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Waterfund commits $50M to OurCrowd’s water and agtech portfolio

By Frederic Lardinois

Waterfund, an investment and trading firm that specializes in acquiring and managing water-related infrastructure assets, today announced a deal with Israel-based crowdfunding platform OurCrowd that will see the Waterfund team commit $50 million to build a water- and agtech-focused portfolio of 15 companies. The first of these investments is in Plenty, a well-funded vertical farming startup.

In addition to these direct investments, the two companies are also working together on a new water-focused platform called Aquantos, which aims to issue so-called Blue Bonds and other financial products related to the water industry. Comparable to Green Bonds that focus on projects with environmental benefits — and which have been around for more than a decade now — Blue Bonds are still a new idea and focus on projects that could benefit the oceans.

“We are working to issue Blue Bonds that can be both climate bonds-certified and backed by sovereign or sub-sovereign borrowers,” said Waterfund CEO Scott Rickards. “This new financial tool and others are being designed to enable water projects in the Middle East to acquire leading technologies to address water scarcity in a fundamentally new way.”

Rickards argues that a lack of private capital has held back innovation in the water sector and that this new partnership — and the equity and debt financing opportunities it brings with it — will help change this.

OurCrowd, meanwhile, currently has about $1.5 billion in committed funding and has made investments in about 250 companies across its 25 funds. Among the companies the platform has invested in are the likes of Lemonade, Jump Bikes and Beyond Meat. Its portfolio also includes a number of existing agtech startups, and last November, OurCrowd partnered with Sprout Agritech (a company in its portfolio) to run a new agtech accelerator in New Zealand.

“The Abraham Accords present a huge opportunity to bring new water and agricultural technology to the water scarcity challenges of the entire Middle East,” said OurCrowd founder and CEO Jon Medved. “Alongside Waterfund, it is our mission to invest in and help build game-changing technology companies. We are excited to be working together with Waterfund to drive more private capital to address the critical challenges of water.”

Reimagining the path forward for the formerly incarcerated at TechCrunch Sessions: Justice

By Devin Coldewey

Reentering society after having been incarcerated by the criminal justice system can be daunting. Advances in technology and the continued, unchecked march of capitalism place obstacles in paths that can generally be difficult to overcome.

Fortunately for these returning citizens there are a variety of programs and resources designed to help get them up to speed. One such organization, The Last Mile, aims to help incarcerated folks learn skills so that they have a shot to get jobs after they reenter society. And some companies, like Slack, have committed to hiring returned citizens.

At TechCrunch Sessions: Justice on March 3, we’ll examine the importance of opportunities for returning citizens upon release from incarceration with a panel of people working in this important transition space. Joining us for the virtual discussion will be Aly Tamboura, strategic advisor at the newly formed Justice Accelerator Fund; Jason Jones, remote instruction manager for The Last Mile; and Deepti Rohatgi, head of Slack for Good and Public Affairs.

Aly Tamboura graduated from The Last Mile program while at San Quentin. Until recently, Tamboura was a manager in the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, where he helped to guide the organization toward one of its stated goals, to reform the American criminal justice system. Just last week, the Justice Accelerator Fund announced that Tamboura joined the grantmaking organization as its first strategic advisor. Tamboura will work alongside Founder and Executive Director Ana Zamora to “operationalize the fund and launch its first grantmaking strategy later this year.”

Jason Jones also graduated from The Last Mile in 2018. Upon his release from San Quentin, he joined the organization as its remote instruction manager. He is a web developer and volunteers at West Oakland’s McClymonds High School teaching coding.

Slack decided to build its own take on programs like The Last Mile with Next Chapter, which helps train up formerly incarcerated individuals for jobs in tech, and has hired a few itself. Deepti Rohatgi leads Slack for Good, which developed the program, though other companies have signed on to give it a try.

Join us on March 3 at TC Sessions: Justice to hear from Tamboura, Jones, and Rohatgi about how the ability to start from a place of strength can help set folks up for success, as well as what the tech industry can do to help foster this environment. You can get your $5 ticket here.

9 investors discuss hurdles, opportunities and the impact of cloud vendors in enterprise data lakes

By Ron Miller

About a decade ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend about big data. At the time, we both agreed that it was the purview of large companies like Facebook, Yahoo and Google, and not something most companies would have to worry about.

As it turned out, we were both wrong. Within a short time, everyone would be dealing with big data. In fact, it turns out that huge amounts of data are the fuel of machine learning applications, something my friend and I didn’t foresee.

Frameworks were already emerging like Hadoop and Spark and concepts like the data warehouses were evolving. This was fine when it involved structured data like credit card info, but data warehouses weren’t designed for unstructured data you needed to build machine learning algorithms, and the concept of the data lake developed as a way to take unprocessed data and store until needed. It wasn’t sitting neatly in shelves in warehouses all labeled and organized, it was more amorphous and raw.

Over time, this idea caught the attention of the cloud vendors like Amazon, Microsoft and Google. What’s more, it caught the attention of investors as companies like Snowflake and Databricks built substantial companies on the data lake concept.

Even as that was happening startup founders began to identify other adjacent problems to attack like moving data into the data lake, cleaning it, processing it and funneling to applications and algorithms that could actually make use of that data. As this was happening, data science advanced outside of academia and became more mainstream inside businesses.

At that point there was a whole new modern ecosystem and when something like that happens, ideas develop, companies are built and investors come. We spoke to nine investors about the data lake idea and why they are so intrigued by it, the role of the cloud companies in this space, how an investor finds new companies in a maturing market and where the opportunities and challenges are in this lucrative area.

To learn about all of this, we queried the following investors:


Where are the opportunities for startups in the data lakes space with players like Snowflake and the cloud infrastructure vendors so firmly established?

Caryn Marooney: The data market is very large, driven by the opportunity to unlock value through digital transformation. Both the data lake and data warehouse architectures will be important over the long term because they solve different needs.

For established companies (think big banks, large brands) with significant existing data infrastructure, moving all their data to a data warehouse can be expensive and time consuming. For these companies, the data lake can be a good solution because it enables optionality and federated queries across data sources.

Dharmesh Thakker: Databricks (which Battery has invested in) and Snowflake have certainly become household names in the data lake and warehouse markets, respectively. But technical requirements and business needs are constantly shifting in these markets — and it’s important for both companies to continue to invest aggressively to maintain a competitive edge. They will have to keep innovating to continue to succeed.

Regardless of how this plays out, we feel excited about the ecosystem that’s emerging around these players (and others) given the massive data sprawl that’s occurring across cloud and on-premise workloads, and around a variety of data-storage vendors. We think there is a significant opportunity for vendors to continue to emerge as “unification layers” between data sources and different types of end users (including data scientists, data engineers, business analysts and others) in the form of integration middleware (cloud ELT vendors); real-time streaming and analytics; data governance and management; data security; and data monitoring. These markets shouldn’t be underestimated.

Casey Aylward: There are a handful of big opportunities in the data lake space even with many established cloud infrastructure players in the space:

  • Business intelligence/analytics/SQL may end up converging with machine learning/code like Scala or Python in certain products, but these domains have different end users and communities, programming language preferences and technical skills. Generally, architectural lock-ins are a big point of fear within core infrastructure. This is true for end users with their cloud providers, storage solutions, compute engines, etc. Solutions will be heterogeneous because of that and technology that enables this flexibility will be important.
  • As data moves around today, it is being reprocessed in each platform, which at scale is inefficient and expensive. There is an opportunity to build technology that allows users to move data around without rewriting transformations, data pipelines and stored procedures.
  • Finally, we’re seeing more traction around general data processing frameworks that are not MapReduce under the hood, especially in the Python data science ecosystem. This is a transition from Hadoop or even Spark, since they aren’t always best suited for unstructured, more modern algorithms.
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