Resilience, a new biopharmaceutical company backed by $800 million in financing from investors including ARCH Venture Partners and 8VC, has emerged from stealth to transform the way that drugs and therapies are manufactured in the U.S.
Founded by ARCH Venture Partners investor Robert Nelsen, National Resilience Inc., which does business as Resilience was born out of Nelsen’s frustrations with the inept American response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a statement the company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.
Resilience’s founders identified problems in the therapeutic manufacturing process as one of the key problems that the industry faces in bringing new treatments to market — and that hurdle is exactly what the company was founded to overcome.
“COVID-19 has exposed critical vulnerabilities in medical supply chains, and today’s manufacturing can’t keep up with scientific innovation, medical discovery, and the need to rapidly produce and distribute critically important drugs at scale. We are committed to tackling these huge problems with a whole new business model,” said Nelsen in a statement.
The company brings together some of the leading investment firms in healthcare and biosciences including operating partners from Flagship Pioneering like Rahul Singhvi, who will serve as the company’s chief executive’ former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a partner at New Enterprise Associates and director on the Resilience board; and Patrick Yang, the former executive vice president and global head of technical operations at Roche/Genentech .
“It is critical that we adopt solutions that will protect the manufacturing supply chain, and provide more certainty around drug development and the ability to scale up the manufacturing of safe, effective but also more complex products that science is making possible,” said Dr. Gottlieb, in a statement. “RESILIENCE will enable these solutions by combining cutting edge technology, an unrivaled pool of talent, and the industry’s first shared service business model. Similar to Amazon Web Services, RESILIENCE will empower drug developers with the tools to more fully align discovery, development, and manufacturing; while offering new opportunities to invest in downstream innovations in formulation and manufacturing earlier, while products are still being conceived and developed.”
Other heavy hitters in the world of medicine and biotechnology who are working with the company include Frances Arnold, the Nobel Prize-winning professor from the California Institute of Technology; George Barrett, the former chief executive of Cardinal Health; Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the former president of product development at Genentech; Kaye Foster, the former vice president of human resources at Johnson and Johnson; and Denice Torres, the former President of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical and Consumer Companies.
The UK has announced a massive boost in defense spending — £16.5 billion ($21.8BN) over four years, the biggest such spending bump for 30 years — in what prime minister Boris Johnson has described as a “once in a generation modernization” of the UK’s armed forces and “the end of the era of retreat” on funding for defense.
Overall the UK prime minister said the spending hike will create 40,000 jobs, adding that it will cement the country’s position as the biggest military defense spender in Europe and the second largest in NATO after the US.
Johnson said the focus for investment will be on cutting edge technologies that can “revolutionize” warfare — implying a major role for artificial intelligence and sensor-laden connected hardware in “forging our military assets into a single network designed to overcome the enemy”, as he put it in a statement to parliament, setting out the first conclusions from an the (ongoing) review of security, defense, development and foreign policy.
“A soldier in hostile territory will be alerted to a distant ambush by sensors or satellites or drones instantly transmitting a warning using artificial intelligence to device the optimal response and offering an array of options — from summoning an air strike to ordering a swarm attack by drones, or paralyzing the enemy with cyber weapons,” he told the House of Commons today, speaking via video conference as he continues to self isolate following a coronavirus contact.
“New advances will surmount the old limits of logistics,” Johnson went on, fleshing out the rational for spending on upgrading military technology. “Our warships and combat vehicles will carry directed energy weapons — destroying targets with inexhaustible lasers. And for them the phrase out of ammunition will become redundant.”
“Nations are racing to master this new doctrine of warfare and our investment is designed to place Britain among the winners,” he added.
The review sets out at least £1.5BN extra — and £5.8BN total — spending on military R&D which Johnson said would be “designed to master the new technologies of warfare”.
There will also be a new R&D center set up with a dedicated focus on artificial intelligence, he added.
An RAF Space Command center is also in the works — with the aim of launching British satellites including the UK’s first rocket from Scotland in 2022.
While the airforce will get new fighter system which Johnson said will incorporate AI and drone technology.
Johnson also confirmed the existence of a National Cyber Force — a joint unit consisting of personnel from the UK’s intelligence agencies and military personnel which runs cyberops targeting terrorism, organized crime and hostile foreign state actors.
He suggested the hike in military spending on emerging technologies will filter down into wider societal tech gains, telling MPs: “The returns will go far beyond our armed forces — from aerospace to autonomous vehicles — these technologies have a vast array of civilian applications, opening up new vistas of economic progress.”
Responding to Johnson’s statement, the leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, welcomed the announcement of increased spending for defense and armed forces — but accused the government of issuing another “press release without a strategy — pointing out that successive Conservative governments have eroded defense spending over the past ten years.
“This is a spending announcement without a strategy. The government has yet again pushed back vital parts of the integrated review and there’s no clarity over the government’s strategic priorities,” said Starmer, going on to query how the spending hike would be funded, given the economic crunch facing the UK as a result of the pandemic — asking whether it will require tax rises or cuts to public spending elsewhere, such as to the international development budget.
Starmer also raised the awkward matter of the Russia report — wondering why Johnson’s government has not acted on the “urgent” national security risks identified there.
The report, by parliament’s intelligence and security committee, found the UK lacks a comprehensive and cohesive strategy to respond to the cyber threat posed by Russia and other hostile states that are deploying online disinformation and influence ops to target democratic institutions and values.
It also sounded the alarm about how much Russian money is finding its way into UK political party coffers.
“The prime minister speaks of tackling global security threats, improving cyber capability — and that is all welcome, and we welcome it — but four months after the intelligence and security committee published its report concluding that Russia posed… an immediate and urgent threat to our national security,” noted Starmer.
Replying, Johnson dodged all Starmer’s questions — branding his criticisms “humbug [that] takes the cake” and opting to attack the Labour leader for having served under the party’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who did not support increasing UK defense spending.
Natalie Portman and John Legend are joining a group of venture capitalists and unnamed fashion brands backing MycoWorks, a company that just raised $45 million to commercialize its technology that makes a fungal-based biomaterial that can replace leather.
The goal is to get consumers to trade in their leather and lizard skin couture for some fungus fashion.
The company said it has inked some deals with big fashion brands as partners as it looks to bring its funky fungus to the masses in shoes, wallets, belts and other goods that traditionally use cowhide or other animal skins.
“We have been working with a few luxury brands and a major footwear manufacturer in very close collaboration,” said Matt Scullin, the chief executive officer at MycoWorks .
The unnamed fashion brands have already started producing products for stores in a range of items including shoes, ready to wear apparel and bags, according to Scullin.
MycoWorks likes to differentiate itself from other brands that want to bring a fungus among us or plant new plant-based fabrics in fashion — companies like Bolt Threads (mushrooms), Ananas Anam (pineapple fibers), and Desserto (cactus leather) — with its emphasis on the durability of its fabric.
“We’ve had the product tested in a huge range of different applications of various leather-based apparel to upholstery to standard leather goods like handbags and wallets. The key difference between our material and mushroom leather is that the structural components is so high,” Scullin said. “We’re confident in the material’s ability to perform in a really wide range of applications so there’s a wide range of uses for that.”
To that end, MycoWorks is focused on the high-end of the market. “There’s a misconception that brands are willing to sacrifice performance for sustainability and that’s not true,” Scullin said. “The real adoption occurs in an industry like this when the performance is there.”
Scullin won’t say how much the MycoWorks material costs nor would he talk about which specific companies are working with the company’s product right now. He did say that the company hopes eventually to be price competitive with not just the traditional leather market, but the plastic market for leather replacements, which is worth $70 billion per-year alone.
With the company’s current capacity it can produce tens of thousands of square feet of fungal material per yar, according to Scullin. That means MycoWorks still has a long way to go to catch up to an industry that produces billions of square feet of leather.
The funding for MycoWorks is impressive, but it also has to contend with some competitors that are getting traction of their own in the fashion industry.
In October, Bolt Threads announced the creation of a consortium alongside longtime partners Adidas, Stella McCartney and the fashion house behind brands like Balenciaga to explore mushroom leather-based products.
For MycoWorks investors — including WTT Investment Ltd. (Taipei, Taiwan), DCVC Bio, Valor Equity Partners, Humboldt Fund, Gruss & Co., Novo Holdings, 8VC, SOSV, AgFunder, Wireframe Ventures and Tony Faddell — the competition is expected. But they believe that MycoWorks functionality makes it the king (oyster) of the leather substitute world.
“Fine mycelial leather is customizable to client needs,” said DCVC Bio investor Kiersten Stead. “[It’s] customizable in terms of shape, and application. And prices will vary depending on what the application and the criteria from customers is.”
In all, MycoWorks has raised $62 million and the company’s new financing announcement coincides with the opening of a new Emeryville, California production plant that takes its capacity up to its current tens-of-thousands of feet of fungal leather replacement capacity.
Behind all of this push to find replacements for animal skins is a growing awareness of the problems associated with traditional methods for manufacturing leather for clothes and shoes. It’s a terribly toxic and polluting process, both in the tanning and dyeing and in the waste and landfilling associated with both animal leather and its plastic replacements.
“The process of growing the mycelium is carbon negative. Customers will look at [our product] versus an animal hide and say why wouldn’t I choose [that],” said Sculin. “In addition you have the non-animal aspects and the plastic-free aspects that are driving so many decisions right now… what we really are to our brand partners is an advanced manufacturing company. We are motivated by sustainability. We represent a way for them to change their supply chains.”
Arrikto, a startup that wants to speed up the machine learning development lifecycle by allowing engineers and data scientists to treat data like code, is coming out of stealth today and announcing a $10 million Series A round. The round was led by Unusual Ventures, with Unusual’s John Vrionis joining the board.
“Our technology at Arrikto helps companies overcome the complexities of implementing and managing machine learning applications,” Arrikto CEO and co-founder Constantinos Venetsanopoulos explained. “We make it super easy to set up end-to-end machine learning pipelines. More specifically, we make it easy to build, train, deploy ML models into production using Kubernetes and intelligent intelligently manage all the data around it.”
Like so many developer-centric platforms today, Arrikto is all about “shift left.” Currently, the team argues, machine learning teams and developer teams don’t speak the same language and use different tools to build models and to put them into production.
“Much like DevOps shifted deployment left, to developers in the software development life cycle, Arrikto shifts deployment left to data scientists in the machine learning life cycle,” Venetsanopoulos explained.
Arrikto also aims to reduce the technical barriers that still make implementing machine learning so difficult for most enterprises. Venetsanopoulos noted that just like Kubernetes showed businesses what a simple and scalable infrastructure could look like, Arrikto can show them what a simpler ML production pipeline can look like — and do so in a Kubernetes-native way.
At the core of Arrikto is Kubeflow, the Google -incubated open-source machine learning toolkit for Kubernetes — and in many ways, you can think of Arrikto as offering an enterprise-ready version of Kubeflow. Among other projects, the team also built MiniKF to run Kubeflow on a laptop and uses Kale, which lets engineers build Kubeflow pipelines from their JupyterLab notebooks.
As Venetsanopoulos noted, Arrikto’s technology does three things: it simplifies deploying and managing Kubeflow, allows data scientists to manage it using the tools they already know, and it creates a portable environment for data science that enables data versioning and data sharing across teams and clouds.
While Arrikto has stayed off the radar since it launched out of Athens, Greece in 2015, the founding team of Venetsanopoulos and CTO Vangelis Koukis already managed to get a number of large enterprises to adopt its platform. Arrikto currently has more than 100 customers and, while the company isn’t allowed to name any of them just yet, Venetsanopoulos said they include one of the largest oil and gas companies, for example.
And while you may not think of Athens as a startup hub, Venetsanopoulos argues that this is changing and there is a lot of talent there (though the company is also using the funding to build out its sales and marketing team in Silicon Valley). “There’s top-notch talent from top-notch universities that’s still untapped. It’s like we have an unfair advantage,” he said.
Apple brought back actor John Hodgman for a brief cameo in today’s Arm-based Mac launch event, reprising his role as the dorky “I’m a PC” character, now tasked with poking fun at Intel-based PCs in the face of an Apple silicon future for the company.
The short slot aired following the end of Tuesday’s “One More Thing” event where they showed off their new M1 chip and new designs for their upcoming MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. Hodgman’s character appeared in a white room amid the vintage ad campaign’s signature tune, while touching on some of the new machines’ advances in power management.
There was notably no cameo from Justin Long, and it’s unclear whether Hodgman’s appearance will only grace today’s event or whether Apple has plans for a throwback ad campaign. Nevertheless, it was a fun nod to a popular campaign from Apple.
You can catch the appearance below at the 45:27 mark.
“More than 50% of our founders still are in their current jobs,” said John Vrionis, co-founder of seed-stage fund Unusual Ventures.
The fund, which closed a $400 million investment vehicle in November 2019, has noticed that more and more startup employees are thinking about entrepreneurship as the pandemic has shown how much room there is for new innovation. To gain a competitive advantage, Unusual is investing small checks into founders before they’re full-time.
Unusual, which cuts an average of eight checks per year into seed-stage companies, isn’t doling out millions to every employee who decides to leave Stripe. The firm is conservative with its spending and takes a more focused approach, often embedding a member from the firm into a portfolio company. It’s not meant to scale to dozens of portfolio companies a year, but instead requires a methodical approach.
One with a healthy pipeline of companies to choose from.
In an Extra Crunch Live chat, Vrionis and Sarah Leary, co-founder of Nextdoor and the firm’s newest partner, said lightweight investing matters in the early days of a company.
“There were a lot of teams that needed capital to start the journey, but frankly, it would have been over burdensome if they took on $2 or $3 million,” Leary said. “[New founders] want to be in a place where they have enough money to get going but not too much money that they get locked into a ladder in terms of expectations that they’re not ready to take advantage of.” The checks that Unusual cuts in pre-seed often range between $100,000 to half a million dollars.
Leary chalks up the boom to the disruption in consumer behavior, which opens up the opportunity for new companies to win.
Invoca, which helps companies extract and use data from customer phone calls, is expanding today with the launch of products for e-commerce, customer experience and sales teams, as well as a new Invoca Exchange, where businesses can find all of the platform’s third-party integrations.
The company is making these announcements as part of its virtual Invoca Summit. Ahead of the event, CEO Gregg Johnson (previously an executive at Salesforce) told me that customers have been asking Invoca to expand beyond its previous focus on providing “conversation intelligence” to marketing teams.
“‘We need to get aligned on how we support the revenue journey,'” Johnson recalled businesses telling him. “We were already going down this path, but when COVID hit, we tripled down on it.”
He argued that the data that Invoca provides has become even more important during the pandemic and related lockdowns, when businesses only had “two sources of feedback” — digital interactions and customer conversations. And while there are plenty of analytics tools for tracking online behavior, Johnson said, “Customer conversations are really important because they get at why” people are behaving in a certain way.
And at the same time, Johnson said call center teams have had to shift to working at home, which meant that they had to switch to online software and “everything broke,” while supervisors “no longer had any visibility into how agents were performing.”
Image Credits: Invoca
Invoca is trying to address these issues by making sure that marketing, sales, customer experience and e-commerce teams all have access to the same call data.
For example, he said that agents at Invoca customer BBQGuys need data to understand what products to recommend for their customers if the specific grill that they want isn’t available. Or a healthcare provider might use call data to predict and prepare when COVID cases might be rising in their area.
“We’ve always viewed ourselves as an application and a platform,” Johnson added. “We already give you ability to use this data at Invoca to automatically apply these insights without any human intervention at all. So for us, we thought through use cases to feed this data into other tools and created four solutions … that are really joined at the hip.”
Invoca for eCommerce, Invoca for Customer Experience and the existing Invoca for Marketing product are all available now, while Invoca for Sales is currently signing up beta testers for November.
The Invoca Exchange, meanwhile, already includes more than 40 integrations, including Google, Salesforce, Facebook, Adobe, Tealium, and Five9. The company is also announcing new partnerships with FullStory and Criteo.
The Unusual Ventures team has investments spanning the consumer and enterprise space, including Robinhood, AppDynamics, Mulesoft, Winnie and more. That short list could be the basis for a fascinating chat, but I also want to hear their thoughts on the democratization of venture capital, their appetite ahead of the election and the future of remote work. A big goal of mine is to squash some of the buzzwords we hear on tech Twitter so we can get an honest take on where one VC firm is sitting right now in a chaotic year.
As we wrote last week, this year has been everything but business as usual for the venture and tech community. And we still have an election ahead of us! I’ll ask Leary and Vrionis to share their framework for working through a looming event such as a presidential election and get their ideas on how early-stage is working more broadly.
Thanks to all of you who have joined us for our ongoing live chat series, which has brought on big names in tech such as Sydney Sykes, Alexia von Tobel, Mark Cuban and more (all recordings are still accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers to watch and learn from).
If you’re new, welcome! You’ll be able to ask our experts questions live as long as you’re an EC member (sign up for Extra Crunch here).
Come hang, bring snacks and prep some good questions. We’d love to have you.
Below are links so you can make it:
Khosla Ventures, the eponymous venture firm helmed by longtime Silicon Valley rainmaker, Vinod Khosla, is raising $1.1 billion for its latest venture fund, according to documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The filing was first spotted by Ari Levy over at CNBC.
Khosla Ventures files to raise $1.1 billion fund.
Some beach reading: https://t.co/eKXq92kDMP
— Ari Levy (@levynews) October 14, 2020
Khosla, whose investing career began at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (back when it was still called Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers) is rightly famous for a number of bets on enterprise software companies and was a richly rewarded co-founder of Sun Microsystems before venturing into the world of venture capital.
Like his former partner, John Doerr, Khosla also went all-in on renewable energy and sustainability both at Kleiner Perkins and then later at his own fund, which he reportedly launched with several hundreds of millions of dollars from his personal fortune.
Over the years Khosla Ventures has placed bets and scored big wins across a wide range of industries including cybersecurity (with the over $1 billion acquisition of portfolio company Cylance), sustainability (with the Climate Corp. acquisition), and healthcare (through the public offering of Editas).
And the current portfolio should also have some big exits with a roster that includes: the unicorn lending company, Affirm; the nuclear fusion technology developer, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (maybe not a winner, but so so so cool); delivery company, DoorDash; the meat replacement maker, Impossible Foods; grocery delivery service, Instacart; security technology developer, Okta; the health insurance provider, Oscar; and the payment companies Square and Stripe .
That’s quite a string of unicorn (and would-be unicorn) investments. And it speaks to the breadth of the firm’s interests that run the gamut from healthcare to fintech to sustainability and the future of food.
Khosla will likely benefit from the surge of interest in investments that adhere to new environmental, social responsibility and corporate governance standards.
There are billions of dollars that are looking for a home that can invest along those criteria, and for the last 16 years or so, that’s exactly what Khosla Ventures has been doing.
This year has been everything but business as usual for the venture and tech community. And we still have a presidential election ahead of us.
So, why not listen to the aptly-named experts over at Unusual Ventures? Partners Sarah Leary (co-founder of Nextdoor) and John Vrionis, formerly of Lightspeed Ventures Partners, will join us on Tuesday, October 20 on the Extra Crunch Live virtual stage.
Thanks to all of you who have joined us for our series of live discussions that has included tech leaders like Sydney Sykes, Alexia von Tobel, Mark Cuban and many others (all recordings are still accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers to watch and learn from).
If you’re new, welcome! You’ll have a chance to participate in the live discussion if you have an Extra Crunch subscription.
Unusual Ventures’ investments span the consumer and enterprise space, including companies like Robinhood, AppDynamics, Mulesoft and Winnie.
For this chat, I plan to spend some time talking to Leary and Vrionis about how early-stage venture capital has changed with the rise of rolling funds, community funds and syndicates. Unusual Ventures claims “there’s an enormous opportunity to raise the bar on what seed-stage investors provide for early-stage founders,” so we’ll get into that opportunity as well.
And if we have time, we’ll discuss remote work, building in public and the U.S. presidential election.
So, what are you waiting for? Add the deets to your calendar (below the jump!) and join me next Tuesday.
The company said that starting today, members of its Waymo One service will be able to take family and friends along on their fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. Existing Waymo One members will have the first access to the driverless rides — terminology that means no human behind the wheel. However, the company said that in the next several weeks more people will be welcomed directly into the service through its app, which is available on Google Play and the App Store.
Waymo said that 100% of its rides will be fully driverless — which it has deemed its “rider only” mode. That 100% claim requires a bit of unpacking. The public shouldn’t expect hundreds of Waymo-branded Chrysler Pacifica minivans — no human behind the wheel — to suddenly inundate the entire 600-plus square miles of the greater Phoenix area.
Waymo has abut 600 vehicles in its fleet. About 300 to 400 of those are in the Phoenix area. Waymo wouldn’t share exact numbers of how many of these vehicles would be dedicated to driverless rides. However, Waymo CEO John Krafcik explained to TechCrunch in a recent interview that there will be various modes operating in the Phoenix area. Some of these will be “rider only,” while other vehicles will still have trained safety operators behind the wheel. Some of the fleet will also be used for testing.
“We’re just ready from every standpoint,” Krafcik told TechCrunch. “And how do we know we’re ready? We’ve had our wonderful group of early riders, who’ve helped us hone the service, obviously not from a safety standpoint because we’ve had the confidence on the safety side for some time, but rather more for the fit of the product itself.” He added that these early riders helped the company determine if the product was “delivering satisfaction and delight for them.”
Later this year, Waymo will relaunch rides with a trained vehicle operator to add capacity and allow us to serve a larger geographical area. Krafcik said the company is in the process of adding in-vehicle barriers between the front row and rear passenger cabin for in-vehicle hygiene and safety.
Waymo operates in about a 100-square-mile area. The driverless or “rider only” service area that will be offered to Waymo One members is about 50 square miles, Krafcik said.
Despite the various caveats, this is still a milestone — one of many the company has achieved in the past decade. The past five years has been particularly packed, starting with Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, taking the “first: driverless ride in the company’s Firefly prototype on Austin’s city streets in 2015. More than a dozen journalists experienced driverless rides in 2017 on a closed course at Waymo’s testing facility in Castle. Then last November, TechCrunch took one of the first driverless rides in a Waymo Pacifica minivan along the public streets of a Phoenix suburb.
The company scaled its commercial product even as these demos and testing continued. In 2017, Waymo launched its early rider program, which let vetted members of the public, who had signed non-disclosure agreements, hail its self-driving cars in the Phoenix area. Those autonomous vehicles all had human safety operators behind the wheel.
Waymo then launched Waymo One, a self-driving ride-hailing service aimed for public use, no NDA strings attached. But again, those rides all had human safety operators in the driver’s seat, ready to take over if needed. Waymo slowly moved its early rider program members into the more open Waymo One service. It also started experimenting with charging for rides and expanded its footprint — or geofenced service area. Today, the company charges for rides across all of its programs (early rider and Waymo One) in the Phoenix area. The Waymo One service (with human safety operators) is about 100 square miles in Phoenix suburbs like Chandler.
The first meaningful signs that Waymo was ready to put people in vehicles without human safety operators popped up last fall when members of its early rider program received an email indicating that driverless rides would soon become available.
And they did. These driverless rides were limited and free. And importantly, still fell under the early rider program, which had that extra NDA protection. Waymo slowly scaled until about 5 to 10% of its total rides in 2020 were fully driverless for its exclusive group of early riders under NDA. Then COVID-19 hit and the service was halted. The company has continued testing with its safety drivers in Arizona and California. That has raised some concerns among those workers about the dual issue of catching COVID and dealing with air quality issues caused by wildfires in California.
Waymo said it has added new safety protocols due to COVID-19, including requiring users to wear masks, having hand sanitizer in all vehicles and conducting what Krafcik described as a cabin flush — essentially a four to five-time increase in air volume sent through the vehicle — after every ride.
Krafcik also said Waymo will soon add the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace to the mix, first testing them on public roads and then adding the vehicles to the early rider program.
Updated: The company charges for all rides now in Phoenix.
Diesel engines are the workhorses of freight transportation and agriculture — and by extension keep the economy fed and well supplied. They also have a dirty side.
The founders of ClearFlame Engine Technologies, a four-year-old startup based in Geneva, Illinois, say they have found a way to clean them up.
The company, which participated in TechCrunch Disrupt’s 2020 Startup Battlefield competition, has developed a novel way to get diesel style engines to operate on renewable fuels like ethanol. The technology essentially combines the performance benefits of the diesel engine design with the low costs and the low emissions associated with these alternative fuels, co-founder and CEO BJ Johnson said in a recent interview with TechCrunch.
By replacing 100% of the petroleum fuel with a decarbonized fuel like ethanol, ClearFlame says its technology reduces net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40%, and reduces particulate matter and smog (NOx) to near zero levels.
ClearFlame isn’t redesigning the diesel engine. Instead, Johnson and co-founder and CTO Julie Blumreiter have developed a way to modify the internal components of the engine to alter its thermodynamics to be able to quickly ignite and combust decarbonized fuels. The company’s technology means 80% to 90% of the diesel engine parts remain unchanged, according to Johnson.
The upshot is a technology that provides a fast and low cost way to reduce emissions, Johnson told TechCrunch. It’s the kind of solution that companies might need as local, state and national governments tighten emissions regulations.
The technology can be retrofitted into existing older diesel engines or applied to new engines that have yet to be installed in trucks or used in other industrial applications. ClearFlame is aiming to work directly with the engine manufacturer, which will still give the company access to the secondary market because every OEM has its own aftermarket parts group, Johnson said.
“We want to leverage their supply chain, their ability to scale and reach these markets, and the trusted name that comes with them,” Johnson said, explaining the company’s reasoning for targeting OEMs.
The technology was first developed in a Stanford University lab, where Blumreiter and Johnson earned their Ph.D. degrees. At Stanford, they were focused mostly on ethanol and methanol, which are simple liquid alcohols. However, Johnson noted that further research has shown that the same concept works equally well on natural gas and ammonia.
“The big difference here is that you have to tweak the injection system if you want to move away from a regular ambient liquid fuel,” Johnson said. “There’s just a ton of business value in being able to run an engine efficiently and cleanly on a fuel that just sits in a glass at ambient conditions, which is what those alcohols do.”
ClearFlame has already made headway with its technology, including landing partnerships and raising capital. The company completed a proof-of-concept demonstration of their technology on a Caterpillar engine at Argonne National Laboratory. ClearFlame is also conducting a demonstration on a Cummins engine platform supported by funding from the Department of Energy.
In April, ClearFlame announced it raised $3 million in a round led by CleanEnergy Ventures. The company has also landed several million dollars in grant money, including Small Business Innovation Research awards from the National Science Foundation, DOE and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When you look at the Asia-Pacific (APAC) regional cloud infrastructure numbers, it would be easy to think that one of the Chinese cloud giants, particularly Alibaba, would be the leader in that geography, but new numbers from Synergy Research show Amazon leading across the region overall, which generated $9 billion in revenue in Q2.
The only exception to Amazon’s dominance was in China where Alibaba leads the way with Tencent and Baidu coming in second and third respectively. As Synergy’s John Dinsdale points out, China has its own unique market dynamics, and while Amazon leads in other APAC sub-regions, it remains competitive..
“China is a unique market and remains dominated by local companies, but beyond China there is strong competition between a range of global and local companies. Amazon is the leader in four of the five sub-regions, but it is not the market leader in every country,” he explained in a statement.
Image Credits: Synergy Research
The $9 billion in revenue across the region in Q2 represents less the a third of the more than $30 billion generated in the worldwide market in the quarter, but the APAC cloud market is still growing at over 40% per year. It’s also worth pointing out as a means of comparison that Amazon alone generated more than the entire APAC region with $10.81 billion in cloud infrastructure revenue in Q2.
While Dinsdale sees room for local vendors to grow, he says that the global nature of the cloud market in general, makes it difficult for these players to compete with the largest companies, especially as they try to expand outside their markets.
“The challenge for local players is that in most ways cloud is a truly global market, requiring global presence, leading edge technology, strong brand name and credibility, extremely deep pockets and a long-term focus. For any local cloud companies looking to expand significantly beyond their home market, that is an extremely challenging proposition,” Dinsdale said in a statement.
In the first part of my outline on the company, I explained the scope of Unity’s multidimensional business, its R&D efforts and competitive positioning, and its grand vision for interactive 3D content across every industry.
In the conclusion, I’ll dig into Unity’s financials and how it is marketing its public listing before turning to discuss the bear and bull cases for its future.
The geographical source of Unity’s revenue in 2019 was:
Unlike many other Western tech companies, Unity operates freely in China.
In Part 1, I explained each of Unity’s seven main revenue streams. During the first half of 2020, revenue by segment broke down to:
The S-1 discloses that less than 10% of overall revenue is from “newer products and services, such as Vivox and deltaDNA” (referencing key 2019 acquisitions for its Operate segment).
Some takeaways from this data:
Unity Software Inc. is set to list on the New York Stock Exchange this month, following its S-1 filing two weeks ago. The 16-year-old tech company is universally known within the gaming industry and largely unknown outside of it. But Unity has been expanding beyond gaming, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into a massive bet to be an underlying platform for humanity’s future in a world where interactive 3D media stretches from our entertainment experiences and consumer applications to office and manufacturing workflows.
Much of the press about Unity’s S-1 filing mischaracterizes the business. Unity is easily misunderstood because most people who aren’t (game) developers don’t know what a game engine actually does, because Unity has numerous revenue streams, and because Unity and the competitor it is most compared to — Epic Games — only partially overlap in their businesses.
Last year, I wrote an in-depth guide to Unity’s founding and rise in popularity, interviewing more than 20 top executives in San Francisco and Copenhagen, plus many other professionals in the industry. In this two-part guide to get up to speed on the company, I’ll explain Unity’s business, where it is positioned in the market, what its R&D is focused on and how game engines are eating the world as they gain adoption across other industries.
In part two, I’ll analyze Unity’s financials, explain how the company has positioned itself in the S-1 to earn a higher valuation and outline both the bear and bull cases for its future.
For those in the gaming industry who are familiar with Unity, the S-1 might surprise you in a few regards. The Asset Store is a much smaller business that you might think, Unity is more of an enterprise software company than a self-service platform for indie devs and advertising solutions appear to make up the largest segment of Unity’s revenue.
Unity’s origin and core business is as a game engine, software that is similar to Adobe Photoshop, but used instead for editing games and creating interactive 3D content. Users import digital assets (often from Autodesk’s Maya) and add logic to guide each asset’s behavior, character interactions, physics, lighting and countless other factors that create fully interactive games. Creators then export the final product to one or more of the 20 platforms Unity supports, such as Apple iOS and Google Android, Xbox and Playstation, Oculus Quest and Microsoft HoloLens, etc.
In this regard, Unity is more comparable to Adobe and Autodesk — than to game studios or publishers like Electronic Arts and Zynga.
Since John Riccitiello took over as CEO from co-founder David Helgason in 2014, Unity has expanded beyond its game engine and has organized activities into two divisions: Create Solutions (i.e., tools for content creation) and Operate Solutions (i.e., tools for managing and monetizing content). There are seven noteworthy revenue streams overall:
Aside from these three product categories, Unity is reporting another group of content creation offerings separately in the S-1 as “Strategic Partnerships & Other” (which accounts for further 9% of revenue):
Unity is compared most frequently to Epic Games, the company behind the other leading game engine, Unreal. Below is a quick overview of the products and services that differentiate each company. The cost of switching game engines is meaningful in that developers are typically specialized in one or the other and can take months to gain high proficiency in another, but some teams do vary the engine they use for different projects. Moving an existing game (or other project) over to a new game engine is a major undertaking that requires extensive rebuilding.
Epic has three main businesses: game development, the Epic Games Store, and the Unreal Engine.
Epic’s core is in developing its own games and the vast majority of Epic’s $4.2 billion in 2019 revenue came from that (principally, from Fortnite).
The Epic Games Store is a consumer-facing marketplace for gamers to purchase and download games; game developers pay Epic a 12.5% cut of their sales.
In those two areas of business, Unity and Epic don’t compete. While much of the press about Unity’s IPO frames Epic’s current conflict with Apple as an opportunity for Unity, it is largely irrelevant. A court order prevented Apple from blocking iOS apps made with Unreal in retaliation for Epic trying to skirt Apple’s 30% cut of in-app purchases in Fortnite. Unity doesn’t have any of its own apps in the App Store and doesn’t have a consumer-facing store for games. It’s already the default choice of game engine for anyone building a game for iOS or Android, and it’s not feasible to switch the engine of an existing game, so Epic’s conflict does not create much of a new market opening.
Let’s compare the Unity and Unreal engine:
Origins: Unreal was Epic’s proprietary engine for the 1998 game Unreal and was licensed to other PC and console studios and became its own business as a result of its popularity. Unity launched as an engine for indie developers building Mac games, an underserved niche, and expanded to other emerging market segments considered irrelevant by the core gaming industry: small indie studios, mobile developers, AR & VR games. Unity exploded in global popularity as the main engine for mobile games.
Programming Language: Based in the C++ programming language, Unreal requires more extensive programming than Unity (which requires programming in C#) but enables more customization, which in turn enables higher performance.
Core Markets: Unreal is much more popular among PC and console game developers; it is oriented toward bigger, high-performance projects by professionals. That said, it is establishing itself firmly in AR and VR and proved with Fortnite it can take a console and PC game cross-platform to mobile. Unity dominates in mobile games — now the largest (and fastest growing) segment of the gaming industry — where it has over 50% market share and where Unreal is not a common alternative. Unity has kept the largest market share in AR and VR content, at over 60%.
Ease of Authoring: Neither engine is easy for a complete novice, but both are fairly straightforward to navigate if you have basic coding abilities and put the time into experimenting and watching tutorials. Unity has prioritized ease of use since its early days, with a mission of democratizing game development that was so concentrated among large studios with large budgets, and ease of authoring remains a key R&D focus. This is why Unity is the common choice in educational environments and by individuals and small teams creating casual mobile games. Unity lets you see but not edit the engine’s source code unless you pay for an enterprise subscription; this protects developers from catastrophic mistakes but limits customization. Unreal isn’t dramatically more complex but, as a generalization, it requires more lines of code and technical skill. It is open source code so can be completely customized. Unreal has a visual scripting tool called Blueprint to conduct some development without needing to code; it’s respected and often used by designers though not a no-code solution to developing a complex, high-performance game (no one offers that). Unity recently rolled out its own visual scripting solution for free called Bolt.
Pricing: While Unity’s engine operates on a freemium subscription model (then has a portfolio of other product offerings), Unreal operates on a revenue-share, taking 5% of a game’s revenue. Both have separately negotiated pricing for companies outside of gaming that aren’t publicly disclosed.
Many large gaming companies, especially in the PC and console categories, continue to use their own proprietary game engines built in-house. It is a large, ongoing investment to maintain a proprietary engine, which is why a growing number of these companies are switching to Unreal or Unity so they can focus more resources on content creation and tap into the large talent pools that already have mastery in each one.
Other game engines to note are Cocos2D (an open source framework by Chukong Technologies that has a particular following among mobile developers in China, Japan, and South Korea), CryEngine by Crytek (popular for first-person shooters with high visual fidelity), and Amazon’s Lumberyard (which was built off CryEngine and doesn’t seem to have widespread adoption, or command much respect, among the many developers and executives I’ve spoken to).
For amateur game developers without programming skills, YoYo Games’ GameMaker Studio and Scirra’s Construct are both commonly used to build simple 2D games (Construct is used for HTML5 games in particular); users typically move on to Unity or Unreal as they gain more skill.
There remain a long list of niche game engines in the market since every studio needs to use one and those who build their own often license it if their games aren’t commercial successes or they see an underserved niche among studios creating similar games. That said, it’s become very tough to compete with the robust offerings of the industry standards — Unity and Unreal — and tough to recruit developers to work with a niche engine.
User-generated content platforms for creating and playing games like Roblox (or new entrants like Manticore’s Core and Facebook Horizon) don’t compete with Unity — at least for the foreseeable future — because they are dramatically simplified platforms for creating games within a closed ecosystem with dramatically more limited monetization opportunity. The only game developers these will pull away from Unity are hobbyists on Unity’s free tier.
I’ve written extensively on how UGC-based game platforms are central to the next paradigm of social media, anchored within gaming-centric virtual worlds. But based on the overall gaming market growth and the diversity of game types, these platforms can continue to soar in popularity without being a competitive threat to the traditional studios who pay Unity for its engine, ad network, or cloud products.
For the last three years, Unity has been creating its “data oriented technology stack,” or DOTS, and gradually rolling it out in modules across the engine.
Unity’s engine centers on programming in C# code which is easier to learn and more time-saving than C++ since it is a slightly higher level programming language. Simplification comes with the trade off of less ability to customize instruction by directly interacting with memory. C++, which is the standard for Unreal, enables that level of customization to achieve better performance but requires writing a lot more code and having more technical skill.
DOTS is an effort to not just resolve that discrepancy but achieve dramatically faster performance. Many of the most popular programming languages in use today are “object-oriented,” a paradigm that groups characteristics of an object together so, for example, an object of the type “human” has weight and height attached. This is easier for the way humans think and solve problems. Unity takes advantage of the ability to add annotations to C3 code and claims a proprietary breakthrough in understanding how to recompile object-oriented code into “data-oriented” code, which is optimized for how computers work (in this example, say all heights together and all weights together). This is orders of magnitude faster in processing the request at the lowest level languages that provide 1s-and-0s instructions to the processor.
This level of efficiency should, on one hand, allow highly-complex games and simulations with cutting-edge graphics to run quickly on GPU-enabled devices, while, on the other hand, allowing simpler games to be so small in file size they can run within messenger apps on the lowest quality smartphones and even on the screens of smart fridges.
Unity is bringing DOTS to different components of its engine one step at a time and users can opt whether or not to use DOTS for each component of their project. The company’s Megacity demo (below) shows DOTS enabling a sci-fi city with hundreds of thousands of assets rendered in real-time, from the blades spinning on the air conditioners in every apartment building to flying car traffic responding to the player’s movements.
The forefront of graphics technology is in enabling ray tracing (a lighting effect mimicking the real-life behavior of light reflecting off different surfaces) at a fast enough rendering speed so games and other interactive content can be photorealistic (i.e. you can’t tell it’s not the real world). It’s already possible to achieve this in certain contexts but takes substantial processing power to render. Its initial use is for content that is not rendered in real-time, like films. Here are videos by both Unity and Unreal demonstrating ray tracing used to make a digital version of a BMW look nearly identical to video of a real car:
To support ray-tracing and other cutting-edge graphics, Unity released its High Definition Render Pipeline in 2018. It gives developers more powerful graphics rendering for GPU devices to achieve high visual fidelity in console and PC games plus non-gaming uses like industrial simulations. (By comparison, its Universal Render Pipeline optimizes content for lower-end hardware like mobile phones.)
The Unity Labs team is focused on the next generation of authoring tools, particularly in an era of AR or VR headsets being widely adopted. One component of this is the vision for a future where nontechnical people could develop 3D content with Unity solely through hand gestures and voice commands. In 2016, Unity released an early concept video for this project (something I demo-ed at Unity headquarters in SF last year):
The term “game engine” limits the scope of what Unity and Unreal are already used for. They are interactive 3D engines used for practically any type of digital content you can imagine. The core engine is used for virtual production of films to autonomous vehicle training simulations to car configurators on auto websites to interactive renderings of buildings.
Both of these engines have long been used outside gaming by people repurposing them and over the last five years Unity and Unreal have made expanding use of their engines in other industries a top priority. They are primarily focused on large- and mid-size companies in 1) architecture, engineering, and construction, 2) automotive and heavy manufacturing, and 3) cinematic video.
In films and TV commercials, game engines are used for virtual production. The settings, whether animated or scanned from real-world environments, are set up as virtual environments (like those of a video game) where virtual characters interact and the camera view can be changed instantaneously. Human actors are captured through sets that are surrounded by the virtual environment on screens. The director and VFX team can change the surroundings, the time of day, etc. in real-time to find the perfect shot.
There are a vast scope of commercial uses for Unity since assets can be imported from CAD, BIM, and other formats and since Unity gives you the ability to build a whole world and simulate changes in real-time. There are four main use cases for Unity’s engine beyond entertainment experiences:
Unity’s ambitions beyond gaming ultimately touch every facet of life. In his 2015 internal memo in favor of acquiring Unity, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote “VR / AR will be the next major computing platform after mobile.” Unity is currently in a powerful position as the key platform for developing VR / AR content and distributing it across different operating systems and devices. Zuckerberg saw Unity as the natural platform off which to build “key platform services” in the mixed reality ecosystem like an “avatar / content marketplace and app distribution store”.
If Unity maintains its position as the leading platform for building all types of mixed reality applications into the era when mixed reality is our main digital medium, it stands to be one of the most important technology companies in the world. It would be the engine everyone across industries turns to for creating applications, with dramatically larger TAM and monetization potential for the core engine than is currently the case. It could expand up the stack, per Zuckerberg’s argument, into consumer-facing functions that exist across apps, like identify, app distribution, and payments. Its advertising product is already in position to extend into augmented reality ads within apps built with Unity. This could make it the largest ad network in the AR era.
This grand vision is still far away though. First, the company’s expansion beyond gaming is still early in gaining traction and customers generally need a lot of consulting support. You’ll notice other coverage of Unity over the last few years all tends to mention the same case studies of use outside gaming; there just aren’t that many than have been rolled out by large companies. Unity is still in the stage of gaining name recognition and educating these markets about what its engine can do. There are promising proof points of its value but market penetration is small.
Second, the era of AR as “the next major computing platform after mobile” seems easily a decade away, during which time existing and yet-to-be-founded tech giants will also advance their positions in different parts of the AR tech, authoring, and services stack. Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are collaborators with Unity right now but any of them could decide to compete with their own AR-focused engine (and if any of them acquire Unity, the others will almost certainly do so because of the loss of Unity’s neutral position between them).