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GM’s second $2.3B battery plant with LG Chem to open in late 2023

By Kirsten Korosec

GM and LG Chem announced Friday plans to build a second U.S. battery cell factory — a $2.3 billion facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee that will supply the automaker with the cells needed for the 30 electric vehicle models it plans to launch by mid decade.

Construction on the plant, which is located next to GM’s existing Spring Hill factory, will begin immediately, the company’s CEO and Chairman Mary Barra said in a press conference. The battery factory, which is expected to be complete by late 2023, and create 1,300 jobs.

Once fully operational, the joint venture’s two battery factories will have production capacity of more than 70 gigawatt hours, which LG Chem Energy Solutions CEO Jong Hyun Kim noted is two times bigger than the Tesla gigafactory in Nevada. Tesla’s factory in Sparks, Nevada, which is part of a partnership with Panasonic, has a 35 GW-hour capacity.

The foundation of GM’s shift to EVs is its Ultium platform, and the Ultium lithium-ion batteries, which will be built at the Spring Hill factory. These new batteries will use less of the rare earth material cobalt and feature a single common cell design that can be configured more efficiently for higher energy density and a smaller space than our current batteries, Barra said.

“This versatility means we can put more battery power into a wider variety of vehicles, and at a better price for customers,” Barra said. “It’s truly a revolution in electric vehicle technology that will help democratize EV ownership for millions of customers, which will change lives and change the world.”

GM has used LG Chem as a lithium-ion and electronics supplier for at least a decade. The companies began working together in 2009. That relationship deepened as GM developed and then launched the Chevy Bolt EV.  In 2019, GM and LG Chem formed a joint venture to mass produce battery cells as the automaker began to shift towards more electric vehicles. The two companies said at the time that they would invest up to a total of $2.3 billion into the new joint venture and establish a battery cell assembly plant on a greenfield manufacturing site in the Lordstown area of Northeast Ohio that will create more than 1,100 new jobs.

Steel construction began in July 2020 on the Ultium Cells LLC battery cell manufacturing facility in Lordstown, a nearly 3-million-square-foot factory that will mass produce Ultium battery cells and packs. The Lordstown factory will be able produce 30 gigawatts hours of capacity annually.

The batteries produced at the Lordstown factory along with GM’s underlying electric architecture will be used in a broad range of products across its Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and GMC brands, as well as the Cruise Origin autonomous shuttle that was revealed in January 2020. The Cadillac Lyriq EV flagship and an all-electric GMC Hummer, which will be revealed this fall and go into production in the fourth quarter of 2021, will use the Ultium battery system. GM plans to reveal the Lyriq at a virtual event August 6.

This modular architecture, called “Ultium,” (same as the battery) will be capable of 19 different battery and drive unit configurations, 400-volt and 800-volt packs with storage ranging from 50 kWh to 200 kWh, and front, rear and all-wheel drive configurations. At the heart of the new modular architecture will be the large-format pouch battery cells manufactured at this new factory.

Google’s FeedBurner moves to a new infrastructure but loses its email subscription service

By Frederic Lardinois

Google today announced that it is moving FeedBurner to a new infrastructure but also deprecating its email subscription service.

If you’re an internet user of a certain age, chances are you used Google’s FeedBurner to manage the RSS feeds of your personal blogs and early podcasts at some point. During the Web 2.0 era, it was the de facto standard for feed management and analytics, after all. Founded in 2004, with Dick Costolo as one of its co-founders (before he became Twitter’s CEO in 2010), it was acquired by Google in 2007.

Ever since, FeedBurner lingered in an odd kind of limbo. While Google had no qualms shutting down popular services like Google Reader in favor of its ill-fated social experiments like Google+, FeedBurner just kept burning feeds day in and day out, even as Google slowly deprecated some parts of the service, most notably its advertising integrations.

I don’t know that anybody spent a lot of time thinking about the service and RSS has slowly (and sadly) fallen into obscurity, yet the service was probably easy enough to maintain that Google kept it going. And despite everything, shutting it down would probably break enough tools for publishers to create quite an uproar. The TechCrunch RSS feed, to which you are surely subscribed in your desktop RSS reader, is http://feeds.feedburner.com/TechCrunch/, after all.

So here we are, 14 years later, and Google today announced that it is “making several upcoming changes to support the product’s next chapter.” It’s moving the service to a new, more stable infrastructure.

But in July, it is also shutting down some non-core features that don’t directly involve feed management, most importantly the FeedBurner email subscription service that allowed you to get emailed alerts when a feed updates. Feed owners will be able to download their email subscriber lists (and will be able to do so after July, too). With that, Blogger’s FollowByEmail widget will also be deprecated (and hey, did you start this day thinking you’d read about FeedBurner AND Blogger on TechCrunch without having to travel back to 2007?).

Google stresses that other core FeedBurner features will remain in place, but given the popularity of email newsletters, that’s a bit of an odd move.

With two new funds, LocalGlobe has more latitude than ever

By Steve O'Hear

“You wanted me to record this?” asks Saul Klein, LocalGlobe founding partner.

“Just in case you say anything interesting,” I quip back.

“I won’t be doing most of the talking, so maybe someone will say something interesting,” Klein replies poker-faced, before grinning.

Once again, I’ve agreed to an ensemble-style interview with multiple members of the LocalGlobe investment team: Klein, George Henry, Suzanne Ashman, Julia Hawkins, Mish Mashkautsan and Remus Brett. Unlike in 2015, however, when I visited the early-stage VC’s then offices in Tileyard Studios, the interview is taking place over Zoom, rather than the firm’s new Phoenix Court premises in the King’s Cross area of London.

Also in contrast to last time, when I wanted to scoop LocalGlobe’s latest fundraise and Klein rather I didn’t, this time it’s the other way round: I’ve been invited to write a piece partly anchored on news of two new funds that were quietly raised last year.

LocalGlobe, the entity that invests at seed stage, has an additional $150 million of capital to deploy in the U.K. and Europe (and further afield). Running alongside is Latitude, a growth-stage fund now with $220 million more to invest, which allows the LocalGlobe team to take a fresh look at breakout portfolio companies that have proven their growth potential or to back other scale-ups, which, for myriad reasons, didn’t take or weren’t offered LocalGlobe’s cash earlier.

“Latitude was born out of the idea of building continuity,” says LocalGlobe general partner George Henry. “When it comes to existing LocalGlobe companies, Latitude is very much building on top of what we’ve done. It’s giving us the capital to continue to invest more into those companies”.

However, the firm doesn’t think of Latitude as follow-on funding, in the classic sense. Not only is it able to back companies that LocalGlobe hasn’t previously invested in, but even for those it has, the LocalGlobe team, including Julian Rowe, who heads up Latitude, uses the opportunity to take a fresh look before writing a Latitude cheque.

“I think 80% of Latitude companies have at least one LocalGlobe partner fully engaged,” says Klein.

Internally, whichever fund the firm is investing from and at what stage, LocalGlobe frames its strategy as “insights and access”. Though no one explicitly explains what this means, I interpret it as having the expertise in the team (and wider LocalGlobe network) to understand a problem space and its addressable market, and having the access to see and then get in on a deal, should it want to.

“Of course, it’s easier to have insight and access when you’ve already been inside the company from pre-seed or seed,” explains Henry. “But we’ve [also] seen opportunities where we feel we had the insight and access because we know the founders already, we know the theme, we know the market [and] we know the investors really well. And then it puts us in a position where we feel confident to participate at Series B or beyond”.

LocalGlobe isn’t the only European early-stage VC firm to launch a separate later-stage fund, either to avoid too much dilution for the most promising portfolio companies or to opportunistically back companies later when there’s arguably less risk. Yet I can’t help wonder what the conversation is like when Latitude wants to invest in a company that LocalGlobe previously turned down.

One example is Monzo, the popular U.K.-based bank with its instantly recognisable hot coral pink-coloured debit card. “We were very aware of Monzo from the earliest days,” says Klein. “We weren’t big believers at the time in consumer neobanks. We thought the neobank was something that would work for SMEs or for business banking, where the incumbents were really not focused… but also it’s kind of typically a better business than consumer retail banking. And we took the view that consumer neobanks weren’t going to be a thing”.

Instead, LocalGlobe invested in Cleo, a financial assistant chatbot and app that runs on top of consumer bank accounts, and Tide, a business bank account for SMEs.

“And it turns out, you know, we were wrong,” admits Klein, before revealing that LocalGlobe general partner Suzanne Ashman was the outlier in the team. After becoming an early customer of Monzo, she backed the challenger bank’s equity crowd fund in a personal capacity.

“When we had an opportunity later on through Latitude to get involved with Monzo, we felt it’s an exceptional company,” continues Klein. “We love the investors, we work very closely with General Catalyst, and they were getting involved with the business at the time, and with Accel. And we thought it was a great opportunity to enter”.

Another example of missing out first time around is Cazoo, the used car retailer founded by Alex Chesterman. Klein and Chesterman go way back to their time at Lovefilm, and LocalGlobe was an early investor in Zoopla, the proptech company Chesterman took all the way to IPO. Access, therefore, wasn’t a problem. Instead, a perceived conflict of interest was.

LocalGlobe had invested in Motorway (curiously, as had Chesterman), which at the time looked like a potential Cazoo competitor. No longer deemed as such, Latitude would go on to write a later-stage (and more expensive) check. Then, last month, Cazoo announced plans to SPAC its way to going public with a valuation of $7 billion, proving that conflicts of interest can be costly.

These near misses are the exception, says Klein, underlining that Latitude’s core thesis is to be able to support LocalGlobe portfolio breakouts. “LocalGlobe is about that startup phase of pre-seed and seed. Latitude is the breakout phase where things are really starting to hit an inflection point,” he says.

That is, of course, true, but it can also be argued that having a later stage fund does provide additional optionality and I posit that this could make LocalGlobe less risk-taking. With Latitude potentially able to mop up deals that didn’t happen at seed, LocalGlobe can take a wait and see approach for investments where early insights are less forthcoming.

Henry shakes his head ferociously, prompting Klein to suggest he takes this question.

“You want to get in as early as possible, because that’s the way you build the relationship… There’s nothing that gives you more credit than to be the first believer in a team,” says Henry.

“Also, in the market we’re in, you don’t want to make a bet on something that looks exciting, but you’re not sure and say, ‘it’s okay, we’ll get into Series B’. Because the reality is, the more you wait, the harder it gets to get into a great company”.

In LocalGlobe’s own (interesting) words…

On capital going into private markets

“The amount of capital that is now in the private markets looking to invest in tech, it’s not just extraordinary, but, arguably, it’s necessary and important, because this is where growth comes from and this is where innovation comes from. I’ve been doing this for 20-25 years, and it took 20 years to get to the starting line. Now it gets interesting.” — Saul Klein.

On investing in regulated industries

“Opportunities in the highly regulated industries are just massive. And they were largely untouched by wave one of VC, and even five years ago, we tended not to see that many founders building in heavily regulated spaces. So it feels to me that, yes, while the base of capital has gotten much larger, the opportunity in all of these segments is now much larger.” — Suzanne Ashman

On healthcare opportunities

“We think overall, obviously, healthcare is one of the largest markets, and we are very, very bullish on that, on the opportunity at large. We’ve doubled down on specific themes within healthcare. So, for example, developing communication rails for healthcare, improving how patients get connected with hospital systems… Mental health is another enormous market and opportunity, not just in terms of market, but in terms of impact.” — Julia Hawkins

On successful exits

“You’re just the supporting cast, and obviously, you are delighted for them. But you’re never the main show. What’s lovely about being a seed investor, and then supporting with Latitude, is it is not a quick journey, and you get to know people over time, you get to know their friends, their partners. And honestly, it’s just a privilege to sit on the sidelines.” — Suzanne Ashman

On fintech’s longevity

“Over the next five years, on all dimensions, from payments to core banking to insurance, you know, we’re going to see many more interesting companies. Just when you think the market map is pretty clear, and the winners are emerging, you’ll still see these companies that emerge and completely destroy the market.” — Remus Brett

On frontier tech need for more capital

“Proper frontier tech, and foundational tech, requires even more patience and focus on what’s beyond the horizon… The available capital for proper frontier tech startups is much more limited than startups in general. And that’s something we all know and feel daily.” — Mish Mashkautsan

YC-backed Abacum nets $7M to empower finance teams with real-time data and collaboration tools

By Natasha Lomas

SaaS to support mid-sized companies’ financial planning with real-time data and native collaboration isn’t the sexiest startup pitch under the sun but it’s one that’s swiftly netted Abacum a bunch of notable backers — including Creandum, which is leading a $7M seed round that’s being announced today.

The rosters of existing investors also participating in the round are Y Combinator (Abacum was part of its latest batch), PROFounders, and K-Fund, along with angel investors such as Justin Kan (Atrium and Twitch co-founder and CEO); Maximilian Tayenthal (N26 co-founder and co-CEO & CFO); Thomas Lehrman (GLG co-founder and ex-CEO), Avi Meir (TravelPerk co-founder and CEO); plus Jenny Bloom (Zapier CFO and Mailchimp ex-CFO) and Mike Asher (CFO at Neo4j).

Abacum was founded last year in the middle of the COVID-19 global lockdown, after what it says was around a year of “deep research” to feed its product development. They launched their SaaS in June 2020. And while they’re not disclosing customer numbers at this early stage their first clients include a range of scale-up companies in the US and in Europe, including the likes of Typeform, Cabify, Ebury, Garten, Jeff and Talkable.

The startup’s Spanish co-founders — Julio Martinez, a fintech entrepreneur with an investment banking background, and Jorge Lluch, a European Space Agency engineer turned CFO/COO — spotted an opportunity to build dedicated software for mid-market finance teams to provide real-time access to data via native collaborative that plugs into key software platforms used by other business units, having felt the pain of a lack of access to real-time data and barriers to collaboration in their own professional experience with the finance function.

The idea with Abacum is to replace the need for finance teams to manually update their models. The SaaS automatically does the updates, fed with real-time data through direct integrations with software used by teams dealing with functions like HR, CRM, ERP (and so on) — empowering the finance function to collaborate more easily across the business and bolster its strategic decision-making capabilities.

The startup’s sales pitch to the target mid-sized companies is multi-layered. Abacum says its SaaS both saves finance teams time and enables faster-decision making.

“Prior to using Abacum, finance analysts in our clients were easily spending 50% to 70% of their time in manual tasks like downloading files from different systems, copy&pasting them in massive spreadsheets (that crash frequently), formatting the data by manually adding and removing rows, columns and formats, connecting the data in a model prone to manual error (e.g. vlookups & sumifs),” Martinez tells TechCrunch. “With Abacum, this entire manual part is automatically done and the finance professionals can spend their time analyzing and adding real value to the business.”

“We enable faster decisions that were not possible prior to Abacum. For instance, some of our clients were updating their cohort analysis on a quarterly basis only because the associated manual tasks were too painful. With us, they’re able to update the analysis weekly and take better decisions as a result.”

The SaaS also supports decisions in another way — by applying machine learning to business data to generate estimates on future performance, providing an AI-based reference point based on historical data that finance teams can use to inform their assumptions.

And it aids cross-business collaboration — allowing users to share and gather information “easily through workflows and permissions”. “We see that this results in faster and richer decisions as more stakeholders are brought into the process,” he adds.

Martinez says Abacum chose to focus on mid-market finance teams because they face “more challenges and inefficiencies” vs the smaller (and larger) ends of the market. “In that segment, the finance function is underinvested — they face the acute complexities of scaling companies that become very pressing but at the same time they are still considered a support function, a back-office,” he argues.

“Abacum makes finance a strategic function — we deliver native collaboration to finance teams so that they become the trusted business partner they want to be. We also see that the pandemic has accelerated the need for finance teams to collaborate effectively and work remotely,” he adds.

He also describes the mid market segment as “fairly unpenetrated” — claiming many companies do not yet having a solution in place.

While competitors he points to when asked about other players in the space are long in the tooth in digital terms: Adaptive Insights (2003); Host Analytics (2001); and Anaplan (2008).

Commenting on the seed round in a statement, Peter Specht, principal at Creandum, added: “The financial planning processes in many companies are ripe for disruption and demand more automation. Abacum’s slick solution empowers finance teams to be more collaborative, efficient and better informed with access to real-time data. We were impressed by their user-friendly product, the initial hiring of top talent, and crucially the strong founders and their extensive operational experience — including as CFOs and entrepreneurs who have experienced the problem first-hand. We are delighted to be part of Abacum’s journey to empower global SMEs to bring their financial operations to new levels.”

Abacum’s seed financing will be ploughed into product development and growth, per Martinez, who says it’s focused on wooing finance teams in the US and Europe for now.

After its first $54M fund, Algebra Ventures launches $90M fund for startups in Egypt

By Tage Kene-Okafor

The venture capital scene in the North African tech ecosystem will be absolutely buzzing right now with the announcement of two large VC funds in the space of two days. Today, Algebra Ventures, an Egyptian VC firm, announced that it has launched its $90 million second fund.

Four years ago, Algebra Ventures closed its first fund of $54 million, and with this announcement, the firm hopes to have raised a total of $144 million when the second fund closes (with first close by Q3 2021). If achieved, Algebra will most likely have the largest indigenous fund from North Africa and arguably in Africa.

According to the managing partners — Tarek Assaad and Karim Hussein, the first fund was an Egyptian-focused fund. Still, the firm made some selective investments in a few companies outside the country. The second fund will be similar — Egypt first, Egypt focused, but allocating investments in East and West Africa, North Africa and the Middle East.

Assaad and Hussein launched the firm in 2016 as one of Egypt’s first independent venture capital funds. It wasn’t easy to start one at the time, and it took the partners two years to close the first fund.

“Raising a venture capital fund in Egypt in 2016, in all honesty, was a pain. There was no venture capital to speak of back then,” Assaad told TechCrunch. “The high-flying startups back then were raising between $1 million and $2 million. We decided to take the bull by the horn and raise from very established LPs.”

These LPs include Cisco, the European Commission, Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund (EAEF), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and private family offices. From the first fund, Algebra backed 21 startups in Egypt and MENA, and according to the firm, six of its most established companies are valued at over $350 million and collectively generate more than $150 million in annual revenue. It hopes to back 31 startups from the second fund.

Algebra says it’s sector-agnostic but has a focus on fintech, logistics, health tech and agritech. Although the firm has invested in startups in seed and Series B stages, Algebra is known to be an investor in startups looking to raise Series A investments.

Another appealing proposition from Algebra lies in the fact that it owns an in-house team focused on talent acquisition — in operations, marketing, finance, engineering, etc., for portfolio companies

The firm’s ticket size remains unchanged from the first fund and will continue to cut checks ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. However, some aspects as to how the firm handles operations might change according to the partners.

“One of the lessons learned in our first fund is that we see that there are more interesting opportunities and great entrepreneurs in the seed stage. And given that we’re more on the ground in Egypt, sometimes we wait for them to mature to Series A. But going forward, we might need to build relationships with those we find exceptional at the seed level and also expand our participation on the Series B level, too,” Hussein said on how the firm will act going forward.  

Algebra Ventures

Karim Hussein (Managing partner, Algebra Ventures)

Hussein adds that the company will also be doubling down on its talent acquisition network. Typically, Algebra helps portfolio companies hire C-level executives, and while it plans to continue doing so, the firm might adopt a startup studio model — pairing some professionals to start a company that eventually gets Algebra’s backing and support.

The reason behind this stems from the next set of companies Algebra will be looking to invest in. According to Hussein, the partners at Algebra have studied successful businesses in other emerging markets for some time and want to identify parallels in North Africa where the firm can invest.

“In cases where the firm can’t find those opportunities, we may spur some of those in the network to start building those businesses and capture those opportunities,” he remarked.  

Before Algebra, Hussein has been involved with building some successful tech companies in the U.S. Primarily an engineer after bagging both bachelors and doctorate degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and MIT, respectively, he ventured into the world of startup investing and entrepreneurship after working for a consulting company in the dot-com era.

He would go on to start Riskclick, a software company known for its commercial insurance applications. The founders sold the company to Skywire before Oracle acquired the company to become part of its suite of insurance services. After some time at WebMD, Hussein returned to Egypt and began mentoring startups as an angel investor. Alongside other angel investors, he co-founded Cairo Angels, an angel investor network in Egypt, in 2013

“There was a massive gap in the market. We were putting in a bit of small angel money to these businesses but there were no VCs to take them to the next level. So I met up with Tarek and Ziad Mokhtar, and the rest is Algebra,” he said. 

Assaad is also an engineer. He obtained his bachelors in Egypt before switching careers by going to Stanford Graduate School of Business. He continued on that path working for some Bay Area companies before his return to Egypt. On his return, he became a managing partner at Ideavelopers, a VC firm operating a $50 million fund since 2009. The firm has had a couple of good success stories, the most notable being fintech startup Fawry. Fawry is now a publicly traded billion-dollar company and Assaad was responsible for the investment which realized a $100 million exit for Ideavelopers in 2015.

Algebra Ventures

Tarek Assaad (Managing partner, Algebra Ventures)

With Algebra, both partners are pioneering local investments in the region. Some of its portfolio companies are the most well-known companies on the continent — health tech startup Yodawy; social commerce platform Brimore; logistics startup Trella; ride-hailing and super app Halan; food discovery and ordering platform Elmenus; fintech startup, Khazna; and others.

The firm’s latest raise and $144 million capital amount is one of the largest funds dedicated to African startups. Other large Africa-focused funds include the $71 million fund recently closed by another Egyptian firm, Sawari Ventures; Partech’s $143 million fund; Novastar Ventures’ $200 million fund; and the $71 million Tide Africa Fund by TLcom Capital.

These funds have been very pivotal to the growth of the African tech ecosystem in terms of funding. Last year, African startups raised almost $1.5 billion from both local and international investors, according to varying reports. This number was just half a billion dollars six years ago.

However, regardless of the period — 2015 or 2021 — African VC investments have always been largely dominated by foreign investors. But VC firms like Algebra Ventures are showing that local investors can cumulatively raise nine-figure funds or attempt to do so. Obviously, this will provide more startups with more funds and pave the way for indigenous and local VCs to at least increase their participation to nearly equal levels when compared to international investors.

LG’s exit from the smartphone market comes as no surprise

By Brian Heater

For those who follow the space, LG will be remembered fondly as a smartphone trailblazer. For a decade-and-a-half, the company was a major player in the Android category and a driving force behind a number of innovations that have since become standard.

Perhaps the most notable story is that of the LG Prada. Announced a month before the first iPhone, the device helped pioneer the touchscreen form factor that has come to define virtually every smartphone since. At the time, the company openly accused Apple of ripping off its design, noting, “We consider that Apple copycat Prada phone after the design was unveiled when it was presented in the iF Design Award and won the prize in September 2006.”

This July, the company will stop selling phones beyond what remains of its existing inventory.

LG has continued pushing envelopes — albeit to mixed effect. In the end, however, the company just couldn’t keep up. This week, the South Korean electronics giant announced it will be getting out of the “incredibly competitive” category, choosing instead to focus on its myriad other departments.

The news comes as little surprise following months of rumors that the company was actively looking for a buyer for the smartphone unit. In the end, it seems, none were forthcoming. This July, the company will stop selling phones beyond what remains of its existing inventory.

The smartphone category is, indeed, a competitive one. And frankly, LG’s numbers have pretty consistently fallen into the “Others” category of global smartphone market share figures ruled by names like Samsung, Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi. The other names clustered beneath the top five have been, more often than not, other Chinese manufacturers like Vivo.

Virgin Galactic debuts its first third-generation spaceship, ‘VSS Imagine’

By Darrell Etherington

Commercial human spaceflight company Virgin Galactic has unveiled the first ever Spaceship III, the third major iteration of its spacecraft design. The first in this new series is called ‘VSS (Virgin SpaceShip) Imagine,’ and will start ground testing now with the aim of beginning its first glide flights starting this summer. VSS Imagine has a snazzy new external look, including a mirrored wraparound finish that’s designed to reflect the spacecraft’s changing environment as it makes its way from the ground to space — but more importantly, it moves Virgin Galactic closer to achieving the engineering goals it requires to produce a fleet of spacecraft at scale.

I spoke to Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier about VSS Imagine, and what it represents for the company.

“We can build these at a faster pace,” he explained. “These are still relatively slow, versus what we want in our next class of spaceships. But what we do expect to have here is, we’ve taken all the learnings from [VSS] Unity, and built-in what we need to do so that we can turn these ships at a faster pace, because obviously, the number of flights we can do is the product of how many ships you have, and how quickly you can turn them.”

Unlike Unity, which is the spacecraft that Virgin Galactic first flew in September 2016, and that it ‘s still using in New Mexico now for its testing and commercial launch preparation program, Imagine has a “modular design” that makes it much easier to maintain, and increases the rate at which it can fly subsequent missions. As Colglazier mentioned, there’s still more work to be done in that regard to get the Spaceship design to the point where it’s able to support the company’s target of around 400 flights per year, per individual spaceport, but it’s a big upgrade, and the company is already beginning manufacturing work on a second Spaceship III-class vehicle, ‘VSS Inspire.’

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

Imagine and Inspire are technical achievements, to be sure, but Colglazier, who came to Virgin Galactic from Disney Parks International in July 2020, also emphasized the importance of this spacecraft debut in terms of the company’s consumer brand.

“What you’re seeing in the images, the choice of the livery, the film that we’ve put out, is a very clear step, as a consumer brand launch, and as we’re stepping in and building that, that will build over the course of the summer as we build up towards Richard [Branson]’s flight,” he said. “Very purposefully, we’ve used these lofty words of ‘democratizing space’ — but space is meant for everyone. It may take a while, just for everyone to get there, but it’s coming. And so this was leading with a very consumer facing, ‘Why are we doing this?'”

In fact, that focus on the consumer side of the business has been a lot of Colglazier’s work over the past eight months since joining the company. He said that the Virgin Galactic he joined had a “world-class team” that had the aerospace pieces completely locked in, but that his particular contribution has been in building up the commercial side of the business to match.

“We’re now bringing some talent in that is used to scaling this kind of a business, so Swami Iyer actually started Monday of last week,” he said. “And when you see a guy like Joe Rohde, who came in on the experience side, there’s no replacement — that’s additive to building out now the shoulders around this experience.”

Iyer joined as President of Aerospace Systems, and brings years of experience in the commercial space and defense industry, across GKN Advanced Defernce Systems, Honeywell Aerospace and more. Rohde, on the other hand, boasts a very different background, as a longtime Disney Imagineer, who joins the company as its first ‘Experience Architect,’ focused squarely on defining what the Virgin Galactic experience is for its astronaut customers, their friends and family, and the broader public, too.

Colglazier said that their vision for what the experience will look like will also be different depending on what part of the world you’re flying from, noting that weather you fly from a spaceport in Europe, Asia, India or Australia should result in something “dramatically different,” even if the spacecraft themselves are all used in the same way as they are in New Mexico. That definitely seems like a logical approach from an executive whose prior experience includes leading Disney’s parks in Burbank, Paris, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Image Credits: Virgin Galactic

In the end, Colglazier said that the core philosophy Virgin Galactic will pursue in terms of consumer brand will be one focused on inclusion, even if the actual ‘going to space’ part of its offering remains out of reach for most in the short term.

“This is for everyone, it has to be for everyone,” he said. That aspiration may take some number of years to actually be realized, but in the meantime, we have to find a way that our brand and our company can be accessed, that what we do can be accessed by all sorts of people at all different layers of engagement, so we’re going to be very purposeful about that. You’re going to hear us talking mostly about, effectively the apex experience — actually taking the new ships to space. But the ability to tier down out of that is really, really important, and the ability for us to be a brand that’s reaching out to everyone is incredibly important.”

That begins with the approach to this spacecraft debut today, Colglazier says, and is apparent in the tone of the video the company debuted (embedded above) to mark the reveal. And Virgin Galactic also still has 600 passengers booked and waiting for their own flights, so that’s obviously a key focus after Branson’s flight targeted for later this year.

Finally, I asked Colglazier when he himself intends to go up, since he said he definitely plans to when joining the company. Mostly, he said, he doesn’t want to cut in front of any paying customers.

“Okay, there are 600 or so people that are going to be a little ticked at me, if I jumped the line, so I’m going to keep focused at the consumer level,” he said. “But nobody else is in line yet, so I’m gonna get in before anybody else comes in line.”

Notarize raises $130M, tripling valuation on the back of 600% YoY revenue growth

By Mary Ann Azevedo

When the world shifted toward virtual one year ago, one service in particular saw heated demand: remote online notarization.

The ability to get a document notarized without leaving one’s home suddenly became more of a necessity than a luxury. Pat Kinsel, founder and CEO of Boston-based Notarize, worked to get appropriate legislation passed across the country to make it possible for more people in more states to get documents notarized digitally.

That hard work has paid off. Today, Notarize has announced $130 million in Series D funding led by fintech-focused VC firm Canapi Ventures after experiencing 600% year over year revenue growth. The round values Notarize at $760 million, which is triple its valuation at the time of its $35 million Series C in March of 2020. This latest round is larger than the sum of all of the company’s previous rounds to date, and brings Notarize’s total raised to $213 million since its 2015 inception.

A slew of other investors participated in the round, including Alphabet’s independent growth fund CapitalG, Citi Ventures, Wells Fargo, True Bridge Capital Partners and existing backers Camber Creek, Ludlow Ventures, NAR’s Second Century Ventures, and Fifth Wall Ventures.

Notarize insists that it “isn’t just a notary company.” Rather, Canapi Ventures Partner Neil Underwood described it as the ‘last mile’ of businesses (such as iBuyers, for example). 

The company has also evolved to “also bring trust and identity verification” into those businesses’ processes.

Over the past year, Notarize has seen a massive increase in transactions and inked new partnerships with companies such as Adobe, Dropbox, Stripe and Zillow Group, among others. It’s seen big spikes in demand from the real estate, financial services, retail and automotive sectors.

“In 2020, the world rushed to digitize. Online commerce ballooned, and businesses in almost every industry needed to transition to digital basically overnight so they could continue uninterrupted,” Kinsel said. “Notarize was there to help them safely close these deals with trust and convenience.”  

The company plans to use its new capital to expand its platform and product and scale “to serve enterprises of all sizes.” It also plans to double down on hiring in the next year.

“Notarize is disrupting outdated business models and technologies, and there’s massive potential, particularly in the financial services space, as more companies will need to offer secure digital alternatives to in-person transactions,” Canapi’s Underwood said.

Notarize’s success comes after a difficult 2019, when the company saw “critical financing” fall through and had to lay off staff, according to Kinsel. Talk about a turnaround story.

Orca Security raises $210M Series C at a unicorn valuation

By Frederic Lardinois

Orca Security, an Israeli cybersecurity startup that offers an agent-less security platform for protecting cloud-based assets, today announced that it has raised a $210 million Series C round at a $1.2 billion valuation. The round was led by Alphabet’s independent growth fund CapitalG and Redpoint Ventures. Existing investors GGV Capital, ICONIQ Growth and angel syndicate Silicon Valley CISO Investment also participated. YL Ventures, which led Orca’s seed round and participated in previous rounds, is not participating in this round — and it’s worth noting that the firm recently sold its stake in Axonius after that company reached unicorn status.

If all of this sounds familiar, that may be because Orca only raised its $55 million Series B round in December, after it announced its $20.5 million Series A round in May. That’s a lot of funding rounds in a short amount of time, but something we’ve been seeing more often in the last year or so.

Orca Security co-founders Gil Geron (left) and Avi Shua (right). Image Credits: Orca Security

As Orca co-founder and CEO Avi Shua told me, the company is seeing impressive growth and it — and its investors — want to capitalize on this. The company ended last year beating its own forecast from a few months before, which he noted was already aggressive, by more than 50%. Its current slate of customers includes Robinhood, Databricks, Unity, Live Oak Bank, Lemonade and BeyondTrust.

“We are growing at an unprecedented speed,” Shua said. “We were 20-something people last year. We are now closer to a hundred and we are going to double that by the end of the year. And yes, we’re using this funding to accelerate on every front, from dramatically increasing the product organization to add more capabilities to our platform, for post-breach capabilities, for identity access management and many other areas. And, of course, to increase our go-to-market activities.”

Shua argues that most current cloud security tools don’t really work in this new environment. Many, because they are driven by metadata, can only detect a small fraction of the risks, and agent-based solutions may take months to deploy and still not cover a business’ entire cloud estate. The promise of Orca Security is that it can not only cover a company’s entire range of cloud assets but that it is also able to help security teams prioritize the risks they need to focus on. It does so by using what the company calls its “SideScanning” technology, which allows it to map out a company’s entire cloud environment and file systems.

“Almost all tools are essentially just looking at discrete risk trees and not the forest. The risk is not just about how pickable the lock is, it’s also where the lock resides and what’s inside the box. But most tools just look at the issues themselves and prioritize the most pickable lock, ignoring the business impact and exposure — and we change that.”

It’s no secret that there isn’t a lot of love lost between Orca and some of its competitors. Last year, Palo Alto Networks sent Orca Security a sternly worded letter (PDF) to stop it from comparing the two services. Shua was not amused at the time and decided to fight it. “I completely believe there is space in the markets for many vendors, and they’ve created a lot of great products. But I think the thing that simply cannot be overlooked, is a large company that simply tries to silence competition. This is something that I believe is counterproductive to the industry. It tries to harm competition, it’s illegal, it’s unconstitutional. You can’t use lawyers to take your competitors out of the media.”

Currently, though, it doesn’t look like Orca needs to worry too much about the competition. As GGV Capital managing partner Glenn Solomon told me, as the company continues to grow and bring in new customers — and learn from the data it pulls in from them — it is also able to improve its technology.

“Because of the novel technology that Avi and [Orca Security co-founder and CPO] Gil [Geron] have developed — and that Orca is now based on — they see so much. They’re just discovering more and more ways and have more and more plans to continue to expand the value that Orca is going to provide to customers. They sit in a very good spot to be able to continue to leverage information that they have and help DevOps teams and security teams really execute on good hygiene in every imaginable way going forward. I’m super excited about that future.”

As for this funding round, Shua noted that he found CapitalG to be a “huge believer” in this space and an investor that is looking to invest into the company for the long run (and not just trying to make a quick buck). The fact that CapitalG is associated with Alphabet was obviously also a draw.

“Being associated with Alphabet, which is one of the three major cloud providers, allowed us to strengthen the relationship, which is definitely a benefit for Orca,” he said. “During the evaluation, they essentially put Orca in front of the security leadership at Google. Definitely, they’ve done their own very deep due diligence as part of that.”

Brian Brackeen returns as an advisor to facial recognition startup Kairos following his ouster as CEO

By Megan Rose Dickey

Brian Brackeen, the founder and former CEO of facial recognition startup Kairos, has made his way back to the company following his ouster in 2018. Brackeen is now chairing the company’s scientific advisory board, where he’ll help to address and eliminate issues of racial bias from the technology.

While that’s not the company’s explicit mission — it’s to provide authentication tools to businesses — algorithmic bias has long been a topic the company, especially Brackeen, has addressed.

But what happened in the time leading up to his ouster and the events that followed was quite the whirlwind.

In 2018, Kairos’ board of directors forced Brackeen out of his role as CEO, citing willful misconduct as the cause for his termination. In addition to forcing him out of the company he founded, Kairos sued Brackeen, alleging the misappropriation of corporate funds and misleading shareholders.

At the time, Brackeen referred to the events as “a poorly structured coup,” and denied the allegations. Then, Brackeen countersued Kairos, alleging the company and its CEO Melissa Doval intentionally destroyed his reputation through fraudulent conduct. In 2019, Brackeen and Kairos settled the lawsuits. Brackeen then went on to start Lightship Capital with his wife, Candice Brackeen.

Since returning to Kairos, Brackeen has already directed Kairos to focus on what it’s calling the Bias API. The API is designed to make it easier for companies and firms to detect and address any algorithmic biases, according to Brackeen.

Brackeen is not back on a full-time basis, as he has his hands pretty full with Lightship Capital, but he said he’s generally tasked with steering the ship during quarterly meetings.

Despite the drama of the past, Brackeen told TechCrunch he still considers Kairos to be his baby. It’s also worth noting that folks like Doval, who was appointed to CEO following Brackeen’s ouster, and Mary Wolff, the former COO who spearheaded the lawsuit, are gone.

“First, I will always feel a responsibility to the team, investors and fans of Kairos,” Brackeen said as to why he’s returned. “Many of whom I was singularly responsible for. Secondly, as a society, bias can be found in everything from Twitter image cropping to air dryers not turning on for Black hands. It’s a painful reminder of a society that’s not fair for all. The challenge is that as AI gets to be imbedded in more and more products, we will see bias in all kinds of products. Kairos with its large data set and years of IP, must be the firm that saves us from that dystopian future. I am uniquely situated to lead that strategy.”

An earlier version of this post said Stephen Moore is the CEO of Kairos. However, Brackeen has since said Moore has not officially been appointed as CEO of Kairos. 

Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt receives a $14 billion order from VW

By Jonathan Shieber

Northvolt, the Swedish battery manufacturer which raised $1 billion in financing from investors led by Goldman Sachs and Volkswagen back in 2019, has signed a massive $14 billion battery order with VW for the next 10 years.

The big buy clears up some questions about where Volkswagen will be getting the batteries for its huge push into electric vehicles, which will see the automaker reach production capacity of 1.5 million electric vehicles by 2025.

The deal will not only see Northvolt become the strategic lead supplier for battery cells for Volkswagen Group in Europe, but will also involve the German automaker increasing its equity ownership of Northvolt.

As part of the partnership agreement, Northvolt’s gigafactory in Sweden will be expanded and Northvolt agreed to sell its joint venture share in Salzgitter, Germany to Volkswagen as the car maker looks to build up its battery manufacturing efforts across Europe, the companies said.

The agreement between Northvolt and VW brings the Swedish battery maker’s total contracts to $27 billion in the two years since it raised its big $1 billion cash haul.

“Volkswagen is a key investor, customer and partner on the journey ahead and we will continue to work hard with the goal of providing them with the greenest battery on the planet as they rapidly expand their fleet of electric vehicles,” said Peter Carlsson, the co-founder and chief executive of Northvolt, in a statement.

Northvolt’s other partners and customers include ABB, BMW Group, Scania, Siemens, Vattenfall, and Vestas. Together these firms comprise some of the largest manufacturers in Europe.

Back in 2019, the company said that its cell manufacturing capacity could hit 16 Gigawatt hours and that it had sold its capacity to the tune of $13 billion through 2030. That means that the Volkswagen deal will eat up a significant portion of expanded product lines.

Founded Carlsson, a former executive at Tesla, Northvolt’s battery business was intended to leapfrog the European Union into direct competition with Asia’s largest battery manufacturers — Samsung, LG Chem, and CATL.

Back when the company first announced its $1 billion investment round, Carlsson had said that Northvolt would need to build up to150 gigawatt hours of capacity to hit targets for. 2030 electric vehicle sales.

The plant in Sweden is expected to hit at least 32 gigawatt hours of production thanks, in part to backing by the Swedish pension fund firms AMF and Folksam and IKEA-linked IMAS Foundation, in addition to the big financial partners Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs.

Northvolt has had a busy few months. Earlier in March the company announced the acquisition of the Silicon Valley-based startup company Cuberg.

That acquisition gave Northvolt a foothold in the U.S. and established the company’s advanced technology center.

The acquisition also gives Northvolt a window into the newest battery chemistry that’s being touted as a savior for the industry — lithium metal batteries.

Cuberg spun out of Stanford University back in 2015 to commercialize what the company called its next-generation battery combining a liquid electrolyte with a lithium metal anode. The company’s customers include Boeing, BETA Technologies, Ampaire, and VoltAero and it was backed by Boeing HorizonX Ventures, Activate.org, the California Energy Commission, the Department of Energy and the TomKat Center at Stanford.

Cuberg’s cells deliver 70 percent increased range and capacity versus comparable lithium ion cells designed for electric aviation applications. The two companies hope that they can apply the technology to Northvolt’s automotive and industrial product portfolio with the ambition to industrialize cells in 2025 that exceed 1,000 Wh/L, while meeting the full spectrum of automotive customer requirements, according to a statement.

“The Cuberg team has shown exceptional ability to develop world-class technology, proven results and an outstanding customer base in a lean and efficient organization,” said Peter Carlsson, CEO and Co-Founder, Northvolt in a statement. “Combining these strengths with the capabilities and technology of Northvolt allows us to make significant improvements in both performance and safety while driving down cost even further for next-generation battery cells. This is critical for accelerating the shift to fully electric vehicles and responding to the needs of the leading automotive companies within a relevant time frame.”

 

Dutch court rejects Uber drivers’ ‘robo-firing’ charge but tells Ola to explain algo-deductions

By Natasha Lomas

Uber has had a good result against litigation in the Netherlands, where its European business is headquartered, that had alleged it uses algorithms to terminate drivers — but which the court has rejected.

The ride-hailing giant has also been largely successful in fending off wide-ranging requests for data from drivers wanting to obtain more of the personal data it holds on them.

A number of Uber drivers filed the suits last year with the support of the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) in part because they are seeking to port data held on them in Uber’s platform to a data trust (called Worker Info Exchange) that they want to set up, administered by a union, to further their ability to collectively bargain against the platform giant.

The court did not object to them seeking data, saying such a purpose does not stand in the way of exercising their personal data access rights, but it rejected most of their specific requests — at times saying they were too general or had not been sufficiently explained or must be balanced against other rights (such as passenger privacy).

The ruling hasn’t gone entirely Uber’s way, though, as the court ordered the tech giant to hand over a little more data to the litigating drivers than it has so far. While it rejected driver access to information including manual notes about them, tags and reports, Uber has been ordered to provide drivers with individual ratings given by riders on an anonymized basis — with the court giving it two months to comply.

In another win for Uber, the court did not find that its (automated) dispatch system results in a “legal or similarly significant effect” for drivers under EU law — and therefore has allowed that it be applied without additional human oversight.

The court also rejected a request by the applicants that data Uber does provide to them must be provided via a CSV file or API, finding that the PDF format Uber has provider is sufficient to comply with legal requirements.

In response to the judgements, an Uber spokesman sent us this statement:

“This is a crucial decision. The Court has confirmed Uber’s dispatch system does not equate to automated decision making, and that we provided drivers with the data they are entitled to. The Court also confirmed that Uber’s processes have meaningful human involvement. Safety is the number one priority on the Uber platform, so any account deactivation decision is taken extremely seriously with manual reviews by our specialist team.”

The ADCU said the litigation has established that drivers taking collective action to seek access to their data is not an abuse of data protection rights — and lauded the aspects of the judgement where Uber has been ordered to hand over more data.

It also said it sees potential grounds for appeal, saying it’s concerned that some aspects of the judgments unduly restrict the rights of drivers, which it said could interfere with the right of workers to access employment rights — “to the extent they are frustrated in their ability to validate the fare basis and compare earnings and operating costs”.

“We also feel the court has unduly put the burden of proof on workers to show they have been subject to automated decision making before they can demand transparency of such decision making,” it added in a press release. “Similarly, the court has required drivers to provide greater specificity on the personal data sought rather than placing the burden on firms like Uber and Ola to clearly explain what personal data is held and how it is processed.”

The two Court of Amsterdam judgements can be found here and here (both are in Dutch; we’ve used Google Translate for the sections quoted below).

Our earlier reports on the legal challenges can be found here and here.

The Amsterdam court has also ruled on similar litigation filed against India-based Ola last year — ordering the India-based ride-hailing company to hand over a wider array of data than it currently does; and also saying it must explain the main criteria for a ‘penalties and deductions’ algorithm that can be applied to drivers’ earnings.

The judgement is available here (in Dutch). See below for more details on the Ola judgement.

Commenting in a statement, James Farrar, a former Uber driver who is now director of the aforementioned Worker Info Exchange, said: “This judgment is a giant leap forward in the struggle for workers to hold platform employers like Uber and Ola Cabs accountable for opaque and unfair automated management practices. Uber and Ola Cabs have been ordered to make transparent the basis for unfair dismissals, wage deductions and the use of surveillance systems such as Ola’s Guardian system and Uber’s Real Time ID system. The court completely rejected Uber & Ola’s arguments against the right of workers to collectively organize their data and establish a data trust with Worker Info Exchange as an abuse of data access rights.”

In an interesting (related) development in Spain, which we reported on yesterday, the government there has said it will legislate in a reform of the labor law aimed at delivery platforms that will require them to provide workers’ legal representatives with information on the rules of any algorithms that manage and assess them.

Court did not find Uber does ‘robo firings’

In one of the lawsuits, the applicants had argued that Uber had infringed their right not to be subject to automated decision-making when it terminated their driver accounts and also that it has not complied with its transparency obligations (within the meaning of GDPR Articles 13, 14 and 15).

Article 22 GDPR gives EU citizens the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing (including profiling) where the decision has legal or otherwise significant consequences for them. There must be meaningful human interaction in the decision-making process for it to not be considered solely automated processing.

Uber argued that it does not carry out automated terminations of drivers in the region and therefore that the law does not apply — telling the court that potential fraudulent activities are investigated by a specialized team of Uber employees (aka the ‘EMEA Operational Risk team’).

And while it said that the team makes use of software with which potential fraudulent activities can be detected, investigations are carried out by employees following internal protocols which require them to analyze potential fraud signals and the “facts and circumstances” to confirm or rule out the existence of fraud.

Uber said that if a consistent pattern of fraud is detected, a decision to terminate requires an unanimous decision from two employees of the Risk team. When the two employees do not agree, Uber says a third conducts an investigation — presumably to cast a deciding vote.

It provided the court with explanations for each of the terminations of the litigating applicants — and the court writes that Uber’s explanations of its decision-making process for terminations were not disputed. “In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the court will assume that the explanation provided by Uber is correct,” it wrote.

Interestingly, in the case of one of the applicants, Uber told the court they had been using (unidentified) software to manipulate the Uber Driver app in order to identify more expensive journeys by being able to view the passenger’s destination before accepting the ride — enabling them to cherry pick jobs, a practice that’s against Uber’s terms. Uber said the driver was warned that if they used the software again they would be terminated. But a few days later they did so — leading to another investigation and a termination.

However it’s worth noting that the activity in question dates back to 2018. And Uber has since changed how its service operates to provide drivers with information about the destination before they accept a ride — a change it flagged in response to a recent UK Supreme Court ruling that confirmed drivers who brought the challenge are workers, not self employed.

Some transparency issues were found

On the associated question of whether Uber had violated its transparency obligations to terminated drivers, the court found that in the cases of two of the four applicants Uber had done so (but not for the other two).

Uber did not clarify which specific fraudulent acts resulted in their accounts being deactivated,” the court writes in the case of the two applicants who it found had not been provided with sufficient information related to their terminations. Based on the information provided by Uber, they cannot check which personal data Uber used in the decision-making process that led to this decision. As a result, the decision to deactivate their accounts is insufficiently transparent and verifiable. As a result, Uber must provide [applicant 2] and [applicant 4] with access to their personal data pursuant to Article 15 of the GDPR insofar as they were the basis for the decision to deactivate their accounts, in such a way that they can are able to verify the correctness and lawfulness of the processing of their personal data.”

The court dismissed Uber’s attempt to evade disclosure on the grounds that providing more information would give the drivers insight into its anti-fraud detection systems which it suggested could then be used to circumvent them, writing: “In this state of affairs, Uber’s interest in refusing access to the processed personal data of [applicant 2] and [applicant 4] cannot outweigh the right of [applicant 2] and [applicant 4] to access their personal data.”

Compensation claims related to the charges were rejected — including in the case of the two applicants who were not provided with sufficient data on their terminations, with the court saying that they had not provided “reasons for damage to their humanity or good name or damage to their person in any other way”.

The court has given Uber two months to provide the two applicants with personal data pertaining to their terminations. No penalty has been ordered.

“For the time being, the trust is justified that Uber will voluntarily comply with the order for inspection [of personal data] and will endeavor to provide the relevant personal data,” it adds.

No legal/significant effect from Uber’s aIgo-dispatch

The litigants’ data access case also sought to challenge Uber’s algorithmic management of drivers — through its use of an algorithmic batch matching system to allocate rides — arguing that, under EU law, the drivers had a right to information about automated decision making and profiling used by Uber to run the service in order to be able to assess impacts of that automated processing.

However the court did not find that automated decision-making “within the meaning of Article 22 GDPR” takes place in this instance, accepting Uber’s argument that “the automated allocation of available rides has no legal consequences and does not significantly affect the data subject”.

Again, the court found that the applicants had “insufficiently explained” their request.

From the judgement:

It has been established between the parties that Uber uses personal data to make automated decisions. This also follows from section 9 ‘Automated decision-making’ included in its privacy statement. However, this does not mean that there is an automated decision-making process as referred to in Article 22 GDPR. After all, this requires that there are also legal consequences or that the data subject is otherwise significantly affected. The request is only briefly explained on this point. The Applicants argue that Uber has not provided sufficient concrete information about its anti-fraud processes and has not demonstrated any meaningful human intervention. Unlike in the case with application number C / 13/692003 / HA RK 20/302 in which an order is also given today, the applicants did not explain that Uber concluded that they were guilty of fraud. The extent to which Uber has taken decisions about them based on automated decision-making is therefore insufficiently explained. Although it is obvious that it is The batched matching system and the upfront pricing system will have a certain influence on the performance of the agreement between Uber and the driver, it has not been found that there is a legal consequence or a significant effect, as referred to in the Guidelines. Since Article 15 paragraph 1 under h GDPR only applies to such decisions, the request under I (iv) is rejected.

Ola must hand over data and algo criteria

In this case the court ruled that Ola must provided applicants with a wider range of data than it is currently doing — including a ‘fraud probability profile’ it maintains on drivers and data within a ‘Guardian’ surveillance system it operates.

The court also found that algorithmic decisions Ola uses to make deductions from driver earnings do fall under Article 22 of the GDPR, as there is no significant human intervention while the discounts/fines themselves may have a significant effect on drivers.

On this it ordered Ola to provide applicants with information on how these algorithmic choices are made by communicating “the main assessment criteria and their role in the automated decision… so that [applicants] can understand the criteria on the basis of which the decisions were taken and they are able to check the correctness and lawfulness of the data processing”.

Ola has been contacted for comment.

Edgybees raises $9.5M Series A for its aerial video augmentation service

By Frederic Lardinois

Edgybees, a company that helps businesses, first responders and military users accurately geotag and augment their aerial video streams in real time, today announced that it has raised a $9.5 million Series A round. The news comes almost exactly two years after the company announced its $5.5 million seed round. Seraphim Capital, which specializes in space tech investments, led this new round. New investors Refinery Ventures, LG Technology Ventures, Kodem Growth, as well as existing investors OurCrowd, 8VC, Verizon Ventures and Motorola Solutions Venture Capital also participated.

“Our mission is to ensure positive human outcomes during life-saving missions,” says Edgybees co-founder and CEO Adam Kaplan. “Our new partners will be key to continuing to push our mission forward. With their unique industry expertise, we are poised to expand our global footprint and drive innovation within the industry. We look forward to the next phase of growth, meeting the critical demands of the defense, public safety and critical infrastructure markets.”

Using the company’s Visual Intelligence Platform, users can easily register and track assets in video show by a drone, for example. The standard use case here would be to help first responders get an accurate picture of an evolving emergency on top of live images from the scene, with the ability to track all of their assets and personnel in real time. But Edgybees has also shown other use cases that range from tracking and visualizing golf games to insurance and defense use cases.

About a year ago, Edgybees, which had its start in Israel but is now based in San Diego, launches its Argus platform, which makes it easier for users to bring their own drone and other live video platforms to the service’s geo-registration engine.

Image Credits: Edgybees

“Edgybees solves a huge problem in spatial computing: how do you really know what you are seeing through fast moving airborne or other video feeds? Edgybees brings together the real and virtual worlds and helps first responders save lives, industrial drone users save money, and defense teams get the mission done,” Ourcrowd CEO Jon Medved explained.

Similarly, Seraphim managing partner and CEO Mark Boggett noted that he thinks of Edgybees as a Google Maps fused with live video. “Their geo-referencing capability is a breakthrough technology that brings a new level of insight and usability to video streams from space, drones or bodycams. We are very excited about Edgybees, not only for the innovation it brings to public safety and defense, but because its ability to be utilized in a wide range of industries,” he said.

Image Credits: Edgybees

Google slapped in France over misleading hotel star ratings

By Natasha Lomas

Google has agreed to pay a €1.1 million fine over misleading star-ratings for hotels in France.

The tech giant had been applying its own (algorithmic) system of ratings for hotels applied via its search engine and on Google Maps. But back in 2019, following a number of complaints by hoteliers, the French national competition and consumer watchdog (DGCCRF) instigated an investigation into this propriety rating system.

The probe revealed that the tech giant had replaced the standard classification system of the public tourist board (Atout France) with a star rating system powered by its own criteria — and which it had applied to more than 7,500 establishments.

Safe to say Google’s concept of a ‘five star’ hotel was not the same as the Atout France version. And the consumer watchdog found that Google’s presentation for classifying tourist accommodation — including identical use of the term “stars” on the same scale from 1 to 5 — to be confusing for consumers.

“This practice was particularly damaging for consumers, misled about the level of services what they could expect when booking accommodation. It also resulted in prejudice for hoteliers whose establishments were wrongly presented as lower ranked than in the official ranking of Atout France,” the watchdog writes in a press release on the sanction (which we’ve translated from French).

The DGCCRF concluded that Google had engaged in a deceptive business practice — and, with the public prosecutor, it proposed the sanction announced today on Google Ireland (the tech giant’s European HQ) and Google France.

As well as agreeing to pay the fine, Google has changed hotel star ratings in France — agreeing to display the official Atout France ratings. So tourists in France can be confident that a five star hotel they see on Google Maps has an official standard attached to it which can’t be influenced by any of the usual online growth hacking tactics.

A spokesperson for Google confirmed the conclusion of the DGCCRF’s action, telling TechCrunch: “We have now settled with the DGCCRF and made the necessary changes to only reflect the official French star rating for hotels on Google Maps and Search.”

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.

Investors say Belgium’s startups are poised for international expansion

By Mike Butcher

We surveyed five investors from the Brussels, Belgium ecosystem, and overall the mood was upbeat.

Investors are backing companies in smart living, life sciences (“a really promising sector for Belgium”), B2B, “industry 4.0,” fintech, mobility, health and music tech. Food tech appears “an overcrowded space.” Another says: “COVID confirmed our strategy to invest in local companies and with a sector focus on smart living life science and tech.”

Belgium has a “dynamic ecosystem of health actors, from biotech firms, universities and startups and scaleups. We follow the #BeHealth initiative, which unites the various parts of the Belgian health sector.”

Belgium is “not a market for B2C startups” as it has a “small but complex market with different regions/cultures/languages.” They are focusing on Belgium and neighboring countries for investing.

However, finding funding for startups is still a “difficult task today” said one, as it suffers from a lack of “scale capital” for later rounds.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in the city? “As a well-educated environment, multicultural, multilingual,” says one. “The ecosystem is very dynamic, with great opportunities. While valuations are usually lower compared to other hubs in Europe, there is quite some money available on the market,” says another.

Brussels’ geography makes it “very well-connected to Europe and international by nature.” It is multicultural and multilingual, so as a result startups position themselves for international expansion, “whether first to France or the Netherlands or beyond. For investors that are scoping opportunities in Belgium, they should recognize that Belgian startups are well-suited for international growth.”

As a small and very dense country, Belgium “already has a distributed founder geography.”

Investors have also been advising companies “to make sure that they have enough cash to last until the end of next 2021 at least.”

We spoke to the following:


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Pauline Brunel, partner, BlackFin

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Fintech, insurtech

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Outstanding team, big opportunity.

Xavier de Villepin, partner, TheClubDeal

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Smart living, life sciences and tech.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Univercells — Series C.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
More startups needed in the smart living sector. In general, companies with international ambitions maintaining local sticky jobs.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Daring entrepreneurs within growing markets.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
We are wary of blockchain and crypto currencies.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
More than 50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Life sciences, including biotech, is a really promising sector for Belgium. On the contrary, Belgium is not a market for B2C startups (small but complex market with different regions/cultures/languages).

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
They feel Brussels is one of the main tech hubs in Belgium. Though the private equity and risk-on mentality is still not here. Finding funding for startups is still a difficult task today.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t think it will have a substantial impact, as many startups were already favoring remote work and flexible working hours.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Definitely travel and hospitality (part of smart living). It suffered a lot. But it’s a good time to invest. It’s an opportunity for startups to rethink their model and challenge the way they were seeing things before.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 confirmed our strategy was right … to focus on local competitiveness in the backbones of our economy: smart living, life sciences and tech. But within each sector, each company may be impacted differently. So a case-by-case analysis and in-depth due diligence is a necessity more than ever. Our advice to startups is to consider this environment will stay for another year and to plan the cash flows very carefully.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The last lockdown giving much more freedom to companies to continue to operate and witness that many of them adapted their way of working to stay operational.

Frederic Convent, partner, TheClubDeal

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Smart living, life sciences, tech.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Univercells Series C.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
More companies active in smart living, life sciences and tech.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Blockchain and crypto.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
50%.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Fintech is doing well in Brussels. We like an Antwerp mortgage B2B fintech: Oper.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
As a well-educated multicultural, multilingual environment.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
Most startups are already used to working remotely so the impact for the hubs is less, as they and their clients proved able to work elsewhere.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19?
Travel and hospitality will suffer a lot in this COVID crisis. Life sciences are well-positioned to address the crisis.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID confirmed our strategy to invest in local companies and with a sector focus on smart living, life sciences and tech.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
In medtech, essential medical intervention some green shoots benefit from the crisis.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
The last lockdown pushed companies to adapt their business model and to focus on the new situation.

Alexandre Dutoit, partner, ScaleFund

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
We aim at bridging the equity gap between seed rounds and Series A.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
Kaspard, a silver economy company having developed a fall-detection technology.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
We like B2B. Industry 4.0 type of deals lack a bit in our opinion.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Above all, we need a great team. Then we want to see some commercial traction, being POCs, first contracts.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Food tech appears to us as an overcrowded space. A lot of B2C entrepreneurs are doing “more of the same.”

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We focus on Belgium and neighboring countries.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Biotech is definitely a hit in Belgium. Fintech and music tech are also growing.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
The ecosystem is very dynamic, with great opportunities. While valuations are usually lower compared to other hubs in Europe, there is quite some money available on the market.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
I don’t see that coming, especially as entrepreneurs like to network, share experiences and be in an emulative environment.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?

Very few, as great teams are able to adapt. We have in our portfolio a company closely tied to events that has been able to rethink its business model and is now even more profitable compared to before the crises. Besides, companies that foster remote work or can install service at a distance will be short-term winners.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID has not impacted our strategy. Entrepreneurs are afraid of the uncertainty and lack of perspective. We encourage them to prepare themselves for the next opened window and to work on tech and processes, while reassuring them on the financing side.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Utopix, a startup linked to the event industry, has been able to rethink its business model as their sales were falling down. They have down their best month ever since then.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
I have seen hope after the summer period when companies were angry to do business again. Unfortunately, that hasn’t lasted very long. We try to remain positive and focus on important things.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Brussels is a growing scene for startups, very well-connected to Europe and international by nature.

Olivier de Duve, partner, Inventures Investment Partners

What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
At Inventures, we invest in a range of startups that have strong financial returns and a measurable social and environmental impact. Looking to 2021, we’re most excited about the mobility sector, HR tech, the blue economy (investing in technologies around water and ocean health) and the circular economy. These sectors started to grow rapidly in Europe, and we’re excited to source some great deals in the coming year.

What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
We just led a round in MySkillCamp, a Belgian HR tech company that equips SMEs and corporates with an adaptable platform for employee learning. MySkillCamp has been stunning us with their rapid growth, even during the pandemic, and it’s a testament to the fact that companies need solutions for upskilling and reskilling their workforce.

Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
I’ll flip this question to be investor-centric. We’d really like to see more impact venture capital firms that are active in the Series B and beyond stage in Europe. For now, the largest impact VCs are concentrated in the US — having that source of capital here in Brussels or in neighboring ecosystems will help earlier-stage European VCs continue to scale and support their portfolio companies in later rounds. Having that access to capital is key for making a sustainable ecosystem.

What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
Our investment thesis is to find startups that are financially strong and tackle one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Broadly that has meant companies in health, mobility, renewable energy, climate and more. As we’re rounding out our second fund, our next investment has to hit our sweet spot of clear commercial traction, a stellar team and solid plans for scaling internationally.

Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
Several markets are oversaturated like shared light vehicle scooters or telemedicine solutions. D2C medical devices is also a tough market to break into. Given the pandemic situation, startups active in the recreational sector like tourism and sport are struggling more than ever. All products or services that are not digital are less resilient and will need to shift as soon as possible.

How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
About half of our startups are coming from Belgium. We’ve historically invested in the U.K., France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, however we’re open to investing across the EU.

Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not, long term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Two sectors that come to mind are mobility and health. Belgium is a hyperconnected country, and mobility startups that address user needs for a more sustainable and efficient transportation will do well here. As for health, Belgium has a dynamic ecosystem of health actors, from biotech firms, universities, and startups and scaleups. We follow the #BeHealth initiative, which unites the various parts of the Belgian health sector. One company that we wanted to highlight is Citizen Lab — they are a digital democracy platform that helps local governments organize voting, participatory budgeting and more. They’re setting the conversation around civic tech and we’re so excited to see what the founders Wietse Van Ransbeeck and Aline Muylaert have in store for 2021.

How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Belgium is a multicultural, multilingual country — so startups that are grown here naturally are positioning themselves for international expansion, whether first to France or the Netherlands or beyond. For investors that are scoping opportunities in Belgium, they should recognize that Belgian startups are well-suited for international growth and a role that they could play as investors is helping to introduce Belgian startups to other markets.

Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
As a small and very dense country, Belgium already has a distributed founder geography. In Brussels we have Co.Station, which is home to dozens of startups. However, we also see strong growth in innovation coming from Leuven, Ghent, Antwerp, Liege — and these cities are maximum two hours away by train. Our latest investment, MySkillCamp, for example, is based in Tournai, with an office in Brussels.

Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We found out in our portfolio that companies are quite resilient to the crisis because they are addressing societal issues like health, climate and energy. SaaS companies or other digital services are also less exposed, which points out that digitalization is key to survive. Companies that are highly dependent on large governmental contracts could be more exposed to shifts in spending patterns due to COVID.

How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
COVID-19 has not impacted our investment strategy so much as our post-investment strategy. Since the pandemic started, we’ve been “all hands on deck” with helping our portfolio companies weather the storm — from organizing new fundraising to scoping out new markets and helping on strategic growth projects. We’ve been advising our companies to make sure that they have enough cash to last until the end of next 2021 at least. What we’re seeing is that contracts are taking longer to be signed, especially for our companies looking to partner with governments that are more cash strapped and limited because of the pandemic.

Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
Definitely! On the ecosystem level, we’ve seen a lot of fundraising activity in the last six months, particularly in the health and biotech sector — one example of that is Belgium-based Univercells. For our portfolio, we’ve seen that tools that serve governments and the transition to a more digital economy has created enormous opportunities for our B2B and B2G companies to thrive during this time.

What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
A few moments have given us hope during 2020. Seeing the racial reckoning in the U.S. spark conversations in Europe about justice and D&I has given me a lot of hope around the role of the venture capital and startup sector in creating a more equal society. Initiatives like Diversity VC are helping us to do that. Also, the sheer number of startups with climate benefits, from cultured meat to sustainable packaging and more, has showcased the financial viability and the demand for expanding the world’s options for sustainability — another large societal challenge.

Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Belgium is home to a vibrant, active and fast-growing startup scene!

Spotify announces an exclusive podcast deal with filmmaker Ava DuVernay

By Anthony Ha

Spotify continues to enlist big names for its podcasting efforts. The latest: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay and her arts collective Array.

DuVernay has directed theatrically-released films including “Selma” and “A Wrinkle in Time,” but she also made “13th” and “When They See Us” for Netflix, and she’s been an eloquent proponent for streaming as a more accessible way of telling her stories.

Spotify says that through this multi-year partnership, Array will be creating exclusive scripted and unscripted programming for the streaming audio platform. For these productions, it will be working with Gimlet, the podcast network that Spotify acquired in 2019.

“Recognizing the undeniable power of voice and sound, I’m thrilled to extend ARRAY’s storytelling into the realm of podcasts,” DuVernay said in a statement. “The opportunity to work with [Gimlet’s head of content] Lydia Polgreen and her passionate team drew us to Spotify as a home for our audio narratives and we couldn’t be more excited to begin this new creative journey.”

In addition to acquiring Gimlet, Spotify has also signed exclusive podcast deals with Barack and Michelle Obama, Joe Rogan and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Google backs India’s Dunzo in $40 million funding round

By Manish Singh

Google is writing check to another startup in India. The Android-maker, which last year unveiled a $10 billion fund to invest in the world’s second largest internet market, said on Tuesday that it is participating in a $40 million investment round of hyperlocal delivery startup Dunzo, a Bangalore-based firm that it has also previously backed.

Five-year-old Dunzo said Google, Lightbox, Evolvence, Hana Financial Investment, LGT Lightstone Aspada, and Alteria among others participated in its Series E financing round, which brings its to-date raise to $121 million.

Dunzo operates an eponymous hyper-local delivery service in nearly a dozen cities in India including Bangalore, Delhi, Noida, Pune, Gurgaon, Powai, Hyderabad and Chennai. Users get access to a wide-range of items across several categories, from grocery, perishables, pet supplies and medicines to dinner from their neighborhood stores and restaurants.

E-commerce accounts for less than 3% of all retail sales in India, according to industry estimates. Mom and pop stores and other neighborhood outlets that dot tens of thousands of cities, towns, villages and slums across the country drive most of the sales in the nation. The way Dunzo has grown, it poses a challenge to e-commerce firms, as well as local food and grocery delivery startups such as Swiggy, Zomato, BigBasket, and Grofers.

“As merchants go digital, Dunzo is helping small businesses in their digital transformation journey in support of business recovery,” said Caesar Sengupta, VP, Google, in a statement. “Through our India Digitization Fund, we’re committed to partnering with India’s innovative startups to build a truly inclusive digital economy that will benefit everyone.”

Kabeer Biswas, chief executive and co-founder of Dunzo the startup has grown its annual gross merchandise value business to about $100 million. (GMV used to a popular metric that several e-commerce firms relied on to demonstrate their growth, however, it’s one of the meaningless ways to gauge a startup’s growth. Most firms have stopped using GMV. Additionally, when a startup speaks GMV language, traditionally it has meant they are anything but close to profitability, which happens to be true in the case of Dunzo.)

“Dunzo’s mission resonated stronger than ever in 2020. We have been amazed by everything merchants and users have started to depend on the platform for. We truly believe we are writing a playbook for how hyperlocal businesses can be built with sustainable unit economics and capital responsibility. As a team, we are more focused than ever to enable local Merchants to get closer to their Users and build one of the most loved consumer brands in the country,” Biswas said in a statement.

Google, which invested $4.5 billion in Jio Platforms last year, recently backed social news app Dailyhunt and Glance, a part of ad giant InMobi Group that is aggressively expanding ways to populate content on Android users’ lockscreen. Google is also in talks with local social media ShareChat and may alone invest more than $100 million in the Indian startup, TechCrunch reported earlier this months. Talks about Google’s interest in ShareChat has previously also been reported by local media houses Economic Times and ET Now.

Computer Scientists Break the 'Traveling Salesperson' Record

By Erica Klarreich
Finally, there’s a better way to find approximate solutions to the notorious optimization problem, often used to test the limits of efficient computation.
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