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Tech’s coveted internships are getting canceled due to COVID-19

By Natasha Mascarenhas

Victoria Stafford, a third-year student at UC Berkeley, was set to begin working at Yelp in June as a sales intern — the only internship she applied to. And then it was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I first read the cancellation email, I didn’t believe it. I refreshed my inbox; I rubbed my eyes as if I were waking up from a dream. It was clear that COVID-19 was becoming a mounting concern, but it never occurred to me that my internship was in jeopardy,” Stafford said.

Internship cancellations hurt more than just summer plans. The programs are often pipelines into future jobs and access to valuable work experience.

For Stafford, a business and domestic environmental major from a small town in rural Utah, there are very few business and policy-related opportunities.

“I ask that employers do everything they can to make their internship opportunities more accessible in these upcoming months, and come next year and the year after, show understanding and compassion for employment gaps,” she said.

Dozens of other students from across the country flooded my inbox, sharing stories about the impact on internship cancellations on their paths toward employment.

One student turned down offers and interviews from Google, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs to pursue a software engineering position. The offer they accepted was yanked weeks later. Another student lost their chance at a post-graduate job at their dream company because their offer was revoked. One only had an offer in their hands for three weeks before it was rescinded.

A number of companies across the country, including Glassdoor, StubHub, Funding Circle, Yelp, Checkr and even the National Institutes of Health, have canceled their internship programs due to COVID-19, TechCrunch has learned. The cancellations, which will likely increase in the days and weeks to come, are unsurprising, due to the uncertainty the pandemic has caused. Still, fewer internships jeopardize the postgraduate job prospects for thousands of college students, and, beyond that, limit the talent pipeline on which tech companies so often are dependent

There’s even a Twitter account that tracks the status of 2020 internships.

We have been receiving numerous DMs asking for status of individual companies. If you would like to receive notifications for a particular company you are interested in, please fill this form.https://t.co/7heMiOEGDo

— Summer Internships 2020 (@hiring2020) March 25, 2020

From Denver to San Francisco

Like the concerts, conferences, universities and schools, these cancellations are because of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world right now. While some companies cited health concerns, others pointed to the uncertain economic landscape. 

In a statement, job search and review platform Glassdoor said the rapid spread of COVID-19 has grown “beyond a health concern into an economic one.” As a result, it has “decided to pause hiring and reprioritize some initiatives internally to ensure we are well positioned for both the downturn and recovery.” 

A Funding Circle spokesperson confirmed that the company halted its internship program, “given the travel and relocation” for the upcoming intern cohort to San Francisco. In an email obtained by TechCrunch, the National Institute of Health canceled its prestigious internship — which has a 20% acceptance rate — to “stop community spread of Sars-Cov-2 through social distancing.”

“Therefore, hosting 1000+ early career scientists who deserve close supervision and intense mentoring is not appropriate at this time,” the email reads. “The cancellation of the NIH SIP applies to all students, whether you were planning to volunteer or were offered a fellowship position. It also applies, even if you were planning to do computational work that could be done remotely.”

In a statement to TechCrunch, NIH said its program has been reduced to “maintenance-only and mission critical (including research on COVID-19) operation due to spread of the novel coronavirus.”

“Regrettably, as part of this effort to keep people safe and limit the spread through social/physical distancing, it has been necessary to cancel the Summer Internship Program for young trainees at NIH for 2020, but those students already selected for the program will be given priority for summer internship positions in 2021.”

Checkr, based in Denver and San Francisco, put its summer internship program on hold due to “the challenges of onboarding interns while everyone is remote.”

Google has rescinded some internship offers for its UX design internship, per a LinkedIn post. After the publication of this article, Google announced that it is making its internship program virtual this year, but it is unclear whether or not that impacts interns who have already had their internships rescinded. 

“If you log on to a laptop, you can access an opportunity”

While a number of tech companies have put their internship programs on hold, others are piecing together experimental remote internship programs for their students. 

Quizlet is preparing for its annual internship program and is preparing a “contingency plan for an internship that will be virtual if necessary.” Uber has formed a dedicated team to start working on an online internship program “should the situation remain unchanged.” Lyft and Twitter, depending on the state of the pandemic, plan to onboard San Francisco interns virtually.

The pandemic has certainly put remote internship management services in high demand. That said, a handful of startups have been working on the sector for years. 

San Francisco-based Symba, which helps companies offer virtual internship programs, was founded in 2017. Co-founder Ahva Sadeghi said that last week more than 100 companies and 1,000 students reached out to Symba in regards to internship cancellations because of COVID-19.

“The companies we reached out to in the beginning who said, ‘This is great but not top of mind for us,’ are now calling us back asking us to jump on the phone today or tomorrow to get something implemented,” Sadeghi said in a phone call. “We thought we didn’t have product-market fit and now the conversation has completely changed.”

Sadeghi noted how internships assume a certain level of privilege in applicants, prioritizing those who can afford to move to a highly populated city with little to no pay. A remote internship, even in a time of health and prosperity, is important, she said.

“If you can log on to a laptop, you can access an opportunity,” she said. Another program, Chicago-based Sage Corps, founded in 2013, is pushing companies to sponsor the students impacted by internship cancellations. If sponsored, students can still participate in career growth development workshops virtually from Sage Corps, at $1,250 per student. 

Thomas Brunskill, the founder of InsideSherpa, which helps companies host virtual internships, said he’s seen nearly 1,000 students a day sign up for the platform, from Northern Italy, to South-East Asia, to the United States. He started the company, which went through Y Combinator last year, to give students courses and online simulations of jobs through the comfort of their own homes.

He said his customers are mainly larger companies that employ upwards of 1,000 students, like JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte, Citi, BCG and GE.

On one end, Brunskill said the interest makes sense, as larger companies have to meet significant hiring demands. Per the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 70.4% of interns get return offers from the company where they intern. 

On the other end, this concentration further showcases how smaller businesses will be impacted disproportionately from this pandemic. Many will freeze hiring altogether.

“Obviously [this] matters for students, but it also matters for companies who are now going to have this blackhole of talent,” Brunskill said. “Nobody wins in that situation — companies end up with less work-ready students who don’t really know what they’re getting into and students end up in full-time jobs that might not be aligned to their interest or skills because they never had an opportunity to test it out first.”

While layoffs are devastating, and obviously well upon us in the tech world, internship cancellations offer a harsh window into how COVID-19 doesn’t just impact our current workforce, but our future one as well.

Update 3/25/2020 3:35 p.m. PST: After asking Google on Monday to comment on internship cancellations it denied any changes. After TC published this article, however, Google provided a statement that it will moving its program to a “virtual model” this summer. The story has been updated to reflect this development. 

Honeywell says it will soon launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer

By Frederic Lardinois

“The best-kept secret in quantum computing.” That’s what Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) CEO Ilyas Khan called Honeywell‘s efforts in building the world’s most powerful quantum computer. In a race where most of the major players are vying for attention, Honeywell has quietly worked on its efforts for the last few years (and under strict NDA’s, it seems). But today, the company announced a major breakthrough that it claims will allow it to launch the world’s most powerful quantum computer within the next three months.

In addition, Honeywell also today announced that it has made strategic investments in CQC and Zapata Computing, both of which focus on the software side of quantum computing. The company has also partnered with JPMorgan Chase to develop quantum algorithms using Honeywell’s quantum computer. The company also recently announced a partnership with Microsoft.

Honeywell has long built the kind of complex control systems that power many of the world’s largest industrial sites. It’s that kind of experience, be that that has now allowed it to build an advanced ion trap that is at the core of its efforts.

This ion trap, the company claims in a paper that accompanies today’s announcement, has allowed the team to achieve decoherence times that are significantly longer than those of its competitors.

“It starts really with the heritage that Honeywell had to work from,” Tony Uttley, the president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions, told me. “And we, because of our businesses within aerospace and defense and our business in oil and gas — with solutions that have to do with the integration of complex control systems because of our chemicals and materials businesses — we had all of the underlying pieces for quantum computing, which are just fabulously different from classical computing. You need to have ultra-high vacuum system capabilities. You need to have cryogenic capabilities. You need to have precision control. You need to have lasers and photonic capabilities. You have to have magnetic and vibrational stability capabilities. And for us, we had our own foundry and so we are able to literally design our architecture from the trap up.”

The result of this is a quantum computer that promises to achieve a quantum Volume of 64. Quantum Volume (QV), it’s worth mentioning, is a metric that takes into account both the number of qubits in a system as well as decoherence times. IBM and others have championed this metric as a way to, at least for now, compare the power of various quantum computers.

So far, IBM’s own machines have achieved QV 32, which would make Honeywell’s machine significantly more powerful.

Khan, whose company provides software tools for quantum computing and was one of the first to work with Honeywell on this project, also noted that the focus on the ion trap is giving Honeywell a bit of an advantage. “I think that the choice of the ion trap approach by Honeywell is a reflection of a very deliberate focus on the quality of qubit rather than the number of qubits, which I think is fairly sophisticated,” he said. “Until recently, the headline was always growth, the number of qubits running.”

The Honeywell team noted that many of its current customers are also likely users of its quantum solutions. These customers, after all, are working on exactly the kind of problems in chemistry or material science that quantum computing, at least in its earliest forms, is uniquely suited for.

Currently, Honeywell has about 100 scientists, engineers and developers dedicated to its quantum project.

As Morgan Stanley buys E-Trade, Robinhood preps social trading

By Josh Constine

Before it was worth $7.6 billion, the original idea for Robinhood was a stock trading social network. At my kitchen table in San Francisco in 2013, the founders envisioned an app for sharing hot tips to a feed complete with a leaderboard of whose predictions were most accurate. Once they had SEC approval, they pivoted towards the real money maker: letting people buy and sell stocks in the app, and pay to borrow cash to do so.

Now seven years later, Robinhood is subtly taking the first steps back to its start. Today it’s launching Profiles. For now, they let users see analytics about their portfolio like how concentrated they are in stocks vs options vs cryptocurrency, as well across different business sectors. Complete with usernames and a photo, Profiles let you follow self-made or Robinhood provided lists of stocks and other assets.

Profiles could give Robinhood’s customers the confidence to trade more, and create a sense of lock-in that stop them from straying to other brokerages that have dropped their per trade fees to zero to match the startup, like Charles Schwab, Ameritrade, and ETrade that was acquired for $13 billion today by Morgan Stanley, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The Profile features certainly sound helpful. They could reveal that your portfiolio is to centered around Tech, Media, and Telecom stocks, or that you’re ignoring cryptocurrency or corporations from your home state. Lists also makes it easier to track specific business verticals, save stocks to buy when you have the cash, or set aside some for deeper research. Robinhood pulls info from FactSet, Morningstar, and other trusted sources to figure out which stocks and ETFs go into sector lists, or you can make and name your own. Profiles and lists begin to roll out to all users next week.

But what’s most interesting is how profiles lay the foundation for Robinhood as a social network. It’s easy to imagine letting users follow other accounts or lists they create. The original Robinhood app let users make predictions like “17% increase in Facebook share price over the next 11 weeks” with comments to explain why. It showed users prediction accuracy, their average holding time for assets, a point score for smart foresight, community BUY or SELL ratings on stocks.

If Robinhood rebuilt some of these features, it might lessen the need for an expensive financial advisor or having enough cash to qualify for one with a different brokerage. Robinhood could let you crowdsource advice. “We understand the connotation of taking something from the rich and giving it to the poor. Robinhood is liberating information that’s locked up with professionals and giving it to the people” Robinhood co-founder and co-CEO Vlad Tenev told me back in 2013.

Robinhood would certainly need to be careful about scammy tips going viral. Improper safeguards could lead to pump and dump schemes where those late to buy in get screwed when prices snap back to reality.

But embracing social could leverage some of its strongest assets: the youthfulness of its userbase and the depth of connection to its users. The median age of a Robinhood customer is 30 and half say they’re first time investors. Being able to turn to friends or experts within the app might convince them to pull the trigger on trades.

Most online brokerages are somewhat undifferentiated beyond differences in pricing while their clunky, unstylized products don’t generate the same brand affinity as people have for Robinhood. Unsatisfied users could bail for a competitor at any time. Robinhood’s users are accustomed to social networking and the way it locks in users since they don’t want to abandon their community.

When I asked Robinhood Profiles’ product manager Shanthi Shanmugam directly about whether this was the start of more social trading features, they suspiciously dodged the question, telling me “When thinking about how to reflect who you are as an investor, we looked at how other apps represent you and it felt natural to leverage a design that felt more like a profile. When helping people group their investment ideas, it was easy to envision this as a playlist you might find on your favorite music app.”

That’s far from a denial. Offering social validation for trading could help Robinhood earn more from its customers despite their small total account balances. While Robinhood might have over 10 million accounts versus E-Trade’s 5.2 million and Morgan Stanley’s 3 million, but E-Trade’s average account size is $69,230 and Morgan Stanley’s is $900,000 while a survey found most of Robinhood’s held $1,000 to $5,000.

That all means that Robinhood earns less on interest sitting in users’ accounts than the old incumbents. But Robinhood earns the majority of its money on selling order flow and through its subscription Robinhood Gold feature that lets users pay monthly so they can borrow cash to trade with. Profiles and lists, and then eventually more social features, could get Robinhood’s users trading more so there’s more order flow to sell and more reason for them to buy subscriptions.

“Democratizing access is about lowering fees, minimums and other barriers people face — like confidence. Profiles and lists make finance easier to understand and more familiar for people” says Shanmugam. More social features built safely, more reassurance, more trading, more revenue. Robinhood has raised $910 million. But to outgun larger competitors like the newly assembled Morgan Stanley/E-Trade that’s matched its zero-fee pricing, Robinhood will have to win with product.

What the $13B E-Trade deal says about Robinhood’s valuation

By Alex Wilhelm

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today we’re living up to the introduction of this daily column by digging into the recently announced E-Trade sale and what its new price and recent financial performance can tell us about Robinhood, a startup competitor, and the unicorn’s valuation.

As always, when we’re comparing a fast-growing, private company in contrast to a larger, more mature, slower-growing, and profitable business, we’re working in broad strokes. But if we don’t take our contrasts too literally, we’ll be able to learn a thing or two.

After all, Robinhood is not only a richly-valued unicorn, it’s also a leading player in the burgeoning fintech and finservices startup niches, a sector we recently learned has capital flowing in at nearly record rates. So what we can learn about the value of Robinhood comps should prove illustrative and important.

We’ll start with an overview of the E-Trade sale, dig into its 2019 results and then compare the resulting multiples (with reasonable amounts of caveating, of course) to what we know about Robinhood. This will be fun!

Tesla locks in stock surge with $2B offering at $767 per share

By Kirsten Korosec

Tesla has priced its secondary common stock offering at $767, a 4.6% discount from Thursday’s share price close, according to a securities filing Friday.

Tesla said in the filing it will sell 2.65 million shares at that discounted price to raise more than $2 billion. Lead underwriters Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have the option to buy an additional 397,500 shares in the offering.

Tesla shares closed at $804 on Thursday. The share price opened lower Friday, jumped as high at $812.97 and has hovered around $802.

The automaker surprised Wall Street on Thursday when it announced plans to raise more than $2 billion through a common stock offering, despite signaling just two weeks ago that it would not seek to raise more cash.

CEO Elon Musk will purchase up to $10 million in shares in the offering, while Oracle co-founder and Tesla board member Larry Ellison will buy up to $1 million worth of Tesla shares, according to the securities filing.

Tesla said it will use the funds to strengthen its balance sheet and for general corporate purposes. In a separate filing Thursday that was posted prior to the stock offering notice, Tesla said capital expenditures could reach as high as $3.5 billion this year.

The stock offering conflicts with statements Musk and CFO Zach Kirkhorn made last month during Tesla’s fourth-quarter earnings call. An institutional investor asked that given the recent run in the share price, why not raise capital now and substantially accelerate the growth in production? At the time, Musk said the company was spending money sensibly and that there is no “artificial hold back on expenditures.”

At the time of Thursday’s announcement, Tesla shares had risen more than 35% since the January 29 earnings call, perhaps proving too tempting of an opportunity to ignore.

Goldman Sachs’s CEO just called WeWork’s pulled IPO — which Goldman was underwriting — proof that the market works

By Connie Loizos

It’s hard to put a positive spin on terrible situation, but that didn’t stop Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon earlier today. Asked during a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos about WeWork’s yanked IPO in September,  Solomon suggested it was proof that the listing process works, despite that the CFO of Goldman — one of the offering’s underwriters — disclosed last fall that the pulled deal cost the bank a whopping $80 million.

Reuters was on the scene, reporting that Solomon acknowledged the process was “not as pretty as everybody would like it to be” yet also eschewing responsibility, telling those gathered that the “banks were not valuing [WeWork]. Banks give you a model. You say to the company, ‘Well, if you can prove to us that the model actually does what it does, then it’s possible that the company is worth this in the public markets,'” Solomon said.

Investment banks had reportedly courted WeWork’s business by discussing a variety of figures that led cofounder Adam Neumann to overestimate how it might be received by public market shareholders. According to the New York Times, in 2018, JPMorgan was telling Neumann that it could find buyers to value the company at more than $60 billion; while Goldman Sachs said $90 billion was a possibility, and Morgan Stanley — which has been assigned as lead underwriter of many of the buzziest tech offerings over the last decade — reportedly posited that even more than $100 billion was possible.

Ultimately, the IPO was canceled several weeks after Neumann was asked to resign and WeWork’s biggest investor, SoftBank — which itself nearly tripled the company’s private market valuation across funding rounds — stepped in to ostensibly rescue the company (and its now $18.5 billion investment in it.

Solomon isn’t the only one defending some of the frustrating logic of IPO pricing in recent years. This editor sat down in November with Morgan Stanley’s head tech banker Michael Grimes, who has been called “Wall Street’s Silicon Valley whisperer” for landing a seemingly endless string of coveted deals for the bank.

Because Morgan Stanley pulled out of the process of underwriting WeWork’s IPO (reportedly after WeWork rejected its pitch to be the company’s lead underwriter), we talked with Grimes instead about Uber, whose offering last year Morgan Stanley did lead. We asked how Uber could have been told reportedly by investment bankers that its valuation might be as high as $120 billion in an IPO when, as we now know, public market shareholders deemed it worth far less. (Its current market cap is roughly half that amount, at $64 billion.)

Grimes said matter-of-factly that price estimates can routinely be all over the place, explaining that “if you look at how companies are valued, at any given point of time right now, public companies with growth prospects and margins that are not yet at their mature margin, I think you’ll find on average price targets by either analysts who work at banks or buy-side investors that can be 100%, 200% and 300% different from low to high.”

He called that a “typical spread.”

The reason, he said, had to do with each bank’s or analyst’s guess at “penetration.”

“Let’s say, what, 100 million people or so [worldwide] have have been monthly active users of Uber, somewhere in that range,” said Grimes during our sit-down “What percentage of the population is that? Less than 1% or something. Is that 1% going to be  2%, 3%, 6%, 10%, 20%? Half a percent, because people stop using it and turn instead to some flying [taxi]?

“So if you take all those variable, possible outcomes, you get huge variability in outcome. So it’s easy to say that everything should trade the same every day, but [look at what happened with Google]. You have some people saying maybe that is an outcome that can happen here for companies, or maybe it won’t. Maybe they’ll [hit their] saturation [point] or face new competitors.”

Grimes then turned the tables on reporters and others in the industry who wonder how banks could get the numbers so wrong, with Uber but also with a lot of other companies. “It’s really easy to be a pundit and say, ‘It should be higher’ or ‘It should be lower,’” Grimes said. “But investors are making decisions about that every day.”

Besides, he added, “We think our job is to be realistically optimistic” about where things will land. “If tech stops changing everything and software stops eating the world, there probably would be less of an optimistic bias.”

Catalyst Fund gets $15M from JP Morgan, UK Aid to back 30 EM fintech startups

By Jake Bright

The Catalyst Fund has gained $15 million in new support from JP Morgan and UK Aid and will back 30 fintech startups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the next three years.

The Boston based accelerator provides mentorship and non-equity funding to early-stage tech ventures focused on driving financial inclusion in emerging and frontier markets.

That means connecting people who may not have access to basic financial services — like a bank account, credit or lending options — to those products.

Catalyst Fund will choose an annual cohort of 10 fintech startups in five designated countries: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India and Mexico. Those selected will gain grant-funds and go through a six-month accelerator program. The details of that and how to apply are found here.

“We’re offering grants of up to $100,000 to early-stage companies, plus venture building support…and really…putting these companies on a path to product market fit,” Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carraro told TechCrunch.

Program participants gain exposure to the fund’s investor networks and investor advisory committee, that include Accion and 500 Startups. With the $15 million Catalyst Fund will also make some additions to its network of global partners that support the accelerator program. Names will be forthcoming, but Carraro, was able to disclose that India’s Yes Bank and University of Cambridge are among them.

Catalyst fund has already accelerated 25 startups through its program. Companies, such as African payments venture ChipperCash and SokoWatch — an East African B2B e-commerce startup for informal retailers — have gone on to raise seven-figure rounds and expand to new markets.

Those are kinds of business moves Catalyst Fund aims to spur with its program. The accelerator was founded in 2016, backed by JP Morgan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Catalyst Fund is now supported and managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and global tech consulting firm BFA.

African fintech startups have dominated the accelerator’s startups, comprising 56% of the portfolio into 2019.

That trend continued with Catalyst Fund’s most recent cohort, where five of six fintech ventures — Pesakit, Kwara, Cowrywise, Meerkat and Spoon — are African and one, agtech credit startup Farmart, operates in India.

The draw to Africa is because the continent demonstrates some of the greatest need for Catalyst Fund’s financial inclusion mission.

By several estimates, Africa is home to the largest share of the world’s unbanked population and has a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Roughly 66% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people don’t have a bank account, according to World Bank data.

Collectively, these numbers have led to the bulk of Africa’s VC funding going to thousands of fintech startups attempting to scale finance solutions on the continent.

Digital finance in Africa has also caught the attention of notable outside names. Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey recently took an interest in Africa’s cryptocurrency potential and Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs has invested in fintech related startups on the continent.

This lends to the question of JP Morgan’s interests vis-a-vis Catalyst Fund and Africa’s financial sector.

For now, JP Morgan doesn’t have plans to invest directly in Africa startups and is taking a long-view in its support of the accelerator, according to Colleen Briggs — JP Morgan’s Head of Community Innovation

“We find financial health and financial inclusion is a…cornerstone for inclusive growth…For us if you care about a stable economy, you have to start with financial inclusion,” said Briggs, who also oversees the Catalyst Fund.

This take aligns with JP Morgan’s 2019 announcement of a $125 million, philanthropic, five-year global commitment to improve financial health in the U.S. and globally.

More recently, JP Morgan Chase posted some of the strongest financial results on Wall Street, with Q4 profits of $2.9 billion. It’ll be worth following if the company shifts any of its income-generating prowess to business and venture funding activities in Catalyst Fund markets like Nigeria, India and Mexico.

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