envelop us in this world and what we can learn from them. It’s an activity that leads her to birdwatching and long walks in Oakland’s public parks such as the Morcom Rose Garden.

Her book, it might be helpful to note, is subtitled “Resisting the Attention Economy” and Odell has made it her mission to help wean a generation, and well, a population off the spasmodic negativity that emanates from our social media platforms. In fact, she has a more ambitious goal: to wean people off the notion that productivity is the only value to life — that action is the only useful metric by which to measure ourselves. She wants to direct our attention to more important things.

“I fully understand where a life of sustained attention leads. In short, it leads to awareness,” she writes in the introduction. The key word here is sustained — and that’s also the connection with sustainability and the climate more broadly.

We don’t lack for information, data or opinions. In fact, we are overwhelmed with the dross of human thought. Some studies have shown that modern knowledge workers read more words per day than ever before in history — but they’re reading social media posts, emails, Slack messages and other ephemera that are each nibbling and collectively devouring our attention. What’s left is, for many of us, not much of any thought at all. The world is more frenetic and chaotic than ever before, but in the process, we have traded a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in this world for an incessant deluge of media. Odell wants us to take that imbalance and level it.

For her, that means practicing a more sustained form of attention. That’s a skill most of us have little practice with (a deficit we may not even be aware of, ironically), and indeed, sustaining attention might even mean regularly refusing to engage with the world around us. That’s a good thing in her analysis. “At their loftiest, such refusals can signify the individual capacity for self-directed action against the abiding flow; at the very least, they interrupt the monotony of the everyday.”

Controlling our attention, directing it, and filtering out the noise of contemporary life results not in further atomization and narcissism, but rather a more collective sense of being. “When the pattern of your attention has changed, you render your reality differently. You begin to move and act in a different kind of world,” she writes. Suddenly, the trees and flowers that were once backdrops to our walks to brunch become complex and elegant life in their own right. We deepen our camaraderie with our friends and colleagues in ways that we never could with an emoji in Slack. We build up the potential to work together to solve problems.

Climate Change Books Summer 2021

Our sustained attention also allows us to notice the details of what is changing around us, the subtle variations of our environment that come from a warming planet. “Things like the American obsession with individualism, customized filter bubbles, and personal branding—anything that insists on atomized, competing individuals striving in parallel, never touching—does the same violence to human society as a dam does to a watershed.” We can’t fix what we don’t see, and with our fragmented attention, we really don’t see much.

The irony of course is that while technology products dissolve attention — building them takes an extraordinary amount of it. While some startup founders strike it rich on a whim and others are injected with product ideas from friends or VCs, the vast majority learned to sustain their attention on a market or customer for sometimes extraordinarily long periods of time in order to notice the gaps in a market. A founder recently told me that he had been working with customers in his market for more than a decade before he eventually understood a need that wasn’t being fulfilled with existing solutions.

What’s missing in the tech and startup community today is connecting that user empathy and focus on product-market fit to the attention we need in all the other aspects of our lives today. Odell analyzes it a bit more negatively than I would: we actually have these skills and in fact, use them quite specifically. We just don’t use them broadly enough to bring our minds to look at our friendships, communities and planet in a deeper light.

Doing nothing allows us to see what matters and what doesn’t. When it comes to solving big problems, particularly some of the most intractable like climate change, it’s precisely doing nothing that allows us to see the right path to doing something.


How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
Melville House, 2019, 256 pages

See Also

#book-review, #climate-change, #government, #greentech, #health, #meditation, #oakland, #san-francisco-bay-area

Sundae closes on $80M for residential real estate marketplace

Sundae, a residential real estate marketplace that pairs sellers of dated or damaged property with potential buyers, has raised $80 million in a Series C funding round co-led by Fifth Wall and General Global Capital.

QED Investors, Wellington Management, Susa Ventures, Founders Fund, First American Financial, Prudence Holdings, Crossover VC, Intersect Capital, Gaingels and Oberndorf Ventures also participated in the financing. The round marks San Francisco-based Sundae’s third financing in a 13-month time frame, bringing its total raised since its August 2018 inception to $135 million. 

The San Francisco-based company declined to reveal at what valuation its Series C was raised. It also declined to provide hard revenue figures, saying only that it saw a 600% year-over-year increase in revenue from June 2020 to June 2021.

The startup aims to help people who need to sell dated or “damaged” properties for a variety of reasons — such as job loss, illness or divorce. In some cases, according to CEO and co-founder Josh Stech, such vulnerable sellers get taken advantage of by “predatory fix and flippers” seeking to capitalize on their misfortune. 

Since sellers in these situations don’t typically have the funds to fix up their properties before selling, Sundae lists the property for them on its platform – serving as an intermediary between sellers and investors. There, it is visible to about 2,600 qualified off-market buyers.

The company essentially aims to aggregate demand from “fix and flippers,” who use the marketplace to bid against each other for distressed properties. If the seller accepts and an inspection is completed, the company offers a $10,000 cash advance before closing to help homeowners with moving costs or other expenses.

Our goal is to displace wholesalers who exploit desperate or uninformed sellers and lock them into a contract which they turn around and assign to a property investor at a steep profit,” Stech said. “The tens of thousands of dollars in lost equity that goes to a wholesaler could mean the difference between paying off debts, or having enough money to retire.”

Sundae claims that on average, sellers receive 10 offers within three days on its marketplace.

Since its launch in January 2019, the startup has slowly been expanding its marketplace geographically. It went from operating in four markets in California at the end of last year to now operating in 14 markets across Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Texas and Utah.

Sundae makes money by charging buyers in its investor marketplace a fee when it “assigns” them a property. 

In the first quarter of this year, the startup launched a dedicated online marketplace for investors, where they can view properties and submit offers. Once an investor signs up to join the marketplace, they can access the full inventory of properties, including information such as photos, floor plan, 3D walkthrough and a third-party inspection report. 

Looking ahead, the company plans to use its new capital to expand to new markets, invest in its platform and “build brand awareness.” It also, of course, plans to boost its current headcount of 180 mostly remote employees.

Vik Chawla, a partner at Fifth Wall, believes Sundae is serving a segment of the residential real estate market that has historically been overlooked. 

“Their marketplace model simultaneously solves a crucial pain point for sellers by disrupting the wholesale industry, while delivering a platform that property investors can count on for reliable investment opportunities,” he said.

The company last raised $36 million in a Series B funding round in December 2020.

Interestingly, a slew of angel investors — including a number of athletes and celebrities — also put money in the company’s latest round, including: actor Will Smith, DJ Kygo, three-time NFL Super Bowl champion Richard Seymour of 93 Ventures, NFL All-Pro DK Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks, Matt Chapman of the Oakland A’s, Alex Caruso of the Los Angeles Lakers, Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets, Solomon Hill of the Atlanta Hawks, Kelly Olynyk of the Houston Rockets, NBA All-Star Isaiah Thomas, three-time NBA Champion & Gold Medalist Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, Hassan Whiteside of the Sacramento Kings, Andrew Wiggins of the Golden State Warriors and 2020 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year and Juventus midfielder, Weston McKennie.

#california, #fifth-wall, #florida, #founders-fund, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gaingels, #general-global-capital, #georgia, #golden-state-warriors, #national-basketball-association, #national-football-league, #nfl, #oakland, #prudence-holdings, #real-estate, #real-estate-tech, #recent-funding, #sacramento-kings, #san-francisco, #startup, #startups, #sundae, #super-bowl, #susa-ventures, #texas, #venture-capital, #vik-chawla, #wellington-management, #will-smith

Mighty Buildings lands $22M to create ‘sustainable and affordable’ 3D-printed homes

Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, which is on a quest to build homes using 3D printing, robotics and automation, has raised a $22 million extension to its Series B round of funding.

The additional capital builds upon a $40 million a raise the company announced earlier this year, bringing its total funding since its 2017 inception to $100 million.

Mighty Building’s self-proclaimed mission is to create “beautiful, sustainable and affordable” homes.

The company claims to be able to 3D print structures “two times as quickly with 95% less labor hours and 10-times less waste” than conventional construction. For example, it says it can 3D print a 350-square-foot studio apartment in just 24 hours.

Execs say the new capital will go toward making supply chain improvements and moving up research and development timelines. The money will also go toward helping it achieve a new goal of achieving Net-Zero carbon neutrality by 2028 – which it says is 22 years ahead of the construction industry overall. 

“As a founding team, we have long been passionate about solving productivity for construction in a sustainable way,” said co-founder and CEO Slava Solonitsyn. “We have spent four years figuring out what it takes to achieve that. We believe that we have a master plan now that can work.”

Since its launch, the company has produced and installed a number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

Sam Ruben, co-founder and Chief Sustainability Officer of Mighty Buildings, said the new funds will also go toward kicking off development of the startup’s multi-story offering. The multi-story efforts will likely initially focus on 2-3 story single family homes and townhouses with an eye towards expanding into low-rise apartment buildings.  The company hopes to have at least a prototype multi-story offering in late 2022 or early 2023, according to Ruben.

“Along with the sustainability improvements already captured by our new formula, this will allow us to develop our next generation material to get us even closer to our goal of being carbon neutral by 2028,” Ruben said. “It will also give us opportunities to implement improvements in our existing design by reducing the impact of our foundations and other, non-printed elements.” 

Specifically, Mighty Buildings plans to speed up its carbon neutrality roadmap by building “high-throughput, sustainable” micro factories, forming strategic supply chain partnerships, accelerating ”blue skies” technology research and developing new composite materials produced from recycled or bio-based feedstock. 

The micro factories, according to the company, will be able to produce 200 to 300 homes per year in locations where housing gaps exist. Mighty Buildings plans to create single family residential developments with its panelized “Mighty Kit System.”

Mighty Buildings has seen quarter over quarter growth in sales, Ruben said, with the company seeing a record of over $7 million in total contracted revenue in the second quarter. 

The company is also excited about its new fiber reinforced printing material, which is currently undergoing testing with certification expected to be completed later this year. Mighty Buildings claims that its new formula shows “over 50% improvement” in embodied carbon from its original material and a strength profile similar to reinforced concrete, with more than 4 times less weight.

The round extension was supported by a few new and existing investors including ArcTern Ventures, Core Innovation Capital, Decacorn Capital, Gaingels, Khosla Ventures, Klaff Realty, MicroVentures, Modern Venture Partners, Polyvalent Capital, Vibrato Capital and others.

#3d-printing, #arctern-ventures, #articles, #construction-tech, #core-innovation-capital, #energy, #environmentalism, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #greentech, #khosla-ventures, #microventures, #mighty-buildings, #oakland, #proptech, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #recycling, #renewable-energy, #startup, #startups, #sustainability, #venture-capital

How 4 New Jersey pools turned into a startup that just raised $10M

As the oldest of 12 children, Bunim Laskin spent much of his teen years looking for ways to help keep his siblings entertained. Noticing that a neighbor’s pool was often empty, Laskin reached out to ask if his family could use her pool. To make it worth her while, he suggested that they could help cover her expenses for maintaining the pool.

Soon after, five other families had made the same arrangement with her and the pool owner had six families covering 25% of her expenses. This meant that the neighbor was actually making money off her pool. The arrangement sparked a business idea in Laskin’s mind. At the age of 20, he founded Swimply, a marketplace for homeowners to rent out their underutilized pools to local swimmers, with Asher Weinberger.

The Cedarhurst, New York-based company launched a beta in 2018, starting with four pools in the New Jersey area. 

“We used Google Earth to find houses, and then knocked on 80 doors with a pool,” Laskin recalls. “We got to 100 pools organically. Word of mouth really helped us grow.” The site was pretty bare bones, he admits, with potential customers only able to view photos of the pools and connect with the pool owner by phone.

That year, Swimply did around 400 reservations and raised $1.2 million from friends and family.

In 2019, Swimply launched what he describes as a “proper” website and app with an automated platform. It grew “4 to 5 times” that year, again mostly organically. In an episode that aired in March 2020, the company appeared on Shark Tank but went home without a deal.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Swimply, Laskin said, pivoted right into the pandemic.

“We were the perfect solution for people when the world was falling on its head,” he said. The company restructured its offering to ensure that pool owners did not have to interact with guests. “It was the perfect, contact-free, self-serve experience to hang out and be with people you quarantined with.”

The CDC then came out to say that it was safe to swim because chlorine could help kill the virus, and that proved to be a big boon to its business.

“On one end, it was a way for people to have a normal day and on the other, it helped give owners a way to earn an income, at a time when many people were being affected financially,” Laskin told TechCrunch.

Business took off in 2020 with revenue growing 4,000% and now Swimply is announcing a $10 million Series A round. Norwest Venture Partners led the financing, which also included participation from Trust Ventures and a number of angel investors such as Poshmark founder and CEO Manish Chandra; Rob Chesnut, former general counsel and chief ethics officer at Airbnb; Ancestry.com CEO Deborah Liu and Michael Curtis. 

Swimply is now operating in a total of 125 U.S. markets, two markets in Canada and five markets in Australia. It plans to use its new capital in part to expand into new markets and toward product development.

Image Credits: Swimply

The way it works is pretty straightforward. Swimply simply connects homeowners that have underutilized backyard spaces and pools with those seeking a way to gather, cool off or exercise, for example. People or families can rent pools by the hour, ranging in price from $15 to $60 per hour (at an average of $45/hour) depending on the amenities. New markets that Swimply has recently expanded to include Portland, Oregon; Raleigh, NC and the California cities of Oakland, San Luis Obispo and Los Gatos. 

“The shifting mindset from younger generations about ownership is a huge contributor to increased growth of the Swimply marketplace,” said co-founder Weinberger, who serves as Swimply’s COO. “Swimming is the third most popular activity for adults and number one for children, and yet no other company has tackled the aquatic space to make swimming more affordable and accessible…until now.”

While the company declined to provide hard revenue figures, Laskin said Swimply was seeing “7 digits a month in revenue” and 15,000 to 20,000 reservations a month. Families represent the most popular reservation.

“People can book and pay through our platform, and only 20% of hosts ever meet their guests,” Laskin said. “We’re enabling a new kind of consumer behavior with what we’re doing.”

The company is planning to use its new capital to also rebuild much of its tech infrastructure and boost its customer support team to be more “readily available.”

It is also now offering a complimentary up to $1 million worth of insurance per booking for liability as well as $10,000.

Swimply has a little over 20 employees, up 10 times from 2 people in December of 2020. It plans to double that number over the next few months.

The company’s model has proven quite lucrative for some owners, according to Laskin.

“Last year, there were some owners who earned $10,000 a month. One owner in Denver earned $50,000 last year and he had signed up toward the end of the summer. He should make over $100,000 this year,” Lasken projects.

Its only criteria is that owners offer a clean pool. Eighty five percent of hosts offer restrooms as well. If they don’t, they are limited to one-hour reservations with a max of five guests. Swimply has also partnered with local pool companies, and if they pay one of its owners a visit and certify that pool, that owner gets a badge on the site “so guests get an additional level of security,” Laskin said.

Ed Yip of Norwest Venture Partners admits that when he first heard of the concept of Swimply, he “didn’t know what to make of it.”

But the more he heard about it, the more excited he got.

“This is the holy grail for a consumer investor. We’re not changing consumer behavior, but rather productize the experience and make it safer and easier on both sides,” Yip told TechCrunch.

What also gets the investor excited is the potential for Swimply beyond just swimming pools in the future.

“We’re seeing a ton of demand from hosts wanting to list hot tubs and tennis courts, for example,” Yip said. “So this can turn into a marketplace for shared outdoor resources and that’s a huge market opportunity that adds value on both sides.”

Indeed, the concept of monetizing underutilized space is a growing concept. Earlier this year, we reported on Neighbor, which operates a self-storage marketplace, raising $53 million in a Series B round of funding. Neighbor’s unique model aims to repurpose under-utilized or vacant space — whether it be a person’s basement or the empty floor of an office building — and turn it into storage.

 

 

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Tamika Butler, Remix’s Tiffany Chu and Revel’s Frank Reig to discuss how to balance equitability and profitability at TC Sessions Mobility

The race among mobility startups to become profitable by controlling market share has produced a string of bad results for cities and the people living in the them.

City officials and agencies learned from those early deployments of ride-hailing and shared scooter services and have since pushed back with new rules and tighter control over which companies can operate. This correction has prompted established companies to change how they do business and fueled a new crop of startups, all promising a different approach.

But can mobility be accessible, equitable and profitable? And how?

TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, a virtual event scheduled for June 9, aims to dig into those questions. Luckily, we have three guests who are at the center of cities, equity and shared mobility: community organizer, transportation consultant and lawyer Tamika L. Butler, Remix co-founder and CEO Tiffany Chu and Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig.

Butler, a lawyer and founder and principal of her own consulting company, is well known for work in diversity and inclusion, equity, the built environment, community organizing and leading nonprofits. She was most recently the director of planning in California and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design. She previously served as the executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and was the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Butler also sits on the board of Lacuna Technologies.

Chu is the CEO and co-founder of Remix, a startup that developed mapping software used by cities for transportation planning and street design. Remix was recently acquired by Via for $100 million and will continue to operate as a subsidiary of the company. Remix, which was backed by Sequoia Capital, Energy Impact Partners, Y Combinator, and Elemental Excelerator has been recognized as both a 2020 World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer and BloombergNEF Pioneer for its work in empowering cities to make transportation decisions with sustainability and equity at the forefront. Chu currently serves as Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and sits on the city’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. Previously, Tiffany was a Fellow at Code for America, the first UX hire at Zipcar and is an alum of Y Combinator. Tiffany has a background in architecture and urban planning from MIT.

Early Bird tickets to the show are now available — book today and save $100 before prices go up.

Reig is the co-founder and CEO of Revel, a transportation company that got its start launching a shared electric moped service in Brooklyn. The company, which launched in 2018, has since expanded its moped service to Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Washington, D.C., Miami, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. The company has since expanded its focus beyond moped and has started to build fast-charging EV Superhubs across New York City and launched an eBike subscription service in four NYC boroughs. Prior to Revel, Reig held senior roles in the energy and corporate sustainability sectors.

The trio will join other speakers TechCrunch has announced, a list that so far includes Joby Aviation founder and CEO JonBen Bevirt, investor and Linked founder Reid Hoffman, whose special purpose acquisition company just merged with Joby, as well as investors Clara Brenner of Urban Innovation Fund, Quin Garcia of Autotech Ventures and Rachel Holt of Construct Capital and Starship Technologies co-founder and CEO/CTO Ahti Heinla. Stay tuned for more announcements in the weeks leading up to the event.

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Now approved in LA, Abodu’s backyard homes can now go from contract to completion in as little as 30 days

Abodu, one of a slew of startup companies pitching backyard homes and office spaces to Californians in an effort to help address the state’s housing shortage, has instituted a new “Quickship” program that can take an order from contract to construction and installation in about thirty days.

Behind the quick turnaround time is a pre-approval process that was first rolled out in Santa Fe and came to Los Angeles in recent weeks.

Abodu began installing homes through a pre-approval process back in 2019, when the city of San Jose created a program that allowed developers of alternative dwelling units to submit plans for pre-approval to cut the time for homeowners.

That approval process means that ADU developers like Abodu can be permitted in one hour. Other ADU developers pre-approved in San Jose, Calif. include Acton ADU, the venture backed Connect Homes, J. Kretschmer Architect, Mayberry Workshop, Open Remodel, and prefabADU. In Los Angeles, La Mas, IT House, Design, Bitches, Connect Homes, Welcome Projects and First Office have all had homes pre-approved for construction.

Beyond the cities where Adobu’s ADUs have received pre-approval, the company has built across California in cities ranging from, Palo Alto, Millbrae, Orange County, to LA and Oakland. Units in the Bay Area cost roughly $189,000 as a starting price, compared to the $650,000 to $850,000 it takes to build units in a mid-rise apartment building, or $1 million per unit in a steel-reinforced highrise, according to the company.

“Our Quickship program is the fastest way to add housing,” said John Geary, CEO at Abodu.  “Homeowners with immediate needs, be it family situations or those looking for investment income, can now complete an ADU project in as little as four weeks. A key mission for Abodu is to make a serious dent in our state’s housing deficit while providing people and municipalities the necessary blueprint to enact real change. ”

For former TechCrunch writer Kim-Mai Cutler, who serves on the Abodu board of directors the achievement of a 30 day construction milestone is almost a dream come true. Cutler wrote the book (or the equivalent of a book) on the housing crisis and its impact on the Bay Area and California broadly.

That piece led Cutler to work in public service “on boards and commissions overseeing the spending of federal dollars on homelessness and the proceeds of municipal bonds directed at financing affordable housing (because yes, for some segments of residents, you do have to explicitly subsidize housing at the local level.),” as she noted in a blog post about her investment in Abodu.

The interior of an Abodu home. Photo via Abodu.

Cutler backed the company because of her deep knowledge of the issues associated with housing.

“The reason this is a big deal is because Northern California has been the most expensive and unpredictable place to build new housing in the world. Projects typically take several years because of uncertainty with entitlements and materials,” Cutler wrote. “Over the past year, Abodu co-founders John Geary and Eric McInerney have put homes in the backyards of parents bringing kids home from college, a mother-and-son pair that each bought one for their homes in Millbrae, a couple looking to eventually house a grandmother in San Jose and on and on.”

The key inspiration that Abodu’s founders hit on was their concentration on granny flats, casitas and backyard dwellings. “While deliberations over mid-rise density were stalling in Sacramento, the state legislature (and legislatures up north in the Pacific Northwest) were passing bill after bill, including Phil Ting’s AB 68 and Bob Wieckowski’s SB 1069, to make it really easy to add backyard units,” Cutler wrote. “This is the kind of change that suburban America wants, is comfortable with and can politically pass and implement easily.”

To Cutler’s thinking, Adobu’s 30 day construction schedule will change consumer behavior, thanks to the fact that the home can be craned in and installed in less than a day on a foundation constructed in less than two weeks. Its incredibly low cost will enable a lot of opportunities to develop new inventory and the simple fact is that inventory remains a scarce commodity. As Cutler noted, only half as many homes are trading across the United States as were available a year ago, which is happening at the same time as when millennials are entering prime family formation years. 

 

#abodu, #america, #california, #ceo, #kim-mai-cutler, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #oakland, #palo-alto, #planning, #sacramento, #san-jose, #tc, #united-states, #urban-planning, #writer

Bringing jobs and health benefits, BlocPower unlocks energy efficiency retrofits for low income communities

Retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient and better at withstanding climate change induced extreme weather is going to be a big, multi-billion dollar business. But it’s one that’s been hard for low-income communities to tap, thanks to obstacles ranging faulty incentive structures to an inability to adequately plan for which upgrades will be most effective in which buildings.

Enter BlocPower, a New York-based startup founded by a longtime advocate for energy efficiency and the job creation that comes with it, which has a novel solution for identifying, developing and profiting off of building upgrades in low income communities — all while supporting high-paying jobs for workers in the communities the company hopes to serve.

The company also has managed to raise $63 million in equity and debt financing to support its mission. That money is split between an $8 million investment from some of the country’s top venture firms and a $55 million debt facility structured in part by Goldman Sachs to finance the redevelopment projects that BlocPower is creating.

These capital commitments aren’t charity. Government dollars are coming for the industry and private companies from healthcare providers, to utility companies, to real estate developers and property managers all have a vested interest in seeing this market succeed.

There’s going to be over $1 billion carved out for weatherization and building upgrades in the stimulus package that’s still making its way through Congress

For BlocPower’s founder, Donnel Baird, the issue of seeing buildings revitalized and good high-paying jobs coming into local communities isn’t academic. Baird was born in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood and witnessed firsthand the violence and joblessness that was ripping the fabric of that rich and vibrant community apart during the crack epidemic and economic decline of the 1980s and early 90s.

Seeing that violence firsthand, including a shooting on his way to school, instilled in Baird a desire to “create jobs for disconnected Black and brown people” so they would never feel the hopelessness and lack of opportunity that fosters cycles of violence.

Some time after the shooting, Baird’s family relocated from Brooklyn to Stone Mountain, Georgia, and after graduating from Duke University, Baird became a climate activist and community organizer, with a focus on green jobs. That led to a role in the presidential campaign for Barack Obama and an offer to work in Washington on Obama’s staff.

Baird declined the opportunity, but did take on a role reaching out to communities and unions to help implement the first stimulus package that Obama and Biden put together to promote green jobs.

And it was while watching the benefits of that stimulus collapse under the weight of a fragmented building industry that Baird came up with the idea for BlocPower.

“It was all about the implementation challenges that we ran into,” Baird said. “If you have ten buildings on a block in Oakland and they were all built by the same developer at the same time. If you rebuild those buildings and you retrofit all of those buildings, in five of those buildings you’re going to trap carbon monoxide in and kill everybody and in the other five buildings you’re going to have a reduction in emissions and energy savings.”

Before conducting any retrofits to capture energy savings (and health savings, but more on that later), Baird says developers need to figure out the potential for asbestos contamination in the building; understand the current heating, ventilation, and cooling systems that the building uses; and get an assessment of what actually needs to be done.

That’s the core problem that Baird says BlocPower solves. The company has developed software to analyze a building’s construction by creating a virtual twin based on blueprints and public records. Using that digital twin the company can identify what upgrades a building needs. Then the company taps lines of credit to work with building owners to manage the retrofits and capture the value of the energy savings and carbon offsets associated with the building upgrades.

For BlocPower to work, the financing piece is just as important as the software. Without getting banks to sign off on loans to make the upgrades, all of those dollars from the federal government remain locked up. “That’s why the $7 billion earmarked for investment in green buildings did not work,” Baird said. “At BlocPower our view is that we could build software to simulate using government records… we could simulate enough about the mechanicals, electrical, and plumbing across buildings in NYC so that we could avoid that cost.”

Along with co-founder Morris Cox, Baird built BlocPower while at Columbia University’s business school so that he could solve the technical problems and overcome the hurdles for community financing of renewable retrofit projects.

Right before his graduation, in 2014, the company had applied for a contract to do energy efficiency retrofits and was set to receive financing from the Department of Energy. The finalists had to go down to the White House and pitch the President. That pitch was scheduled for the same day as a key final exam for one of Baird’s Columbia classes, which the professor said was mandatory. Baird skipped the test and won the pitch, but failed the class.

After that it was off to Silicon Valley to pitch the business. Baird met with 200 or more investors who rejected his pitch. Many of these investors had been burned in the first cleantech bubble or had witnessed the fiery conflagrations that engulfed firms that did back cleantech businesses and swore they’d never make the same mistakes.

That was the initial position at Andreessen Horowitz when Baird pitched them, he said. “When I went to Andreessen Horowitz, they said ‘Our policy is no cleantech whatsoever. You need to figure out how software is going to eat up this energy efficiency market’,” Baird recalled.

Working with Mitch Kapor, an investor and advisor, Baird worked on the pitch and got Kapor to talk to Ben Horowitz. Both men agreed to invest and BlocPower was off to the races.

The company has completed retrofits in over 1,000 buildings since its launch, Baird said, mainly to prove out its thesis. Now, with the revolving credit facility in hand, BlocPower can take bigger bites out of the market. That includes a contract with utility companies in New York that will pay $30 million if the company can complete its retrofits and verify the energy savings from that work.

There are also early projects underway in Oakland and Chicago, Baird said.

Building retrofits do more than just provide energy savings, as Goldman Sachs managing director Margaret Anadu noted in a statement.

“BlocPower is proving that it is possible to have commercial solutions that improve public health in underserved communities, create quality jobs and lower carbon emissions,” Anadu said. “We are so proud to have supported Donnel and his team…through both equity and debt capital to further expand their reach.”

These benefits also have potential additional revenue streams associated with them that BlocPower can also capture, according to investor and director, Mitch Kapor.

“There are significant linkages that are known between buildings and pollution that are a public health issue. In a number of geographies community hospitals are under a mandate to improve health outcomes and BlocPower can get paid from health outcomes associated with the reduction in carbon. That could be a new revenue stream and a financing mechanism,” Kapor said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in essentially taking the value creation engine they have and figuring out where to bring it and which other engines they need to have to have the maximum social impact.”

Social impact is something that both Kapor and Baird talk about extensively and Baird sees the creation of green jobs as an engine for social justice — and one that can reunite a lot of working class voters whose alliances were fractured by the previous administration. Baird also believes that putting people to work is the best argument for climate change policies that have met with resistance among many union workers.

“We will not be able to pass shit unless workers and people of color are on board to force the U.S. senate to pass climate change policy,” Baird said. “We have to pass the legislation that’s going to facilitate green infrastructure in a massive way.”

He pointed to the project in Oakland as an example of how climate policies can create jobs and incentivize political action.

“In Oakland we’re doing a pilot project in 12 low income buildings in oakland. I sent them $20K to train these workers from local people of color in Oakland… they are being put to work in Oakland,” Baird said. “That’s the model for how this gets built. So now we need them to call Chuck Shumer to push him to the left on green building legislation.” 

 

#advisor, #andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #barack-obama, #ben-horowitz, #biden, #brooklyn, #chicago, #co-founder, #columbia, #columbia-university, #construction, #department-of-energy, #director, #duke-university, #energy, #energy-conservation, #energy-efficiency, #federal-government, #georgia, #goldman-sachs, #mitch-kapor, #new-york, #oakland, #president, #tc, #u-s-senate, #united-states, #washington, #white-house

Fintech Marqeta expands into credit card space days after filing for an IPO

Marqeta is expanding into the consumer credit card space to help other brands launch credit card programs. 

The move comes just days after the payment card issuing company reportedly filed confidentially for an initial public offering, making it the latest fintech to make a move to the public markets.

The value of the IPO is expected to be around $10 billion, according to Reuters. Marqeta — which is working with Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase on the offering — is reportedly hoping to complete the IPO by April.

Oakland, California-based Marqeta raised $150 million last May at a $4.2 billion valuation, TechCrunch previously reported. Then in October, Mastercard put an undisclosed amount of money in Marqeta.

The company, which provides the tools for financial services platforms of all stripes to provide cards, wallets and other payment mechanisms, counts Cash App, Affirm, DoorDash, and Instacart among its customers. At the end of 2020, Marqeta says it had issued 270 million cards through its platform, up from 140 million at the end of 2019. The company, which has over 550 employees, is live in 35 countries.

Now, Marqeta is partnering with another startup, Deserve, on its new credit card initiative.

As Deserve CEO Kalpesh Kapadia explains it, his company’s technology and open API platform will power Marqeta’s program management services, including origination, underwriting, bank and bureau Integration, customer service, compliance and risk management. 

Marqeta founder and CEO Jason Gardner described Marqeta’s expansion into building new credit products as a “major milestone” for the company in building out a “truly comprehensive card issuing platform, able to support any card type.”

“This technology is complex, and we saw that this barrier to market had created an opportunity for us to take what we’ve learned helping customers innovate in the prepaid and debit space and adapt that to credit,” he told TechCrunch.

Marqeta is banking on the notion that any business currently issuing a card is looking, or currently working, on a credit card.

“These innovators want to launch modern card products but having to rely on legacy technology, which allows much less options for flexibility and personalization, has slowed down innovation,” Gardner added.

It’s also betting that consumers want more from credit cards than just paying for a purchase.

Image Credits: Marqeta

“They want seamless digital experiences, rewards that match their lifestyle, and personalized apps that track financial health, but there’s been little innovation that speaks to this,” he said.

With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating touchless payments — as more people avoided in-person interaction and shopping — the demand for more digital financial offerings has exploded.

With its new initiative, Marqeta aims to be able to help its customers launch new customized credit card products “in a fraction of the time, with more flexible controls and features.”

 

For example, they will have what Marqeta describes as a modern credit system of record that can adjust account parameters, such as rewards, APR and credit lines, in real time based on custom rules. Customers will have the ability to instantly activate cardholders upon approval and provision cards directly into digital wallets.

Gardner called Menlo Park-based Deserve “an ideal first strategic partner” in its expansion into the credit card market.

“We plan to offer program management services for customers using our credit card issuing platform through an ecosystem of partners,” he said. “They are a good DNA fit for what we’re trying to accomplish – with a strong belief in the power of open APIs to increase speed to market, and also targeting innovators looking to build truly modern card products. They’re experienced in the credit card space, which has a unique set of requirements, and have a unique approach to underwriting.”

For its part, Deserve says its B2B business has been growing in recent years, with it currently adding one prospect every week and one new partner to its business every month. More than 1.5 million consumers have applied and interacted with its platform over the past three years and the company is currently serving hundreds of thousands of customers (directly and indirectly), with tens of millions of dollars transacting every month on its platform, according to Kapadia.

Deserves also manages the entire credit card infrastructure for companies like Sallie Mae in the cloud, whereby consumers applying for and using Sallie Mae credit cards are engaging with Deserve behind the scene. It also provides origination services to companies such as BankMobile. Other fintechs such as Opploans, BlockFi and Earnest use its entire credit card infrastructure to launch their credit products. 

The credit market is dominated by legacy technologies, high cost of operations and lack of customization and speed,” Kapadia told TechCrunch. “Marqeta’s leading card-issuing platform paired with Deserve’s digital card expertise will enable further innovation in the credit industry and provide consumers with superior card experiences.”

 

 

#api, #credit-card, #exit, #finance, #financial-services, #kalpesh-kapadia, #marqeta, #oakland, #payments, #risk-management, #startups, #tc

Mighty Buildings nabs $40M Series B to 3D print your next house

Once upon a time, the idea of 3D-printed homes felt like a thing of the future.

But as housing gets less and less affordable — especially in ultra-expensive markets such as the Bay Area — companies are getting creative in their quest to build more affordable homes using technology.

One of those companies, Oakland-based Mighty Buildings, just raised $40 million in Series B funding for its quest to create homes that it says are “beautiful, sustainable and affordable” using 3D printing, robotics and automation. It claims to be able to 3D print structures “two times as quickly with 95% less labor hours and 10-times less waste” than conventional construction. For example, it says it can 3D print a 350-square-foot studio apartment in just 24 hours.

The four-year-old startup’s efforts caught the eye of Khosla Ventures, which co-led the financing along with Zeno Ventures. 

Ryno Blignaut, an operating partner at Khosla, believes that Mighty Buildings — which launched out of stealth last August — has the potential to cut both the cost and carbon footprint of home construction “by 50% or more.”

The company takes a hybrid approach to home construction, combining 3D printing and prefab (meaning built offsite) building, according to co-founder and COO Alexey Dubov. It has invented a proprietary thermoset composite material called Light Stone Material (LSM) as part of its effort to reduce the home construction industry’s reliance on concrete and steel. 

The material can be 3D printed and hardens almost immediately, according to the company, while also maintaining cohesion between layers to create a monolithic structure. Mighty Buildings can then 3D print elements like overhangs or ceilings without the need for additional supporting formwork. That way, it’s able to fully print a structure and not just the walls. 

Robotic arms can post-process the composite, which combined with the company’s ability to automate the pouring of insulation and the 3D printing gives Mighty Buildings the ability to automate up to 80% of the construction process, the company claims.

Khosla was drawn to the Mighty Buildings’ innovative approach.

“We believe in dematerializing buildings and non-linearly reducing the amount of cement and steel used, thereby reducing the cost of construction in order to increase affordable access to housing together with improved sustainability,” Blignaut wrote via email.

Mighty Building’s use of 3D printing, advanced manufacturing techniques, modern robotics and “new lighter and stronger materials” gives it an edge, he added.

Since its launch, the company has produced and installed a number of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and is now taking orders for Mighty Houses — its newest product line that will range from 864 to 1,440 square feet at an estimated cost of $304,000 to $420,500. (Similarly sized houses in some parts of the Bay Area can sell for upwards of $1 million).

The units are created with a 3D-printed exterior panelized shell while certain elements — such as bathrooms for example — are prefabricated in the company’s 79,000-square-foot production facility in Oakland. 

For now, the company is only building in California, but Dubov says it’s open to exploring other markets as its factory can be replicated.

Also, Mighty Buildings plans this year to market its Mighty Kit System and a new fiber-reinforced material for multi-story projects as part of a planned B2B platform for developers. In fact, the company already has secured contracts with developers for its single family housing product line. It also plans to use the new capital in part to scale its production capacity with increased automation.

Ultimately, Mighty Building’s vision is to provide production-as-a-service, with builders and architects designing their own structures and then developers using Mighty Factories to produce them at scale.

Mighty Buildings is not the only startup doing 3D-printed homes. Last August, Austin-based ICON raised $35 million in Series A funding. The company also aims to reinvent building affordable homes with the use of 3D printers, robotics and advanced materials. The biggest difference between the two companies, according to Dubov, is that ICON does primarily onsite construction while Mighty Buildings prefabricates in a factory.

More than a dozen other investors also participated in Mighty Building’s latest round, including returning backers Bold Capital Partners, Core Innovation Capital and Foundamental and new investors including ArcTern Ventures, Abies Ventures, Modern Venture Partners, MicroVentures, One Way Ventures, Polyvalent Capital and others. Mighty Buildings was also included in Y Combinator’s Top companies list, all of which have valuations over $150 million (although the company declined to reveal its current valuation). 

For its part, Khosla’s Blignaut believes that buildings are “a big part of our urban landscape and a large consumer of resources.”

“Construction and building account for more carbon emissions in the U.S. than transportation or industry,” he said. Other portfolio companies addressing such challenges include Ori Living, Vicarious, Katerra and Arevo.

#3d-printing, #affordable-housing, #bold-capital-partners, #california, #construction-tech, #core-innovation-capital, #emerging-technologies, #khosla-ventures, #microventures, #mighty-buildings, #oakland, #one-way-ventures, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #y-combinator

Good Eggs raises $100M and plans to launch in Southern California

Grocery delivery startup Good Eggs is announcing that it has raised $100 million in new funding, and that it’s planning to launch in Southern California in either the summer or fall of this year.

Parts of this story might sound familiar to readers familiar with Good Eggs — when the startup raised its most recent, $50 million funding round in 2018, CEO Bentley Hall also mentioned plans for geographic expansion.

It seems, however, that the company has found plenty of opportunity for growth while remaining focused on the San Francisco Bay Area. Good Eggs says that in the past year, revenue has grown to the nine figures (more than $100 million), hired more than 400 employees and nearly doubled its customer base.

Hall also noted that the company opened a new, larger warehouse in Oakland just a few days before shelter-in-place orders took effect last March. So the team was busy enough trying to operate a new warehouse, meet increased demand for grocery delivery and keep workers safe in the process.

Good Eggs box

Image Credits: Good Eggs

And while the grocery delivery market has become increasingly competitive, Hall argued that Good Eggs stands out thanks to the quality and breadth of its products — 70% of its products are locally sourced, and it often delivers them within 48 hours of harvesting.

“There’s lots of people offering groceries, meal kits, prepared meals, alcohol — we do all of that, with a certain sourcing criteria,” Hall said. As a result, Good Eggs has become the “primary source” for many of its consumers, representing 65% to 85% of their home food purchases.

It’s also worth noting that this represents a bit of a turnaround for the company, after the it shut down operations in Los Angeles, New York City and New Orleans in 2015, with Hall coming on as CEO shortly afterwards. And it sounds like he isn’t in a rush to launch in a bunch of new markets.

“I think of [Southern California] not as one big region, but as several small sub-regions,” Hall said. “There’s the LA region, northern San Diego, Orange County — those areas collectively are the size of two or three Bay Areas. That’s a meaningful increase in our addressable market.”

Good Eggs CEO Bentley Hall

Good Eggs CEO Bentley Hall

The new funding was led by Glade Brook Capital Partners, with participation from GV, Tao Invest, Finistere Ventures and Rich’s, as well as previous investors Benchmark Partners, Index Ventures, S2G, DNS Capital and Obvious Ventures. Glade Brook’s J.P. Van Arsdale is joining the company’s board of directors.

“The grocery market is undergoing fundamental change and the shift to e-commerce and higher quality products and services is accelerating,” Van Arsdale said in a statement. “Good Eggs is experiencing rapid growth with strong unit economics and is well-positioned to become a category-defining leader. We are excited to partner with their team to help drive future growth and expansion.”

In addition to geographic expansion, Hall said the money will allow Good Eggs to continue adding new products and to find ways to improve the e-commerce experience.

In addition to the funding, Good Eggs is also announcing that it has hired Vineet Mehra as its chief growth and customer experience officer. Mehra was previously chief marketing officer and chief customer officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, and before that as executive vice president and global chief marketing and revenue officer at Ancestry.

#bentley-hall, #ecommerce, #food, #food-and-drink, #funding, #fundings-exits, #glade-brook-capital-partners, #good-eggs, #grocery-store, #los-angeles, #oakland, #retailers, #san-diego, #startups

Investors including Microsoft’s climate fund back hyperlocal environmental monitoring tech developer Aclima

Mitigating the effects of climate change and pollution is a global problem, but it’s one that requires local solutions.

While that seems like common sense, most communities around the world don’t have tools that can monitor emissions and pollutants at the granular levels they need to develop plans that can address these pollutants.

Aclima, a decade-old startup founded by Davida Herzl, is looking to solve that problem and has raised $40 million in new funding from strategic and institutional venture capital investors to accelerate its growth.

“We’ve built a platform that enables hyperlocal measurement. We measure all the greenhouse gases as well as regulated air pollutants. We deploy sensor networks that combine mobile sensing where we use fleets of vehicles as a roving network. And we bring that all together and bring that into a back end,” Herzl said. 

The networks of air quality monitoring technology that exists — and is subsidized by the government — is costly and lacking in the kinds of minute details on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis that communities can use to effectively address pollution problems.

“A typical air quality monitoring station would cost somewhere between $1 million to $2 million. Here in the Bay Area, the regulator is paying less than $3 million for access to all of this for the entire Bay Area,” Herzl said. 

Aclima’s technologies are already being deployed across California, and some of the company’s largest customers are municipalities in the Bay Area and down south in San Diego. 

GettyImages 1155300963

Image Credits: Getty Images under a license.

The company has two main offerings: an enterprise professional software product that’s geared toward regulators, experts, and businesses that want to get a handle on their greenhouse gas emissions and environmentally polluting operations and a free tool that’s available to the public.

A third revenue stream is through partnerships with companies like Google, which have attached Aclima’s sensors to its roving mapping vehicles to capture climate and environmental quality data alongside geographic information.

“You’re seeing a lot of large companies in traditionally who are now investing significant amount into really trying to understand their emissions profile and prioritize emission reductions in a data driven way,” Herzl said.

The company’s data is also providing real world tools to communities that are looking to address systemic inequalities in locations that have been hardest hit by industrial pollution.

West Oakland, for instance, has used Aclima’s data to develop community intervention plans to reduce pollution in the communities that have been most impacted by the regions industrial economy.

“The interconnected crises of climate change, public health and environmental justice urgently require lasting solutions,” said Herzl, in a statement. “Measurement will play a key role in shaping solutions and tracking progress. With this coalition of investors, we’re expanding our capacity to support new and existing customers and partners taking bold climate action.”

As a result of the new round of funding, led by Clearvision Ventures, the fund’s founder and managing partner, Dan Ahn will take a seat on the board of directors.

Photo: Greg Epperson/Getty Images

“They are the clear category leader in an important and emerging field of data and standards at the intersection of climate, public health and the economy,” Ahn said in a statement. “Both governments and industry will need Aclima’s critical data and analytics to benchmark and accelerate progress to reduce emissions.”

Other investors in Aclima’s latest round include the corporate investment arm of the sensor manufacturer Robert Bosch, which views the company as a strategic component of its efforts to use sensor data to combat climate change. 

“Aclima has built an expansive mobile and stationary sensor network that generates billions of measurements about our most critical resources every week,” says Dr. Ingo Ramesohl, Managing Director of RBVC, in a statement. “Bosch invents and delivers connected solutions for a smarter future across transportation, home, industrial, and many other fields. What Aclima has achieved in connected environmental sensing is an impressive feat. Together, we can accelerate Aclima’s ability to support customers in taking decisive and data-driven climate action.”

Another key investor is Microsoft, which has backed the company through one of the first direct investments from the Microsoft Climate Innovation Fund. 

“We established our Climate Innovation Fund earlier this year to accelerate the development of environmental sustainability solutions based on the best available science,” said Brandon Middaugh, Director, Climate Innovation Fund, Microsoft, in a statement. “We’re encouraged by Aclima’s pioneering approach to mapping air pollution sources and exposures at a hyperlocal level and the implications this technology can have for making data-driven environmental decisions with consideration for climate equity.”

Other investors also adding Aclima to their portfolios in this round include Splunk Inc. GingerBread Capital, KTB Network, ACVC Partners, and the Womens VC Fund II. Existing shareholders participating in the round include Social Capital, Rethink Impact, Kapor Capital, and the Schmidt Family Foundation, the company said in a statement.

 

#aclima, #articles, #bosch, #brandon-middaugh, #california, #climate-change, #davida-herzl, #director, #google, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #kapor-capital, #managing-partner, #oakland, #pollution, #san-diego, #schmidt-family-foundation, #social-capital, #soil, #tc

Rocket launch startup Astra readies for orbital test flight as early as Sunday

Rocket launch startup Astra is readying for its first orbital flight test, set to take place either this weekend or next week, weather permitting. The company will launch its ‘Rocket 3.1’ from Kodiak, Alaska – and while these are technically classified as orbital test flights, the company was quick to caution journalists on a press call on Thursday that it doesn’t necessarily believe each the three initial launches it has planned will make it all the way to orbit proper.

“We don’t intend to get a hole-in-one here,” said Kemp. “It’s a par three course. We intend to really accomplish enough to ensure that we’re able to get to [orbital] flight after three flights, and for us, that means a nominal first stage burn, and getting that upper stage to separate successfully. After that, pretty much everything that we learn is additional upside, and will be just delighted if that upper stage lights and we’ll be delighted if the upper stage teaches us something so that so that our next flight can even be more successful.”

Astra’s approach to building and launching rockets differs somewhat from its competitors. The startup only incorporated three years ago, and it’s building its rockets in Alameda, California – not far from Oakland. The Rocket 3.1 is a roughly 40-foot launch vehicle that carries a small payload, roughly equivalent to one of the small sats that make up the large constellations currently being launched for operation in low Earth orbit by a number of companies (for reference, SpaceX launches 60 of these on each of its Starlink missions).

When I spoke to Kemp ahead of their original attempt to win a DARPA launch challenge (since ended with the prize unclaimed), he stressed that they’re looking to build in volume at low cost, with the expectation of a higher tolerable margin for failure than other new space launch companies like SpaceX and Rocket Lab.

“Rather than trying to spend many years doing it first time, we’re iterating towards orbit,” Kemp said during Thursday’s conference about their debut attempt next week.

This is a do-over after the original planned attempt which suffered an anomaly that led in a total loss of the vehicle. That was a ‘Rocket 3.0’ model, and the company has upgraded the design and worked out a number of issues, including the one that led to that failure, with the ensuing time. The gap between now and that attempt at the end of March includes delays resulting from COVID-19, though Astra was eventually declared one of very few companies still allowed to maintain a staffed office since it’s considered important to national security.

These three initial test flights won’t carry any payload, in part because Astra fully expects to lose at least the first vehicle. But Astra’s model actually allows for some operational failures in exchange for economics that allow much less expensive individual launch costs than are currently possible with either SpaceX or Rocket Lab’s rideshare missions as options for small satellite operators.

The first Astra test launch is currently targeting sometime between a window that spans August 2 to August 7, between the hours of 7 PM and 9 PM PDT (6 and 8 PM local time in Kodiak) . So far, weather isn’t looking great for Sunda, but the company notes the weather shifts quickly and plans to keep a close watch and adapt accordingly.

#aerospace, #alaska, #astra, #california, #flight, #kodiak, #oakland, #rocket-lab, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc

The Station: Audi punts on Level 3, Lyft layoffs and Nio’s $1 billion deal

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hi readers. Welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

While COVID-related stay-at-home orders have been extended in places like the San Francisco Bay area, officials in other counties and states in the U.S. have decided to open up for business. The rest of us are watching and waiting to see how these two experiments play out.

These opposing approaches have managed to create even more tension in the United States. If politics didn’t divide us before, how and when to open amid a health pandemic is proving to be an effective wedge.

The “how” is as important, or even more so, than the “when.” What will life and business look like? Wuhan, China, a transportation and manufacturing metropolis of 11 million people and where COVID-19 started, offers a view into one approach. (The photo below shows a worker disinfecting a bus in Wuhan on April 30.)

China-wuhan-bus-covid

A staff member sprays disinfectant on a bus at a long-distance bus station in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 30, 2020, ahead of the Labor Day holiday which started May 1.

When those stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, returning to work won’t be quick or easy. Wuhan was placed on lockdown January 23. Wuhan officials eased outgoing travel restrictions April 8. While the strictest component of that lockdown has been lifted, many businesses remain closed. Didi didn’t reopened its ride-hailing services in the city until April 30.

In short, it’s going to be complex. Ford’s back-to-work playbook is a case in point. The plan includes a number of daily measures such as online health self-certifications completed before work every day, face masks and no-touch temperature scans upon arrival. But that’s just a sliver of what it will take. Check it out their complete playbook.

Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

I’ll alrighty folks, shall we dig in? Vamos. 

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility. Over at Lyft, the company laid off 982 employees and furloughed 288 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft also permanently ceased scooter operations in Oakland, San Jose and Austin.

“We’re focusing our resources where we can have the biggest impact and best serve cities and riders,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to invest in our bike and scooter business, but have made the tough decision to shift resources away from three scooter markets and toward opportunities where we are set up for longer-term success.”

At Lime, the startup let go 13% of its staff while the very next day relaunching its electric scooters in Baltimore and Ogden, Utah.

“Almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micromobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing,” Lime CEO Brad Bao wrote in a note to employees.

Just one day after those layoffs, the company relaunched scooters in Baltimore to help support essential medical workers as well as in Ogden.

Uber is weighing its own layoffs. The Information reported that the company could cut up to 20% of its staff. That translates to more than 5,000 jobs. Those cuts could be announced in stages over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Thuan Pham, who was hired as Uber’s chief technology officer by former CEO Travis Kalanick back in 2013, is leaving the company in three weeks, the ride-share giant revealed in an SEC filing.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

money the station

Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio secured a $1 billion investment from several state-owned companies in Hefei in return for agreeing to establish headquarters in the city’s economic development hotspot and giving up a stake in one of its business units.

The injection of capital comes from several investors, including Hefei City Construction and Investment Holding Group, CMG-SDIC Capital and Anhui Provincial Emerging Industry Investment Co.

Why deal of the week? The deal alleviates some concerns about Nio’s liquidity. It also marks the latest Chinese EV startup to turn to the state as private capital has shrunk.

There is no free lunch, however. The deal itself is complex and involves some asset shuffling. Nio is transferring its core businesses in China into a new company called Nio China. The investors will get a 24.1% stake in Nio China. The shareholding structure of the parent company is unchanged.

Other deals announced this week are below. Keep in mind that just because a deal is announced that doesn’t mean it closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising rounds often close weeks and even months before they’re announced.

Otonomo, an automotive data services startup based in Israel, raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The company has a software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

KlearNow, a startup that has built a software platform to automate the customs clearance process, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital. Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.

Skycell, a Switzerland-based startup that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport pharmaceuticals has raised $62 million.

A merger between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com has been approved by regulators. The merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.

Cheetah, a San Francisco-based startup that provided a wholesale delivery service and has pivoted to selling to consumers during COVID-19, raised $36 million in Series B funding.

Innovation of the week

Computer vision company Eyesight Technologies has tweaked its driver monitoring system so it can detect driver distraction and drowsiness even while wearing a medical face mask.

This “innovation of the week” gets back to my opening remarks about “how” we get back to work. Face masks will likely be a part of our world for some time.

Driver monitoring systems, which are increasingly being used by commercial fleets, are trained to detect and monitor facial features of the driver. The system will take in data points like head pose, mouth, eyes and eyelids and use the gathered visual data to detect signs of drowsiness and distraction. If the sensor can’t read one or more of these features the system could fail to detect a drowsy truck driver or inattentive transit worker.

Driver Monitoring with mask

Eyesight Technologies

Eyesight Technologies says that its computer vision and AI algorithms have been trained to detect distraction and drowsiness even if a driver is wearing a mask and glasses.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Eyesight Technologies CEO David Tolub said. “Without a concrete end date to the current situation, wearing medical masks may be a reality for the foreseeable future. Eyesight Technologies is forging ahead and adapting to provide a reliable solution to help guarantee safety even under less than ideal circumstances.”

Audi punts on Level 3

Audi has scrapped plans to roll out a Level 3 automated driving system in its A8 flagship sedan. Automotive News Europe broke the story.

The feature, which is branded Traffic Jam Pilot, theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed.

Traffic Jam Pilot was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. It’s now 2020. What happened? Regulations, or lack of them, have been the primary scapegoat. But it’s not quite the whole story.

TechCrunch reached out to Audi to dig into why? In short, the company told us, that it’s complicated. The lack of a legal framework has raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 is now progressing through its generational life cycle. And Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of framework progressing.

Here’s a few tidbits from the folks at Audi.

On the legal framework:

As of now, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving. Consistently it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series production car. It is still very challenging to plan the exact introduction scenarios for level 3 systems, as we continuously moving in an intensive interplay between the findings from ongoing testing and the requirements that legislators and approval authorities are now defining for conditional automated driving.

On development costs:

As these clarifications and safeguards continue to take time, we also monitor economic aspects in addition. This includes development costs, which are summing up continuously. Secondly, the remaining life of the determined target model A8 combined with the forecasted installation rate and the expected market greediness in the individual countries are playing an important role.

This has brought us to the following decision: We will not see the traffic jam pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle.

Audi’s belief in automated driving:

We still believe in the technology of automated driving and today we know better than almost anyone when it comes to the decisive technological key factors. During the development phase we continuously learned more and more technical “unknown unknowns” and developed approaches how to handle the fact, that there will appear more.

Together with the above mentioned dependencies concerning legislation and type approval, we believe that actually it is not the right moment to deliver the function to the customer. This is our attitude of responsibility.

How Audi is moving forward:

An important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive. Our aim more than ever before is to generate the greatest possible synergies.

Within the VW group we therefore have the best preconditions. We have consolidated our efforts to further develop level 3 automated driving in the Car.Software organization. This is a new organization within the Volkswagen Group .

Former Audi managers will be head of two out of the five domains within this new organization: Thomas Müller will manage the automated driving area, and Dr. Klaus Büttner will manage the Intelligent Body&Cockpit area. Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organization is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group.

#audi, #audi-a8, #austin, #automation, #automotive, #autotech-ventures, #baltimore, #bessemer-venture-partners, #cars, #chief-technology-officer, #china, #covid-19, #driver, #ford, #greatpoint-ventures, #here, #israel, #kirsten-korosec, #klearnow, #labor-day, #lyft, #monta-vista-capital, #netherlands, #oakland, #otonomo, #pharmaceuticals, #pilot, #porsche, #san-francisco, #san-jose, #sedans, #skycell, #software-platform, #takeaway-com, #techcrunch, #thuan-pham, #transportation, #travis-kalanick, #u-s-securities-and-exchange-commission, #uber, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #utah, #volkswagen, #volkswagen-group, #vw-group

The Station: Starship expands, AutoX opens up shop, and a big moment for ebikes

Hi and welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

What you’re reading now is a shorter version of the newsletter, which is emailed every weekend. If you want to subscribe, go here and click The Station.

The transportation industry has seen an influx of “disruptors” in the past 15 years, including car sharing and ride-hailing apps and later shared ebikes and scooters. Now autonomous vehicle technology developers and flying car startups are working for that title.

COVID-19 could turn out out to be the transportation disruptor of this new decade. Yes, yes I know — it’s still early days. However, COVID-19 is already changing how we get around. Public transit has taken a hit and shared scooters have been pulled off streets. Meanwhile, ebike sales are booming and some cities are experimenting with how to provide transportation (and even space) that we need to move around without spreading the disease.

Shall we explore further? Read on. Before we dig in, here’s one more friendly reminder to reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

Electric bikes are having a moment. While shared micromobility companies have pulled scooters and bikes off streets, there is evidence that private sales are growing. Meanwhile, cities are taking action to make this means of transportation more available.

Here are three examples:

  • New York’s tentative budget agreement reached April 1 includes a provision that would legalize throttle-based bikes and scooters.
  • Lectric eBikes, an Arizona-based startup that launched in May 2019, told TechCrunch it has seen a spike in sales since mid-March. The company was selling an average of 25 bikes a day before COVID-19. By mid-March sales jumped to about 48 bikes a day. The following week, the company averaged daily sales of 55 ebikes. Lectric sold 175 bikes the week of March 7th. A month later, weekly sales hit 440.
  • Portland is trying to make its shared bike system known as Biketown more accessible and a helluva a lot cheaper. The city has reduced pay-as-you-go plans to a $0.10 one-time sign up fee and then $0.01 a minute. Yes, 1 cent a minute.

Autonomous delivery

the station autonomous vehicles1

COVID-19 has put a new focus on autonomous vehicle delivery. There aren’t fleets of delivery bots at the ready, but progress is being made.

Starship Technologies launched this month a robot food delivery service in Tempe, Ariz., as part of its expansion plans following a $40 million funding round announced last August.

Starship Technologies, which was launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, has been ramping up commercial services in the past year, including a plan to expand to 100 universities by late summer 2021. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing traditional restaurants to close and placing more pressure on gig economy workers, Starship Technologies has an opportunity to accelerate that growth. The company recently launched in Washington D.C, Irvine, Calif., and says it plans to roll out to more cities in the coming weeks.

Nuro’s next milestone

Meanwhile, Nuro has been granted permission to begin driverless testing on California’s public roads. Nuro’s low-speed R2 vehicle isn’t designed for people, only packages.

And it’s well positioned to actually scale commercially in California. Under state law, AV companies can get a separate permit that allows them to operate a ride-hailing service. But they can’t charge a fee.

Nuro can’t charge a delivery fee either. However, it can generate revenue by working with local retailers to launch a commercial delivery business using the autonomous vehicles.

Other autonomous vehicle news

AutoX has opened an 80,000 square-foot Shanghai Robotaxi Operations Center, following a 2019 agreement with municipal authorities to deploy 100 autonomous vehicles in the Jiading District. The vehicles in the fleet were assembled at a factory about 93 miles outside of Shanghai.

AutoX, which is developing a full self-driving stack, has operations in California and China. It has been particularly active in China. The company has been operating a fleet of robotaxis in Shenzhen through a pilot program launched in 2019 with BYD. Earlier this year, it partnered with Fiat Chrysler to roll out a fleet of robotaxis for China and other countries in Asia.

The Shanghai operations center marks an escalation of AutoX’s ambitions. The company plans to unveil a ride-hailing app that will let users in Shanghai request ride from one of vehicles at the new operations center.

Trend Watch

Trend watch is meant to be a bookmark that we can look back on in a few weeks, months or even years and see if it actually caught on.

I’ll mention two this week.

Nauto is an automotive tech startup that combines cameras, motion sensors, GPS and AI algorithms to understand and improve driver behavior. The company’s platform is used in commercial fleets and some fresh data shows an uptick in last-mile driving and more distracted driving.

Nauto’s distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 41 miles driven every active driving hour in March, a 46% increase from the same month last year.

Meanwhile, distracted driving incidents increased. Nauto said that its distribution and last-mile fleets averaged 1.54 distraction events every active driving hour in March compared to 0.98 events per hour in the same month last year.

Now onto cities. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf launched Saturday the Oakland Slow Streets initiative to help folks maintain physical distancing. The city has shut down down 74 miles of streets to through traffic to give people space to recreate.

Streets are open to local traffic only and residents are able to drive home. Fire, police, deliveries and other essential services won’t impacted by street closures either.

Other cities are experimenting with similar efforts. While streets will likely open back up after the pandemic passes, this could change how people, including planners, business owners and city officials view how we should use streets.

From you

Over the past few weeks, I’ve shared comments from readers about how COVID-19 has affected their business or how they use transportation. This week, I thought I’d share some advice from Laurie Yoler, a new partner at Playground Global, board member of Zoox and adviser to multiple companies. She was an early adviser and former board member at Tesla .

Here’s what she shared.

This is a time of deep reflection. Instead of viewing ‘social distancing’ as a prison, we can focus on the people we care about and reflect on our work and what gives us joy. Look at this time as an opportunity to be compassionate with yourself and the people around you, and pursue your curiosity. That doesn’t mean forcing yourself to complete a list of tasks with urgency and focus, but rather using this time for gentle creative exploration.

If your business needs to rethink its plans or is facing a substantial slowdown, as so many are, remember you can only be effective by focusing on one thing at a time. I have five “F’s” I run through with entrepreneurs I advise. Friends and family first, then physical facilities, in order to ensure business continuity. After that, you can move to finances, cutting costs and creatively thinking about your business model in order to give your company the best chance of survival. Next, it’s about planning for the future. Scenario planning is essential for all critical areas of your business. Ask yourself, “can I use this crisis to make the company stronger?” Lastly, we turn to faith in the world’s scientists and innovators to see us through this difficult time.

Remember, even amid the devastation around us, there is still space for optimism. This could be a catalyst for the sweeping innovation in healthcare and education that we so desperately need. Use this time of stillness to restore yourself. Watch inspirational TED talks, exercise, meditate, and check in with friends and colleagues often.”

— Laurie Yoler

#asia, #av, #bicycles, #board-member, #byd, #california, #car-sharing, #china, #driver, #electric-bicycle, #emerging-technologies, #fiat-chrysler, #healthcare, #kirsten-korosec, #mayor, #nauto, #new-york, #oakland, #playground-global, #portland, #self-driving-car, #shanghai, #sharing-economy, #shenzhen, #starship-technologies, #tc, #techcrunch, #tesla, #zoox

Bay Area effort to feed hospital workers partners with Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen

An effort I’ve been following in the Bay Area to deliver meals to front-line hospital clinicians dealing with the results of COVID-19 is announcing a big new partnership today that should give it a national stage. Frontline Foods is partnering up with World Central Kitchen to scale up its ad-hoc efforts across the US.

World Central Kitchen is a not-for-profit organization founded by chef José Andrés in 2010 that has made headlines over and over again as it has provided food and disaster relief in countries around the world after disasters like Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the Camp Fires in California and most recently COVID-19-affected cruise passengers in Japan and Oakland.

Frontline Foods is an open-sourced effort to deliver meals to hospital staff from local restaurants impacted by loss of clientele due to coronavirus prevention measures. The equation is a brilliantly simple one. Restaurants have far less customers, hospital staff are moving at incredible speed and unable to score a great meal on the fly.

The #SFhospitalmeals experiment evolved into a full clinician meal program, as launched here by Frank Barbieri and Sydney Gessel, along with Ryan Sarver, who I spoke to via email about the program — one of several similar efforts that collectively became Frontline Foods.

“Frank was texting with a mutual friend of ours, Sydney Gessel, who is a registered nurse in the Emergency Department at UCSF Mission Bay. He asked her, ‘How can I help’ and she essentially replied ‘pizza.’ Nurses are pulling 16-hour shifts, are stressed, tired, no time to cook at home, restaurants are closed and the simple act of feeding themselves was going by the wayside,” Sarver said. “At the same time, restaurants were starting to face the reality of shelter-in-place and the dire results of what it meant for them and their teams. We called up a local pizza spot that night and had a bunch of pizzas delivered to her unit. The restaurant and the clinicians were both ecstatic and we realized there was an opportunity to try to do more of this.”

After a couple of dry runs and a tweet for donors, the project ended up expanding to 7 hospitals and raising an eventual $350k over the past few weeks.

Ryan and Frank and other volunteers like Chris Consentino outlined a spec for the project and reached out to a number of restaurants and started plugging them into spreadsheets that matched restaurants to units in need across a few Bay Area hospitals.

Frontline Foods, as a federation that now has multiple chapters across the US, has 150 volunteers in 12 cities and has raised a combined $700,000. In SF it has delivered 4,375 meals to 6 local hospitals. It currently has the ability to deliver another 12,000 meals in SF. Current hospitals served in the bay include UCSF Mission Bay, UCSF Parnassus, SFGH, Kaiser Geary, CPMC Van Ness and CPMC Davies.

Once they saw that there were more groups in the bay and across the US that had started similar ‘connect restaurants to COVID-19 clinicians’ efforts, they began to see the need to build out a standard.

“We decided ‘open sourcing’ the process and tools we were using would help other people start their own programs and allow us to learn from others groups,” Sarver said. “We eventually launched a Slack to help the other cities coordinate. In less than a week we now have 180 volunteers in the Slack, over a dozen cities launched, have raised $700k, and delivered 7,000+ meals.”

Frontline is looking to leverage WCK’s experience in raising money and preparing food for disasters over the last 10 years. WCK’s help as a fiscal sponsor will also give Frontline Foods the ability to utilize its 501c3 status to accept donations. The side of this that is bolstering local restaurants and creating a pipeline between them and groups of people in need of food — fueled by donations — is what Frontline is hoping to bring to the table.

The group boasts a diverse set of skills from technology and design to community management, food & beverage and non-profits. They’re distributed across the US, Canada and Australia as well. It’s nearly all being run on Slack and Zoom calls as well, and most of the group has never met one another.

“We open sourced the process and tools, which at the time was some Google Docs and Google Sheets,” said Sarver. “In the week since, we have spun up a product and engineering team of volunteers who are designing and building more automated systems. Some of it is custom built and but much of it is going to be built on Coda for the backend tools, documentation and automation.”

Many of the cities that are now a part of the Frontline Foods project were home to efforts that started in parallel. After reaching out and realizing that they were aligned, there was a drive to create a new umbrella that used a shared mission and shared systems to make them more effective.

Frontline is reaching out to local, independent restaurants in the areas where it operates or having them apply via a form, and word has spread through the restaurant community. Many of them, even without previous take-out or delivery experience, are figuring out how to package and deliver meals through Frontline’s pipeline. In return, they get a pipeline of predictable business at a time when they are not seeing much predictability at all.

The restaurant industry has been hit incredibly hard by COVID-19, and there is a real danger that an entire generation of independent food providers will just be wiped out. Many are adapting at speed to a life of takeout, or marketplaces, or safe delivery — but any additional help is welcome. And the double-ended benefit that results from the Frontline Foods (and WCK) project is a fantastic way to deliver that help.

“World Central Kitchen is a team of food first responders, mobilizing with the urgency of now to get meals to those who need them most. We are proud that this alliance with Frontline Foods will help activate even more restaurants and kitchens to feed our brave medical professionals on the front lines, in order to make a meaningful impact in the fight to keep everyone fed, and to support the distressed restaurant industry,” World Central Kitchen CEO Nate Mook said in a release today.

Frontline Foods and WCK are taking no fees from these transactions. Along with the WCK partnership, Frontline is also launching a national donation-matching program with a $200,000 matching grant from top donors.

“This is an unprecedented crisis (I’ve used that a lot, but it is) — the hospitals and clinicians have never seen anything like this,” said Sarver via email. “And for the 11 million people employed by restaurants in the US, they face a very uncertain future. Every dollar of a donation goes directly into the pockets of these restaurants to make the food that goes to our clinicians. If you can, please consider a donation.”

You can donate on Frontline Foods website here.

#australia, #california, #canada, #chef, #chefs, #federal-government, #food, #food-and-drink, #frank-barbieri, #google, #japan, #oakland, #puerto-rico, #restaurants, #ryan-sarver, #take-out, #tc, #united-states

The Station: Bird and Lime layoffs, pivots in a COVID-19 era and a $2.2 trillion deal

Hello folks, welcome back (or hi for the first time) to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the all the ways people and packages move around this world. I’m your host, Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

I also have started to publish a shorter version of the newsletter on TechCrunch . That’s what you’re reading now. For the whole enchilada — which comes out every Saturday — you can subscribe to the newsletter by heading over here, and clicking “The Station.” It’s free!

Before I get into the thick of things, how is everyone doing? This isn’t a rhetorical question; I’m being earnest. I want to hear from you (note my email below). Maybe you’re a startup founder, a safety driver at an autonomous vehicle developer, a venture capitalist, engineer or gig economy worker. I’m interested in how you are doing, what you’re doing to cope and how you’re getting around in your respective cities.

Please reach out and email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bird laid off about 30% of its employees due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

In a memo obtained by TechCrunch, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden said:

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has forced our leadership team and the board of directors to make many extremely difficult and painful decisions relating to some of your teammates. As you know, we’ve had to pause many markets around the world and drastically cut spending. Due to the financial and operational impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are saying goodbye to about 30% of our team.

The fallout from COVID-19 isn’t limited to Bird. Lime is also reportedly considering laying off up to 70 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Meanwhile, Wheels deployed e-bikes with self-cleaning handlebars and brake levers to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. NanoSeptic’s technology, which is powered by light, uses mineral nano-crystals to create an oxidation reaction that is stronger than bleach, according to the company’s website. NanoSeptic then implements that technology into skins and mats to turn anything from a mousepad to door handles to handlebars into self-cleaning surfaces.

The upshot to all of this: COVID-19 is turning shared mobility on its head. That means lay offs will continue. It also means companies like Wheels will try to innovate or pivot in hopes of staying alive.

While some companies pulled scooters off city streets, others changed how they marketed services. Some turned efforts to gig economy workers delivering food. Others, like shared electric moped service Revel, are focusing on healthcare workers.

Revel is now letting healthcare workers in New York rent its mopeds for free. To qualify, they just need to upload their employee ID. For now, the free rides for healthcare workers is limited to Brooklyn, Queens and a new service area from upper Manhattan down to 65th street. Revel expanded the area to include hospitals in one of the epicenters of the disease.

Revel is still renting its mopeds to the rest of us out there, although they encourage people to only use them for essential trips. As you might guess, ridership is down significantly. The company says it has stepped up efforts of disinfecting and cleaning the mopeds and helmets. Revel also operates in Austin, New York City, Oakland, and Washington. It has suspended service in Miami per local regulations.

Megan Rose Dickey (with a cameo from Kirsten Korosec)

Deal of the week

money the station

Typically, I would highlight a large funding round for a startup in the “deal of the week” section. This week, I have broadened my definition.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a historic stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” act. President Donald Trump signed it hours later. The CARES act contains an unprecedented $2.2 trillion in total financial relief for businesses, public institutions and individuals hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

TechCrunch has just started what will be a multi-day dive into the 880-page document. And in the coming weeks, I will highlight anything related or relevant to the transportation industry or startups here.

I’ll focus today on three items: airlines, public transit and small business loans.

U.S. airlines are receiving $58 billion. It breaks down to about $25 billion in loans for commercial carriers, $25 billion in payroll grants to cover the 750,000 employees who work in the industry.  Cargo carriers will receive $4 billion in loans and $4 billion in grants. These loans come with some strings attached. Airlines will have to agree not to lay off workers through the end of September. The package forbids stock buybacks and issuing dividends to shareholders for a year after paying off one of the loans.

Public transit has been allocated $24.9 billion. The CARES Act provides almost three times the FY 2020 appropriations for this category, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The funds are distributed through a formula that puts $13.79 billion to urban, $2 billion to rural, $7.51 billion towards state of good repair and $1.71 billion for high-density state transit. APTA notes that these funds are for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 beginning on January 20, 2020.

Amtrak received an additional $1 billion in grants, that directs $492 million of those funds towards the northeast corridor. The remaining goes to the national network.

Small business loans are a critical piece of the bill, and an area where many startups may be focused. There is a lot to unpack here, but in basic terms the act provides $350 billion in loans that will be administered by the Small Business Administration to businesses with 500 or fewer employees. These loans are meant to cover an eligible borrower’s payroll, rent, utilities expenses and mortgage interest for up to eight weeks. If the borrower maintains its workforce, some of the loan may be forgiven.

Venture-backed startups seeking relief may run into problems qualifying. It all comes down to how employees are counted. Normally, SBA looks at a company’s affiliates to determine if they qualify. So, a startup owned by a private equity firm is considered affiliated with the other companies in that firm’s portfolio, which could push employment numbers far beyond 500. That rule also seems to apply to venture-backed startups, in which more than 50% of voting stock is held by the VC.

The guidance on this is still spotty. But Fenwick & West, a Silicon Valley law firm, said in recent explainer that the rule has the “potential to be problematic for startups because the SBA affiliation rules are highly complex and could cause lenders to group together several otherwise unaffiliated portfolio companies of a single venture capital firm in determining whether a borrower has no more than 500 employees.”

One final note: The SBA has waived these affiliation rules for borrowers in the food services and food supply chain industry. It’s unclear what that might mean for those food automation startups or companies building autonomous vehicles for food delivery.

More deal$

COVID-19 has taken over, but deals are still happening. Here’s a rundown of some of partnerships, acquisitions and fundraising round that got our attention.

  • Lilium, the Munich-based startup that is designing and building vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft and aspires to run in its own taxi fleet, has raised $240 million in a funding round led by Tencent. This is being couched as an inside round with only existing investors, a list that included participation from previous backers such as Atomico, Freigeist and LGT. The valuation is not being disclosed. But sources tell us that it’s between $750 million and $1 billion.
  • Wunder Mobility acquired Australia-based car rental technology provider KEAZ. (Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but as part of the deal KEAZ founder and CTO Tim Bos is joining Wunder Mobility) KEAZ developed a mobile app and back-end management tool that lets rental agencies, car dealerships, and corporations provide shared access to vehicles.
  • Cazoo, a startup that buys used cars and then sells them online and delivers to them your door, raised $116 million funding. The round was led by DMG Ventures with General Catalyst, CNP (Groupe Frère), Mubadala Capital, Octopus Ventures, Eight Roads Ventures and Stride.VC also participating.
  • Helm.ai came out of stealth with an announcement that it has raised $13 million in a seed round that includes investment from A.Capital Ventures, Amplo, Binnacle Partners, Sound Ventures, Fontinalis Partners and SV Angel. Helm.ai says it developed software for autonomous vehicles that can skip traditional steps of simulation, on-road testing and annotated data set — all tools that are used to train and improve the so-called “brain” of the self-driving vehicle.
  • RoadSync, a digital payment platform for the transportation industry, raised a $5.7 million in a Series A led by Base10 Partners with participation from repeat investor Hyde Park Venture Partners and Companyon Ventures. The company developed cloud-based software that lets businesses invoice and accept payments from truck drivers, carriers and brokers. Their platform is in use at over 400 locations nationwide with over 50,000 unique transactions monthly, according to RoadSync.
  • Self-driving truck startup TuSimple is partnering with automotive supplier ZF to develop and produce autonomous vehicle technology, such as sensors, on a commercial scale. The partnership, slated to begin in April, will cover China, Europe and North America.

A final word

Remember, the weekly newsletter features even more mobility news and insights. I’ll leave ya’ll with this one chart from Inrix. The company has launched a U.S. traffic synopsis that it plans to publish every Monday. The chart shows traffic from the week of March 14 to March 20. The upshot: COVID-19 reduced traffic by 30% nationwide.

inrix traffic drop from covid

#amtrak, #austin, #australia, #automotive, #base10-partners, #car-dealerships, #cazoo, #china, #cloud-based-software, #donald-trump, #e-bikes, #eight-roads-ventures, #europe, #fontinalis-partners, #food, #general-catalyst, #healthcare, #house-of-representatives, #hyde-park-venture-partners, #inrix, #kirsten-korosec, #lilium, #megan-rose-dickey, #miami, #mubadala-capital, #new-york, #new-york-city, #oakland, #octopus-ventures, #simulation, #sound-ventures, #techcrunch, #tencent, #travis-vanderzanden, #tusimple, #venture-capital, #vtol, #washington, #wunder-mobility, #zf