Money Minx aims to build a ‘Personal Finance’ OS for the everyday investor

New regulations are making it easier to invest in alternative assets via crowdfunding, and the recent explosion of crypto and NFTs means that investors are more diversified than ever. 

Keeping up with such a variety of investments may prove difficult to those who want to handle managing their investment portfolios on their own. Money Minx, a new San Diego-based startup co-founded by husband and wife team Hussein and Jessica Yahfoufi, wants to help with that.

Put simply, Money Minx aims to build a “Personal Finance OS” for every household. The platform is designed to help people track all of their investments — yes, including crypto and NFTs — in one place, in whatever currency. The company claims that its AI can also go a step further, and help people spot opportunities in their portfolio as well as catch potential risks.

“We built Money Minx to help people cover all their bases, better understand their personal balance sheet and grow their net worth,” Hussein said. “No financial advisor needed.”

Money Minx also aims to provide people with easy-to-use tools to create dashboards and reports. In its “soft launch” phase, the startup has been growing rapidly — from $15 million in assets tracked at the end of March to $107 million by mid-May. Its user base is growing by 40% month over month.

As many founders do, Hussein says he and Jessica developed the platform to meet a need of their own.

“We built this because we needed it as ‘do it yourself investors,’ said Hussein, who previously started crowdfunding site appsplit and works as a CTO at a San Diego-based fintech company. “I didn’t want to hire a financial advisor and spend 1% of my portfolio every year for them to tell me what to do. So I started to do it on my own on a spreadsheet and then started building this tool last year.”

Hussein talked to other investors and realized that many were also managing their own finances and had also moved into investing outside the stock market.

Image Credits: Money Minx co-founders Jessica and Hussein Yahfoufi / Money Minx

“Everyday investors are preferring to invest more in crowdfunding sites and alternative assets than the traditional stock market,” he said. 

This shift has created a gap in the market for an easy way to track investments across multiple platforms, the Yahfoufis believe. 

Money Minx operates as a SaaS business and charges a monthly subscription fee across three different plans ranging from $10 to $30 a month. Looking ahead, Hussein is considering building out a white-glove service.

Although Money Minx has been approached by interested VCs, Hussein says the company prefers to stay bootstrapped — for now.

Indeed, VCs are pouring money into the space. Just last week, personal finance startup Truebill announced it had raised a $45 million Series D funding round led by Accel.

#apps, #artificial-intelligence, #crowdfunding, #crypto-economy, #cryptocurrency, #entrepreneurship, #finance, #financial-advisor, #fintech, #money, #money-minx, #saas, #san-diego, #startup, #startup-company, #startups, #tc, #truebill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Claiming a landmark in fusion energy, TAE Technologies sees commercialization by 2030

In a small industrial park located nearly halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, one company is claiming to have hit a milestone in the development of a new technology for generating power from nuclear fusion.

The twenty year old fusion energy technology developer TAE Technologies said its reactors could be operating at commercial scale by the end of the decade, thanks to its newfound ability to produce stable plasma at temperatures over 50 million degrees (nearly twice as hot as the sun), .

The promise of fusion energy, a near limitless energy source with few emissions and no carbon footprint, has been ten years out for the nearly seventy years since humanity first harnessed the power of nuclear energy.  But a slew of companies including TAE, General Fusion, Commonwealth Fusion Systems and a host of others across North America and around the world are making rapid advancements that look to bring the technology from the realm of science fiction into the real world.

For TAE Technologies, the achievement serves as a validation of the life’s work of Norman Rostoker, one of the company’s co-founders who had devoted his life to fusion energy research and died before he could see the company he helped create reach its latest milestone.

“This is an incredibly rewarding milestone and an apt tribute to the vision of my late mentor, Norman Rostoker,” said TAE’s current chief executive officer, Michl Binderbauer, in a statement announcing the company’s achievement. “Norman and I wrote a paper in the 1990s theorizing that a certain plasma dominated by highly energetic particles should become increasingly better confined and stable as temperatures increase. We have now been able to demonstrate this plasma behavior with overwhelming evidence. It is a powerful validation of our work over the last three decades, and a very critical milestone for TAE that proves the laws of physics are on our side.”

Rostoker’s legacy lives on inside TAE through the company’s technology platform, called, appropriately, “Norman”. In the last 18 months that technology has demonstrated consistent performance, reaching over 50 million degrees in several hundred test cycles.

Six years ago, the company had proved that its reactor design could sustain plasma indefinitely — meaning that once the switch is flipped on a reaction, that fusion reaction can continue indefinitely. Now, the company said, it has achieved the necessary temperatures to make its reactors commercially viable.

It’s with these milestones behind it that TAE was able to raise an additional $280 million in financing, bringing its total up to $880 million and making it one of the best financed private nuclear fusion endeavors in the world.

“The Norman milestone gives us a high degree of confidence that our unique approach brings fusion within grasp technologically and, more important, economically,” Binderbauer said. “As we shift out of the scientific validation phase into engineering commercial-scale solutions for both our fusion and power management technologies, TAE will become a significant contributor in modernizing the entire energy grid.”

The company isn’t generating energy yet, and won’t for the foreseeable future. The next goal for the company, according to Binderbauer, is to develop the technology to the point where it can create the conditions necessary for making energy from a fusion reaction.

“The energy is super tiny. It’s immaterial. It’s a needle in the haystack,” Binderbauer said. “In terms of its energy discernability, we can use it for diagnostics.”

TAE Technologies Michl Binderbauer standing next to the company’s novel fusion reactor. Image Credit: TAE Technologies

Follow the sun

It took $150 million and five iterations for TAE Technologies to get to Norman, its national laboratory scale fusion device. The company said it conducted over 25,000 fully-integrated fusion reactor core experiments, optimized using machine learning programs developed in collaboration with Google and processing power from the Department of Energy’s INCITE program, which leverages exascale-level computing, TAE Technologies said.

The new machine was first fired up in the summer of 2017. Before it could even be constructed TAE Technologies went through a decade of experimentation to even begin approaching the construction of a physical prototype. By 2008, the first construction began on integrated experiments to make a plasma core and infuse it with some energetic particles. The feeder technology and beams alone cost $100 million, Binderbauer said. Then the company needed to develop other technologies like vacuum conditioning. Power control mechanisms also needed to be put in place to ensure that the company’s 3 megawatt power supply could be stored in enough containment systems to power a 750 megawatt energy reaction.

Finally, machine learning capabilities needed to be tapped from companies like Google and compute power from the Department of Energy had to be harnessed to manage computations that could take what had been the theorems that defined Rostoker’s life’s work, and prove that they could be made real.

“By the time Norman became an operating machine we had four generations of devices preceding it. Out of those there were two fully integrated ones and two generations of incremental machines that could do some of it but not all of it.”

Fusion energy’s burning problems

While fusion has a lot of promise as a zero-carbon source of energy, it’s not without some serious limitations, as Andy Jassby, the former principal physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab noted in a 2017 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists article.

Jassby wrote:

Earth-bound fusion reactors that burn neutron-rich isotopes have byproducts that are anything but harmless: Energetic neutron streams comprise 80 percent of the fusion energy output of deuterium-tritium reactions and 35 percent of deuterium-deuterium reactions.

Now, an energy source consisting of 80 percent energetic neutron streams may be the perfect neutron source, but it’s truly bizarre that it would ever be hailed as the ideal electrical energy source. In fact, these neutron streams lead directly to four regrettable problems with nuclear energy: radiation damage to structures; radioactive waste; the need for biological shielding; and the potential for the production of weapons-grade plutonium 239—thus adding to the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, not lessening it, as fusion proponents would have it.

In addition, if fusion reactors are indeed feasible—as assumed here—they would share some of the other serious problems that plague fission reactors, including tritium release, daunting coolant demands, and high operating costs. There will also be additional drawbacks that are unique to fusion devices: the use of a fuel (tritium) that is not found in nature and must be replenished by the reactor itself; and unavoidable on-site power drains that drastically reduce the electric power available for sale.

TAE Technologies is aware of the problems, according to a spokesperson for the firm, and the company has noted the issues Jassby raised in its product development, the spokesperson said.

“All the callouts to tritium is exactly why TAE has been focused on pB-11 as its feedstock from the very beginning (early 90’s).  TAE will reach D-T conditions as a natural stepping stone to pB-11, cause it cooks at ‘only’ 100M c, whereas pB-11 is upwards of 1M c,” the spokesperson wrote in a response. “It would seem like a much harder accomplishment to then scale to 1M, but what this milestone proves is the ‘Scaling law’ for the kind of fusion TAE is generating – in an FRC (the linear design of “Norman”, unlike the donut Tokamaks) the hotter the plasma, the more stable it becomes. It’s the opposite of a [Tokamak].  The milestone gives them scientific confidence they can increase temps beyond DT to pB11 and realize fusion with boron — cheap, aneutronic, abundant — the ideal terrestrial feedstock (let’s not get into mining the moon for helium-3!).”

As for power concerns, the TAE fusion reactor can convert a 2MW grid feed into 750MW shots on the machine without taking down Orange County’s grid (and needing to prove it to SCE), and scale power demand in microseconds to mold and course-correct plasmas in real-time, the spokesperson wrote.

In fact, TAE is going to spin off its power management technology into a separate business focused on peak shaving, energy storage and battery management on the grid and in electric vehicles.

A “safer” fusion technology?

The Hydrogen-Boron, or p-B11, fuel cycle is, according to the company, the most abundant fuel source on earth, and will be the ultimate feedstock for TAE Technologies’ reactor, according to the company. But initially, TAE, like most of the other companies currently developing fusion technologies will be working with Deuterium-Tritium as its fuel source.

The demonstration facility “Copernicus” which will be built using some of the new capital the company has announced raising, will start off on the D-T fuel cycle and eventually make the switch. Over time, TAE hopes to license the D-T technology while building up to its ultimate goal.

Funding the company’s “money by milestone” approach are some fo the world’s wealthiest families, firms, and companies. Vulcan, Venrock, NEA, Wellcome Trust, Google, and the Kuwait Investment Authority are all backers. So too, are the family offices of Addison Fischer, Art Samberg, and Charls Schwab.

“TAE is providing the miracles the 21st century needs,” said Addison Fischer, TAE Board Director and longtime investor who has been involved with conservation and environmental issues for decades. Fischer also founded VeriSign and is a pioneer in defining and implementing security technology underlying modern electronic commerce. “TAE’s most recent funding positions the company to undertake their penultimate step in implementing sustainable aneutronic nuclear fusion and power management solutions that will benefit the planet.”

#department-of-energy, #energy, #energy-storage, #fusion-power, #google, #los-angeles, #nea, #nuclear-energy, #nuclear-fusion, #san-diego, #tc, #venrock, #verisign, #vulcan

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After 200% ARR growth in 2020, CourseKey raises $9M to digitize trade schools

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and forced educational institutions to go virtual, many were scrambling to develop online or blended curriculums.

That struggle was particularly challenging for trade schools, many of which were not designed to teach online and were mostly paper-driven. 

CourseKey, a San Diego-based trade school management SaaS startup, was in a unique position. Demand surged and its ARR grew by 200% in 2020. And now, the company has raised $9 million in a Series B led by SignalFire and with participation from existing backer Builders VC to help it continue its momentum. 

Founded in 2015 by Luke Sophinos and Fadee Kannah, CourseKey’s B2B platform is designed to work with organizations that teach some of our most essential workers — from automotive mechanics to electricians to plumbers to nurses, phlebotomists and dental assistants.

CourseKey founders Luke Sophinos (left) and Faddee Kannah (right)

CourseKey founders Luke Sophinos (left) and Fadee Kannah (right)

The goal is to help those organizations boost revenue by improving student retention and graduation rates, helping them maintain regulatory compliance and generally streamline processes. 

“Things really took off last year when the coronavirus hit,” Sophinos said. “So many schools had to adopt a digital arsenal. We saw a massive acceleration trend that was already going to happen. Every industry had been eaten. We just found a space that wasn’t yet.”

CourseKey currently works with over 200 career colleges, including the Paul Mitchell School and the Institute for Business & Technology, among others. Over 100,000 students use its software.

For Sophinos and Kannah, founding CourseKey was more than just a business opportunity. Kannah, who had fled Iraq as a refugee, saw family members going through trade schools that were lacking technology infrastructure and modern software tools. He architected the CourseKey platform. 

Sophinos, frustrated by his own college experience, applied for The Thiel Fellowship – a program that supports students in company building instead of university attending. However, he recognized that not everyone who doesn’t want to go to traditional college has that option.

“While looking at alternatives, our early team began recognizing a market that we felt no one was paying attention to. It was occupied by our friends and by our family members,” Sophinos said. “It was a space that, for some odd reason, was largely being left out of the education conversation.”

In 2017, CourseKey partnered with a large vocational education provider to build and launch what Sophinos describes as “the world’s first trade school management system.”

“We focused on automating daily classroom procedures like attendance and grading, enhancing the student experience through communication tools, helping to identify at-risk students, and simplifying compliance,” he said. “We also visualized data for retention purposes.”

CourseKey also does things like track skill attainment, run evaluations and exams and integrate third-party tools.

Image Credits: CourseKey

The startup’s goal with its new capital is to scale the platform to serve “every trade school in the country” with the mission of changing the narrative that four-year college is the “only option.” It also plans to add new features and capabilities, largely based on customer requests. CourseKey also plans to nearly double its current headcount of just over 50 employees to nearly 100 over the next two years.

“This is a massive market and massive business opportunity,” Sophinos said.

CourseKey has an impressive list of supporters beyond SignalFire and Builders. Steve Altman, former vice chairman and president of Qualcomm, led its $3.5 million seed round which also included participation from Larry Rosenberger, former FICO CEO. Dennis Yang, former CEO of edtech giant Udemy, and Altman now serve on its board.

SignalFire Managing Director Wayne Hu, who also took a seat on the startup’s board with the new round, said his firm recognized that vocational schools and their administrators, instructors, and students “suffer from a lack of purpose-built software.”

“Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems are optimized for traditional K-12 schools and university workflow, but vocational schools are stuck relying on pen and paper or trying to shoe-horn in solutions that aren’t built for them,” Hu wrote in a blog post.

CourseKey, in SignalFire’s view, is reimagining a new education operating system built specifically for experiential, hands-on learning models, which continues to evolve with hybrid/distance learning.  

Hu also pointed out that since many of the jobs that vocational schools are preparing people for “have life or death consequences,” they are highly regulated.

“Not only does CourseKey improve trade school business KPIs, it serves as insurance against this existential risk,” he added.

#ceo, #dennis-yang, #distance-learning, #education, #funding, #fundings-exits, #operating-system, #recent-funding, #saas, #san-diego, #signalfire, #startups

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Nanome raises $3 million to help scientists get up close with molecular structures in VR

Discovery and research of new molecular compounds is an expensive business, with development costs exceeding $10 billion per substance in some cases. Part of that comes from the need to closely examine every relevant molecule, studying its chemical composition and interactions as well as its physical structure at the atomic level. Despite advances in software to help model these compounds and molecules, there are still challenges in fully understanding their shapes through a two-dimensional computer screen.

San Diego-based startup Nanome uses virtual reality to solve that problem. The idea for Nanome came out of CEO and Founder Steve McCloskey’s time in the nanoengineering program at UC San Diego, where he saw a need for a better understanding of three-dimensional molecular structures.

“Understanding structure empowers our users to understand how their designs function,” he wrote in an email. “Yet, the R&D process for drug discovery relies on 2D monitors, keyboard, and mouse, which limits the understanding of complex 3D structures or interactions and contributes to massive R&D costs averaging $2.5B per drug.”

Nanome recently closed a funding round led by Bullpen Capital for $3 million to establish new business partnerships, build up the company’s brand, and expand their science and engineering team. “Nanome is reimagining the way we interact with science at a time when innovation in collaboration is more important than ever before,” said Bullpen Capital General Partner Ann Lai in a press release. Formic Ventures, led by Oculus co-founder Michael Antonov, also took part in the round.

McCloskey thinks that Nanome’s platform has become even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, as researchers might be forced to work remotely on occasion, limiting their access to in-lab technology and software.

“Nanome helps scientists get on the same page quicker,” he wrote in an email. “Traditionally scientists working with molecules use screenshots or screen sharing, and rely on the mouse cursor and Zoom to communicate their insights and ask for feedback from other team members.” Nanome streamlines this process by bringing researchers to the same virtual reality space to work on molecule development together.

So far, Nanome has worked largely on projects with companies in the food and beverage industry, as well as another to develop more sustainable batteries. But they have plans to use this new funding to expand into pharmaceutical chemistry, synthetic biology, and even education. Their next product update will feature what McCloskey calls ‘Spatial Recording,’ that will allow users to record their work for later review – basically a screen recording but with a VR experience. “This is not only an amazing feature for asynchronous collaboration among researchers, it is also useful for producing lectures and lessons,” he wrote in an email.

#ann-lai, #biotech, #bullpen-capital, #chemistry, #drug-discovery, #funding, #health, #oculus, #pharmaceutics, #recent-funding, #san-diego, #science, #startup, #startups, #virtual-reality

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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

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Qualcomm-backed chipmaker Kneron nails Foxconn funding, deal

A startup based out of San Diego and Taipei is quietly nailing fundings and deals from some of the biggest names in electronics. Kneron, which specializes in energy-efficient processors for edge artificial intelligence, just raised a strategic funding round from Taiwan’s manufacturing giant Foxconn and integrated circuit producer Winbond.

The deal came a year after Kneron closed a $40 million round led by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures. Amongst its other prominent investors are Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund, Sequoia Capital, Qualcomm and SparkLabs Taipei.

Kneron declined to disclose the dollar amount of the investment from Foxconn and Winbond due to investor requests but said it was an “eight figures” deal, founder and CEO Albert Liu told TechCrunch in an interview.

Founded in 2015, Kneron’s latest product is a neural processing unit that can enable sophisticated AI applications without relying on the cloud. The startup is directly taking on the chips of Intel and Google, which it claims are more energy-consuming than its offering. The startup recently got a talent boost after hiring Davis Chen, Qualcomm’s former Taipei head of engineering.

Among Kneron’s customers are Chinese air conditioning giant Gree and German’s autonomous driving software provider Teraki, and the new deal is turning the world’s largest electronics manufacturer into a client. As part of the strategic agreement, Kneron will work with Foxconn on the latter’s smart manufacturing and newly introduced open platform for electric vehicles, while its work with Winbond will focus on microcontroller unit (MCU)-based AI and memory computing.

“Low-power AI chips are pretty easy to put into sensors. We all know that in some operation lines, sensors are quite small, so it’s not easy to use a big GPU [graphics processing unit] or CPU [central processing unit], especially when power consumption is a big concern,” said Liu, who held R&D positions at Qualcomm and Samsung before founding Kneron.

Unlike some of its competitors, Kneron designs chips for a wide range of use cases, from manufacturing, smart home, smartphones, robotics, surveillance, payments, to autonomous driving. It doesn’t just make chips but also the AI software embedded in the chips, a strategy that Liu said differentiates his company from China’s AI darlings like SenseTime and Megvii, which enable AI service through the cloud.

Kneron has also been on a less aggressive funding pace than these companies, which fuel their rapid expansion through outsize financing rounds. Six-year-old SenseTime has raised about $2.6 billion to date, while nine-year-old Megvii has banked about $1.4 billion. Kneron, in comparison, has raised just over $70 million from a Series A round.

Like the Chinese AI upstarts, Kneron is weighing an initial public offering. The company is expected to make a profit in 2023, Liu said, and “that will probably be a good time for us to go IPO.”

#albert-liu, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #chips, #electronics, #energy, #foxconn, #google, #gree, #intel, #kneron, #manufacturing, #megvii, #qualcomm, #samsung, #san-diego, #sensetime, #sequoia-capital, #taipei, #taiwan, #tc

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Apple is full-steam ahead on replacing Qualcomm modems with its own

A blue iPhone 12 lying flat on a table

Enlarge / The iPhone 12. (credit: Samuel Axon)

As rumored many months ago, Apple’s silicon ambitions don’t end with replacing Intel CPUs with its own in Macs—it plans to ditch Qualcomm modems in favor of its own custom-designed chips for iPhones, according to Apple hardware tech lead Johny Srouji.

Srouji confirmed the company’s plans when speaking to employees during an internal town hall meeting, as reported by Bloomberg today. Apple acquired Intel’s 5G smartphone modem business last summer. That acquisition of Intel’s intellectual property and resources was key for Apple’s new efforts.

Quoted in the Bloomberg story, Srouji told Apple employees:

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#5g, #apple, #bloomberg, #intel, #iphone, #johny-srouji, #modems, #qualcomm, #san-diego, #tech, #wireless

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Govtech intelligence platform, The Atlas for Cities, bought by Government Executive Media Group

The Atlas for Cities, the 500 Startups-backed market intelligence platform connecting tech companies with state and local governments, has been acquired by the Growth Catalyst Partners-backed publishing and market intelligence company Government Executive Media Group.

The San Diego-based company will become the latest addition to a stable of publications and services that include the Route Fifty, publication for local government and the defense-oriented intelligence service, DefenseOne.

The Atlas provides peer-to-peer networks for state and local government officials to share best practices and is a marketing channel for the startups that want to sell services to those government employees. Through The Atlas, government officials can talk to each other, find case studies for best practices around tech implementations, and post questions to crowdsource ideas.

Government contractors can use the site to network with leadership and receive buyer intent data to inform their strategy in the sector, all while getting intelligence about the problems and solutions that matter to state and local jurisdictions across the nation. 

The Atlas delivers on GEMG’s promise to look for companies that complement and supplement the full suite of offerings that we provide to our partners to reach decision makers across all facets of the public sector,” said Tim Hartman, CEO of Government Executive Media Group, said in a statement.

Led by Ellory Monks and Elle Hempen, The Atlas for Cities launched in 2019 and is backed by financing from individual investors and the 500 Startups accelerator program. It now counts 21,000 government officials across 3,400 cities on its platform.

“State and local governments in the United States spend $3.7 trillion per year. That’s almost 20% of GDP,” said Elle Hempen, co-founder of The Atlas. “Our mission to increase transparency and access for local leaders has the opportunity to transform this enormous, inefficient market and enable tangible progress on the most important issues of our times.”

#atlas, #ceo, #co-founder, #entrepreneurship, #peer-to-peer, #private-equity, #san-diego, #startup-company, #tc, #the-atlas, #united-states

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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.

 

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San Diego’s spying streetlights stuck switched “on,” despite directive

Two of San Diego's camera-equipped smart streetlights at twilight in August, 2020.

Enlarge / Two of San Diego’s camera-equipped smart streetlights at twilight in August, 2020. (credit: Bing Guan | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Over the past few years, streetlights in the city of San Diego have become “smart,” equipped with a slate of cameras and sensors that report back data on the city and its denizens. Following protests from privacy activists, the city mayor ordered the network disabled for the time being—but it turns out that city staff can’t turn the cameras off just yet without plunging the city into literal darkness.

Thousands of streetlight cameras were supposed to be disabled this fall, the Voice of San Diego reports, but there is no software switch for doing so. In lieu of disabling the cameras, the vendor responsible for them at the time instead simply cut off the city’s network access to the devices.

The Smart Streetlight project began five years ago, in 2015, when San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced (PDF) a new “partnership” with GE Lighting to deploy “a software-defined lighting technology that will help San Diego solve some of the city’s infrastructure challenges.”

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#cameras, #policy, #san-diego, #smart-city, #street-lights, #streetlights, #surveillance

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Investors back Pacific Consolidated Holdings to merge leading LA-based liquor and weed delivery companies

There’s a new company that’s sitting on top of some of the fastest growing consumer-facing businesses in the world — liquor and marijuana delivery — and its name is Pacific Consolidated Holdings Group.

The investment firms and executive teams behind the Los Angeles-based delivery liquor delivery company, Saucey, along with Inception Companies, the backer of marijuana distribution company, Emjay, have formed Pacific Consolidated to merge their two companies and build what’s likely the largest “vice” company in the world.

(Although in a global pandemic and period of political tumult unseen since the 1960s, what even is vice anymore anyway?)

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

The merger is the first step of what’s a planned rollup strategy for PCH (also the nickname for the highway that runs along the California Coast), which aims to be the leading vertically integrated vice platform focusing on e-commerce, delivery logistics, and cross industry behavioral insights.

As the co-founder of Saucey and now chief executive of PCH, Chris Vaughn, said: “Everyone in the liquor industry is thinking about the marijuana business and everyone in marijuana is looking at liquor.”

Both Vaughn and his Saucey co-founder Daniel Leeb will take management positions at PCH, and Blumberg Capital and Bullpen will have a large equity stake in the newly formed holding company, Vaughn said.

“We’ve spent the past decade in bev-alc at the forefront of providing solutions to changing consumer shopping behaviors. What we’ve seen is a more exploratory customer than the industry recognizes, ready to try new form factors, products and categories. The one consistent theme is they want to be able to discover and shop these products conveniently, and to be able to trust their platform of choice,” said Vaughn in a statement. “The strength of PCH is that we’re able to provide unparalleled and personalized cross-industry shopping experiences to consumers, while also having the data to understand customer behaviors between cannabis, alcohol, tobacco and CPG. When you combine this with the diversified infrastructure of PCH and the incredible team we have working on these opportunities, it gives us the flexibility and the foundation for best serving the future of these industries.”

Saucey launched in 2014 and now operates across 22 markets including LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, New York City, Chicago, Washington, Dallas, Orlando, Tampa and Miami.

Its sales growth has expanded 200% year-over-year even as the company maintains its profitability, according to a statement. The liquor side of the PCH business is indeed incredibly strong.

And of the 1 million users that the company surveyed (most in its largest market — California, which is perhaps one of the most mature consumer markets for cannabis consumption in the US) an overwhelming majority of 70% said they’d like to see integrated marijuana and liquor delivery services.

While Emjay was only formed a year ago, the company had built a groundwork of distribution, cultivation, and production licenses as it was getting off the ground. Formed by the Inception Companies, Emjay brought in Vaughn as an advisor to the company early on and as the company grew, so did the recognition among the investors and operators of the potential for a powerful merger, Vaughn said.

With Emjay, not only does PCH get a distribution company, but since it also acts a vertical operator the company can deliver marijuana products to consumers at a far lower cost than its competition.

Vaughn and Leeb have actually been operating the Emjay business since January and have grown the company’s revenues from less than $100,000 in transaction volume to the seven-figure sales that the company currently enjoys. And Emjay itself became a profitable business earlier this year, according to a statement. Now, the focus is on growing its footprint within Saucey’s massive California user base.

While there was a surge of interest and investment into the cannabis business in the industry’s early years following its legalization in certain states back in 2014, many of the market’s early leaders fell on hard times in 2019 as legal hurdles, grey market suppliers, a crisis in the vaping industry, and a lack of professionalization took their toll on the industry.

It’s a storm that Omar Mangalji, the former Goldman Sachs banker turned Los Angeles gadfly who co-founded the Inception Companies (and sometimes goes by the name Ronnie Bacardi).

“The broader cannabis market has largely struggled due to weak underlying fundamentals and poor management. But much like the dashed expectations that came with the rise and fall in the DotCom era, this industry is now evolving into Cannabis 2.0.”, Mangalji said in a statement.

With the merger of the two companies, Saucey users can create an Emjay account with their existing login and toggle between the two services simply by tapping on an icon.

#advisor, #blumberg-capital, #california, #cannabis, #chicago, #co-founder, #dallas, #e-commerce, #goldman-sachs, #los-angeles, #louisiana, #miami, #new-york-city, #orlando, #sacramento, #san-diego, #san-francisco, #saucey, #tampa, #tc, #united-states, #washington

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From bioprinting lab-grown meat in Russia to Beyond Meat in the US, KFC is embracing the future of food

From a partnership with the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions to make chicken meat replacements using plant material and lab cultured chicken cells to an expansion of its Beyond Fried Chicken pilots to Southern California, KFC is aggressively pushing forward with its experiments around the future of food.

In Russia, that means providing 3D Bioprinting with breading and spices to see if the company’s chicken replacements can match the KFC taste, according to a statement from the company. As the company said, there are no other methods available on the market that can allow for the creation of complex products from animal cells.

“3D bioprinting technologies, initially widely recognized in medicine, are nowadays gaining popularity in producing foods such as meat,” said Yusef Khesuani, co-founder and Managing Partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, in a statement. “In the future, the rapid development of such technologies will allow us to make 3D-printed meat products more accessible and we are hoping that the technology created as a result of our cooperation with KFC will help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”

KFC beyond meat

Image: Beyond Meat

Closer to its home base in the US, KFC is working with the publicly traded plant-based meat substitute developer Beyond Meat on an expansion of their recent trials for KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken.

Continuing its wildly successful limited trials in Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte, KFC is now setting its sights on the bigger markets in Southern California, near Beyond Meat’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

Beginning on July 20, KFC will be selling Beyond Fried Chicken at 50 stores the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas, while supplies last, the company said.

Unlike the 3D bioprinting process used by its Russian partner, Beyond Meat uses plant-based products exclusively to make its faux chicken meat.

Beyond Fried Chicken first appeared on the market last year in Atlanta and was made available in additional markets in the South earlier this year.  The menu item — first available in a one-day consumer test in Atlanta — sold out in less than five hours, the company said.

“I’ve said it before: despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” said Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer, KFC U.S. “We know the east coast loved it, so we thought we’d give those on the west coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.

Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets will be available as a six or 12-piece à la carte or as part of a combo, complete with a side and medium drink starting at $6.99, plus tax.

Meanwhile, KFC’s Russian project aims to create the world’s first lab-made chicken nuggets, and plans to release them this fall in Moscow.

Popularizing lab-grown meat could have a significant impact on climate change according to reports. The company cited statistics indicating that growing meat from cells could half the energy consumption involved in meat production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while  dramatically cutting land use.

“Crafted meat products are the next step in the development of our ‘restaurant of the future’ concept,” said Raisa Polyakova, General Manager of KFC Russia & CIS, in a statement. “Our experiment in testing 3D bioprinting technology to create chicken products can also help address several looming global problems. We are glad to contribute to its development and are working to make it available to thousands of people in Russia and, if possible, around the world.”

#articles, #atlanta, #beyond-meat, #charlotte, #east-coast, #emerging-technologies, #energy-consumption, #fast-food, #food, #food-and-drink, #forward, #fried-chicken, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #kfc, #los-angeles, #moscow, #nashville, #russia, #san-diego, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #united-states, #west-coast

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Cue Health raises $100 million to speed development of rapid, portable COVID-19 diagnostics

San Diego-based startup Cue Health has closed a $100 million Series C funding round, including participation from Decheng Capital, Foresite Capital, Madrone Capital Partners, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, ACME Capital and others. The funding will be used to help Cue finish up development, validate and scale production of its Cue Health Monitoring System and test cartridges, including test kits designed to diagnose COVID-19, which are currently being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization.

Cue has been developing its connected, portable lab to provide on-site care including molecular diagnostic tests since its founding a decade ago. The company also secured a $13 million contract in March specifically targeted towards development of a portable point-of-care COVID-19 test. Cue co-founder and CEO Ayub Khattak says that this pandemic has only re-emphasized the need for its product, which is primarily aimed at providing rapid, simple-to-use diagnostics that can be implemented quickly by a wide range of frontline workers in a variety of settings.

Concurrently with its EUA process for the Cue COVID-19 test, the company is also finishing up validation of the results for its influenza A and B tests, which will be used to submit to the agency for final approval of those tests as well. Its tests would provide at-home molecular based testing, with a connected results platform that can immediately provide diagnostics to certified healthcare providers within 20 minutes, unlocking a new level of remote care.

In total, Cue has $30 million in contract from the U.S. HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) across its efforts both for flu testing and for COVID-19 diagnostics.

#biomedical-advanced-research-and-development-authority, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #cue-health, #flu, #foresite-capital, #funding, #health, #johnson-johnson, #madrone-capital-partners, #san-diego, #science, #tc

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