SpaceX has launched another batch of 60 Starlink satellites, the primary ingredient for its forthcoming global broadband internet service. The launch took place at 11:31 AM EDT, with a liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This is the fifteenth Starlink launch thus far, and SpaceX has now launched nearly 900 of the small, low Earth orbit satellites to date.
This launch used a Falcon 9 first stage booster that twice previously, both times earlier this year, including just in September for the delivery of a prior batch of Starlink satellites. The booster was also recovered successfully with a landing at sea aboard SpaceX’s ‘Just Read the Instructions’ floating autonomous landing ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
Earlier this week, Ector County Independent School District in Texas announced itself as a new pilot partner for SpaceX’s Starlink network. Next year, that district will gain connectivity to low latency broadband via Starlink’s network, connecting up to 45 households at first, with plans to expand it to 90 total household customers as more of the constellation is launched and brought online.
SpaceX’s goal with Starlink is to provide broadband service globally at speeds and with latency previously unavailable in hard-to-reach and rural areas. Its large constellation, which will aim to grow to tens of thousands of satellites before it achieves its max target coverage, offers big advantages in terms of latency and reliability vs. large geosynchronous satellites that provide most current satellite-based internet available commercially.
It could be the long-awaited turning point in the world of venture capital and beyond. Yale, whose $32 billion endowment has long been led since 1985 by the legendary investor David Swensen, just let its 70 money managers across a variety of asset classes know that for the school, diversity has now moved front and center.
According to the WSJ, Swensen has told the firms that from here on out, they be measured annually on their progress in increasing the diversity of their investment staff, meaning their hiring, training, mentoring and retention of women and minorities.
Those that show little improvement may see the university pull its money, Swensen tells the outlet.
It’s hard to overstate the move’s apparent significance. Though the endowment saw atypically poor performance last year, Swensen, at 66, is the most highly regarded endowment manager in the world, growing Yale’s endowment from $1 billion when he joined as a 31-year-old former grad student of the school, to the second-largest school endowment in the country today after Harvard, which currently manages $40 billion.
Credited for developing the so-called Yale Model, which is short on public equities and long on commitments to venture shops, private equity funds, hedge funds, and international investments, Swensen has inspired legions of other endowment managers, many of whom worked with him previously, including the current endowment heads at Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania.
It isn’t a stretch to imagine that they will again follow Swensen’s lead, which could go a long way in changing the stubbornly intractable world of money management, which remains mostly white and mostly male across asset classes.
While the dearth of woman and minorities within the ranks of venture firms may not be news to readers, a 2019 study commissioned by the Knight Foundation and cited by the WSJ found that women- and minority-owned firms held less than 1% of assets managed by mutual funds, hedge funds, private-equity funds and real-estate funds in 2017, even though their performance was on a par with such firms.
Swensen tells that WSJ that he has long talked about diversity with the fund managers to which the endowment commits capital, but that he had he held of anything systematic owing to a belief, in part, that there were not enough diverse candidate entering into asset management for a mandate to make sense.
After the Black Lives Movement gained momentum this spring, he decided it was time to take the leap.
What about that pipeline concern? Fund managers will have to figure it out. For his part, says the WSJ, Swensen suggested to the U.S. managers that they forget the standard resume and consider recruiting directly from college campuses.
Shortly after voting to move forward with a pair of subpoenas, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reached an agreement that will see the CEOs of two major social platforms testify voluntarily in November. The hearing will be the second major congressional appearance by tech CEOs arranged this month.
Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg will answer questions at the hearing, set for November 17 — two weeks after election day. The Republican-led committee is chaired by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who set the agenda to include the “platforms’ censorship and suppression of New York Post articles.”
According to a new press release from the committee, lawmakers also plan to use the proceedings as a high-profile port-mortem on how Twitter and Facebook fared on and after election day — an issue that lawmakers on both sides will undoubtedly be happy to dig into.
Republicans are eager to press the tech CEOs on how their respective platforms handled a dubious story from the New York Post purporting to report on hacked materials from presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. They view the incident as evidence of their ongoing claims of anti-conservative political bias in platform policy decisions.
While Republicans on the Senate committee led the decision to pressure Zuckerberg and Dorsey into testifying, the committee’s Democrats, who sat out the vote on the subpoenas, will likely bring to the table their own questions about content moderation, as well.
Research papers come out far too rapidly for anyone to read them all, especially in the field of machine learning, which now affects (and produces papers in) practically every industry and company. This column aims to collect the most relevant recent discoveries and papers — particularly in but not limited to artificial intelligence — and explain why they matter.
This week, a startup that’s using UAV drones for mapping forests, a look at how machine learning can map social media networks and predict Alzheimer’s, improving computer vision for space-based sensors and other news regarding recent technological advances.
Machine learning tools are being used to aid diagnosis in many ways, since they’re sensitive to patterns that humans find difficult to detect. IBM researchers have potentially found such patterns in speech that are predictive of the speaker developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The system only needs a couple minutes of ordinary speech in a clinical setting. The team used a large set of data (the Framingham Heart Study) going back to 1948, allowing patterns of speech to be identified in people who would later develop Alzheimer’s. The accuracy rate is about 71% or 0.74 area under the curve for those of you more statistically informed. That’s far from a sure thing, but current basic tests are barely better than a coin flip in predicting the disease this far ahead of time.
This is very important because the earlier Alzheimer’s can be detected, the better it can be managed. There’s no cure, but there are promising treatments and practices that can delay or mitigate the worst symptoms. A non-invasive, quick test of well people like this one could be a powerful new screening tool and is also, of course, an excellent demonstration of the usefulness of this field of tech.
(Don’t read the paper expecting to find exact symptoms or anything like that — the array of speech features aren’t really the kind of thing you can look out for in everyday life.)
Making sure your deep learning network generalizes to data outside its training environment is a key part of any serious ML research. But few attempt to set a model loose on data that’s completely foreign to it. Perhaps they should!
Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden took a model used to identify groups and connections in social media, and applied it (not unmodified, of course) to tissue scans. The tissue had been treated so that the resultant images produced thousands of tiny dots representing mRNA.
Normally the different groups of cells, representing types and areas of tissue, would need to be manually identified and labeled. But the graph neural network, created to identify social groups based on similarities like common interests in a virtual space, proved it could perform a similar task on cells. (See the image at top.)
“We’re using the latest AI methods — specifically, graph neural networks, developed to analyze social networks — and adapting them to understand biological patterns and successive variation in tissue samples. The cells are comparable to social groupings that can be defined according to the activities they share in their social networks,” said Uppsala’s Carolina Wählby.
It’s an interesting illustration not just of the flexibility of neural networks, but of how structures and architectures repeat at all scales and in all contexts. As without, so within, if you will.
The vast forests of our national parks and timber farms have countless trees, but you can’t put “countless” on the paperwork. Someone has to make an actual estimate of how well various regions are growing, the density and types of trees, the range of disease or wildfire, and so on. This process is only partly automated, as aerial photography and scans only reveal so much, while on-the-ground observation is detailed but extremely slow and limited.
Treeswift aims to take a middle path by equipping drones with the sensors they need to both navigate and accurately measure the forest. By flying through much faster than a walking person, they can count trees, watch for problems and generally collect a ton of useful data. The company is still very early-stage, having spun out of the University of Pennsylvania and acquired an SBIR grant from the NSF.
“Companies are looking more and more to forest resources to combat climate change but you don’t have a supply of people who are growing to meet that need,” Steven Chen, co-founder and CEO of Treeswift and a doctoral student in Computer and Information Science (CIS) at Penn Engineering said in a Penn news story. “I want to help make each forester do what they do with greater efficiency. These robots will not replace human jobs. Instead, they’re providing new tools to the people who have the insight and the passion to manage our forests.”
Another area where drones are making lots of interesting moves is underwater. Oceangoing autonomous submersibles are helping map the sea floor, track ice shelves and follow whales. But they all have a bit of an Achilles’ heel in that they need to periodically be picked up, charged and their data retrieved.
Purdue engineering professor Nina Mahmoudian has created a docking system by which submersibles can easily and automatically connect for power and data exchange.
A yellow marine robot (left, underwater) finds its way to a mobile docking station to recharge and upload data before continuing a task. (Purdue University photo/Jared Pike)
The craft needs a special nosecone, which can find and plug into a station that establishes a safe connection. The station can be an autonomous watercraft itself, or a permanent feature somewhere — what matters is that the smaller craft can make a pit stop to recharge and debrief before moving on. If it’s lost (a real danger at sea), its data won’t be lost with it.
You can see the setup in action below:
Drones may soon become fixtures of city life as well, though we’re probably some ways from the automated private helicopters some seem to think are just around the corner. But living under a drone highway means constant noise — so people are always looking for ways to reduce turbulence and resultant sound from wings and propellers.
Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology found a new, more efficient way to simulate the airflow in these situations; fluid dynamics is essentially as complex as you make it, so the trick is to apply your computing power to the right parts of the problem. They were able to render only flow near the surface of the theoretical aircraft in high resolution, finding past a certain distance there was little point knowing exactly what was happening. Improvements to models of reality don’t always need to be better in every way — after all, the results are what matter.
Computer vision algorithms have come a long way, and as their efficiency improves they are beginning to be deployed at the edge rather than at data centers. In fact it’s become fairly common for camera-bearing objects like phones and IoT devices to do some local ML work on the image. But in space it’s another story.
Performing ML work in space was until fairly recently simply too expensive power-wise to even consider. That’s power that could be used to capture another image, transmit the data to the surface, etc. HyperScout 2 is exploring the possibility of ML work in space, and its satellite has begun applying computer vision techniques immediately to the images it collects before sending them down. (“Here’s a cloud — here’s Portugal — here’s a volcano…”)
For now there’s little practical benefit, but object detection can be combined with other functions easily to create new use cases, from saving power when no objects of interest are present, to passing metadata to other tools that may work better if informed.
Machine learning models are great at making educated guesses, and in disciplines where there’s a large backlog of unsorted or poorly documented data, it can be very useful to let an AI make a first pass so that graduate students can use their time more productively. The Library of Congress is doing it with old newspapers, and now Carnegie Mellon University’s libraries are getting into the spirit.
CMU’s million-item photo archive is in the process of being digitized, but to make it useful to historians and curious browsers it needs to be organized and tagged — so computer vision algorithms are being put to work grouping similar images, identifying objects and locations, and doing other valuable basic cataloguing tasks.
“Even a partly successful project would greatly improve the collection metadata, and could provide a possible solution for metadata generation if the archives were ever funded to digitize the entire collection,” said CMU’s Matt Lincoln.
A very different project, yet one that seems somehow connected, is this work by a student at the Escola Politécnica da Universidade de Pernambuco in Brazil, who had the bright idea to try sprucing up some old maps with machine learning.
The tool they used takes old line-drawing maps and attempts to create a sort of satellite image based on them using a Generative Adversarial Network; GANs essentially attempt to trick themselves into creating content they can’t tell apart from the real thing.
Well, the results aren’t what you might call completely convincing, but it’s still promising. Such maps are rarely accurate but that doesn’t mean they’re completely abstract — recreating them in the context of modern mapping techniques is a fun idea that might help these locations seem less distant.
This year has shaken up venture capital, turning a hot early start to 2020 into a glacial period permeated with fear during the early days of COVID-19. That ice quickly melted as venture capitalists discovered that demand for software and other services that startups provide was accelerating, pushing many young tech companies back into growth mode, and investors back into the check-writing arena.
Boston has been an exemplar of the trend, with early pandemic caution dissolving into rapid-fire dealmaking as summer rolled into fall.
We collated new data that underscores the trend, showing that Boston’s third quarter looks very solid compared to its peer groups, and leads greater New England’s share of American venture capital higher during the three-month period.
For our October look at Boston and its startup scene, let’s get into the data and then understand how a new cohort of founders is cropping up among the city’s educational network.
Boston’s third quarter was strong, effectively matching the capital raised in New York City during the three-month period. As we head into the fourth quarter, it appears that the silver medal in American startup ecosystems is up for grabs based on what happens in Q4.
Boston could start 2021 as the number-two place to raise venture capital in the country. Or New York City could pip it at the finish line. Let’s check the numbers.
According to PitchBook data shared with TechCrunch, the metro Boston area raised $4.34 billion in venture capital during the third quarter. New York City and its metro area managed $4.45 billion during the same time period, an effective tie. Los Angeles and its own metro area managed just $3.90 billion.
In 2020 the numbers tilt in Boston’s favor, with the city and surrounding area collecting $12.83 billion in venture capital. New York City came in second through Q3, with $12.30 billion in venture capital. Los Angeles was a distant third at $8.66 billion for the year through Q3.
Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, an appellate court ruled yesterday evening. However, the decision will be stayed for 30 days after the court issues the remittitur, which has not happened yet. That means depending on how ballot measure Proposition 22 goes, this case may not end up being the deciding factor in how Lyft and Uber classify their drivers in California.
Throughout the case, Uber and Lyft have argued that reclassifying their drivers as employees would cause irreparable harm to the companies. In the ruling today, the judge said neither company would suffer any “grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law” and that their respective financial burdens “do not rise to the level of irreparable harm.”
Additionally, there is nothing in the preliminary injunction, according to the judge, that would prevent Uber and Lyft from offering flexibility and independence to their drivers. Lastly, the judge said Uber and Lyft have had plenty of time to transition their drivers from independent contractors to employees, given that the key case in passing AB 5, the gig worker bill that spurred this lawsuit, was decided in 2018.
“This ruling makes it more urgent than ever for voters to stand with drivers and vote yes on Prop. 22,” Lyft spokesperson Julie Wood said in a statement to TechCrunch.
Prop 22 is a ballot measure in California that seeks to keep rideshare drivers and delivery workers classified as independent contractors. The measure, if passed, would make drivers and delivery workers for said companies exempt from a new state law that classifies them as W-2 employees. If passed, app-based transportation and delivery workers would be entitled to things like minimum compensation and healthcare subsidies based on engaged driving time.
Meanwhile, Lyft says it’s exploring all of its legal options, which may include appealing to the California Supreme Court. Uber, similarly, is considering its appeal options.
“Today’s ruling means that if the voters don’t say Yes on Proposition 22, rideshare drivers will be prevented from continuing to work as independent contractors, putting hundreds of thousands of Californians out of work and likely shutting down ridesharing throughout much of the state,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “We’re considering our appeal options, but the stakes couldn’t be higher for drivers—72% of whom support Prop 22—and for the California economy, where millions of people are jobless and another 158,000 just sought unemployment support this week.”
The judge’s decision comes after California Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman granted a preliminary injunction in August to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify its drivers as employees. Uber and Lyft appealed the decision, but the appeals court has now affirmed the decision from the lower court.
The lawsuit was brought forth by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with city attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco in May. They argued Uber and Lyft gain an unfair and unlawful competitive advantage by misclassifying workers as independent contractors. Then, in June, the plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction seeking the court to force Uber and Lyft to reclassify their drivers. In August, Judge Schulman granted it.
“While this legal victory today is directed at two companies, this fight is far broader,” Gig Workers Rising said in a statement. “This is about the future of work in this country. This is about securing good jobs with real benefits for generations to come. If Uber and Lyft are successful in passing Prop. 22 and undo the will of the people, they will inspire countless other corporations to adapt their business models and misclassify workers in order to further enrich the wealthy few at the expense of their workforce.”
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affected the financial outlook for millions of people, and continues to cause significant fiscal distress to millions more, but such challenging times have also wrought a more resilient and resourceful financial system.
With the ingenuity of crowdfunding, considered to be one of the last decade’s greatest “success stories,” and such desperate times calling for bold new ways to finance a wide variety of COVID-19 relief efforts, we are now seeing an excellent opportunity for banks and other financial institutions to partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns, bolstering their efforts and impact.
Before considering how financial institutions can assist with crowdfunding campaigns, we must first look at the diverse array of impressive results from this financing option during the pandemic. As people choose between paying the rent or buying groceries, and countless other despairing circumstances, we must look to some of the more inventive ways businesses, entrepreneurs and people in general are using crowdfunding to provide the COVID-19 relief that cash-strapped consumers with maxed-out or poor credit do not have access to or the government has not provided.
Some great examples of COVID-19 crowdfunding at its best include the following:
The possibilities presented by crowdfunding in this age of the coronavirus are endless, and financial institutions can certainly lend their assistance. Here is how.
Crowdfunding is a substantial and ever-so relevant means of financing all sorts of businesses, people and products. Denying its substantive contribution to the economy, especially in digital finance during this pandemic, is akin to wearing a monocle when you actually need glasses for both of your eyes. Do not be shortsighted on this. Crowdfunding is here to stay. In fact, countless crowdfunding businesses and platforms continue to make major moves within the markets globally. For example, Parpera from Australia, in coordination with the equity-crowdfunding platforms, hopes to rival the likes of GoFundMe, Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
This might seem contrary to the original purpose of these campaigns, but the right amount of seed-cash infusions to campaigns that are aligned with your goals as a company is a win-win for both you and the entrepreneurs or causes, especially now in such desperate times of need.
This means that small businesses and medium-sized businesses within your institution’s community could use your help. Consider investing in crowdfunding campaigns similar to the ones mentioned earlier. Better yet, bridge the gaps between financial institutions and crowdfunding platforms and campaigns so that smaller businesses get the opportunities they need to survive through these difficult times.
Last month, the United Nations Development Program released a report proclaiming that digital finance is now allowing people from all over the world to customize and personalize their money-management experiences such that their financial needs have the potential to be more readily and sufficiently met. Financial institutions willing to work as a partner with crowdfunding platforms and campaigns will further these goals and set society up for a more robust rebound from any possible detrimental effects of the COVID-19 recession.
Other countries are already beginning to figure out better ways to regulate the crowdfunding financing industry, such as the recent updates to the European Union’s handling of crowdfunding regulations, set to take effect this fall. Well-established financial institutions can lend their support in defining the policies and standard operating procedures for crowdfunding even during such a chaotic time as the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so will ensure fair and equitable financing for all, at least, in theory.
While originally born out of either philanthropy or early-adopting innovation, depending on the situation, person or product, crowdfunding has become an increasingly reliable means of providing COVID-19 economic relief when other organizations, including the government and some banks, cannot provide sufficient assistance. Financial institutions must lend their vast expertise, knowledge and resources to these worthy causes; after all, we are all in this together.
Virtual meetings are a fundamental part of how we interact with each other these days, but even when (if!?) we find better ways to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, many think that they will be here to stay. That means there is an opportunity out there to improve how they work — because let’s face it, Zoom Fatigue is real and I for one am not super excited anymore to be a part of your Team.
mmhmm, the video presentation startup from former Evernote CEO Phil Libin with ambitions to change the conversation (literally and figuratively) about what we can do with the medium — its first efforts have included things like the ability to manipulate presentation material around your video in real time to mimic newscasts — is today announcing an acquisition as it continues to hone in on a wider launch of its product, currently in a closed beta.
It has acquired Memix, an outfit out of San Francisco that has built a series of filters you can apply to videos — either pre-recorded or streaming — to change the lighting, details in the background, or across the whole of the screen, and an app that works across various video platforms to apply those filters.
Like mmhmm, Memix is today focused on building tools that you use on existing video platforms — not building a video player itself. Memix today comes in the form of a virtual camera, accessible via Windows apps for Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams; or web apps like Facebook Messenger, Houseparty and others that run on Chrome, Edge and Firefox.
Libin said in an interview that the plan will be to keep that virtual camera operating as is while it works on integrating the filters and Memix’s technology into mmhmm, while also laying the groundwork for building more on top of the platform.
Libin’s view is that while there are already a lot of video products and users in the market today, we are just at the start of it all, with technology and our expectations changing rapidly. We are shifting, he said, from wanting to reproduce existing experiences (like meetings) to creating completely new ones that might actually be better.
“There is a profound change in the world that we are just at the beginning of,” he said in an interview. “The main thing is that everything is hybrid. If you imagine all the experiences we can have, from in person to online, or recorded to live, up to now almost everything in life fit neatly into one of those quadrants. The boundaries were fixed. Now all these boundaries have melted away we can rebuild every experience to be natively hybrid. This is a monumental change.”
That is a concept that the Memix founders have not just been thinking about, but also building the software to make it a reality.
“There is a lot to do,” said Pol Jeremias-Vila, one of the co-founders. “One of our ideas was to try to provide people who do streaming professionally an alternative to the really complicated set-ups you currently use,” which can involve expensive cameras, lights, microphones, stands and more. “Can we bring that to a user just with a couple of clicks? What can be done to put the same kind of tech you get with all that hardware into the hands of a massive audience?”
Memix’s team of two — co-founders Inigo Quilez and Jeremias-Vila, Spaniards who met not in Spain but the Bay Area — are not coming on board full-time, but they will be helping with the transition and integration of the tech.
Libin said that he first became aware of Quilez from a YouTube video he’d posted on “The principles of painting with maths”, but that doesn’t give a lot away about the two co-founders. They are in reality graphic engineering whizzes, with Jeremias-Vila currently the lead graphics software engineer at Pixar, and Quilez until last year a product manager and lead engineer at Facebook, where he created, among other things, the Quill VR animation and production tool for Oculus.
Because working the kind of hours that people put in at tech companies wasn’t quite enough time to work on graphics applications, the pair started another effort called Beauty Pi (not to be confused with Beauty Pie), which has become a home for various collaborations between the two that had nothing to do with their day jobs. Memix had been bootstrapped by the pair as a project built out of that. And other efforts have included Shadertoy, a community and platform for creating Shaders (a computer program created to shade in 3D scenes).
That background of Memix points to an interesting opportunity in the world of video right now. In part because of all the focus (sorry not sorry!) on video right now as a medium because of our current pandemic circumstances, but also because of the advances in broadband, devices, apps and video technology, we’re seeing a huge proliferation of startups building interesting variations and improvements on the basic concept of video streaming.
Just in the area of videoconferencing alone, some of the hopefuls have included Headroom, which launched the other week with a really interesting AI-based approach to helping its users get more meaningful notes from meetings, and using computer vision to help presenters “read the room” better by detecting if people are getting bored, annoyed and more.
Vowel is also bringing a new set of tools not just to annotate meetings and their corresponding transcriptions in a better way, but to then be able to search across all your sessions to follow up items and dig into what people said over multiple events.
And Descript, which originally built a tool to edit audio tracks, earlier this week launched a video component, letting users edit visuals and what you say in those moving pictures, by cutting, pasting and rewriting a word-based document transcribing the sound from that video. All of these have obvious B2B angles, like mmhmm, and they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Indeed, the huge amount of IP out there is interesting in itself. Yet the jury is still out on where all of it would best live and thrive as the space continues to evolve, with more defined business models (and leading companies) only now emerging.
That presents an interesting opportunity not just for the biggies like Zoom, Google and Microsoft, but also players who are building entirely new platfroms from the ground up.
mmhmm is a notable company in that context. Not only does it have the reputation and inspiration of Libin behind it — a force powerful enough that even his foray into the ill-fated world of chatbots got headlines — but it’s also backed by the likes of Sequoia, which led a $21 million round earlier this month.
Libin said he doesn’t like to think of his startup as a consolidator, or the industry in a consolidation play, as that implies a degree of maturity in an area that he still feels is just getting started.
“We’re looking at this not so much consolidation, which to me means marketshare,” he said. “Our main criteria is that we wanted to work with teams that we are in love with.”
TechCrunch is embarking on a major new project to survey the venture capital investors of Europe, and their cities.
Our <a href=”https://forms.gle/k4Ji2Ch7zdrn7o2p6”>survey of VCs in Brussels will capture how the city is faring, and what changes are being wrought amongst investors by the coronavirus pandemic. (Please note, if you have filled the survey out already, there is no need to do it again).
We’d like to know how Brussels’ startup scene is evolving, how the tech sector is being impacted by COVID-19, and, generally, how your thinking will evolve from here.
Our survey will only be about investors, and only the contributions of VC investors will be included. More than one partner is welcome to fill out the survey.
The shortlist of questions will require only brief responses, but the more you can add, the better.
Obviously, investors who contribute will be featured in the final surveys, with links to their companies and profiles.
What kinds of things do we want to know? Questions include: Which trends are you most excited by? What startup do you wish someone would create? Where are the overlooked opportunities? What are you looking for in your next investment, in general? How is your local ecosystem going? And how has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy?
This survey is part of a broader series of surveys we’re doing to help founders find the right investors.
For example, here is the recent survey of London.
You are not in Brussels, but would like to take part? Or you are in another part of the country? That’s fine! Any European VC investor can STILL fill out the survey, as we probably will be putting a call out to your city next anyway! And we will use the data for future surveys on vertical topics.
The survey is covering almost every European country on the continent of Europe (not just EU members, btw), so just look for your country and city on the survey and please participate (if you’re a venture capital investor).
Thank you for participating. If you have questions you can email email@example.com
Earlier this week I asked startups to share their Q3 growth metrics and whether they were performing ahead of behind of their yearly goals.
Lots of companies responded. More than I could have anticipated, frankly. Instead of merely giving me a few data points to learn from, The Exchange wound up collecting sheafs of interesting data from upstart companies with big Q3 performance.
Naturally, the startups that reached out were the companies doing the best. I did not receive a single reply that described no growth, though a handful of respondents noted that they were behind in their plans.
Regardless, the dataset that came together felt worthy of sharing for its specificity and breadth. And so other startup founders can learn from how some of their peer group are performing. (Kidding.)
Let’s get into the data, which has been segmented into buckets covering fintech, software and SaaS, startups focused on developers or security and a final group that includes D2C and fertility startups, among others.
Obviously, some of the following startups could land in several different groups. Don’t worry about it! The categories are relaxed. We’re here to have fun, not split hairs!
Huawei announced earnings results today showing that its growth has slowed significantly this year as the Chinese telecom equipment and smartphone giant said its “production and operations face significant challenges.”
While Huawei did not specify trade restrictions in its brief announcement, the company has been hit with a series of commercial trade restrictions by the U.S. government. The full impact of those policies haven’t been realized yet, because the U.S. government has granted Huawei several waivers, including one that will delay the implementation of a ban on commercial trade with Huawei and ZTE until May 2021.
During the first three quarters of 2020, the Chinese telecoms and smartphone giant reported revenue of 671.3 billion yuan (about USD $100.7 billion), an increase of 9.9% year-over-year, with a profit margin of 8%. The company said those results “basically met expectations,” but it represents a huge drop from its performance during the same period last year, when Huawei reported 24.4% growth with a profit margin of 8.7%.
Huawei is a privately-held company and its announcement did not break down its results in terms of smartphone or telecoms equipment sales, or other details.
The company wrote that “as the world grapples with COVID-19, Huawei’s global supply chain is being put under pressure and its production and operations face significant challenges. The company continues to do its best to find solutions, survive and forge forward, and fulfill its obligations to customers and suppliers.”
Other U.S. restrictions include one that would ban Huawei from using U.S. software and hardware in certain semiconductor processes, forcing it to find other sources for chips.
In addition to the U.S., Huawei is also facing scrutiny by other countries, including the United Kingdom, which is planning to implement a new policy that will bar telecoms from buying new 5G equipment from Huawei and ZTE and require them to remove any parts from those companies that’s already been installed in U.K. 5G networks by 2027.
Replacing Huawei equipment also presents costly challenges for telecoms, because Huawei is one of the biggest suppliers in the world. Last month, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said it would cost $1.837 billion to replace Huawei and ZTE networking equipment, with rural telecom networks facing the most financial pressure.
But 2020 has had a few bright spots for Huawei. In July, a report from Canalys found that Huawei overtook Samsung as the leader in global smartphone shipments during the second quarter of 2020, a major milestone because it marked the first time in nine years that Apple and Samsung didn’t take the top spot on Canalys’ charts. This was partly because smartphone shipments in general have been hurt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Huawei was helped by sales within China, its domestic market.
Lunar, the Nordic challenger bank that started out life as a personal finance manager app (PFM) but acquired a full banking license in 2019, has raised €40 million in Series C funding from existing investors.
The injection of capital follows a €20 million Series B disclosed in April this year and comes on the back of Lunar rolling out Pro paid-for subscriptions — similar to a number of other challenger banks in Europe — personal consumer loans, and the launch of business bank accounts in August.
The latter appears to have been an instant success, perhaps proof there is — like in the U.K. — pent up demand for more accessible banking for sole traders. Just months since launching in Denmark, Lunar Business claims to have signed up more than 50% of all newly founded sole trader businesses in the country.
I’m also told that Lunar has seen “best-in-class” user engagement with users spending €1,100 per month versus what the bank says is a €212 EU average for card transactions. Overall, the bank has 5,000 business users and 200,000 private users across Denmark, Sweden and Norway.
Meanwhile — and most noteworthy — after launching its first consumer lending products on its own balance sheet, Lunar has set its sights on the “buy now, pay later” market, therefore theoretically encroaching on $10.65 billion valued Klarna, and Affirm in the U.S. which just filed to go public. Other giants in the BNPL space also include PayPal.
Lunar founder and CEO Ken Villum Klausen says the “schizophrenic” Nordic banking market is the reason why the challenger is launching BNPL. “It’s the most profitable banking landscape in the world, but also the most defensive, with least competition from the outside,” he says. “This means that the traditional banking customer is buying all their financial products from their bank”.
It is within this context that Lunar’s BNPL products are built as “post-purchase,” where Lunar will prompt its users after they have bought something (not dissimilar to Curve’s planned credit offering). For example, if you were to buy a new television, the app will ask if you want to split the purchase into instalments. “This does not require merchant agreements etc, and will work on all transactions both retail and e-commerce,” explains Klausen.
“We do not view Klarna as a direct competitor as they are not in the Nordic clearing system,” he adds. “Hence, you cannot pay your bills, get your salary and use it for daily banking. Klarna is enormous in Sweden, but relatively small in Denmark, Norway and Finland”.
In total, Lunar has raised €104 million from investors including Seed Capital, Greyhound Capital, Socii Capital and Chr. Augustinus Fabrikker. The challenger has offices in Aarhus, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, with a headcount of more than 180 employees. It plans to launch its banking app in Finland in the first half of 2021.
Don’t call it StopCovid anymore. France’s contact-tracing app has been updated and is now called TousAntiCovid, which means “everyone against Covid”. The French government is trying to pivot so that it’s no longer a contact-tracing app — or at least not just a contact-tracing app.
Right now, TousAntiCovid appears to be a rebranding more than a pivot. There’s a new name and some changes in the user interface. But the core feature of the app remains unchanged.
StopCovid hasn’t been a success. First, it’s still unclear whether contact-tracing apps are a useful tool to alert people who have been interacting with someone who has been diagnosed COVID-19-positive. Second, even when you take that into consideration, the app never really took off.
Back in June, the French government gave us an update on StopCovid three weeks after its launch: 1.9 million people had downloaded the app, but StopCovid only sent 14 notifications.
Four months later, StopCovid/TousAntiCovid has been downloaded and activated by close to 2.8 million people. But only 13,651 people declared themselves as COVID-19-positive in the app, which led to 823 notifications. Even if you’re tested positive, in most cases, no one is going to be notified.
Hence today’s update. If you’ve been using the app, you’ll receive TousAntiCovid with a software update — the French government is using the same App Store and Play Store listing. When you first launch the app, you go through an onboarding process focused on contact-tracing — activate notifications, activate Bluetooth, etc.
France is using its own contact-tracing protocol called ROBERT. A group of researchers and private companies have worked on a centralized architecture. The server assigns you a permanent ID (a pseudonym) and sends to your phone a list of ephemeral IDs derived from that permanent ID.
Like most contact-tracing apps, TousAntiCovid relies on Bluetooth Low Energy to build a comprehensive list of other app users you’ve interacted with for more than a few minutes. If you’re using the app, it collects the ephemeral IDs of other app users around you.
If you’re using the app and you’re diagnosed COVID-19-positive, your testing facility will hand you a QR code or a string of letters and numbers. You can choose to open the app and enter that code to share the list of ephemeral IDs of people you’ve interacted with over the past two weeks.
The server back end then flags all those ephemeral IDs as belonging to people who have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus. On the server again, each user is associated with a risk score. If it goes above a certain threshold, the user receives a notification. The app then recommends you get tested and follow official instructions.
But there are some new things in the app. You can now access some recent numbers about the pandemic in France — new cases over the past 24 hours, number of people in intensive care units, etc. There’s also a new feed of news items. Right now, it sums up what you can do and cannot do in France.
And there are some new links for useful resources — the service that tells you where you can get tested and a link to the exemption certificate during the curfew. When you tap on those links, it simply launches your web browser to official websites.
Let’s see how the app evolves as the government now wants to actively iterate on TousAntiCovid to make it more attractive. If TousAntiCovid can become a central information hub for your phone, it could attract more downloads.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of issuing subpoenas for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Thursday, meaning that there might be two big tech CEO hearings on the horizon.
Republicans in the committee declared their interest in a hearing on “the platforms’ censorship of New York Post articles” after social networks limited the reach of a dubious story purporting to contain hacked materials implicating Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, in impropriety involving a Ukrainian energy firm. Fox News reportedly passed on the story due to doubts about its credibility.
Tech’s decision to take action against the New York Post story was bound to ignite Republicans in Congress, who have long claimed, with scant evidence, that social platforms deliberately censor conservative voices due to political bias. The Senate Judiciary Committee is chaired by Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a close Trump ally who is now in a much closer than expected race with Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison.
Earlier in October, the Senate Commerce Committee successfully leveraged subpoena power to secure Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai for testimony for their own hearing focused on Section 230, the critical law that shields online platforms from liability for user created content.
The hearing isn’t scheduled yet, nor have the companies publicly agreed to attend. But lawmakers have now established a precedent for successfully dragging tech’s reluctant leaders under oath, making it more difficult for some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful men to avoid Congress from here on out.
But when? If you’re looking to blast through all 25 episodes of the Reno 911 revival series before Quibi calls its quits, how long do you actually have?
While it seems even Quibi isn’t 100% certain yet, they’ve at least now given users a rough idea of when they expect the plug to be pulled: early December.
As spotted by Variety, a newly published support page on the Quibi site says streaming will end “on or about December 1, 2020.” The “about” suggests that the shutdown date isn’t fully locked quite yet, but it should be sometime around then.
Will any Quibi shows find their way over to Netflix, Hulu, etc.? That’s still up in the air, too. “At this time we do not know if the Quibi content will be available anywhere after our last day of service,” the company writes in a note on the same page.
Now, what did we get to? Aside from a little of everything, we ran through:
Whew! It was a lot, but also very good fun. Look for clips on YouTube if you’d like, and we’ll chat you all next Monday.
Uber is facing a class-action lawsuit over Proposition 22 that alleges the company is illegally coercing its drivers to support the ballot measure that seeks to keep workers classified as independent contractors. The suit was brought forth by two Uber drivers, Benjamin Valdez and Hector Castellanos, as well as two California nonprofit organizations, Worksafe and Chinese Progressive Association.
“Let’s be absolutely clear,” David Lowe, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “Uber’s threats and constant barrage of Prop 22 propaganda on an app the drivers must use to do their work have one purpose: to coerce the drivers to support Uber’s political battle to strip them of workplace protections.”
“Uber’s solicitations have the purpose and effect of causing drivers to fear retaliation by Uber if they do not support Uber’s political preference and may induce many drivers to falsely state that they support being deprived of the rights that California law guarantees to statutory ’employees,’ ” the suit states.
“This is an absurd lawsuit, without merit, filed solely for press attention and without regard for the facts,” Uber spokesperson Matt Kallman said in a statement to TechCrunch. “It can’t distract from the truth: that the vast majority of drivers support Prop 22, and have for months, because they know it will improve their lives and protect the way they prefer to work.”
Prop 22 is the most-funded campaign in California’s history. To date, the Yes on 22 side has put north of $185 million into the initiative. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash are the biggest contributors on the yes side. Meanwhile, the No on 22 campaign has contributed $12,166,063.
Working with Norfolk State University, the alma mater of one of the company’s senior software engineers, and the online education platform, 2U, Netflix is developing a virtual boot camp for students to gain exposure to the tech industry.
That program will be divided into three tracks — Java Engineering, UX/UI Design and Data Science. Experts from Netflix will work with 2U to design each track and all courses will be led by faculty from Norfolk State University and feature guest lecturers from the tech industry, the company said.
Members from the company’s data science, engineering, and design teams will serve as mentors — including Norfolk State alumnus Michael Chase.
Netflix will foot the bill for students accepted into the program, and they’ll get course credit for completing the boot camp, the company said.
“The goal is for participants to come away better equipped with industry-relevant skills to enter today’s workforce and with valuable, long-lasting relationships,” Kabi Gishuru, the company’s director of Inclusion Recruiting Programs wrote in a statement. “As we continue to invest in building the best service for our members, we want to invest in the best team to support it. Creating space in the industry for all voices will only make it stronger.”
TC Sessions: Space is happening this December 16 and 17 — our first-ever dedicated space event. This is a live, virtual two-day conference featuring the most important people in the space industry, across public, private and defense.
We’re thrilled to be hosting NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Rocket Lab CEO and founder Peter Beck, U.S. Space Force Chief of Space Operations General Jay Raymond, Lockheed Martin VP and head of civil space programs Lisa Callahan and many more. In addition to the firesides and panel discussions of the virtual stage, the event will also include networking, startup presentations and the chance to connect with attendees from around the world.
Below, you’ll find the official agenda for TC Sessions: Space. It’s a packed two days already, but we’ve got some extra surprises in store, so keep an eye on the agenda over the coming weeks for more great speakers and sessions we’re adding.
If you want to be a part of this event, you can grab a ticket to get exclusive access to watch these sessions live (with access to video on demand), network with the innovators changing the space industry, discover the hottest early-stage companies, learn how to score grants for your space company, recruit talent or even find a job with an early-bird ticket for just $125. And we have discounts available for groups, students, active military/government employees and for early-stage space startup founders who want to give their startup some extra visibility.
From robots scooping rockets from the surface of galaxy-traveling asteroids, to preparing for the return of humans to the surface of the moon, we’ll cover all aspects of scientific and civil exploration of the solar system.
Some investors spend a lot of their time looking to the stars for the next venture capital opportunity. It’s a market unlike any other, but does that change the math on equity-based investment?
How Earth observation is one of the real moneymakers in the space category and what’s ahead for the industry.
With our virtual platform, attendees can network via video chat, giving folks the chance to make meaningful connections. CrunchMatch, our algorithmic matching product, will be available to ensure you’re meeting the right people at the show, as well as random matching for attendees who are feeling more adventurous.
Lt. General Thompson is responsible for fostering an ecosystem of non-traditional space startups and the future of Space Force acquisitions, all to the end goal of protecting the global commons of space. He’ll talk about what the U.S. is looking for in startup partnerships and emerging tech, and how it works with these young companies.
The launch business is booming, but besides SpaceX and Rocket Lab, there isn’t anyone far enough along to truly capitalize in terms of new space startups. We’ll talk to the founders of companies hoping to be next in line.
NASA is going back to the Moon – this time to stay. The agency has made tremendous progress towards this goal under Administrator Bridenstine, who will join us to talk about how they’re taking private partners with them this time around, including a lot of startups.
Public-private Partnerships in the Domain of Space Defense with General Jay Raymond (United States Space Force)
Hear from the head of the U.S. Space Force what it takes to secure an entirely new war-fighting domain, and how the newest branch of the U.S. military will be looking to private industry to make it happen.
The TechCrunch Desk
Hang with us at the TechCrunch Desk to catch up on what you may have missed from across the show and a preview of what’s to come.
Rocket Lab has quickly become one of the most sought-after launch providers in the world. Founder and CEO Peter Beck will discuss the company’s approach to making space more accessible, from cheaper, faster launches to its new satellite platform.
Corporate VC funds are a key source of investment for space startups, in part because they often involve partnerships that help generate revenue as well, and because they understand the timelines involved. We’ll talk about how they fit in with more standard venture to power the ecosystem.
We’ll be talking about the best ways to understand what the Air Force needs and how to sell it to them.
Data connectivity and communications are key to commercial space monetization and the strategic plans for further space exploration and development. Hear from the key players about the state of play in the industry.
Once a spacecraft is in orbit, it’s on its own – but what if it could be refueled, repaired, refurbished, and if necessary, retired? OrbitFab founder Daniel Faber and Astroscale U.S President Ron Lopez will discuss how in-space operations could upend today’s engineering and business models.
If you’re interested in a sponsored speaking opportunity to join the stage with these fantastic speakers, contact us here to speak with someone from our sales team!