It’s holiday season for tech unicorns

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Did you follow all of the unicorn news from the last couple of weeks? No? Here’s a list of headlines to catch you up, because this holiday season is already featuring mega acquisitions, even more IPO filings, and a steady drumbeat of fundraises.

Somehow, after one of the toughest years in recent memory, the tech industry is heading into December with more enthusiasm than ever. (Still remember the WeWork IPO fiasco from last year? No?)

Salesforce buys Slack in a $27.7B megadeal

Everyone has an opinion on the $27.7B Slack acquisition

What to make of Stripe’s possible $100B valuation

How the pandemic drove the IPO wave we see today

A roundup of recent unicorn news

C3.ai’s initial IPO pricing guidance spotlights the public market’s tech appetite (EC)

Working to understand C3.ai’s growth story (EC)

Insurtech’s big year gets bigger as Metromile looks to go public (EC)

Wall Street needs to relax, as startups show remote work is here to stay (EC)

In first IPO price range, Airbnb’s valuation recovers to pre-pandemic levels (EC)

3 new $100M ARR club members and a call for the next generation of growth-stage startups (EC)

Virtual fundraising is here to stay

Connie Loizos sat down with Jason Green of leading enterprise-focused firm Emergence Capital to get his view of SPACs, and how they are likely to be used next year and beyond. But early-stage startups, don’t miss his affirmation of Zoom meetings as part of the fundraising process going forward.

I would say that over the last five years, we’ve made almost a total transition. Now we’re very much a data-driven, thesis-driven outbound firm, where we’re reaching out to entrepreneurs soon after they’ve started their companies or gotten seed financing. The last three investments that we made were all relationships that [date back] a year to 18 months before we started engaging in the actual financing process with them. I think that’s what’s required to build a relationship and the conviction, because financings are happening so fast.

I think we’re going to actually do more investments this year than we maybe have ever done in the history of the firm, which is amazing to me [considering] COVID. I think we’ve really honed our ability to build this pipeline and have conviction, and then in this market environment, Zoom is actually helping expand the landscape that we’re willing to invest in. We’re probably seeing 50% to 100% more companies and trying to whittle them down over time and really focus on the 20 to 25 that we want to dig deep on as a team.

Thousands of startup founders will resume the trek around Silicon Valley VC offices, once the vaccines arrive. But we’ll remember 2020 as the year that venture truly joined the cloud.

Image Credits: Brighteye Ventures

Edtech looks to the future

Every level of education was forced online by the pandemic this year, at least temporarily. While the children might be back in the classroom already, higher education and corporate education are still booming remotely. Natasha Mascarenhas analyzed the latest market changes for Extra Crunch, and put together a panel of industry leaders for a special Thanksgiving edition of Equity. Here’s more about what you’ll find on the show:

For this Equity Dive, we zero onto one part of that conversation: Edtech’s impact on higher education. We brought together Udacity co-founder and Kitty Hawk CEO Sebastian Thrun, Eschaton founder and college dropout Ian Dilick, and Cowboy Ventures investor Jomayra Herrera to answer our biggest questions.

Here’s what we got into:

  • How the state of remote school is leading to gap years among students.
  • A framework for how to think of higher education’s main three products (including which is most defensible over time).
  • What learnings we can take from this COVID-19 experiment on remote schooling to apply to the future.
  • Why edtech is flocking to the notion of life-long learning.
  • The reality of who self-paced learning serves — and who it leaves out.

Blank Sale Tag on white background.

How to price your SaaS product for a bottoms-up growth strategy

SaaS is continuing to be reshaped by consumer internet techniques, with top companies of our era competing through word-of-mouth growth versus incumbent sales forces. The revenue model must be precise for this to scale, though. In a guest post for Extra Crunch, Caryn Marooney and David Cahn of Coatue lay out a strategic framework for how to price your bottoms-up SaaS product the right way for the market. Called “MAP,” for Metrics, Activity and People, it helps you sort your product against the actual ways that people are trying to use and pay for it. Here’s how they describe the A:

Activity: How do your customers really use your product and how do they describe themselves? Are they creators? Are they editors? Do different customers use your product differently? Instead of metrics, a key anchor for pricing may be the different roles users have within an organization and what they want and need in your product. If you choose to anchor on activity, you will need to align feature sets and capabilities with usage patterns (e.g., creators get access to deeper tooling than viewers, or admins get high privileges versus line-level users). For example:

  • Figma — Editors versus viewers: Free to view, starts changing after two edits.
  • Monday — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10-$20/month.
  • Smartsheet — Creators versus viewers: Free to view, creators are charged $10+/month.

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch membership now available to readers in Israel

Find out how we’re working toward living and working in space at TC Sessions: Space 2020

Aerospace’s Steve Isakowitz to speak at TC Sessions: Space 2020

Investors Lockheed Martin Ventures and SpaceFund are coming to TC Sessions: Space 2020

Across the week

TechCrunch

Calling VCs in Israel: Be featured in The Great TechCrunch Survey of European VC

SEC issues proposed rulemaking to give gig workers equity compensation

The downfall of adtech means the trust economy is here

How Ryan Reynolds and Mint Mobile worked without becoming the joke

What will tomorrow’s tech look like? Ask someone who can’t see

Extra Crunch

Mental health startups are raising spirits and venture capital

Who’s building the grocery store of the future?

Strike first, strike hard, no mercy: How emerging managers can win

This is a good time to start a proptech company

7 things we just learned about Sequoia’s European expansion plans

#EquityPod

From Alex Wilhelm:

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early-stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.

So from Chris and Danny and Natasha and I, here’s the rundown:

That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

 

#startups, #startups-weekly, #tc

0

Tesla’s racially diverse workforce is led mostly by white men, internal report shows

Tesla’s top leadership positions skew white and male with just 4% of those roles going to Black employees, according to the company’s first diversity and inclusion report released Friday.

The report shows that overall the company, which has factories in California, Nevada and New York, has a workforce that includes women as well as Black, Hispanic and Asian employees. Some 60% of its workforce is made up of people who are Black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American and Pacific Islander. However, the vast majority of its workforce is male at 79%. That male representation ticks up to 83% when looking at leadership positions. It also gets whiter with 59% of leadership positions held by white people.

Here are some of the stats of its U.S. workforce:

  • Black employees: 10% of workforce. This group has experienced a 60% increase in representation in management with 4% holding “director level and above” roles. Some 12% of its new hires in 2020 are Black and African American, a 9% increase from the previous year. Black employees received 10% of promotions in 2020, an 11% increase from 2019.
  • Asian employees: 21% of workforce. Some 25% of Asian employees hold leadership positions.  Asian employees comprise 20% of all new hires and 23% of all promotions — a 15% increase from last year.
  • Hispanic and Latinx employees: 22% of workforce and 4% of Tesla’s Director level and above employees. Hispanic and Latinx employees represented 24% of all promotions this year — a 14% increase. About 27% of all new hires in 2020 were Hispanic and Latinx.
  • Women:  represent 21% of Tesla’s overall U.S. workforce and 23% of all promotions — a 5% increase from last year. Women hold 17% of “Director” and “Vice President” positions. In 2020, nearly 25% of all U.S. hires have been women.
  • Men: represent 79% of its workforce in the United States and hold 83% of leadership positions.
  • Veterans: represent 4% of its U.S. workforce.
  • Additional groups: a designation that Tesla gives to employees who Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native, and other Pacific Islander or multiracial, represent 7% of its workforce and 1% of leadership.

Tesla did not provide additional details on retention of its minority workforce, information that can provide insight into the company’s culture and whether its efforts at inclusion are successful. The report didn’t release data on how many of its employees have disabilities. And while Tesla mentions LGBTQ employees receiving support at the company, there is no breakdown of how many are employed there or hold leadership positions.

The company acknowledged it had “work to do” to improve its numbers.

“While women are historically underrepresented in the tech and automotive industries, we recognize we have work to do in this area,” the company said in its report, one of several areas it is seeking employment. The report added that Tesla is “taking active steps” to increase outreach to women and build an inclusive culture that supports their development and retention. “Increasing women’s representation at all levels, especially in leadership, is a top priority in 2021,” the report said.

Tesla listed a few efforts to attract and retain women and minorities such as recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and expanding its internship program. However, the company didn’t provide targets or a timeline to reaching its goal to improve its diversity and inclusion metrics.

#automotive, #tc

0

Why Sapphire’s Jai Das thinks the Salesforce-Slack deal could succeed

Who says that chats about enterprise software have to be boring? They don’t, we learned during our conversation earlier this week with Sapphire’s Jai Das, a pleasant time that touched on a host of topics including startup sectors, his investing group’s capital base and, of course, the Slack-Salesforce deal.

Our conversation took place about an hour before the deal was formally announced, but the tea leaves had been read by the market far in advance, so we were able to chat about it as if it was already consummated. Which it became a little while later.


Our conversation with Das was part of our Extra Crunch Live series, which you can learn more about here. If you’re not a member, head here to get started. Extra Crunch Live has previously hosted Bessemer’s Byron Deeter and Sequoia’s Roelof Botha, among others.


The whole chat with Das was interesting and good, but his comments explaining why Slack’s sale to the larger CRM giant stuck with me all week. Using Salesforce’s acquisition of MuleSoft (a company in which Das invested) as a prism, here’s how the venture capitalist discussed the plusses and minuses of selling to a bigger company.

After noting that MuleSoft might have been able to earn a larger revenue multiple as an independent company in today’s markets than it managed by selling to Salesforce, Das then detailed the sort of boost that a huge company can bring to one that is merely big (quote has been edited and condensed):

Going into your question about Salesforce and Slack, Salesforce, like any large company, does add a lot of value. When I talked to [former MuleSoft CEOs] Simon [Parmett] and Greg [Schott], they were astonished how much account control these large companies have with CIOs and CMOs.

MulesSoft would be beating on the door to get a meeting with the CIO and it wouldn’t happen. And you know, the Salesforce management team would just make one phone call, and Simon and Greg would be presenting to the CEO on down.

So I think that is the thing that people forget, that these large companies have so much ability to increase your sales velocity with large accounts, [so] it makes a lot of sense for some of these [smaller] companies to end up in Salesforce or SAP or Oracle, or WorkDay.

So perhaps Slack will find more oomph under Salesforce’s auspices than it could as a solo project. We spent the majority of our time talking about startups and smaller companies, so hit the jump for the full video and a few more quotes I transcribed for you.

Have fun!

Jai Das

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #extra-crunch-live, #fundings-exits, #jai-das, #salesforce, #sapphire, #slack, #tc, #venture-capital

0

Mike Cagney is testing the boundaries of the banking system for himself — and others

Founder Mike Cagney is always pushing the envelope, and investors love him for it. Not long sexual harassment allegations prompted him to leave SoFi, the personal finance company that he cofounded in 2011, he raised $50 million for new lending startup called Figure that has since raised at least $225 million from investors and was valued a year ago at $1.2 billion.

Now, Cagney is trying to do something unprecedented with Figure, which says it uses a blockchain to more quickly facilitate home equity, mortgage refinance, and student and personal loan approvals. The company has applied for a national bank charter in the U.S., wherein it would not take FDIC-insured deposits but it could take uninsured deposits of over $250,000 from accredited investors.

Why does it matter? The approach, as American Banker explains it, would bring regulatory benefits. As it reported earlier this week, “Because Figure Bank would not hold insured deposits, it would not be subject to the FDIC’s oversight. Similarly, the absence of insured deposits would prevent oversight by the Fed under the Bank Holding Company Act. That law imposes restrictions on non-banking activities and is widely thought to be a deal-breaker for tech companies where banking would be a sidelight.”

Indeed, if approved, Figure could pave the way for a lot of fintech startups — and other retail companies that want to wheel and deal lucrative financial products without the oversight of the Federal Reserve Board or the FDIC — to nab non-traditional bank charters.

As Michelle Alt, whose year-old financial advisory firm helped Figure with its application, tells AB: “This model, if it’s approved, wouldn’t be for everyone. A lot of would-be banks want to be banks specifically to have more resilient funding sources.” But if it’s successful, she adds, “a lot of people will be interested.”

One can only guess at what the ripple effects would be, though the Bank of Amazon wouldn’t surprise anyone who follows the company.

In the meantime, the strategy would seemingly be a high-stakes, high-reward development for a smaller outfit like Figure, which could operate far more freely than banks traditionally but also without a safety net for itself or its customers. The most glaring danger would be a bank run, wherein those accredited individuals who are today willing to lend money to the platform at high interest rates began demanding their money back at the same time. (It happens.)

Either way, Cagney might find a receptive audience right now with Brian Brooks, a longtime Fannie Mae executive who served as Coinbase’s chief legal officer for two years before jumping this spring to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), an agency that ensures that national banks and federal savings associations operate in a safe and sound manner.

Brooks was made acting head of the agency in May and green-lit one of the first national charters to go to a fintech, Varo Money, this past summer. In late October, the OCC also granted SoFi preliminary, conditional approval over its own application for a national bank charter.

While Brooks isn’t commenting on speculation around Figure’s application, in July, during a Brookings Institution event, he reportedly commented about trade groups’ concerns over his efforts to grant fintechs and payments companies charters, saying: “I think the misunderstanding that some of these trade groups are operating under is that somehow this is going to trigger a lighter-touch charter with fewer obligations, and it’s going to make the playing field un-level . . . I think it’s just the opposite.”

Christopher Cole, executive vice president at the trade group Independent Community Bankers of America, doesn’t seem persuaded. Earlier this week, he expressed concern about Figure’s bank charter application to AB, saying he suspects that Brooks “wants to approve this quickly before he leaves office.”

Brooks’s days are surely numbered. Last month, he was nominated by President Donald to a full five-year term leading the federal bank regulator and is currently awaiting Senate confirmation. The move — designed to slow down the incoming Biden administration — could be undone by President-elect Joe Biden, who can fire the comptroller of the currency at will and appoint an acting replacement to serve until his nominee is confirmed by the Senate.

Still, Cole’s suggestion is that Brooks still has enough time to figure out a path forward for Figure — and if its novel charter application is approved, and it stands up to legal challenges — a lot of other companies, too.

#banking, #blockchain, #figure-technologies, #mike-cagney, #regulations, #sofi, #startups, #tc

0

Gift Guide: 9+ caffeinated gift ideas for your favorite coffee lovers

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

The pandemic has meant we leave our homes far less often, and that means fending for ourselves when it comes to coffee. But too many of us have old, cheap coffee makers or worse, pod-based ones at home. Here are the best ways to elevate your coffee game or delight the java lover in your life.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

Superior drip coffee makers

Every grocery store sells a cheap drip coffee maker that does the job adequately, but if anyone is going to use a device every day, it should be something they look forward to, not the bare minimum.

That said, a coffee maker shouldn’t be an IQ test — you have to operate it before you’ve had your coffee, after all. I personally find the ones with touchscreens and apps add nothing but new ways to get it wrong. So I tested a few coffee makers that balance quality with simplicity, and after a few weeks of jitters here are my favorites.

For the industrial design appreciator: OXO 8-cup coffee maker

Pros:

  • Compact, well-thought-out design
  • Lots of actually useful features
  • Thermal carafe included

Cons:

  • Single cup brewing is a bit over-complicated
  • Could be more coffee-efficient

OXO’s reputation as a kitchen goods designer is well deserved, but I often find their items a bit much for the job. Not so with the 8-cup coffee maker, which manages to balance thoughtful design with simplicity and quality. I can say with confidence: if you aren’t sure what coffee maker to get… get this one.

The OXO 8-cup is the (obviously) smaller alternative to the 9-cup, losing the ability to schedule brewing but gaining simpler operation and a single-cup option using a separate, Kalita-compatible basket. The lids of the reservoir and basket area flip up (the latter allowing condensed water to flow safely into the filter) and the basket itself sits securely but pops out easily.

The coffee is uniformly good; I would say as good but slightly less strong than the KBGV below. It flows directly into a thermal carafe with a dedicated hole in the top, simplifying even that part. Pretty much everything about this machine is made to simplify and foolproof itself, making the brewing process extremely reliable.

I honestly struggled to find any complaints, but I would say that the necessity of keeping a second basket that uses a different filter type, then adjusting the various bits so that you can slip the mug in, etc., is arguably more trouble than it’s worth. But the capability for single-cup brewing is there and doesn’t take away from the rest at all.

It also recommends somewhat more grounds per cup than the KBGV, not a crazy amount but enough that you’ll probably get one less pot out of a standard 16 oz bag of coffee.

Price: $170 from OXO

For the FBI stakeout: Technivorm Moccamaster KBGV

Pros:

  • Streamlined retro-institutional look
  • Strong, reliable brew
  • Automatic hot plate

Cons

  • Lots of removable parts
  • Materials unremarkable for the price

The KBGV brewed my favorite coffee and in my opinion has the best look, like what you’d expect in the background of an FBI stakeout field HQ in a 70s movie. Where the OXO is rounded-off and unassuming, designed to disappear in a modern kitchen, the KBGV is bold and shiny.

The coffee it makes is bold, too: reliably strong and flavorful. Its #4 filter process to me was also pretty efficient with grounds.

The squat glass carafe sits on a hot plate that remains on for an hour or so after brewing, which is great but also means you must remember to turn it off — it won’t start a fire or anything, it’s just going to sit there being hot.

My main issue with the KBGV is that the reservoir and basket covers just sit on top rather than being on hinges, making the process of brewing involve removing and replacing several pieces. A small complaint, but they, like the carafe lid and basket, are also made of a rather ordinary plastic rather than something more durable. I feel like given the premium price you should be given something a bit more classy and convenient.

The good news is they’ll be easy to replace if they break, and Technivorm has an excellent warranty.

Price: $330 from Technivorm

For the ‘gram: Ratio 8

Pros:

  • Extremely handsome
  • Excellent materials
  • Very simple operation

Cons:

  • Nothing to keep coffee warm
  • Quite large!
  • Very expensive

Objectively the most good-looking of the machines here (even if I prefer the quirky charm of the KBGV), the Ratio 8, with its wood and textured metal finish, is obviously meant to be a display piece. And you couldn’t hide it if you wanted to — this thing is big, and the thick power cord juts straight out of the back, making it difficult to put anywhere but somewhere central.

The machine is basically an automatic Chemex brewer (Chemex makes one of their own that I tried to test but never heard back on), which kind of tells you everything you need to know. Chemex, with its wood-collared, single-piece carafes and luxuriously thick filters, is almost like the BMW of drip coffee, with all that implies. I like it, but I also acknowledge that it’s a bit over the top. And a machine that does it for you — well!

But as a Chemex brewer goes, it’s a lovely thing. You get that special extra clarity that the Chemex process brings, and there’s something wonderful about the way the coffee comes out of those carafes. Operating the machine is a single-button affair, which activates a short bloom period then showers the grounds over time with however much water you put in the reservoir.

I found that the Ratio 8 was best when making a full carafe, as with a half-portion I felt it over-watered and consequently under-extracted what I put in there. Unfortunately that full carafe will have to be consumed with a quickness as the Ratio 8, despite its size and price, has nothing to keep the coffee warm once it’s been brewed.

For a showy and unique machine the Ratio 8 is great. But if all you want to do is make great drip, the OXO or KBGV is a much better use of your funds.

Price: $495 from Ratio

More exotic methods

There are lots of ways to make coffee, and while drip is the easiest and most reliable for most people, the following slightly more unusual options are also viable and perhaps more interesting as gifts.

FrankOne

PA150003Want to get the first coffee maker to come out of Colombia — you know, coffee central? The FrankOne is a cool device that quickly makes a pourover-like cup by steeping the grounds then creating a vacuum in the chamber below it, sucking the liquid out but leaving the grounds up top. It works great, operates on a rechargeable battery, and is easy to clean (especially if you have a garbage disposal).

Price: $80 from FrankDePaula

ROK manual espresso maker

Image Credits: ROK

I avoided the many fancy espresso machines out there for this review mainly for the reason that they are complex, expensive, and require considerable upkeep. The ROK is about as simple an espresso maker as you can get, bested only by a stovetop Moka pot.

To work the ROK, you pack your grounds into the included espresso filter and attach it to the machine like any other. Then you pour your hot water into the reservoir up top, raise the arms, and depress them with a slow, steady pressure that forces it through the filter. It really is that simple.

It may not be quite the high-pressure espresso you get from a “real” machine but it’s quite good, and the process can be repeated to increase the volume and produce something like an americano. The coffee produced by the ROK is a bit like a Moka Pot’s, but a bit less strong and far less likely to be burnt.

The machine itself is bulletproof — and I mean I think it’s actually bulletproof. It’s practically solid metal, though the reservoir and bellows are rubber. Use this to make coffee while camping and then fend off a bear attack.

For a unique, electricity-free coffee experience the ROK is a great option, though not necessarily a practical one.

Price: $189 from ROK

Osma

Image Credits: Osma

I haven’t gotten to test this one yet (though I will), but designer Joey Roth hasn’t done me wrong yet. This new device from his workshop uses a completely new method of circulating hot water through grounds, making a drip-like cup in a very short time, or cold brew, or tea. If your loved one is a gadget fiend, this is one they probably haven’t had the chance to covet yet. Technically it uses pods, but they’re totally biodegradable and you can fill them with your own grounds or leaves.

Price: $185 from Osma

Pourover cones

I’ve used pourover as my main method of making coffee for years, and it reliably produces the best single cup you can have, though at the cost of being somewhat time-consuming.

Kalita Wave 185

Kalita makes a couple sizes of these pourover cones, and although I have happily used my 155 for many years, if I could do it over again I’d opt for the slightly larger 185, which is more forgiving when you’re pouring and can brew more than the 16 ounces that is the realistic upper limit of mine.

Price: $36 from Amazon

OXO’s pourover cone with tank

If hovering by the stove and watering your grounds for the two to three minutes it takes to make a cup is not something you enjoy, OXO has a nice little gadget that simplifies things. It’s basically a pourover cone with a reservoir that sits on top, dripping water through a few tiny holes at a steady rate.

It made a good cup and with minimal fuss, but the capacity is limited, so if you want more than 12 ounces you’ll have to refill the reservoir.

Price: $16 from Amazon

Kone and other metal filters

These permanent filters have gotten quite good, and I have one that sits right on top of a cup. No more paper! However I would recommend these only to people who have a garbage disposal or sink that can handle a lot of grounds, because cleaning the filter involves losing a lot of grit down the drain. Occasional deep cleaning is required but it’s nice to reduce waste even a little bit.

Price: Around $30-40, depending on brand.

Coffee subscriptions

Just as a general note: These types of subscriptions are great, but you need to do a little bit of research or your loved one will end up with a roast they don’t like. I don’t want to recommend any in particular, since they all specialize in different things, but aim to prop up independent roasteries and fair trade rather than just getting a steady supply of the same old thing from a major chain.

Some good options:

 

#coffee, #gadgets, #gift-guide, #gift-guide-2020, #tc

0

Review: Wireless headsets from Logitech, Audio-Technica, SteelSeries, HyperX and more

With the amount of time you’re spending at home these days, you deserve a better headset. A wireless one that works with your computer and maybe your console as well, with a mic for calls and great sound for games and movies. Fortunately there are a lot to choose from, and I’ve tested out your best options.

I asked the leading audio and peripheral companies to send over their flagship wireless headset, with prices ranging from about $100 to $250. Beyond this price range returns diminish swiftly, but right now that’s the sweet spot for comfort, sound, and usability.

For years I’ve avoided wireless headsets because there were too many compromises, but I’m pleased to say that the latency has been eliminated and battery life in the ones I reviewed is uniformly excellent. (NB: If the wireless version feels too expensive, you can often get wired ones for $50-100 less.)

To test the headphones, I used them all for a variety of everyday tasks, from video calls to movies and music (with only minimal EQing to get a sense of their natural sound) to AAA games and indies. None require an app to work, though some have companion software for LEDs or game profiles. I have a fairly large head and medium-sized ears, for what it’s worth. All the headphones are rather bulky, though the angle I shot them at individually makes them look huge — you can see in the image up top that they’re all roughly the same size.

None of these headphones have active noise cancelling, but many offer decent physical isolation to the point where they offer a “monitor” feature that pipes in sound from the outside world — useful if you’re playing a game but waiting for the oven to preheat or something. Only the first set has a built-in mic, the rest have detachable ones of generally solid quality, certainly good enough for streaming and chatting, though for broadcast a separate one would be better. All these headphones use a USB-A style dongle, though the 7P/7X also has a USB-C connector.

SteelSeries 7P/7X – $149

The 7P and 7X headsets, designed with the PS5 and Xbox Series X in mind (as well as PC) respectively, are my first and most unreserved recommendation.

The standout feature on these is, to me, a truly surprising sound with an almost disturbingly broad stage and clarity. I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I put on some familiar tracks I use for reference. This isn’t a 7.1 simulation or anything like that — but no doubt the gaming focus led to creating a large soundstage. It worked!

I also found the headphones to be very comfortable, with a “ski goggle” strap instead of a per-band adjustment that lets them sit very lightly as well as “remembering” your setting. The spacious earcups rotate for travel or comfort.

The built-in mic is unobtrusive and stows away nicely, but if you’re picky about placement it was a bit floppy to adjust. Many of the other headsets have nicer mics that completely detach — maybe that’s a plus for you but I tend to lose them.

My main issues with these are that the controls feel cheap and not particularly well laid out. The bottom of the headset is a jumble of ports and buttons and the volume dials don’t have much travel — it’s 0 to 100 in one full swipe. (Volume control is independent from system volume.)

The dongle is different from the others in that it is itself USB-C, but with a USB-A cable attached. That’s good for compatibility, but the cable is three feet long, making it kind of silly to attach to some laptops and whatnot. You could easily get your own short cord, though.

At $150 I think these are an easy recommendation for just about anyone looking at that price range.

Audio-Technica AT-GWL – $250

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The high price on these is partly because they are the wireless version of a headset that also comes wired, so if you want the solid audio performance and comfy fit, you can save some money by going wired.

The sound of the AT-GWLs is rich and naturally has a focus on the upper-mid vocal range, which makes voices in media really pop. I did find the sound a bit confined, which hitting the “surround” setting actually helped with. I know that this sort of virtualization has generally been frowned on, but it’s been a while since these settings have been over the top and distortive. I found surround better for games but not necessarily for music, but it’s very easy to switch on and off.

The headphones are light and adjusted with traditional, no-nonsense metal bands, with a single pad on the top. I would say they are the lightest-feeling pair I tested, with the SteelSeries and Razer coming in just behind owing to some extra weight and bulk. Despite being compact, the AT-GWLs felt airy but not big. The leather-microfiber combo cups are nice, and I think they’ll break in well to provide better isolation over time.

Where they fall short is in the interface. First, a note to Audio-Technica: Turn down the notification noises! Turning the headset on, the mic on or off, or hitting the system-independent volume max produces loud, surprising beeps. Too loud!

Second, the buttons and dials are stiff, small, and same-feeling. Lifting a hand quickly to turn down the volume (maybe after a huge beep) you may very easily mistake the power switch for the volume dial. The dial also doubles as a button for surround mode, and next to it is a microscopic button to turn on and off the sound of surroundings. It’s a bit of a jumble — nothing you can’t get used to, but considering how nice other headsets on this list made their controls, it has to be said.

HyperX Cloud II wireless – $100

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

HyperX (owned by Kingston) wasn’t exactly known for audio until fairly recently, but its previous Cloud headset got the crucial Wirecutter endorsement, and it’s easy to see why. For less money than any of the other headsets in this roundup, the follow-up to that headset (which I’m wearing right now) has excellent sound and isolation.

I was surprised to find a soundstage nearly as wide as the 7P/7X, but with more of a focus on the punchy lower register instead of on detail and placement. My music felt big and close, and the atmosphere of games likewise, more immediately present.

The Cloud II’s controls are simple and effective. The volume dial, tied directly to the system volume, is superb: grippy, with smooth motion and just the right amount of friction, and just-barely-there clicks. There are two good-size buttons, the power one concave and the mic mute (which gives different sounds for muted and active) convex.

It’s unfortunate that they’re not as comfortable, for me anyway, as the others on this list. The cups (though a bit on the warm side) and band are perfectly fine. It’s that there’s little rotation to those cups, meaning there’s no play to accommodate the shape of your head. I don’t know, maybe it’s just my big dome, but they were noticeably tighter at the front of my ear than the back, so I was constantly adjusting or trying to twist them.

I’ll say this: if they add a bit more adjustment to the cups, these would be my default recommendation over the 7P/7X. As exciting as the SteelSeries sound is to me, the Cloud IIs seem more like what people expect and $50 cheaper.

Logitech G-733 – $130

The matte texture of the G733s had a weird interaction with my camera — they don’t look speckly IRL. Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

These are Logitech’s streamer-friendly, color-coordinated, LED-sporting set, but they’re better than the loud design would suggest.

The sound is definitely gaming-forward, with a definite emphasis on the low end and a very central, present sound that was a lot like the Cloud II.

To be honest, I was not expecting the G733s to be very comfortable — their stiff plastic look suggested they’d creak, weigh down my ears, and crush my noggin. But in fact they’re really light and quite comfy! There’s a lot of play in the positions of the earcups. The fit is a little odd in that there’s a plainly inferior version of the 7P/7X’s “ski goggle” strap that really only has four settings, while the cups slide up and down about two thirds of an inch. It was just enough to accommodate my (again, apparently very large) head.

The mic boom is rather short, and sadly there is no indicator for when the mic is on or off, which is sometimes a minor inconvenience and sometimes a major pain. You can tell from the sound the mute button makes, though.

The volume dial is nice and smooth, though the “clicks” are really far apart. I like the texture of it and the mic mute button, the power button not so much. But it works.

The colors may not be to everyone’s liking, but I have to hand it to Logitech for going all the way. The headset, mic, and even the USB dongle are all the same shade, making it much easier to keep track of them in my growing pile of headphones and widgets.

Logitech Pro-X – $200

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

Currently Logitech’s most premium set of gaming headphones, the Pro-X abandon the bright, plasticky look of its other sets and goes for understated and black.

The sound of the Logitech is big and very clear, with almost a reference feel in how balanced the bands are. I felt more presence in the mid-lows of smart bass-playing than the other sets. There is a “surround” feel that makes it feel more like you’re in a room of well-configured speakers than headphones, something that I think emerges from a de-emphasis of the center channel. The media is “out there,” not “in here.” It’s not a bad or a good thing, just distinct from the others.

The controls are about on par with the Cloud II’s: A nice frictiony volume wheel controlling system volume, a nice mic toggle button, and a fairly meaty on-off switch you’re unlikely to trip on purpose.

Also like the Cloud IIs, there is no rotation to the earcups, making them less comfortable to me than the ATs and SteelSeries, and Logitech’s cheaper G-733s. A larger head than my own, if that’s possible, would definitely feel clamped. I do think these would wear in well, but all the same a bit of play would help a lot.

The external material, a satinized matte plastic, looks truly lovely but is an absolute fingerprint magnet. Considering you’ll be handling these a lot (and let’s be honest, not necessarily with freshly washed hands), you’re going to need to wipe them down rather more than any of the others I tested.

Razer Blackshark V2 Pro – $180

Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The understated Razer Blackshark V2 Pro soon became my go-to for PC gaming when the SteelSeries set was attached to the PS5.

Their sound is definitely gaming-focused, with extra oomph in the lows and mid-lows, but music didn’t sound overly shifted in that direction. The soundstage is full but not startlingly so, and everything sounded detailed without being harsh.

The Razers look heavy but aren’t — it varies day to day but I think they’re definitely competing for “most comfortable” with the A-Ts and SteelSeries. The cups feel spacious and have a nice seal, making for a very isolated listening experience. Adjustment is done with the wires attached to the cups, which is nothing special — I kind of wish this setup would let you adjust the cant as well as the height. The material is like the Logitechs — prone to fingerprints, though a little less so, in my experience.

Their controls are very well designed and laid out, all on one side. The protruding (system-independent) volume knob may seem odd at first but you’ll love it soon. The one big notch or click indicates exactly 50%, which is super useful for quick “calibration,” and turning the knob is smooth yet resistant enough that I never once accidentally changed it. Meanwhile there are conveniently placed and distinguishable buttons for mute and power, and ports for the detachable mic, charge cord, and 3.5mm input.

I’m hard pressed to think of any downsides to the Blackshark except that it doesn’t work with consoles.

#audio-technica, #gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #headphones, #hyperx, #logitech, #ps5, #reviews, #steelseries, #tc, #xbox

0

Zephr raises $8M to help news publishers grow subscription revenue

Zephr has raised $8 million in a new funding round led by Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments (owned by media giant Bertelsmann).

The London-headquarted startup’s customers already include publishers like McClatchy, News Corp Australia, Dennis Publishing and PEI Media. CEO James Henderson told me via email that rather than creating “a monolithic product that tries to do a bit of everything,” Zephr is “focused entirely on the experience and journey for the prospect or customer,” driving an average 150% increase in conversion rates and 25% increase in subscription revenue within the first six months.

Henderson added, “By offering the right product, package or message at the right time to the right person, Zephr improves conversion rates, drastically decreases churn and drives new, stable revenue.”

To do this, Zephr largely relies on the publisher’s first-party data about its readers — Henderson said that this data is “by far the most important and powerful type of data that Zephr both uses and generates.” But it also takes advantage of contextual data, such as “time of day, to location, device or consumption patterns.”

He also noted that Zephr is a no-code tool, allowing non-technical members of the marketing, revenue and product teams to use a drag-and-drop editor to create different customer journeys.

Zephr

Image Credits: Zephr

Asked how the pandemic has affected the startup’s business, Henderson said there were both “positive and negative indicators,” with newsrooms seeing record readership but in some cases also freezing spending.

“As firms prepare for a ‘post-pandemic’ world, we are beginning to see our markets seize the opportunity of all these new potential subscribers and invest in subscription models — and in Zephr.” he said. “In publishing and news media, the old model of dominant advertising revenue is on the way out and we are well-placed to capitalize on that interest.”

The new funding also includes financing from Silicon Valley Bank UK Branch and brings Zephr’s total funding to $11 million. Previous investors include Knight Capital and Nauta Capital.

According to the company’s funding announcement, this money will go toward further product development (with a focus on increased personalization), as well as expansion across the United States, Europe and Asia.

“The recent weakness in the advertising market increased pressure for media companies to diversify revenue streams and aim to introduce or optimize subscription models,” said BDMI Managing Director Urs Cete in a statement. “We recognise Zephr’s excellent technology that empowers publishers to galvanise the online subscription opportunity and create customer journeys that are truly unique.”

#bdmi, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #zephr

0

PrimaHealth Credit offers a buy-now, pay-later lending service for elective procedures

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based healthcare lending service PrimaHealth Credit  is now pitching point-of-sale lending services for elective medical procedures.

Taking the kinds of financial lending services that have been popularized by companies like Klarna and Affirm, PrimaHealth Credit is bringing them into elective surgical space for things like cataract surgery, orthodontic work, dental care, or LASIK.

“For many dental, orthodontics, LASIK, and cataract surgery patients, our BNPL product is a ‘last resort’ – the difference between getting the treatment they need, or not,” said Brendon Kensel, founder and CEO of PrimaHealth Credit, in a statement.

The company expects that patients will pay somewhere between 25% and 50% of the cost of their treatment up front with repayment durations for the loans ranging between two and four months.

Rates for the loans will range from 19.99% to 24.99% APR with average loan sizes coming in at around $1,800 across dental, orthodontics, and LASIK, according to the company.

“Until now, when providers couldn’t approve patients for an existing payment plan, they’d either forego providing them care or take them on anyway, exposing themselves to significant liability as they struggle with adequately assessing creditworthiness and properly servicing and collecting loans,” Kensel said.

The program not only handles loan origination for healthcare practices, but handles the back-office tasks for payment and servicing.

“Our goal as a company is to remove barriers to patient acceptance and help people who have the means but not necessarily the credit score to get the quality care that everyone deserves,” Kensel said.

Using the PrimaHealth Credit mobile app, patients can receive instant credit decisions and choose the payment plan that works best for them. The company said the service is currently available in Arizona, California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas and will be expanded to all 50 states by 2021.

 

#affirm, #arizona, #california, #ceo, #credit-score, #florida, #klarna, #lasik, #oklahoma, #orthodontics, #personal-finance, #tc, #texas

0

Why Slack and Salesforce execs think they’re better together

When Salesforce bought Slack earlier this week for $27.7 billion, it was in some ways the end of a startup fairytale. Slack was the living embodiment of the Silicon Valley startup success fantasy. It started as a pivot from a game company, of all things. It raised $1.4 billion, went from zero to a $7 billion valuation to IPO, checking off every box on the startup founder’s wish list.

Then quite suddenly this week, Slack was part of Salesforce, plucked off the market for an enormous sum of money.

While we might not ever know the back (Slack) room maneuvering that went on to make the deal a reality, it is interesting to note that Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield told me in an interview this week that he was not actually trying to sell the company when he approached Salesforce president and COO Bret Taylor earlier this year. Instead, he wanted to buy something from them.

“I actually talked to Bret in the early days of the pandemic to see if they wanted to sell us Quip because I thought it would be good for us, and I didn’t really know what their plans were [for it]. He said he’d get back to me, and then got back to me six months later or so,” Butterfield said.

At that point, the conversation flipped and the companies began a series of discussions that eventually led to Salesforce acquiring Slack.

Big money, big expectations

From the Salesforce perspective, Taylor says that the Slack deal was worth the money because it really allows his company to bring together all the pieces of their platform, one that has expanded over the years from pure CRM to include marketing, customer service, data visualization, workflow and more. Taylor also said that having Slack gives Salesforce a missing communication layer on top of its other products, something especially important when interactions with customers, partners or fellow employees, have become mostly digital.

“When we say we really want Slack to be this next generation interface for Customer 360, what we mean is we’re pulling together all these systems. How do you rally your teams around these systems in this digital work-anywhere world that we’re in right now where these teams are distributed and collaboration is more important than ever,” Taylor said.

Butterfield sees a natural connection between what people do in the course of their work, what machines do behind the scenes in these systems of record and engagement, and how Slack can help bridge the gap between humans and machines.

He says that by putting Slack in the middle of business processes, you can begin to eliminate friction that occurs in complex enterprise software like Salesforce. Instead of moving stuff through email, clicking a link, opening a browser, signing in, and then finally accessing the tool you want, the approval could be built into a single Slack message.

“If you have hundreds of those kinds of actions a day, there’s a real opportunity to increase the velocity and that has an impact, and not just in the minutes saved by the person doing the approval, but the speed of how the whole business operates,” Butterfield said.

Competing with Microsoft

While neither executive said the deal was about competing with Microsoft, it was likely an underlying reason that the companies decided to join forces. They may prove better together than they are separately, and both have complicated histories with Microsoft.

Slack has had an ongoing battle with Microsoft and its Teams product for years. It filed suit against the company last summer in the EU over what it called unfairly bundling of Teams for free with Office 365. In an interview last year with the Wall Street Journal, Butterfield said that he believes Microsoft sees his company as an existential threat. Hyperbole aside, there is tension and competition between the two enterprise software companies.

Salesforce and Microsoft also have a long history from lawsuits in the early days, to making friends and working together when it makes sense after Satya Nadella took over in 2014, while still competing hard in the market. It’s hard not to see the deal in that context.

In a recent interview with TechCrunch, Battery Ventures general partner Neeraj Agrawal said the deal was at least partially about catching Microsoft.

“To get to a market cap of $1 trillion, Salesforce now has to take MSFT head on. Until now, the company has mostly been able to stay in its own swim lane in terms of products,” Agrawal told TechCrunch.

As for Butterfield, while he saw the obvious competition, he denied the deal was about putting his company in a better position to compete with his rival.

“I don’t think that was really an important part of the rationale, at least for me,” he said, adding “the competition with Microsoft is overblown. The challenge for us was the narrative. They’re just good PR or something that I couldn’t figure out,” he said.

While Butterfield cited a list of large clients in enterprise tech, insurance and banking, the narrative has always been that Slack was favored by developer teams, which is where it initially gained traction. Whatever the reality, with Salesforce, Slack is definitely in a better position to compete with any and all comers in the enterprise communications space, and while it will be part of Salesforce, the two companies also have to figure out how to maintain some separation.

Keeping Slack independent

Taylor certainly recognizes that Slack’s current customers are watching closely to see how they handle the acquisition, and his company will have to walk a fine line between respecting the brand and product independence on one hand, while finding ways to create and build upon existing hooks into Salesforce to allow the CRM giant to take full advantage of its substantial investment.

It won’t be easy to do, but you can see a similar level of independence in some of Salesforce’s recent big-money purchases like MuleSoft, the company it bought in 2018 for $6.5 billion, and Tableau, the company it bought last year for over $15 billion. As Butterfield points out, those two companies have clearly maintained their brand identity and independence, and he sees them as role models for Slack.

“So there’s a layer of independence that’s like that [for Mulesoft and Tableau] because it’s not going to help anyone call us Chat Cloud or something like that. They paid a lot of money for us, so they want us to do more of what we were already doing,” he said.

Taylor, whose opinion matters greatly here, certainly sees it in similar terms.

“We want to make sure we have a real integrated value proposition, a real integrated platform for developers, but also maintain Slack’s technology independence, technology agnostic platform and its brand,” he said.

Better together

As for the companies coming together, both men see a lot of potential here to merge Slack communications with Salesforce’s enterprise software prowess to make something better, and Taylor sees Slack helping link the two with workflows and automations.

“When you think about automation, it’s event driven, these long running processes, automations. If you look at what people are doing with the Slack platform, it’s essentially incorporating workflows and bots and all these things. The combination of the Salesforce platform where I think we have the best automation intelligence capabilities with the Slack platform is incredible,” Taylor said.

The challenge these two men now face as they move forward with this acquisition, and all of the expectations inherent in a deal this large, is making it work. Salesforce has a lot of experience with large acquisitions, and they have handled some well, and some not so well. It’s going to be imperative for both companies that they get this right. It’s now up to Taylor and Butterfield to make sure that happens.

 

#bret-taylor, #cloud, #enterprise, #ma, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #saas, #salesforce, #salesforce-slack-deal, #slack, #stewart-butterfield, #tc

0

DoorDash amps its IPO range ahead of blockbuster IPO

DoorDash filed a fresh S-1/A, providing the market with a new price range for its impending IPO.

The American food delivery unicorn now expects to debut at $90 to $95 per share, up from a previous range of $75 to $85. That’s a bump of 20% on the low end and 12% on the upper end of its IPO range.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


DoorDash still anticipates 317,656,521 shares outstanding after its IPO, giving the company a new, non-diluted valuation range between $28.6 billion and $30.2 billion. On a fully-diluted basis, the company’s valuation rises to more than $35 billion.

For the on-demand giant, the upgrade is enormously positive news. Not only will its valuation stretch even further above its most recent private price — around $16 billion, set this summer — but DoorDash will also raise even more money than it previously anticipated. That war chest will be welcome when a vaccine becomes widely available and food consumption habits could shift.

DoorDash will raise as much as $3.135 billion in its IPO, according to the filing.

After mulling over the company’s updated valuation from its new SEC filing, I’ve decided that there are three things worth calling out and discussing. Let’s get into them.

It’s Friday, so to make our analysis as easy as possible I’ve broken it into discreet sections for your perusal. Let’s go!

A path to profitability is important

DoorDash’s most profitable quarters that we are aware of were its two most recent. During the June 30 quarter, the company saw positive net income of $23 million off revenues of $675 million. In the September 30 quarter, on the back of even more revenue growth, DoorDash lost a modest $42 million against $879 million in top line.

Those two quarters contrast with the first quarter of 2020 when DoorDash lost a far-greater $129 million against a far-smaller revenue result of $362 million, and Q4 2019 when the figures were a $134 million loss and revenues of just $298 million.

#doordash, #ecommerce, #food, #online-food-ordering, #startup-company, #tc, #the-exchange, #unicorn

0

SunCulture wants to turn Africa into the world’s next bread basket, one solar water pump at a time

The world’s food supply must double by the year 2050 to meet the demands from a growing population, according to a report from the United Nations. And as pressure mounts to find new crop land to support the growth, the world’s eyes are increasingly turning to the African continent as the next potential global breadbasket.

While Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank, the countries on the continent face significant obstacles as they look to boost the productivity of their agricultural industries.

On the continent, 80% of families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4% use irrigation. Many families also lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. It’s these twin problems that Samir Ibrahim and his co-founder at SunCulture, Charlie Nichols, have spent the last eight years trying to solve.

Armed with a new financing model and purpose-built small solar power generators and water pumps, Nichols and Ibrahim, have already built a network of customers using their equipment to increase incomes by anywhere from five to ten times their previous levels by growing higher-value cash crops, cultivating more land and raising more livestock.

The company also has just closed on $14 million in funding to expand its business across Africa.

“We have to double the amount of food we have to create by 2050, and if you look at where there are enough resources to grow food and a lot of point — all signs point to Africa. You have a lot of farmers and a lot of land, and a lot of resources,” Ibrahim said.

African small farmers face two big problems as they look to increase productivity, Ibrahim said. One is access to markets, which alone is a huge source of food waste, and the other is food security because of a lack of stable growing conditions exacerbated by climate change.

As one small farmer told The Economist earlier this year, ““The rainy season is not predictable. When it is supposed to rain it doesn’t, then it all comes at once.”

Ibrahim, who graduated from New York University in 2011, had long been drawn to the African continent. His father was born in Tanzania and his mother grew up in Kenya and they eventually found their way to the U.S. But growing up, Ibrahim was told stories about East Africa.

While pursuing a business degree at NYU Ibrahim met Nichols, who had been working on large scale solar projects in the U.S., at an event for budding entrepreneurs in New York.

The two began a friendship and discussed potential business opportunities stemming from a paper Nichols had read about renewable energy applications in the agriculture industry.

After winning second place in a business plan competition sponsored by NYU, the two men decided to prove that they should have won first. They booked tickets to Kenya and tried to launch a pilot program for their business selling solar-powered water pumps and generators.

Conceptually solar water pumping systems have been around for decades. But as the costs of solar equipment and energy storage have declined the systems that leverage those components have become more accessible to a broader swath of the global population.

That timing is part of what has enabled SunCulture to succeed where other companies have stumbled. “We moved here at a time when [solar] reached grid parity in a lot of markets. It was at a time when a lot of development financiers were funding the nexus between agriculture and energy,” said Ibrahim.

Initially, the company sold its integrated energy generation and water pumping systems to the middle income farmers who hold jobs in cities like Nairobi and cultivate crops on land they own in rural areas. These “telephone farmers” were willing to spend the $5000 required to install SunCulture’s initial systems.

Now, the cost of a system is somewhere between $500 and $1000 and is more accessible for the 570 million farming households across the word — with the company’s “pay-as-you-grow” model.

It’s a spin on what’s become a popular business model for the distribution of solar systems of all types across Africa. Investors have poured nearly $1 billion into the development of off-grid solar energy and retail technology companies like M-kopa, Greenlight Planet, d.light design, ZOLA Electric, and SolarHome, according to Ibrahim. In some ways, SunCulture just extends that model to agricultural applications.

“We have had to bundle services and financing. The reason this particularly works is because our customers are increasing their incomes four or five times,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the money has been going to consuming power. This is the first time there has been productive power.”

 SunCulture’s hardware consists of 300 watt solar panels and a 440 watt-hour battery system. The batteries can support up to four lights, two phones and a plug-in submersible water pump. 

The company’s best selling product line can support irrigation for a two-and-a-half acre farm, Ibrahim said. “We see ourselves as an entry point for other types of appliances. We’re growing to be the largest solar company for Africa.”

With the $14 million in funding, from investors including Energy Access Ventures (EAV), Électricité de France (EDF), Acumen Capital Partners (ACP), and Dream Project Incubators (DPI), SunCulture will expand its footprint in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire, the company said. 

Ekta Partners acted as the financial advisor for the deal, while CrossBoundary provided additional advisory support, including an analysis on the market opportunity and competitive landscape, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Kenya Investment Mechanism Program

#africa, #agriculture, #alternative-energy, #articles, #co-founder, #east-africa, #economist, #electricity, #energy, #ethiopia, #financial-advisor, #food, #food-supply, #food-waste, #kenya, #nairobi, #new-york, #new-york-university, #renewable-energy, #senegal, #solar-energy, #solar-power, #tanzania, #tc, #uganda, #united-nations, #united-states

0

Health tech venture firm OTV closes new $170 million fund and expands into Asia

OTV (formerly known as Olive Tree Ventures), an Israeli venture capital firm that focuses on digital health tech, announced it has closed a new fund totaling $170 million. The firm also launched a new office in Shanghai, China to spearhead its growth in the Asia Pacific region.

OTV currently has a total of 11 companies in its portfolio. This year, it led rounds in telehealth platforms TytoCare and Lemonaid Health, and its other investments include genomic machine learning platform Emedgene; microscopy imaging startup Scopio; and at-home cardiac and pulmonary monitor Donisi Health. OTV has begun investing in more B and C rounds, with the goal of helping companies that already have validated products deal with regulations and other issues as they grow.

OTV focuses on digital health products that have the potential to work in different countries, make healthcare more affordable, and fill gaps in overwhelmed healthcare systems.

Jose Antonio Urrutia Rivas will serve as OTV’s Head of Asia Pacific, managing its Shanghai office and helping its portfolio companies expand in China and other Asian countries. This brings OTV’s offices to a total of four, with other locations in New York, Tel Aviv and Montreal. Before joining OTV, Rivas worked at financial firm LarrainVial as its Asian market director.

OTV was founded in 2015 by general partners Mayer Gniwisch, Amir Lahat and Alejandro Weinstein. OTV partner Manor Zemer, who has worked in Asian markets for over 15 years and spent the last five living in Beijing, told TechCrunch that the firm decided it was the right time to expand into Asia because “digital health is already highly well-developed in many Asia-Pacific countries, where digital health products complement in-person healthcare providers, making that region a natural fit for a venture capital firm specializing in the field.”

He added that OTV “wanted to capitalize on how the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the internationalized and interconnected nature of the world’s healthcare infrastructures into the limelight, even though digital health was a growth area long before the pandemic.”

#asia, #china, #digital-health, #fundings-exits, #health-tech, #israel, #otv, #startups, #tc, #venture-capital

0

WH’s AI EO is BS

An Executive Order was just issued from the White House regarding “the Use of Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence in Government.” Leaving aside the meritless presumption of the government’s own trustworthiness and that it is the software that has trust issues, the order is almost entirely hot air.

The EO is like others in that it is limited to what a President can peremptorily force federal agencies to do — and that really isn’t very much, practically speaking. This one “directs Federal agencies to be guided” by nine principles, which gives away the level of impact right there. Please, agencies — be guided!

And then, of course, all military and national security activities are excepted, which is where AI systems are at their most dangerous and oversight is most important. No one is worried about what NOAA is doing with AI — but they are very concerned with what three-letter agencies and the Pentagon are getting up to. (They have their own, self-imposed rules.)

The principles are something of a wish list. AI used by the feds must be

lawful; purposeful and performance-driven; accurate, reliable, and effective; safe, secure, and resilient; understandable; responsible and traceable; regularly monitored; transparent; and accountable.

I would challenge anyone to find any significant deployment of AI that is all of these things, anywhere in the world. Any agency claims that an AI or machine learning system they use adheres to all these principles as they are detailed in the EO should be treated with extreme skepticism.

It’s not that the principles themselves are bad or pointless — it’s certainly important that an agency be able to quantify the risks when considering using AI for something, and that there is a process in place for monitoring their effects. But an Executive Order doesn’t accomplish this. Strong laws, likely starting at the city and state level, have already shown what it is to demand AI accountability, and though a federal law is unlikely to appear any time soon, this is not a replacement for a comprehensive bill. It’s just too hand-wavey on just about everything. Besides, many agencies already adopted “principles” like these years ago.

The one thing the EO does in fact do is compel each agency to produce a list of all the uses to which it is putting AI, however it may be defined. Of course, it’ll be more than a year before we see that.

Within 60 days of the order, the agencies will choose the format for this AI inventory; 180 days after that, the inventory must be completed; 120 days after that, the inventory must be completed and reviewed for consistency with the principles; plans to bring systems in line with them the agencies must “strive” to accomplish within 180 further days; meanwhile, within 60 days of the inventories having been completed they must be shared with other agencies; then, within 120 days of completion, they must be shared with the public (minus anything sensitive for law enforcement, national security, etc).

In theory we might have those inventories in a month, but in practice we’re looking at about a year and a half, at which point we’ll have a snapshot of AI tools from the previous administration, with all the juicy bits taken out at their discretion. Still, it might make for interesting reading depending on what exactly goes into it.

This Executive Order is, like others of its ilk, an attempt by this White House to appear as an active leader on something that is almost entirely out of their hands. To develop and deploy AI should certainly be done according to common principles, but even if those principles could be established in a top-down fashion, this loose, lightly binding gesture that kind-of, sort-of makes some agencies have to pinky-swear to think real hard about them isn’t the way to do it.

#executive-order, #government, #opinion, #tc, #white-house

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Joe White MBE appointed new UK Consul-General in SF, with new Technology Envoy role

Joe White MBE — a General Partner of Entrepreneur First, a Greylock backed early-stage deep tech fund — is leaving after being appointed as Her Majesty’s Consul-General, San Francisco, and Technology Envoy to the United States in a new, combined and powerful, role for the UK government.

One of the key figures from the last two decades of the tech industry in the UK, most recently White has been co-chair of GBx, a curated network of British entrepreneurs; a non-executive director for the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team where he advised on social impact technology products; and a former co-founder of Moonfruit, a website and ecommerce platform hosting 7 million sites, which was acquired by Yell.com in 2012. He received an MBE from HM Queen in 2017 for Services to Technology Businesses.

White brings to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) huge experience as an entrepreneur and VC. The appointment is also a first for the UK. White’s role as HM Consul-General has been combined with that of the new role of Technology Envoy to the United States. TechCrunch understands that this will involve high-level activity not just in San Francisco but also in Washington DC, as tech goes up the political agenda under the new Biden Presidency.

White’s combined role will lead the Consulate, manage relationships in the northwest of the US, support the UK Ambassador to the US on areas of shared UK-US interest including technology and entrepreneurship, and support Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner in “promoting and enhancing the UK as partner of choice in trade, investment and research and development.”

In a statement, White said: “It is an honour to represent the UK at this critical time, and a pleasure to support our world-renowned tech sector which continues to go from strength to strength. I am looking forward to working closely with UK government tech teams in the US and in the UK, to further our growing and important relationship with the US tech community.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added: “The UK and the US are the largest investors in each other’s economies and this important appointment further underlines our commitment to the tech sector. I am delighted Joe will take on this enhanced role as we look to build back better and support an innovative post-pandemic global economy.”

White will take up his appointment later this year. He will report to Dame Karen Pierce DCMG, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States of America.

TechCrunch Comment:

Joe White just hit a quadruple. He is the right man, in the right place, with the right experience, at the right time.

He’s a former entrepreneur, investor and has worked on both sides of ‘the pond’, so knows the UK and European tech scene as well as Silicon Valley. He has deep connections in all those ecosystems. And it can’t hurt that his wife, Wendy Tan White MBE, is Vice-President at X, (formerly Google X), Alphabet’s moonshot company, and co-founded Moonfruit with him. Furthermore, White is no stranger to the worlds of politics and diplomacy. His father, Michael White, was The Guardian newspaper’s political editor for many years.

Under Prime Minister David Cameron, the UK government was a keen exponent of the tech industry. Brexit cooled its ire in recent years, but the current chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has proved his interest by creating the UK’s Future Fund, hailed as a big success during the COVID period.

The UK and US not only have a shared history, but they also have shared industries. The UK has been the traditional launching pad for US startups into Europe. Likewise, Silicon Valley is now awash with British-born entrepreneurs and investors. But with tensions around the actions of US Big Tech in the UK (the ‘Online Harms’ legislation is aimed at social platforms), controversies over tax and global security issues all on the agenda, it’s right that the Consul General role in SF is bolstered by this new Tech Envoy moniker.

Silicon Valley is also about to get a fellow tech entrepreneur into one of the highest roles the UK government can bestow overseas. There could hardly be a better person for the job.

#europe, #tc

0

Daily Crunch: Google fires co-lead of its Ethical AI team

Google fires a leading researcher, Stripe launches a new banking service and WarnerMedia shakes up the theatrical business model. This is your Daily Crunch for December 3, 2020.

The big story: Google fires co-lead of its Ethical AI team

Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence, tweeted last night that Google fired her in response to a message she sent to an internal email list.

Casey Newton obtained the email in question, in which Gebru expressed frustration with her treatment at Google and disappointment at its diversity and inclusion efforts: “We just had a Black research all hands with such an emotional show of exasperation. Do you know what happened since? Silencing in the most fundamental way possible.”

Google declined to comment, except to point to an email from Jeff Dean, the head of Google Research, in which he said Gebru had threatened to resign unless certain conditions were met. (“I hadn’t resigned — I had asked for simple conditions first and said I would respond when I’m back from vacation,” Gebru said.)

The tech giants

YouTube introduces new feature to address toxic comments — The feature appears when users are about to post something offensive in a video’s comments section and warns them to “Keep comments respectful.”

Developers can now enroll in Apple’s ‘Small Business Program’ for reduced App Store fees — Just a few weeks back, we learned that Apple would be launching a program to reduce its fees from 30% to 15% for developers earning less than $1 million per year from the App Store.

Android’s winter update adds new features to Gboard, Maps, Books, Nearby Share and more — One of the more fun bits in the winter update will be a dramatic expansion of the Emoji Kitchen.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Stripe announces embedded business banking service Stripe Treasury — The company is partnering with banks to offer a banking-as-a-service API.

Everlywell raises $175M to expand virtual care options and scale its at-home health testing — Earlier this year, Everlywell launched an at-home COVID-19 test collection kit, the first test of its kind to receive an emergency authorization from the FDA.

VSCO acquires mobile app Trash to expand into AI-powered video editing — The deal will see Trash’s technology integrated into the VSCO app.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

VCs who want better outcomes should use data to reduce founder team risk — Using an objective, data-backed process to evaluate teams will help VCs make better investment decisions.

This is a good time to start a proptech company — At least, it’s a good time according to Colton Pace of Fika Ventures.

Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns — More mass email blasts are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

All of Warner Bros.’ theatrical movies will get simultaneous releases on HBO Max next year — This includes movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “In the Heights,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” “The Suicide Squad,” “Dune,” the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Matrix 4.”

NASA selects four companies for moon material collection as it seeks to set precedent on private sector outer space mining — The four companies all have rides booked on future commercial lunar lander missions.

Bill Gates just released a plan for US leadership on climate change, including $35B in funding — Gates wrote that we “need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy.”

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#daily-crunch, #google, #tc, #timnit-gebru

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Gift Guide: Games on every platform to get you through the long, COVID winter

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

It’s a great time to be a gamer — I mean, what else is there to do? And with the prospect of a long winter and lonely holiday season ahead of us, here’s a list of games on all the major platforms that you can really sink your teeth — and a few dozen hours — into.

Buying for a gamer and have no idea what’s worthwhile? Once you’ve figured out which gaming system is their platform of choice, any of these should be guaranteed wins.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

All major platforms:

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Screenshot of Assassin's creed valhalla showing a viking on a british landscape

Image Credits: Ubisoft

I genuinely enjoyed AC: Odyssey’s gorgeous landscapes and main characters, but the game systems felt disconnected and arbitrary. That’s much less the case with AC: Valhalla, which tells a similarly sprawling tale of vikings in England but works a little harder to put it together into a cohesive whole. It’s still very much “Ubisoft Game, but with Vikings” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Price: $50 from Amazon

Minecraft Dungeons

I thought this game was a bit limited when it first came out, but since then it has gotten several new areas and cross-platform multiplayer. Between that and its simplified systems and PG-level violence, Minecraft: Dungeons is a great option for families that want to fight monsters together.

Price: $20-30 (depending on platform) from Mojang

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Reviewers agree: the new CODBLOPS is definitely more CODBLOPS. The latest in the gritty military series is the one everyone will be playing for the next year, so it’s definitely a must-have for quite a few people.

Price: $50-60 (depending on platform) from Amazon

Cyberpunk 2077

Image Credits: CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077, the futuristic RPG from the creators of the Witcher, isn’t out yet, but it’s one of the most anticipated titles in recent years and your special someone might like the idea that they’re getting it day one. Of course if it’s anything like The Witcher 3, they’re probably going to want to wait a few months for the bugs to get ironed out. But hey, it’s an option.

Price: $50 from Amazon

PS4 and PS5

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Image Credits: Sony

This semi-sequel to the much-lauded 2018 Spider-Man is smaller in scale but plays even better. Plus it has a wonderfully inclusive cast and tone and feels authentic where the original, for all its strengths, had a pretty flat take on New York. Bonus: If you buy the PS5 version of Miles Morales, you get the remastered 2018 game for free. I’d argue you’re simply not going to find a better bang for your buck right now with any other new game.

Price: $50 on Amazon

Demon’s Souls

Image Credits: Sony

The only “true” next-generation game out there right now is a remake of a PlayStation 3 game, and in many ways it feels like it. But in other ways, it’s the most amazing game on the market right now. If your loved one has enjoyed Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, and other incredibly hard games, this is the one to get.

Price: $70 on Amazon

Ghost of Tsushima

Between Nioh 2, Sekiro, and Ghost of Tsushima, there’s a real bumper crop of samurai and ninja action to be had. But Ghost is the broadest and most beautiful of them all — if not necessarily the deepest.

What it lacks in challenge… first of all, is more than made up by the difficulty of those other two games I mentioned, give me a break. But Ghost’s draw is in the unity and beauty of its game world and systems. For example, instead of a quest marker or arrow pointing towards your objective, the wind is just always blowing in that direction. Amazing, right? The single player campaign is remarkably well acted, and a free update has brought a surprisingly extensive multiplayer co-op mode as well. This is truly a game you can lose yourself in. Just don’t start trying to collect everything or you’ll never leave the first area.

Price: $40 on Amazon

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Image Credits: Vanillaware

This totally unique game came out of left field and obsessed me for two solid weeks. A combination of adventure game, visual novel, and tactical action game, 13 Sentinels puts you in charge of a bunch of high school kids piloting giant robots to save the world from alien invaders. (In case you can’t tell, it’s a Japanese production.)

Sound familiar? That’s the idea — and then it starts pulling rugs out from under you and doesn’t stop until the last few minutes. The labyrinthine story, which progresses simultaneously through 13 interwoven narratives, is the very best kind of sci-fi mind-boggler and a pleasure to unravel from start to finish. The combat is also compelling and satisfying, if not particularly deep or challenging. There’s simply nothing else like this out there.

Price: Currently $30 from GameStop

Xbox One and Series X

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Image of Master Chief from halo

Image Credits: Microsoft

If your loved one is a Halo fan, they’re likely very sad since Halo: Infinite, once a launch title for the new console, won’t be coming out until next year. But it can’t hurt to have the original games all updated and beautified to play through as an appetizer. Plus there’s the famous Halo multiplayer to get everyone through the winter.

Price: $30 from Amazon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Image Credits: Sega

The latest in the long-running and beloved Yakuza series of character-driven adventures of Japanese gangsters set in a fictional Tokyo neighborhood, this one changes up the style with a turn-based combat system and new protagonist — but some are calling it the best yet.

Price: $35 from Amazon

Gears Tactics

Image Credits: Microsoft

No one really expected that the Gears of War series would lend itself to a tactics game in the style of XCOM — let alone that it would leapfrog others in the genre and become one of the best you can get, period. Naturally it isn’t quite the urgent, visceral experience that Gears normally is, but this is a surprisingly deep and engrossing game.

Price: $38 from Amazon

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

The sequel to the lauded “metroidvania” Ori and the Blind Forest is technically on several platforms, but the Series X seems to be the absolute best one on which to play it. With beautifully updated art and a silky-smooth framerate, this will look better on that new 4K HDR TV than many “real” next-generation games. But don’t let the beautiful yet cute art style make you think this is will be a cakewalk. Like the first in the series, you’ll need some serious dexterity to complete this platformer.

Price: $30 from Moon Studios

Risky move: Preorder Halo: Infinite

No one is quite sure whether the first Halo of the next generation is going to be as good as everyone hopes, and a delay to early next year didn’t allay anyone’s fears. That said, many a gamer will cherish the idea of playing the latest in this venerable series day one, so pre-ordering a copy is a possibility if none of the other games really ring their bell.

Price: $60 from Amazon

Switch

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

Technically this is also a “toy,” because it’s real-life RC carts zooming around your home on an augmented-reality racetrack. We thought it was tons of fun, and it’s a great way to take video games off the TV and into real life… kind of. Just be aware that every player needs their own cart and their own Switch.

Price: $99 from Best Buy

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Don’t go into this game expecting a full-on new Zelda title, and you’ll do just fine. This is definitely an action game, and a big, rather mindless one at that. But it’s hard to resist the concept of playing as Link, Zelda, or any of the champions from Breath of the Wild and dispatching enemies by the hundreds.

Price: $50 on Amazon

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

Image Credits: Ninendo

Okay, I gave Nintendo some guff over the perfunctory nature of this collection of amazing games. I’ve wanted to replay Mario 64 for years and was waiting for Nintendo to touch it up just a bit — but it, and Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, are virtually unchanged in this retro package. Really, you couldn’t make it widescreen? But for most, the chance to play these games again (or for the first time) on the Switch is worth the price of admission, period.

Price: $60 from Amazon

PC

Spelunky 2 and/or Hades

The “roguelite” genre, with its randomly generated levels and complex interlocking systems, has grown in popularity and sophistication for years — and here we have two fine examples that take the genre in different directions.

Spelunky 2 is the most traditional, in a way. Sequel to one of the best games out there, this one adds more variety, more weirdness, and more challenge to the unforgiving platforming of the original. Like before, every death (and there will be a lot) is avoidable and while some runs may last only seconds, it’s hard to be deterred when you know that if you just paid a little more attention, or saved your bombs, or went over that other way… just one more game. (Pro tip: Buy a couple copies for friends and indulge in jolly cooperation.)

Hades combines the procedurally generated levels with an incredibly beautiful art style and an ingenious story and progression system. Escaping from the ever-shifting landscape of Hades, you’re going to die over and over, but as a young god that’s more inconvenience than obstacle. Meanwhile every death and every inch of progress moves you closer to the mystery of your birth in a clever modern take on Greek mythology. It’s honestly hard to imagine how Hades could be improved in almost any way.

Price: $20 for Spelunky 2 on Steam | $25 for Hades on Steam

Crusader Kings III

Image Credits: Paradox

This long-awaited strategy title puts you in the throne room of a European medieval dynasty, where you can do… pretty much anything to get ahead. Assassinations, proxy wars, brutal taxes, religious cannibalism, strategic marriages… it’s all on the table. This is a story-telling engine that’s remarkably robust and, once you get past the initial learning curve, very fun. It’s also very, very nerdy, and proud of it.

Price: $50 on Steam

Other options

Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

This little gadget has the original Super Mario Bros, its sequel (not the weird one — what we knew as “The Lost Levels”), and a remade LCD game all built in. It’s a charming device and the games play well, plus you can turn it off and resume progress later, making it that much easier to get through the whole game.

Price: $50 (but finding one in stock can be challenging.)

Backbone One for iPhone

Image Credits: Backbone

Got a friend who prefers to game on their phone? The Backbone is built for them. This snap-on controller brings buttons and analog triggers (and good ones, at that!) into the iOS gaming world, along with a surprisingly solid companion app that can do things like record your gameplay and help you edit and post your highlight reels. It only works with select iOS titles, but the library is growing. TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino reviewed it in October and gave it his stamp of approval with very little reservation.

Price: $99 from Backbone

 

#gadgets, #gaming, #gift-guide, #gift-guide-2020, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #ps4, #ps5, #tc, #xbox, #xbox-one, #xbox-series-x

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What about $30 billion under 30

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast (now on Twitter!), where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.

So from Chris and Danny and Natasha and I, here’s the rundown:

That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PDT and Thursday afternoon as fast as we can get it out, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#agentsync, #buildbuddy, #equity-podcast, #gainsight, #kustomer, #tc

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Developers can now enroll in Apple’s ‘Small Business Program’ for reduced App Store fees

Just a few weeks back, we learned that Apple would be launching an “App Store Small Business Program” that would reduce its fees from 30% to 15% for developers earning less than $1 million per year from the App Store.

That program is starting to roll out now, with Apple opening up the enrollment process just this morning.

Apple outlines the program here, with a few things standing out:

  • It’s open to both new developers and existing developers who made less than $1 million this year across all of their apps combined.
  • Once a developer surpasses $1 million for the year, the rate goes back up to the standard rate.
  • Once the program kicks in after December 31, participating developers won’t be able to transfer apps to/from other accounts — presumably so that people don’t go “Oh, this app is making too much money. Quick, switch it to another account!”. “If you initiate an app transfer after December 31, 2020, or accept a transfer of an app that was initiated after December 31, 2020,” Apple writes, “you will no longer be eligible to participate in program.”
  • If you oversee multiple developer accounts, Apple wants you to identify them.

Apple says that if you enroll by December 18, reduced fees should be active by January 1 of 2021. Existing developers can still enroll after that cutoff, but things get a bit more complicated, with reduced fees generally kicking in midway through the next fiscal calendar month.

 

#app-store, #apple, #tc

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Two key UK military non-profits join forces to boost veteran training in cyber and tech

Advancements in the tech and the cyber threat landscape are creating vast job opportunities. The global cyber security market is projected to reach £210 billion by 2026. But in the UK, out of 952,000 working aged (16-64) UK military veterans and 15,000 service leavers a year, only 4% of them are working in tech and cyber. This is 20% lower than the non-veteran population. The cost to the UK economy of underemployed or unemployed veterans has been estimated at £1.5 billion over 5 years. This means all this talent – talent which has literally been trained to adapt to fast-moving situations like the one the world finds itself in now – is going to waste, just when the era of massive digitization of business and society is upon us.

So it’s significant that the UK’s RFEA, the Forces Employment charity, is launching a new partnership with TechVets, the non-profit set up to build a bridge for veterans into cyber security and the technology sector.

With the RFEA’s support, TechVets will create extensive new free upskilling and job opportunities for ‘tech-curious’ service leavers and veterans, through its offering of networking, mentoring, signposting and training services, via its new TechVets Academy.

The initiative is timely. It’s estimated that over 173,000 UK military veterans are at risk due to the economic impact of COVID and the ending of the government’s furlough scheme in March 2021.

Since its launch in 2018, TechVets has grown to a community of over 6,000 members and several ‘chapters’ around the UK.

TechVets uses a blend of open-source resources, partner training, and community support, to empower those new to cyber/tech to choose the pathway that is best for them. And it’s all free to veterans and service leavers.

TechVets Programme Director, James Murphy (pictured), is an Army Veteran of 19 years. He joined the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment in 2000, before transferring to the Intelligence Corps in 2013 after sustaining life-long injuries in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

In a statement, he said: “Anyone who has held a role in the Forces comes armed with an understanding of the sensitivities of working in security. Ex-Services also possess an innate ability to learn new skills and are natural problem solvers, who can work quickly and fit into a team with ease. Ex-military personnel are also the kind of people who thrive in pressurized, or time-sensitive, situations. These soft skills are incredible assets in the security and technology industries, which can be used to fill the current skills shortage in this area.”

RFEA’s Chief Executive Officer, Alistair Halliday, added: “The TechVets Programme is a fantastic new addition to RFEA’s services that will, no doubt, encourage talented veterans to consider tech and security-based roles that may have otherwise overlooked. It will also help veterans to upskill digitally to help them get into wider roles too.”

TechVets member Gareth Paterson, joined the Army in 1994. He started out as a Tank crewman and then transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as an instructor in 2001. He left in 2018, having completed operational tours of Northern Ireland, Former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. He says his life has been changed by TechVets: “I left the Army as I was at the end of my 24-year career… I did not have a clue what career to move into, then I was introduced to offensive cybersecurity and penetration testing. I joined TechVets and it gave me my first insight into the tools and techniques of penetration testing. After that, I was hooked! The support of everyone at TechVets, and its community, has helped me to gain confidence and push harder. I was able to gain qualifications in penetration testing which improved my job prospects in the sector. By November 2018 I started working as a cybersecurity consultant.”

#afghanistan, #army, #chief-executive-officer, #computer-security, #cyberattack, #cybercrime, #cyberwarfare, #data-security, #director, #europe, #military, #northern-ireland, #tc, #united-kingdom

0

All of Warner Bros’ theatrical movies will get a simultaneous release on HBO Max next year

Following last month’s news that “Wonder Woman 1984” will be released simultaneously on HBO Max and in U.S. theaters, Warner Bros. and its parent company WarnerMedia just announced that they will follow the same strategy with every theatrical release that they’ve got planned for 2021.

That includes movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “In The Heights,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” “The Suicide Squad,” “Dune,” the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Matrix 4.” (The WarnerMedia announcement notes that release dates could change, which might move some of these titles out of the scope of today’s announcement.)

These movies will be available on HBO Max for one month, in 4K Ultra HD and HDR, at no additional charge.

Earlier this year, Hollywood studios responded to widespread theatrical by bringing some films straight to streaming while delaying their big releases. The disappointing box office performance of “Tenet” (also from Warner Bros.) prompted additional delays — but as the pandemic stretched on, there was a growing sense that studios couldn’t afford to delay things forever.

For example, Universal had already reached a deal with AMC and other major chains to release movies on premium video on demand just three weeks after they launch in theaters, with the revenue split with theatrical partners.

But WarnerMedia’s announcement seems like an even more dramatic shift — and while it only covers 2021, it could signal potentially long-lasting changes to theaters’ exclusive release window.

This also comes after former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar took over as WarnerMedia’s chief executive in April, a move (followed by multiple rounds of layoffs) that seemed to put streaming front-and-center in the company’s priorities.

In a statement, Kilar said:

After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months. More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.

#hbo-max, #tc, #warner-bros, #warnermedia

0

Bill Gates just released a plan for US leadership on climate change, including $35B in funding

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s richest men and most prolific philanthropists, has just released a broad new plan on how the U.S. could take the lead in the fight against climate change.

“[We] need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy—and that will take, among other things, a dramatic infusion of ingenuity, funding, and focus from the federal government. No one else has the resources to drive the research we need,” Gates writes. 

With a new Biden administration set to take over the reins of government, the timing for Gates’ suggestions couldn’t be better. The outgoing Trump Administration was singularly opposed to combating climate change, rolling back regulations, withdrawing from international agreements on climate change mitigation and sweeping aside science in favor of specious arguments from the industries that had the most to lose from a recognition of the threats of anthropogenic climate change.

Gates calls for a dramatic $25 billion boost in spending that would bring clean energy research spending to $35 billion a year (in line with medical spending from the government). Gates notes that this could lead to the creation of more than 370,000 jobs while boosting a clean-energy agenda.

Gates noted that Americans spend more on gasoline in a single month than the government spends on climate-related research.

Beyond simply spending more money on research, the Microsoft-made billionaire called for the creation of a network of “National Institutes of Energy Innovation.”

“This is the most important thing the U.S. can do to lead the world in innovations that will solve climate change,” Gates wrote.

Modeled on the National Institutes of Health, the largest financier for biomedical research in the world, Gates called for the Energy Innovation Institutes to comprise separate institutions focusing on specific areas. One would be an Institute of Transportation Decarbonization while others could focus on energy storage, renewables or carbon capture and management, Gates wrote.

Gates also suggested that each organization should be tasked with the commercialization for innovations that come out of the lab. “It’s not enough to develop a new way to store electricity that works in the lab — to have any imapact, it has to be practical and affordable in real-world settings. The best way to ensure that is to encourage scientists to start their research with an end-use in mind.”

Finally, Gates called for the institutes to be located around the country — just like the Department of Energy or the NASA have laboratories and research facilities spread around the country.

In addition to the research facilities and spending boosts, Gates called for a program of tax incentives and energy standards that could make markets for more clean-energy tools.

There are already pieces of legislation making their way through Congress like the the Clean Energy Innovation and Jobs Act and the American Energy Innovation Act that could help the federal government move toward a more nimble and focused setup, Gates acknowledged. But both of these laws have stalled. 

Gates’ climate plan comes as more than 40 major U.S. companies penned an open letter to the incoming Biden Administration to do more to address climate change.

“Our communities and our economy are enduring not only a devastating pandemic but also the rising costs of climate change,” the companies wrote. “Record wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and other extreme weather are upending lives and livelihoods. And science makes clear that future generations will face far greater environmental, economic and health impacts unless we act now.”

And yesterday, the medical journal Lancet released a sweeping survey documenting the health impacts associated with environmental catastrophes, pollution and climate change.

Heat waves, air pollution and extreme weather increasingly damage human health, the report said. As National Public Radio reported, the report makes an explicit connection between death, disease and burning fossil fuels.

“Many carbon-intensive practices and policies lead to poor air quality, poor food quality, and poor housing quality, which disproportionately harm the health of disadvantaged populations,” the authors of The Lancet analysis wrote.

Even in a divided government, there’s much the Biden administration can do to make a significant dent in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

As TechCrunch reported, a large portion of any infrastructure-related stimulus could contain significant spending on climate change mitigation-related technologies.

“A lot of the really consequential climate-related stuff that’s going to come out in the [near term] … won’t actually be related to renewables,” an advisor to the President-elect said.

However, if the Democrats manage to wrest control of the Senate from Republican leadership in the aftermath of the January 2021 runoff elections in Georgia, then the possibility of a more muscular climate agenda — one that could incorporate Gates’ suggestions — could be on the table.

 

 

#bill-gates, #climate-change, #climate-tech, #tc

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NASA selects four companies for Moon material collection as it seeks to set precedent on private sector outer space mining

NASA has selected the winning candidates that they’ve decided to tap to collect lunar resources for eventual Earth return, from a number of commercial companies who applied. The four companies all have rides booked on future commercial lunar lander missions, and the agency is using this as a demonstration of what kinds of efficiencies it can realize by piggybacking on private industry for serving its needs – and a precedent-setting event for NASA paying private companies to retrieve materials that they retrieved and owned privately for their own purposes prior to transferring ownership to the agency.

The winning bids were evaluated based on two simple criteria: Basically, were they technically feasible, and how much did they cost. There were four winners, each with a different ride out, which will seek to satisfy the conditions of NASA’s request, which is basically to collect a lunar regolith (essentially what we call ‘soil’ on the Moon) in an amount ranging from between 50 grams or 500 grams, with retrieval to be handled separately by NASA at a later date. The samples had to be collected before 2024 as part of the request, which sets them up for potential retrieval via NASA’s Artemis mission series, though the agency isn’t necessarily going to actually pick up the samples, though it reserves the option to do so.

The four companies selected are:

  • Lunar Outpost, from Golden, Colorado, which bid to complete the contract for just $1, following the arrival of the Blue Origin lunar lander in 2023.
  • ispace Japan, which asked for $5,000 for a retrieval via the landing of its Hakuto-R lander during its first mission currently set for 2022.
  • ispace Europe, a part of ispace Japan’s global corporate footprint, which bid for $5,000 and an arrival in 2023 on the second Hakuto-R mission.
  • Masten Space Systems, which asked for $15,000, with an arrival in 2023 using its Masten XL lander

The agency received 22 proposals in total, between 16 and 17 companies. This was intentionally designed to help NASA demonstrate the advantages of its public-private partnerships approach, and to set precedents about how resource material collection can happen on extra-terrestrial bodies like the Moon.

“With the commercial partnerships, this is setting a precedent internally as well as externally, relative to NASA continuing that paradigm,” said NASA’s Acting Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations Mike Gold . “Rather than pay for the development of the systems themselves, NASA is playing the role is customer.”

More specifically, these contracts also set precedents in terms of what private companies can do in terms of collecting material from the Moon, and who has ownership of that material once collected.

“I’ve often said that the rocket science part, the engineering, sometimes that seems like the easy aspect when it comes to all of the policy issues, legal, or financial challenges that we have,” Gold said. “It’s very important that we resolve any legal or regulatory questions in advance because we never want policy, or regulations to slow down or hinder incredible innovations in development that we’re seeing from both the public and the private sector. So we think it’s very important to establish the precedent that the private sector entities can extract can take these resources that NASA can purchase, and utilize them to fuel, not only NASA’s activities, but a whole new dynamic era of public and private development and exploration on the Moon, and then eventually to Mars .”

Basically, NASA wants this to set a precedent that private companies can go to the Moon, and eventually Mars, and mine material and retain ownership of said material for later distribution to both public and other private customers.

That’s part of the reason these bids are so low – companies like ispace and Lunar Outpost have future business models that involve significant potential planetary body mining components. The other is that these lunar lander missions were already planned, and as NASA explicitly laid out in their request for proposals for this bid, the agency did not want to pay for any development costs for the mission of getting to the Moon itself – just the actual collection.

#aerospace, #blue-origin, #colorado, #europe, #gold, #golden, #google-lunar-x-prize, #ispace, #japan, #mars, #masten-space-systems, #moon, #nasa, #outer-space, #science, #space, #spaceflight, #tc, #transportation

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As Crypto comes back, Binance-backed Injective Protocol launches Testnet for its DeFi trading platform

Decentralized exchange protocols that allow crypto traders and investors to trade across different blockсhains have been in development for a while. A significant new development now comes with the launch of the ‘Testnet’ from Injective Protocol. Injective has been backed by Binance, one of the biggest centralized exchanges in the Crypto world.

Injective Protocol is one of the first universal ‘DeFi’ (Decentralised Finance) protocols for cross-chain derivatives trading, so the launch of the testnet is an important milestone. Injective’s main competitors (centralized and decentralized exchanges) include CME Group, BitMEX, LedgerX and OKEx among others.

As well as being incubated by Binance Labs, Injective Protocol is also backed with $3M in funding from noted blockchain investors Pantera, Hashed, and others. Pantera has had some successful exits including Kik, Bitstampt and Blockfolio.

Paul Veradittakit, Partner at Pantera Capital, said in a statement: “Injective’s Solstice testnet trades and feels like a state of the art derivatives exchange but it’s actually entirely supported by a fully decentralized infrastructure. With a 1 second blocktime, instant finality, and full EVM support, I’m confident that Injective will be able to pioneer the next wave of decentralized derivatives trading”

Injective’s team emerged from Stanford University and has been building and testing its platform privately since 2018, while validating it with several large largest funds, market makers, and institutional traders. Prior to Injective, Eric Chen, CEO and сo-founder, was working at hedge funds and worked in cryptographic research at a blockchain-focused fund.

Injective has been working towards a mainnet and has already announced partnerships with top blockchain companies such as Elrond, Ramp DeFi, Findora, and Frontier. Its layer-2 decentralized exchange protocol lets traders trade across Ethereum, Cosmos, and others, using Tendermint-based Proof-of-Stake (PoS) to facilitate cross-chain derivatives trading.

Centralized exchanges have been known for operational failures like front running, exit scams, and exchange hacks. At the same time, existing DEXs are still facing problems such as high transaction fees, low liquidity, inconvenient UI/UX, and slow speeds. But the trading volume of decentralized exchanges reportedly grew 70% in the middle of 2020, setting a recent record high of $1.52 billion. So there’s clearly an appetite for this approach.

The advantage of the approach used by Injective combines the advantages of decentralized exchanges: resistance to front running, scams, and hacks, with the speed, low transaction fees and no gas fees, only previously available with centralized platforms. Developers can also create their own derivatives and markets to trade.

With Bitcoin reaching an all-time-high at around $18k, the blockchain and crypto world is once again taking off.

Paypal bought up to 70% of all the newly mined bitcoin since the payments giant started offering cryptocurrency services.
 And Guggenheim Funds Trust filed an amendment with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to allow its $5 billion Macro Opportunities Fund gain exposure to bitcoin by investing up to 10% of the fund’s net asset value in the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust.

#europe, #tc

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YouTube introduces new features to address toxic comments

YouTube today announced it’s launching a new feature that will push commenters to reconsider their hateful and offensive remarks before posting. It will also begin testing a filter that allows creators to avoid having to read some of the hurtful comments on their channel that had been automatically held for review. The new features are meant to address long standing issues with the quality of comments on YouTube’s platform — a problem creators have complained about for years.

The company said it will also soon run a survey aimed at giving equal opportunity to creators, and whose data can help the company to better understand how some creators are more disproportionately impacted by online hate and harassment.

The new commenting feature, rolling out today, is a significant change for YouTube.

The feature appears when users are about to post something offensive in a video’s comments section and warns to “Keep comments respectful.” The message also tells users to check the site’s Community Guidelines if they’re not sure if a comment is appropriate.

The pop-up then nudges users to click the “Edit” button and revise their comment by making “Edit” the more prominent choice on the screen that appears.

The feature will not actually prevent a user from posting their comment, however. If they want to proceed, they can click the “Post Anyway” option instead.

Image Credits: YouTube

The idea to put up roadblocks to give users time to pause and reconsider their words and actions is something several social media platforms are now doing.

For instance, Instagram last year launched a feature that would flag offensive comments before they were posted. It later expanded that to include offensive captions. Without providing data, the company claimed that these “nudges” were helping to reduce online bullying. Meanwhile, Twitter this year began to push users to read the article linked in tweets they were about to share before tweeting their reaction, and it stopped users from being able to retweet with just one click.

These intentional pauses built into the social platforms are designed to stop people from reacting to content with heightened emotion and anger, and instead push users to be more thoughtful in what they say and do. User interface changes like this leverage basic human psychology to work, and may even prove effective in some percentage of cases. But platforms have been hesitant to roll out such tweaks as they can stifle user engagement.

In YouTube’s case, the company tells TechCrunch its systems will learn what’s considered offensive based on what content gets repeatedly flagged by users. Over time, this A.I.-powered system should be able to improve as the technology gets better at detection and the system itself is further developed.

Users on Android in the English language will see the new prompts first, starting today, Google says. The rollout will complete over the next couple of days. The company did not offer a timeframe for the feature’s support for other platforms and languages or even a firm commitment that such support would arrive in the future.

In addition, YouTube said it will also now begin testing a feature for creators who use YouTube Studio to manage their channel.

Creators will be able to try out a new filter that will hide the offensive and hurtful comments that have automatically been held for review.

Today, YouTube Studio users can choose to auto-moderate potentially inappropriate comments, which they can then manually review and choose to approve, hide or report. While it’s helpful to have these held, it’s still often difficult for creators to have to deal with these comments at all, as online trolls can be unbelievably cruel. With the filter, creators can avoid these potentially offensive comments entirely.

YouTube says it will also streamline its moderation tools to make the review process easier going forward.

The changes follow a year during which YouTube has been heavily criticized for not doing enough to combat hate speech and misinformation on its platform. The video platform’s “strikes” system for rule violations means that videos may be individually removed but a channel itself can stay online unless it collects enough strikes to be taken down. In practice, that means a YouTube creator could be as violent as calling for government officials to be beheaded and and still continue to use YouTube. (By comparison, that same threat led to an account ban on Twitter.)

YouTube claims it has increased the number of daily hate speech comment removals by 46x since early 2019. And in the last quarter, of the more than 1.8 million channels it terminated for violating our policies, more than 54,000 terminations were for hate speech. That indicates a growing problem with online discourse that likely influenced these new measures. Some would argue the platforms have a responsibility to do even more, but it’s a difficult balance.

In a separate move, YouTube said it’s soon introducing a new survey that will ask creators to voluntarily share with YouTube information about their gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity. Using the data collected, YouTube claims it will be able to better examine how content from different communities is treated in search, discovery and monetization systems.

It will also look for possible patterns of hate, harassment, and discrimination that could affect some communities more than others, the company explains. And the survey will give creators to optionally participate in other initiatives that YouTube hosts, like #YouTubeBlack creator gatherings or FanFest, for instance.

This survey will begin in 2021 and was designed in consultation with input from creators and civil and human rights experts. YouTube says the collected data will not be used for advertising purposes, and creators will have the ability to opt-out and delete their information entirely at any time.

#tc

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Google’s co-lead of Ethical AI team says she was fired for sending an email

Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher and voice in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence, says Google fired her for an email she sent to her direct reports.  According to Gebru, Google fired her because of an email she sent to subordinates that the company said reflected “behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”

Gebru, the co-leader of Google Ethical Artificial Intelligence team, took to Twitter last night, shortly after the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Google alleging surveillance of employees and unlawful firing of employees.

Gebru says no one explicitly told her she was fired, but that she received an email from one of her boss’s reports, saying:

“Thanks for making your conditions clear. We cannot agree to #1 and #2 as you are requesting. We respect your decision to leave Google as a result, and we are accepting your resignation.”

That email, according to Gebru, went on to say that “certain aspects of the email you sent last night to non-management employees in the brain group reflect behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”

It’s not clear what exactly was contained in the email. We’ve reached out to both Gebru and Google for comment.

As Bloomberg reported, Gebru has been outspoken about the lack of diversity in tech as well as the injustices Black people in tech face. According to Bloomberg, Gebru believes Google let her go to signal to other workers that it’s not ok to speak up.

Gebru is a leading voice in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence. In 2018, Gebru collaborated with Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, to study biases in facial recognition systems. They found high disparities in error rates between lighter males and darker females, which led to the conclusion that those systems didn’t work well for people with darker skin.

Since Gebru’s announcement, she’s received an outpouring of support from those in the tech community.

Developing…

#diversity, #ethics, #labor, #tc

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