GrubMarket gobbles up $120M at a $1B+ pre-money valuation to take on the grocery supply chain

When people talk about “online food delivery” services, chances are that they’ll think of the Uber Eats, Instacarts and Getirs of this world. But today a startup that’s tackling a different aspect of the market — addressing the supply chain that subsequently turns the wheels of the bigger food distribution machine — is announcing a big round of funding as it continues to grow.

GrubMarket, which provides software and services that help link up and manage relationships between food suppliers and their customers — which can include wholesalers and other distributors, markets and supermarkets, delivery startups, restaurants, and consumers — has picked up $120 million in a Series E round of funding.

The funding is coming from a wide mix of investors. Liberty Street Funds, Walleye Capital, Japan Post Capital, Joseph Stone Capital, Pegasus Tech Ventures, Tech Pioneers Fund are among the new backers, who are being joined by existing investors Celtic House Asia Partners, INP Capital, Reimagined Ventures, Moringa Capital Management, and others, along with other unnamed participants

Mike Xu, GrubMarket’s founder and CEO (pictured, above), tells me that the company is currently profitable in a big way. It’s now at a $1 billion annualized run-rate, having grown revenues 300% over last year, with some markets like New York growing even more (it went from less than $10 million ARR to $100 million+).

With operations currently in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, and some 40 warehouses nationwide. GrubMarket had a pre-money valuation of over $1 billion, and now it will be looking to grow even more, both in terms of territory and in terms of tech, moving ahead in a market that is largely absent from competitors.

“We are still the first mover in this space,” Xu said when I asked him in an interview about rivals. “No one else is doing consolidation on the supply chain side as we are. We are trying to consolidate the American food supply chain through software technologies, while also trying to find the best solutions in this space.”

(And for some context, the $1 billion+ valuation is more than double GrubMarket’s valuation in October 2020, when it raised $60 million at a $500 million post-money valuation.)

Longer term, the plan will be to look at an IPO provisionally filing the paperwork by summer 2022, Xu added.

GrubMarket got its start several years ago as one of many companies looking to provide a more efficient farm-to-table service. Tapping into a growing consumer interest in higher quality, and more traceable food, it saw an opportunity to build a platform to link up producers to the consumers, restaurants and grocery stores that were buying their products. (Grocery stores, incidentally, might be independent operations, or something much bigger: one of GrubMarket’s biggest customers is Whole Foods, which uses GrubMarket for produce supply in certain regions of the U.S. It is currently is the company’s biggest customer.)

As we wrote last year, GrubMarket — like many other grocery delivery services — found that the pandemic initially provided a big fillip, and a big rush of demand, from that consumer side of the business, as more people turned to internet-based ordering and delivery services to offset the fact that many stores were closed, or they simply wanted to curtail the amount of shopping they were doing in-person to slow the spread of Covid-19.

But fast forward to today, while the startup still serves consumers, this is currently not the primary part of its business. Instead, it’s B2B2C, serving companies that in turn serve consumers. Xu says that overall, demand from consumers has dropped off considerably compared to a year ago.

“We think that restaurant re-openings have meant more people are dining out again and spending less time at home,” Xu said, ” and also they can go back to physical grocery stores, so they are not as interested as they were before in buying raw ingredients online. I don’t want to offend other food tech companies, but I think many of them will be seeing the same. I think B2C is really going to slow down going forward.”

The opening for GrubMarket has been not just positioning itself as a middleman between producers and buyers, but to do so by way of technology and consolidating what has been a very regionalized and fragmented market up to now.

GrubMarket has snapped up no less than 40 companies in the last three years. While some of these have been to help it expand geographically (it made 10 acquisitions in the Los Angeles area alone), many have also been made to double down on technology.

These have included the likes of Farmigo, once a Disrupt Battlefield contender that pivoted into becoming a software provider to CSAs (an area that GrubMarket sees a lot of opportunity), as well as software to help farms manage their business staffing, insurance and more: Pacific Farm Management is an example of the latter.

GrubMarket’s own in-house software, WholesaleWare, a cloud-based service for farmers and other food producers, saw its sales grow 3,500% over the last year, and it is now managing more than $4 billion in wholesale and retail activity across the U.S. and Canada.

There will be obvious ways to extend what GrubHub does deeper into the needs of its customers on the purchasing end, but this is in many ways also a very crowded market. (And not just crowded, but crowded with big companies. Just today, Toast, the company that builds software for restaurants, filed for a $717 million IPO at potentially a $16.5 billion valuation.) So instead, GrubHub will continue to focus on what has been a more overlooked aspect, that of the suppliers.

“I am focused on the food supply chain,” Xu said. “Operators in the food supply chain business most of the time don’t have any access to software and e-commerce technology. But we are not just a lightweight online ordering system. We do a lot of heavyweight lifting around inventory management, pricing and customer relations, and even HR management for wholesales and distributors.” That will also mean, longer term, that GrubMarket will likely also start to explore connected hardware to help those customers, too: robotics for picking and moving items are on that agenda, Xu said.

“GrubMarket has built a profitable, high-growth business underpinned by its best-in-class technology platform that’s reinventing how businesses access healthy, fresh foods,” said Jack Litowitz, director of strategic investments at Reimagined Ventures, in a statement. “We’re proud to support GrubMarket as it continues to expand into new regions and grow its WholesaleWare 2.0 software platform. At Reimagined Ventures, we always seek to invest in businesses that are disrupting inefficient industries in innovative ways. Mike Xu and the GrubMarket team have built one of these businesses. We’re excited to back their vision and work in making the food supply chain more efficient.”

“GrubMarket is transforming the trillion-dollar food distribution industry with unprecedented speed by implementing advanced digital solutions and operational discipline. The company’s scale, growth, and profitability are extraordinarily impressive. Pegasus is delighted and honored to be part of GrubMarket’s exciting journey ahead,” added Bill Reichert, partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures.

#arizona, #california, #canada, #ceo, #connecticut, #digital-solutions, #farmigo, #food, #food-delivery, #food-supply-chain, #funding, #georgia, #grocery-store, #grubhub, #grubmarket, #instacart, #japan-post-capital, #los-angeles, #massachusetts, #michigan, #mike-xu, #missouri, #new-jersey, #new-york, #olo, #online-food-delivery, #online-food-ordering, #oregon, #partner, #pegasus-tech-ventures, #pennsylvania, #reimagined-ventures, #retailers, #software, #software-platform, #supply-chain, #texas, #uber-eats, #united-states, #washington, #whole-foods

Howard University cancels classes after ransomware attack

Washington D.C’s Howard University has canceled classes after becoming the latest educational institution to be hit by a ransomware attack.

The incident was discovered on September 3, just weeks after students returned to campus, when the University’s Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) detected “unusual activity” on the University’s network and intentionally shut it down in order to investigate.

“Based on the investigation and the information we have to date, we know the University has experienced a ransomware cyberattack,” the university said in a statement. While some details remain unclear — it’s unknown who is behind the attack or how much of a ransom was demanded — Howard University said that there is no evidence so far to suggest that personal data of its 9,500 undergraduate and graduate students been accessed or exfiltrated. 

“However, our investigation remains ongoing, and we continue to work toward clarifying the facts surrounding what happened and what information has been accessed,” the statement said.

In order to enable its IT team to fully assess the impact of the ransomware attack, Howard University has canceled Tuesday’s classes, opening its campus to essential employees only. Campus Wi-Fi will also be down while the investigation is underway, though cloud-based software will remain available to students and teachers. 

“This is a highly dynamic situation, and it is our priority to protect all sensitive personal, research and clinical data,” the university said. “We are in contact with the FBI and the D.C. city government, and we are installing additional safety measures to further protect the University’s and your personal data from any criminal ciphering.”

But the university warned that that remediation will be “a long haul — not an overnight solution.”

Howard University is the latest in a long line of educational institutions to be hit by ransomware since the start of the pandemic, with the FBI’s Cyber Division recently warning that cybercriminals using this type of attack are focusing heavily on schools and universities due to the widespread shift to remote learning. Last year, the University of California paid $1.14 million to NetWalker hackers after they encrypted data within its School of Medicine’s servers, and the University of Utah paid hackers $457,000 to prevent them from releasing data stolen during an attack on its network. 

According to Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow last month, ransomware attacks have disrupted 58 U.S. education organizations and school districts, including 830 individual schools, so far in 2021. Emsisoft estimates that in 2020, 84 incidents disrupted learning at 1,681 individual schools, colleges, and universities.

“We’ll likely see a significant increase in ed sector incidents in the coming weeks,” Callow tweeted on Tuesday.

#california, #cloud-based-software, #crime, #crimes, #cyberattacks, #cybercrime, #federal-bureau-of-investigation, #ransomware, #security, #united-states, #university-of-california, #utah, #washington

Billionaire Sacklers granted lifetime legal immunity in opioid settlement

Friends and family members of people who have died during the opioid epidemic protest against a bankruptcy deal with Purdue Pharmaceuticals that allows the Sackler family to avoid criminal prosecution and to keep billions of dollars in private wealth, on August 9, 2021, outside the Federal courthouse in White Plains, New York.

Enlarge / Friends and family members of people who have died during the opioid epidemic protest against a bankruptcy deal with Purdue Pharmaceuticals that allows the Sackler family to avoid criminal prosecution and to keep billions of dollars in private wealth, on August 9, 2021, outside the Federal courthouse in White Plains, New York. (credit: Getty | Andrew Lichtenstein)

A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday approved a $4.5 billion opioid settlement that provides sweeping lifetime legal immunity for the billionaire Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma.

“This is a bitter result,” Federal Judge Robert Drain said Wednesday in a lengthy explanation of his approval of the settlement. “I believe that at least some of the Sackler parties also have liability for those [opioid] claims… I would have expected a higher settlement.”

The Sacklers owned and were largely directing Purdue Pharma in the late 1990s when the company allegedly began aggressively and deceptively selling its highly addictive opioid painkiller, OxyContin. Purdue, which has twice pled guilty for wrongdoing in marketing OxyContin, is largely seen as sparking the nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses. The opioid crisis has killed nearly 500,000 people in the US in the past two decades.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#addiction, #connecticut, #new-york, #opioids, #overdose, #oxycontin, #purdue, #sacklers, #science, #washington

A California judge just struck down Prop 22: Now what?

Every time you turn around, someone new is winning the war in California around organizing workers in the sharing economy.

Labor struck first when California legislators passed Assembly Bill 5, requiring all independent contractors working for gig economy companies to be reclassified as employees. That was expected to set off a chain reaction in state legislatures nationwide, until two things happened.

First, COVID-19 hit and quickly became all-encompassing, making it virtually impossible for lawmakers and regulators to focus on anything but surviving the pandemic. Second, Uber, Lyft, Instacart and others funded and voters approved Prop 22 in California, striking down AB-5 and returning sharing economy workers to independent contractor status.

On the same day that Prop 22 passed, Democrats captured both chambers of Congress in Washington, but their margins were so slim (50-50 in the Senate and a nine-vote majority in the House), that federal legislative action on the issue was near impossible. Across the country, politicians read the tea leaves of Prop 22 and decided to mainly stay away. That kept the issue at bay during the 2021 state legislative sessions.

But the tide started to turn again this summer. First, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the PRO Act in February 2021, stating that workers would be reclassified using an ABC test, in addition to rolling back right-to-work laws in states and establishing monetary penalties for companies and executives who violate workers’ rights.

The bill handily passed the House in March, but has since stalled in the Senate, despite receiving a hearing and energetic support by high-profile senators including Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The Biden administration’s appointees to the Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board are decidedly in favor of full-time-worker status. And now, a California Superior Court judge has ruled Prop 22 unconstitutional, saying it violates the right of the state legislature to pass future laws around worker safety and status.

The sharing economy companies are expected to appeal, and the case could ultimately wind up before the California Supreme Court.

So now what? The courts will ultimately determine the status of sharing economy workers in California, but since the decision will be about the specific legal parameters of California’s referendum process, it won’t determine the issue elsewhere. And despite noise from Washington, Congress isn’t passing the PRO Act any time soon (Democrats may try to include it in the reconciliation for the $3.5 trillion American Families Plan, but the odds of its survival are low). That means the action returns to the states.

New York is the biggest battleground outside of California. Democrats have amassed a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, and New York lacks a referendum vehicle to overturn state law.

Sharing economy workers are the biggest organizing opportunity for private sector unions in decades, and labor will use all of its influence to pass worker classification reform in 2022.

However, Kathy Hochul, New York’s new governor, is a moderate, and state legislators recently abandoned a half-baked plan brokered by gig companies to safeguard independent contractor status, indicating a resolution on the issue will likely take time.

Illinois is fertile ground for worker reclassification, too, but the state remains a question mark.

There’s also a chance of movement in Massachusetts, where gig companies are making a play to establish a ballot initiative very similar to Prop 22. Legislators in Seattle and Pennsylvania have also signaled an interest in exploring the issue.

And just a few months after most state legislative sessions conclude next summer, we’ll hit the midterm elections, which could produce a Republican wave (especially in the House) that would yet again quash the chances of worker classification legislation passing anywhere.

In other words, this is going to ping back and forth for at least the next few years in the courts, in state legislatures, and in the halls of Congress and federal agencies. If you’re a sharing economy investor and you want this issue resolved once and for all, that peace of mind isn’t coming. And the market, rather than accepting that this will be an unresolved issue for the next few years, will probably overreact to each individual action, whether it’s a lower court ruling or a piece of legislation making its way through a state.

In reality, the answer is the same as it’s always been: trying to shoehorn sharing economy workers into one of two existing categories — 1099 or W-2 — doesn’t work. We still need to recognize that the inherent nature of work has changed over the last decade, and we need to recognize that both parties — the sharing economy companies and the unions — are only looking out for their own interests and coffers at the expense of what’s best for actual workers.

California is not going to resolve this issue. It’s just swung back and forth from one extreme to another. Congress is not going to resolve this issue because it almost never resolves anything.

So the game comes down to states like Illinois, New York and Massachusetts. It comes down to legislators and leaders trying to craft good public policy at the expense of their donors and supporters and Twitter followers — and then it comes down to their colleagues doing the same.

It means sacrificing politics for policy. That almost never happens. And it probably won’t happen here, either. So if you’re trying to game out where this issue is going, accept the uncertainty and expect that a thoughtful, smart resolution — locally or nationally — is unlikely. It’s a dissatisfying conclusion but, sadly, it epitomizes exactly where our politics stand today.

#bernie-sanders, #biden-administration, #california, #column, #congress, #government, #illinois, #labor, #lyft, #national-labor-relations-board, #new-york, #opinion, #policy, #sharing-economy, #tc, #uber, #washington

A new Senate bill would totally upend Apple and Google’s app store dominance

With two giants calling the shots and collecting whatever tolls they see fit, mobile software makers have long complained that app stores take an unfair cut of the cash that should be flowing directly to developers. Hearing those concerns, a group of senators introduced a new bill this week that, if passed, would greatly diminish Apple and Google’s ability to control app purchases in their operating systems and completely shake up the way that mobile software gets distributed.

The new bill, called the Open App Markets Act, would enshrine quite a few rights that could benefit app developers tired of handing 30 percent of their earnings to Apple and Google. The bill, embedded in full below, would require companies that control operating systems to allow third party apps and app stores.

It would also prevent those companies from blocking developers from telling users about lower prices for their software that they might find outside of official app stores. Apple and Google would also be barred from leveraging “non-public” information collecting through their platforms to create competing apps.

“This legislation will tear down coercive anticompetitive walls in the app economy, giving consumers more choices and smaller startup tech companies a fighting chance,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who introduced the bipartisan bill with Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Klobuchar chairs the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee and Blackburn and Blumenthal are both subcommittee members.

Senator Blackburn called Apple and Google’s app store practices a “direct affront to a free and fair marketplace” and Sen. Klobuchar noted that their behavior raises “serious competition concerns.”

The bill draws on information collected earlier this year from that subcommittee’s hearing on app stores and competition. In the hearing, lawmakers heard from Apple and Google as well as Spotify, Tile and Match Group, three companies that argued their businesses have been negatively impacted by anti-competitive app store policies.

“… We urge Congress to swiftly pass the Open App Markets Act,” Spotify Chief Legal Officer Horacio Gutierrez said of the new bill. “Absent action, we can expect Apple and others to continue changing the rules in favor of their own services, and causing further harm to consumers, developers, and the digital economy.”

The Coalition for App Fairness, a developer advocacy group, praised the bill for its potential to spur innovation in digital markets. “The bipartisan Open App Markets Act is a step towards holding big tech companies accountable for practices that stifle competition for developers in the U.S. and around the world,” CAF executive director Meghan DiMuzio said.

Hoping to head off future regulatory headaches, Apple dropped its own fees for companies that generate less than $1 million in App Store revenue from 30 to 15 percent last year. Google followed suit with its own gesture, dropping fees to 15 percent for the first $1 million in revenue a developer earns through the Play Store in a year. Some developers critical of the companies’ practices saw those changes as little more than a publicity stunt.

Developers have long complained about the high tolls they pay to distribute their software through the world’s two major mobile operating systems. That fight escalated over the last year when Epic Games circumvented Apple’s payments rules by allowing Fortnite players to pay Epic directly, setting off a legal fight that has huge implications for the mobile software world. Following a May trial, the verdict is expected later this year.

Unlike Apple, Google does allow apps to be “sideloaded,” installed onto devices outside of the Google Play Store. But documents unsealed in Epic’s parallel case against Google revealed that the Play Store’s creator knows the sideloading process is a terrible experience for users — something the company brings up when pressuring developers to stick with its official app marketplace.

The counterargument here is that official app stores make apps safer and smoother for consumers. While Apple and Google extract heavy fees for selling mobile software through the App Store and the Google Play Store, the companies both argue that streamlining apps through those official channels protects people from malware and allows for prompt software updates to patch security concerns that could jeopardize user privacy.

Adam Kovacevich, a former Google policy executive who leads the new tech-backed industry group Chamber of Progress, called the new bill “a finger in the eye” for Android and iPhone owners.

“I don’t see any consumers marching in Washington demanding that Congress make their smartphones dumber,” Kovacevich said. “And Congress has better things to do than intervene in a multi-million dollar dispute between businesses.”

At least in Google’s case, the counterargument has its own counterargument. Android has long been notorious for malware, but apparently most of that malicious software isn’t making its way onto devices through sideloading — it’s walking through the Google Play Store’s front door.

 

#amazon-underground, #amy-klobuchar, #android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #coalition-for-app-fairness, #companies, #computing, #congress, #google, #google-play-store, #iphone, #itunes, #marsha-blackburn, #match-group, #mobile, #mobile-app, #mobile-software, #operating-systems, #play-store, #richard-blumenthal, #senate, #smartphones, #spotify, #tc, #technology, #tile, #united-states, #washington

Abodu raises $20M to build prefabricated backyard homes

The need for more affordable housing has never been more urgent as a shortage in the U.S. housing market persists.

Startups attempting to help address the shortage in a variety of ways abound. One such startup, Abodu, has raised $20 million in a Series A funding round led by Norwest Venture Partners. Previous backer Initialized Capital also participated in the financing, along with Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, former Stockton, California Mayor Michael Tubbs, GGV investor Hans Tung and Paradox Capital’s Kyle Tibbitts.

The California legislature changed laws in 2017 to make it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Then on January 1, 2020, the state of California made it dramatically easier to add extra housing units to single-family home sites. Cities and local agencies have to quickly approve or deny ADU projects within 60 days of receiving a permit application. The state also now prevents cities from imposing minimum lot size requirements, maximum ADU dimensions or off-street parking requirements. 

Redwood City, California-based Abodu, which builds prefabricated ADUs, was founded in 2018 to serve as a “one-stop shop” for building an ADU, or as some describe it, a home in a backyard.

Image Credits: Co-founders John Geary and Eric McInerney / Abodu

What sets the company apart from others in the space, its execs claim, is that it not only builds and installs the units, it helps homeowners with the painful process of getting permits. Abodu says it pre-approves its structural engineering with California state-level agencies to ensure its units can be built statewide and works with local agencies to pre-approve its foundation systems to ensure projects can proceed on predictable timelines.

It also claims to offer a cheaper and faster process than if one were to build an ADU from start to finish. Specifically, the startup claims that one of its backyard homes can be installed in just 10% of the time it would take for a traditional ADU to be built. 

Abodu has been active in the market, selling and building its ADUs since the fall of 2019. Since then, it has put “dozens and dozens” of units in the ground, and has multiple dozen units in production on top of that, according to CEO and co-founder John Geary. So far, it’s operating in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Seattle. The company claims it can deliver an ADU in as little as 30 days in San Jose and Los Angeles thanks to the cities’ pre-approval process. In other cities in California and Washington, turnaround is “as little as 12 weeks.” But a standard bespoke project takes 4-5 months from start to finish, according to Geary.

The startup’s three products include a 340-square foot studio; a 500-square foot one bedroom, one bath, and a 610-square foot two bedroom unit. All have kitchens and living space.

Pricing starts at $190,000, but the average project cost across all sizes is around $230,000, Geary said, inclusive of permits and site work.

There are a variety of use cases for ADUs, the most popular of which is to house family and for rental income. 

“During the pandemic, multigenerational living has been at an all-time high. There are acute family needs that people are trying to solve for,” Geary said. “In addition, folks are earning extra money by renting them out to members of the community such as teachers or fireman, a single person or younger couple.”

Next, Abodu is eyeing the San Diego market.

Earlier this week, we covered the recent raise of Mighty Buildings, another Bay Area-based startup building ADUs and other housing. The biggest difference between the two companies, according to Geary, is that Mighty Buildings is focused on innovation in construction with its 3D-printed method. 

“We decided early on that we didn’t want to reinvent the wheel from the construction standpoint,” Geary said. “Instead, we looked at ‘how can we solve for speed and ease?’ ”

Abodu operates with an asset-light model, and doesn’t own any factories. Instead, it has built a network of factory “partners” across the Western U.S. that builds its units depending on how their capacities look at any given time.

Naturally, the company’s investors are bullish on the company’s business model.

Jeff Crowe, managing partner of Norwest Venture Partners, believes that Abodu’s “beautifully crafted units” are just one of the company’s selling points.

“John, Eric, and their team manage the end-to-end process of permitting, building, and installing on behalf of their customers,” he told TechCrunch. “And with the expedited permitting that Abodu has been granted in over two dozen cities, it has faster time-to-installation than other ADU market participants.  The result has been very high levels of customer satisfaction and rapid growth.”

Former Stockton Mayor Tubbs said Abodu is tackling two of California’s most consequential issues: the statewide housing shortage and its impacts on racial and economic segregation in our neighborhoods.

“By making it fast and accessible for normal homeowners to build high-quality backyard housing units, Abodu’s success will mean integrating options for both renters and homeowners in the same neighborhoods, while supporting small landlords and property owners in building equity in their homes,” he wrote via email.

Abodu’s success would be a win-win that strengthens communities.

He went on to describe the speed that Abodu can deliver housing units to customers in certain parts of California “astounding.” 
“Abodu’s team has done some of the most difficult legwork for property owners by building local contractor relationships with reliable, vetted, high-quality partners,” he said. “As a homeowner myself, I know the challenges of permitting and finding contractors during construction. It’s this thoughtful attention to detail and customer trust that sets Abodu apart from other similar offerings.”

 

#abodu, #adu, #affordable-housing, #california, #funding, #fundings-exits, #glenn-kelman, #hans-tung, #initialized-capital, #jeff-crowe, #los-angeles, #norwest, #norwest-venture-partners, #real-estate, #recent-funding, #redwood-city, #san-jose, #seattle, #startup, #startups, #tc, #united-states, #urban-planning, #venture-capital, #washington

Google faces a major multi-state antitrust lawsuit over Google Play fees

A group of 37 attorneys general filed a second major multi-state antitrust lawsuit against Google Wednesday, accusing the company of abusing its market power to stifle competitors and forcing consumers into in-app payments that grant the company a hefty cut.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is co-leading the suit alongside with the Tennessee, North Carolina and Utah attorneys general. The bipartisan coalition represents 36 U.S. states, including California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Colorado and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia.

“Through its illegal conduct, the company has ensured that hundreds of millions of Android users turn to Google, and only Google, for the millions of applications they may choose to download to their phones and tablets,” James said in a press release. “Worse yet, Google is squeezing the lifeblood out of millions of small businesses that are only seeking to compete.”

In December, 35 states filed a separate antitrust suit against Google, alleging that the company engaged in illegal behavior to maintain a monopoly on the search business. The Justice Department filed its own antitrust case focused on search last October.

In the new lawsuit, embedded below, the bipartisan coalition of states allege that Google uses “misleading” security warnings to keep consumers and developers within its walled app garden, the Google Play store. But the fees that Google collects from Android app developers are likely the meat of the case.

“Not only has Google acted unlawfully to block potential rivals from competing with its Google Play Store, it has profited by improperly locking app developers and consumers into its own payment processing system and then charging high fees,” District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said.

Like Apple, Google herds all app payment processing into its own service, Google Play Billing, and reaps the rewards: a 30 percent cut of all payments. Much of the criticism here is a case that could — and likely will — be made against Apple, which exerts even more control over its own app ecosystem. Google doesn’t have an iMessage equivalent exclusive app that keeps users locked in in quite the same way.

While the lawsuit discusses Google’s “monopoly power” in the app marketplace, the elephant in the room is Apple — Google’s thriving direct competitor in the mobile software space. The lawsuit argues that consumers face pressure to stay locked into the Android ecosystem, but on the Android side at least, much of that is ultimately familiarity and sunk costs. The argument on the Apple side of the equation here is likely much stronger.

The din over tech giants squeezing app developers with high mobile payment fees is just getting louder. The new multi-state lawsuit is the latest beat, but the topic has been white hot since Epic took Apple to court over its desire to bypass Apple’s fees by accepting mobile payments outside the App Store. When Epic set up a workaround, Apple kicked it out of the App Store and Epic Games v. Apple was born.

The Justice Department is reportedly already interested in Apple’s own app store practices, along with many state AGs who could launch a separate suit against the company at any time.

#android, #app-store, #apple, #apple-inc, #attorney-general, #california, #colorado, #companies, #computing, #department-of-justice, #epic-games, #florida, #fortnite, #google, #google-play, #google-play-billing, #google-play-store, #letitia-james, #massachusetts, #new-hampshire, #new-jersey, #new-york, #north-carolina, #search, #social, #tc, #technology, #tennessee, #the-battle-over-big-tech, #united-states, #utah, #washington

Victory for municipal broadband as Wash. state lawmakers end restrictions

The front of the Washington state Capitol building seen during daytime.

Enlarge / State Capitol building in Olympia, Washington. (credit: Getty Images | traveler1116)

The Washington state legislature has voted to end limits on municipal broadband, and the bill lifting those restrictions now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee. The state Senate passed the bill Sunday in a 27-22 vote, and the state House passed it on February 23 by a vote of 60-37.

“This bill reverses decades of bad policy—Washington was one of only 18 states with a STATE LAW prohibiting some local governments from offering broadband directly to the public,” Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen, the bill’s lead sponsor, wrote on Twitter. “Long overdue. Thanks to the BIPARTISAN group of Senators who stood up for public broadband today!!”

The Senate vote went mostly along party lines, but one Republican (Brad Hawkins) voted yea and three Democrats (Steve Hobbs, Mark Mullet, and Lisa Wellman) voted nay.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#municipal-broadband, #policy, #washington

ChargerHelp raises $2.75M to keep EV chargers working

The coming wave of electric vehicles will require more than thousands of charging stations. In addition to being installed, they also need to work — and today, that isn’t happening.

If a station doesn’t send out an error or a driver doesn’t report an issue, network providers might never know there’s even a problem. Kameale C. Terry, who co-founded ChargerHelp!, an on-demand repair app for electric vehicle charging stations, has seen these problems firsthand.

One customer assumed that poor usage rates at a particular station was down to a lack of EVs in the area, Terry recalled in a recent interview. That wasn’t the problem.

“There was an abandoned vehicle parked there and the station was surrounded by mud,” said Terry who is CEO and co-founded the company with Evette Ellis.

Demand for ChargerHelp’s service has attracted customers and investors. The company said it has raised $2.75 million from investors Trucks VC, Kapor Capital, JFF, Energy Impact Partners, and The Fund. This round values the startup, which was founded in January 2020, at $11 million post-money.

The funds will be used to build out its platform, hire beyond its 27-person workforce and expand its service area. ChargerHelp works directly with the charging manufacturers and network providers.

“Today when a station goes down there’s really no troubleshooting guidance,” said Terry, noting that it takes getting someone out into the field to run diagnostics on the station to understand the specific problem. After an onsite visit, a technician then typically shares data with the customer, and then steps are taken to order the correct and specific part — a practice that often doesn’t happen today.

While ChargerHelp is couched as an on-demand repair app, it is also acts as a preventative maintenance service for its customers.

Powering up

The idea for ChargerHelp came from Terry’s experience working at EV Connect, where she held a number of roles including head of customer experience and director of programs. During her time there, she worked with 12 different manufacturers, which gave her knowledge into inner workings and common problems with the chargers.

It was here that she spotted a gap in the EV charging market.

“When the stations went down we really couldn’t get anyone on site because most of the issues were communication issues, vandalism, firmware updates or swapping out a part — all things that were not electrical,” Terry said.

And yet, the general practice was to use electrical contractors to fix issues at the charging stations. Terry said it could take as long as 30 days to get an electrical contractor on site to repair these non-electrical problems.

Terry often took matters in her own hands if issues arose with stations located in Los Angeles, where she is based.

“If there was a part that needed to be swapped out, I would just go do it myself,” Terry said, adding she didn’t have a background in software or repairs. “I thought, if I can figure this stuff out, then anyone can.”

In January 2020, Terry quit her job and started ChargerHelp. The newly minted founder joined the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, where she developed a curriculum to teach people how to repair EV chargers. It was here that she met Ellis, a career coach at LACI who also worked at the Long Beach Job Corp Center. Ellis is now the chief workforce officer at ChargerHelp.

Since then, Terry and Ellis were accepted into Elemental Excelerator’s startup incubator, raised about $400,000 in grant money, launched a pilot program with Tellus Power focused on preventative maintenance, landed contracts with EV charging networks and manufacturers such as EV Connect, ABB and Sparkcharge. Terry said they have also hired their core team of seven employees and trained their first tranche of technicians.

Hiring approach

ChargerHelp takes a workforce-development approach to finding employees. The company only hires in cohorts, or groups, of employees.

The company received more than 1,600 applications in its first recruitment round for electric vehicle service technicians, according to Terry. Of those, 20 were picked to go through training and 18 were ultimately hired to service contracts across six states, including California, Oregon, Washington, New York and Texas. Everyone who is picked to go through training are paid a stipend and earn two safety licenses.

The startup will begin its second recruitment round in April. All workers are full-time with a guaranteed wage of $30 an hour and are being given shares in the startup, Terry said. The company is working directly with workforce development centers in the areas where ChargerHelp needs technicians.

#abb, #automotive, #california, #career-coach, #ceo, #chargerhelp, #charging-stations, #driver, #electric-vehicle, #electric-vehicles, #energy-impact-partners, #evs, #green-vehicles, #inductive-charging, #kapor-capital, #los-angeles, #new-york, #oregon, #sparkcharge, #tc, #texas, #transportation, #washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arcadia steps in to Texas’ startup energy market with the acquisition of Real Simple Energy

On the third greatest television show of all time (sorry Rolling Stone), one of Texas’ most famous fictional football players once said, “When all the scared rats are leaving a sinking market, that’s when a real entrepreneur steps in — a true visionary.”

If that’s the case, then the startup renewable energy retail reseller Arcadia may be a true visionary. Even as energy startups servicing customers throughout the great state of Texas are forced to throw in the towel, the Washington-based, consumer-focused renewable energy power provider (based on renewable energy certificates purchased on the open market), is making an acquisition to enter the Texas market.

The company is buying Real Simple Energy, which not only marks the company’s availability in all 50 states, but gives Real Simple Energy customers access to both wind and solar power generating projects. The company said it  will leverage Real Simple Energy’s platform and expertise to secure the best rates for members, monitor for better savings, and provide a smarter yet simpler energy experience.

“Recent events in the Texas market prove that customers shouldn’t be exposed to wholesale or variable rates, and want an energy advocate to protect them,” said Kiran Bhatraju, CEO and Founder of Arcadia. “Both Arcadia and Real Simple Energy recognize the challenges Texas homeowners and renters have historically faced in the energy buying process, and we remain committed to removing these confusing barriers.”

Texans have consistently paid more for power than consumers that buy their energy from regulated market participants thanks to the state’s disastrously deregulated power markets. The combined companies are pitching fixed rate contracts to Texas consumers that won’t be vulnerable to bill spikes, but will offer average savings above the flat rates regulated utilities offer.

“The deregulated energy industry, especially in Texas, has underserved customers and as a result, most customers overpay for electricity and receive poor customer service. Using technology, we are helping customers realize the promise of deregulation and always get the best fixed rates available,” said Trent Crow, CEO of Real Simple Energy, in a statement. “As industry veterans, joining forces with Arcadia will allow us to get better deals for customers and enhance our customer experience.  We manage 100% of the energy experience and become a customer’s independent agent and advocate so they never have to worry about their electricity bill again.”

The deal is Arcadia’s first acquisition and follows the company’s launch of a community solar program all the way across the country in the great state of Maine.

#ceo, #electricity, #energy, #energy-industry, #entrepreneur, #fundings-exits, #maine, #renewable-energy, #startups, #tc, #texas, #washington

Co-founded by a leader of SpaceX’s missions operations, Epsilon3 wants to be the OS for space launches

Laura Crabtree spent a good chunk of her childhood watching rocket launches on television and her entire professional career launching rockets, first at Northrup Grumman and then at SpaceX.

Now, the former senior missions operations engineer at SpaceX is the co-founder and chief executive of a new LA-based space startup called Epsilon3, which says it has developed the operating system for launch operations.

“The tools I had wanted did not exist,” said Crabtree. So when she left SpaceX to pursue her next opportunity, it was a no-brainer to try and develop the toolkit she never had, the first-time entrepreneur said. “I started looking at ways in which I could help the space industry become more efficient and reduce errors.”

Joining Crabtree in the new business is Max Mednik, a serial entrepreneur whose last company, Epirus, raised at least $144.7 million from investors including 8VC, Bedrock Capital and L3 Harris Technologies, and Aaron Sullivan, a former Googler who serves as the chief software engineer. Mednik worked at Google too before turning his attention to entrepreneurship. His previous businesses ranged from financial services software to legal services software, Mednik too had an interest in aerospace. His first job offers out of school were with SpaceX, JPL, and Google. And Aaron Sullivan another former

Part of a growing network of SpaceX alumni launching businesses, Epsilon3, like its fellow travelers First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge, is creating a product around an aspect of the design, manufacturing mission management and operations of rockets that had previously been handled manually or with bespoke tools.

“They make mission management software for the launchers and for the satellite companies that are going to be the payload of the rocket companies,” said Alex Rubacalva, the founder and managing partner of Stage Venture Partners, an investor in the company’s recent seed round. “It’s not just the design and spec but for when they’re actually working what are they doing; when you’re uplinking and downlinking data and changing software.”

Rubacalva acknowledged that the market for Epsilon3 is entirely new, but it’s growing rapidly.

“This was an analysis based on the fact that access to space used to be really expensive and used to be the provenance of governments and ten or 20 commercial satellite operators in the world. And it was limited by the fact that there were only a handful of companies that could launch,” Rubacalva said. “Now all of a sudden there’s going to be thirty different space flights. Thirty different companies that have rockets… access to space used to scarce, expensive, and highly restricted and it’s no longer any of those things now.” 

Relativity Space's Terran 1 rocket, artist's rendering

Image Credits: Relativity Space

The demand for space services is exploding with some analysts estimating that the launch services industry could reach over $18 billion by 2026.

“It’s a very similar story and we all come from different places within SpaceX,” said Crabtree. First Resonance, provides software that moves from prototyping to production; Prewitt Ridge, provides engineering and management tools; and Epsilon3 has developed an operating system for launch operations.

“You’ve got design development, manufacturing, integration tests and operations. We’re trying to support that integration of tests and operations,” said Crabtree. 

While First Resonance and Prewitt Ridge have applications in aerospace and manufacturing broadly, Crabtree’s eyes, and her company’s mission, remain fixed on the stars.

“We’re laser focused on space and proving out that the software works in the highest stakes and most complex environments,” said Mednik. There are applications in other areas that require complex workflows for industries as diverse as nuclear plant construction and operations, energy, mining, and aviation broadly, but for now and the foreseeable future, it’s all about the space business.

Mednik described the software as an electronic toolkit for controlling and editing workflows and procedures. “You can think of it as Asana project management meets Github version control,” he said. “It should be for integration of subsystems or systems and operations of the systems.”

Named for the planet in Babylon Five, Epsilon3 could become an integral part of the rocket missions that eventually do explore other worlds. At least, that’s the bet that firms like Stage Venture Partners and MaC Ventures are making on the business with their early $1.8 million investment into the business.

Right now, the Epislon3’s early customers are coming from early stage space companies that are using the platform for live launches. These would be companies like Stoke Space and other new rocket entrants. 

“For us, space and deeptech is hot,” said MaC Ventures co-founder and managing partner, Adrian Fenty. The former mayor of Washington noted that the combination of Mednik’s serial entrepreneur status and Crabtree’s deep, deep expertise in the field.

“We had been looking at operating systems in general and thinking that there would be some good ones coming along,” Fenty said. In Epsilon3 the company found the combination of deep space, deep tech, and a thesis around developing verticalized operating systems that ticked all the boxes. 

“In doing diligence for the company… you just see how big space is and will become as a business,” said Michael Palank, a co-founder and managing partner at MaC Ventures predecessor, M Ventures alongside Fenty. “A lot of the challenges here on earth will and only can be solved in space. And you need better operating systems to manage getting to and from space.”

The view from Astra’s Rocket 3.2 second stage from space.

#adrian-fenty, #aerospace, #asana, #bedrock-capital, #elon-musk, #energy, #engineer, #entrepreneur, #github, #google, #hyperloop, #l3, #laser, #louisiana, #m-ventures, #mac-ventures, #managing-partner, #manufacturing, #mayor, #mining, #operating-system, #operating-systems, #outer-space, #project-management, #satellite, #serial-entrepreneur, #space-tourism, #spaceflight, #spacex, #tc, #washington

Amazon will expand its Amazon Care on-demand healthcare offering U.S.-wide this summer

Amazon is apparently pleased with how its Amazon Care pilot in Seattle has gone, since it announced this morning that it will be expanding the offering across the U.S. this summer, and opening it up to companies of all sizes, in addition to its own employees. The Amazon Care model combines on-demand and in-person care, and is meant as a solution from the search giant to address shortfalls in current offering for employer-sponsored healthcare offerings.

In a blog post announcing the expansion, Amazon touted the speed of access to care made possible for its employees and their families via the remote, chat and video-based features of Amazon Care. These are facilitated via a dedicated Amazon Care app, which provides direct, live chats via a nurse or doctor. Issues that then require in-person care is then handled via a house call, so a medical professional is actually sent to your home to take care of things like administering blood tests or doing a chest exam, and prescriptions are delivered to your door as well.

The expansion is being handled differently across both in-person and remote variants of care; remote services will be available starting this summer to both Amazon’s own employees, as well as other companies who sign on as customers, starting this summer. The in-person side will be rolling out more slowly, starting with availability in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and “other cities in the coming months” according to the company.

As of today, Amazon Care is expanding in its home state of Washington to begin serving other companies. The idea is that others will sing on to make Amazon Care part of its overall benefits package for employees. Amazon is touting the speed advantages of testing services, including results delivery, for things including COVID-19 as a major strength of the service.

The Amazon Care model has a surprisingly Amazon twist, too – when using the in-person care option, the app will provide an updating ETA for when to expect your physician or medical technician, which is eerily similar to how its primary app treats package delivery.

While the Amazon Care pilot in Washington only launched a year-and-a-half ago, the company has had its collective mind set on upending the corporate healthcare industry for some time now. It announced a partnership with Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan back at the very beginning of 2018 to form a joint venture specifically to address the gaps they saw in the private corporate healthcare provider market.

That deep pocketed all-star team ended up officially disbanding at the outset of this year, after having done a whole lot of not very much in the three years in between. One of the stated reasons that Amazon and its partners gave for unpartnering was that each had made a lot of progress on its own in addressing the problems it had faced anyway. While Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan’s work in that regard might be less obvious, Amazon was clearly referring to Amazon Care.

It’s not unusual for large tech companies with lots of cash on the balance sheet and a need to attract and retain top-flight talent to spin up their own healthcare benefits for their workforces. Apple and Google both have their own on-campus wellness centers staffed by medical professionals, for instance. But Amazon’s ambitious have clearly exceeded those of its peers, and it looks intent on making a business line out of the work it did to improve its own employee care services — a strategy that isn’t too dissimilar from what happened with AWS, by the way.

#amazon, #amazon-care, #apple, #aws, #baltimore, #berkshire-hathaway, #computing, #enterprise, #eta, #google, #health, #healthcare, #jpmorgan, #physician, #seattle, #tc, #technology, #united-states, #washington, #washington-d-c

Former head of the World Resources Institute has a new role leading Bezos’ $10 billion Earth Fund

The $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund has a new chief executive and it’s Andrew Steer, the former head of the World Resources Institute — an organization that Bezos described as “working to alleviate poverty while protecting the natural world.”

As the head of the fund, Steer will be responsible for spending that money down by the end of 2030, according to a tweet from none other than Steer himself.

“The Earth Fund will invest in scientists, NGOs, activists, and the private sector to help drive new technologies, investments, policy change and behavior. We will emphasize social justice, as climate change disproportionately hurts poor and marginalized communities,” Steer wrote.

With a $100 million award from the first rounds of grants the Bezos Fund issued in November, the World Resources Institute was one of the largest recipients of Bezos’ largesse. Other big recipients from the first block of grants included the Environmental defense Fund, The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy and The World Wildlife Fund.

“I feel incredibly fortunate to join the Bezos Earth Fund as its CEO, where I will focus on driving systemic change to address the climate and nature crises, with a focus on people. Too many of the most creative initiatives suffer for a lack of finance, risk management or the right partnerships. This is where the Earth Fund will be helpful,” Steer said in a statement issued by the WRI.

While at the WRI, Steer oversaw its international expansion from an advocacy organization centered primarily in Washington to a global organization with offices in Indonesia, the UK and Colombia along with hubs in Ethiopia and the Netherlands. Steer also expanded the offices in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Mexico.

His tenure also involved creating coalitions and initiatives that changed the understanding around the economics of climate change, including the launch of a $10 million annual initiative to support the implementation of climate plans by 100 countries, according to a statement from the WRI.

“The $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund has the potential to be a transformative force for good at this decisive point in history. Andrew’s global reputation, deep technical knowledge and experience, and commitment to social justice make him a perfect leader for the fund,” said Christiana Figueres, co-founder of Global Optimism and former Executive Security of the UNFCCC.

#bezos, #brazil, #ceo, #china, #co-founder, #colombia, #ethiopia, #executive, #finance, #head, #india, #indonesia, #jeff-bezos, #leader, #mexico, #nature-conservancy, #netherlands, #risk-management, #tc, #united-kingdom, #washington, #world-wildlife-fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Folx Health raises $25 million for virtual clinical offerings and care for the LGBTQIA+ community

Folx Health is leveraging the explosion of virtual care services to offer greater access to healthcare focused on the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, and has raised $25 million in new funding to help it grow.

It’s part of a revolution in care that’s targeting the needs of specific communities with access to physicians that understand those needs. And it’s all made possible by virtual interactions.

“We have a good sense of the nature of the need and the depth of the pain in the community,” said A.G. Breitenstein, the founder and chief executive of Folx Health. “As a non-binary lesbian and healthcare industry veteran, I have seen and experienced firsthand just how broken the current system is for the queer and trans community,”

Breitenstein said Folx would be using the cash to try and expand to all fifty states and increase the available products and services the healthcare company would look to make available to the queer and trans community.

“Whether it’s HRT, PrEP, sexual health or family creation, health care is essential for us to be who we are. It’s about time we build a platform for ourselves, so Queer and Trans people feel seen, heard, and celebrated,” she said in a statement. 

That was one reason why Bessemer Venture Partners leapt at the chance to lead the new financing round for Folx, according to Morgan Cheatham, an investor out of Bessemer’s New York office. The other was the size of the market.

“At a high level, 2% of the population identify as transgender,” said Cheatham. “At that math, when we looked at that, we were able to see a multibillion dollar market opportunity not just to provide [hormone replacement therapy], but to provide a healthcare destination for this community.”

Telescoping out to the opportunity to provide care to the LGBTQ community broadly, when that population represents about 10% to 20% of the population is a “deca-billion opportunity,” said Cheatham.

Breitenstein envisions offering family planning services, broad primary care, and sexual health and wellness care in addition to the hormone therapies that the company currently offers.

Folx joins a cohort of companies tackling health issues specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community which include the mental healthcare service, Violet; Included Health, an employee benefit service; and Plume, which focuses on care for the transgender community.

“We believed in the vision and the approach that she’s taking. She’s building a healthcare experience that is celebratory and dignified rather than one that pathologizing healthcare,” said Cheatham. 

For Bessemer and Cheatham, the investment speaks to broader opportunities to identify specific populations that need care tailored to their specific experience. That includes companies like Spora Health and Live Chair Health, which focus on providing healthcare specifically to people of color.

“Our individual identities whether it be socioeconomic status, race, gender… All of these things inform how we interface with the medical industrial complex,” Cheatham said.

Previous investors Define Ventures and Polaris Venture Partners will also participate in the round, which follows quickly on the heels of Folx’s launch from stealth in December 2020. 

For its patients, Folx Health is offering Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT: testosterone or estrogen) with monthly plans starting at $59 a month. Folx Health will also begin releasing its sexual health and wellness offerings starting with Erectile Dysfunction (ED) treatment, soon to be followed by at-home STI Testing and Treatment, all customized for the specifics of Queer and Trans bodies, the company said. 

The services will include unlimited on-demand clinical support with at-home lab testing (for most plans) and home-delivered medications (costs may vary based on medication). The company’s services are now available in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

The company is also launching a Folx Library, which will serve as a content hub and resource for Queer and Trans health, written by Folx clinicians and its broader community.

“Our partnership with Folx is a historical moment. It’s challenging to articulate how transformative Folx is for our community. We do so mindful of the brilliant and brave Queer and Trans people who fought for this moment to happen,” said Cheatham in a statement.

#california, #connecticut, #define-ventures, #delaware, #erectile-dysfunction, #florida, #healthcare, #healthcare-industry, #illinois, #massachusetts, #new-york, #north-carolina, #polaris-venture-partners, #spora-health, #tc, #texas, #virginia, #washington

Span, the smart fusebox replacement founded by an ex-Tesla engineer, gets an Alexa upgrade

Automating and controlling devices and energy usage in homes has potentially become a bit easier thanks to an integration between Span, the startup making a digital fusebox replacement, and  Amazon’s voice recognition interface, Alexa.

The integration also comes with a $20 million new cash infusion from Amazon’s Alexa Fund and the massive insurance company Munich Re Ventures’ HSB Fund.

Through the Alexa integration, homeowners using Span’s electrical panels can turn on or off any circuit or appliance in their home, monitor which appliances are using power, and determine which electrical source is generating the most power for a home.

Questions like “Alexa, ask Span what is consuming the most power right now?” will get a response. The Alexa integration opens up new opportunities for home owners to integrate their devices and appliances, because of the connection to the home’s wiring, according to Span chief executive, Arch Rao.

Rao sees the Alexa integration as a way for Span to become the home automation hub that tech companies have been promising for a long time. “There are far too many devices in the hoe today… with too many apps,” Rao said. “The advantage we have is, once installed, we’re persistent in the home and connected to everything electric in the home for the next 30 to 40 years.”

In addition to monitoring energy usage and output, Alexa commands could turn off the power for any device or switch that a homeowner has programmed into the system.

“The most material way to state it is, our panel is providing a virtual interface to the home in the build environment,” said Rao. “We’re building a very capable edge device… it becomes sort of a true aggregation point and nerve center to give you real-time visibility and control.”

Going forward, Rao envisions Span integrating with other devices like water sensors, fire alarm sensors, and other equipment to provide other types of controls that could be useful for insurers like Munich Re.

With the $20 million that the company raised, Rao intends to significantly increase sales and marketing efforts working through partners like Munich Re and Amazon to get Span’s devices into as many homes as possible.

The company has significant tailwinds thanks to home automation and energy efficiency upgrade efforts that are now wending their way through Washington, but could mean subsidies for the deployment of technology’s like Span’s electric panels.

 

Rao also intends to boost headcount at Span. The company currently has 35 employees and Rao would like to see that number double to roughly 70 by the end of the year.

Span’s growth is part of a broad movement in home technologies toward increasingly sustainable options. In many cases that’s the penetration of electrical appliances in things like water heaters and stove tops, but also the integration of electric vehicle charging stations, home energy storage units, and other devices that push energy generation and management to the edge of electricity grids.

“It’s cutting that pipe that’s bringing natural gas to the home and bringing all electric everything… as consumers are continuing to cut the cord on fossils, your existing home system is not efficient. That’s one ecosystem of products where we are starting to see partnership opportunities,” Rao said. “When it comes to applications like monitoring the health of your appliances… and services to the home. Having the data that we provide will be unprecedented.”

#alexa, #amazon, #arch-rao, #automation, #charging-station, #emerging-technologies, #home-automation, #natural-gas, #tc, #voice-recognition, #washington

This site posted every face from Parler’s Capitol Hill insurrection videos

This site posted every face from Parler’s Capitol Hill insurrection videos

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Wired)

When hackers exploited a bug in Parler to download all of the right-wing social media platform’s contents last week, they were surprised to find that many of the pictures and videos contained geolocation metadata revealing exactly how many of the site’s users had taken part in the invasion of the US Capitol building just days before. But the videos uploaded to Parler also contain an equally sensitive bounty of data sitting in plain sight: thousands of images of unmasked faces, many of whom participated in the Capitol riot. Now one website has done the work of cataloging and publishing every one of those faces in a single, easy-to-browse lineup.

Late last week, a website called Faces of the Riot appeared online, showing nothing but a vast grid of more than 6,000 images of faces, each one tagged only with a string of characters associated with the Parler video in which it appeared. The site’s creator tells WIRED that he used simple open source machine learning and facial recognition software to detect, extract, and deduplicate every face from the 827 videos that were posted to Parler from inside and outside the Capitol building on January 6, the day when radicalized Trump supporters stormed the building in a riot that resulted in five people’s deaths. The creator of Faces of the Riot says his goal is to allow anyone to easily sort through the faces pulled from those videos to identify someone they may know or recognize who took part in the mob, or even to reference the collected faces against FBI wanted posters and send a tip to law enforcement if they spot someone.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #capitol-hill, #dc, #facial-recognition, #gaming-culture, #insurrection, #policy, #washington

The local politics of AirBNB’s ban on DC rentals

Airbnb said it will refund guests who had booked stays in Washington next week and reimburse hosts for lost income.

Enlarge / Airbnb said it will refund guests who had booked stays in Washington next week and reimburse hosts for lost income. (credit: Bonnie Jo Mount | Washington Post | Getty Images)

On January 9—three days after supporters of President Trump started a riot at the US Capitol—Sean Evans decided it was time for action. Evans had seen a post on Nextdoor about neighbors running into hostile Trump supporters the night of the riot, leading to a verbal altercation that had left residents of his corner of Northwest DC on edge. Now, rumors flew online that the upcoming inauguration of president-elect Joe Biden would bring more protesters and more armed violence to the streets of his city. “I don’t want them in my neighborhood,” Evans thought to himself. In fact, he didn’t want insurrectionists in the city at all.

So on Nextdoor, Evans asked his neighbors to stop renting out their properties via Airbnband VRBO. A few hours later, another neighbor devised a hashtag: #DontRentDC.

Separately, a group called ShutDownDC gathered 500 volunteers to message DC area Airbnb hosts. The group sent messages to the managers of 3,400 properties in the region—polite ones, according to ShutDownDC organizer Alex Dodd. The messages alerted the Airbnb hosts to an upcoming threat and asked them to please refrain from booking anyone in their homes in the days surrounding the inauguration.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#airbnb, #dc, #gaming-culture, #insurrection, #policy, #washington

Scraped Parler data is a metadata goldmine

Embattled social media platform Parler is offline after Apple, Google and Amazon pulled the plug on the site after the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol last week that left five people dead.

But while the site is gone (for now), millions of posts published to the site since the riot are not.

A lone hacker scraped millions of posts, videos and photos published to the site after the riot but before the site went offline on Monday, preserving a huge trove of potential evidence for law enforcement investigating the attempted insurrection, many of which allegedly used the platform to plan and coordinate the breach of the Capitol.

The hacker and internet archivist, who goes by the online handle @donk_enby, scraped the social network and uploaded copies to the Internet Archive, which hosts old and historical versions of web pages.

In a tweet, @donk_enby said she scraped data from Parler that included deleted and private posts, and the videos contained “all associated metadata.”

Metadata is information about a file — such as when it was made and on what device. This information is usually embedded in the file itself. The scraped videos from Parler appear to also include the precise location data of where the videos were taken. That metadata could be a goldmine of evidence for authorities investigating the Capitol riot, which may tie some rioters to their Parler accounts or help police to unmask rioters based on their location data.

Most web services remove metadata when you upload your photos and videos, but Parler apparently wasn’t.

Parler quickly became the social network of choice after President Trump was deplatformed from Twitter and Facebook for inciting the riot on January 6. But the tech giants said Parler violated their rules by not having a content moderation policy – which is what drew many users to the site.

Many of the posts made calls to “burn down [Washington] D.C.,” while others called for violence and the execution of Vice President Mike Pence.

Already several rioters have been arrested and charged with breaking into the Capitol building. Many of the rioters weren’t wearing masks (the pandemic notwithstanding), making it easier for them to be identified. But thanks to Parler’s own security blunder, many more could soon face an unwelcome knock at the door.

#amazon, #computing, #internet-archive, #law-enforcement, #microblogging, #operating-systems, #parler, #president, #real-time-web, #security, #social-network, #software, #trump, #vice-president, #washington, #web-services

Insurrectionists’ social media presence gives feds an easy way to ID them

Men with flags and bizarre costumes pose for a photo in a neoclassical corridor.

Enlarge / The seditionists who broke into the US Capitol on Wednesday were not particularly subtle and did not put any particular effort into avoiding being identified. (credit: Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images)

Law enforcement agencies trying to track down insurrectionists who participated in yesterday’s events at the US Capitol have a wide array of tools at their disposal thanks to the ubiquity of cameras and social media.

Both local police and the FBI are seeking information about individuals who were “actively instigating violence” in Washington, DC, on January 6. While media organizations took thousands of photos police can use, they also have more advanced technologies at their disposal to identify participants, following what several other agencies have done in recent months.

Several police departments, such as Miami, Philadelphia, and New York City, turned to facial recognition platforms—including the highly controversial Clearview AI—during the widespread summer 2020 demonstrations against police brutality and in support of Black communities. In Philadelphia, for example, police used software to compare protest footage against Instagram photos to identify and arrest a protestor. In November, The Washington Post reported that investigators from 14 local and federal agencies in the DC area have used a powerful facial recognition system more than 12,000 times since 2019.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#dc, #facial-recognition, #fbi, #insurrection, #law-enforcement, #livestreams, #police, #policy, #sedition, #washington

Twitter will reinstate Trump’s account following his deletion of tweets

A Twitter spokesperson has confirmed with TechCrunch this morning that Trump has deleted three tweets that led to the temporarily suspension of this account last night.

Twitter locked the account pending deletion of the offending tweets on Wednesday following the riot and siege of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and said that the suspension would remain in place so long as the tweets were not removed, and that any further violation of its rules could result in an actual permanent account suspension for Trump.

The President’s account is to remain lock 12 hours after his deletion of the tweets (seen below). While we don’t have exact timing on when the countdown started, he has yet to tweet from the account. The account also still bears the warning that, “this Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules.”

While Trump has previously enjoyed the benefit of a rule Twitter put in place that allowed a special exemption for content that would normally violate its terms of service, but that it would allow to remain in the interest of public access in cases where it comes from accounts with a significant public interest component, like Trump’s while he’s occupying the office of U.S. President.

The three tweets that finally proved a bridge too far for Twitter included a video posted by Trump that called for an end to the violence on Capitol Hill, but that also said “We love you, you’re very special” to the terrorists taking part in the action. The other two included statements that falsely suggested the legitimate results of the most recent U.S. presidential election were somehow fraudulent, including one that suggested the terrorist actions in Washington that resulted were somehow justified.

It’s worth noting that Twitter didn’t actually deleted the offending tweets; the company generally has a policy of removing tweets that violate its terms from public view, and notifying the offending account that they must be deleted by the account holder themselves in order to re-instate the ability to actively use the account.

While Trump does not have access to his own official Twitter account, his deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino posted a statement early Thursday morning about the Electoral Certification process, which was completed in the early hours. The statement again included inciting language falsely disputing the election results, but remains available and untouched by any of Twitter’s flagging measures.

Until this week, most anticipated that Trump would continue to enjoy protections that come with his political status. Yesterday’s move marked a shift for Twitter, but there remains a major question around his status in the remaining two weeks of his Presidential term. Facebook, meanwhile, has taken the opposite action, altogether banning Trump from its platform, for “at least the next two weeks.”

#capitol, #donald-trump, #operating-systems, #policy, #president, #presidential-election, #social, #social-media, #software, #tc, #text-messaging, #twitter, #united-states, #washington, #washington-d-c

VCs dispense with political niceties during Capitol riots: “Never talk to me again”

It was hard not to feel emotional today, as the world watched for more than four hours as rioters stormed into and throughout the Capitol building in Washington to disrupt the certification of the election win of incoming U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden. They’d been encouraged earlier in the afternoon by outgoing President Donald Trump himself to head to the building and protest what he falsely claimed yet again was an stolen election, a lie he began to spread the evening of the U.S. election in November.

While members of Congress called on him to make a statement rebuking the rioters’ actions from their undisclosed locations, he instead encouraged his supporters over Twitter, writing of the “sacred landslide election victory” that was “so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots” and later posting a video in which repeated his lies about a “landslide election that was stolen from us.”

It was the first time in American history that supporters of the losing presidential candidate forcibly disrupted the official counting of electoral votes, as noted earlier in the evening by PBS. And while Trump’s tweets were later deleted by Twitter for “repeated and severe violations of our Civic Integrity policy,” the move was viewed by many as too little and too late, including by Silicon Valley investors. Indeed, a wide number today let loose their fury toward the outgoing administration and those who enabled its attendant chaos.


A lingering question is whether the ignominious day — one on which a dozen Senate Republicans and dozens more Republican House members had planned to object to the certification of the election results — will begin to polarize people further or whether, following Trump’s departure, some of that fury begins to subside instead.

Some investors, at least, say their anger has always had more to do with basic human decency, which seemed frequently to take a backseat during the Trump administration.

Deena Shakir of Lux Capital used to work for the Obama administration and is transparent about her political perspective on Twitter. But she says of today’s events that they “are not about politics. What we have witnessed is an affront to democracy, an assault on American history, and a gruesome reflection of the divided nation we live in.”

Hunter Walk — a cofounder of the venture firm Homebrew and who today tweeted, “don’t be putting [Trump son-in-law and White House advisor] Jared Kushner on cap tables when this is all said and done” — echoes the sentiment, saying: “I’m not afraid to have a strong public voice on issues I consider to be urgent and essential human rights questions.”

As for whether today might make it harder to fund or partner with a team who supported Trump’s ascendency, Walk says no. “We fund wonderful entrepreneurs and employ no purity tests on whether they agree with us 100%. I’m certain we’ve backed people who sit to our political left and to our political right – that’s not an issue for us and not an issue for them.”

To the extent that Walk’s clearly Democratic public stance may turn off some talented founders who disagree with him or prefer that he shut up and write a check, that’s ok, too, says Walk.

“We don’t believe we need to compromise our values in order to be successful.”

Shakir meanwhile suggests that she doesn’t always have the luxury of tuning out politics entirely.

For one thing, she considers those who terrorized the nation’s capital today “angered perpetrators of a jingoistic, supremacist ideology that is not only normalized but actually incited by the highest branch of our government and amplified via social media.”

More, she notes, “Given my focus on healthcare, so much of my own thesis development and so many of my conversations have inevitably been informed by the pandemic, which—for better or worse—has become politicized.”

Try as she might to bifurcate politics from work, it’s futile right now, she says. “These events and policies inform our present and our future, affect the markets that value our companies, and contribute to trends and white spaces. And today, they reflect our values as a nation and as human beings.”

#donald-trump, #investors, #politics, #riots, #tc, #venture-capital, #washington

Peloton to acquire fitness equipment maker Precor in $420M bid to grow commercial business

Peloton has announced that it intends to acquire Precor, one of the world’s largest suppliers of commercial fitness equipment. You probably recognize the Precor brand name if you’ve ever spent time in a hotel or standalone commercial gym, which is exactly why Peloton making this purchase makes a ton of sense at this particular time for the hot home workout brand.

The Precor acquisition will be made via a deal that’s valued at a total of $420 million, and in addition to expanding its commercial business, this also helps Peloton bring on a lot more manufacturing capability in a time when its order queue for its Tread and Bike hardware is deeper than ever, thanks to the increase in demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Precor already maintains a significant U.S.-based manufacturing operation, as well as dedicated research and development teams and facilities. In total, Peloton says in a press release that it’ll be adding 625,000 square feet of manufacturing facility in the U.S., between Precor facilities in both Whitsett, North Carolina, and Woodinville, Washington.

While the near-term use of the acquisition, which is set to close in 2021 if it meets all approvals, is to speed up delivery times for customers of existing equipment, long-term this deal sets Peloton up nicely for greater commercial market expansion – once the commercial market returns to growth. While the pandemic has been a clear boon for Peloton’s at-home equipment and fitness subscription service, it’s also been devastating for gym chains and hoteliers, meaning that it’s likely Precor’s primary business was taking a considerable hit over the past few months.

This is the largest deal that Peloton has made thus far, but it’s possible it picked up Precor for a relative bargain; Precor owner Anta Sports was said to have been seeking a potential sale fo the company for around $500 million last November. Peloton will be installing Precor President Rob Barker as GM of Peloton Commercial as part of the new deal, and that should help it accelerate the infiltration of its connected equipment in commercial gyms globally once people feel more comfortable about returning to them safely post-pandemic.

#companies, #fitness, #hardware, #health, #ma, #north-carolina, #peloton, #precore, #president, #tc, #united-states, #washington

Google Pay gets a major redesign with a new emphasis on personal finance

Google is launching a major redesign of its Google Pay app on both Android and iOS today. Like similar phone-based contactless payment services, Google Pay — or Android Pay as it was known then — started out as a basic replacement for your credit card. Over time, the company added a few more features on top of that but the overall focus never really changed. After about five years in the market, Google Pay now has about 150 million users in 30 countries. With today’s update and redesign, Google is keeping all the core features intact but also taking the service in a new direction with a strong emphasis on helping you manage your personal finances (and maybe get a deal here and there as well).

Google is also partnering with 11 banks to launch a new kind of bank account in 2021. Called Plex, these mobile-first bank accounts will have no monthly fees, overdraft charges or minimum balances. The banks will own the accounts but the Google Pay app will be the main conduit for managing these accounts. The launch partners for this are Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union.

Image Credits: Google

“What we’re doing in this new Google Pay app, think of it is combining three things into one,” Google director of product management Josh Woodward said as he walked me through a demo of the new app. “The three things are three tabs in the app. One is the ability to pay friends and businesses really fast. The second is to explore offers and rewards, so you can save money at shops. And the third is getting insights about your spending so you can stay on top of your money.”

Paying friends and businesses was obviously always at the core of Google Pay — but the emphasis here has shifted a bit. “You’ll notice that everything in the product is built around your relationships,” Caesar Sengupta, Google’s lead for Payments and Next Billion Users, told me. “It’s not about long lists of transactions or weird numbers. All your engagements pivot around people, groups, and businesses.”

It’s maybe no surprise then that the feature that’s now front and center in the app is P2P payments. You can also still pay and request money through the app as usual, but as part of this overhaul, Google is now making it easier to split restaurant bills with friends, for example, or your rent and utilities with your roommates — and to see who already paid and who is still delinquent. Woodward tells me that Google built this feature after its user research showed that splitting bills remains a major pain point for its users.

In this same view, you can also find a list of companies you have recently transacted with — either by using the Google Pay tap-and-pay feature or because you’ve linked your credit card or bank account with the service. From there, you can see all of your recent transactions with those companies.

Image Credits: Google

Maybe the most important new feature Google is enabling with this update is indeed the ability to connect your bank accounts and credit cards to Google Pay so that it can pull in information about your spending. It’s basically Mint-light inside the Google Pay app. This is what enables the company to offer a lot of the other new features in the app. Google says it is working with “a few different aggregators” to enable this feature, though it didn’t go into details about who its partners are. It’s worth stressing that this, like all of the new features here, is off by default and opt-in.

Image Credits: Google

The basic idea here is similar to that of other personal finance aggregators. At its most basic, it lets you see how much money you spent and how much you still have. But Google is also using its smarts to show you some interesting insights into your spending habits. On Monday, it’ll show you how much you spent on the weekend, for example.

“Think of these almost as like stories in a way,” Woodward said. “You can swipe through them so you can see your large transactions. You can see how much you spent this week compared to a typical week. You can look at how much money you’ve sent to friends and which friends and where you’ve spent money in the month of November, for example.”

This also then enables you to easily search for a given transaction using Google’s search capabilities. Since this is Google, that search should work pretty well and in a demo, the team showed me how a search for ‘Turkish’ brought up a transaction at a kebab restaurant, for example, even though it didn’t have ‘Turkish’ in its name. If you regularly take photos of your receipts, you can also now search through these from Google Pay and drill down to specific things you bought — as well as receipts and bills you receive in your Gmail inbox.

Also new inside of Google Pay is the ability to see and virtually clip coupons that are then linked to your credit card, so you don’t need to do anything else beyond using that linked credit card to get extra cashback on a given transaction, for example. If you opt in, these offers can also be personalized.

Image Credits: Google

The team also worked with the Google Lens team to now let you scan products and QR codes to look for potential discounts.

As for the core payments function, Google is also enabling a new capability that will let you use contactless payments at 30,000 gas stations now (often with a discount). The partners for this are Shell, ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, 76 and Conoco.

In addition, you’ll also soon be able to pay for parking in over 400 cities inside the app. Not every city is Portland, after all, and has a Parking Kitty. The first cities to get this feature are Austin, Boston, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C., with others to follow soon.

It’s one thing to let Google handle your credit card transaction but it’s another to give it all of this — often highly personal — data. As the team emphasized throughout my conversation with them, Google Pay will not sell your data to third parties or even the rest of Google for ad targeting, for example. All of the personalized features are also off by default and the team is doing something new here by letting you turn them on for a three-month trial period. After those three months, you can then decide to keep them on or off.

In the end, whether you want to use the optional features and have Google store all of this data is probably a personal choice and not everybody will be comfortable with it. The rest of the core Google Pay features aren’t changing, after all, so you can still make your NFC payments at the supermarket with your phone just like before.

#android, #apps, #artificial-intelligence, #austin, #bank, #boston, #citi, #computing, #exxonmobil, #google, #google-pay, #minneapolis, #mobile-payments, #online-payments, #p2p, #portland, #product-management, #shell, #tc, #up, #washington, #washington-d-c

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

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

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

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

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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

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

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

“We’ve spent the past decade in bev-alc at the forefront of providing solutions to changing consumer shopping behaviors. What we’ve seen is a more exploratory customer than the industry recognizes, ready to try new form factors, products and categories. The one consistent theme is they want to be able to discover and shop these products conveniently, and to be able to trust their platform of choice,” said Vaughn in a statement. “The strength of PCH is that we’re able to provide unparalleled and personalized cross-industry shopping experiences to consumers,