The two sides have traded accusations about whether political motivations are keeping the Taiwanese people from receiving immunizations amid the island’s first major Covid-19 outbreak.
While the United States edges toward normalcy, countries like Japan, South Korea and Australia are still facing months of uncertainty and isolation as their vaccination campaigns just start to gain steam.
While the United States edges toward normalcy, countries like Japan, South Korea and Australia are still facing months of uncertainty and isolation as their vaccination campaigns just start to gain steam.
Sometimes a place is more than just a place; it can be a scene. Even the blankest backdrops, like a parking lot or a sun-baked freeway, can shimmer with cinematic potential. Four photographers showed us the movie moments that they found all over.
Some of the island’s lakes and reservoirs have nearly run dry. And water restrictions have forced many residents to modify how they shower, wash dishes and flush.
Mr. Cena, a star of the newest “Fast and Furious” movie, posted a video apology in Mandarin, saying, “I’m really sorry. You have to understand that I love and respect China.”
One of the few places where performances continued steadily for much of the pandemic has had to shut down theaters just as they are reopening elsewhere.
eYs3D Microelectronics, a fabless design house that focuses on end-to-end software and hardware systems for computer vision technology, has raised a $7 million Series A. Participants included ARM IoT Capital, WI Harper and Marubun Corporation, who will each serve as strategic investors.
Based in Taipei, Taiwan, eYs3D was spun out of Etron, a fabless IC and system-in-package (SiP) design firm, in 2016. It will use its new funding to build its embedded chip business in new markets. The company’s technology, including integrated circuits, 3D sensors, camera modules and AI-based software, have a wide range of applications, such as robotics, touchless controls, autonomous vehicles and smart retail. eYs3D’s products have been used in the Facebook Oculus Rift S and Valve Index virtual reality headsets, and Techman Robots.
ARM, the microprocessor company, will integrate eYs3D’s chips into its CPU and NPUs. WI Harper, a cross-border investment firm with offices in Taipei, Beijing and San Francisco, will give eYs3D access to its international network of industrial partners. Marubun Corporation, a Japan-based company that distributes semiconductors and other electronic components, will open new distribution channels for eYs3D.
In a press statement, ARM IoT Capital chairman Peter Hsieh said, “As we look to the future, enhanced computer vision support plays a key role in ARM’s AI architecture and deployment. eYs3D’s innovative 3D computer vision capability can offer the market major benefits, and we are pleased to partner with the company and invest in the creation of more AI-capable vision processors.”
The new funding will also be used to expand eYs3D’s product development and launch a series of 3D computer vision modules. It will also work with new business partners to expand its platform and hire more talent.
eYs3D’s chief strategy officer James Wang told TechCrunch that the global chip shortage and Taiwan’s drought haven’t significantly impacted the company’s business or production plans, because it works with Etron as its integrated circuits manufacturing service.
“Etron Technology is one of the major accounts for the Taiwanese foundry sector and has strong relationships with the foundries, so eYs3D can receive products for its customers as required,” he said. “Meanwhile, eYs3D works closly with its major customers to schedule a just-in-time supply chain for their production pipelines.”
The company’s systems combine silicon design and algorithms to manage information collected from different sensor sources, including thermal, 3D and neural network perception. Its technology is capable of supporting visual simultaneous location and mapping (vSLAM), object feature depth recognition, and gesture-based commands.
Yang said eYs3D can provide end-to-end services, from integrated circuit design to ready-to-use products, and works closely with clients to determine what they need. For example, it offered its chip solution to an autonomous robot company for obstacle avoidance and people-tracing features.
“Since their expertise is in robotic motor controls and mechanicals, they needed a more complete solution for a design module for 3D sensing, as well as object and people recognition. We provided them with one of our 3D depth camera solutions and SDK along with middleware algorithm samples for their validation,” said Yang. “The customer took our design package and seamlessly integrated our 3D depth camera solution for proof-of-concept within a short period of time. Next, we helped them to retrofit the camera design to fit in their robot body prior to commercialization of the robot.”
The famed source of the Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, has made another unauthorized disclosure — and wants to be prosecuted for it.
The island’s border controls had shielded it from the worst of the pandemic. But new variants and a slow vaccine rollout gave the virus an opening.
Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Chris Rolland noted Tuesday that the wait time for all major semiconductor product categories is up considerably—from 16 weeks in March to 17 weeks in April. This represents the longest lead time—the elapsed time between placing an order and receiving products—that the industry has faced since 2017, when the firm began tracking this data.
Rolland said this lengthened lead time puts the industry in a “danger zone,” noting further that “elevated lead times often compel bad behavior [from] customers, including inventory accumulation, safety stock building, and double ordering.” In other words, major companies seeking VLSICs don’t behave very differently from consumers seeking toilet paper.
These shortages impact nearly all industries to some degree, with the heaviest impact falling on industries with long lead times of their own. In particular, the automotive sector is projecting $110 billion in lost sales this year due to factories sitting idle while waiting for components. Again mimicking last year’s pandemic-related toilet paper shortages, hoarding tends to make the gaps worse. As the lead times get longer, buyers become more likely to overorder and make supply chain problems worse.
The self-governing island, which has had striking success with the virus, ramped up restrictions in Taipei after reporting 180 locally transmitted infections.
Several cities, including the capital, Taipei, were affected by power outages after a grid failure in the southern city of Kaohsiung.
These family style beef short ribs were inspired by a cross-cultural Texas childhood.
If the administration continues on this path, it will increase the odds of a catastrophic war.
United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), the world’s fourth-largest contract chipmaker, is expanding its capacity to produce mature technology chips in exchange for financial guarantees, in response to the shortage gripping the global semiconductor supply chain.
UMC said it would add capacity for manufacturing 20,000 wafers a month at 28 nm, one of the process technology nodes worst-hit by the global chip shortage, at an existing fabrication plant, or “fab,” in Tainan.
The investment will drive up the company’s capital spending for this year by 53 percent to $2.3 billion, but it is made under a deal that commits several of UMC’s largest customers to pay deposits upfront and guarantee certain orders at a fixed price.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw remote work into the spotlight, but tech companies have hired in other locations for years to deal with talent shortages. Arc announced today it is opening its remote hiring platform to all software developers. Previously, Arc was open only to developers who passed its verification process. Developers can still get verified to stand out from other applicants, but Arc’s job database and search engine is now available to everyone.
Arc was launched two years ago by the team behind Codementor, an online education platform for software developers. Since then, Arc has been used by companies like Spotify, Hims, Hubspot and FiveStars for hiring. Its investors include TechStars, 500 Startups, WI Harper and Y Combinator.
“As proud as we are of impact we have made for developers, we really want to scale that impact, and that’s why we decided to create a much more open product experience,” founder and chief executive officer Weiting Liu told TechCrunch.
The new version of Arc centers around two features: its smart remote job search engine and developer community. Arc crawls job boards and other sites for its database and has so far aggregated 54,000 developer openings from 13,000 companies. Then its search engine removes some of the challenges associated with searching for remote work.
“For example, one common complaint is that a lot of jobs are remote, but U.S. only. Or it’s only remote until the end of the pandemic,” Liu said. “Our algorithm will do its best based on your circumstances. For example, if you are a developer based in Asia or in Eastern Europe, there are certain job opportunities that are unfortunately not applicable to you based on the time zones. So we filter all of those things, and also based on your experience and tech stacks, to recommend the most relevant jobs.”
Arc Community is a resource for software developers who are new to remote work or want to learn about work practices in other countries. For example, “they might have questions like, should my resume be in this format for a U.S.-based employer, or what are the types of tools used and cultural norms?” Liu said. “If someone is looking for a position with an American company, we will talk about common interview practices or even basic work practices like how many companies use Slack. That’s where the community comes in and we want to enable developers who have already been working remotely to share their experiences.”
Even though it is now optional, Arc still recommends its verification process. It typically takes about a week, and includes a coding challenge and behavioral and technical interviews with an Arc team member. Even if someone doesn’t pass, they get feedback about where they can improve and can reapply in six months. Verification and job searches are free, and Arc monetizes by charging employers for hires through its platform.
In addition to its community, Arc recently launched a program called Elevate. Inspired by Liu’s experiences in Y Combinator and TechStars, Elevate is meant to be a “short-term talent accelerator” for developers who want to transition into remote work. Its first program included 13 developers from Latin America and future cohorts will range in size from 10 to 20 people. The program includes career preparation workshops, interview practice and live mentorship sessions with developers who work at GitLab, Zapier and Dialpad.
Arc is currently running a crowdfunding campaign, started after the SEC implemented its new equity crowdfunding regulations, and has raised about $950,000 so far.
“This is aligned with our vision, which is about democratizing access, so if we can make Arc a partially community-owned remote job platform, it will be extremely interesting because we aspire to become the world’s largest remote job site and if we can turn our community members into investors-slash-owners of the platform, it can help us realize our mission faster,” said Liu.
A new novel about 2034 has unnerving echoes of today’s headlines.
A bank in Taiwan said an employee had a rapid succession of nuptials in two months to the same woman to take advantage of the country’s marriage leave policy.
Electric scooters powered by Gogoro’s swappable, rechargeable batteries now account for nearly a quarter of monthly sales in Taiwan, its home market. But one of the most frequent questions co-founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke gets asked is when will Gogoro launch its scooters in other countries.
“I always said, ‘we’re getting ready, we’re getting ready, we’re getting ready,” he told TechCrunch. Gogoro answered that question today by announcing a strategic partnership with Hero MotoCorp, one of the world’s largest two-wheeled vehicle maker and the market leader in India, where it is headquartered.
Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp’s agreement includes a joint venture to build a battery swapping network in India. Hero MotoCorp will also launch electric two-wheelers based on Gogoro technology under its own brand. This will mark the first time the company has launched electric vehicles. (The partnership is not to be confused with Hero Electric, which is run by relatives of Hero MotoCorp’s founders, but is a separate company).
The deal will focus on India before expanding into Hero MotoCorp’s other markets (it serves a total of 40 countries). Details, like the first vehicle, launch cities and pricing, will be announced later, but Luke said Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp “are deploying very rapidly.”
Luke described the strategic partnership as a validation of Gogoro’s goal to become a battery swapping and smart mobility platform, packaging its technology as a turnkey solution for companies that want to produce energy-efficient vehicles.
“We designed our technology, capabilities and business model in the hope that one day we can solicit a giant like Hero,” said Luke.
The first Gogoro Smartscooter was launched in 2015. Since then, it has struck partnerships with manufacturers like Yamaha, PGO and A-Motor to build electric scooters with its technology under their own brands, but Gogoro’s international rollout has been very gradual: for example, a delivery fleet in South Korea and a partnership with the now-defunct scooter-sharing service Coup in Europe. Its first product launch in the United States was for Eeyo, its electric bike brand, instead of scooters.
Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp have been talking for more than a year and Luke described the the strategic partnership as one of the most important deals the company has made so far.
“In order to make a massive change, we need really massive adoption, and Taiwan has served really well as a pilot market for us to develop technology, refine it and show the world that it is possible, through this swap-and-go technology rather than tethered plug-and-charge scenario, for lightweight personal mobility to take off,” said Luke.
But India is obviously a much larger market, in terms of geography and population, than Taiwan. The Indian government wants to put more electric vehicles on the road with subsidy programs, and the high cost of fuel in the country is another incentive for people to make the switch from gas to electric. One major barrier for many consumers, however, is “range anxiety,” or concerns about how long their electric vehicle can run on a charge.
This is why Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp’s swapping station joint venture is important. In Taiwan, Gogoro now has more than 375,000 riders and 2,000 battery swapping/charging stations, which handle 265,000 swaps a day. That density is a key selling point because riders can find a nearby swapping station quickly through Gogoro’s smartphone app.
Gogoro’s batteries and charging stations are connected to its Gogoro Network cloud service, which monitors the condition of battery and manages how quickly they are charged. This allows the batteries to last longer–Luke said that the company has not retired any of its Smart Batteries in six years. Data from the Gogoro Network also shows the company where it needs to place more stations. In India, Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp will start with densely-populated areas, before adding stations based on demand, similar to Gogoro’s approach to its network in Taiwan.
After India, Gogoro and Hero MotoCorp plan to enter other markets, furthering Gogoro’s international expansion.
“What is really important about this partnership is their influence on the two-wheel market, and the importance of the two-wheel market in emerging markets,” said Luke.
In a press statement, Hero MotoCorp chairman and CEO Dr. Pawan Munjal said the strategic partnership is an extension of the research and development has already put into creating an electric vehicle portfolio.
“Today marks another major milestone in our journey, as we bring Hero’s leadership in two-wheelers, our global scale and innovation powerhouse, with the leadership of Gogoro in the swapping business model, as they have demonstrated over the years in Taiwan and the rest of the world,” Munjal added.
There’s no right way to come of age, especially for a child of immigrants.
The driver of a crane truck that slid down an embankment — into the path of an oncoming express train — faces up to 12 years in prison if convicted.
Paraguay desperately needs Covid-19 vaccines, which China could supply. That has led the South American nation to reconsider its relationship with Taiwan, which precludes it from dealing with Beijing.
JustKitchen, a cloud kitchen startup, will start trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) Venture Exchange on Thursday morning. It is doing a direct listing of its common shares, having already raised $8 million at a $30 million valuation.
The company says this makes it one of the first—if not the first—cloud kitchen company to go public in North America. While JustKitchen launched operations last year in Taiwan, it is incorporated in Canada, with plans to expand into Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and the United States. TSX Venture is a board on the Toronto Stock Exchange for emerging companies, including startups, that can move to the main board once they reach certain thresholds depending on industry.
“It’s a really convenient way to get into the market and with the ghost kitchen industry in particular, it’s early stage and there’s a lot of runway,” co-founder and chief executive officer Jason Chen told TechCrunch. “We felt there really was a need to get going as quickly as we could and really get out into the market.”
Participants in JustKitchen’s IPO rounds included returning investor SparkLabs Taipei (JustKitchen took part in its accelerator program last year), investment institutions and retail clients from Toronto. More than half of JustKitchen’s issued and outstanding shares are owned by its executives, board directors and employees, Chen said.
One of the reasons JustKitchen decided to list on TSX Venture Exchange is Chen’s close ties to the Canadian capital markets, where he worked as an investment banker before moving to Taiwan to launch the startup. A couple of JustKitchen’s board members are also active in the Canadian capital markets, including Darren Devine, a member of TSX Venture Exchange’s Local Advisory Committee.
These factors made listing on the board a natural choice for JustKitchen, Chen told TechCrunch. Other reasons included ability to automatically graduate to the main TSX board once companies pass certain thresholds, including market cap and net profitability, and the ease of doing dual listings in other countries. Just Kitchen is also preparing to list its common shares on the OTCQB exchange in the U.S. and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Germany.
The island’s Indigenous hunting cultures are circumscribed by ancient rituals and modern legal restrictions. We join a hunt as Taiwan’s constitutional court considers a case on Indigenous rights.
The island is going to great lengths to keep water flowing to its all-important semiconductor industry, including shutting off irrigation to legions of rice growers.
As China grows stronger and bolder, some experts want to end Washington’s decades-long policy of “strategic ambiguity.”
AI models not only take time to build and train, but also to deploy in an organization’s workflow. That’s where MLOps (machine learning operations) companies come in, helping clients scale their AI technology. InfuseAI, a MLOps startup based in Taiwan, announced today it has raised a $4.3 million Series A, led by original design manufacturer Wistron Corporation, with participation from Hive Ventures, Top Taiwan Venture Capital Group and Silicon Valley Taiwan Investments.
Founded in 2018, InfuseAI says the market for MLOps solutions is worth $30 million a year in Taiwan, with the global market expected to reach about $4 billion by 2025, according to research firm Cognilytica. Its clients include E.SUN, one of Taiwan’s largest banks, SinoPac Holdings and Chimei.
InfuseAI helps companies deploy and manage machine learning models with turnkey solutions like PrimeHub, a platform that includes a model training environment, cloud or on-premise cluster computing (including container orchestration with Kubernetes) and collaboration tools for teams. Another product, called PrimeHub Deploy, lets clients train, deploy, update and monitor AI models.
In a press statement, Hive Ventures founder and managing partner Yan Lee said, “As enterprises from manufacturing, healthcare, finance and other sectors seek to scale their AI operations and model deployments, they will require a platform like InfuseAI to allow seamless collaboration between developers and data scientists. InfuseAI fits perfectly into our investment thesis which is focused on platforms and software in the enterprise adoption cycle.”
Officials were trying to determine why the truck slid downhill from a construction site on Friday, resulting in the island’s deadliest rail disaster in decades.
A woman lost her husband and their two children, who were athletes at a university. A man held his 5-year-old daughter in his arms in the minutes before she died.
Many more deaths were feared after the derailment on Friday morning, a government-run news agency reported.
John Sudworth left with his family after a propaganda campaign against him that followed coverage of the origins of Covid-19 and of a crackdown on Muslim minorities.
Appier’s initial public offering on the Tokyo Stock Exchange yesterday was a milestone not only for the company, but also Sequoia Capital India, one of its earliest investors. Founded in Taiwan, Appier was the fund’s first investment outside of India, and is now also the first company in its portfolio outside of India to go public. In an interview with TechCrunch, Sequoia Capital managing director Abheek Anand talked about what drew the firm to Appier, which develops AI-based marketing software.
Before shifting its focus to marketing, Appier’s founders—chief executive officer Chih-Han Yu, chief operating officer Winnie Lee and chief technology officer Joe Su—worked on a startup called Plaxie to develop AI-powered gaming engines. Yu and Su came up with the idea when they were both graduate students at Harvard, but found there was little demand at the time. Anand met them in 2013, soon after their pivot to big data and marketing, and Sequoia Capital India invested in Appier’s Series A a few months later.
“It’s easy to say in retrospect what worked and what didn’t work. What really stands out without trying to write revisionist history is that this was just an incredibly smart team,” said Anand. “They had probably the most technical core DNA of any Series A company that we’ve met in years, I would argue.” Yu holds a PhD in computer science from Harvard, Wu earned a PhD in immunology at Washington University in St. Louis and Su has a M.S. in computer science from Harvard. The company also filled its team with AI and machine learning researchers from top universities in Taiwan and the United States.
At the time, Sequoia Capital “had a broad thesis that there would be adoption of AI in enterprises,” Anand said. “What we believed was there were a bunch of people going after that problem, but they were trying to solve business problems without necessarily having the technical depth to do it.” Appier stood out because they “were swinging at it from the other end, where they had an enormous amount of technical expertise.”
Since Appier’s launch in 2012, more companies have emerged that use machine learning and big data to help companies automate marketing decisions and create online campaigns. Anand said one of the reasons Appier, which now operates in 14 markets across the Asia-Pacific region, remains competitive is its strategy of cross-selling new products and focusing on specific use cases instead of building a general purpose platform.
Appier’s core product is a cross-platform advertising engine called CrossX that focuses on user acquisition. Then it has products that address other parts of their customers’ value chain: AiDeal to help companies send coupons to the customers who are most likely to use them; user engagement platform AIQUA; and AIXON, a data science platform that uses AI models to predict customer actions, including the likelihood of repeat purchases.
“I think the number one thing that the company has spent a lot of time on is focusing on efficiency,” said Anand. “Customers have tons of data, both external and first-party, that they’re processing to drive business outcomes. It’s a very hard technical problem. Appier starts with a solution that is relatively easy to break into a customer, and then builds deeper and deeper solutions for those customers.”
Appier’s listing is also noteworthy because it marks the first time a company from Taiwan has listed in Japan since Trend Micro’s IPO in 1998. Japan is one of Appier’s biggest markets (customers there include Rakuten, Toyota and Shiseido), making the Tokyo Stock Exchange a natural fit, Anand said, even though most of Sequoia Capital India’s portfolio companies list in India or the United States.
The Tokyo Stock Exchange also stood out because of its retail investor participation, liquidity and total volume. Some of Appier’s other core investors, including JAFCO Asia and SoftBank Group Corp., are also based in Japan. But though it has almost $30 billion in average trading volume, the vast majority of listings are domestic companies. In a recent report, Nikkei Asia cited a higher corporate tax rate and lack of potential underwriters, especially for smaller listings, as a potential obstacles for foreign companies.
But Appier’s debut may lead the way for other Asian startups to chose the Tokyo Stock Exchange, said Anand. “Getting ready for the Japanese exchange meant having the right accounting practices, the right reporting, a whole bunch of compliance stuff. It was a long process. In some ways we were leading the charge for external companies to get there, and I’m sure over time it will keep getting easier and easier.”
Semiconductor supply chains have not been having a good year. Shifts in demand brought on by COVID-19 have slammed into a series of fab and factory fires, the effects of which have been cascading throughout the global economy. Now, the semiconductor industry is being threatened by Taiwan’s worst drought in 67 years.
Chip shortages have rippled through various industries in recent months. Automakers have cut back production, citing supply issues. Automotive shortages are somewhat of the industry’s own making—when the pandemic hit over a year ago, automakers cut production and chip orders. Meanwhile, demand for consumer electronics surged, snapping up excess fab capacity. When car and truck sales rebounded months later, semiconductor manufacturers had no slack to meet demand. Recently, even consumer electronics companies have been finding it hard to secure a steady supply of chips for their products.
Taiwan’s drought began when typhoons failed to make landfall last year. Today, drought conditions cover a significant portion of the densely populated western third of Taiwan, extending from Hsinchu south to Kaohsiung, an arcing span of more than 150 miles on an island that’s only about 240 miles long. Water levels in major reservoirs have been as low as 10 percent of their capacity, and they’re currently being stabilized by water piped in from Taipei, which has so far avoided the worst of the drought.
We spent months reviewing ship-tracking data, corporate records and satellite imagery to uncover one way North Korea evades strict international sanctions.
Six of the eight victims were of Asian descent. But in China and South Korea, debate over the violence played out with far less intensity than it did in the United States.
To counter Beijing’s growing economic and military might, the United States must get its own house in order.
After our mom died, I turned to her beloved pastime for comfort. It opened up a new way to communicate with my family.
The island has used its pandemic success to sell something scarce: life without fear of the coronavirus. Citizens have flocked home from abroad, helping to fuel an economic boom.
A weekend statement from the Taiwanese government over its ability to provide water to the nation’s chip manufacturers in the face of an unprecedented drought make it clear that climate change is a direct threat to the foundations of the tech industry.
As reported by Bloomberg, Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen took to Facebook on Sunday to post about the nation’s capacity to provide water to its citizens and businesses in the face of the worst drought the nation has faced in 56 years.
The nation said that it would have sufficient water reserves to ensure manufacturing of semiconductors by companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing wouldn’t stop.
These chips sit at the foundation of the tech industry and any disruption in production could have disastrous consequences for the global economy. Already, supply constraints have caused stoppages at automakers like General Motors and Volkswagen, and chip manufacturing facilities are running close to capacity.
The Biden administration has emphasized the need for the U.S. to strengthen its semiconductor manufacturing supply when it issued an executive order last month to address ongoing chip shortages that have idled manufacturing plants around the country.
“Taiwan’s water shortage and its effect on semis is a wake up call for every technology investor, every founder and the entire venture ecosystem. It is complexity theory made manifest and only serves to show that scalable, data-driven solutions rapidly deployed across large industrial markets are our only hope in correcting the course,” wrote Vaughn Blake, a partner at the energy-focused investment firm Blue Bear Capital.
Taiwan’s water woes and their ability to severely impact the semiconductor industry aren’t new. They were even flagged in a 2016 Harvard Business School case study analysis. And TSMC is already working to address its water consumption.
By 2016, TSMC had already worked to improve its water purification and recycling efforts — necessary for an industry that consumes between 2-9 million gallons of water per day. (Intel alone used 9 billion gallons of water in 2015). At least some of TSMC’s fabrication facilities have managed to achieve recycling rates of 90% on industrial wastewater, according to the Harvard case study.
But as Moore’s Law drives down the size and increases the demand for even more precision and fewer impurities in the manufacturing process, water use at fabs is going up. Next generation chips may be consuming as much as 1.5 times more water, which means better recycling is needed to compensate.
For startups, we need to be looking at ways to lower the cost and improve the performance of wastewater recycling and desalination, both increasingly energy-intensive propositions.
Some companies are doing just that. These are businesses like Blue Boson out of the UK, which purports to have developed a quantum-based water treatment technology. Its claims sound more like science fiction, but its website touts some of the best research universities in the world. Fido, a leak detection company also out of the UK tracks potential spots where water is wasted, and both Pontic Technology and Micronic are American companies developing water and fluid sterilization systems.
Numix, another purification startup, seems designed to remove the heavy metals that are part and parcel of industrial manufacturing. And Divining Labs out of Los Angeles is using artificial intelligence to better predict and manage stormwater runoff to collect more resources for water use.
“Upton Sinclair said, ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on him not understanding it,’” Blake of Blue Bear Capital wrote. “Well, to all the founders and investors out there, it looks like all tech is climate tech for the foreseeable future, lest there be no tech at all.”
“Microinfluencers” are gaining clout among marketers. Though they may have as little as a thousand followers, microinfluencers tend to focus on specific content and be seen as more engaging and trustworthy by their audience, said Allan Ko, founder and chief executive officer of Influenxio. The Taipei-based startup, which connects brands with Instagram microinfluencers through its online platform, announced today that it has closed $2 million in pre-Series A funding led by DCM Ventures, and is launching a new subscription plan.
Founded in 2018, Influenxio has now raised over $3 million in total, including from seed investor SparkLabs Taipei. It currently operates in Taiwan and Japan, where it has databases of 100,000 and 250,000 Instagram creators, respectively. So far, over 6,000 brands have registered on Influenxio’s platform, and it has been used to run over 1,000 campaigns.
Influenxio plans to use its new funding for hiring and product development. Influenxio’s new subscription plan is a relatively novel model for the field, so one of the startup’s goals is to prove that it works, Ko told TechCrunch. The company also plans to build out its Japanese platform and expand into more countries.
Influenxio analyzes past campaigns, performance data and client reviews to improve its algorithms. Since the entire campaign creation process–from finding influencers to paying them–is performed through Influenxio, this allows it to gather a wide range of data to refine its technology, Ko told TechCrunch.
Influencers typically make about $35 to $40 USD for each campaign they participate in, and most of the brands the company works with focus on food (like restaurants), fashion, beauty or lifestyle services.
Before launching Influenxio, Ko spent 15 years working in the digital marketing field, serving as an account manager at Yahoo! and Microsoft, and then head of Hong Kong and Taiwan for Google’s online partnerships group. He wanted to create a startup that would combine what he had learned about digital marketing and make accessible to more businesses.
Large brands have used Influenxio to quickly generate marketing campaigns for special occasions like Mother’s Day or Christmas. For example, one advertiser in Taiwan used Influenxio to hire almost 200 influencers in one week, who were asked to test and post about their products, and some of Influenxio’s highest profile clients include Shiseido, Shopee, iHerb and KKBox.
But the majority of Influenxio’s clients (about 80% to 90%) are small- to medium-sized businesses, and Ko said they usually create multiple campaigns to build brand awareness over time, working with a few influencers a month.
Influenxio’s new subscription plan, which costs less than $100 USD a month and is launching first in Taiwan before rolling out to other markets, was created for them. “The first year we launched the platform, we found small businesses want experts and advice,” said Ko. Many don’t have marketing managers, so Influenxio’s subscription plan automatically matches them with new influencers each month and provides them with analytics so they can see how well campaigns are performing.
Influenxio is among a growing number of startups that are tapping into the “microinfluencer economy,” with others including AspireIQ, Upfluence and Grin.
Ko said Influenxio’s biggest difference is its focus on small businesses, and serving as a one-stop marketplace for influencer campaigns. “The important thing for our platform is that it needs to be very easy and simple,” he added. “We spent a lot of time on the execution and details to make it smoother on the advertiser side. For the influencer side, we try to make it more convenient. For example, the way they receive money, our goal is to also make it easy.”
The U.S.-based oil major Chevron is doubling down on its investment in geothermal power by investing in a Swedish developer of low-temperature geothermal and heat power projects called Baseload Capital.
Oil companies are under pressure to find new lines of business as the world prepares for a massive shift to renewable energy resources to power all aspects of industry in the face of mounting climate-related disasters caused by greenhouse gas emissions warming the temperature on the planet.
Joining Chevron in the investment was the ubiquitous billionaire-backed clean energy investment firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures and a Swedish investment group called Gullspang Invest AB.
The investment into Baseload follows closely on the heels of another commitment that Chevron made to the geothermal technology developer Eavor and a recent Breakthrough Energy Ventures investment in the Google-affiliated company, Dandelion Energy (a spinout from Google’s parent company’s moonshot technology development business unit, called X).
Dandelion and Eavor are just two examples of a groundswell of startups working to leverage the knowledge from the oil and gas industry to tap geothermal resources for applications ranging from baseload energy to home heating and cooling.
As Chevron noted in its press release, heat power is an affordable form of renewable energy that can be harnessed from either geothermal resources or waste heat.
The investments in Baseload and Eavor are financed by CTV’s Core Venture fund which identifies companies with technology that can add efficiencies to Chevron’s core business in operational enhancement, digitalization, and lower-carbon operations, the company said in a statement.
Together the two businesses are planning pilot projects to test technology and could look to current Baseload operations in Japan, Taiwan, Iceland or the United States to develop projects.
Financial terms of the deal were undisclosed.
“In August, we announced that we were looking for a new strategic investor to help us accelerate deployment in our key markets,” said Baseload’s Chief Executive Officer Alexander Helling. “We couldn’t have asked for a better one. Chevron complements our group of owners and adds expertise in drilling, engineering, exploration and more. These assets are expected to accelerate our ability to deploy heat power and strengthen our way of working.”
A little less than three years ago at the Computer Science Museum in Mountain View, Calif. the founders of a young company hailing from Cambridge, England addressed a crowd of celebrities, investors and entrepreneurs at Y Combinator’s August Demo Day promising a revolution in food science.
Over the years, the event has become a relatively low-tech, low-budget showcase for a group of tech investors and billionaire industry insiders to take a look at early stage businesses that could be their next billion-dollar opportunity.
Sharing the stage with other innovation-minded budding entrepreneurs the Cambridge scientists boasted of a technology could produce a sweetener that would mimic not just the taste of sugar, but the caramelization and stickiness that makes sugar the go-to additive for the bulk of roughly 74% of packaged foods that are made with some form of sweetener. Their company, Cambridge Glycoscience could claim a huge slice of a market worth at least a $100 billion market, they said.
Now, the company has a new name, Supplant, and $24 million in venture capital financing to start commercializing its low-cost sugar substitute made from the waste materials of other plants.
The bitter history of the sweetest ingredient
Sugar came into the human diet roughly 10,000 years ago as sugarcane, which is native to New Guinea and parts of Taiwan and China. Over the next 2,000 years the crop spread from those regions to Madagascar and eventually took root in India, where it was first refined in about 500 BC.
From there, the sweetener spread across the known world. By the first century AD Greek and Roman scholars were referencing its medicinal properties and, after the Crusades, sugar consumption traveled across Europe through the Middle Ages.
It was a welcome replacement from Europe’s mainstay, honey, and the early artificial sweeteners used by the Romans, which contained near-lethal doses of lead.
The cold climates of Northern Europe proved mostly inhospitable to sugarcane cultivation so the root took root in the more temperate South and the islands off of Europe’s southern coast.
Those regions also became home to the first European experiments with agricultural slavery — a byproduct of the sugar trade, and one that would plant the seeds for the international exploitation of indigenous American and African labor for centuries as the industrial growth of sugar production spread to the New World.
First, European indentured servants and enslaved indigenous people’s powered the production of sugar in the Americas. But as native populations died off due to the introduction of European diseases, genocidal attacks, and back-breaking labor, African slaves were brought to the new colonies to work the fields and mills to make refined sugar.
The horrors of slavery may be the most damning legacy of industrial sugar, but it’s far from the only problem caused by the human craving for sweeteners.
As climate change becomes more of a threat, fears of increasing deforestation to meet the world’s demand — or to provide cover for other industrialization of virgin forests — have arisen thanks to new policies in Brazil.
“Conventional cane sugar is heavily heavily water intensive,” said Supplant co-founder Tom Simmons in an interview. That’s another problem for the environment as water becomes the next resource to be stressed by the currents of climate change. And species extinction presents another huge problem too.
“The WWF number one source for biodiversity lost globally is cane sugar plantations,” Simmons said. “Sugar is a massive consumer of water and in contrast, there’s big sustainability pitch for what we do.. the raw materials are products of the current agricultural industry.”
And the quest for sugar substitutes in the U.S. has come with related health costs as high fructose corn syrup has made its way into tons of American products. Invented in 1957, corn syrup is one of the most common sweeteners used to replace sugar — and one that’s thought to have incredibly disastrous effects on the health of consumers worldwide.
The use of corn syrup has been linked to an increasing prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, in the world’s population.
Looking For A Healthier Substitute
As Supplant and its investors look to take the crown as the reigning replacement for sugar, they join a long line of would-be occupants to sugar’s throne.
The first viable, non-toxic chemically derived sugar substitute was discovered in the late 18th century by a German chemist. Called saccharine it was popularized initially during sugar shortages caused by the first World War and gained traction during the health crazes of the sixties and seventies.
Saccharin, still available in pink Sweet n’ Low packets and a host of products, was succeeded by aspartame (known commercially as Equal and present as the sugar substitute in beverages like Diet Coke), which was supplanted by sucralose (known as Splenda).
These chemically derived sweeteners have been the standard on the market for decades now, but with a growing push for natural — rather than chemical — substitutes for sugar and their failures to act as a replacement for all of the things that sugar can do as a food ingredient, the demand for a better sugar has never been higher.
Supplanting the competition
“Not everything that we back is going to change the world. This, at scale, does that.” said Aydin Senkut, the founder and managing partner of Felicis Ventures, the venture firm that’s one of Supplant’s biggest backers.
Part of what convinced Senkut is the fact that Supplant’s sweetener has already received preliminary approvals in the European Union by the region’s regulatory equivalent of the Food and Drug Administration. That approval not only covers the sale of Supplant’s product as a sweetener, but also as a probiotic with tangible health benefits he said.
So not only is the Supplant product arguably a better and more direct sugar replacement, as the founders claim, it also has health benefits through providing increased fiber in consumers who use it regularly, Senkut said.
“The European FDA is even stricter than the U.S. FDA,” Senkut said. “[And] they got pre-approval for this.”
Senkut and Felicis invested in Cambridge Glycosciences almost immediately after seeing the company’s presentation at Y Combinator.
“We became the largest investors at seed,” Senkut said.
Its selling points were the products extremely low glycemic index and its ability to be manufactured from waste plant fibers, which means that it ultimately can be produced at a lower cost, according to Senkut.
What’s the difference?
Supplant differs from its competition in a number of other key ways, according to company co-founder Tom Simmons.
While companies like the Israeli startup DouxMatok or Colorado’s MycoTechnology and Wisconsin’s Sensient work on developing additives from fungus or tree roots or bark that can enhance the sweetness of sugars, Supplant uses alternative sugars to create its sweetener, Simmons said.
“The core difference is they’re working with cane sugar,” according to Simmons. “Our pitch is we make sugars from fiber so you don’t need to use cane sugar.”
Simmons said that these other startups have been approaching the problem from the wrong direction. “The problem that their technology addresses isn’t the problem the industry has,” Simmons said. “It’s about texture, bulking, caramelization and crystallization… We have a technology that’s going to give you the same sweetness gram for gram.”
There are six different types of calorific sugar, Simmons explained. There’s lactose, which is the sugar in milk; sucrose, which comes from sugarcane and sugar beets; maltose, found in grains like wheat and barley; fructose, the sugar in fruits and honey; glucose, which is in nearly everything, but especially carbohydrate-laden vegetables, fruits, and grains; and galactose, a simple sugar that derives from the breakdown of lactose.
Simmons said that his company’s sugar substitute isn’t based on one compound, but is derived from a range of things that come from fiber. The use of fibers means that the body recognizes the compounds as fibrous and treats them the same way in the digestive tract, but the products taste and act like sugar in food, he said. “Fiber derived sugars are in the category of sugars, but are not the calorific sugars,” said Simmons.
Trust the process?
Supplant’s technology uses enzymes to break down and fragment various fibers. “As you start breaking it down, it starts looking molecularly like sucrose — like cane sugar — so it starts behaving in a similar way,” said Simmons.
This is all the result of years of research that Simmons began at Cambridge University, he said. “I arrived at Cambridge intending to be a professor. I did not arrive in Cambridge intending to start a business. I was interested in doing science, making inventions and stuff that would reach the wider world. I always imagined the right way for me to do that was to be a professor.”
In time, after receiving his doctorate and beginning his post-doctoral work into the research that would eventually turn into Supplant, Simmons realized that he had to start a company. “To try and do something impactful I was going to have leave the university,” he said.
In some ways, Supplant operates at the intersection of all of Simmons’ interests in health, nutrition, and sustainability. And he said the company has plans to apply the processing technology across a range of consumer products eventually, but for now the company remains focused on the $100 billion sugar substitute market.
“There’s a handful of different core underlying scientific approaches in different spaces,” he said. The sort of things that go into personal care and homecare. Those chemicals. A big drive in the industry is for both less harsh and harsh chemicals in shampoos but also to do so in a way that’s sustainable. That’s made form a sustainable source but also biodegradable.”
With the money that the company has now raised from investors including Bonfire Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Felicis, Soma Capital, and Y Combinator, Supplant is now going to prove its products in a few very targeted test runs.* The first is a big launch with a celebrity chef, which Simmons teased, but did not elaborate on.
Senkut said that the company’s roll out would be similar to the ways in which Impossible Foods went to market. Beginning with a few trial runs in higher end restaurants and foodstuffs before trying to make a run at a mass consumer market.
The feedstocks for Supplant’s sugar substitute come from sugar cane bagasse, wheat and rice husks, and the processing equipment comes from the brewing industry. That’s going to be a benefit as the company looks to build out an office in the U.S. as it establishes a foothold for a larger manufacturing presence down the line.
“We’re taking known science and applying it in the food industry where we know that it has value,” Simmons said. “We’re not inventing any brand new enzymes and each part of the process — none of it on their own are new. The discovery that these sugars work well and can replace cane sugar. That’s someone that no one has done before. Most sugars don’t behave like cane sugar in food. They’re too dry, they’re too wet, they’re too hard, they’re too soft.”
Ultimately the consumer products mission resonates highly for Simmons and his twenty person team. “We’re going to use these hugely abundant renewable resources produced all around the world,” he said.
*This story was updated to include Bonfire Ventures and Khosla Ventures as investors in Supplant.
Announced this morning, the investment in Natural Fiber Welding will see Allbirds bring a vegan leather replacement option to customers by December 2021. It’s a natural addition for a company that has always billed itself as focused on environmental impact in other aspects of its apparel manufacturing.
Allbirds these days is far more than a shoe company and Natural Fiber Weldings suite of products that include both a purportedly tougher cotton fiber made using the company’s proprietary processing technology and a plant-based leather substitute.
Those materials could find their way into Allbirds array of socks, shoes, tshirts, underwear, sweaters, jackets, and face masks. Natural Fiber Welding already touts a relationship with Porsche on its website, so Allbirds isn’t the only company that’s warmed to the Peoria, Ill.-based startup’s new materials.
With the addition of Allbirds Natural Fiber Welding has raised roughly $15 million, according to data from Pitchbook. Other investors in the company include Central Illinois Angels, Prairie Crest Capital, Ralph Lauren Corp. and Capital V, an investment firm focused on backing vegan products.
Allbirds is far from the only clothier to make the jump to plant-based materials in the past year. The buzzy clothing company Pangaia invested $2 million into a company called Kintra which is making a bio-based polyester substitute in December.
By the far the biggest startup name in the sustainable fashion space is a company like Bolt Threads, which has inked deals with companies including Stella McCartney, Adidas, and the owner of the Balenciaga fashion house (among others).
Other startups that have raised significant capital for plant-based fabrics and materials are companies like Mycoworks, which raised $45 million last year from backers include John Legend, Natalie Portman along with more traditional investors like WTT Investment Ltd. (Taipei, Taiwan), DCVC Bio, Valor Equity Partners, Humboldt Fund, Gruss & Co., Novo Holdings, 8VC, SOSV, AgFunder, Wireframe Ventures and Tony Fadell.
With Natural Fiber Welding’s products Allbirds is boasting about a significantly reduced environmental footprint for its leather-like material. Natural Fiber Welding claims its material reduce the associated carbon footprint by 40 times and uses 17 times less carbon in its manufacturing than synthetic leather made from plastic.
The company does say that the plant leather will use natural rubber, an industry with its own history of human rights abuses, that’s also trying to clean up its act.
“For too long, fashion companies have relied on dirty synthetics and unsustainable leather, prioritizing speed and cost over the environment,” says Joey Zwillinger, co-founder and co-CEO of Allbirds, in a statement. “Natural Fiber Welding is creating scalable, sustainable antidotes to leather, and doing so with the potential for a game-changing 98% reduction in carbon emissions. Our partnership with NFW and planned introduction of Plant Leather based on their technology is an exciting step on our journey to eradicate petroleum from the fashion industry.”
TechCrunch has reached out to Allbirds for additional comment, but had not received a reply at the time of publication.
A global shortage of a key component for cars and electronics has shuttered American factories and set off fierce competition to secure supplies.
The Beijing-friendly party, which long held an iron grip on the island, is struggling to stay relevant at a time when many residents are wary of China’s ambitions.
The exercises, which included 13 warplanes on Saturday and 15 on Sunday, were the biggest so far this year and the first under the new U.S. administration.
JustKitchen operates cloud kitchens, but the company goes beyond providing cooking facilities for delivery meals. Instead, it sees food as a content play, with recipes and branding instead of music or shows as the content, and wants to create the next iteration of food franchises. JustKitchen currently operates its “hub and spoke” model in Taiwan, with plans to expand four other Asian markets, including Hong Kong and Singapore, and the United States this year.
Launched last year, JustKitchen currently offers 14 brands in Taiwan, including Smith & Wollensky and TGI Fridays. Ingredients are first prepped in a “hub” kitchen, before being sent to smaller “spokes” for final assembly and pickup by delivery partners, including Uber Eats and FoodPanda. To reduce operational costs, spokes are spread throughout cities for quicker deliveries and the brands each prepares is based on what is ordered most frequently in the area.
In addition to licensing deals, JustKitchen also develops its own brands and performs research and development for its partners. To enable that, chief operating officer Kenneth Wu told TechCrunch that JustKitchen is moving to a more decentralized model, which means its hub kitchens will be used primarily for R&D, and production at some of its spoke kitchens will be outsourced to other food vendors and manufacturers. The company’s long-term plan is to license spoke operation to franchisees, while providing order management software and content (i.e. recipes, packaging and branding) to maintain consistent quality.
Demand for meal and grocery deliveries increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, this means food deliveries made up about 13% of the restaurant market in 2020, compared to the 9% forecast before the pandemic, according to research firm Statista, and may rise to 21% by 2025.
But on-demand food delivery businesses are notoriously expensive to operate, with low margins despite markups and fees. By centralizing food preparation and pickup, cloud kitchens (also called ghost kitchens or dark kitchens) are supposed to increase profitability while ensuring standardized quality. Not surprisingly, companies in the space have received significant attention, including former Uber chief executive officer Travis Kalanick’s CloudKitchens, Kitchen United and REEF, which recently raised $1 billion led by SoftBank.
Wu, whose food delivery startup Milk and Eggs was acquired by GrubHub in 2019, said one of the main ways JustKitchen differentiates is by focusing on operations and content in addition to kitchen infrastructure. Before partnering with restaurants and other brands, JustKitchen meets with them to design a menu specifically for takeout and delivery. Once a menu is launched, it is produced by JustKitchen instead of the brands, who are paid royalties. For restaurants that operate only one brick-and-mortar location, this gives them an opportunity to expand into multiple neighborhoods and cities (or countries, when JustKitchen begins its international expansion) simultaneously, a new take on the franchising model for the on-demand delivery era.
Each spoke kitchen puts the final touches on meal before handing them to delivery partners. Spoke kitchens are smaller than hubs, closer to customers, and the goal is to have a high revenue to square footage ratio.
“The thesis in general is how do you get economies of scale or a large volume at the hub, or the central kitchen where you’re making it, and then send it out deep into the community from the spokes, where they can do a short last-mile delivery,” said Wu.
JustKitchen says it can cut industry standard delivery times by half, and that its restaurant partners have seen 40% month on month growth. It also makes it easier for delivery providers like Uber Eats to stack orders, which means having a driver pick up three or four orders at a time for separate addresses. This reduces costs, but is usually only possible at high-volume restaurants, like fast food chain locations. Since JustKitchen offers several brands in one spoke, this gives delivery platforms more opportunities to stack orders from different brands.
In addition to partnerships, JustKitchen also develops its own food brands, using data analytics from several sources to predict demand. The first source is its own platform, since customers can order directly from Just Kitchen. It also gets high-level data from delivery partners that lets them see food preferences and cart sizes in different regions, and uses general demographic data from governments and third-party providers with information about population density, age groups, average income and spending. This allows it to plan what brands to launch in different locations and during different times of the day, since JustKitchen offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
JustKitchen is incorporated in Canada, but launched in Taiwan first because of its population density and food delivery’s popularity. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, food delivery penetration in the U.S. and Europe was below 20%, but in Taiwan, it was already around 30% to 40%, Wu said. The new demand for food delivery in the U.S. “is part of the new norm and we believe that is not going away,” he added. JustKitchen is preparing to launch in Seattle and several Californian cities, where it already has partners and kitchen infrastructure.
“Our goal is to focus on software and content, and give franchisees operations so they have a turnkey franchise to launch immediately,” said Wu. “We have the content and they can pick whatever they want. They have software to integrate, recipes and we do the food manufacturing and sourcing to control quality, and ultimately they will operate the single location.”
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.”
The five men fled by boat to Taiwan in July, soon after China imposed Hong Kong’s harsh national security law. This week, they landed in New York.