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Snap shares its in-house accelerator’s next 10 investments

By Lucas Matney

After generally being the butt of the public market’s jokes since its IPO, Snap is having a killer 2019, with its stock price nearly tripling in value. The successes are perhaps giving the company a moment to pause and think more about generating future value.

Part of that equation is certainly the company’s Yellow accelerator that aims to invest in pre-seed startups that bring mobile users to shared experiences.

We covered Yellow’s inaugural batch back in September, now we’ve got the full rundown on Snap’s second class of bets.

Yellow’s latest accelerator class definitely showcases some similarities to their inaugural group, but you’ll notice more online-to-offline startups aiming to bring users into real-world scenarios and communities like a concert subscription service and workout service reviews. This contrasts a bit to the first class which seemed a bit more focused on camera-based startups that centered around selfies, AR and photos.

From an organizational standpoint, things haven’t shifted too much inside Yellow. The broader company has had a standout 2019, building back a healthy chunk of the market cap value it has lost since debuting publicly. One wonders whether this has enabled the company’s accelerator group to push its investment ambitions beyond Snap’s mobile app focus.

Mike Su, Snap’s director of Yellow, tells me that there haven’t been any top-down directives to shift investment strategies for the accelerator and that the prevalence of offline startups in the class is just more representative of the applicants.

“[The class] continues to be an extension of our values and our thesis,” Su tells me. “Snap has always been about people making connections inside and outside the app.”

Here is Yellow’s summer 2019 class of startups.

Active Spaces

ClassPass might toss you in a random workout and say good luck, but Active Spaces is looking to give you more info when searching for your exercising fix. The New York startup is scouring its way through the NYC reviewing gyms and studios one-at-a-time. It’s less about star ratings than it is about giving you a bird’s eye view of what’s there and what’s missing. It’s all really well-done and gives you a ton of info about what you’re in for, and you can book direct from the app.

casino royale2

Cash Live

HQ Trivia might be falling on hard times but Cash Live is looking to take the daily mobile quiz show in a new direction by leaning on the laurels of gaming, some good ole fashioned casino titles. The Vancouver startup is planning to bring a live host to scheduled 15-minute poker, blackjack and bingo tournaments.

AFP PHOTO / ANGELA WEISS

Disko

Finding local concerts sucks and it’s a process that hasn’t found its startup solution yet. Disko is building a concert subscription service that helps users discover new events in their city with a flat rate $25 per month subscription service which will let users attend up to four concerts per month. The LA startup is starting off in its hometown but has ambitions to expand elsewhere soon.

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Dose of Society

We’re missing a lot of diversity in the voices and perspectives we see in the media we enjoy. Dose of Society is a London media startup looking to share “real stories from real people.” The group’s videos have had more than 18 million views since launching at the end of 2017.

Screen Shot 2019 07 10 at 11.28.05 AM

Frame

Snap still has vertical video startups firmly in its purview. Frame is a weekly newsmagazine built for mobile that’s trying to rethink how we get news delivered to us. The NY startup is looking beyond push notifications and is also supporting text updates and calendar updates so that its subscribers can make time to absorb its narrative vertical video  journalism.

Screen Shot 2019 07 10 at 11.44.14 AM

Loco Adventures

Pokémon GO brought people into physical spaces with its location-based gaming, but other startups are seeing the potential to even further localize AR experiences. Berlin-based Loco Adventures is building games that guide you through local areas with a chat message narrative style.

Muze

Muze sees the endless wave of comments on the web and wants to make things a bit noisier, the New York team is working on a way to bring audio commentary “to the always-on stream of internet video” and share it across the web.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Quirktastic, Inc.

The startup has the ambitious goal of building a community for “geeks, gamers and nerds” that’s less toxic to minority groups. The Durham, NC company wants to connect these people with each other and the events they want to check out. Quirktastic says they have 15,000 users since they launched in beta in March.

nike

SNKRHUD

The sneaker business is a hefty one, but SNKRHUD is betting that it still isn’t as big as it could be. It’s trying to focus on the dormant sneaker heads who are liking shoes on Instagram and searching through online stores but haven’t delved further into communities. The Brooklyn team wants to be the glue between existing platforms.

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Stop, Breathe & Think

There’s a lot in the world to get stressed and anxious about, Stop, Breathe & Think is aiming to build a digital wellness platform to help people feel better. The app lets people check-in with how they’re feeling and then the app is able to recommend short activities like meditation, breathing, yoga, acupressure, guided journaling, and more.

Cars-as-a-service, Alibaba and ridehailing, mental health, and the future of financial services

By Danny Crichton

The future of car ownership: Cars-as-a-service

It’s Mobility Day at TechCrunch, and we’re hosting our Sessions event today in beautiful San Jose. That’s why we have a couple of related pieces on mobility at Extra Crunch.

First, our automotive editor Matt Burns is back with part two of his market map and analysis of the changing nature of how consumers are buying cars these days. Part one looked at how startups like Carvana, Shift, Vroom, and others are trying to disrupt the car dealership’s monopoly on auto sales in the United States.

Now, Burns takes a look at how startups like Fair and premium automakers like Mercedes are disrupting the very notion of owning a car in the first place. Rather than buying a car or leasing one, users with these new services are asked to subscribe to their cars, giving them the flexibility to get a car when they need it and to get rid of it when they don’t. Fair has raised $1.5 billion in venture capital, so clearly the space has caught the eye of investors.

“In simple terms,” co-founder and then CEO [of Fair] Scott Painter, told TechCrunch following its recent raise, “for every dollar in equity we unlock $10 in debt, and we borrow that cash to buy cars.”

Fair works much like a traditional lease with more options. Users can drive the vehicles as long as they’re paying for them and can switch to a different one whenever. This is different from a traditional lease where the buyer is often locked into the vehicle for two to four years. The model makes Fair an excellent option for Uber and Lyft drivers, and in the last year, Uber sold fair its $400 million leasing business to accelerate this offering.

Meituan, Alibaba, and the new landscape of ride-hailing in China

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, our China tech reporter Rita Liao takes a deeper look at the quickly changing tides of the ride-hailing industry in China. It’s a fight between intermediation, disintermediation, and who ultimately owns the ride-hailing consumer. As transit in China and the rest of the world increasingly becomes multi-modal, who owns the gateway to figuring out the best method and paying for it is increasingly in the driver’s seat:

Daily Crunch: HBO Max is coming in 2020

By Anthony Ha

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

1. AT&T’s new streaming service HBO Max arrives in 2020, will be the exclusive home of ‘Friends’

Hooray, we don’t have to call it the Untitled WarnerMedia streaming service anymore! Instead, it’s going to be named HBO Max, and it will launch next spring with more than 10,000 hours of content available to subscribers.

The service won’t be limited to HBO content — hence the availability of “Friends” — but the naming indicates how important HBO as a TV brand is to consumers and to parent company AT&T.

2. Visa funds $40M for no-password crypto vault Anchorage

Visa and Andreessen Horowitz are betting even bigger on cryptocurrency, funding a big round for fellow Facebook Libra Association member Anchorage’s omnimetric blockchain security system.

3. Nintendo Switch Lite’s trade-off of whimsy for practicality is a good one

Nintendo revealed a new Switch Lite version of its current-generation console today, which attaches the controllers permanently, shrinks the hardware a bit and adds a touch more battery life. It also takes away the “Switch” part of the equation, because you can only use it handheld, instead of attached to a TV or as a unique tabletop gaming experience.

Opera Opay Nigeria

4. Opera founded startup OPay raises $50M for mobile finance in Nigeria

OPay’s raise tracks greater influence in African tech from China.

5. Flaws in hospital anesthesia and respiratory devices allow remote tampering

Security researchers have found a vulnerability in a networking protocol used in popular hospital anesthesia and respiratory machines, which they say if exploited could be used to maliciously tamper with the devices.

6. Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who have a substantial following on other platforms

7. Understanding mental health in Silicon Valley, with professional coach and former investor Jerry Colonna

In a conversation with Connie Loizos, Colonna discusses how previously developed standards of success can impact your ability to lead and find fulfillment at work. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

3 reasons startups should exhibit at Disrupt SF 2019

By Emma Comeau

Early-stage startup founders, you’re searching for opportunities to take your company to greater heights, amirite? Then allow me to direct your attention to Disrupt San Francisco 2019, TechCrunch’s flagship event that takes place October 2-4. More specifically to Startup Alley, the exhibition floor where opportunity thrives.

Grab that opportunity by the scruff and buy a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. There’s simply no better way to place your early-stage startup in front of influential change agents. Yes, we’re biased, but that doesn’t make us wrong. Here are just three of the many reasons why you should exhibit in Startup Alley.

Media exposure

Along with 10,000+ attendees, Disrupt SF draws more than 400 media outlets. And all those journalists spend time prowling Startup Alley hunting for stories about fascinating founders, emerging tech trends or maybe even a future unicorn. Scoring media coverage can work wonders for your bottom line — as Luke Heron, CEO of TestCard, learned when he exhibited in Startup Alley:

We got a fantastic writeup in Engadget, which was really valuable. Cash at the beginning of the start-up journey is difficult to come by, and an article from a credible organization can help push things in the right direction.

Last year, TestCard closed a $1.7 million funding round.

Investor attention

Journalists aren’t the only influencers perusing the tech and talent on display in Startup Alley. Investors are just as eager to find up-and-coming prospects to add to their portfolios. It’s the perfect place to start conversations and develop relationships. Here’s what David Hall, co-founder of Park & Diamond, had to say about his experience:

Exhibiting in Startup Alley was a game-changer. The chance to have discussions and potentially form relationships with investors was invaluable. It completely changed our trajectory and made it easier to raise funds and jump to the next stage.

Last year, Park & Diamond closed its first round of funding, allowing the company to relocate to New York and make its first key hires.

Wild Card shot at Startup Battlefield

Exhibit in Startup Alley for a chance to win a Wild Card entry to the Startup Battlefield pitch competition. TechCrunch editors will select two standout startups as Wild Card teams. Both teams will compete head-to-head in Startup Battlefield for $100,000 equity-free cash, the Disrupt Cup and even more glorious investor and media attention.

There you have it. Three terrific reasons to buy a Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and strut your stuff at Disrupt San Francisco 2019.

Pro Tip: You have until July 19 to apply for our TC Top Picks program. If you make the cut, you’ll receive a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and sweet VIP perks.

Is your company interested in sponsoring at Disrupt SF 2019? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Planted joins the meatless meat melee with its pea-protein ‘chicken’

By Devin Coldewey

Imitation meat is poised to expand its presence in our diets exponentially, if the success of dueling faux burger companies Impossible and Beyond are any indication — but where’s the chicken? Planted is a brand new Swiss company that claims its ultra-simple meatless poultry is nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, better in other ways, and soon, cheaper.

Made from only pea protein, pea fiber, water, and sunflower oil, the company’s first product, which they call planted.chicken, imitates the texture and flavor (or lack thereof) of chicken meat very closely.

There are no exotic substances or techniques involved, which keeps production simple and vegans happy. It’s created by making a sort of fibrous dough using the ingredients mentioned, then using a carefully configured extrusion machine to essentially recreate the structure of the muscle fibers that make up meat. These are reassembled into larger pieces with a similar texture to a piece of chicken breast.

planted dishesOf course it has different properties than real chicken — having no fat, collagen, or other complex animal substances, it won’t cook the same and can’t be simply substituted in any recipe. But for the innumerable dishes where something like a simple grilled and/or chopped chicken breast is  called for, the Planted product could be a great fit.

Strangely enough, it all began with perhaps the most unpalatable substance conceivable (don’t worry, it doesn’t go in the food): hagfish slime. This strange substance secreted by the deep-dwelling creatures has interesting properties that attracted the attention of Lukas Böni and Erich Windhab in the food sciences labs of ETH Zurich.

“This amazing natural hydrogel and [Lukas’s] biomimetic approaches strongly contribute to our understanding of meat-like structures today and how they can be mimicked and eventually even improved from a biomaterials perspective,” said co-founder Christoph Jenny.

Böni soon connected with his other co-founders, Eric Stirnemann and Pascal Bieri, who shared an interest in reducing the waste and ecological costs associated with meat production. Though they are not opposed to meat-eating fundamentally, they deplore the enormous amounts of land required for it, unethical production methods, and other unhealthy byproducts of the industry. Their hope is to convince meat-eaters to choose less wasteful alternatives without asking them to compromise on the quality of the food.

Planted as a company was only started last week, though the team has been working for a year and a half on their first product. Böni brought the food science and biological materials knowledge, and Stirnemann is an expert in extrustion techniques; together they were able, after much experimentation, to produce a truly chicken-like substance.

From hagfish slime to chicken-like substance — it doesn’t really sound palatable. But leaving aside that little about food production is really table conversation, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting, and tests along those lines have gone very well.

At tests in restaurants across Switzerland, reception has been great, with some consumers unable to tell it apart from the real thing. And this isn’t being substituted for ground chicken in a stew or something — it’s front and center.

planted2

“We put a lot of research into the product to make it extremely close to chicken,” said Jenny. “Hence we price around a premium chicken at this stage. We do see strong potential to produce our product at a lower cost mid-term, given strong economies of scale.”

Getting to that mid-term is the problem, of course, but given the frenzy of demand around fake meat and growing investment in alternative proteins, it probably won’t be hard to find investors. Though the company declined to detail its current funding, its FAQ says it is at the “seed stage” and although it is independent from ETHZ, it’s hard to imagine Planted will be leaving the nest without a bit of help from the university that spawned it.

Currently Planted’s chicken substitute is only available at a handful of restaurants while they work out the rest of the business and prepare to scale up. The company is planning on expanding its commercial presence next year, so until then keep an eye on the location list and drop by if you’re in Zurich or Bern.

BMW 2019 i8 review: Driving yesterday’s car of tomorrow, today

By Matt Burns

The BMW i8 is a lovely vehicle to drive even though it’s lacking. It hugs the road and commands attention. It’s thrilling in a way that few cars can achieve without speed. Sure, it’s quick, but it won’t set track records or quarter-mile times. It just feels great to drive.

By the numbers, there’s little reason to buy a $164,000 BMW i8 Roadster. Want speed? Buy a Porsche 911 Turbo for $161K or Corvette ZR1 for $123K or Nissan GT-R for $112K. Supercar aesthetics? Get an Acura NSX for $157K. Want all-electric? Get a Tesla Model S. All are faster and cheaper than the BMW i8.

The BMW i8 is just a stepping stone in BMW’s history. An oddball. It’s a limited-edition vehicle to try out new technology. From what I can tell, BMW never positioned the i8 as a top seller or market leader. It was an engineer’s playground. I love it.

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Review

BMW released the first i8 in 2014 when the automotive scene looked different. Tesla was still a fledgling startup with only the Model S in its lineup. GM was working on the second-generation Chevy Volt. Hybrid powertrains seemed to be the answer, and BMW followed suit with the dual-power in the i8.

In 2015 I took the just-launched i8 from Vegas to LA in an epic, one-day adventure that took me through the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park. It was a great way to appreciate the i8, and now that the model is on its way out, I wanted another go in the car.

This time, I had an i8 tester for a week. I took my kids to school in it, I got groceries with it and, in between rain storms, I lived my best life with the top down on in this $164,000 droptop.

It’s a lovely car and garners attention like nothing else in its price range. I noted this several years back when driving the i8 down the Vegas strip. The i8 is stunning and always draws a crowd. For my money, there isn’t a car that gets more attention.

The sheet metal flows as if a master glassmaker made it. It’s beautiful. The front end is aggressive and direct. The sides flow with precision to a back-end with some of the most unique tail lights available. The exhaust — remember, this is a hybrid — exits behind the rear window through a metal grate.

Don’t let its go-fast exterior oversell the capabilities though. The i8 is not as fast as it looks.

The i8 isn’t a quarter-mile racer. This is a hybrid sports car with the heart of a grand tourer. This isn’t a car you want to take to a drag strip, but it could be fun at a track day. It’s a carver. Its low center of gravity lets it embrace the road. It’s silky through flowing corners.

Behind the wheel, the i8 is easy to love. The hybrid powertrain is smooth and free of drama. Hit the gas and go. Click the transmission to sport mode and it’s quick, but not fast. And that’s okay with me.

BMW got the inside of the i8 right. For a two-seat exotic, the i8 is comfortable and functional as long as the driver doesn’t need to transport golf clubs. The scissor doors open with little effort and offer enough room to enter and exit the car. The seats are supportive and comfortable. This 2019 version is equipped with BMW’s latest infotainment system, which is among the best offered in the industry. There is very little storage available in the Roadster variant that ditches the back seats for the droptop storage. The trunk can hold four six-packs and nothing else.

When I drove the i8 in 2015, I stated that this was a car someone should buy only after they have their Porsche 911. That’s still true. While the i8 is easy to love, there are other vehicles available that offer more thrills and functionality.

The i8 is easy. Drivers shouldn’t be afraid to push the powertrain. It won’t bite, but it will provide plenty of excitement in sport mode. The i8 doesn’t require the skill of other vehicles in its price range. If a Porsche 911 Turbo or Corvette ZR-1 is too much car, look at the i8. Or the Audi R8 — another sports car I found easy to boss around.

After a week of living with the i8, its performance was secondary to the experience. I’m convinced that the i8 doesn’t need raw speed to be enjoyable.

In 2014 BMW proclaimed the i8 to be the car of tomorrow, available today. And in some regards it was. The i8 was one of the first mass-production vehicles to pair an electric powertrain to a gas engine in the name of performance. Since then, nearly every exotic automaker is doing the same in various formats.

The i8 still feels like it’s a different type of vehicle than anything else available. It feels green. It feels healthy. But in the end, the i8 still relies on a dirty internal combustion engine while there are faster, better-equipped vehicles available that run on just electric motors.

Rumor is BMW is not making a direct successor to the i8, but the automaker will likely make an all-electric sports car. Eventually. And that would change everything. With just electric motors, a BMW coupe could offer serious speed while being more friendly to the environment. A pure electric i8 could be a game changer and a legitimate speed demon.

The 2019 i8 is a lovely vehicle and could bring serious enjoyment to the right person with its easy powertrain and stunning looks.


Video Review of BMW i8 (filmed in 2015)

SAP CEO Bill McDermott will join us at TC Sessions: Enterprise

By Frederic Lardinois

You can’t talk about enterprise software without talking about SAP, the German software giant that now has a market cap of more than $172 billion, making it Europe’s most valuable tech company. To talk about his company and leadership in a rapidly changing environment for enterprise software, SAP CEO Bill McDermott will join us for a fireside chat at our TC Sessions: Enterprise event on September 5 in San Francisco.

McDermott joined the company as the CEO of SAP America in 2002. He then joined the executive board in 2008 and became co-CEO in 2010. Since becoming the first American to head the company in 2014, McDermott has continued to increase the company’s annual revenue and, maybe more importantly, expanded the company’s product range.

Chances are you know SAP mostly for its Hana in-memory database offering and CRM and enterprise resource management systems. Hana is important enough that all of the major cloud suppliers offer virtual machines specifically tuned for it, something they don’t do for any other piece of software. But SAP also offers services around data and networks management, IoT, blockchain and HR. Its more than 300,000 customers span virtually every industry and include government agencies around the globe, and the company itself has offices in virtually every country in the world.

We will talk to McDermott about the trends he’s seeing in the industry, including his company’s open data alliance with Microsoft and Adobe, his plans to double his company’s market cap, the role that open source now plays in enterprise software and how owning a Long Island deli prepared him for his current job. And we won’t forget SAP’s giant $8 billion acquisition of Qualtrics last year, which allows SAP to couple operational data with customer experience — matching what customers do with why they do it — one of the hottest areas in enterprise.

Outside of SAP, McDermott also serves on the board of directors of companies like Under Armour, Dell SecureWorks and ANSYS.e

Early Bird tickets are on sale for just $249 when you book here, but hurry — prices go up by $100 soon! Students, grab your discounted tickets for just $75 here.

Revolut opens tech hub in Berlin

By Romain Dillet

Fintech startup Revolut is opening a small tech hub in Berlin. There’s already a ton of fintech talent in the city, as it’s the hometown of N26. The company plans to hire 80 people at first for many different tech jobs, from software engineering to data science, product and growth.

And this isn’t just about hiring talent in other cities. Revolut plans to customize its product a bit more for the German market, and more generally Europe.

In many ways, Revolut still feels like a British app. For instance, if you want to change your card PIN code, the company tells you to use an ATM to change it. This is simply not possible in Germany, France and many European markets.

And the team in Berlin will also work on Revolut’s commission-free stock trading feature, a sort of Robinhood competitor for Europe. The company is also working on an app for children, maybe as an alternative to a first bank account.

There are currently 150,000 Revolut users in Germany. The company will have a local marketing and communications team to expand more aggressively in that market.

It’s still hard to create a global fintech app that works all around the world. People manage their money in different ways depending on the country in which they live. And fintech startups are also realizing that, now that they have a solid product offering at home.

The future of car ownership: Cars-as-a-service

By Matt Burns

Car shoppers now have several new options to avoid long-term debt and commitments. Automakers and startups alike are increasingly offering services that give buyers new opportunities and greater flexibility around owning and using vehicles.

Cars-as-a-Service

In the first part of this feature, we explored the different startups attempting to change car buying. But not everyone wants to buy a car. After all, a vehicle traditionally loses its value at a dramatic rate.

Some startups are attempting to reinvent car ownership rather than car buying.

Don’t buy, lease

My favorite car blog Jalopnik said it best: “Cars Sales Could Be Heading Straight Into the Toilet.” Citing a Bloomberg report, the site explains automakers may have had the worst first half for new-vehicle retail sales since 2013. Car sales are tanking, but people still need cars.

Companies like Fair are offering new types of leases combining a traditional auto financing option with modern conveniences. Even car makers are looking at different ways to move vehicles from dealer lots.

Fair was founded in 2016 by an all-star team made up of automotive, retail and banking executives including Scott Painter, former founder and CEO of TrueCar.

The future of autonomous vehicles runs off roads and on to farms, construction sites and mines

By David Riggs
Jeff Peters Contributor
Jeff Peters, PhD is a principal at Autotech Ventures, investing in transportation startups. He has published academic and media articles on transportation, optimization, autonomous driving and AI.

Fully self-driving passenger cars are not “just around the corner.” While the well-capitalized leaders — funded by corporations, multibillion-dollar VC funds or advertising revenue — are on more stable financial ground, many other full-stack autonomous vehicle startups may be looking for the off-ramp.

With no clear path to funds outside of venture capital, full-stack startups face two options: 1) get acquired for the talent and technology or 2) close shop. Cruise and Argo AI were big startup exits. Daimler Trucks acquired Torc Robotics (which did not follow the VC-startup model). And nuTonomy was marketed as a $450 million acquisition by Delphi/Aptiv.

But the most recent VC-backed valuations for some AV startups have stagnated at or below the $450 million mark, which doesn’t give much upside from their previous valuations in the height of the AV fervor. Without much further upside, it is more likely that many passenger car AV companies will close shop.

Full-stack autonomous passenger vehicle startups are dead.

But wait…

Passenger car autonomy projects attracted a lot of capital and top talent in the past decade and produced tremendous technological advances in autonomous perception, path planning and control. What happens to the talent and technology when the passenger AV bubble bursts?

Well, there are more vehicles than just passenger cars. The DARPA Grand Challenge held over a decade ago is cited as the catalyst behind the GoogleX self-driving car project and the explosion of passenger car AVs. The advances made during the challenges also spilled over to off-highway vehicles. Since then, autonomous vehicles have been developed and deployed in defense as well as commercially in large-scale agriculture and mining.

It is widely observed that industrial, agriculture, construction and mining applications are better suited for near-term autonomy. There are defined automation tasks with clear ROI, there are fewer human-machine interactions and there are geo-fenced areas that bound the operational and safety requirements. These are simply more controlled environments than on city streets. Automation also can help offset critical labor shortages. It is difficult to attract a workforce at remote mines in the middle of vast deserts. Labor shortages for agriculture add tremendous uncertainty for growers who don’t know if they will be able to prepare and harvest their crops during short time windows.

With the help of those DARPA participants, Caterpillar developed semi- and fully autonomous haulage trucks and announced they have hauled more than 1 billion tons of material. Komatsu followed a day later by announcing that they reached the 2 billion ton milestone. These haulage trucks are the size of a house. John Deere, Case IH, New Holland and others have developed semi- and fully autonomous tractors on their own, and with the help of R&D companies. Most of these programs have been around for more than a decade now, but the rate of technological progress pales to that of the recent startup efforts.

What’s next?

From our vantage point as investors, we believe that we will see a similar spillover from the passenger car AV bubble into industrial, agriculture, construction and mining sectors. This will enhance existing autonomous programs, open up new ROI use cases in those sectors and reshape the autonomous vehicle business model in some of the sectors as smaller players gain access to top talent and technology.

The most significant technologies that will spill over into the off-highway vehicle market are machine perception, reinforcement learning for more complex robotic motion planning and functionally safe, mission-critical engineering requirements.

Perception systems deployed on mining and agricultural vehicles are not as cost-constrained as passenger cars. The price tags for some 700-series CAT haulage trucks exceed $5,000,000. These vehicles are equipped with ruggedized lidar, radar, cameras, etc., mostly for safety awareness. Costs of these systems will decline thanks to the cost-constrained designs for sensors driven by the automotive market.

Camera-based inference will allow these vehicles to further understand elements in their environment — allowing them to perform more complex navigational tasks and operations. Sensor fusion may allow agricultural vehicles to deploy optimal inputs to fields or mining vehicles to understand ore characteristics to increase productivity per scoop.

Reinforcement learning allows operators to “teach” algorithms to perform complex tasks and will create new use cases requiring complex robotic actuation. These use cases could be harvesting more than just broad-acre crops, moving dirt on-site, picking-and-placing of construction equipment for staging and much more. These robotic applications can be integrated on top of existing autonomous mobility platforms.

The most important criterion for these startups is an uncompromising approach to robustness and safety. Autonomy only achieves its full potential if the solution works with minimal downtime and improves safety (which is also tied to equipment replacement costs, worker compensation and insurance).

Recognizing these trends, we’ve made an investment into an AV startup that is deploying autonomous systems on Bobcat skid-steer and excavator vehicles in construction and working with large mining operations to automate all vehicles on the mine site.

We’ve also invested in an early-stage agriculture robotics company automating on-field applications that have been, thus far, untouched by automation.

This is only the start. There are many more opportunities in off-highway autonomy, and we’re continuing our search for companies in other off-highway applications.

Udelv partners with H-E-B on Texas autonomous grocery delivery pilot

By Darrell Etherington

Autonomous delivery company Udelv has signed yet another partner to launch a new pilot of its self-driving goods delivery service: Texas-based supermarket chain H-E-B Group. The pilot will provide service to customers in Olmos Park, just outside of downtown San Antonio where the grocery retailer is based.

California-based Udelv will provide H-E-B with one of its Newton second-generation autonomous delivery vehicles, which are already in service in trials in the Bay Area, Arizona and Houston providing deliveries on behalf of some of Udelv’s other clients, which include Walmart among others.

Udelv CEO and founder Daniel Laury explained in an interview that they’re very excited to be partnering with H-E-B, because of the company’s reach in Texas, where it’s the largest grocery chain with approximately 400 stores. This initial phase only covers one car and one store, and during this part of the pilot the vehicle will have a safety driver on board. But the plan includes the option to expand the partnership to cover more vehicles and eventually achieve full driverless operation.

“They’re really at the forefront of technology, in the areas where they need to be,” Laury said. “It’s a very impressive company.”

For its part, H-E-B Group has been in discussion with a number of potential partners for autonomous deliver trials, and according to Paul Tepfenhart, SVP of Omnichannel and Emerging Technologies at H-E-B, but it liked Udelv specifically because of their safety record, and because they didn’t just come in with a set plan and a fully formed off-the-shelf offering – they truly partnered with HEB on what the final deployment of the pilot would look like.

Both Tepfenhart and Laury emphasized the importance of customer experience in providing autonomous solutions, and Laury noted that he thinks Udelv’s unique advantage in the increasingly competitive autonomous curbside delivery business is its attention to the robotics of the actual delivery and storage components of its custom vehicle.

“The reason I think we’re we’ve been so successful, is because we focused a lot on the delivery robotics,” Laury explained. “If you think about it, there’s no autonomous delivery business that works if you don’t have the robotics aspect of it figured out also. You can have an autonomous vehicle, but if you don’t have an automated cargo space where merchants can load [their goods] and consumers can unload the vehicle by themselves, you have no business.”

Udelv also thinks that it has an advantage when it comes to its business model, which aims to generate revenue now, in exchange for providing actual value to paying customers, rather than counting on being supported entirely through funding from a wealthy investor or deep-pocketed corporate partners. Laury likens it to Tesla’s approach, where it actually has over 500,000 vehicles on the road helping it build its autonomous technology – but all of those are operated by paying customers who get all the benefits of owing their cars today.

“We want to be the Tesla of autonomous delivery,” Laury said. “If you think about it, Tesla has got 500,000 vehicles on the road […] if you think about this, for of all the the cars in the world that have some level of automated driver assistance (ADAS) or autonomy, I think Tesla’s 90% of them – and they get the customers to pay a ridiculous amount of money for that. Everybody else in the business is getting funding from something else. Waymo is getting funding from search; Cruise is getting funding from GM and SoftBank and others, Nuro is getting funding from SoftBank. So, pretty much everybody else is getting funding from a source that’s a different source from the actual business they’re supposed to be in.”

Laury says that Udelv’s unique strength is in the ability the company has to provide value to partners like HEB today, through its focus on robotics and solving problems like engineering the robotics of the loading and customer pick-up experience, which puts it in a unique place where it can fund its own research through revenue-generating services that can be offered in-market now, rather than ten years from now.

Snapchat announces new shows from Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and others

By Anthony Ha

Snapchat just announced that it’s making shows with big names like Serena Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kevin Hart, as well as online stars like Emma Chamberlain, Loren Gray, Rickey Thompson, Baby Ariel and FaZe Banks.

Snapchat launched its original content efforts two years ago, and today it’s unveiling a new program called Creator Shows. As  initially announced in the Hollywood Reporter, these will be first-person shows designed around individual creators.

For example, Schwarzenegger will be providing motivational advice in a show called “Rules of Success,” while Thompson will weighs in on fashion and lifestyle trends on “Trend or End” and Gray offers beauty advice on “Glow Up.”

The shows will begin airing this month. They’re all exclusive to Snapchat, and many of them come from creators who’ve a substantial following on other platforms — Chamberlain, for example, was just described in The New York Times as “the funniest person on YouTube.

Rickey Thompson Premieres July 10

“Snapchat has always been my favorite platform to post random and funny things on because it’s so relaxed,” Chamberlain said in a statement. “My favorite part about it is that I get to watch my own Snapchat Stories a few hours after I post them for entertainment…. kind of embarrassing, I know …”

Snap isn’t sharing viewership numbers around its original shows, but it does say that daily time spent watching those shows tripled over the past year.

And as media giants funnel more and more money into original video content, this might be the strategy that Snapchat needs to compete — rather than trying to find the next big-budget hit, it can focus on personality-driven shows from creators with large followings.

A91 Partners, a new VC fund from former Sequoia Capital India execs, closes $351M maiden fund

By Manish Singh

India’s growing number of startups now have one additional VC fund that will listen to their business ideas. A91 Partners, a new VC fund founded by former partners at Sequoia Capital India, has closed their maiden fund at $351 million.

A91 Partners will focus on high growth startups in consumer, technology, financial services, and healthcare sectors in India, Abhay Pandey, a partner at A91 told TechCrunch in an interview.

A91, whose maiden fund is one of the largest for any VC funds in India, will focus on early as well mid-stage startups that are looking to raise between $10 million and $30 million, Pandey said. Earlier this year, it invested about $14.2 million in Sugar, a cosmetics brand.

“In our experience, some companies get to this stage after having raised capital and some bootstrap their way into that position,” he added. Other than him, V.T. Bharadwaj, Gautam Mago, Prasun Agarwal — all former partners at Sequoia Capital India, and Kaushik Anand, formerly of CapitalG are also partners at A91. They founded the fund late last year.

The inspiration of the name comes from the country code of India, which is 91. The letter A is inspired from Ashoka, India’s greatest emperor.

“We are excited about the opportunity ahead of us and look forward to partnering with founders building enduring businesses for tomorrow’s India,” the founding members said in a statement.

“Our role in this development and growth is to partner with exceptional founders to build the next generation of enduring Indian businesses. While fulfilling this role, we aspire to build an enduring, excellent, uniquely Indian investment firm,” they said.

A91 raised about 80% of the $351 million capital from overseas investors that include foundations, endowments, family offices and fund of funds, Pandey said. Some of these include the International Finance Corporation and Asia Alternatives, as well as Adams Street and Swiss-based LGT Capital Partners.

India’s tech startups have raised more than $20 billion in the last two years. The country’s growing startup ecosystem is increasingly attracting major VC firms in the nation. SoftBank and Tiger Global, two large global VC funds, count India as one of their biggest markets.

In recent years, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook have also begun to infuse money in India’s startup space. Google has invested in delivery startup Dunzo, while Amazon has taken stake in more than half a dozen local companies. Facebook invested in social commerce app Meesho last month.

Earlier this year, Microsoft expanded its M12 corporate venture fund (formerly known as Microsoft Ventures) to India with an investment in Innovaccer, a six-year-old SaaS startup. Samsung Venture, the investment arm of the South Korean technology conglomerate, made its debut investments in Indian startups on Wednesday.

New Pinterest features encourage brands and creators to upload more videos

By Kate Clark

With each passing day, Pinterest and Instagram are looking more and more alike.

Shortly after going public, Pinterest has incorporated new features to make it easier for creators and brands to upload videos directly to the visual search engine. The company says they’ve observed a 31% increase in searches for “inspirational videos” since 2018 and that “Pinners are 54% more likely to say they’re inspired to action by videos on Pinterest compared to videos on other media platforms.”

As a result, Pinterest has introduced a new and improved video uploader, a video tab on business profiles that allows brands to feature all their videos in one place, an analytics tool to help businesses better understand and analyze their traffic and get insights into performance over time and, finally, Pinterest is allowing creators and businesses to schedule videos ahead of time with a new Pin Scheduler tool.

VideoTab

With these new features, the company is encouraging paying users to post actionable and inspirational how-to videos and tutorials tailored to Pinterest users. Because videos on Pinterest surface and resurface over time, the company explained, videos uploaded directly to Pinterest will have a longer shelf life and, in theory, more engagement than if posted to other platforms.

The brand is hopeful new tools intended to support brands and businesses will increase engagement and ad revenue on the platform.

Now a public company, Pinterest has its work cut out for it. Instagram, once just a photo-sharing application, is making it easier for its users to make purchases directly on its app. The Facebook-owned business introduced “Checkout with Instagram” earlier this year, allowing users who tap its product tags on shopping posts to buy items without leaving the app. Pinterest, for its part, introduced features to facilitate in-app shopping late last year.

In order to simplify the in-app shopping experience, Pinterest rebuilt the infrastructure behind its product pins to include up-to-date pricing and stock information, links that take pinners to the retailer’s website and a new “Products like this” category under each fashion and home decor pin.

According to TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, Instagram is also toying with the idea of launching a Pinterest-like public content curation feature called “Collections.”

Brooklinen, known for high-quality bed sheets, launches its first line of loungewear

By Catherine Shu

Brooklinen, the direct-to-consumer bed sheet brand backed by investors including FirstMark, is entering the apparel space with its first line of loungewear. The company says its designs, including tops, pants, shorts and a dress, are inspired by vintage athletic clothing and made from cotton and modal blended with spandex. Prices range from $28 for a t-shirt to $75 for jogger pants.

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The startup, whose investors also include NYU Innovation Venture Fund and Dorm Room Fund, has built its reputation around high-quality but affordable linens and is able to offer lower prices by controlling the design, manufacturing and logistics and fulfillment of its sheets, comforters, pillows and towels. It is primarily an e-commerce startup, but has also run pop-up shops. Brooklinen’s last round of funding was a $10 million Series A announced in 2017.

Nintendo Switch Lite’s trade-off of whimsy for practicality is a good one

By Darrell Etherington

Nintendo revealed a new Switch Lite version of its current-generation console today, which attaches the controllers permanently, shrinks the hardware a bit, and adds a touch more battery life – but it also takes away the ‘Switch’ part of the equation, because you can only use it handheld, instead of attached to a TV or as a unique tabletop gaming experience.

The changes mostly seem in service of brining the price down, since it will retail for $199 when it goes on sale in September. That’s $100 less than the original Switch, which is a big price cut and could open up the market for Nintendo to a whole new group of players. But it’s also a change that seems to take away a lot of what made the Switch special, including the ability to plug it into a TV for a big-screen experience, or quickly detach the Joy-Con controllers for motion-control gaming with rumble feedback.

Switch Lite makes some crucial changes that I suspect Nintendo knows are reflective of how a lot of people actually use the Switch, regardless of what the aspirational, idealized Switch customer does in Nintendo’s ads and promo materials. As mentioned, it should bump your battery life during actual gameplay – it could add an extra hour when playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for instance. And the size savings mean it’s much easier to slip in a bag when you head out on a trip.

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The new redesigned, permanently attached controllers also include a proper D-pad on the left instead of the individual circle buttons used on the Joy-Pad, and the smaller screen still outputs at the same resolution, which means things will look crisper in play.

For me, and probably for a lot of Switch users, the trade-offs made here are actually improvements that reflect 90 percent of my use of the console. I almost never play plugged into a TV, for instance – and could easily do without, since mostly I do that for one-off party game use that isn’t really all that necessary. The controller design with a D-pad is much more practical, and I have never used motion controls with my Switch for any game. Battery life means that you probably don’t need to recharge mid-trip on most short and medium-length trips, and the size savings means that when I’m packing and push comes to shove, I’m that much more likely to take the Switch Lite rather than leave it at home.

Already, some critics are decrying how this model makes the Switch ‘worse’ in almost every way, but actually I think it’s just the opposite – Nintendo may have traded away some of its trademark quirk with this version, but the result is something much more akin to how most people actually want to use a console most of the time.

Inside the GM factory where Cruise’s autonomous Bolt is made

By Kirsten Korosec

TechCrunch took a field trip to GM’s Orion Assembly plant in Michigan to get an up-close view of how this factory has evolved since the 1980s.

What we found at the plant that employs 1,100 people is an unusual sight: a batch of Cruise autonomous vehicles produced on the same line — and sandwiched in between — the Bolt electric vehicle and an internal combustion engine compact sedan, the Chevrolet Sonic.

This inside look at how autonomous vehicles are built is just one of the topics coming up at TC Sessions: Mobility, which kicked off July 10 in San Jose. The inaugural event is digging in to the present and future of transportation, from the onslaught of scooters and electric mobility to autonomous vehicle tech and even flying cars.

Techstars Detroit announces first class after major refocus

By Matt Burns

At the beginning of 2019, Techstars Mobility turned into Techstars Detroit. At the time of the announcement, Managing Director Ted Serbinski penned “the word mobility was becoming too limiting. We knew we needed to reach a broader audience of entrepreneurs who may not label themselves as mobility but are great candidates for the program.”

I always called it Techstars Detroit anyway.

With Techstars Detroit, the program is looking for startups transforming the intersection of the physical and digital worlds that can leverage the strengths of Detroit to succeed. It’s a mouthful, but makes sense. Mobility is baked into Detroit, but Detroit is more than mobility.

Today the program took the wraps off the first class of startups under the new direction.

Techstars has operated in Detroit since 2015 and has been a critical partner in helping the city rebuild. Since its launch, Serbinski and the Techstars Mobility (now Detroit) mentors have helped bring talented engineers and founders to the city.

Serbinski summed up Detroit nicely for me, saying, “No longer is Detroit telling the world how to move. The world is telling Detroit how it wants to move.” He added the incoming class represents the new Detroit, with 60% international and 40% female founders.


Airspace Link (Detroit, MI)
Providing highways in the sky for safer drone operations.

Alpha Drive (New York, NY)
Platform for the validation of autonomous vehicle AI.

Le Car (Novi, MI)
An AI-powered personal car concierge that matches you to your perfect vehicle fit.

Octane (Fremont, CA)
Octane is a mobile app that connects car enthusiasts to automotive events and to each other out on the road.

PPAP Manager (Chihuahua, Mexico)
A platform to streamline the approval of packets of documents required in the automotive industry, known as PPAP, to validate production parts.

Ruksack (Toronto, Canada)
Connecting travelers with local travel experts to help them plan a perfect trip.

Soundtrack AI (Tel Aviv, Israel)
Acoustics-based and AI-enabled Predictive Maintenance Platform.

Teporto (Tel Aviv, Israel)
Teporto is enabling a new commute modality with its one-click smart platform for transportation companies that seamlessly adapts commuter service to commuters’ needs.

Unlimited Engineering (Barcelona, Spain)
Unlimited develops modular Light Electric Vehicles as a fun, cheap and convenient solution to last-mile trips that are overserved by cars and public transportation.

Zown (Toronto, Canada)
Open up your real estate property to the new mobility marketplace.

After restructuring, Amazon’s Game Studios partners with Athlon Games on ‘Lord of the Rings’ title

By Jonathan Shieber

On the heels of its recent restructuring, Amazon Game Studios is partnering with the Los Angeles-based Athlon Games to bring the company’s free-to-play “Lord of the Rings” based multiplayer online game to market.

First announced last year by Athlon Game Studios’ Chinese parent company, Leyou Technologies, the game is set around the time of the events of the Lord of the Rings trilogy using intellectual property licensed from Middle-earth Entertainment.

Amazon Game Studios has had its ups and downs since the company first made its foray into social gaming back in 2012. More of a fast-follower of trends than a market leader, the company made a move to develop more console-friendly and PC-based game title with the acquisition of Double Helix Games in 2014 as those platforms surged in popularity.

Most recently, Amazon Studios restructured just as the industry’s largest gaming conference, E3, was winding down in Los Angeles. The division of Amazon laid off dozens of game developers just as the conference was concluding, according to the website Kotaku.

Now the Amazon subsidiary is unveiling its involvement with the LA-based Athlon Games studio, which will see it jointly develop the game for PC and consoles and market and publish the title everywhere except China.

“We’re committed to bringing customers games of the highest quality, both with our own original IP as well as beloved cultural pillars like The Lord of the Rings,” said Christoph Hartmann, VP, Amazon Game Studios, in a statement. “Tolkien’s Middle-earth is one of the richest fictional worlds in history, and it gives our team of experienced MMO developers — from the same studio developing New World — tremendous opportunity to play and create. We have a strong leadership team in place to helm this new project, and we’re actively growing our team to help build this incredible experience.”

This will mark the second launch of a console game from Amazon Game Studios, which released The Grand Tour Game last year for PlayStation and Xbox — and also recently completed a test for its massively multiplayer online title, New World, which is set in an alternate 17th Century timeline.

The new Middle Earth game isn’t Amazon’s only “Lord of the Rings” title coming out. The company’s film and television division, Amazon Studios, is developing a new Amazon Original series based on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien.

The series will be a prequel focusing on the history that led to the events in the original Tolkien trilogy, according to the website Den of Geek.

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YL Ventures, a specialist in Israeli cybersecurity startups, has closed its fourth fund with $120 million

By Connie Loizos

YL Ventures, a 12-year-old, Mill Valley, Ca-based, seed-stage venture firm that invests narrowly in Israeli cybersecurity startups, just closed its fourth fund with $120 million in capital commitments, bringing the total capital it now manages to $260 million.

It’s an interesting firm in numerous ways that set it apart from many of its similar-size peers. Most meaningfully, though it backs founders at the earliest stages, it doesn’t spread its bets as do many seed-stage outfits, instead funding just two to three teams each year. That means it will spread its newest fund across an estimated 10 companies.

It’s a concentrated approach, and one that seems very much to be working. YL Ventures was the biggest shareholder in the container security startup Twistlock, for example, which sold to Palo Alto Networks last month for $410 million. Twistlock had raised $63 million altogether. YL Ventures wrote the company a $2 million check to start, then invested another $10 million over its four-year run as an independent company.

YL Ventures was also the biggest outside shareholder in Hexadite, an Israeli startup that used AI to identify and protect against attacks and that sold two years ago to Microsoft for a reported $100 million.

A more recent bet is on Orca Security, an Israeli startup led by two former Check Point Security executives that’s trying to solve the problem of securing applications in the cloud without an agent. Orca recently announced a $6.5 million seed round led by YL Ventures; what wasn’t reported at the time was just how much YL Ventures invested: $6.1 million.

Worth noting: almost all of founders in YL Ventures’s portfolio have not only served in the Israel Defense Forces but specifically within its 8200 Unit, an elite part of the organization that has become the training ground for some of the buzziest cybersecurity companies in the world. It reportedly accepts less than 1 out of every 100 high school graduates; venture firms with a cybersecurity focus then try and cherry-pick among these when their service is completed.

We talked with firm founder Yoav Leitersdorf recently about his 12-person firm, which is funded by family offices and ultra-high-net-worth individuals from largely the U.S., Europe, and São Paulo, Brazil, he says — relationships he says he can trace back to a handful of relationships struck in 2007. (As a serial entrepreneur who was ready at the time to try his hand at investing, Leitersdorf says he “went to some people I knew for capital, and they introduced me to their friends.”)

Leitersdorf also has demonstrated a penchant for networking in another way, too. To help vet teams that interest YL Ventures, the firm has formed a venture advisory board that’s comprised of more than 50 security pros from heavyweight companies, including Andy Ellis, who is the CSO of Akamai; Adam Ely, who is the Deputy CISO of Walmart; Netflix’s Director of Security, Brooks Evans; Rob Guertsen, the Deputy Information Security Officer at Nike; and Spotify’s head of security, David Hannigan.

Not only does this network get a look at what’s brewing in Israel, but they help steer YL Ventures to the startups that most directly address their own pain points.

They can also be helpful in getting Israeli entrepreneurs to cross over from Israel into the U.S., which is also very much a part of YL Ventures’s strategy. As Leitersdorf explains it, the “companies originate in Israel, but within a year, the CEO and some of the management team move to the U.S. and we help them build sales and market and hand all their follow-on funding.” This oftentimes includes introductions to frequent syndicate partners like Bessemer Venture Partners, USVP, and ICONIQ Capital.

We asked Leitersdorf what — beyond experience in the IDF, beyond the feedback of its advisory board members — YL Ventures looks for in a promising startup and he says, unsurprisingly, the team, but more specifically, their experience.

“Most of our founders have spent five to 10 years in the industry already,” he says, including at Microsoft or the network security company RSA or at Check Point, the Israel-based software giant. “They’re fairly mature, with the average age in the late 30s.” They also address a space that YL Ventures cares deeply about based on what its venture advisors tell the firm is a huge need.

“Then, when a team comes through, we try to steer them into those areas.”

YL Ventures closed its first fund in 2007 with $17.2 million, its second in 2013 with $41.5 million, and its third with $75 million in 2017.

Leitersdorf leads the firm from the U.S., alongside another partner, John Brennan. the firm also has an office in Tel Aviv headed by partner Ofer Schreiber.

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