Boris Renski, the co-founder of Mirantis, one of the earliest and best-funded players in the OpenStack space a few years ago (which then mostly pivoted to Kubernetes and DevOps), has left his role as CMO to focus his efforts on a new startup: FreedomFi. The new company brings together open-source hardware and software to give enterprises a new way to leverage the newly opened 3.5 GHz band for private LTE and — later — 5G IoT deployments.
“There is a very broad opportunity for any enterprise building IoT solutions, which completely changes the dynamic of the whole market,” Renski told me when I asked him why he was leaving Mirantis. “This makes the whole space very interesting and fast-evolving. I felt that my background in open source and my existing understanding of the open-source landscape and the LTE space […] is an extremely compelling opportunity to dive into headfirst.”
Renski told me that a lot of the work the company is doing is still in its early stages, but the company recently hit a milestone when it used its prototype stack to send messages across its private network over a distance of around 2.7 miles.
Mirantis itself worked on bringing Magma, a Facebook-developed open-source tool for powering some of the features needed for building access networks, into production. FreedomFi is also working with the OpenAirInterface consortium, which aims to create an ecosystem for open-source software and hardware development around wireless innovation. Most, if not all, of the technology the company will develop over time will also be open source, as well.
Renski, of course, gets to leverage his existing connections in the enterprise and telco industry with this new venture, but he also told me that he plans to leverage the Mirantis playbook as he builds out the company.
“At Mirantis, our journey was that we started with basically offering end-to-end open-source cloud buildouts to a variety of enterprises back when OpenStack was essentially the only open-source cloud project out there,” he explained. “And we spent a whole bunch of time doing that, engaging with customers, getting customer revenue, learning where the bottlenecks are — and then kind of gradually evolving into more of a leveraged business model with a subscription offering around OpenStack and then MCP and now Kubernetes, Docker, etc. But the key was to be very kind of customer-centric, go get some customer wins first, give customers a services-centric offering that gets them to the result, and then figure out where the leveraged business model opportunities are.”
Currently, enterprises that want to attempt to build their own private LTE networks — and are willing to spend millions on it — have to go to the large telecom providers. Those companies, though, aren’t necessarily interested in working on these relatively small deployments (or at least “small” by the standards of a telco).
Renski and his team started the project about two months ago and for now, it remains self-funded. But the company already has five pilots lined up, including one with a company that produces large-scale events and another with a large real estate owner, and with some of the tech falling in place, Renski seems optimistic that this is a project worth focusing on. There are still some hurdles to overcome and Renski tells me the team is learning new things every day. The hardware, for example, remains hard to source and the software stack remains in flux. “We’re probably at least six months away from having solved all of the technology and business-related problems pertaining to delivering this kind of end-to-end private LTE network,” he said.
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Busy week for SpaceX — across funding, space tourism and next-gen spacecraft. There’s also a space station resupply mission coming up that it’s getting ready for, and signs (this time literally) continue to suggest that its first human spaceflight mission is imminent.
Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who defied prejudice in the ’50s and ’60s to help NASA send the first men to the moon, has died at the age of 101. She was a pioneer, a role model and an instrumental part of America’s space program, and she will be dearly missed.
SpaceX is serious about iteration — its strategy of building (and failing — and learning from its failures) fast is in full effect for its Starship development program. Elon Musk said on Twitter this week that the plan is to build them as frequently as possible with significant improvements between each successive spacecraft, with the aim of going through two or three iterations before flying an orbital mission later this year.
The still-private SpaceX is going back to investors for more cash, likely to help it with the expensive proposition of building a bunch of Starships in rapid succession essentially by hand. It’s said to be seeking $250 million in a round that could close as early as mid-March, according to a CNBC report.
One side of SpaceX’s business that isn’t necessarily as obvious as its commercial cargo launch services is the space tourism angle. This week, the company announced a partnership with Space Adventures, the same firm that has arranged paid trips to the Space Station for private citizens aboard Soyuz capsules. The first of these trips, which won’t go to the ISS but instead will fly up to a higher orbit, take a trip around Earth and come back, is set to take off as early as next year. And if you have to ask about the price, you probably can’t afford it.
The ISS gets a new platform next month that can support attached payloads — up to a dozen — from research partners, including academic institutions and private companies. It’ll go up aboard SpaceX’s next resupply mission for the station, which is currently targeting liftoff on March 2. Also, Adidas is sending up a machine that makes its BOOST shoe soles, just to see how it works in space.
Japan is sending a mission to Phobos and Deimos to study the two moons of Mars, using a probe that will orbit the Red Planet’s natural satellites loaded with sensors. It’ll also carry a small lander, that will itself deploy an even smaller rover, which will study the surface of Phobos directly. If all goes to plan, it’ll collect a sample and bring that back to Earth for further study here.
It turns out that SpaceX, not Snap, may be the most important young technology company for developing the Los Angeles startup ecosystem. Jon Shieber documents how SpaceX alum have gone forth and built a number of companies in the area that have gone on to raise big cash, as well as very young startups that have had a promising beginning. Extra Crunch subscription required.
Yes, LA has a bustling space tech ecosystem. But communications satellite startup Kepler calls Canada home, and it recently made the interesting decision to build its small satellites in-house — in its own facility in downtown Toronto. Founder and CEO Mina Mitry tells me why that’s the best choice for his company. Extra Crunch subscription required.
TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics + AI brings together a wide group of the ecosystem’s leading minds on March 3 at UC Berkeley. Over 1000+ attendees are expected from all facets of the robotics and artificial intelligence space – investors, students, engineerings, C-levels, technologists, and researchers. We’ve compiled a small list of highlights of attendees’ companies and job titles attending this year’s event below.
STUDENTS & RESEARCHERS FROM:
Did you know that TechCrunch provides a white-glove networking app at all our events called CrunchMatch? You can connect and match with people who meet your specific requirements, message them, and connect right at the conference. How cool is that!?
Want to get in on networking with this caliber of people? Book your $345 General Admission ticket today and save $50 before prices go up at the door. But no one likes going to events alone. Why not bring the whole team? Groups of four or more save 15% on tickets when you book here.
We’ve been dropping into the Australian startup scene increasingly over the years as the ecosystem has been building at an increasingly faster pace, most notably at our own TechCrunch Battlefield Australia in 2017. Further evidence that the scene is growing has come recently in the shape of the Pause Fest conference in Melbourne. This event has gone from strength to strength in recent years and is fast becoming a must-attend for Aussie startups aiming for both national international attention.
I was able to drop in ‘virtually’ to interview a number of those showcased in the Startup Pitch Competition, so here’s a run-down of some of the stand-out companies.
Medinet Australia is a health tech startup aiming to make healthcare more convenient and accessible to Australians by allowing doctors to do consultations with patients via an app. Somewhat similar to apps like Babylon Health, Medinet’s telehealth app allows patients to obtain clinical advice from a GP remotely; access prescriptions and have medications delivered; access pathology results; directly email their medical certificate to their employer; and access specialist referrals along with upfront information about specialists such as their fees, waitlist, and patient experience. They’ve raised $3M in Angel financing and are looking for institutional funding in due course. Given Australia’s vast distances, Medinet is well-placed to capitalize on the shift of the population towards much more convenient telehealth apps. (1st Place Winner)
Everty allows companies to easily manage, monitor and monetize Electric Vehicle charging stations. But this isn’t about infrastructure. Instead, they link up workplaces and accounting systems to the EV charging network, thus making it more like a “Salesforce for EV charging”. It’s available for both commercial and home charging tracking. It’s also raised an Angel round and is poised to raise further funding. (2nd Place Winner)
AI On Spectrum
It’s a sad fact that people with Autism statistically tend to die younger, and unfortunately, the suicide rate is much higher for Autistic people. “Ai on Spectrum” takes an accessible approach in helping autistic kids and their families find supportive environments and feel empowered. The game encourages Autism sufferers to explore their emotional side and arms them with coping strategies when times get tough, applying AI and machine learning in the process to assist the user. (3rd Place Winner)
Professional bee-keepers need a fast, reliable, easy-to-use record keeper for their bees and this startup does just that. But it’s also developing a software+sensor technology to give beekeepers more accurate analytics, allowing them to get an early-warning about issues and problems. Their technology could even, in the future, be used to alert for coming bushfires by sensing the changed behavior of the bees. (Hacker Exchange Additional Winner)
Rechargeable batteries for things like cars can be re-used again, but the key to employing them is being able to extend their lives. Relectrify says its battery control software can unlock the full performance from every cell, increasing battery cycle life. It will also reduce storage costs by providing AC output without needing a battery inverter for both new and 2nd-life batteries. Its advanced battery management system combines power and electric monitoring to rapidly the check which are stronger cells and which are weaker making it possible to get as much as 30% more battery life, as well as deploying “2nd life storage”. So far, they have a project with Nissan and American Electric Power and have raised a Series A of $4.5M. (SingularityU Additional Winner)
Sadly, seniors and patients can contract bedsores if left too long. People can even die from bedsores. Furthermore, hospitals can end up in litigation over the issue. What’s needed is a technology that can prevent this, as well as predicting where on a patient’s body might be worst affected. That’s what Gabriel has come up with: using multi-modal technology to prevent and detect both falls and bedsores. Its passive monitoring technology is for the home or use in hospitals and consists of a resistive sheet with sensors connecting to a system which can understand the pressure on a bed. It has FDA approval, is patent-pending and is already working in some Hawaiin hospitals. It’s so far raised $2m in Angel and is now raising money.
Here’s a taste of Pause Fest:
Got your sights set on attending TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 on May 14 in San Jose? Spend the day with 1,000 or more like-minded founders, makers and leaders across the startup ecosystem. It’s a day-long deep dive dedicated to current and evolving mobility and transportation tech. Think autonomous vehicles, micromobility, AI-based mobility applications, battery tech and so much more.
Hold up. Don’t have a ticket yet? Buy your early-bird pass right here and save $100.
In addition to taking in all the great speakers (we add more every week), presentations, workshops and demos, you’ll want to meet people and build the relationships that foster startup success, amirite? Get ready for a radical network experience with CrunchMatch. Our free business-matching platform makes finding and connecting with the right people easier than ever. It’s both curated and automated, a potent combination that makes networking simple and productive. Hey needle, kiss that haystack goodbye.
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When we launch the CrunchMatch platform, we’ll email all registered attendees. Simply create a profile, identify your role and list your specific criteria, goals and interests. Whomever you want to meet — investors, founders or engineers specializing in autonomous cars or ride-hailing apps. The CrunchMatch algorithm kicks into gear and suggests matches and, subject to your approval, proposes meeting times and sends meeting requests.
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TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 takes place on May 14 in San Jose, Calif. Join, meet and learn from the industry’s mightiest minds, makers, innovators and investors. And let CrunchMatch make your time there much easier and more productive. Buy your early-bird ticket, and we’ll see you in San Jose!
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Mobility 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
Over the past twelve months, Maven, the benefits provider focused on women’s health and family planning, has expanded its customer base to include over 100 companies and grown its telehealth services to include 1,700 providers across 20 specialties — for services like shipping breast milk, finding a doula and egg freezing, fertility treatments, surrogacy and adoption.
The New York-based company which offers its healthcare services to individuals, health plans, and employers has now raised an additional $45 million to expand its offerings even further.
Its new money comes from a clutch of celebrity investors like Mindy Kaling, Natalie Portman, and Reese Witherspoon and institutional investors led by Icon Ventures and return backers Sequoia Capital, Oak HC/FT, Spring Mountain Capital, Female Founders Fund and Harmony Partners. Anne Wojcicki, the founder of 23andMe, is also an investor in the company.
“Maven is addressing critical gaps in care by offering the largest digital health network of women’s and family health providers,” said Tom Mawhinney, lead investor from Icon Ventures, who will join the Maven board of directors, in a statement. “With its virtual care and services, Maven is changing how global employers support working families by focusing on improving maternal outcomes, reducing medical costs, retaining more women in the workplace, and ultimately supporting every pathway to parenthood.”
In the six years since founder Katherine Ryder first launched Mayven, the company has raised more than $77 million for its service and become a mother of two boys.
“You go through this enormous life experience; it’s hugely transformative to have a child,” she told TechCrunch after announcing the company’s $27 million Series B round, led by Sequoia. “You do it when your careers is moving up — they call it the rush hour of life — and with no one supporting you on the other end, it’s easy to say ‘screw it, I’m going home to my family’ … If someone leaves the workforce, that’s fine, it’s their choice but they shouldn’t feel forced to because they don’t have support.”
Some of Maven’s partners include Snap and Bumble to provide employees access to its women’s and family health provider network. The company connects users with OB-GYNs, pediatricians, therapists, career coaches and other services around family planning.
TechCrunch is returning to U.C. Berkeley on March 3 to bring together some of the most influential minds in robotics and artificial intelligence. Each year we strive to bring together a cross-section of big companies and exciting new startups, along with top researchers, VCs and thinkers.
In addition to a main stage that includes the likes of Amazon’s Tye Brady, U .C. Berkeley’s Stuart Russell, Anca Dragan of Waymo, Claire Delaunay of NVIDIA, James Kuffner of Toyota’s TRI-AD, and a surprise interview with Disney Imagineers, we’ll also be offering a more intimate Q&A stage featuring speakers from SoftBank Robotics, Samsung, Sony’s Innovation Fund, Qualcomm, NVIDIA and more.
Alongside a selection of handpicked demos, we’ll also be showcasing the winners from our first-ever pitch-off competition for early-stage robotics companies. You won’t get a better look at exciting new robotics technologies than that. Tickets for the event are still available. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks at Zellerbach Hall.
8:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Registration Open Hours
General Attendees can pick up their badges starting at 8:30 am at Lower Sproul Plaza located in front of Zellerbach Hall. We close registration at 4:00 pm.
10:00 AM – 10:05 AM
10:05 AM – 10:25 AM
The UC Berkeley professor and AI authority argues in his acclaimed new book, “Human Compatible,” that AI will doom humanity unless technologists fundamentally reform how they build AI algorithms.
10:25 AM – 10:45 AM
Maxar Technologies has been involved with U.S. space efforts for decades, and is about to send its sixth (!) robotic arm to Mars aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Lucy Condakchian is general manager of robotics at Maxar and will speak to the difficulty and exhilaration of designing robotics for use in the harsh environments of space and other planets.
10:45 AM – 11:05 AM
Amazon Robotics’ chief technology officer will discuss how the company is using the latest in robotics and AI to optimize its massive logistics. He’ll also discuss the future of warehouse automation and how humans and robots share a work space.
11:05 AM – 11:15 AM
Live Demo from the Stanford Robotics Club
11:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Join one of the foremost experts in artificial intelligence as he signs copies of his acclaimed new book, Human Compatible.
11:35 AM – 12:05 PM
Can robots help us build structures faster, smarter and cheaper? Built Robotics makes a self-driving excavator. Toggle is developing a new fabrication of rebar for reinforced concrete, Dusty builds robot-powered tools and longtime robotics pioneers Boston Dynamics have recently joined the construction space. We’ll talk with the founders and experts from these companies to learn how and when robots will become a part of the construction crew.
12:15 PM – 1:00 PM
Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with three of the top minds in corporate VC.
1:00 PM – 1:25 PM
Select, early-stage companies, hand-picked by TechCrunch editors, will take the stage and have five minutes to present their wares.
1:15 PM – 2:00 PM
Your chance to ask questions of some of the most successful robotics founders on our stage
1:25 PM – 1:50 PM
Leading investors will discuss the rising tide of venture capital funding in robotics and AI. The investors bring a combination of early-stage investing and corporate venture capital expertise, sharing a fondness for the wild world of robotics and AI investing.
1:50 PM – 2:15 PM
As robots become an ever more meaningful part of our lives, interactions with humans are increasingly inevitable. These experts will discuss the broad implications of HRI in the workplace and home.
2:15 PM – 2:40 PM
Autonomous driving is set to be one of the biggest categories for robotics and AI. But there are plenty of roadblocks standing in its way. Experts will discuss how we get there from here.
2:15 PM – 3:00 PM
Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest investors in robotics and AI
Imagineers from Disney will present start of the art robotics built to populate its theme parks.
3:10 PM – 3:35 PM
This summer’s Tokyo Olympics will be a huge proving ground for Toyota’s TRI-AD. Executive James Kuffner and Max Bajracharya will join us to discuss the department’s plans for assistive robots and self-driving cars.
3:15 PM – 4:00 PM
Join this interactive Q&A session on the breakout stage with some of the greatest engineers in robotics and AI.
3:35 PM – 4:00 PM
In 1920, Karl Capek coined the term “robot” in a play about mechanical workers organizing a rebellion to defeat their human overlords. One hundred years later, in the context of increasing inequality and xenophobia, the panelists will discuss cultural views of robots in the context of “Robo-Exoticism,” which exaggerates both negative and positive attributes and reinforces old fears, fantasies and stereotypes.
4:00 PM – 4:10 PM
Live Demo from Somatic
4:10 PM – 4:35 PM
Machine learning and AI models can be found in nearly every aspect of society today, but their inner workings are often as much a mystery to their creators as to those who use them. UC Berkeley’s Trevor Darrell, Krishna Gade of Fiddler Labs and Karen Myers from SRI will discuss what we’re doing about it and what still needs to be done.
4:35 PM – 5:00 PM
The benefits of robotics in agriculture are undeniable, yet at the same time only getting started. Lewis Anderson (Traptic) and Sebastien Boyer (FarmWise) will compare notes on the rigors of developing industrial-grade robots that both pick crops and weed fields respectively, and Pyka’s Michael Norcia will discuss taking flight over those fields with an autonomous crop-spraying drone.
5:00 PM – 5:25 PM
Robotics and AI are the future of many or most industries, but the barrier of entry is still difficult to surmount for many startups. Speakers will discuss the challenges of serving robotics startups and companies that require robotics labor, from bootstrapped startups to large scale enterprises.
5:30 PM – 7:30 PM
Unofficial After Party, (Cash Bar Only)
Come hang out at the unofficial After Party at Tap Haus, 2518 Durant Ave, Ste C, Berkeley
We only have so much space in Zellerbach Hall and tickets are selling out fast. Grab your General Admission Ticket right now for $350 and save 50 bucks as prices go up at the door.
Student tickets are just $50 and can be purchased here. Student tickets are limited.
Startup Exhibitor Packages are sold out!
The 400,000 distribution yards located in the U.S. are critical hubs for the supply chain. Now one startup is aiming to make the yard truck — the centerpiece of the distribution yard — more efficient, safer and cleaner, with an autonomous system.
Outrider, a Golden, Colo. startup previously known as Azevtec, came out of stealth Wednesday to announce that it has raised $53 million in seed and Series A funding rounds led by NEA and 8VC. Outrider is also backed by Koch Disruptive Technologies, Fraser McCombs Capital, warehousing giant Prologis, Schematic Ventures, Loup Ventures and Goose Society of Texas.
Outrider CEO Andrew Smith said distribution yards are ideal environments to deploy autonomous technology because they’re well-defined areas that are also complex, often chaotic and with many manual tasks.
“This is why a systems approach is necessary to automate every major task in the yard,” Smith said.
Outrider has developed a system that includes an electric yard truck equipped with a full stack self-driving system with overlapping suite of sensor technology such as radar, lidar and cameras. The system automates the manual aspect of yard operations, including moving trailers around the yard as well as to and from loading docks. The system can also hitch and unhitch trailers, connect and disconnect trailer brake lines, and monitor trailer locations.
The company has two pilot programs with Georgia-Pacific and four Fortune 200 companies in designated sections of their distribution yards. Over time, Outrider will move from operating in specific areas of these yards to taking over the entire yards for these enterprise customers, according to Smith.
“Because we’re getting people out of these yard environments, where there’s 80,000 pound vehicles, we’re delivering increased efficiency,” Smith told TechCrunch in a recent interview. That efficiency is not just in moving the trailers around the yard, Smith added. It also helps move the Class 8 semi trailers used for hauling freight long distances through the system and back on the road quickly.
“We can actually reduce the amount of time the over-the-road guys are stuck sitting at a yard trying to do a pickup or drop-off,” Smith said.
Smith sees a big opportunity to demonstrate the responsible deployment of autonomy as well as clean up yards filled with diesel-powered yard trucks.
“If there was ever a location for near-term automation and electrification of the supply chain, it’s here,” he said. “Our customers and suppliers understand there’s a big opportunity for these autonomy systems to accelerate the deployment of 50,000 plus electric trucks in the market because they are a superior platform for automation.”
Dell Technologies announced today that it was selling legacy security firm, RSA for $2.075 billion to a consortium of investors led by Symphony Technology Group. Other investors include Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board and AlpInvest Partners.
RSA came to Dell when it bought EMC for $67 billion in 2015. EMC had bought the company in 2006 for a similar price it was sold for today, $2.1 billion. The deal includes several pieces including the RSA security conference held each year in San Francisco.
As for products, the consortium gets RSA Archer, RSA NetWitness Platform, RSA SecurID, RSA Fraud and Risk Intelligence — in addition to the conference. At the time of the EMC acquisition, Michael Dell actually called out RSA as one of the companies he looked forward to welcoming to the Dell family after the deal was completed in a letter to customers.
“I am excited to work with the EMC, VMware, Pivotal, VCE, Virtustream and RSA teams, and I am personally committed to the success of our new company, our partners and above all, to you, our customers,” Dell wrote at the time.
Times change however, and perhaps Dell decided it was simply time to get some cash and jettison the veteran security company to go a bit more modern, as RSA’s approach no longer aligned with Dell’s company-wide security strategy.
“The strategies of RSA and Dell Technologies have evolved to address different business needs with different go-to-market models. The sale of RSA gives us greater flexibility to focus on integrated innovation across Dell Technologies, while allowing RSA to focus on its strategy of providing risk, security and fraud teams with the ability to holistically manage digital risk,” Dell Technology’s chief operating officer and vice chairman Jeff Clarke,” wrote in a blog post announcing the deal.
Meanwhile RSA president Rohit Ghai tried to put a happy spin on the outcome, framing it as the next step in the company’s long and storied history. “The one constant in every episode of our existence has been our focus on the success of our customers and our ability to endure through market disruption by innovating on behalf of our customers,” he wrote in a blog post on the RSA company website.
The deal is subject to the normal kinds of regulatory approval before it is finalized.
The holy grail for technology companies working in the healthcare industry is becoming the gateway for all healthcare data.
Big legacy providers like Epic and Cerner are trying to reach out to hospital networks to hoover up all of their data. Google is interested in it. Salesforce is interested in it. Everyone wants to be the resource that organizes and manages healthcare data for physicians and hospital providers — everyone including the San Francisco-based startup Innovaccer, which has raised $70 million in new financing to finance its mission.
The new investment from firms including Steadview Capital, Tiger Global, Dragoneer, Westbridge Capital, the Abu Dhabi investment firm Mubadala Capital, and Microsoft’s corporate investment arm, M12.
These are deep-pocketed investors for whom money is no object, but Innovaccer has shown a fair bit of traction among hospitals and health systems with its data analysis and management platform.
The company’s software pulls from datasets including those generated by Cerner and Epic’s healthcare records, as well as insurance companies and pharmacies to create a more holistic view of a patient, the company says.
Since its launch in 2014, Innovaccer has provided a single source or healthcare information for 3.8 million patients and saved healthcare systems more than $400 million, the company said.
“Healthcare still needs a lot of work to become patient-centered and connected by organizing information and making it more accessible. It is really important to make patient data seamlessly available to all providers along the patient’s care journey,” said Abhinav Shashank, the co-founder and chief executive at Innovaccer, in a statement. “We have been fortunate to work with transformational healthcare initiatives that our amazing customers are engaged in. The vision of helping healthcare work as one needs a connected and open technology framework. We are excited to be at the forefront of providing the tech platform for our customers to drive that change.”
Its technology relies on over 200 APIs to take data from health plans, primary care providers, pharmacies, labs and hospitals and serves that data to 25,000 care providers. The company hopes to take that number ot over 100 million healthcare records and 500,000 caregivers over the next several years.
It’s a lofty goal, but one that appeals to the Ravi Mehta, the founder of the $2.5 billion hedge fund Steadview Capital.
“By using their connected care framework coupled with their leading-edge data aggregation and analytics platform, they are unifying patient records and enabling care teams to coordinate patient care at a new level,” said Mehta. “We believe this will achieve greater efficiencies, enable better care and reduce overall healthcare spend in the years to come.”
Intuition Robotics, the company best known for its ElliQ robot, a digital home companion for the elderly, today announced that it has raised a $36 million Series B round co-led by SPARX Group and OurCrowd. Toyota AI Ventures, Sompo Holdings, iRobot, Union Tech Ventures, Happiness Capital, Samsung Next, Capital Point and Bloomberg Beta also participated in this round. This brings the total funding for the company, which was founded in 2016, to $58 million.
As the company, which sees it as its mission to build digital assistants that can create emotional bonds between humans and machines, also disclosed today, it is working with Toyota to bring its technology to the automaker’s LQ concept. Toyota previously said that it wanted to bring an empathetic AI assistant to the LQ that could create a bond between driver and car. This assistant, dubbed “Yui,” is powered by Intuition Robotics’ Q platform.
Intuition Robotics CEO and co-founder Dor Skuler tells me that the company spent the last two years gathering data through ElliQ. In the process, the company spent more than 10,000 days in the homes of early users to gather data. The youngest of those users were 78 and the oldest 97.
On average, users interacted with ElliQ eight times per day and spent about six minutes on those interactions. When ElliQ made proactive suggestions, users accepted those about half the time.
“We believe that we have been able to prove that she can create an enduring relationship between humans and machines that actually influences people’s feelings and behaviors,” Skuler told me. “That she’s able to create empathy and trust — and anticipate the needs of the users. And that, to us, is the real vision behind the company.”
While Intuition Robotics is most closely identified with ElliQ, though, that’s only one area the company is focusing on. The other is automotive — and as Skuler stressed, as a small startup, focus is key, even as there are some other obvious verticals it could try to get into.
In the car, the empathetic AI assistant will adapt to the individual user and, for example, provide personalized suggestions for trying out new features in the car, or suggest that you open the window and get some fresh air into the car when it senses you are getting tired. As Skuler stressed, the car is actually a great environment for a digital assistant, as it already has plenty of built-in sensors.
“The agent gets the data feed, builds context, looks at the goals and answers three questions: Should I be proactive? Which activity should I promote? And which version to be most effective? And then it controls the outcomes,” Skuler explained. That’s the same process in the car as it would be in ElliQ — and indeed, the same code runs in both.
The Intuition team decided that in order to allow third-parties to build these interactions, it needed to develop specialized tools and a new language that would help designers — not programmers — create the outlines of these interactions for the platform.
Unlike ElliQ, though, the assistant in the car doesn’t move, of course. In Toyota’s example, the car uses lights and a small screen to provide additional interactions with the driver. As Skuler also told me, the company is already working with another automotive company to bring its Q platform to more cars, though he wasn’t ready to disclose this second automotive partner.
“Intuition Robotics is creating disruptive technology that will inspire companies to re-imagine how machines might amplify the human experience,” said Jim Adler, founding managing partner at Toyota AI Ventures, who will also join the company’s board of directors.
Intuition Robotics’ team doubled over the course of the last year and the company now has 85 employees, most of whom are engineers. The company has offices in Israel and San Francisco.
Unsurprisingly, the plans for the new funding focus on building out its assistant’s capabilities. “We’re the only company in the world that can create these context-based, nonlinear personalized interactions that we call a digital companion,” Skuler told me. “We assume people will start doing similar things. There’s a lot more work to do. […] A big part of the work is to increase our research activities and increase the tools and the performance of the runtime engine for the agent.” He also told me that the team continues to gather data about ElliQ so it can prove that it improves the quality of life of its users. And in addition to this, the company obviously also will continue to build out its work around cars.
“We cracked something nobody’s cracked before,” Skuler said. “And now we’re on the verge of getting value out of it. And it will be hard work because this is not an app. It’s really hard work but we want to capture that value.”
As AI permeates the home, work, and public life, it’s increasingly important to be able to understand why and how it makes its decisions. Explainable AI isn’t just a matter of hitting a switch, though; Experts from UC Berkeley, SRI, and Fiddler Labs will discuss how we should go about it on stage at TC Sessions: Robotics+AI on March 3.
What does explainability really mean? Do we need to start from scratch? How do we avoid exposing proprietary data and methods? Will there be a performance hit? Whose responsibility will it be, and who will ensure it is done properly?
On our panel addressing these questions and more will be two experts, one each from academia and private industry.
Trevor Darrell is a professor at Berkeley’s Computer Science department who helps lead many of the university’s AI-related labs and projects, especially those concerned with the next generation of smart transportation. His research group focuses on perception and human-AI interaction, and he previously led a computer vision group at MIT.
Krishna Gade has passed in his time through Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Microsoft, and has seen firsthand how AI is developed privately — and how biases and flawed processes can lead to troubling results. He co-founded Fiddler as an effort to address problems of fairness and transparency by providing an explainable AI framework for enterprise.
Moderating and taking part in the discussion will be SRI International’s Karen Myers, director of the research outfit’s Artificial Intelligence Center and an AI developer herself focused on collaboration, automation, and multi-agent systems.
Save $50 on tickets when you book today. Ticket prices go up at the door and are selling fast. We have two (yes two) Startup Demo Packages Left – book your package now and get your startup in front of 1000+ of today’s leading industry minds. Packages come with 4 tickets – book here.
Are you a student enthralled by robots and the AI that powers them? Do you live within striking distance of UC Berkeley? Ready to learn from the greatest minds and makers in the field? Then we want you at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 on March 3 at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.
We’re investing in the next generation of makers by making our day-long conference super-affordable. Buy your $50 student pass right here.
If you’re not familiar with our Robotics/AI session, listen up. It’s a full day of interviews, panel discussions, Q&As, workshops and demos. And it’s all dedicated to these two world-changing technologies. Last year, we hosted 1,500 attendees. We’re talking the industries’ top leaders, founders, investors, technologists, executives and engineering students.
As a student, you’ll rub elbows with the greats. You’ll have ample time to learn and network. Who knows? You might impress the pants off the right person and land an internship, a prime job — or find the co-founder of your dreams.
If networking feels like a chore, never fear. CrunchMatch, our free business matching platform, removes the pain and adds efficiency. Win-win!
You’ll hear from our great slate of speakers, including VCs Eric Migicovsky (Y Combinator), Kelly Chen (DCVC) and Dror Berman (Innovation Endeavors). You’ll also hear from plenty of founders, including experts focused on agricultural, construction and human assistive robotics. And that’s just for starters.
Here are a few more examples of presentations you’ll find in our program agenda:
TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020 takes place on March 3. We’re making the event affordable for students, because there’s no future tech without them. Invest $50 in your tomorrow — buy your student ticket today, and join us in Berkeley!
Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: Robotics + AI 2020? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.
After years of development, an exciting new scientific research spacecraft has launched on its journey to study our solar system’s central player: the Sun. The Solar Orbiter, developed jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and built by Airbus, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sunday night, launching as planned at 11:03 PM EST (8:03 PM PST).
Solar Orbiter launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, feating a special, unique configuration of the launch vehicle designed specifically to get the nearly 4,000 lb observation craft off Earth and onto its target path to eventually approach the Sun. The Atlas V used for this launch was configured with a payload fairing 13 feet in diameter to accommodate the Orbiter, and used a single solid rocket motor to provide the necessary propulsive power.
From here, Solar Obiter embarks on a journey that will take just over a year and a half, and include two close passes to Venus and Earth in order to take advantage of their gravitational pull to propel the spacecraft towards its target destination while conserving as much fuel as possible. After it swings by those two bodies to gain momentum, it’ll end up in an orbit around the sun with a close approach distance of just 26 million miles – still about 100 times as far as the Moon is from Earth, but so close that temperatures at their peak at the spacecraft will reach nearly 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Solar Orbiter’s mission sees it orbiting the Sun for at least seven years, gathering data about what’s going on in the star’s heliosphere, which is roughly equivalent to Earth’s atmosphere in that it surrounds the Sun. These findings should shed new light on what goes on in the heliosphere, which will definitely be advantageous for scientific study of our solar companion, but they could also provide new information that leads to better understanding of so-called ‘space weather,’ which includes things like solar storms and flares that actually impact the proper functioning of infrastructure including communications and navigation technology back on Earth.
Onboard Solar Orbiter, there are 10 instruments to measure various phenomena and gather different types of information from the Sun, including permeating ultraviolet imaging and taking measurements from the solar wind that radiates off the star. All of these instruments had to be hardened to withstand not only those extremely high temperatures from the Orbiter’s closest approach to the Sun, but also down to nearly -300 degrees Fahrenheit, which is an amazing engineering challenge when you’re dealing with instrumentation designed to detect very fine detail. They’ll be protected in part by a heat shield made of titanium and covered with a calcium phosphate coating that will absorb most of the 1,000-degree temperatures, however, resulting in a more tolerable range of between 4 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the actual instruments themselves.
Solar Orbiter won’t be alone in its study of the Sun: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched in 2018, will be simultaneously in solar orbit, gathering solar gas samples and providing information which can be used in tandem with data provided by Solar Orbiter for a more complete picture of what’s going on at the center of our solar system.
U.K. startup Daye is rethinking female intimate care from a woman’s perspective, starting with a tampon infused with cannabidiol that tackles period pain.
It’s also quietly demolishing the retrograde approach to product design that women are still subjected to in the mass market “femcare” space — an anti-philosophy that not only peddles stale and sexist stereotypes, but also can harm women’s bodies.
Those perfumed sanitary pads stinking out the supermarket shelf? Whomever came up with that idea has obviously never experienced thrush or bacterial vaginosis. Nor spoken to a health professional who could have told them vaginal infections can be triggered by perfumed products.
The missing link: There are few people with a vagina in positions leading product strategy. And that’s the disruptive opportunity female-led femcare businesses like Daye are closing in on.
The Index Ventures-backed startup is shaking up a tired category by selling the flip-side: thoughtfully designed products for period care that first do no harm and second take aim at actual problems women have — starting with dysmenorrhea. The overarching strand is building community — to help women better understand what’s going on with their bodies and reinforce shifting product expectations in the process.
We chatted with Index principal Hannah Seal about the fund’s investment in Daye, and to get her thoughts more broadly on a new generation of female-focused startups that are driving long-overdue innovation.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The expanding scope of fintech has been well documented in these digital pages. Payments, investing, financial planning and lending often spring to mind as “classic” fintech startups, but other business models like regtech, compliance, human resources and marketing are on the ascent.
For passionate and talented founders, the tireless pursuit of building innovative technology is critical and fundamental. That said, to be successful in financial services, significant time and effort needs to be dedicated to other business fundamentals: corporate setup, privacy and security. The financial services customer base presents unique challenges for fintech startups as the regulatory and operational requirements for third-party vendor assessment and management are, in comparison to most other industries, brutal. Issues that might go overlooked during the early stages of product design and team-building could turn into obstacles during the sales process.
Understanding the dynamics of the financial services procurement process is essential if you want to negotiate it as quickly and seamlessly as possible. And before diving head-first into the development of your killer fintech app, consider the following questions:
Launched at CES 2020, NURVV, a biomechanics startup, has closed a $9m Series A round, led by Hiro Capital, the sports/Esports VC fund, along with co-investment from Ian Livingstone CBE (Games Workshop co-founder) and Cherry Freeman (co-founder of LoveCrafts).
It turns out that if you can figure out how to protect a smartphone from smashing, you can also work out how high a basketball player can jump.
Jason Roberts founded Tech21, one of the world’s leading smartphone case manufacturers. He and his co-founder and wife Ulrica have now used that knowledge to launch new wearable tech product, which, when inserted into the sole of a shoe, can measure the strike of a foot on the ground, or the leap of its wearer.
The wearable uses 32 sensors fitted inside lightweight insoles to capture data from the feet at 1,000 times per second, per sensor.
The money will be used to bring NURVV’s debut product, NURVV Run, to a global market and fund further R&D.
Featured among the best lists of Wired, CNET and Gear Patrol, the wearable has also been tested by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory over the past three years,
It can measure running metrics such as cadence, step length, footstrike, pronation and balance, feeding the data into the NURVV Run coaching app to show a picture of the wearer’s running technique, and thus helping runners improve their technique and pace.
While runners are already able to collect a huge amount of data about their run, the data is always after the run. Jason Roberts, founder and CEO, says NURVV Run captures a runner’s metrics “directly from the point of action at the foot, before using live coaching to help them improve in a simple, easy-to-understand way.”
Speaking to TechCrunch, Jason Roberts told me that the technology built into the sole is more “accurate than watches for steps, strides or energy dissipated. It will even detect when you are injured.”
He said “you could even broadcast a player’s live steps. Imagine if you could see that data from basketball?”
Co-founder Ulrica Roberts added: “We kept coming back to the same question: ‘Why is running measured from the wrist, when most of the important metrics happen at the feet?… We sought out the expertise to make it happen.”
Luke Alvarez, managing Partner of Hiro, said in a statement: “Hiro is delighted to be investing in NURVV as our Fund’s fourth deal and our first Sports tech investment. NURVV’s success comes from putting the athlete’s body at the heart of everything they do. Nurvv is based on fundamental patented sensor technologies combined with deep biomechanics and data science that have revolutionary potential across sports, gaming, VR/AR and wellness. Jason and Ulrica are extraordinary entrepreneurs and we are excited to be working with them and their team to take NURVV to the next level.”
The activist investment firm Elliott Management has steadily amassed a $2.5 billion stake in the headline-grabbing, Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank even as a series of missteps battered the company’s share price.
Famous for its investments in companies like Slack and Uber and infamous for betting billions on the co-working real estate marketplace and development company, WeWork, SoftBank presented an enticing target for Elliott’s brand of financial speculation, according to an initial report in The Wall Street Journal.
Those losses sent the stock price tumbling, but despite its troubles, SoftBank still holds a vast stable of portfolio companies. It’s those assets that Elliott Management thinks are appealing enough to carve out some of its $34 billion in assets under management for a minority stake.
“Elliott’s substantial investment in SoftBank Group reflects its strong conviction that the market significantly undervalues SoftBank’s portfolio of assets,” a spokesperson for the firm wrote in an email. “Elliott has engaged privately with SoftBank’s leadership and is working constructively on solutions to help SoftBank materially and sustainably reduce its discount to intrinsic value.”
SoftBank made waves in the technology investment world with its massive $100 billion Vision fund, which was designed to take stakes in emerging technology companies that required lots of cash, but could potentially transform various industries.
The audacious investment strategy was financed by working with sovereign wealth funds like the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund (whose principals are linked to a leadership known for ordering the assassination of journalists) and companies like Apple and Microsoft.
Through its limited partners and with its own cash, SoftBank was able to take large equity stakes in companies across a range of different industries. However, it now appears that those large equity stakes will be difficult to maintain or justify.
Over the last year, several of SoftBank’s portfolio companies have run into trouble, and it’s an open question whether any changes Elliott might be able to effect at the top of the organization would have an impact on the performance of the underlying portfolio.
Indeed, given SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son’s 22% ownership stake in the business, any corporate activism that Elliott may initiate or advocate for could have limited results.
There are good businesses in the SoftBank portfolio, and public investors have rushed in to buy the company’s stock on the back of the disclosure of Elliott Management’s investment.
However, the flood of capital that came into the venture market in 2018 seems to have crested, which could leave SoftBank and its new investors soaked.
When Flavia Deutsch and Paula Crespi were raising a groundbreaking $1.7 million seed round for their parenting startup in Brazil, they had to turn away male investors.
“The men were already writing us checks, but the women — we had to convince them,” Deutsch explained of the seed round for Theia, which ended the year as the largest all-female founded company raise in Latin America. “For every male investor we had, we wanted one female investor as well,” Deutsch said. And for good reason.
Many studies have established that female-founded companies outperform their all-male counterparts. Boston Consulting Group reports that for every dollar a female founder or co-founder raises, she generates 2.5X more revenue than a male founder.1 First Round Capital’s research held that the female-founded companies it backed performed 63% better than all-male founding teams.2 The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s showed that return on investment from women-led teams is 35% higher than their all-male counterparts.3AllRaise, a nonprofit promoting women in VC, found that “companies with women on their founding teams are likely to exit at least one year faster compared to the rest of the market, and the number of exits for companies with at least one female founder is growing at a faster rate year-over-year than exits for companies with only male founders.”4 Jen Neundorfer, founding partner at Jane VC, succinctly explains her fund’s thesis of investing in female founders as, “investing in an overlooked asset class that is overperforming.” After all, it’s a “trillion-dollar opportunity.”5
And in the 2020s, much of that opportunity will be in emerging markets. The first year that the largest IPOs globally came from emerging markets was 2017. Since then, it has been a straight line up and to the right. Nazar Yasin, who invests in emerging markets as the founder of Rise Capital, says, “this trend isn’t going away.” Given that most GDP growth now coming from emerging markets, where most global internet users live, “the future of market capitalization growth in the internet sector globally belongs to emerging markets.”
And it just may belong to the women who start companies there.
New data from Gene Teare at Crunchbase shows that Latin America currently takes the global lead in investment dollars directed to women.
In 2019, investments into mixed female-male founding teams represented 16% of dollars invested in Latin America, 9% in the U.S. and only 8% in Europe.
This number includes a $400 million Series F into Nubank, the Brazilian challenger bank co-founded by Cristina Junqueira, who was — not for the first time — pregnant at the time of the raise. Junqueira is not only the female co-founder currently leading the largest neobank in the world, she is also the female co-founder currently leading the world’s largest venture-backed company.
Overall, total investment dollars into both mixed male-female teams and female-only teams represented 17% of total dollars invested in Latin America, 13% in the U.S. and 9% in Europe.
In terms of deal volume, mixed female-male founded teams make up 15% of investments in 2019 in Latin America, in comparison with 14% in the U.S. and 11% in Europe. One contributor is fintech. In Latin America, 35% of fintech companies have a female co-founder, 5X more than the global average of 7%.6
That said, in terms of funding all-female teams, the U.S. still leads. In Latin America, the women-only teams made up 4% of investment deals in 2019, on par with Europe but behind the U.S. average of 8%.
Read the conclusion, Women are the secret ingredient in Latin America’s outsized returns, on Extra Crunch.
Antler is a “company builder” that emerged a couple of years ago, running startup generator programs and investing from an early stage, bringing a heady mix of technologists, product builders and operators together with its own technology stack.
Now, plenty of “company builders” have come and gone. It’s a bit like Apocalypse Now: everyone goes in thinking they will come up with the major formula to spit out startups at a prodigious rate and they come out screaming “The Horror! The Horror!”
But Antler appears to have been on an interesting run. It has so far made more than 120 investments across a wide range of companies, with several going on to raise later-stage funding from the likes of Sequoia, Golden Gate Ventures, East Ventures, Venturra Capital and the Hustle Fund.
Since its launch in Singapore two years ago, Antler now has a presence across New York, London, Singapore, Sydney, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Nairobi and Oslo.
Today, it’s announcing that it has attracted investment from British investment management company Schroders, investment house FinTech Collective and Ferd, the vehicle used by Johan H. Andresen, the Norwegian industrialist and investor.
This latest investment takes the capital raised by Antler over the past six months to more than $75 million.
These investors join an existing group that includes Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, Canica International and Credit Saison, the third-largest credit card issuer in Japan. The idea here is that these investors get exposure to early-stage companies as they are built.
As with most company builders and accelerators, Antler only takes 1-1.5% of the applicants
Its portfolio includes Sampingan, an on-demand workforce in Indonesia; Xailient, a computer vision technology; Airalo, a global e-sims marketplace; and FusedBone, which enables medical centers to produce bespoke, non-metal implants on-site.
Magnus Grimeland, Antler co-founder and CEO said: “With our support, our founders start refining their ideas and building new and innovative businesses. What is equally important is the deep relationship our founders build with their peers, our advisors and backers. Having accomplished investors like Schroders, Ferd and FinTech Collective on board means we can provide a more valuable network for our startups as they grow their businesses.”
Peter Harrison, Group CEO of Schroders, who will also be joining Antler’s advisory board, said: “We are in a period of unprecedented change. The visibility on venture capital activity and innovation that Antler provides is therefore leading-edge.”
Antler says more than 40% of its portfolio companies have a female co-founder and 78% of these have a female CEO.