FreshRSS

🔒
❌ About FreshRSS
There are new available articles, click to refresh the page.
Today — April 2nd 2020Your RSS feeds

Google to shut down its India-focused Q&A app Neighbourly

By Manish Singh

Google is shutting down Neighbourly, a Q&A social app that it launched in Mumbai two years ago, the company has informed users.

The app, developed by company’s Next Billion Initiative, aimed to give local communities an outlet to seek answers to practical questions about life, routine and more.

At the time of the app’s launch, Google told TechCrunch that it believed that an increase in urban migration, short-term leasing and busy lives had changed the dynamic of local communities and made it harder to share information quite so easily.

The app supported voice-based entry for questions and a range of local languages.

In an email, Google said Neighbourly helped users find answers to over a million questions, but it did not get the traction the company was hoping for. The app will shut down on May 12, but users have another six months to download their data.

“We launched Neighbourly as a Beta app to connect you with your neighbors and make sharing local information more human and helpful. As a community, you’ve come together to celebrate local festivals, shared crucial information during floods, and answered over a million questions,” the company wrote to users.

“But Neighbourly hasn’t grown as we had hoped. In these difficult times, we believe that we can help more people by focusing on other Google apps that are already serving millions of people everyday,” it added, pointing users to explore Google Maps’ Local Guide, which also allows sharing of knowledge with local communities.

The app had such low-traction that third-party intelligence services such as App Annie and Sensor Tower don’t have any substantial data about it. But on Play Store, Neighbourly is listed to have more than 10 million downloads.

Yesterday — April 1st 2020Your RSS feeds

Take your shot: Apply to TC Top Picks at Disrupt SF 2020

By Neesha A. Tambe

TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco is known around the world as the place where the early-stage startup community gathers to learn and launch, connect and collaborate. We know COVID-19 has created challenges, but Disrupt SF is still on schedule (keep tabs on our updates here). Like startup founders everywhere, we quickly learn where, when and how to pivot. Case in point, check out our new Disrupt Digital Pass option.

In the current climate, it’s even more important to get the focus of investors and customers on your startup. And your chance to do just that goes down on September 14-16, 2020. But did you know there’s a way that founders can extract even more opportunity from their Disrupt experience — for free?

Apply to be a TC Top Pick. It doesn’t cost anything to apply or participate, and you’re welcome to apply if your early-stage startup falls into one of these categories:

Artificial Intelligence + Machine Learning, Biotech + Healthtech, Enterprise + SaaS, Fintech, Mobility, Retail + E-commerce, Robotics, Hardware + IOT, Security + Privacy, Social Impact + Education, and Space.

TechCrunch editors will review every application and select up to three startups they feel represent the very best in each category. Check out who we chose as TC Top Picks at Disrupt SF 2019.

Making the cut won’t be easy, but you have nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain. For starters, every TC Top Pick startup receives a free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package and a VIP experience. You’ll exhibit for one full day in a prime, dedicated space in Startup Alley, our expo floor. Plus, you receive three complimentary Founder passes — you and your team can experience more of Disrupt’s extensive programming and networking opportunities.

Keep in mind that everyone at Disrupt wants to know who made the coveted Top Picks list. You’ll stand in a bright, metaphorical spotlight and draw attention from ardent investors, media looking for great stories, potential customers, could-be collaborators and, well, you just don’t know where a connection can lead you.

Don’t just take our word for it. Take it from one of your own.

“Earning a TC Top Pick is an awesome experience for an early-stage startup. As we grow bigger, we look forward to saying that our roots go back to TechCrunch Disrupt. Companies like Trello and Dropbox share the Disrupt pedigree. It’s a big deal, and I feel privileged to be part of that group.” — Joel Neidig, founder of SIMBA Chain.

We haven’t mentioned your live interview yet. Say what? Yup. A TechCrunch editor interviews every Top Pick — live on the Showcase Stage. We’ll record each interview, edit the video and promote it across our social media platforms. It’ll be yours to use as an impressive conversation starter with investors and customers. Again, take it from Joel Neidig.

“Our live interview with the TechCrunch editor was one of the best Top Pick perks. It’s an awesome long-term marketing tool.”

If you want to showcase your early-stage startup to the industry’s most influential movers, shakers, thinkers and makers, apply to be a TC Top Pick at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco 2020. You have nothing to lose — take your shot and buckle up for the ride of your startup life.

TechCrunch is mindful of the COVID-19 issue and its impact on live events. You can follow our updates here.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Disrupt San Francisco 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Operation COVID-19 will allow self-reporting of cases, to get ahead of official figures

By Mike Butcher

The Canadian founder of a startup who caught COVID-19 from Justin Trudeau’s wife has launched an initiative to allow anyone to self-report their own case of the disease and publish the results, helping authorities to get ahead of the pandemic.

Operation COVID-19 will visualize both official and suspected cases of the Coronavirus in data lists and on a map, with the aim of saving lives and improving global public health systems. People will be able to self-report the case via an anonymous questionnaire.

The site aims to demonstrate how many official tests — compared to suspected COVID-19 cases — there are.

“The more people who can contribute their COVID-19 experiences, we can turn the table on this pandemic and build more intelligence to save lives,” said co-founder Jillian Kowalchuk.

Kowalchuk is cofounder of “street-smart” safety app Safe & The City, but fell ill with COVID-19 symptoms after meeting the Prime Minister of Canada’s wife, Sophie Trudeau — who later tested positive for the disease — on March 5th at Canada House in London, as she Instagrammed.

She was later dismayed to learn she was refused a test for COVID-19 in a UK hospital and was instead told to go home and self-isolate, making her concerned about the lack of testing and public awareness of the scale of the problem.

“First-hand experiences like this are becoming more common throughout the world as more are refused testing, leaving the majority of COVID-19 cases unknown, under-estimating the severity of the problem, limiting preventative measures and resource mobilization into other needed public health monitoring systems,” she told TechCrunch .

The initiative will collect insights from people who have contracted COVID-19 to provide back to the medical and public health authorities.

In doing so it will create a map visualization of both official and self-reported COVID-19 cases, recovered and deaths to support best practices globally, including more testing.

To contribute software development to the project you can access its Github here or volunteer by emailing operationcovid19@gmail.com or joining the Facebook group.

Before yesterdayYour RSS feeds

OneWeb to file for bankruptcy as effort to secure funding, including from investor SoftBank, falls through

By Darrell Etherington

Broadband constellation satellite operator OneWeb will file for bankruptcy protection in the U.S., likely some time Friday, after attempts to secure new funding, including from existing investor SoftBank, fell through, TechCrunch has learned. The Financial Times also reported on the failure of its funding attempt on Friday, based on its own separate sources. The company will be laying off most of its staff, with a team remaining in place to continue to operate its existing satellites in space, according to our sources.

OneWeb, founded in 2012 as WorldVu Satellites, had been seeking to build out a constellation of broadband internet satellites that would operate in low Earth orbit, providing low-cost connections to customers on the ground with coverage that extends into more remote and hard-to reach areas that are not addressed by current ground-based networks.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that OneWeb had been considering a bankruptcy protection filing, while also weighing other options. One of those other options was a new funding round targeting a raise of around $2 billion. The company had previously raised $3 billion over multiple rounds, including a $1.3 billion and $1.2 billion round in 2019 and 2016 respectively, both of which had SoftBank as lead investor.

OneWeb also just completed a launch earlier in March, bringing the total number of its satellites in orbit to 74. The company then reduced its headcount by as much as 10% through layoffs we reported last week.

This latest step essentially means that OneWeb had exercised all other options for continued cash to stay afloat, and it required considerable reserves in order to continue its planned rapid pace of launches, with the ultimate aim of putting over 650 satellites in orbit in order to provide its service globally. SoftBank backing away as an investor leaves a big hole that’s difficult to fill in terms of scale and depth of pockets among the rest of the VC field, and the company has been stepping away from a number of its more high-profile investments since encountering difficulties of its own in terms of returning value on the biggest checks its cut, including for WeWork .

OneWeb’s funding situation can’t have been helped by the current global comic climate, also, rocked as it has been by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Reports suggest that at least some investors are taking a more conservative approach, suggesting that traditional routes to securing more investment may have proven more difficult to unlock than usual.

Inside Udaan’s push to digitize India’s B2B retail market

By Manish Singh

During a recent visit, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella reiterated his company’s commitment to India and revealed a new fund to help SaaS startups in the country.

And then Nadella and Anant Maheshwari, president of Microsoft India, discussed the success story of B2B platform Udaan in three separate onstage public appearances.

Headquartered in Bangalore, Udaan is a business-to-business e-commerce marketplace founded by former Flipkart executives Amod Malviya, Vaibhav Gupta and Sujeet Kumar. The startup used Microsoft’s free Azure credits to scale in its early days; as in some other markets, Microsoft, Amazon and Google offer free cloud credits in bulk to early, promising Indian startups in a bid to onboard them and see if their solutions could be relevant to other clients down the road.

More often than not, these bets don’t work, but sometimes they pay off. Udaan, valued at about $2.7 billion after raising nearly $900 million from investors like Lightspeed Venture Partners, Tencent Holdings, GGV Capital and Hillhouse Capital, has become one of Microsoft India’s biggest clients in the last three years.

Udaan was founded in 2016 at the tail end of India’s e-commerce frenzy, when scores of startups that had attempted to build business-to-consumer online shopping platforms were conceding defeat.

At the time, very few players — like Power2SME and Moglix (industrial products) and Bizongo (packaging for businesses) — were looking at the business-to-business market in India.

Udaan is valued at about $2.7B after raising nearly $900M from investors like Lightspeed Venture Partners, Tencent Holdings, GGV Capital and Hillhouse Capital and has become one of Microsoft India’s biggest clients.

But despite venturing into a road less traveled, Udaan had ambitious dreams. The startup was building its own logistics network, a herculean task that even Flipkart and Amazon avoided to a certain measure for years, yet it was reaching an audience that had never sold online.

Tesla email reveals two employees have tested positive for COVID-19

By Kirsten Korosec

Two Tesla employees, who had been working at home for nearly two weeks, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an internal email sent Thursday morning by the company’s head of environmental, health, and safety department and viewed by TechCrunch .

The employees were not symptomatic in the office, and both are quarantined at home and recovering well, according to the email from Tesla’s EHS department head Laurie Shelby. Their co-workers, who were already working from home for nearly two weeks as well, were notified so they can quarantine, the email read. The email did not disclose what locations the employees were working at.

“In both cases, interactions with the individuals had a low likelihood of transmission based on the minimal staff onsite and social distancing measures we took earlier this month,” Shelby wrote in the email.

Tesla could not be reached for comment. Business Insider previously reported on the same internal email.

The email has heightened concern among several Tesla employees that TechCrunch has spoken to, as they weigh the risk of coming into work or using paid-time off or unpaid leave to stay at home. Tesla employs more than 48,000 people at its headquarters, factories, sales and service centers and delivery hubs throughout the U.S. While some employees are able to work from home, the company still has workers at its delivery and service centers as well as an estimated 2,500 people at its Fremont, Calif. factory.

Tesla suspended production at its Fremont factory beginning March 23, days after a shelter-in-place order went into effect in Alameda County due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some basic operations that support Tesla’s charging infrastructure and what it describes as its “vehicle and energy services operations” have continued at the factory, which under normal circumstances employs more than 10,000 people.

The decision to suspend production at Fremont came after a multi-day public tussle between the automaker and local officials in Alameda County over what was considered an “essential” business.

Tesla has also suspended operations at its factory in Buffalo, N.Y., except for “those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains,” the company said in a statement. Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Wednesday that he plans to reopen the Buffalo factory to produce ventilators, a critical piece of medical equipment used in severe cases of COVID-19.

The email comes just two days after reports of at least two positive COVID-19 cases at SpaceX, another company headed up Musk. The positive cases at SpaceX sent some employees into quarantine, CNBC reported. The company is making hand sanitizer in house and taking other steps to protect nervous workers, according to CNBC. TechCrunch could not reach SpaceX for comment.

COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has rippled through corporate and industrial America. Manufacturers have suspended production of vehicles, tech companies have ordered employees to work from home and city, county and state governments have issued a variety of orders to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.

For instance, California Gv. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home directive that ordered all nonessential businesses to close and for residents to only leave their homes for essential needs like groceries or to visit the pharmacy. Other states where Tesla has operations such as New York are also under a stay-at-home order.

Musk’s actions during the pandemic have caused a variety of reactions among employees, critics and his millions of Twitter followers. He has appeared dismissive of COVID-19 in emails to employees and on Twitter, where he has spread a misinformation on the disease, including that children are “essentially immune,” a statement that contradicts with information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In one internal email sent to SpaceX employees, Musk noted that they were more likely to die in a car crash than from the disease. 

Even as Musk seemed to downplay the disease, he has also stepped up to donate medical supplies needed by hospitals and has directed employees to not come to work if they feel ill or are uncomfortable. Tesla employees have received emails from human resources head Valerie Workman that if they could not or were reluctant to come to work they could use PTO or take unpaid time off after they exhaust their PTO. The email told one employee (who spoke to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity) that they would be not be penalized for their decision or face disciplinary action for attendance based on health or impossibility to come to work.

Musk has also donated essential personal protective equipment to hospitals that are facing a shortage of these supplies and has committed to trying to help ramp up production of ventilators.

Zindi taps 12,000 African data scientists for solutions to COVID-19

By Jake Bright

Since its inception, Cape Town based crowdsolving startup Zindi has been building a database of data scientists across Africa.

It now has 12,000 registered on its its platform that uses AI and machine learning to tackle complex problems and will offer them cash-prizes to find solutions to curb COVID-19.

Zindi has an open challenge focused on stemming the spread and havoc of coronavirus and will introduce a hackathon in April. The current competition, sponsored by AI4D, tasks scientists to create models that can use data to predict the global spread of COVID-19 over the next three months.

The challenge is open until April 19, solutions will be evaluated against future numbers and the winner will receive $5000.

The competition fits with Zindi’s business model of building a platform that can aggregate pressing private or public-sector challenges and match the solution seekers to problem solvers.

Founded in 2018, the early-stage venture allows companies, NGOs or government institutions to host online competitions around data oriented issues.

Zindi’s model has gained the attention of some notable corporate names in and outside of Africa. Those who have hosted competitions include Microsoft, IBM and Liquid Telecom. Public sector actors — such as the government of South Africa and UNICEF — have also tapped Zindi for challenges as varied as traffic safety and disruptions in agriculture.

Zindi Team in Cape Town 1

Image Credits: Zindi

The startup’s CEO didn’t imagine a COVID-19 situation precisely, but sees it as one of the reasons she co-founded Zindi with South African Megan Yates and Ghanaian Ekow Duker.

The ability to apply Africa’s data science expertise, to solve problems around a complex health crisis such as COVID-19 is what Zindi was meant for, Lee explained to TechCrunch on a call from Cape Town.

“As an online platform, Zindi is well-positioned to mobilize data scientists at scale, across Africa and around the world, from the safety of their homes,” she said.

Lee explained that perception leads many to believe Africa is the victim or source of epidemics and disease. “We wanted to show Africa can actually also contribute to the solution for the globe.”

With COVID-19, Zindi is being employed to alleviate a problem that is also impacting its founder, staff and the world.

Lee spoke to TechCrunch while sheltering in place in Cape Town, as South Africa went into lockdown Friday due to coronavirus. Zindi’s founder explained she also has in-laws in New York and family in San Francisco living under similar circumstances due to the global spread of COVID-19.

Lee believes the startup’s competitions can produce solutions that nations in Africa could tap as the coronavirus spreads. “The government of Kenya just started a task force where they’re including companies from the ICT sector. So I think there could be interest,” she said.

Starting April, Zindi will launch six weekend hackathons focused on COVID-19.

That could be timely given the trend of COVID-19 in Africa. The continent’s cases by country were in the single digits in early March, but those numbers spiked last week — prompting the World Health Organization’s Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti to sound an alarm on the rapid evolution of the virus on the continent.

By the WHO’s stats Wednesday there were 1691 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and 29 confirmed deaths related to the virus — up from 463 cases and 10 deaths last Wednesday.

The trajectory of the coronavirus in Africa has prompted countries and startups, such as Zindi, to include the continent’s tech sector as part of a broader response. Central banks and fintech companies in Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya have employed measures to encourage more mobile-money usage, vs. cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the virus.

The continent’s largest incubator, CcHub, launched a fund and open call for tech projects aimed at curbing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia has offered African governments use of its last-mile delivery network for distribution of supplies to healthcare facilities and workers.

Zindi’s CEO Celina Lee anticipates the startup’s COVID-19 related competitions can provide additional means for policy-makers to combat the spread of the virus.

“The one that’s open right now should hopefully go into informing governments to be able to anticipate the spread of the disease and to more accurately predict the high risk areas in a country,” she said.

Africa turns to mobile payments as a tool to curb COVID-19

By Jake Bright

Africa is using digital finance as a means to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Governments and startups on the continent are implementing measures to shift a greater volume of payment transactions toward mobile money and away from cash — which the World Health Organization flagged as a conduit for the spread of the coronavirus.

It’s an option facilitated by the boom in fintech that’s occurred in Africa over the last decade. By several estimates, the continent is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

But because of that, fintech — and startups focused on financial inclusion — now receive the majority of VC funding annually in Africa, according to recent data.

As COVID-19 cases began to grow in the continent’s major economies last week, the continent’s leader in digital payment adoption — Kenya — turned to mobile-money as a public-health tool.

The country’s largest teleco, Safaricom, implemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce the physical exchange of currency in response to COVID-19.

Image Credits: Flickr

The company announced that all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Schillings (≈ $10) would be free for three months.

The move came after Safaricom met with the country’s Central Bank and per a directive from Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta “to explore ways of deepening mobile-money usage to reduce risk of spreading the virus through physical handling of cash,” according to a release provided to TechCrunch from Safaricom.

Kenya has one of the highest rates of mobile-money adoption in the world, largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa in the country, which stands as Africa’s 6th largest economy. Across Kenya’s population of 53 million, M-Pesa has 20.5 million customers and a network of 176,000 agents.

M-PESA Sector Stats 4Q 2019 per Kenya’s Communications Authority

With all major providers in Kenya there are 32 million subscribers, which means roughly 60% of the country’s population has access to mobile-money.

Ghana is also using digital finance as a monetary policy lever to reduce the spread of COVID-19

On March 20, the West African country’s central bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 (≈ $18), with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.

Ghana’s monetary body also eased KYC requirements on mobile-money, allowing citizens to use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with the major digital payment providers, according to a March 18 Bank of Ghana release.

The trajectory of the coronavirus in Africa is prompting more countries and tech companies to include mobile finance as part of a broader response. The continent’s COVID-19 cases by country were in the single digits until recently, but those numbers spiked last week leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm.

“About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s has been an extremely rapid…evolution.” 

Source; World Health Organization

By the World Health Organization’s stats Monday there were 1321 COVID-19 cases in Sub-Saharan Africa and 34 confirmed deaths related to the virus — up from 463 cases and 10 deaths last Wednesday.

The country with 40% of the region’s cases is South Africa, which declared a national disaster last week, banned public gatherings and announced travel restrictions on the U.S.

Unlike Ghana and Kenya, the government in Africa’s second largest economy hasn’t issued directives toward mobile payments, but the situation with COVID-19 is pushing fintech startups to act, according to Yoco CEO Katlego Maphai.

The Series B stage venture develops and sells digital payment hardware and services for small businesses on a network of 80,000 clients that processes roughly $500 million annually.

Image Credits: Jake Bright

With the growth in coronavirus cases in South Africa, Yoco has issued a directive to clients to encourage customers to use the contactless payment option on its point of sale machines. The startup has also accelerated its development of a remote payment product, that would enable transfers on its client network via a weblink.

“This is an opportunity to start driving contactless adoption,” Maphai told TechCrunch on a call from Cape Town.

In Nigeria — home to Africa’s largest economy and population of 200 million — the growth of COVID-19 cases has shifted the country toward electronic payments and prompted one of the country’s largest digital payments startups to act.

Lagos based venture Paga made fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from Paga customers for free — a measure “aimed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria,” according to a company release.

Parts of Lagos — which is connected to Nigeria’s largest commercial hub of Lagos State — have begun to require digital payments in response to COVID-19, according to Paga’s CEO Tayo Oviosu .

“We’re seeing some stores that are saying they are not accepting cash anymore,” he told TechCrunch on a call from Lagos.

Cash only Nigeria Paga

Image Credits: Paga

Paga already offers free P2P transfers on its multi-channel network of 24,840 agents and 14 million customers. The startup, that recently expanded to Mexico and partnered with Visa, will also allow free transfers up to roughly 5000 Naira (≈ $15) from customer accounts to bank accounts, to encourage more digital payments use in Nigeria.

Paga’s CEO believes the current COVID-19 crisis will encourage more digital finance adoption in Nigeria, which has shown a cash-is-king reluctance by parts of the population to use mobile payments.

“I think it will help move the needle, but it won’t be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said.

Time and research will determine if efforts of African governments and tech companies to encourage digital payments over physical currency yield results in halting the spread of COVID-19 on the continent.

It is a unique case-study of mobile finance in Africa being employed to impact human behavior during a public health emergency.

Astra encounters anomaly during pre-launch testing, will evaluate options for next attempt

By Darrell Etherington

Rocket launch startup Astra, which had been attempting to claim DARPA’s prize for successful demonstration of flexible space launch capabilities until earlier this month, will not be moving forward with an attempted flight of its launch vehicle this week as planned. The company’s “One of Three” rocket ran into an “anomaly” during pre-launch testing in preparation for its flight this week, and the schedule for a make-up launch are currently is currently up in the air.

“Astra’s launch vehicle “One of Three” suffered an anomaly following an otherwise successful day of testing in Kodiak in preparation for a launch this week,” explained Astra CEO and founder Chris Kemp via email. “Fortunately, our own hardware was the only thing harmed, and our team is already hard at work to determine the root cause so that we can improve the vehicle’s design. As a result of yesterday’s anomaly we will no longer be attempting a launch this week. We do intend to attempt another launch from Kodiak once conditions with coronavirus improve and we have resolved the cause of yesterday’s incident.”

Astra’s launches are set to take off from Kodiak Launch Complex, which is located a the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska. The company had challenges with weather conditions leading up to its attempts to win the $2 million DARPA prize, the deadline for each expired at the beginning of March, but the anomaly yesterday had to do with the vehicle hardware itself, and not external conditions. Local news additionally reported this morning that while the emergency response triggered by the anomaly had ended, the “areas is still hazardous and should be avoided” according to Alaska Aerospace CEO Mark Lester.

Kemp also cited the current coronavirus crisis in his statement to TechCrunch, and while that doesn’t look like it contributed to any technical issues, the ongoing global pandemic definitely seems likely to impact any attempted work that would involve repairs or rescheduling the launch at this time.

Ford, 3M, GE and the UAW to build respirators, ventilators and faceshields for coronavirus fight

By Darrell Etherington

Ford announced the details of its current manufacturing efforts around building much-needed medical supplies for front-line healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients on Tuesday. Its efforts include building Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs) with partner 3M, including a new design that employs existing parts from both partners to deliver effectiveness and highly-scalable production capacity.

Ford says that it’s also going to be building face shields, leaning on its 3D printing capabilities, with an anticipated production rate of over 100,000 units per week. These are key pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by frontline healthcare staff to protect them against virus-containing droplets that are spread by patients through coughing and sneezing in clinical settings. The company has designed a new face shield, which will be tested with the first 1,000 units this week at Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford Health Systems and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace Hospitals in Michigan to evaluate their efficacy. Provided they perform as planned, Ford anticipates scaling to building 75,000 by end of week, with 100,000 able to be made in one of the company’s Plymouth, MI production facilities each week thereafter.

The automaker is also going to be working with GE on expanding production capacity for GE Healthcare’s ventilator, with a simplified design that should allow for higher volume production. That’s part of a response to a U.S. government request for more units to support healthcare needs, the company said. On top of its U.S.-focused ventilator project with GE, Ford is also working on a separate effort to spin up ventilator production targeting the UK based on a request for aid from that country’s government, and it’s also shipping back 165,000 N95 respirator masks that were sent by the company from the U.S. to China earlier this year, since the need for that equipment is now greater back in the U.S., the company said, and China’s situation continues to improve.

Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that U.S. automakers, including Ford, GM and Tesla had received the “go ahead” to make “ventilators and other metal products, fast.”

“We have had preliminary discussions with the U.S. and U.K. governments and looking into the feasibility,” Ford spokesperson Rachel McCleery said at the time in a statement to TechCrunch . “It’s vital that we all pull together to help the country weather this crisis and come out the other side stronger than ever.”

Based on this update, it seems like Ford did indeed move quickly to take stock of where it could contribute, and in what capacity. The company will be looking at using both its own and partner facilities to produce this much-needed medical equipment, it said on Tuesday during a press conference call about the announcement, and it’ll also be leveraging existing parts and equipment to speed production capabilities and capacity.

The PAPRs that Ford is building, for instance, will use off-the-shelf components from the automaker’s F-150 truck’s cooled seating, as well as 3M’s existing HEPA filters. These respirators could potentially offer significant advantages in use compared to N95s, since they are battery-powered and can filter airborne virus particles for up to eight hours on a single, swappable standard power tool battery pack worn at the waist. Asked about production timelines and capacity, 3M Global Technical Director Mike Kesti said that they’re still working that out, with a focus on how Ford can supplement existing PAPR production before moving into producing their new version.

“[Ford is] helping us expand the capacity of our existing units,” Kesti said. “So impact will be over the next days and weeks to just increase capacity of our existing [PAPR]. But we’re also working closely together with them the leverage components both from Ford, that they have available, and 3M, particularly our filters that meet the NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] regulatory requirements, and trying to integrate that into a modified design that will meet the NIOSH regulation performance requirements, and scale it up as as quickly as possible.”

Ford is also assisting 3M with ramping production of its existing N95 respiratory masks, Kesti said.

Ford and GE don’t yet have a timeline, or estimates of production capacity for the new types of ventilators they’re working on either, but the team is “working feverishly to get to the release point,” according to GE Healthcare VP and Chief Quality Officer Tom Westrick.

“We don’t have specific timelines and numbers related to the to the design and the release of the new ventilators,” he said. “Although, obviously this is of utmost importance to both us and Ford.”

With the real estate industry facing headwinds, SoftBank-backed Compass lays off 15% of staff

By Jonathan Shieber

Compass, the real estate brokerage startup backed by roughly $1.6 billion in venture funding, has laid off 15% of its staff as a result of the shifting economic fortunes created by the global response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to an internal email seen by TechCrunch.

Citing economic fallout that has seen stock markets plummet 30 percent in just 22 days Compass chief executive Robert Reffkin wrote that the company has seen an over 60 percent decline in real estate showings and is modeling a 6-month decline in revenue of 50 percent.

“We aren’t just facing an economic recession, we are facing an economic standstill,” Reffkin wrote. As the country’s unemployment rate soars to a projected 10 percent, Reffkin wrote that the company had no choice but to cut its workforce.

The 15 percent reduction in staffing is being accompanied by an 80% reduction in its concierge business and a shift to entirely virtual delivery. As part of the reductions in corporate spending, Reffkin cut his own salary to nothing and reduced the entire executive team’s salary by 25 percent.

For the employees that are laid off, the company said it would provide an “enhanced severance and COBRA health insurance” along with letting employees hang on to their company laptops and providing tools, training, and networking help so that they can try to get a new job.

The news from Compass is just one indicator of a potential reckoning coming for the booming property tech investment category.

Earlier today, TechCrunch reported that Zillow was suspending its homebuying activities as a result of the new economic reality.

Zillow said it decided to halt its offers to sellers after several states, including California, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio, New York and Nevada, implemented emergency orders requiring people to stay home and all non-essential business activities, including some real estate-related activities, to stop.

Opendoor and Redfin made similar decisions to pause homebuying. Meanwhile other real estate companies are also laying off staff. The co-working startup Convene laid off staff as well, citing current market conditions.

Reffkin is hopeful that the economy will turn around and predicted that the economy could turn around in the next 100 days. And he ends his email looking forward to a return to normalcy for Compass and the broader market.

“I feel hopeful that China’s apparent success at reducing the spread of the Coronavirus and restarting their enormous economy may provide a blueprint for our future, as well,” Reffkin wrote. “And I feel hopeful because of the ways I see people throughout our company and throughout our society stepping up during this challenging time.”

To date, Compass has raised $1.6 billion in financing from investors including the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, Fidelity, Wellington Management, Softbank Vision Fund, and the Qatar Investment Authority, according to Crunchbase.

 

Jumia adapts Pan-African e-commerce network in response to COVID-19

By Jake Bright

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia is adapting its digital retail network to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Nigeria headquartered operation — with online goods and services verticals in 11 African countries — announced a series of measures on Friday. Jumia will donate certified face masks to health ministries in Kenya, Ivory Coast, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda, drawing on its supply networks outside Africa.

The company has offered African governments use of of its last mile delivery network for distribution of supplies to healthcare facilities and workers. Jumia will also reduce fees on its JumiaPay finance product to encourage digital payments over cash, which can be a conduit for the spread of coronavirus.

Governments in Jumia’s operating countries have started to engage the private sector on a possible COVID-19 outbreak on the continent, according to Jumia CEO Sacha Poignonnec .

“I don’t have a crystal ball and no one knows what’s gonna happen,” he told TechCrunch on a call. But in the event the virus spreads rapidly on the continent, Jumia is reviewing additional assets it can offer the public sector. “If governments find it helpful we’re willing to do it,” Poignonnec said.

Africa’s COVID-19 cases by country were in the single digits until recently, but those numbers spiked last week leading the World Health Organization to sound an alarm. “About 10 days ago we had 5 countries affected, now we’ve got 30,” WHO Regional Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s has been an extremely rapid…evolution.” 

By the World Health Organization’s latest stats Monday there were 1321 COVID-19 cases in Africa and 34 confirmed deaths related to the virus — up from 463 cases and 10 deaths last Wednesday.

Dr. Moeti noted that many socioeconomic factors in Africa — from housing to access to running water — make common measures to curb COVID-19, such as social-distancing or frequent hand washing, challenging. She went on to explain that the World Health Organization is looking for solutions that are adoptable to Africa’s circumstances, including working with partners and governments to get sanitizing materials to hospitals and families.

As coronavirus cases and related deaths grow, governments in Africa are responding. South Africa, which has the second highest COVID-19 numbers on the continent, declared a national disaster last week, banned public gatherings and announced travel restrictions on the U.S.

Kenya has imposed its own travel and crowd restrictions and the country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta urged citizens and businesses to opt for digital-payments as a safer means for transactions.

Across Africa’s tech ecosystem — which has seen significant growth in startups and now receives $2 billion in VC annually — a number of actors are stepping up.

Jumia Nigeria Fleet

Image Credit: Jumia

In addition to offering its logistics and supply-chain network, Jumia is collaborating with health ministries in several countries to use its website and mobile platforms to share COVID-19 related public service messages.

Heeding President Kenyatta’s call, last week Kenya’s largest telecom Safaricom waived fees on its M-Pesa mobile-money product (with over 20 million users) to increase digital payments use and lower the risk of spreading the COVID-19 through handling of cash.

Africa’s largest innovation incubator CcHub announced funding and a call for tech projects aimed at reducing COVID-19 and its social and economic impact.

A looming question for Africa’s tech scene is how startups in major markets such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa will weather major drops in revenue that could occur from a wider coronavirus outbreak.

Jumia is well capitalized, after going public in a 2019 IPO on the New York stock exchange, but still has losses exceeding its 2019 revenue of €160 million.

On managing business through a possible COVID-19 Africa downturn, “We’re very long-term oriented so it’s about doing what’s right with the governments and thinking about how we can help,” said Jumia’s CEO Sacha Poignonnec .

“Revenue wise, it’s really to early to tell. We do believe that e-commerce in Africa is a trend that goes beyond this particular situation.”

Ford, GM, Tesla given the ‘go ahead’ to produce ventilators, Trump says

By Kirsten Korosec

Ford, GM and Tesla have been given the “go ahead” to make ventilators to help alleviate a shortage amid the COVID-19 pandemic, President Donald Trump said in a tweet Sunday that ended with a challenge to auto executives to show how good their companies are.

Ventilators are a critical piece of medical equipment for patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus. COVID-19 attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT reported.

The tweet follows a plea Sunday morning from NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the federal government to nationalize medical supply acquisition instead of leaving it to individual states. Cuomo is one of a growing group of officials to call for Trump to order companies to produce medical supplies under the Defense Production Act, a law that allows the federal government to compel private industry to produce materials needed for national defense.

Without the nationalization, states are competing against each other for supplies, Cuomo said. Prices have spiked as a result, putting more pressure on a health care system.

Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST! @fema Go for it auto execs, lets see how good you are? @RepMarkMeadows @GOPLeader @senatemajldr

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 22, 2020

Trump has issued an executive order that invokes the Defense Production Act, but it’s unclear if it has been used. Trump said last week during a press conference that it had been, but Federal Emergency Management Agency head Peter Gaynor told reporters Sunday that the president has not yet ordered any companies to make more critical supplies.

I’m calling on the Federal Government to nationalize the medical supply chain.

The Federal Government should immediately use the Defense Production Act to order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves.

Currently, states are competing against other states for supplies.

— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 22, 2020

Several automakers said last week they were looking into the feasibility of producing ventilators. GM said Friday that it is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators that are needed by a growing number of hospitals as the COVID-19 pandemics spreads throughout the U.S. The partnership is part of StopTheSpread.org, a coordinated effort of private companies to respond to COVId-19, a disease caused by coronavirus.

Ford told TechCrunch in an email Sunday that it stands ready to help the administration, including the possibility of producing ventilators and other equipment.

“We have had preliminary discussions with the U.S. and U.K. governments and looking into the feasibility,” the Ford spokesperson Rachel McCleery said. “It’s vital that we all pull together to help the country weather this crisis and come out the other side stronger than ever.”

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted Saturday that he had a discussion with Medtronic about ventilators. Medtronic later confirmed those talks in a tweet. He had previously tweeted that SpaceX and Tesla will work on ventilators, without providing specifics.

Tesla could not be reached for comment.

Addressing #COVID19 is a group effort. We are grateful for the discussion with @ElonMusk and @Tesla as we work across industries to solve problems and get patients and hospitals the tools they need to continue saving lives. We're all in this together. https://t.co/MdZ3u8k2nR

— Medtronic (@Medtronic) March 21, 2020

YC startup Felix wants to replace antibiotics with programmable viruses

By Sarah Buhr

Right now the world is at war. But this is no ordinary war. It’s a fight with an organism so small we can only detect it through use of a microscope — and if we don’t stop it, it could kill millions of us in the next several decades. No, I’m not talking about COVID-19, though that organism is the one on everyone’s mind right now. I’m talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

You see, more than 700,000 people died globally from bacterial infections last year — 35,000 of them in the U.S. If we do nothing, that number could grow to 10 million annually by 2050, according to a United Nations report.

The problem? Antibiotic overuse at the doctor’s office or in livestock and farming practices. We used a lot of drugs over time to kill off all the bad bacteria — but it only killed off most, not all, of the bad bacteria. And, as the famous line from Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park goes, “life finds a way.”

Enter Felix, a biotech startup in the latest Y Combinator batch that thinks it has a novel approach to keeping bacterial infections at bay – viruses.

Phage killing bacteria in a petri dish

It seems weird in a time of widespread concern over the corona virus to be looking at any virus in a good light but as co-founder Robert McBride explains it, Felix’s key technology allows him to target his virus to specific sites on bacteria. This not only kills off the bad bacteria but can also halt its ability to evolve and once more become resistant.

But the idea to use a virus to kill off bacteria is not necessarily new. Bacteriophages, or viruses that can “infect” bacteria, were first discovered by an English researcher in 1915 and commercialized phage therapy began in the U.S. in the 1940’s through Eli Lilly and Company. Right about then antibiotics came along and Western scientists just never seemed to explore the therapy further.

However, with too few new solutions being offered and the standard drug model not working effectively to combat the situation, McBride believes his company can put phage therapy back at the forefront.

Already Felix has tested its solution on an initial group of 10 people to demonstrate its approach.

Felix researcher helping cystic fibrosis patient Ella Balasa through phage therapy

“We can develop therapies in less time and for less money than traditional antibiotics because we are targeting orphan indications and we already know our therapy can work in humans,” McBride told TechCrunch . “We argue that our approach, which re-sensitizes bacteria to traditional antibiotics could be a first line therapy.”

Felix plans to deploy its treatment for bacterial infections in those suffering from cystic fibrosis first as these patients tend to require a near constant stream of antibiotics to combat lung infections.

The next step will be to conduct a small clinical trial involving 30 people, then, as the scientific research and development model tends to go, a larger human trial before seeking FDA approval. But McBride hopes his viral solution will prove itself out in time to help the coming onslaught of antibiotic resistance.

“We know the antibiotic resistant challenge is large now and is only going to get worse,” McBride said. “We have an elegant technological solution to this challenge and we know our treatment can work. We want to contribute to a future in which these infections do not kill more than 10 million people a year, a future we can get excited about.”

‘Thinking out loud’ with TechCrunch senior editor Alex Wilhelm

By Walter Thompson

Extra Crunch is now past its first birthday. Over the past year, we’ve learned a lot, made some changes and generally found our groove.

Toward the end of 2019, former TechCrunch writer Alex Wilhelm returned to the publication to help grow Extra Crunch, though he still writes for the main site as well. His daily columns dig into the financial side of the startup world and have resonated deeply with our audience, so I wanted to talk to him about what he’s doing and why more people might want to read his work.

Normally, we’d run a Q&A like this on Extra Crunch, but we’ve removed the paywall so everyone can learn a bit about how we approach our work at TechCrunch so we can better serve our audience of founders, operators, tech fans and investors.

Read on for an unvarnished look at our process, from two of our own. Cheers!

Senior Editor Alex Wilhelm

Chatting with Alex

Walter Thompson: I’d like to introduce you to readers. What is your daily column about?

Alex Wilhelm: I’m always trying to figure out what’s going on and why. And I think that one thing that the news media does traditionally quite well, is to present everyone with a set of facts.

But one thing that the news has always been hesitant to do is tell people why they might care or why things are happening, because they don’t want to lose their journalistic status. I don’t share that perspective. And so my morning column is essentially me thinking out loud about markets, trends and news events that I’m trying to piece together into themes and narratives to help explain the world around me on topics that I find interesting. It’s really just a process of thinking out loud, trying to learn, and put the LEGOs together to make something a bit larger than the parts themselves.

Who should be reading your daily column? Is it just for Silicon Valley insiders?

It’s designed to help people who want to be more on the inside. I’m writing for the people in the world of technology, and the financial world that encompasses startups, to better understand where they work and how their jobs function inside the context of business.

If you work for a startup — you know, seed through late-stage — it probably is something that you might want to read, because you’ll better understand who’s doing well, and business models, where money is going, how exits are happening, what your options might be worth and maybe we’ll talk about the company you work for. So if you’re in that area, I would read it, but if you’re not, it’s probably wildly esoteric and not tailored for you.

Do you think your column could help someone become a better founder, or are you offering more specialized knowledge?

If founders wanted to understand more about the world around them, it is a useful read.

You can certainly build a company with blinders on and just run straight forward. And if everything goes well, you’ll look like a genius. But if you did want to kind of maybe look around a bit more — I cover transportation, fintech and venture trends, and you know, the Chinese market and stock market trades — I try to bring all this stuff in to explain what’s going on. If you wanted a broader view, I hope that my column will help. If it doesn’t, I’m failing.

Any interest in using what you’ve learned writing about startups to found your own company?

I worked for a bunch of startups. I worked for a startup in Chicago during college. Then I also worked for a startup in Portland and I founded a company with some friends called Contenture. TechCrunch covered us back in the day when I was in college, and the dissolution of that startup got me into writing. So I guess I rephrase your question, “am I willing to go back into building companies?” And the answer is no.

I love what I do. And I’m very, very lucky to get to do it. And this is the job that I want. So at least today, no. Maybe down the road as my perspectives, you know, change maybe, but I love writing. I get to write about stuff that I find fascinating.

Use discount code ALEX at checkout to save 25% off the price of an annual or two-year Extra Crunch subscription.

If you’re a founder who’s looking at the novel coronavirus, a possible recession, real uncertainty in public markets and more VCs who are demanding profitability, is this a good time to launch a startup? Or is this a bad time? Or is it just as dodgy as it ever was?

It’s a really good question. I’ve been talking with many people about this, in particular, Elizabeth Yin, who was breaking down the two-tiered founder world — how some people can raise infinite money and some people are kind of starving.

I think it’s a pretty good time to found a company because even if the fundraising market does change and become a bit more stiff and strict, it will be nothing compared to how bad it was in 2008. And nothing as bad as it was 2000 and 2001. So there’s going to be more capital and more risk tolerance. And sure, maybe you won’t be quite as fantastic, but it’ll still be good.

And that means that you have the fuel to build whatever it is that you think is going to change the world if it’s a good idea. I would get out there and go do it. “Good companies are born in bad times” as a theme isn’t wrong. They’re also founded in good times. But if you’ve got a really good idea and a solid team in mind, I don’t think the macro conditions should change the way you think about building a business.

Is there anything you wanted to add before we wrap up? We’re doing this interview for readers who aren’t already Extra Crunch subscribers. Why do you think they should sign up?

Extra Crunch is a grand experiment, and one that’s been a real pleasure to get to be a small part of. I want to thank everyone who’s come along for the ride so far. And if you haven’t yet, come over to try it.

TechCrunch as an organization is now doing three things at once. We’ve always done news and events. And now we’re doing something a little bit different at the same time. So thank you for everyone who’s taking this up with us. And we’re going to earn everyone else’s support and time as soon as we can.


Did African startups raise $496M, $1B or $2B in 2019?

By Jake Bright

Five years ago, it was hard to come by any numbers for annual VC investment in Africa. These days the challenge is choosing which number to follow.

That’s the case for three venture funding studies for Africa that turned up varied results.

The numbers and variance

Investment stats released by media outlet Disrupt Africa, data-base WeeTracker and Africa focused fund Partech have left some people scratching their heads.

From high to low, Partech pegged total 2019 VC for African startups at $2 billion, compared to WeeTracker’s $1.3 billion estimate and Disrupt Africa’s $496 million.

That’s a fairly substantial spread of $1.5 billion between the assessments. The variance filtered down to country VC valuations, though it was a little less sharp.

Africa VC markets 2019Partech and WeeTracker shared the same top-three countries for 2019 VC investment in Africa — Nigeria, Kenya, and Egypt — but with hundred-million dollar differences.

Disrupt Africa came up with a different lead market for startup investment on the continent — Kenya — though its $149 million estimate for the East African country was some $500 million lower than Partech and WeeTracker’s VC leader, Nigeria.

So what accounts for the big deviations? TechCrunch spoke to each organization (and reviewed the reports) and found the contrasting stats derive from different methodologies — namely defining what constitutes a startup and an African startup.

Partech’s larger overall VC valuation for the continent comes from broader parameters for companies and quantifying investment.

“We do not limit the definition of startups by age of the incorporation or size of funds raised,” Partech General Partner Tidjane Deme told TechCrunch.

This led the fund, for example, to include Visa’s $200 million investment in Nigerian financial-services company Interswitch . The corporate round was certainly tech-related, though few would classify Interswitch — which launched in 2002, acquires companies, and has a venture fund — as a startup.

Partech’s higher annual VC value for Africa’s startups could also connect to tallying confidential investment data.

“We…collect and analyze undisclosed deals, accessing more detailed information thanks to our relationships within the ecosystem,” the fund’s report disclosed.

WeeTracker’s methodology also included data on undisclosed startup investments and opened up the count to funding sources beyond VC.

“Debt/loans, grants/awards/prizes/non-equity assistance, crowdfunding, [and] ICOs are included,” WeeTracker clarified in a methodology note.

Disrupt Africa used a more conservative approach across companies and investment. “We are a bit more narrow on what we consider a startup to be,” the site’s co-founder Tom Jackson told TechCrunch.

“In the clearest scenario, an African startup would be headquartered in Africa, founded by an African, and have Africa as its primary market,” Disrupt Africa’s report stated  — though Jackson noted all these factors don’t always align.

“Disrupt Africa tackles this issue on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Partech was more liberal in its definition of an African startup, including investment for tech-companies that count Africa as their primary market, but not insisting they be incorporated or operate HQs on the continent.

Andela FoundersThat opened up inclusion of large 2019 rounds to Africa focused, New York headquartered tech-talent accelerator Andela and investment to Opera’s verticals, such as OPay in Nigeria.

In addition to following a more conservative definition of African startup, Disrupt Africa’s report was more particular to early-stage ventures. The site’s report primarily counted investment for companies founded within the last five year and excluded “spin-offs of corporates or any other large entity…that [has]…developed past the point of being a startup.”

Commonalities across reports

For all the differences on annual VC counts for Africa, there were some common threads across WeeTracker, Partech, and Disrupt Africa’s investment reports.

The first was the rise of Nigeria — which has Africa’s largest population and economy — as the top destination for startup VC investment on the continent.

The second was the prominence of fintech as the most funded startup sector across Africa, gaining 54% of all VC in Partech’s report and $678 million of the $1.3 billion to startups in WeeTracker’s study.

VC inequality

An unfortunate commonality in each report was the preponderance of startup investment going to English speaking Africa. No francophone country made it into the the top five in any of the three reports. Only Senegal registered on Partech’s country-list, with a small $16 million in VC in 2019.

The Dakar Angel Network launched last year to bridge the resource gap for startups in French-speaking African countries.

Final sum

There may not be a right or wrong stat for annual investment to African startups, just three reports with different methodologies that capture unique snapshots.

Partech and WeeTracker offer a broader view of multiple types of financial support going to tech companies operating in Africa. Disrupt Africa’s assessment is more specific to a standard definition of VC going to startups originating and operating in Africa.

Three reports with varying numbers on the continent’s startup investment is a definite upgrade to what was available not so long ago: little to no formal data on VC in Africa.

Daily Crunch: Coronavirus prompts more conference cancellations

By Anthony Ha

Google cancels its big developer conference, Justin Kan’s legal startup shuts down and Robinhood offers more details about a recent outage. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 4, 2020.

1. Google cancels its 2020 I/O developer conference

After Facebook canceled its F8 developer conference and Google itself moved its Cloud Next event in April to a digital-only conference, this wasn’t a huge surprise, but it provides another sign of how the COVID-19 coronavirus is clearing the 2020 industry calendar.

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg has outlined some of the steps that Facebook and his family’s nonprofit, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, are taking to respond to the pandemic. Facebook’s response focuses on three areas: providing accurate information, stopping misinformation and providing data for research.

2. $75M legal startup Atrium shuts down, lays off 100

Justin Kan’s hybrid legal software and law firm startup Atrium is shutting down today after failing to figure out how to deliver better efficiency than a traditional law firm. The startup has now laid off all its employees; it will return some of its $75.5 million in funding to investors, including Series B lead Andreessen Horowitz . The separate Atrium law firm will continue to operate.

3. Robinhood offers $15 discount, blames outage on record trades

It wasn’t the leap year, a coding blip or a hack that caused Robinhood’s massive outages earlier this week that left customers unable to trade stocks. Instead, the co-CEOs write that “the cause of the outage was stress on our infrastructure — which struggled with unprecedented load. That in turn led to a ‘thundering herd’ effect — triggering a failure of our DNS system.”

4. India lifts ban on cryptocurrency trading

India’s Supreme Court has overturned the central bank’s two-year-old ban on cryptocurrency trading in the country in what many said was a “historic” verdict. The Reserve Bank of India had imposed a ban on cryptocurrency trading in April 2018 that barred banks and other financial institutions from facilitating “any service in relation to virtual currencies.”

5. The future of gig work could involve unions and co-ops

Behind the scenes, an alternative approach to California’s AB 5 worker protection law has been picking up steam. Called the Cooperative Economy Act, the draft legislation is designed to accomplish much of what AB 5 aims to achieve, such as worker protections and benefits. But it also brings unions and co-ops into the mix. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. VSCO’s new editing tool Montage lets you edit and layer both photos and video

VSCO already allowed users to apply photo-like edits to their videos by doing things like applying filters or adjusting the exposure. But Montage is an entirely different sort of video editing experience.

7. Uber sold its food delivery business in India to Zomato for $206M

In January, Uber announced that it had sold the India business of Uber Eats to Zomato for a 9.99% stake in the loss-making Indian food delivery startup. In a regulatory filing, the company has now disclosed that the deal was worth $206 million.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

Africa Roundup: TLcom closes $71M fund, Jumo raises $55M, AWS partners with Safaricom

By Jake Bright

VC firm TLcom Capital closed its Tide Africa Fund at $71 million in February, and announced plans to invest in 12 startup over the next 18 months.

The group —  with offices in London, Lagos, and Nairobi — is looking for tech-enabled, revenue-driven ventures in Africa from seed-stage to Series B, according to TLcom Managing Partner Maurizio Caio.

He told TechCrunch the fund was somewhat agnostic on startup sectors, but was leaning toward infrastructure, logistics ventures vs. consumer finance companies.

On geographic scope, TLcom Capital will focus primarily on startups in Africa’s big-three tech hubs — Nigeria, Kenya,  South Africa — but is also eyeing rising markets, such as Ethiopia.

TLcom’s current Africa portfolio includes Nigerian trucking logistics venture Kobo360, Kenya’s Twiga Foods,  a B2B food supply-chain company and tech-talent accelerator Andela.

Both of these companies have gone on to expand in Africa and receive subsequent investment by U.S. investment bank, Goldman Sachs .

For those startups who wish to pitch to TLcom Capital, Caio encouraged founders to contact one of the fund’s partners and share a value proposition. “If it’s something we find vaguely interesting, we’ll make a decision,” he said.

One $50 million round wasn’t enough for South Africa’s Jumo, so the fintech firm raised another — $55 million — in February, backed by

Goldman Sachs led the Cape Town based company’s $52 million round back in 2018.

“This fresh investment comes from new and existing…investors including Goldman Sachs,  Odey Asset Management and LeapFrog Investments,” Jumo said in a statement —  though Goldman told TechCrunch its participation in this week’s round isn’t confirmed.

After the latest haul, Jumo has raised $146 million in capital, according to Crunchbase.

Founded in 2015, the venture offers a full tech stack for partners to build savings, lending, and insurance products for customers in emerging markets.

Jumo is active in six markets and plans to expand to two new countries in Africa (Nigeria and Ivory Coast) and two in Asia (Bangladesh and India).

The company’s products have disbursed over $1 billion loans and served over 15 million people and small businesses, according to Jumo data.

Jumo joins a growing list of African digital-finance startups raising big money from outside investors and expanding abroad. A $200 million investment by Visa in 2019 catapulted Nigerian payments firm Interswitch  to unicorn status, the same year the company launched its Verge card product on Discover’s global network.

Amazon Web Services  has entered a partnership with Safaricom — Kenya’s largest telco, ISP and mobile payment provider — in a collaboration that could spell competition between American cloud providers in Africa.

In a statement to TechCrunch,  the East African company framed the arrangement as a “strategic agreement” whereby Safaricom  will sell AWS services (primarily cloud) to its East Africa customer network.

Safaricom — whose products include the famed M-Pesa  mobile money product — will also become the first Advanced Consulting Partner for the AWS partner network in East Africa.

Partnering with Safaricom plugs AWS into the network of one East Africa’s most prominent digital companies.

Safaricom, led primarily by its M-Pesa mobile money product, holds remarkable dominance in Kenya, Africa’s 6th largest economy. M-Pesa has 20.5 million customers across a network of 176,000 agents and generates around one-fourth of Safaricom’s ≈ $2.2 billion annual revenues (2018).

safaricomM-Pesa has 80% of Kenya’s mobile money agent network, 82% of the country’s active mobile-money subscribers and transfers 80% of Kenya’s mobile-money transactions, per the latest sector statistics.

A number of Safaricom’s clients (including those it provides payments and internet services to) are companies, SMEs and startups.

The Safaricom-AWS partnership points to an emerging competition between American cloud service providers to scale in Africa by leveraging networks of local partners.

The most obvious rival to the AWS-Safaricom strategic agreement is the Microsoft -Liquid Telecom collaboration. Since 2017, MS has partnered with the Southern African digital infrastructure company to grow Microsoft’s AWS competitor product — Azure — and offer cloud services to the continent’s startups and established businesses.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

Boston Dynamics unveils OTTO Motors collaboration to bring our robot overlords to the warehouse

By Jonathan Shieber

Boston Dynamics, the undisputed heavyweight of technical robotics wizardry, unveiled a new collaboration with the warehouse autonomous material handling and transportation technology developer, OTTO Motors.

Over the past year Boston Dynamics has moved from building the stuff or robotic uprising nightmares to more mundane warehouse automation technologies with its Handle robot and Pick computer vision system.

Today, the company unveiled some footage from its proof of concept trials with OTTO Motors to automate the logistics space.

It’s part of a concerted effort to focus the company on revenue generation alongside revolutionary robotic innovation and follows the appointment of a new chief executive in January.

“I basically hired most of the people in the company and growing us aggressively is a big challenge right now,” Boston Dynamics’ new chief executive Rob Playter told TechCrunch at the time. “Over the past year, bringing on new people into our executive leadership team has been a primary goal, as well as feeding an insatiable appetite for our technical teams to grow in order to meet the goals we’ve set for them. Which includes not only advancing the state of the art of robotics but actually making some of our robots into products and delivering them and supporting them and changing the organization to do so.”

That focus on making the robots into products and delivering them is at the heart of the OTTO partnership, according to VP of Product engineering, Kevin Blankespoor.

“We’ve built a proof of concept demonstration of a heterogeneous fleet of robots building distribution center orders to provide a more flexible warehouse automation solution,” Blankespoor said in a statement. “To meet the rates that our customers expect, we’re continuing to expand Handle’s capabilities and optimizing its interactions with other robots like the OTTO 1500 for warehouse applications.”

For companies like OTTO Motors, which has long worked on developing autonomous warehouse and logistics technologies, the partnership with Boston Dynamics was a no-brainer.

“It’s exciting to engage with other cutting-edge robotics companies like Boston Dynamics,” said Ryan Gariepy, CTO and Co-Founder of OTTO Motors. “As leaders in our respective spaces, we can apply our technologies to field a whole new realm of applications.”

 

Announcing the agenda for TC Sessions: Mobility 2020

By Kirsten Korosec

TC Sessions: Mobility is back in San Jose on May 14, and we’re excited to give the first peek of what and who is coming to the main stage. We’re not revealing everything just yet, but already this agenda highlights some of the best and brightest minds in autonomous vehicles, electrification and shared mobility.

We’ve selected the most innovative startups and top leaders from established tech companies working in mobility. This past year saw huge leaps forward, and we’re thrilled to bring the latest and greatest to our stage.

This year, we’re holding a pitch-off competition for early stage mobility companies. More details to come.

Don’t forget that early-bird tickets (including $100 savings) are currently available for a limited time; grab your tickets here before prices increase.

Some speakers have already been announced, and more will be added to the agenda in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. In the meantime, check out this early look at the agenda:

AGENDA

9:35 AM – 10:05 AM

Investing in Mobility: with Reilly Brennan (Trucks VC), Olaf Sakkers (Maniv Mobility) and speakers to be announced.

Reilly Brennan, Olaf Sakkers and two yet-to-be announced venture capitalists will come together to debate the uncertain future of mobility tech and whether VC dollars are enough to push the industry forward.

10:05 AM – 10:25 AM

Coming soon!

10:25 AM – 10:50

The next opportunities in micromobility with Danielle Harris (Elemental Excelerator), Dor Levi (Lyft), and Dmitry Shevelenko (Tortoise)

Worldwide, numerous companies are operating shared micromobility services — so many that the industry is well into a consolidation phase. Despite the over-saturation of the market, there are still opportunities for new players. Dor Levi, head of bikes and scooters at Lyft, Danielle Harris, director of mobility innovation at Elemental Excelerator and Dmitry Shevelenko, founder at Tortoise will discuss.

10:50 AM – 11:10 AM

Waymo Grows Up with Tekedra Mawakana (Waymo)

Waymo Chief Operating Officer Tekedra Mawakana is at the center of Waymo’s future from scaling the autonomous vehicle company’s commercial deployment and directing fleet operations to developing the company’s business path. Tekedra will speak about what lies ahead as Waymo drives forward with its plan to become a grownup business.

11:10 AM – 11:30 AM
Innovation Break

11:30 AM – 11:40 AM

Live Demo. Coming soon!

11:40 AM – 12:00 PM

Setting the Record Straight with Bryan Salesky (Argo AI)

Argo AI has gone from unknown startup to a company providing the autonomous vehicle technology to Ford and VW — not to mention billions in investment from the two global automakers. Co-founder and CEO Bryan Salesky will talk about the company’s journey, what’s next and what it really takes to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology.

1:00 PM – 1:25 PM

Pitch-Off

Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have 5 minutes to present their companies.

1:25 PM – 1:45 PM

Building an AV Startup with  Nancy Sun (Ike)

Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun will share her experiences in the world of automation and robotics, a ride that has taken her from Apple to Otto and Uber before she set off to start a self-driving truck company. Sun will discuss what the future holds for trucking and the challenges and the secrets behind building a successful mobility startup.

1:45 PM – 2:10 PM

Working with Cities, Not Against Them with Euwyn Poon (Spin) and Shin-pei Tsay (Uber)

Many micromobility services got off to a rough start with cities in the early days of the industry. Now, operators are making a point to work more closely with regulators from the very beginning. Hear from Spin co-founder Euwyn Poon and Uber Director of Policy, Cities and Transportation Shin-pei Tsay on what it takes to make a copacetic relationship between operators and cities.

2:10 PM – 2:30 PM

Innovation Break

2:30 PM – 2:50 PM

The electrification of Porsche with Klaus Zellmer (Porsche)

Porsche has undergone a major transformation in the past several years, investing billions into an electric vehicle program and launching the Taycan, its first all-electric vehicle. Now, Porsche is ramping up for more. North America CEO Klaus Zellmer will talk about Porsche’s path, competition and where it’s headed next.

2:50 PM – 3:15 PM

Navigating Self-Driving Car Regulations with Melissa Froelich (Aurora) and Jody Kelman (Lyft)

Autonomous vehicle developers face a patchwork of local, state and federal regulations. Government policy experts Jody Kelman, who leads the self-driving platform team at Lyft, and Melissa Froelich Senior Manager, Government Affairs at Aurora, discuss how to get your startup back on the road safely.

3:15 PM – 3:35 PM

Coming Soon!

3:35 PM – 4:00 PM

The Future of Trucking with Xiaodi Hou (TuSimple) and Boris Sofman (Waymo)

TuSimple co-founder and CTO Xiaodi Hou and Boris Sofman, former Anki Robotics founder and CEO who now leads Waymo’s trucking unit, will discuss the business and the technical challenges of autonomous trucking.

4:00 PM – 4:20 PM

Innovation Break

4:20 PM – 4:30 PM

Live Demo. Coming soon!

4:30 PM – 4:55 PM

Coming soon!

Don’t forget to grab your tickets and join us this May.

❌