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Tia Health gets over $24 million to build a network of holistic health clinics and virtual services for women

By Jonathan Shieber

Tia Health, the developer of a network of digital wellness apps, clinics and telehealth services designed to treat women’s health holistically, has raised $24.275 million in a new round of funding.

The company said the financing would support the expansion of its telehealth and clinical services to new markets, although co-founder and chief executive Carolyn Witte would not disclose, where, exactly those locations would be.

Co-founded initially as a text-based tool for women to communicate and receive advice on sexual health and wellness, Witte and her co-founder Felicity Yost always had bigger ambitions for their business.

Last year, Tia launched its first physical clinic in New York and now boasts a team of 15 physicians, physician assistants, registered nurses, therapists and other treatment providers. The support staff is what helps keeps cost down, according to Witte.

“We reduce the cost of care by 40% [and] we do that through collaborative care staffing. [That] leverages mid-level providers like nurse practitioners to deliver higher-touch care at lower cost,” she said. 

Tia closed its most recent round before shelter-in-place went into effect in New York on March 17, and since then worked hard to port its practices over to telehealth and virtual medicine, Witte said.

Two days later, Tia went live with telehealth services and the company’s membership of 3,000 women responded. Witte said roughly half of the company’s patients have used the company’s telehealth platform. Since Tia began as an app first before moving into physical care services, the progression was natural, said Witte. The COVID-19 epidemic just accelerated the timeline. “In the last 90 days close to 50% of Tia’s 3,000 members have engaged in chat or video,” Witte said. 

The move to telehealth also allowed Tia to take in more money for its services. With changes to regulation around what kinds of care delivery are covered, telehealth is one new way to make a lot of money that’s covered by insurance and not an elective decision for patients.

“That has allowed us to give our patients the ability to use their insurance for that virtual care and bill for those services,” Witte said of the regulatory changes. 

The staff at Tia consists not just of doctors and nurse practitioners (there are two of each), but also licensed clinical therapists that provide mental health services for Tia’s patient population too.

“Before COVID we surveyed our 3,000 patients in NY about what they want and mental health was the most requested service,” said Witte. “We saw a 400% increase in mental health-related messages on my platform. We rolled out this behavioral health and clinical program paired with our primary care.”

As Tia continues to expand the services it offers to its patients, the next piece of the puzzle to provide a complete offering for women’s health is pregnancy planning and fertility, according to Witte.

The company sees itself as part of a movement to repackage a healthcare industry that has concentrated on treating specific illnesses rather than patient populations that have unique profiles and care needs.

Rather than focusing on a condition or medical specialization like cardiology, gastroenterology, gynecology or endocrinology, the new healthcare system treats cohorts or groups of people — those over 65, adult men and women, as groups with their own specific needs that cross these specializations and require different types of care.

We are really focused on collecting longitudinal data to better understand and treat women’s health,” said Witte. “A stepping stone in that regard is expanding our service line to support the pregnancy journey.” 

Tia’s latest round was led by new investor Threshold Ventures, with participation from Acme Ventures (also a new backer) and previous investors, including Define Homebrew, Compound and John Doerr, the longtime managing partner at KPCB.

When the company launched, its stated mission was to use women’s data to improve women’s health.

“We believe reproductive-aged women deserve a similar focus, and a new model of care designed end-to-end, just for us,” the company said in a statement

As Tia continues to stress, women have been “under-researched and underserved by a healthcare system that continues to treat us as ‘small men with different parts’ — all-too-often neglecting the complex interplay of hormones, gene regulation, metabolism and other sex-specific differences that make female health fundamentally distinct from male health. It’s time for that to change.”

But Tia won’t be changing anything on the research front anytime soon. The company is not pursuing any clinical trials or publishing any research around how the ways in which women’s menstrual cycles may affect outcomes or influence other systems, according to Witte. Rather the company is using that information in its treatment of individual patients, she said.

The company did just hire a head of research — an expert in reproductive genomics, which Witte said was to start to understand how the company can build out proof points around how Tia’s care model can improve outcomes. 

Tia will reopen its brick-and-mortar clinic in New York on June 1 and will be expanding to new locations over the course of the year. That expansion may involve partnerships with corporations or existing healthcare providers, the company said.

“By partnering with leading health systems, employers, and provider networks to scale our Connected Care Platform, and open new physical and digital Tia doors, we can make ‘the Tia Way’ the new standard of care for women and providers everywhere,” Tia said in a statement.

As it does so, the company said it will continue to emphasize its holistic approach to women’s health.

As the company’s founders write:

Being a healthy woman is all-too-often reduced to not having an STD or an abnormal Pap, but we know that the leading cause of death for women in America is cardiovascular disease. We also know that women are diagnosed with anxiety and depression at twice the rate of men, and that endocrine and autoimmune disorders are on the rise. In pregnancy, c-section and preterm birth rates continue to go up instead of down, as does maternal mortality, with the U.S. reporting more maternal deaths than any developed country in the world.

We believe that the solution is a preventive “whole women’s health” model…

Tom Cruise Is Making a Movie in Space With SpaceX and NASA

By Angela Watercutter
The actor is reportedly working with director Doug Liman on the film.

Carry1st has $4M to invest in African mobile gaming

By Jake Bright

Gaming development startup Carry1st has raised a $2.5 million seed round led by CRE Venture Capital .

That brings the company’s total VC to $4 million, which Carry1st will deploy to support and invest in game publishing across Africa.

The startup — with offices in New York, Lagos, and South Africa — was co-founded in 2018 by Sierra Leonean Cordel Robbin-Coker, American Lucy Parry, and Zimbabwean software engineer Tinotenda Mundangepfupfu.

Robbin-Coker and Parry met while working in investment banking in New York, before forming Carry1st.

“I convinced her to avoid going to business school and instead come to South Africa to Cape Town,” Robbin-Coker told TechCrunch on a call.

“We launched with the idea that we wanted to bring the gaming industry…to the African continent.”

Carry1st looks to match gaming demand in Africa to the continent’s fast growing youth population, improving internet penetration and rapid smartphone adoption.

The startup has already launched two games as direct downloads from its site, Carry1st Trivia and Hyper!.

“In April, [Carry1st Trivia] did pretty well. It was the number one game in Nigeria, and Kenya for most of the year and did about one and a half million downloads.” Robbin-Coker said.

Carry1st Africa

Image Credit: Carry1st

The startup will use a portion of its latest round and overall capital to bring more unique content onto its platform. “In order to do that, you need cash…to help a developer finish a game or entice a strong game to work with you,” said Robbin-Coker.

The company will also expand its distribution channels, such as partnerships with mobile operators and the Carry1st Brand Ambassador program — a network of sales agents who promote and sell games across the continent.

The company will also invest in the gaming market and itself.

“We want to dedicate at least a million dollars to actually going out and acquiring users and scaling our user base. And then, the final piece is really around the tech platform that we’re looking to build,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails creating multiple channels and revenue points to develop, distribute, and invest in games on the continent, he explained.

Image Credits: Carry1st

Robbin-Coker compared the Carry1st’s strategy in Africa as something similar to Sea: an Asia regional mobile entertainment distribution platform — publicly traded and partially owned by Tencent — that incubated the popular Fornite game.

“We’re looking to be the number one regional publisher of [gaming] content in the region…the publisher of record and the app store,” said Robbin-Coker.

That entails developing and distributing not only games originating from the continent, but also serving as channel for gaming content from other continents coming into Africa.

That generates a consistent revenue stream for the startup, Robbin-Coker explained, but also creates opportunities for big creative wins.

“It’s a hits driven business. A single studio will work and toil in obscurity for a decade and then they’ll make Candy Crush. And then that would be worth $6 billion, very quickly,” Carry1st’s CEO said.

He and his team will use a portion of their $4 million in VC to invest in that potential gaming success story in Africa.

The company’s co-founder Lucy Parry directs aspirants to the company’s homepage. “There’s a big blue button that says ‘Pitch Your Game’ at the bottom of our website.”

Investors say emerging multiverses are the future of entertainment

By Jonathan Shieber

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the adoption of new technologies and cultural shifts that were already well underway. According to a clutch of heavy-hitting investors, this dynamic is particularly strong in gaming and extended reality.

Unlike other segments of the startup and tech world, where valuations have been slashed, early-stage companies focused on building new games, gaming infrastructure and virtual or extended reality entertainment are having no trouble raising money. They’ve even seen valuations rise, investors said.

“Valuations have increased pretty significantly in the gaming sector. Valuations have gone up 20 to 25% higher than I would have seen prior to this pandemic,” Phil Sanderson, a co-founder and managing director at Griffin Gaming Partners, told fellow participants on a virtual panel during the Los Angeles Games Conference earlier this month.

Driving the appetite for new investments is the entertainment industry’s bearhug of virtual events, animated features, games and social media platforms after widespread shelter-in-place orders made physical events an impossibility.

Shadowserver, an Internet Guardian, Finds a Lifeline

By Lily Hay Newman
Ten weeks ago, Shadowserver's main source of funding dried up. Now it's back on level footing.

State-Based Contact Tracing Apps Could Be a Mess

By Andy Greenberg
With no nationwide Covid-19 notification software in sight, security and interoperability issues loom large.

The New 'Tenet' Trailer Dropped in 'Fortnite'

By Angela Watercutter
Christopher Nolan's latest movie will screen in Epic Games' online universe this summer.

The DHS Prepares for Attacks Fueled by 5G Conspiracy Theories

By Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica
The claim that 5G can spread the coronavirus has led to dozens of cell-tower burnings in Europe. Now, the US telecom industry is on alert as well.

The Eerily Dark Willis Tower Tops This Week's Internet News Roundup

By Graeme McMillan
Last week, a flood knocked out power to the building formerly known as Sears Tower, creating an apt visual metaphor for 2020.

BlaBlaCar partners with scooter startup Voi to launch new BlaBla Ride app

By Romain Dillet

Long-distance ridesharing startup BlaBlaCar announced that it is expanding to scooter sharing. But the company isn’t going to operate its own fleet of scooters. Instead, BlaBlaCar is partnering with Voi, a European e-scooter service that has raised $136 million over multiple rounds.

Voi operates in dozens of European cities, including Paris, Marseille and Lyon. Over the next few weeks, Voi scooters will feature three different brands — Voi, BlaBlaCar and BlaBla Ride.

Existing Voi members will still be able to use the Voi app. But BlaBlaCar also plans to launch its own app, BlaBla Ride. Existing BlaBlaCar users will be able to log in with their BlaBlaCar accounts.

According to AFP, BlaBlaCar says it isn’t a financial transaction — it’s just a partnership that could benefit users of both platforms.

BlaBlaCar has launched several new services over the past couple of years. It has acquired Ouibus and rebranded it to BlaBlaBus. And, it operates a carpooling marketplace for daily commutes between your home and your workplace called BlaBlaLines.

Interestingly, unlike Grab, Gojek and Uber, BlaBlaCar isn’t building a super app to access several different services. BlaBlaLines is still a separate app, for instance. It creates some friction for users that could be interested in multiple services.

The company thinks BlaBla Ride could be a great solution for the last mile of your ride. A bus or carpooling driver could drop you off in the city center and you could then unlock a scooter to reach your destination.

France’s data protection watchdog reviews contact-tracing app StopCovid

By Romain Dillet

France's data protection watchdog CNIL has released its second review of StopCovid, the contact-tracing app backed by the French government. The CNIL says there’s no major issue with the technical implementation and legal framework around StopCovid, with some caveats.

France isn’t relying on Apple and Google’s contact-tracing API. Instead, a group of research institutes and private companies have worked on a separate solution.

At the heart of StopCovid, there’s a centralized contact-tracing protocol called ROBERT. It relies on a central server to assign a permanent ID and generate ephemeral IDs attached to this permanent ID. Your phone collects the ephemeral IDs of other app users around you. When somebody is diagnosed COVID-19-positive, the server receives all the ephemeral IDs associated with people with whom they’ve interacted. If one or several of your ephemeral IDs get flagged, you receive a notification.

ROBERT has been a controversial topic as it isn’t an anonymous system — it relies on pseydonymization. It means that you have to trust your government that it isn’t collecting too much information and it doesn’t plan to put names on permanent IDs.

But the CNIL says that ROBERT focuses on exposed users instead of users who are diagnosed COVID-19-positive — it is “a choice that protects the privacy of those persons,” the agency says. The CNIL also says that ROBERT tries to minimize data collection as much as possible.

Inria released a small portion of the source code that is going to power StopCovid a couple of weeks ago. The research institute originally said that some parts wouldn’t be open-sourced. The CNIL contested this decision and Inria has now reversed its stance and the government promises that everything will be released, eventually.

The StopCovid development team is also launching a bug bounty program in partnership with YesWeHack following recommendations from France’s national cybersecurity agency (ANSSI).

On the legal front, the draft decree excludes data aggregation in general. For instance, the government won’t be able to generate a heat map based on StopCovid data — StopCovid doesn’t collect your location anyway.

The CNIL says that the government promises that there won’t be any negative consequence if you’re not using StopCovid, nor any privilege if you’re using it. The government also promises that you’ll be able to delete pseudonymized data from the server. All of this is still ‘to be confirmed’ with the final decree.

Finally, the CNIL recommends some changes when it comes to informing users about data collection and data retention — it’s hard to understand what happens with your data right now. There should be some specific wording for underage people and their parents as well.

In other news, the government has sent me some screenshots of the app. Here’s what it looks like on iOS:

France’s digital minister, Cédric O, will be in front of parliament members tomorrow to debate the pros and cons of StopCovid. It’s going to be interesting to see whether the French government has managed to convince parliament members that a contact-tracing app is useful to fight the spread of COVID-19.

As fashion has its metaverse moment, one app looks to bridge real and virtual worlds for sneakerheads

By Jonathan Shieber

Fashion is having its moment in the metaverse.

A riot of luxury labels, music, and games are vying for attention in the virtual world. And as physical events and the entertainment industry that depends on them shuts down, virtual things have come to epitomize the popular culture of the pandemic.

It’s creating an environment where imagination and technical ability, not wealth, are the only barriers to accumulating the status symbols that only money and fame could buy.

Whether it’s famous designers like Marc Jacobs, Sandy Liang, or Valentino dropping styles in Nintendo’s breakout hit, Animal Crossing: New Horizons; HypeBae’s plans to host a fashion show later this month in the game; or various crossovers between Epic Games’ Fortnite and brands like Supreme (which pre-date the pandemic), fashion is tapping into gaming culture to maintain its relevance.

One entrepreneur who’s spent time on both sides of the business as a startup founder and an employee for one of the biggest brands in athletic wear has launched a new app to try build a bridge between the physical and virtual fashion worlds.

Its goal is to give hypebeasts a chance to collect virtual versions of their physical objects of desire and win points to maybe buy the gear they crave, while also providing a showcase where brands can discover new design talent to make the next generation of cult collaborations and launch careers.

Aglet’s Phase 1

The app, called Aglet, was created by Ryan Mullins, the former head of digital innovation strategy for Adidas, and it’s offering a way to collect virtual versions of limited edition sneakers and, eventually, design tools so all the would-be Virgil Ablohs and Kanye Wests of the world can make their own shoes for the metaverse.

When TechCrunch spoke with Mullins last month, he was still stuck in Germany. His plans for the company’s launch, along with his own planned relocation to Los Angeles, had changed dramatically since travel was put on hold and nations entered lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Initially, the app was intended to be a Pokemon Go for sneakerheads. Limited edition “drops” of virtual sneakers would happen at locations around a city and players could go to those spots and add the virtual sneakers to their collection. Players earned points for traveling to various spots, and those points could be redeemed for in-app purchases or discounts at stores.

We’re converting your physical activity into a virtual currency that you can spend in stores to buy new brands,” Mulins said. “Brands can have challenges and you have to complete two or three challenges in your city as you compete on that challenge the winner will get prizes.”

Aglet determines how many points a player earns based on the virtual shoes they choose to wear on their expeditions. The app offers a range of virtual sneakers from Air Force 1s to Yeezys and the more expensive or rare the shoe, the more points a player earns for “stepping out” in it. Over time, shoes will wear out and need to replaced — ideally driving more stickiness for the app.

Currency for in-app purchases can be bought for anywhere from $1 (for 5 “Aglets”) to $80 (for 1,000 “Aglets”). As players collect shoes they can display them on their in-app virtual shelves and potentially trade them with other players.

When the lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders came through, Mullins and his designers quickly shifted to create the “pandemic mode” for the game, where users can go anywhere on a map and simulate the game.

“Our plan was to have an LA specific release and do a competition, but that was obviously thrown off,” Mullins said.

The app has antecedents like Nike’s SNKRS, which offered limited edition drops to users and geo-located places where folks could find shoes from its various collaborations, as Input noted when it covered Aglet’s April launch.

While Mullins’ vision for Aglet’s current incarnation is an interesting attempt to weave the threads of gaming and sneaker culture into a new kind of augmented reality-enabled shopping experience, there’s a step beyond the game universes that Mullins wants to create.

Image Credits: Adidas (opens in a new window)

The future of fashion discovery could be in the metaverse

“My proudest initiative [at Adidas] was one called MakerLab,” said Mullins.

MakerLab linked Adidas up with young, up-and-coming designers and let them create limited edition designs for the shoe company based on one of its classic shoe silhouettes. Mullins thinks that those types of collaborations point the way to a potential future for the industry that could be incredibly compelling.

“The real vision for me is that I believe that the next Nike is an inverted Nike,” Mullins said. “I think what’s going to happen is that you’re going to have young kids on Roblox designing stuff in the virtual environments and it’ll pop there and you’ll have Nike or Adidas manufacture it.”

From that perspective, the Aglet app is more of a Trojan Horse for the big idea that Mullins wants to pursue. That’s to create a design studio to showcase the best virtual designs and bring them to the real world.

Mullins calls it the “Smart Aglet Sneaker Studio”. “[It’s] where you can design your own sneakers in the standard design style and we’ll put those in the game. We’ll let you design your own hoodies and then [Aglet] does become a YouTube for fashion design.”

The YouTube example comes from the starmaking power the platform has enabled for everyone from makeup artists to musicians like Justin Bieber, who was discovered on the social media streaming service.

“I want to build a virtual design platform where kids can build their own brands for virtual fashion brands and put them into this game environment that I’m building in the first phase,” said Mullins. “Once Bieber was discovered, YouTube meant he was being able to access an entire infrastructure to become a star. What Nike and Adidas are doing is something similar where they’re finding this talent out there and giving that designer access to their infrastructure and maybe could jumpstart a young kid’s career.”

There's a Jailbreak Out for the Current Version of iOS

By Lily Hay Newman
The Unc0ver tool works on all versions of iOS from 11 to 13.5, the current release.

Look Out for This Covid-19 Excel Phishing Scam

By Brian Barrett
Plus: An iOS leak, an EasyJet breach, and more of the week's top security news.

UK government reverses course on Huawei’s involvement in 5G networks

By Jonathan Shieber

Conservative members of the United Kingdom’s government have pushed Prime Minister Boris Johnson to draw up plans to remove telecom equipment made by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei from the nation’s 5G networks by 2023, according to multiple reports.

The decision by Johnson, who wanted Huawei’s market share in the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure capped at 35 percent, brings the UK back into alignment with the position Australia and the United States have taken on Huawei’s involvement in national communications networks, according to both The Guardian and The Telegraph.

The debate over Huawei’s role in international networking stems from the company’s close ties to the Chinese government and the attendant fears that relying on Huawei telecom equipment could expose the allied nations to potential cybersecurity threats and weaken national security.

Originally, the UK had intended to allow Huawei to maintain a foothold in the nation’s telecom infrastructure in a plan that had received the approval of Britain’s intelligence agencies in January.

“This is very good news and I hope and believe it will be the start of a complete and thorough review of our dangerous dependency on China,” conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Guardian when informed of the Prime Minister’s reversal.

As TechCrunch had previously reported, the Australian government and the U.S. both have significant concerns about Huawei’s ability to act independently of the interests of the Chinese national government.

“The fundamental issue is one of trust between nations in cyberspace,” wrote Simeon Gilding, until recently the head of the Australian Signals Directorate’s signals intelligence and offensive cyber missions. “It’s simply not reasonable to expect that Huawei would refuse a direction from the Chinese Communist Party.”

Given the current tensions between the U.S. and China, allies like the UK and Australia would be better served not exposing themselves to any risks from having the foreign telecommunications company’s technology in their networks, some security policy analysts have warned.

“It’s not hard to imagine a time when the U.S. and China end up in some sort of conflict,” Tom Uren of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) told TechCrunch. “If there was a shooting war, it is almost inevitable that the U.S. would ask Australia for assistance and then we’d be in this uncomfortable situation if we had Huawei in our networks that our critical telecommunications networks would literally be run by an adversary we were at war with.”

U.S. officials are bound to be delighted with the decision. They’ve been putting pressure on European countries for months to limit Huawei’s presence in their telecom networks.

“If countries choose to go the Huawei route it could well jeopardize all the information sharing and intelligence sharing we have been talking about, and that could undermine the alliance, or at least our relationship with that country,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told reporters on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, according to a report in The New York Times.

In recent months the U.S. government has stepped up its assault against the technology giant on multiple fronts. Earlier in May, the U.S. issued new restrictions on the use of American software and hardware in certain strategic semiconductor processes. The rules would affect all foundries using U.S. technologies, including those located abroad, some of which are Huawei’s key suppliers.

At a conference earlier this week, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping admitted that while the firm is able to design some semiconductor parts such as integrated circuits (IC), it remains “incapable of doing a lot of other things.”

“Survival is the keyword for us at present,” he said.

Huawei has challenged the ban, saying that it would damage the international technology ecosystem that has developed to manufacture the hardware that powers the entire industry.

“In the long run, [the U.S. ban] will damage the trust and collaboration within the global semiconductor industry which many industries depend on, increasing conflict and loss within these industries.”

New York Auto Show canceled for 2020, pushed to spring 2021

By Kirsten Korosec

Organizers of the New York International Auto Show, once hoping to hold the rescheduled event to August, have decided to scrap the entire year. The show has been officially canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers announced Friday.

The next show will take place April 2 to April 11, 2021. Press days will be March 31 and April 1.

The New York Auto Show, which is organized by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, was scheduled to begin April 10 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. The event was rescheduled for late August after COVID-19 swept into Europe and North America.

The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the traditional location for the show, was set up as a field hospital for COVID-19 cases. The center doesn’t have any patients. However, it is still set up as an active hospital and is in standby mode for the foreseeable future, according to organizers.

Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, noted that “immense planning” is needed for automakers and their exhibit partners to construct a show.

“Because of the uncertainty caused by the virus, we feel it would not be prudent to continue with the 2020 Show and instead are preparing for an even greater 2021,” Schienberg said.

“As representatives of automobile retailers, we know when this crisis passes there will be enormous pent-up demand for new vehicles in this region and across the country,” he added. “We also know how important the Show is for consumers navigating the process.”

Cake brings a Swedish take on e-motorcycle design to the US

By Jake Bright

Cake has crafted the Swedish edition of electric motorcycle design starting in the dirt.

The Stockholm-based mobility startup’s debut, the Kalk OR, is a 150-pound, battery-powered two-wheeler engineered for agile off-road riding and available in a street-legal version.

In appearance, Cake’s Kalk has a minimalist stance and doesn’t evoke “motorcycle” in any conventional sense.

That was intentional, according to the company’s CEO, Stefan Ytterborn — a design aficionado and serial founder — who was more of a mountain biker and skier than a motorcyclist before launching Cake with his two sons Karl and Nils.

“I wasn’t a motorcycle geek…I actually learned how to ride a motorcycle,” he explained on his foray into the business.

Ytterborn has worked in design development his entire career, leaving Sweden for Milan in his early days, developing product lines for IKEA in the ’90s and founding several design-oriented companies over the years.

His last venture — outdoor sporting gear company POC — supplied Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller and the U.S. Ski Team with helmets and optics before it was acquired by Investcorp in 2015 for a reported $65 million.

Cake Motorcycles

Cake’s Kalk OR, Image Credits: Cake

Ytterborn’s current company shares some similarities with POC, namely creating products for natural forward motion in the outdoors.

The direction for Cake — according to its founder — was to design a motorcycle from a clean slate, harnessing the advantages of what voltage power could offer the form.

“I was stoked by the idea of what an electric drivetrain could bring,” Ytterborn told TechCrunch . “But then I started realizing nobody is really optimizing the performance of the electric drivetrain. Everyone’s trying to imitate what the combustion motorcycle does,” he said.

One of the first things Ytterborn took from that view was engineering a lighter platform with a better power-to-weight ratio.

A distinguishing characteristic of most e-moto offerings, including the few oriented toward off-road use, is they are heavier than gas motorcycles. Even one of the lightest choices out there for street and dirt use, Zero’s FX, weighs nearly 100 pounds more than Cake’s Kalk OR.

The $13,000 Swedish e-motorcycle has a 2.6kWh battery, charges to 80% in 90 minutes using a standard outlet and offers up to three hours of off-road ride time, according to Cake. The Kalk has 30 ft-lbs of torque and a top speed of 50 miles per hour.

The street legal version, the Kalk&, has similar specs with a mixed city/highway range of 53 miles. Both have the capability for quick battery swaps and a second battery goes for $3,000.

Cake introduced an additional model in 2020, the $8,500 Ösa+, which the company characterizes as an urban-utility moped with off-road capabilities.

Cake’s Ösa+, Image Credits: Cake

As a startup, Cake has raised $20 million in VC, including a $14 million Series A financing round led by e.ventures and Creandum in 2019.

The U.S. is a prime market for the company. Cake has a subsidiary in Park City, Utah, a U.S. representative — Zach Clayton — and is poised to open a sales store in New York City this quarter. 

The company has sold 300 motorcycles in the U.S. this year and America makes up 60% of its sales market, according to its CEO.

On where Cake fits into the motorcycle market, “We’re much more Patagonia than Kawasaki,” said Ytterborn,

He described Cake as something developed for a far-from-static mobility world, where everything about how people move from A to B is being redefined, including the concept of the motorcycle.

That entails creating something that captures the exhilaration of riding off-road for an eco-conscious market segment, put off by the noise and fumes of gas motocross bikes.

“What really got me going was the intuition that we could flip the market upside down [with Kalk],” said Ytterborn.

Cake’s street legal Kalk&; Image Credits: Cake

“It’s silent, it doesn’t disturb, it doesn’t pollute and is the opposite of what non-motorcycle people associate with motorcycles,” he said.

The U.S. motorcycle market could use some fresh ideas, as it’s been in pretty bad shape since the last recession, particularly with young folks. New sales dropped by roughly 50% in 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40 — and have never recovered.

At least one of the big gas manufactures — Harley-Davidson — and several EV startups, such as Zero, are offering e-motorcycles as a way to convert gas riders to electric and attract a younger generation to motorcycling.

It’s notable that Harley-Davidson acquired a youth electric scooter maker, Stacyc, in 2019 and has committed to produce e-scooters and e-mountain bikes as part of its EV pivot. The strategy is to use these platforms to create a new bridge for young people to motorcycles in the on-demand mobility world.

H-D’s moves could provide some insight on where Cake might fit in that space. On one hand, the startup’s models could become premium electric motorcycles for the eco-friendly, Outside Magazine and action sports crowd. On the other, Cake could fill a new segment on the mobility product line — somewhere between e-scooters, e-bikes and traditional motorcycles.

“We want to establish a new category where people with an active lifestyle, whether they’re motorcycle people or not, can proceed with sustainability, responsibility and respect,” said CEO Stefan Ytterborn.

One challenge for this thesis could be Cake’s price and performance points compared to the competition. Zero Motorcycle’s FX, while heavier than the $13,000 Kalk, starts at $8,995 and has a top speed of 85 miles per hour.

Covid-19 Is Causing a Spike in Sales for Bane Masks

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Aspiration, the LA-based fintech focused on conscious consumerism, raises $135 million

By Jonathan Shieber

When former Bill Clinton speechwriter and political wunderkind Andrei Cherny launched Aspiration four years ago, the upstart fintech startup was one of Los Angeles’ early entrants into a  financial services market dominated by players from Europe and the financial capital of the U.S. in New York City.

Fast forward four years and the big New York fintechs are still around, but Cherny’s Aspiration remains undimmed and has today disclosed a $153 million funding round to get even bigger.

Unlike other financial services startups that compete around a suite of product offerings designed to offer no-fee checking and deposits or upfront cash payments and short-term no-interest loans, Aspiration differentiates itself with a focus on sustainability and conscious consumerism.

The company first pitched the market with an investment management service like those from Betterment and Wealthfront, but one where customers could choose their own fees. It also guaranteed investments in sustainable companies and a portfolio that would not include fossil fuel companies or other businesses deemed to be less-than-friendly to Mother Nature.

The conscious consumerism is a through-line that knits together the other products in the Aspiration portfolio including its Impact Measurement Score product that gives customers a window into how their shopping habits measure up with their desires to be more earth-friendly.

The company’s just-announced $135 million cash infusion brings the total capital raised to $200 million and was led by local investor Alpha Edison. Additional new and existing investors including UBS O’Connor Capital Solutions, DNS Capital, Radicle Impact, Sutter Rock, Jeff Skoll, Joseph Sanberg, Social Impact Finance, the Pohlad Companies, and AGO Partners, also participated in the financing.

So far, 1.5 million Americans have signed up to use Aspiration’s financial management and banking services and the company has seen $4 billion in transactions pass through its accounts.

There’s a whole suite of new services designed to help customers go green too. The company launched a matching feature where the company plants a tree for every debit card purchase that its customers make, when they round up to the nearest dollar. And it’s offering a premium subscription tier that includes debit cards made from recycled ocean plastic. The card offers higher cash back and interest rates and a feature that offsets the carbon emissions of every mile a customer drives.

Finally, Aspiration has inked partnerships with other socially conscious companies like Toms and Warby Parker giving its customers extra cash back rewards when they shop at those businesses.

“Aspiration has built deep, trusting customer relationships that are beginning to unlock latent demand for financial services among the tens of millions of conscious consumers,” said Nate Redmond of Alpha Edison, in a statement. “We are excited to lead a great group of investors to fuel Aspiration’s durable growth and lasting impact.”

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