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Resilience raises over $800 million to transform pharmaceutical manufacturing in response to COVID-19

By Jonathan Shieber

Resilience, a new biopharmaceutical company backed by $800 million in financing from investors including ARCH Venture Partners and 8VC, has emerged from stealth to transform the way that drugs and therapies are manufactured in the U.S.

Founded by ARCH Venture Partners investor Robert Nelsen, National Resilience Inc., which does business as Resilience was born out of Nelsen’s frustrations with the inept American response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a statement the company will invest heavily in developing new manufacturing technologies across cell and gene therapies, viral vectors, vaccines and proteins.

Resilience’s founders identified problems in the therapeutic manufacturing process as one of the key problems that the industry faces in bringing new treatments to market — and that hurdle is exactly what the company was founded to overcome.

“COVID-19 has exposed critical vulnerabilities in medical supply chains, and today’s manufacturing can’t keep up with scientific innovation, medical discovery, and the need to rapidly produce and distribute critically important drugs at scale. We are committed to tackling these huge problems with a whole new business model,” said Nelsen in a statement.

The company brings together some of the leading investment firms in healthcare and biosciences including operating partners from Flagship Pioneering like Rahul Singhvi, who will serve as the company’s chief executive’ former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, a partner at New Enterprise Associates and director on the Resilience board; and Patrick Yang, the former executive vice president and global head of technical operations at Roche/Genentech .

“It is critical that we adopt solutions that will protect the manufacturing supply chain, and provide more certainty around drug development and the ability to scale up the manufacturing of safe, effective but also more complex products that science is making possible,” said Dr. Gottlieb, in a statement. “RESILIENCE will enable these solutions by combining cutting edge technology, an unrivaled pool of talent, and the industry’s first shared service business model. Similar to Amazon Web Services, RESILIENCE will empower drug developers with the tools to more fully align discovery, development, and manufacturing; while offering new opportunities to invest in downstream innovations in formulation and manufacturing earlier, while products are still being conceived and developed.”

Other heavy hitters in the world of medicine and biotechnology who are working with the company include Frances Arnold, the Nobel Prize-winning professor from the California Institute of Technology; George Barrett, the former chief executive of Cardinal Health; Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the former president of product development at Genentech; Kaye Foster, the former vice president of human resources at Johnson and Johnson; and Denice Torres, the former President of Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical and Consumer Companies.

Medable raises $91 million for its clinical trial management software

By Jonathan Shieber

The clinical trial management software developer Medable has raised $91 million in a new round of financing as life sciences companies struggle with how to conduct the necessary validation studies of new drugs and devices in a pandemically challenged environment.

Digital and decentralized clinical trials are becoming a necessity given the health and safety guidelines that have been adopted to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said. And those changes are driving a shift to services like Medable’s as companies move through the approval process, the company said in a statement.

The company’s new $91 million financing was led by Sapphire Ventures, with follow-on investment from existing investors GSR VenturesPPD, Inc. and Streamlined Ventures.

Medable’s software manages recruitment, remote screening, electronic consent, clinical outcomes assessment (eCOA), eSource, telemedicine, and connected devices, the company said.

Its software is already being used to work on vaccines and therapeutics targeting COVID-19 specifically in addition to facilitating the development of other potentially life-saving therapies and treatments.

“The pandemic has made the world aware of the importance of clinical drug development,” said Dr. Michelle Longmire, CEO and co-founder of Medable, in a statement. “We need transformative technologies that break down critical barriers to improve patient access, experience and outcomes. This new funding will enable Medable to continue our aggressive pursuit of new technologies that improve clinical trials to benefit all patients.”

Trials underway in more than 60 countries are using the service and Medable has inked partnerships with companies like Datavant, to integrate multiple data sources for decentralized trials; MRN, to handle home and remote visits, and AliveCor, to track in-home health with electrocardiograms. 

 

OpsLevel raises $5M to fix DevOps

By Frederic Lardinois

The term ‘DevOps’ has been rendered meaningless and developers still don’t have access to the right tools to put the overall idea into practice, the team behind DevOps startup OpsLevel argues. The company, which was co-founded by John Laban and Kenneth Rose, two of PagerDuty’s earliest employees, today announced that it has raised a $5 million seed funding round, led by Vertex Ventures. S28 Capital, Webb Investment Network and Union Capital also participated in this round, as well as a number of angels, including the three co-founders of PagerDuty .

“[PagerDuty] was an important part of the DevOps movement. Getting engineers on call was really important for DevOps, but on-call and getting paged about incidents and things, it’s very reactive in nature. It’s all about fixing incidents as quickly as possible. Ken [Rose] and I saw an opportunity to help companies take a more proactive stance. Nobody really wants to have any downtime or any security breaches in the first place. They want to prevent them before they happen.”

Image Credits: OpsLevel

With that mission in mind, the team set out to bring engineering organizations back to the roots of DevOps by giving those teams ownership over their services and creating what Rose called a “you build it, you own it” culture. Service ownership, he noted, is something the team regularly sees companies struggle with. When teams move to microservices or even serverless architectures for their systems, it quickly becomes unclear who owns what and as a result, you end up with orphaned services that nobody is maintaining. The natural result of that is security and reliability issues. And at the same time, because nobody knows which systems already exist, other teams reinvent the wheel and rebuild the same service to solve their own problems.

“We’ve underinvested in tools to make DevOps actually work,” the team says in today’s announcement. “There’s a lot we still need to build to help engineering teams adopt service ownership and unlock the full power of DevOps.”

So at the core of OpsLevel is what the team calls a “service ownership platform,” starting with a catalog of the services that an engineering organization is currently running.

Image Credits: OpsLevel

“What we’re trying to do is take back the meaning of DevOps,” said Laban. “We believe it’s been rendered meaningless and we wanted to refocus it on service ownership. We’re going to be investing heavily on building out our product, and then working with our customers to get them to really own their services and get really down to solving that problem.”

Among the companies OpsLevel is already working with are Segment, Zapier, Convoy and Under Armour. As the team noted, its service becomes most useful once a company runs somewhere around 20 or 30 different services. Before that, a wiki or spreadsheet is often enough to manage them, but at that point, those systems tend to break.

OpsLevel gives them different onramps to start cataloging their services. If they prefer to use a ‘config-as-code’ approach, they can use those YAML files as part of their existing Git workflows. But OpsLevel offers APIs that teams can plug into their various systems if they already have existing service creating workflows.

The company’s funding round closed in late September. The pandemic, the team said, didn’t really hinder its fundraising efforts, something I’ve lately heard from a lot of companies (though the ones I talk obviously to tend to be the ones that recently raised money).

“The reason why [we raised] is because we wanted to really invest in building out our product,” Laban said. “We’ve been getting this traction with our customers and we really wanted to double down and build out a lot of product and invest into our go-to-market team as well and really wanted to accelerate things.”

Arrikto raises $10M for its MLOps platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Arrikto, a startup that wants to speed up the machine learning development lifecycle by allowing engineers and data scientists to treat data like code, is coming out of stealth today and announcing a $10 million Series A round. The round was led by Unusual Ventures, with Unusual’s John Vrionis joining the board.

“Our technology at Arrikto helps companies overcome the complexities of implementing and managing machine learning applications,” Arrikto CEO and co-founder Constantinos Venetsanopoulos explained. “We make it super easy to set up end-to-end machine learning pipelines. More specifically, we make it easy to build, train, deploy ML models into production using Kubernetes and intelligent intelligently manage all the data around it.”

Like so many developer-centric platforms today, Arrikto is all about “shift left.” Currently, the team argues, machine learning teams and developer teams don’t speak the same language and use different tools to build models and to put them into production.

Image Credits: Arrikto

“Much like DevOps shifted deployment left, to developers in the software development life cycle, Arrikto shifts deployment left to data scientists in the machine learning life cycle,” Venetsanopoulos explained.

Arrikto also aims to reduce the technical barriers that still make implementing machine learning so difficult for most enterprises. Venetsanopoulos noted that just like Kubernetes showed businesses what a simple and scalable infrastructure could look like, Arrikto can show them what a simpler ML production pipeline can look like — and do so in a Kubernetes-native way.

Arrikto CEO Constantinos Venetsanopoulos. Image Credits: Arrikto

At the core of Arrikto is Kubeflow, the Google -incubated open-source machine learning toolkit for Kubernetes — and in many ways, you can think of Arrikto as offering an enterprise-ready version of Kubeflow. Among other projects, the team also built MiniKF to run Kubeflow on a laptop and uses Kale, which lets engineers build Kubeflow pipelines from their JupyterLab notebooks.

As Venetsanopoulos noted, Arrikto’s technology does three things: it simplifies deploying and managing Kubeflow, allows data scientists to manage it using the tools they already know, and it creates a portable environment for data science that enables data versioning and data sharing across teams and clouds.

While Arrikto has stayed off the radar since it launched out of Athens, Greece in 2015, the founding team of Venetsanopoulos and CTO Vangelis Koukis already managed to get a number of large enterprises to adopt its platform. Arrikto currently has more than 100 customers and, while the company isn’t allowed to name any of them just yet, Venetsanopoulos said they include one of the largest oil and gas companies, for example.

And while you may not think of Athens as a startup hub, Venetsanopoulos argues that this is changing and there is a lot of talent there (though the company is also using the funding to build out its sales and marketing team in Silicon Valley). “There’s top-notch talent from top-notch universities that’s still untapped. It’s like we have an unfair advantage,” he said.

“We see a strong market opportunity as enterprises seek to leverage cloud-native solutions to unlock the benefits of machine learning,” Unusual’s Vrionis said. “Arrikto has taken an innovative and holistic approach to MLOps across the entire data, model and code lifecycle. Data scientists will be empowered to accelerate time to market through increased automation and collaboration without requiring engineering teams.”

Image Credits: Arrikto

Contrast launches its security observability platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Contrast, a developer-centric application security company with customers that include Liberty Mutual Insurance, NTT Data, AXA and Bandwidth, today announced the launch of its security observability platform. The idea here is to offer developers a single pane of glass to manage an application’s security across its lifecycle, combined with real-time analysis and reporting, as well as remediation tools.

“Every line of code that’s happening increases the risk to a business if it’s not secure,” said Contrast CEO and chairman Alan Nauman. “We’re focused on securing all that code that businesses are writing for both automation and digital transformation.”

Over the course of the last few years, the well-funded company, which raised a $65 million Series D round last year, launched numerous security tools that cover a wide range of use cases from automated penetration testing to cloud application security and now DevOps — and this new platform is meant to tie them all together.

DevOps, the company argues, is really what necessitates a platform like this, given that developers now push more code into production than ever — and the onus of ensuring that this code is secure is now also often on that.

Image Credits: Contrast

Traditionally, Nauman argues, security services focused on the code itself and looking at traffic.

“We think at the application layer, the same principles of observability apply that have been used in the IT infrastructure space,” he said. “Specifically, we do instrumentation of the code and we weave security sensors into the code as it’s being developed and are looking for vulnerabilities and observing running code. […] Our view is: the world’s most complex systems are best when instrumented, whether it’s an airplane, a spacecraft, an IT infrastructure. We think the same is true for code. So our breakthrough is applying instrumentation to code and observing for security vulnerabilities.”

With this new platform, Contrast is aggregating information from its existing systems into a single dashboard. And while Contrast observes the code throughout its lifecycle, it also scans for vulnerabilities whenever a developers check code into the CI/CD pipeline, thanks to integrations with most of the standard tools like Jenkins. It’s worth noting that the service also scans for vulnerabilities in open-source libraries. Once deployed, Contrast’s new platform keeps an eye on the data that runs through the various APIs and systems the application connects to and scans for potential security issues there as well.

The platform currently supports all of the large cloud providers like AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, and languages and frameworks like Java, Python, .NET and Ruby.

Image Credits: Contrast

Now may be the best time to become a full-stack developer

By Walter Thompson
Sergio Granada Contributor
Sergio Granada is the CTO of Talos Digital, a global team of professional software developers that partners with agencies and businesses in multiple industries providing software development and consulting services for their tech needs.

In the world of software development, one term you’re sure to hear a lot of is full-stack development. Job recruiters are constantly posting open positions for full-stack developers and the industry is abuzz with this in-demand title.

But what does full-stack actually mean?

Simply put, it’s the development on the client-side (front end) and the server-side (back end) of software. Full-stack developers are jacks of all trades as they work with the design aspect of software the client interacts with as well as the coding and structuring of the server end.

In a time when technological requirements are rapidly evolving and companies may not be able to afford a full team of developers, software developers that know both the front end and back end are essential.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the ability to do full-stack development can make engineers extremely marketable as companies across all industries migrate their businesses to a virtual world. Those who can quickly develop and deliver software projects thanks to full-stack methods have the best shot to be at the top of a company’s or client’s wish list.

Becoming a full-stack developer

So how can you become a full-stack engineer and what are the expectations? In most working environments, you won’t be expected to have absolute expertise on every single platform or language. However, it will be presumed that you know enough to understand and can solve problems on both ends of software development.

Most commonly, full-stack developers are familiar with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and back-end languages like Ruby, PHP, or Python. This matches up with the expectations of new hires as well, as you’ll notice a lot of openings for full-stack developer jobs require specialization in more than one back-end program.

Full-stack is becoming the default way to develop, so much so that some in the software engineering community argue whether or not the term is redundant. As the lines between the front end and back end blur with evolving tech, developers are now being expected to work more frequently on all aspects of the software. However, developers will likely have one specialty where they excel while being good in other areas and a novice at some things….and that’s OK.

Getting into full-stack though means you should concentrate on finding your niche within the particular front-end and back-end programs you want to work with. One practical and common approach is to learn JavaScript since it covers both front and back end capabilities. You’ll also want to get comfortable with databases, version control, and security. In addition, it’s smart to prioritize design since you’ll be working on the client-facing side of things.

Since full-stack developers can communicate with each side of a development team, they’re invaluable to saving time and avoiding confusion on a project.

One common argument against full stack is that, in theory, developers who can do everything may not do one thing at an expert level. But there’s no hard or fast rule saying you can’t be a master at coding and also learn front-end techniques or vice versa.

Choosing between full-stack and DevOps

One hold up you may have before diving into full-stack is you’re also mulling over the option to become a DevOps engineer. There are certainly similarities among both professions, including good salaries and the ultimate goal of producing software as quickly as possible without errors.  As with full-stack developers, DevOps engineers are also becoming more in demand because of the flexibility they offer a company.

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and AR, raises $7.3M from EQT and Blueyard

By Mike Butcher

Vectary, a design platform for 3D and Augmented Reality (AR), has raised a $7.3 million round led by European fund EQT Ventures. Existing investor BlueYard (Berlin) also participated.

Vectary makes high-quality 3D design more accessible for consumers, garnering over one million creators worldwide, and has more than a thousand digital agencies and creative studios as users.

With the coronavirus pandemic shifting more people online, Vectary says it has seen a 300% increase in AR views as more businesses start showcasing their products in 3D and AR.

Vectary was founded in 2014 by Michal Koor (CEO) and Pavol Sovis (CTO), who were both from the design and technology worlds.

The complexity of using and sharing content created by traditional 3D design tools has been a barrier to the adoption of 3D, which is what Vectary addresses.

Although Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are making it easier for consumers, the creative tools remain lacking. Vectary believes that seamless 3D/AR content creation and sharing will be key to mainstream adoption.

Designers and creatives can use Vectary to apply 2D design on a 3D object in Figma or Sketch; create 3D customizers in Webflow with Embed API; and add 3D interactivity to decks.

Atlanta-based Speedscale now has $2.2 million more to grow its API test automation business

By Jonathan Shieber

It only took a few weeks after its Y Combinator demo day debut for the Atlanta-based API test automation company Speedscale to raise its first $2.2 million.

Founded by longtime developers and Georgia Institute of Technology alumni, Ken Ahrens, Matthew LeRay and Nate Lee had known each other for roughly twenty years before making the jump to working together.

A circuitous path of interconnecting programming jobs in the devops and monitoring space led the three men to realize that there was an opportunity to address one of the main struggles new programmers now face — making sure that updates to api integrations in a containerized programming world don’t wind up breaking apps or services.

“We were helping to solve incident outages and incidents that would cause downtime,” said Lee. “It’s hard to ensure the quality between all of these connection points [between applications]. And these connection points are growing as people add apis and containers. We said, ‘How about we solve this space? How could we preempt all of this and ensure maintaining release velocity with scalable automation?'”

Typically companies release new updates to code in a phased approach or in a test environment to ensure that they’re not going to break anything. Speedscale proposes test automation using real traffic so that developers can accelerate the release time.

“They want to change very frequently,” said Ahrens, speaking about the development life cycle. “Most of the changes are great, but every once in a while they make a change and break part of the system. The state of the art is to wait for it to be broken and get someone to fix it quickly.”

The pitch SpeedScale makes to developers is that its service can give coders the ability to see the problems before the release. They automate the creation of the staging environment, automation suite and orchestration to create that environment.

“One of the big things for me was when I saw the rise of Kubernetes was what’s really happening is that engineering leaders have been able to give more autonomy to developers, but no one has come up with a great way to validate and I really think that Speedscale can solve that problem.”

The Atlanta-based company, which only just graduated from Y Combinator a few months ago, is currently in a closed alpha with select pilot partners, according to LeRay. And the nine month-old company has raised $2.2 million from investors including Sierra Ventures from the Bay Area and Atlanta’s own Tech Square Ventures to grow the business.

“Apis are a huge market,” Ahrens said of the potential opportunity for the company. “there’s 11 million developers who develop against apis… We think the addressable market for us is in the billions.”

Turbo Systems becomes Appify and launches app marketplace

By Ron Miller

When Jen Grant joined Turbo Systems, the no-code mobile application platform, as CEO in March, she came on board just as COVID was shutting down businesses, but she went straight to work and over the last six months she has led two major initiatives that the company announced today: a name change and a new app marketplace.

For starters, the company is changing its name to Appify to more accurately reflect its mission around building mobile apps. She says that they found most people related the term “turbo” to cars. They began looking for a better name that was more closely aligned with what they do when her team stumbled across Appify.

“We had been playing around with different names and what are we were about, and a lot of what we’re about is amplifying your business and your systems and your people with apps. And so when we kind of stumbled across Appify and the domain name was available, we moved quite quickly,” Grant explained.

While she was at it, Grant was talking to customers, and while the core company mission is to make it easy to build mobile apps, especially in the field service space, she felt that they could make it even easier. Rather than asking customers to build the apps themselves, they could provide a marketplace with some pre-built apps and simply let them customize them for their workflows.

“What we have done with the Appify Marketplace is instead of saying, here’s a box of parts, now fix your business problem, we’re saying, here’s an app that you can launch in minutes. It has all of the functionality that you will need […] and you can then very easily customize it using this no code platform to make it specific to your business,” she said.

The marketplace is launching today with a couple of apps aimed at the company’s core field service market including Field Sales, which allows salespeople in the field to send a bid or quote from a tablet directly from the field without having to return to the office. The other is a Field Service app for repair people, which provides all of the information about the repair, while allowing the service rep to update the customer record from the field using a mobile device.

Grant says this is just the start and there are many apps on the road map that they will be releasing in the coming months. Eventually, they may have systems integrators use the platform to build apps for specific industries as they move forward.

Appify was born as Turbo Systems in 2017 and has raised over $11 million, according to Pitchbook data.

Should you replace your developer portal with a hybrid integration platform?

By Walter Thompson
Peter Kreslins Contributor
Peter Kreslins is co-founder and CTO of Digibee, a leader in holistic and agile approaches to systems integration.

The concept of a developer portal is to provide the necessary technical information to configure and manage the communication between an API and both internal and external systems. Originally, it was not thought of as a business-generating tool for companies that adopt them. Rather, it was an interface between APIs, SDKs and other digital tools and their administrators.

However, over time, many developer portal elements have caused friction for partners and resulted in higher costs for the company providing the data through APIs.

An alternative option to replace a developer portal is a Hybrid Integration Platform (HIP), a simple system connection solution that has the potential to generate more business through pairing ecosystems directly, efficiently and at a lower cost.

Fixing potential developer portal problems

The leading cause of friction within a developer portal is the amount of time it takes to create and support it. Quite often, an integration is delayed because the company providing the API is stuck waiting for support from the people they are working with.

To fulfill the demand for consumers in different stages of maturity, companies providing APIs later realized they needed to provide more data, new business cases and different mappings and transformations.

Once the portal and APIs adapt to the system, three key factors are necessary to provide a good user experience in the developer portal:

  1. Complete and easy-to-use documentation.
  2. Actionable and effective solution options.
  3. Quick response time.

Frequently, isolated and disconnected business challenges complicate developer portal implementations. To avoid such challenges, you should address these questions before the implementation process takes place:

  1. How can you ensure the business will benefit from the connection with partners, suppliers and customers?
  2. Is it possible to become more efficient, have lower integration costs and improve implementation and adoption times for technological solutions?
  3. How is innovation unlocked when previously unavailable data and services are made internally available?

When approaching a systems integration, it’s essential to develop a solution that considers business results first, before simplifying or removing any technical issues. Fixing predicted issues before they become problems only wastes time and takes the focus off the goal of making your business more efficient and profitable. Yet, many times we see the opposite happen — businesses tend to spend too much time fixing problems before they even occur.

Google updates Android Studio with better TensorFlow Lite support and a new database inspector

By Frederic Lardinois

Google launched version 4.1 of Android Studio, its IDE for developing Android apps, into its stable channel today. As usual for Android Studio, the minor uptick in version numbers doesn’t quite do the update justice. It includes a vast number of new and improved features that should make life a little bit easier for Android developers. The team also fixed a whopping 2370 bugs during this release cycle and closed 275 public issues.

Image Credits: Google

The highlights of today’s release are a new database inspector and better support for on-device machine learning by allowing developers to bring TensorFlow Lite models to Android, as well as the ability to run the Android Emulator right inside of Android Studio and support for testing apps for foldable phones in the emulator as well. That’s in addition to various other changes the company has outlined here.

The one feature that will likely improve the quality of life for developers the most is the ability to run the Android Emulator right in Android Studio. That’s something the company announced earlier this summer, so it’s not a major surprise, but it’s a nice update for developers since they won’t have to switch back and forth between different windows and tools to test their apps.

Talking about testing, the other update is support for foldable devices in the Android Emulator, which now allows developers to simulate the hinge angle sensor and posture changes so their apps can react accordingly. That’s still a niche market, obviously, but more and more developers are now aiming to offer apps to actually support these devices.

Image Credits: Google

Also new is improved support for TensorFlow Lite models in Android Studio, so that developers can bring those models to their apps, as well as a new database inspector that helps developers get easier insights into their queries and the data they return — and that lets them modify values white running their apps to see how their apps react to those.

Other updates include new templates in the New Project dialog that support Google’s Material Design Components, Dagger navigation support, System Trace UI improvements and new profilers to help developers optimize their apps’ performance and memory usage.

Pivoting during a pandemic

By Walter Thompson
Stan Chudnovsky Contributor
Stan Chudnovsky is the Vice President of Messenger from Facebook.

Like everywhere else, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new “no normal” at Facebook .

The seismic shifts and disruptions reverberated across the globe and we had to accept that and adjust, quickly. Suddenly, our products were more important than ever yet we had to rethink everything we had planned, including the very nature of the way we work. One of the things that helped me most was recalling the lessons learned from my days leading startups. We were frequently forced to adapt to constantly shifting priorities and changing markets. These experiences prepared me to be much more effective and agile, at-scale.

As a global organization, our first priority was to determine how we could help. We saw many governments and health agencies were already using Messenger to communicate with people in their communities about the virus. We also saw that in an environment full of so much uncertainty and fear, connecting people to reliable information about COVID-19 was absolutely paramount. Our team quickly mobilized, remotely, to help health organizations in their efforts.

In a matter of weeks we created a program in partnership with our developer community to offer free services to government and NGO health organizations around the world. Developers built tools to help agencies leverage Messenger’s unique reach and scale to provide as many people as possible with accurate information about COVID-19. This included organizations like WHO, UNICEF and many others across nearly all levels of government.

Usage was spiking across Facebook’s family of apps and we knew we would need to dramatically speed up our product roadmap. We were able to hyperaccelerate the launch of products we knew people needed. This included Messenger Desktop, a new version of the app that enables video calling on the larger desktop screen. We also launched Messenger Rooms, a free and unlimited video calling service that lets up to 50 people join a video call even if they don’t have a Facebook account. And just this week we launched Watch Together, which lets people watch videos and other entertainment while on group video calls to give them a sense of being together in-person even when they can’t be.

It also became clear to us that our efforts to stop the spread of misinformation online were now more critical than ever. While we were already focused on this, especially given the fact that there’s national elections this year in the U.S. and other countries, we could see that the many unknowns surrounding COVID-19 were fertile ground for people to send false, misleading and even dangerous information. To help combat this, we implemented new forwarding limits on the number of people or groups a message can be forwarded to at one time. We know this is an effective way to help slow the spread of viral misinformation or harmful content that can cause real-world damage.

All of these efforts have been made while our entire workforce has been remote since March. This has been an incredibly profound shift for so many people and one that will require businesses everywhere to rethink how they manage their employees. At Messenger, we were fortunate to have the resources and type of work that helped with our transition and I suspect many other companies, especially tech companies, were in a similar situation. People are now used to interacting on our screens watching each other’s children or pets pass by in the background.

The real challenge will be when more people start going back to the office. We’ve obviously done well in mode 1: “Everyone is in the office.” We’ve managed to adapt to mode 2: “Everyone is remote.” But it’s clear that companies will need to figure out how to manage their people in a hybrid remote/office environment or mode 3. I suspect that this third mode is the hardest one to nail. At Facebook we recently announced that 50% of our workforce will be remote in the next five to 10 years. It’s pretty clear that the “office” will never be the same and we’ll have to navigate that together as one organization.

As these changes settle in, people will obviously need to continue to adapt. And we will. For me, the last six months has shown that people are resilient, and that when faced with a common threat or the need to suddenly rethink everything they might know, we quickly rise to the occasion.

I saw this in our team here at Messenger as everyone dealt with their own personal struggles while still showing up (remotely, that is) everyday and actually overdelivering on the new aggressive goals and deadlines we set for ourselves.

I’m very proud of the Messenger team, and the way we’ve been able to adapt and serve people who use the service, and each other, during this unprecedented time.

Privacy data management innovations reduce risk, create new revenue channels

By Walter Thompson
Mark Settle Contributor
Mark Settle is a seven-time CIO, three-time CIO 100 award winner and two-time book author. His most recent book is "Truth from the Valley: A Practical Primer on IT Management for the Next Decade."
Tomer Y. Avni Contributor
Tomer Y. Avni is an MBA/MS student at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Privacy data mismanagement is a lurking liability within every commercial enterprise. The very definition of privacy data is evolving over time and has been broadened to include information concerning an individual’s health, wealth, college grades, geolocation and web surfing behaviors. Regulations are proliferating at state, national and international levels that seek to define privacy data and establish controls governing its maintenance and use.

Existing regulations are relatively new and are being translated into operational business practices through a series of judicial challenges that are currently in progress, adding to the confusion regarding proper data handling procedures. In this confusing and sometimes chaotic environment, the privacy risks faced by almost every corporation are frequently ambiguous, constantly changing and continually expanding.

Conventional information security (infosec) tools are designed to prevent the inadvertent loss or intentional theft of sensitive information. They are not sufficient to prevent the mismanagement of privacy data. Privacy safeguards not only need to prevent loss or theft but they must also prevent the inappropriate exposure or unauthorized usage of such data, even when no loss or breach has occurred. A new generation of infosec tools is needed to address the unique risks associated with the management of privacy data.

The first wave of innovation

A variety of privacy-focused security tools emerged over the past few years, triggered in part by the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) within the European Union in 2018. New capabilities introduced by this first wave of innovation were focused in the following three areas:

Data discovery, classification and cataloging. Modern enterprises collect a wide variety of personal information from customers, business partners and employees at different times for different purposes with different IT systems. This data is frequently disseminated throughout a company’s application portfolio via APIs, collaboration tools, automation bots and wholesale replication. Maintaining an accurate catalog of the location of such data is a major challenge and a perpetual activity. BigID, DataGuise and Integris Software have gained prominence as popular solutions for data discovery. Collibra and Alation are leaders in providing complementary capabilities for data cataloging.

Consent management. Individuals are commonly presented with privacy statements describing the intended use and safeguards that will be employed in handling the personal data they supply to corporations. They consent to these statements — either explicitly or implicitly — at the time such data is initially collected. Osano, Transcend.io and DataGrail.io specialize in the management of consent agreements and the enforcement of their terms. These tools enable individuals to exercise their consensual data rights, such as the right to view, edit or delete personal information they’ve provided in the past.

Want to hire and retain high-quality developers? Give them stimulating work

By Walter Thompson
Phil Alves Contributor
Devsquad founder and CEO Phil Alves is an expert entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in the tech industry leading product development teams for multiple clients.

Software developers are some of the most in-demand workers on the planet. Not only that, they’re complex creatures with unique demands in terms of how they define job fulfillment. With demand for developers on the rise (the number of jobs in the field is expected to grow by 22% over the next decade), companies are under pressure to do everything they can to attract and retain talent.

First and foremost — above salary — employers must ensure that product teams are made up of developers who feel creatively stimulated and intellectually challenged. Without work that they feel passionate about, high-quality programmers won’t just become bored and potentially seek opportunities elsewhere, the standard of work will inevitably drop. In one survey, 68% of developers said learning new things is the most important element of a job.

The worst thing for a developer to discover about a new job is that they’re the most experienced person in the room and there’s little room for their own growth.

Yet with only 32% of developers feeling “very satisfied” with their jobs, there’s scope for you to position yourself as a company that prioritizes the development of its developers, and attract and retain top talent. So, how exactly can you ensure that your team stays stimulated and creatively engaged?

Allow time for personal projects

78% of developers see coding as a hobby — and the best developers are the ones who have a true passion for software development, in and out of the workplace. This means they often have their own personal passions within the space, be it working with specific languages or platforms, or building certain kinds of applications.

Back in their 2004 IPO letter, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page wrote:

We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. [This] empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner.

At DevSquad, we’ve adopted a similar approach. We have an “open Friday” policy where developers are able to learn and enhance their skills through personal projects. As long as the skills being gained contribute to work we are doing in other areas, the developers can devote that time to whatever they please, whether that’s contributing to open-source projects or building a personal product. In fact, 65% of professional developers on Stack Overflow contribute to open-source projects once a year or more, so it’s likely that this is a keen interest within your development team too.

Not only does this provide a creative outlet for developers, the company also gains from the continuously expanding skillset that comes as a result.

Provide opportunities to learn and teach

One of the most demotivating things for software developers is work that’s either too difficult or too easy. Too easy, and developers get bored; too hard, and morale can dip as a project seems insurmountable. Within our team, we remain hyperaware of the difficulty levels of the project or task at hand and the level of experience of the developers involved.

Alternative protein companies have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through July of this year

By Jonathan Shieber

Companies like Perfect Day, Impossible Foods, and a host of other startups that are developing replacements for animal farmed goods used in food, clothes, cosmetics, and chemicals have raised a whopping $1.5 billion through the first half of the year.

That’s according to a new report from The Good Food Institute which is tracking the growth of investments into sustainable foods. The report identified fermentation technologies as a rising third pillar of foundational technologies on which new and established food brands are making products that swap out animal products for other protein sources.

Fermentation technologies, which use microbes like microalgae and mycoprotein, can produce biomass, improve plant proteins and create new functional ingredients, and companies developing and deploying these technologies have raised $435 million in funding through the end of July 2020. It’s an indication of how competitive the market is for food technologies, representing an increase of nearly 60 percent over the $274 million invested in all of 2019, according to GFI.

“Fermentation is powering a new wave of alternative protein products with huge potential for improving flavor, sustainability, and production efficiency. Investors and innovators are recognizing this market potential, leading to a surge of activity in fermentation as an enabling platform for the alternative protein industry as a whole,” said GFI Associate Director of Science and Technology Liz Specht, in a statement. “And this is just the beginning: The opportunity landscape for technology development is completely untapped in this area. Many alternative protein products of the future will harness the plethora of protein production methods now available, with the option of leveraging combinations of proteins derived from plants, animal cell culture, and microbial fermentation.”

Portait of the head of an adult black and white cow, gentle look, pink nose, in front of a blue sky. Image Credit: Getty Images

As the $1.5. billion figure indicates, big-time investors are taking notice. Funds like the Bill Gates -backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Temasek, Horizons Ventures, CPP Investment Board, Louis Dreyfus Co., Bunge Ventures, Kellogg, ADM Capital, Danone, Kraft Heinz, Mars, and Tyson Foods’ investment arm have all backed companies in the industry.

In all, fermentation-focused startup companies raised 3.5 times more capital than cultivated meat companies worldwide and almost 60 percent as much as U.S. plant-based meat, egg, and dairy companies, according to the GFI. 

As the industry has grown up, since Quorn became the first company to use fermentation-derived proteins back in 1985, big industrial companies have started to take notice.

While there are at least 44 startups focused on alternative proteins worldwide, according to the GFI report, large publicly traded companies like Novozymes, DuPont, and DSM are also developing product lines for the alternative protein business.

“Given the breadth of applications, we believe that fermentation could solve many current challenges faced by alternative proteins. On the one hand, biomass fermentation can create nutritious, clean protein in a highly efficient and low-cost way. On the other hand, the potential for precision fermentation to produce value-added, highly functional, and nutritious ingredients is very exciting and could revolutionize the plant-based category,” said Rosie Wardle, an investor with the CPT Capital, which specializes in backing startups developing novel protein production technologies. “From an investment perspective, we are very excited about the white space opportunities in this category, and we are actively looking to increase our investments in the space. This new report from GFI is the first comprehensive overview of fermentation for alternative protein applications and should be required reading for everyone who wants to create a more efficient and less harmful global food system.”

ZenHub’s new automation tools improve developer hand-offs in GitHub

By Frederic Lardinois

ZenHub, the popular project management solution for GitHub users, today announced the launch of its new features for automating hand-offs between teams. The idea behind Automated Workflows, as it is called, is to remove some of the manual busywork of updating multiple boards across teams when a new patch is ready to go to testing, for example (or when it fails those tests and the development team has to fix it).

As ZenHub founder and CEO Aaron Upright told me, Automated Workflows are only the first step in the company’s journey from not just being the most integrated service on GitHub but also the most automated.

Image Credits: ZenHub

Teams still struggle with the mechanics of agile project management, he noted. “Things like what frameworks to choose. How to organize their projects. You talk to small companies and teams, you talk to large companies — it’s a problem for everyone, where people don’t know if they should be Scrum, or Kanban or how to organize Sprint planning meetings.” What ZenHub wants to do is remove as many of these friction points as possible and automate them for teams.

It’s starting with the hand-off between teams because that’s one of the pain points its customers are struggling with all the time. And since teams tend to have their own projects and workspaces, the ZenHub team had to build a solution that worked across a company’s various boards.

The result is a new tool that is pretty much a drag-and-drop service that automatically creates notifications and moves items between workplaces as they move from QA to production, for example.

“It’s a way to automate work between different workspaces,” explained Upright. “And we’re really excited about this being kind of the first step in our automation journey.”

Over time, Upright expects, the team will be able to use machine learning to understand more about the connections that its users are making between teams. Using that data, its systems may be able to also recommend workflows as well.

The next part of ZenHub’s focus on automation will be a tool for managing the Sprint planning process.

“Already today’s, ZenHub is capturing things like velocity. We’re measuring that on a team by team basis. We understand the priority of issues in our workflow. What we want to be able to do is allow teams to automatically set a Sprint schedule, say, for example, every two weeks. Then, based on the velocity that we know about your team, maybe your team can accomplish 50 story points every two weeks — we want to auto-build that Sprint for you.”

Airtable’s Howie Liu has no interest in exiting, even as the company’s valuation soars

By Ron Miller

In the middle of a pandemic, Airtable, the low-code startup, has actually had an excellent year. Just the other day, the company announced it had raised $185 million on a whopping $2.585 billion valuation. It also announced some new features that take it from the realm of pure no-code, and deeper into low-code territory, which allows users to extend the product in new ways.

Airtable CEO and co-founder Howie Liu was a guest today at TechCrunch Disrupt, where he was interviewed by TechCrunch News Editor Frederic Lardinois.

Liu said that the original vision that has stayed pretty steady since the company launched in 2013 was to democratize software creation. “We believe that more people in the world should become software builders, not just software users, and pretty much the whole time that we’ve been working on this company we’ve been charting our course towards that end goal,” he said.

But something changed recently, where Liu saw people who needed to do a bit more with the tool than that original vision allowed.

“So, the biggest shift that’s happening today with our fundraise and our launch announcement is that we’re going from being a no-code product, a purely no-code solution where you don’t have to use code, but neither can you use code to extend the product to now being a low-code solution, and one that also has a lot more extensibility with other features like automation, allowing people to build logic into Airtable without any technical knowledge,” he said.

In addition, the company, with 200,00 customers, has created a marketplace where users can share applications they’ve built. As the pandemic has taken hold, Liu says that he’s seen a shift in the types of deals he’s been seeing. That’s partly due to small businesses, which were once his company’s bread and butter, suffering more economic pain as a result of COVID.

But he has seen larger enterprise customers fill the void, and it’s not too big a stretch to think that the new extensibility features could be a nod to these more lucrative customers, who may require a bit more power than a pure no-code solution would provide.

“On the enterprise side of our business we’ve seen, for instance this summer, a 5x increase in enterprise deal closing velocity from the prior summer period, and this incredible appetite from enterprise signings with dozens of six figure deals, some seven figure deals and thousands of new paid customers overall,” he said.

In spite of this great success, the upward trend of the business and the fat valuation, Liu was in no mood to talk about an IPO. In his view, there is plenty of time for that, and in spite of being a seven-year-old company with great momentum, he says he’s simply not thinking about it.

Nor did he express any interest in being acquired, and he says that his investors weren’t putting any pressure on him to exit.

“It’s always been about finding investors who are really committed and aligned to the long term goals and approach that we have to this business that matters more to us than the actual valuation numbers or any other kind of technical aspects of the round,” he said.

Hasura raises $25 million Series B and adds MySQL support to its GraphQL service

By Frederic Lardinois

Hasura, a service that provides developers with an open-source engine that provides them a GraphQL API to access their databases, today announced that it has raised a $25 million Series B round led by Lightspeed Venture Partners. Previous investors Vertex Ventures US, Nexus Venture Partners, Strive VC and SAP.iO Fund also participated in this round.

The new round, which the team raised after the COVID-19 pandemic had already started, comes only six months after the company announced its $9.9 million Series A round. In total, Hasura has now raised $36.5 million.

“We’ve been seeing rapid enterprise traction in 2020. We’ve wanted to accelerate our efforts investing in the Hasura community and our cloud product that we recently launched and to ensure the success of our enterprise customers. Given the VC inbound interest, a fundraise made sense to help us step on the gas pedal and give us room to grow comfortably,” Hasura co-founder and CEO Tanmai Gopal told me.

In addition to the new funding, Hasura also today announced that it has added support for MySQL databases to its service. Until now, the company’s service only worked with PostgreSQL databases.

Rajoshi Ghosh, co-founder and COO (left) and Tanmai Gopal, co-founder and CEO (right).

Rajoshi Ghosh, co-founder and COO (left) and Tanmai Gopal, co-founder and CEO (right).

As the company’s CEO and co-founder Tanmai Gopal told me, MySQL support has long been at the top of the most requested features by the service’s users. Many of these users — who are often in the health care and financial services industry — are also working with legacy systems they are trying to connect to modern applications and MySQL plays an important role there, given how long it has been around.

In addition to adding MySQL support, Hasura is also adding support for SQL Server to its line-up, but for now, that’s in early access.

“For MySQL and SQL Server, we’ve seen a lot of demand from our healthcare and financial services / fin-tech users,” Gopa said. “They have a lot of existing online data, especially in these two databases, that they want to activate to build new capabilities and use while modernizing their applications.

Today’s announcement also comes only a few months after the company launched a fully-managed cloud service for its service, which complements its existing paid Pro service for enterprises.

“We’re very impressed by how developers have taken to Hasura and embraced the GraphQL approach to building applications,” said Gaurav Gupta, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners and Hasura board member. “Particularly for front-end developers using technologies like React, Hasura makes it easy to connect applications to existing databases where all the data is without compromising on security and performance. Hasura provides a lovely bridge for re-platforming applications to cloud-native approaches, so we see this approach being embraced by enterprise developers as well as front-end developers more and more.”

The company plans to use the new funding to add support for more databases and to tackle some of the harder technical challenges around cross-database joins and the company’s application-level data caching system. “We’re also investing deeply in company building so that we can grow our GTM and engineering in tandem and making some senior hires across these functions,” said Gopa.

Diffblue launches a free community edition of its automated Java unit testing tool

By Frederic Lardinois

Diffblue, a spin-out from Oxford University, uses machine learning to help developers automatically create unit tests for their Java code. Since few developers enjoy writing unit tests to ensure that their code works as expected, increased automation doesn’t just help developers focus on writing the code that actually makes a difference but also lead to code with fewer bugs. Current Diffblue customers include the likes of Goldman Sachs and AWS.

So far, Diffblue only offered its service through a paid — and pricey — subscription. Today, however, the company also launched its free community edition, Diffblue Cover: Community Edition, which doesn’t feature all of the enterprise features in its paid versions, but still offers an IntelliJ plugin and the same AI-generated unit tests as the paid editions.

The company also plans to launch a new lower cost ‘individual’ plan for Diffblue Cover soon, starting at $120 per month. This plan will offer access to support and other advanced features as well.

At its core, Diffblue uses unsupervised learning to build these unit tests. “What we’re doing is unique in the sense that there have been tools before that use what’s called static analysis,” Diffblue CEO Mathew Loge, who joined the company about a year ago, explained. “They look at the program and they basically understand the path through the program and try and work backwards from the path. So if the path gets to this point, what inputs do we need to put into the program in order to get here?” That approach has its limitations, though, which Diffblue’s reinforcement learning method aims to get around.

Once the process has run its course, Diffblue provides developers with readable tests. That’s important, Loge stressed, because if a test fails and a developer can’t figure out what happened, it’s virtually impossible for the developer to fix the issue. That’s something the team learning the hard way, as early version so Diffblue used a very aggressive algorithm that provided great test coverage (the key metric for unit tests), but made it very hard for developers to figure out what was happening.

With the community edition, which doesn’t offer the command-line interface (CLI) of Diffblue’s paid editions, developers can write their code in IntelliJ as before and then simply click a button to have Diffblue write the tests for that code.

“The Community Edition is designed to be very accessible. It is literally one click in the IDE and you get your tests. The CLI version is more sophisticated and it covers more cases and solves for teams and large deployments inside of an organization,” Loge explained.

The company plans to add support for other languages, including Python, JavaScript and C# over time, but as Loge noted, Java has long been a mainstay in the business world and the team felt like that would be the best language to start with. As Loge noted, though, the technology

Diffblue has actually been around for a bit. The company raised a $22 million Series A round led by Goldman Sachs and with participation from Oxford Sciences Innovation and the Oxford Technology and Innovations Fund in 2017. You obviously don’t raise that kind of money to focus only on unit tests for Java code. Besides support for more language, unit tests are just the first step in the company’s overall goal of automating more of the programming process with the help of AI.

“We started with testing because it’s an important and urgent problem, especially with the impact that it has on DevOps and the adoption of more rapid software cycles,” Loge said. The next obvious step is to then take a similar approach to automatically fixing bugs — and especially security bugs — in code as well.

“The idea is that there are these steppingstones to machines writing more and more code,” he said. “And also, frankly, it’s a way of getting developers used to that. Because developer acceptance is a crucial part of making this successful.”

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