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GitHub today announced that it will start publishing a public roadmap to help its users understand when it will ship new features across its various versions of the GitHub code repository and products like GitHub Actions, its mobile app and its security tools. “What we’re trying to do is provide a way for people to see what’s coming, join in that dialogue and give us feedback and be able to collaborate with us,” GitHub’s SVP of Product Shanku Niyogi told me. He also noted that as the company’s enterprise business has grown, the need for customers to be able to prepare for what’s coming next has also increased. Until now, GitHub often provided this information to some of its larger customers directly (through good old slide decks), but that same information will now be available to all. To Niyogi, this is essentially about “building GitHub more the way that people build software on GitHub already.” Image Credits: GitHub Unsurprisingly then, the roadmap lives in a GitHub repo. Everything will be tagged based on the feature, the product it affects and its development stage. Over time, GitHub plans to attach more artifacts to every item, including screenshots, for example. The company is also using its own product to give users the ability to give feedback through GitHub’s recently launched Discussions feature, for example. Image Credits: GitHub In its current iteration, the roadmap looks about a year ahead. “We’re not going to necessarily go throw things on here that we’re looking at five, six years ahead,” Niyogi said. “But as things start to kind of get into that horizon for us, we’ll have that. As happens with software development, you can always expect changes, so we want to be comfortable with that.” Users can also sign up for notifications when anything on the roadmap changes. The new roadmap is now live on GitHub. GitHub gets a built-in IDE with Codespaces, discussion forums and more    

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Spotify announced today it’s updating its recently launched shared-queue feature, Group Session, to support remote usage.  Essentially a “party mode,” the feature first debuted in May, offering a way for participants contribute to a collaborative playlist in real-time and control what’s playing across everyone’s devices. Spotify explained at the time that, despite social distancing measures, the feature could still be useful to small groups, like families quarantining together, for example. But today’s update brings Group Session into the COVID-19 era where people continue to spend apart. Now, Premium users will be able to tune into the same playlist or podcast together at the same time, even if they’re not in the same place. Before, users would have to be in the same physical space for the feature to work. It had also involved a barcode users would scan with their own device to add to the party playlist. Now, groups of two to five people can join a remote Group Session by clicking on a “join” link sent out via messaging apps, SMS, or social media from the Group Session’s host. This link is accessed from the “Connect” menu in the bottom-left corner of the play screen in the Spotify app. From here, the host scrolls down to the option “Start a Group Session” to get the link to share with friends or family. Invited participants can click the link or scan the Spotify code, as before, to join in the session. Once in, hosts and guests can pause, play, skip and select tracks on the queue or add in their own choices. As one person makes a change to the Group Session, it’s immediately reflected on all participant’s devices. Group Session had been spotted in development last year, well before the coronavirus outbreak arrived. It was originally envisioned as a feature that could tempt Spotify’s more social users – like party-goers or college roommates, for example — to upgrade to a Premium subscription in order to join in the fun of being able to add to and control the shared queue. But with social distancing measures still in place, few people have need for a party mode feature today. Likely, Spotify saw the feature was under-utilized due to its requirement for users to be together in person, so expanded it to include remote usage. However, the bigger limitation is that Group Session is limited to Premium subscribers. In practice, that means many of the people who have time to sit around and (virtually) hang out with friends listening to music — often, young people on free accounts — can’t even try it. Instead, Group Session should allow free users the ability to participate on these collaborative playlists, but to a lesser extent than paid subscribers. That would allow all of Spotify’s users to try out the addition, but still deliver a push to upgrade to those who found the Group Session feature useful. The company could even tie the Group Session to a paid video ad experience that allowed users to participate for a limited period of time, after first viewing a sponsor’s message. The Group Session option continues to be in public beta, which means it’s still being tested and developed. Spotify says the feature is available globally to all Premium users today.

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For the past 10 years, Disrupt has been a place for the tech community to come together to connect and learn. And while thousands of techies won’t be able to descend on the Moscone Center this year, the Disrupt show will most certainly go on. On the conference’s 10th anniversary, we’re coming to you virtually. This makes Disrupt 2020 the most accessible Disrupt ever. But just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean that the fundamentals of the show will change. Disrupt attendees will, of course, have full access to the Disrupt stage and the Extra Crunch stage, as well as virtual networking, interactive Q&A, a digital Startup Alley, and more. We’ll also be delivering sessions focused on Europe and Asia that are friendly for their respective time zones. More to be announced on that soon! Some things have changed. For one, the show is running for five days instead of three, and each day will be shorter, running from 9:00am PT to approximately 1:30pm PT. We’ve built networking time directly into the agenda, and as with past years, CrunchMatch (our system for matching investors with entrepreneurs and connecting all attendees) will be running throughout the whole show. New this year are sessions where venture capitalists evaluate and suggest fixes for Disrupt 2020 attendees pitch decks. More information about the Pitch Deck Teardown is found here. We have some amazing speakers booked for this year, with more to be announced soon. Today, we’d like to share with you a first look at the Disrupt 2020 agenda. More speakers will be added to this agenda, but we couldn’t resist giving you a peek under the hood. Take a look! Monday, September 14 Love In The Time of COVID-19 with Whitney Wolfe-Herd (Bumble) Whitney Wolfe Herd was on the founding team at Tinder before charting her own course with Bumble. The dating app, which currently has more than 100 million users, puts the brand front and center. In the past year, following a scandal at parent company Badoo, Wolfe Herd has taken the reigns of the entire Magic Lab corporation, which owns Badoo, Bumble, Lumen and Chappy dating apps. Hear from Wolfe Herd about the future of online dating and how she’s stayed down to earth during her meteoric rise to the top of the dating industry. Disrupt Stage  How to Raise Money in a Dumpster Fire with Anu Hariharan (Y Combinator), Garry Tan (Initialized Capital), and Hans Tung (GGV Capital) Garry Tan started his first company, Posterous in 2008, so the Initialized Capital co-founder knows a thing or two about economic crises and how they can affect fundraising. Hans Tung, GGV’s Midas-list dealmaker has seen downturns on three continents in his tenure investing in the US, China, and Latin America for the globe-spanning investment firm, while Anu Hariharan has spent the last decade putting companies through their paces at BCG, A16Z, and most recently, YC. They’ll be delivering the goods on how to get that gelt during this raging dumpster fire of a year. Extra Crunch Stage  The Business of Quantum with Alan Baratz (D-Wave Systems), Peter Chapman (IonQ), and Itamar Sivan (Quantum Machines) Quantum computing is having a moment. We now have limited but working hardware available from a number of vendors and there is a growing startup ecosystem that is creating a novel hardware approach and a new class of software tools to run these machines and program them. In this panel, we’ll talk about what’s next for quantum computing, the challenges ahead and the roles startups play in fulfilling the promise of this technology. Disrupt Stage Planning for Your Startup’s Exit: The How’s and the When’s with Tracy Young (Coyote Family) and Michelle Zatlyn (Cloudflare) When Cloudflare IPO’d last year it certainly wasn’t the end of its 10 year journey, and nor was it PlanGrid’s when it was acquired by Autodesk in 2018. Cloudflare’s Michelle Zatlyn and PlanGrid’s Tracy Young will guide us through both their respective company’s journey and their own as founders. Extra Crunch Stage  Pitch Deck Teardown with Charles Hudson (Precursor Ventures) and Aileen Lee (Cowboy Ventures)  Talk through the nuts and bolts of what makes a great deck (or not) with top investors as they go through your submitted pitches live on stage. Extra Crunch Stage  Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 1 TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Battlefield Cup and $100,000. Disrupt Stage Zooming Into the Future with Eric Yuan (Zoom) Zoom has not only replaced the office meeting room, but the family dinner table and local bar as well. Hear from Eric Yuan, Zoom’s founder CEO, about how his company has handled historic growth thanks to COVID-19, and what’s next for the popular enterprise, and consumer brand. Disrupt Stage  How Things Get Built in the Middle of a Pandemic with Kate Whitcomb (Chrysalis Cloud), Steven Yang (Anker), and speaker to be announced How has COVID-19 impacted how and where the stuff we use gets built? We’ll hear from Anker CEO Steven Yang and Chrysalis Cloud CEO/former HAX Partner Kate Whitcomb to learn more about how the world of manufacturing has had to adapt in 2020 and what might lay ahead. Extra Crunch Stage  How to Scale a Tech-Powered Non-Profit with Tiffani Ashley Bell (The Human Utility) We speak to Tiffani Ashley Bell, founder of The Human Utility, on what it took to build a platform that helps people pay their water bills and how tech-powered nonprofits should think about scaling for social impact. Extra Crunch Stage  Tuesday, September 15 Getting to $100M ARR with Vineet Jain (Egnyte), Sid Sijbrandij (GitLab), and Michal Tsur (Kaltura) TechCrunch speaks with three private companies that have reached the $100 million ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue) mark. We’ll explore what they had to break, and rebuild in their companies as they scaled, and what they learned as they left the early-stages of startup life and built companies that are nearly ready to go public. Extra Crunch Stage  Looking into the Future with Roelof Botha (Sequoia Capital) Botha is the U.S. head of Sequoia Capital. It’s a powerful position but it also comes with great responsibility, including to help steer the company’s portfolio companies through the pandemic and its ripple effects. Hear how Botha is advising founders and why, even in trying times, he expects startup founders to reshape the world. Disrupt Stage  How to Craft your Pitch Deck for 2020 with Ann Miura-Ko (Floodgate), Lo Toney (Plexo Capital), and speaker to be announced  Today you might be pitching by email, audio, video, VR or IRL to all types of investors across the globe. How do you tell your story in a way that reaches the right people the right way without you diverting too much time from building your company? The traditional deck of powerpoint slides still has a place, but you need to manage many more opportunities for fundraising, too. We’ll talk through the latest tactics that founders are using around the world. Extra Crunch Stage  Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 2 TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Battlefield Cup and $100,000.  Disrupt Stage  Pitch Deck Teardown with Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst) and Megan Quinn (Niantic) Talk through the nuts and bolts of what makes a great deck (or not) with top investors as they go through your submitted pitches live on stage. Extra Crunch Stage  How to Raise Your First Dollars with Alexa von Tobel (Inspired Capital Partners), Hunter Walk (Homebrew), and Ted Wang (Cowboy Ventures) Deciding how to go about getting your initial funding is always a tricky subject, as the wrong move could adversely impact your young company. In this session we’ll hear from experts who’ve shepherded multiple companies from the earliest to the latest fundraises. Extra Crunch Stage The Next Generation of Media with Morgan DeBaun (Blavity) and Angie Nwandu (The Shade Room) Blavity and The Shade Room have both demonstrated that Black audiences are looking for digital publishers who speak to their experiences and interests. We’ll talk to their founders about how they did it, how they’re building scalable businesses and how other publications can do a better job of reaching diverse audiences.  Disrupt Stage  How to Find the Right Users as the World Burns with Brian Balfour (Reforge), Elliot Robinson (Bessemer Venture Partners), and Susan Su (Sound Ventures) Users in 2020 are split across more and more platforms and splintered by geographies. They’re also jaded about marketing and have less money than before the pandemic. So how do you find the right customers and audience members to build a business with your limited time and budget? Hear from the experts on big growth marketing trends and cutting-edge tactics in key acquisition channels including SEO, social, email and more. Extra Crunch Stage  In the Big Leagues with Delane Parnell (PlayVS) In a few short years, PlayVS has put eSports leagues in high schools across the country, partnering with gaming giants and school systems. The startup has raised $96 million with founder Delane Parnell at the helm, now they’re looking to expand their ambitions. With traditional high school athletic programs likely to be deeply impacted by COVID-19, will eSports see even greater adoption? Disrupt Stage Wednesday, September 16 Making Bank with Mitchell Elegbe (Interswitch) In 2002 Mitchell Elegbe founded digital finance startup Interswitch to connect Nigeria’s banking system. More than a decade later, his company is valued at over $1 billion and supports billions in digital payment activity across Africa. Interswitch is poised to become Africa’s first major fintech firm to list on a major exchange. Elegbe will discuss the future of digital finance and IPOs coming from Africa. Disrupt Stage  The Changing Landscape of Property Tech with Connie Chan (Andreessen Horowitz), Merritt Hummer (Bain Capital Ventures), and Brendan Wallace (Fifth Wall) Connie Chan, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, Merritt Hummer of Bain Capital Ventures and Brendan Wallace, co-founder and managing partner at Fifth Wall are at the center of these changes. These investors will discuss the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in property tech as well as advice for startups in the industry. Extra Crunch Stage  Little Wires Everywhere with Kerry Washington  Kerry Washington is perhaps best known for her work in Hollywood, but she’s been making a name for herself in tech over the last few years. An investor in The Wing, Community and teeth-straightening service Byte, Washington’s portfolio consists of products and services that aim to give people a voice or improve their quality of life. In this fireside chat, Washington will discuss what brought her into the tech industry, her investment strategy and the rise of streaming platforms. And, as an activist and someone who has spoken up about the lack of diversity in Hollywood, Washington will share her views on diversity, inclusion and equity in tech.  Disrupt Stage  Building a Startup During the “Work From Home” Revolution with Sarah Cannon (Index Ventures), Sarah Guo (Greylock), and Dave Munichiello (GV) We’re delighted to bring together a trio of the world’s best expert investors on the topic and explore this critical trend further. Sarah Cannon is a partner at Index Ventures where she has backed such team productivity tools as Notion, focused messaging app Quill, and Pitch. Next we have Sarah Guo, who is a general partner at Greylock where she has invested in Clubhouse, family benefits platform Cleo and several cybersecurity companies. Finally, Dave Munichiello will join. He is a general partner at GV who has backed Slack, GitLab, Plaid, and a whole lot of other well-known enterprise startups. Extra Crunch Stage  CRISPR in the Post-COVID Era with Jennifer Doudna (UC Berkeley) What has the global COVID-19 pandemic changed about the biotech industry in general, and CRISPR in particular? Dr. Jennifer Doudna, who co-discovered the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technique, joins us to discuss the immediate and lasting implications of the novel coronavirus and transformations in genetic science. Disrupt Stage  Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 3 TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Battlefield Cup and $100,000. Disrupt Stage  Pitch Deck Teardown with Cyan Banister (Long Journey Ventures) Talk through the nuts and bolts of what makes a great deck (or not) with top investors as they go through your submitted pitches live on stage. Extra Crunch Stage How Voice Computing Conquered the World with Rohit Prasad and Toni Reid (Amazon) Amazon’s Alexa creators and heads Rohit Prasad and Toni Reid will join us to discuss the voice assistant’s rise from curiosity to ubiquitous computing platform. The pair will discuss life beyond the smart speaker and where voice computing goes from here. Disrupt Stage  How to Build a Service Marketplace with Andy Fang (DoorDash) and speaker to be announced  Building service marketplaces require companies to serve all sides of the ecosystem, or at least have an understanding of the ecosystem as a whole. In this panel, we’ll explore how to deliver on the value proposition for your customers, business partners and delivery partners, if you have them. DoorDash is a perfect example of running a service marketplace, and its co-founder and CTO Andy Fang is here to tell you how. Extra Crunch Stage  Daphne Koller’s Push to Marry Big Data to Big Pharma (Insitro) Drug discovery and testing is a complex, fraught process that modern computing methods promise to reinvent — but only with the right data, the right tools, and the right people (and a lot of money). Coursera and Calico veteran Daphne Koller thinks she has all the right ingredients in her new company Insitro. Disrupt Stage  The Black Founder Experience: Tactical Advice for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs with Michael Seibel (Y Combinator) and speakers to be announced How does the startup experience differ for founders from underrepresented groups? What are the biggest ongoing challenges, and how can they be tackled? We’ll hear from Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel and two soon-to-be-announced YC founders on their experiences starting companies and raising money as Black entrepreneurs.  Extra Crunch Stage  What’s Next for Atlassian with Mike Cannon-Brookes (Atlassian) Atlassian’s tools have become ubiquitous for software teams around the world, but in today’s world, its collaboration tools also play a wider role inside of many companies. We’ll talk to the company’s co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes about life after the company’s successful IPO and how he plans to stay ahead of the next set of trends in software development. Disrupt Stage  Thursday, September 17 Greenlighting a New Generation of Storytellers with Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Tyler Mitchell (Imagine Impact) Yes, that Ron Howard. One of the world’s most successful actors, directors and producers and legendary producer Brian Grazer have created some of the most iconic films and television shows of the last 35 years (Empire, Arrested Development, and The Da Vinci Code to name a few). But entertainment — like tech — is all about disruption. So, to tap into how it will be created and delivered in the future, the pair have teamed up with Tyler Mitchell for Imagine Impact, Silicon Valley-style accelerators where promising writers connect with mentors to build their stories and take them to the next step — whatever that might be. Imagine Impact signed a deal in June with Netflix to expand that pipeline, so come hear about what else they have planned, and what the three of them think about YouTubers, TikTok and the future of the feature. Disrupt Stage The Future of SaaS with Maha Ibrahim (Canaan Partners), David Ulevitch (Andreessen Horowitz), and Mike Volpi (Index Ventures) In 2020 SaaS companies have seen their values drop sharply, and rebound even more quickly. TechCrunch is chatting with a few VCs with deep insight into the SaaS world to talk about which startups are accelerating, lagging, or breaking out. And we’ll explore what’s changed in terms of venture expectations for SaaS companies, and what makes them stand out from their peers when it comes to placing bets. Extra Crunch Stage How Embedded Finance Represents the Future of Fintech with Hope Cochran (Madrona Venture Group), Ruth Foxe-Blader (Anthemis Group) and Zach Perret (Plaid) The fintech industry has had a wild couple of years. Consumer fintech startups have been massively successful and managed to attract millions of customers. At the same time, enterprise companies have created the infrastructure that will make finance truly digital, from payments to API-driven integrations and risk assessment. In this panel, we’ll talk about what’s next for the fintech industry. Will tech companies all become fintech companies at some point with embedded financial products? Will new tech giants thrive by powering those embedded financial products? Extra Crunch Stage Putting Robots to Work with Robert Playter (Boston Dynamics)  In his first public speaking engagement since becoming the CEO of Boston Dynamics, Robert Playter will discuss the company’s transition from research robotics darlings to commercial production. As an employee for more than 25 years, Playter has unique insight into the company’s growth and plans to help robots become an increasingly important driver of our daily lives. Disrupt Stage  Pitch Deck Teardown with Roelof Botha (Sequoia Capital) and Susan Lyne (BBG Ventures) Talk through the nuts and bolts of what makes a great deck (or not) with top investors as they go through your submitted pitches live on stage. Extra Crunch Stage  Startup Battlefield Competition – Session 4 TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Battlefield Cup and $100,000. Disrupt Stage  How to Iterate Your Product with Oded Gal (Zoom), Eugene Wei, Tamar Yehoshua (Slack), and Julie Zhuo (Inspirit) If getting insights on product development from current and former product heads at places like Facebook, Zoom, Slack, and Oculus doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in just get out of tech now. Leave. It’s over. Go work in an insurance company. Get your brokers license. Just do something else. Extra Crunch Stage How to Build an Alternative Company with Seth Besmertnik (Conductor), Aniyia Williams (Zebras Unite), and Hays Witt (Driver’s Seat Cooperative) Beyond raising traditional venture capital and beyond the pursuing-growth-at-all-costs strategy, there are people in the startup ecosystem that are finding success through less mainstream avenues. Conductor CEO Seth Besmertnik, Driver’s Seat CEO Hays Witt and Aniyia Williams of Black & Brown Founders and Zebras Unite, are three of these people. These founders have all taken alternative approaches in their entrepreneurial journeys, whether that’s been forming as a cooperative, buying back a startup from a tech giant and then turning it into a majority employee-owned operation or converting into a cooperative fund that invests in startups tackling social issues. In this discussion, you’ll learn how to build a company that puts profits and users first, and VCs last. Extra Crunch Stage  Friday, September 18 The State of Venture with Dayna Grayson (Construct Capital), Renata Quintini (Renegade Partners), and Lo Toney (Plexo Capital) All three of these VCs hail from among the most powerful investing firms in the country — Lux Capital, GV and NEA. Yet each made the bold choice to strike out on their own, adding to a growing and diverse landscape of investment vehicles across the globe. Hear about why they did it,  and learn about the trends that they’re funding as they build their businesses. Disrupt Stage  Making Cents of EdTech in the Coronavirus Era with Mercedes Bent (Lightspeed Venture Partners), Jennifer Carolan (Reach Capital), and Ian Chiu (Owl Ventures) Edtech has been thrown into the spotlight during COVID-19. But did a scramble to adopt and surge in usage impact the sector for better or for worse? In this session, we’ll hear from investors who have bets in the biggest edtech companies on how the landscape has changed during the pandemic, and what they’re most excited for ahead. Extra Crunch Stage   Keeping Big Tech in Check with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren  Few know Silicon Valley better than one of its longest-serving lawmakers, Rep. Zoe Lofgren. Both as a defender and critic, Lofgren has led the effort to keep Big Tech in check, not just for her electorate but their internet users around the world. We’ll talk policy, privacy, and other hot-button issues affecting Silicon Valley, now and in the future. Disrupt Stage How to Reinvent Your Sales Team in 2020 with Brian Ascher (Venrock), Pete Kazanjy (Atrium), and Jill Rowley (Stage 2 Capital) We’re bringing together the smartest leaders on sales in the Valley to discuss tactics and more. Brian Ascher is a partner at Venrock where for more than two decades he has invested in B2B sales-driven companies like 6Sense, Socrates AI, and Dynamic Signal. Next, Pete Kazanjy is one of the leading startup authorities on sales through his written works like “Founding Sales” and community building while also founding sales performance platform Atrium HQ. Finally, we have Jill Rowley, who has spent decades advising startups on sales and was also an early employee at Salesforce and Eloqua. Extra Crunch Stage  Startup Battlefield Competition – Final TechCrunch’s iconic startup competition is back, as entrepreneurs from around the world pitch expert judges and vie for the Battlefield Cup and $100,000. Disrupt Stage Building a Low-Code Unicorn with Howie Liu (Airtable)  Low-code/no-code has been a buzzword for years now, but few companies have taken this idea to its logical conclusion the way Airtable has with its spreadsheet-like interface. With a valuation of over $1 billion, the company is now at the forefront of this movement. We’ll talk to Airtable co-founder and CEO Howie Liu about building a user-friendly low-code service, enterprise sales in the age of COVID-19, and what’s next for the no-code/low-code space. Disrupt Stage  Pass prices for Disrupt are increasing this week – so if you want to get in on this action, get yours today and save up to $300. 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Indonesia-based online travel portal, Traveloka, has picked up $250M in fresh funding to beef up its coronavirus-battered balance sheet. The travel aggregator dubs the capital injection a “strong vote of confidence” in its strategy to adjust to what it couches as a ‘new normal’ for travel by retooling its focus on domestic and short hop excursions and activities. The funding round is led by an unnamed global financial institution. Traveloka also says “some” existing investors also participated (EV Growth being one it has named). Prior to this latest raise, Traveloka had pulled in around $950M across five funding rounds since being founded back in 2012, according to Crunchbase. Back in 2017 it passed unicorn valuation after bagging $350 million from Expedia in exchange for a minority stake in the business. But, shortly afterwards, it lost one of its co-founders — who departed citing a clash of goals as the business switched to more of a commercial mindset, as he saw it. Fast forward a few years and the pandemic is playing havoc with the travel industry as a whole. Since the pandemic landed to decimate ‘business as usual’ in the sector, Traveloka has responded by launching a number of initiatives in a bid to reassure and woo back customers — including flights that bundle COVID-19 tests; flexible open-date vouchers for hotels (aka, ‘Buy Now Stay Later’); online experiences; flash sale livestreams; and a big push around cleanliness with standardized hygiene protocols for vacation accommodation that can be booked via its platform. Traveloka says the latest capital injection will be used not only to beef up its balance sheet but to boost efforts and deepen offerings in “select priority areas” — including building out what it describes as “a more robust and integrated Travel & Lifestyle portfolio” in key markets. It also intends to expand financial services solutions it offers to ecosystem partners. Commenting in a statement, Ferry Unardi, Traveloka co-founder and CEO, said: “Without a doubt, Traveloka has been profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have experienced the lowest business rate that we have ever seen since our inception. However, we always believed that the company will prevail by rapidly adjusting our strategy, working with our industry and ecosystem partners, as well as continuing to innovate for our users, our ultimate focus.” Per Ferry, Traveloka’s business in Vietnam is “approaching” steady pre-COVID-19 levels, while he says its Thailand business is “on its way” to surpassing 50%. “Indonesia and Malaysia are still in the early stage, but they continue to demonstrate promising momentum with strong week-to-week improvement, especially in accommodation with the emergence of shorter distance staycation behavior,” he added. “We acknowledge that the sector may go through further turbulence as it navigates new waves, but we feel we are prepared to take on the challenge and emerge on the right side of it.” “The travel industry is facing unprecedented times, including Traveloka,” added Willson Cuaca, managing partner of EV Growth, in another supporting statement. “The leadership team has taken difficult yet commendable measures including restructuring and optimization to minimize financial health risks. We are confident that the company will emerge even stronger after this crisis.”

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A lot has been written about increased interest around automation and robotics during the pandemic — I know because I’ve done a lot of the writing. Most of these discussions tend to revolve around things like logistics, delivery and food preparation. But there’s also a compelling case to be made for companionship. And for that reason, the Petit Qoobo crowdfunding campaign couldn’t have launched at a better time. The smaller, more portable of the quirky cat pillow goes up on Indiegogo in the U.S. tomorrow, following a successful campaign in its native Japan that netted the project $125,000. This time out, Yukai Engineering is hoping to net an additional $50,000. Prices will range from $60 to $80, depending on tiers and all of the good stuff. It’s expected to start shipping in December, making it a pretty solid holiday gift for allergy-prone animal lovers. A smaller, cheaper version of Qoobo, the robotic cat pillow, is on the way “The crowdfunding success in Japan really goes to show how people are increasingly turning to robots for emotional comfort and how it’s becoming ‘normal’ to ‘adopt’ robots into their lives,” CEO Shunsuke Aoki said in a release. “People also seem to be embracing this new human-robot relationship more while in self-quarantine.” The latest version of the robot cat pillow includes the standard wagging tail, which speeds us you pet it. It will also start wagging in response to voices and sound and offer a subtle heartbeat sensation. Robotic companions have, of course, been a phenomenon in Japan for some time, owing in part to an aging population. The long stretches of isolation brought up by social distancing could certainly prove to be another key driver in their adoption. According to the company, sales of the original Qoobo are up up ~30-40% versus the same two-month period last year. Qoobo has been around for a few years now, so it seems entirely likely that much of that renewed interest has been driven by the intense sense of isolation social distancing can engender.

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Twitter has temporarily frozen Donald Trump Jr.’s account after the president’s son shared a video making false and potentially life-threatening claims about the coronavirus pandemic. The younger Trump’s account was restricted Tuesday morning after he shared a link to the viral video, tweeting “This is a much [sic] watch!!! So different from the narrative that everyone is running with.” “The Tweet referenced was in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told TechCrunch. The company said that the tweet violated its rules against COVID-19 misinformation and must be deleted. Trump’s account was not suspended, but its functionality will be restricted for 12 hours. This account has not been permanently suspended. Per the screenshot, the Tweet requires deletion because it violates our rules (sharing misinformation on COVID-19), and the account will have limited functionality for 12 hours. More in our rules: https://t.co/0wHWVV5QS4 https://t.co/0gq7rlaNw7 — Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) July 28, 2020 The video was widely publicized by Breitbart News and features a number of people in lab coats who refer to themselves as “America’s Frontline Doctors.” In the video, the individuals push various false and dangerous claims, including the claim that masks don’t prevent the spread of the virus and yet another defense of the drug hydroxychloroquine, which hasn’t proven effective in treating the virus. President Trump shared the video multiple times on Monday night in tweets that now appear as “no longer available” on his timeline. The now-removed tweets are wedged in between a number of remaining retweets that defend hydroxychloroquine as a “gold standard” and a “game changer” and attack White House pandemic advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci’s credibility. Facebook and YouTube are also working to scrub instances of the video. On Facebook, the viral video collected more than 14 million views and became one of the platform’s most popular posts before being targeted for removal. Platforms scramble as ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video spreads misinformation like wildfire  

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Gaming platform Roblox, which has seen a surge of use due to the coronavirus pandemic, now has over 150 million monthly active users, up from the 115 million it announced in February before the U.S.’s shelter-in-place orders went into effect. The company also said its developer community is on pace to earn over $250 million in 2020, up from the $110 million they earned last year. These metrics and other company news were announced over the weekend at RDC, Roblox’s annual developer conference that was held virtually for the first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Roblox, to be clear, doesn’t build the games that run on its platform. Instead, offers the platform for developers to build upon, similar to the App Store. Many of its most popular games are free, monetizing as players spend on in-game items using virtual cash called Robux. Some of the company’s larger individual games, before the pandemic, would average over 10 million monthly users. And over 10 games as of February claimed more than 1 billion total visits. Image Credits: Roblox   Thanks to the pandemic, however, these gaming milestones have significantly increased in size. During the first part of the year, the Roblox game Adopt Me! reached 1.615 million concurrent users and over 10 billion visits. A new game called Piggy, launched in January 2020, now has over 5 billion plays. Jailbreak surpassed 500,000 concurrent users during a live event held in April 2020. In total, there are now 345,000 developers on the Roblox platform who are monetizing their games, and over half of Robux being spent in catalog is now being spent on user-generated content (UGC) items, in less than 12 months after the UGC catalog program began. The more than doubling of Roblox developers’ earnings year-over-year is related to a combination of factors, including the platform’s growing game catalog, new development tools, international expansions, and of course, a pandemic that has locked kids indoors away from their friends, forcing them to go online to connect. On notable factor driving the increased developer earnings, however, was Roblox’s recent introduction of Premium Payouts, which pays developers based on the engagement time of Premium subscribers in their game. Through this system, launched earlier this spring, developers earned $2 million in June 2020 as part of this program alone. Image Credits: Roblox During the RDC event, Roblox also detailed its plans for expanded developer tools and platform updates. This includes new collaboration tools for larger development teams, which will allow developers to grant permissions to team members and contractors to work only on a certain part of their game. It will also launch a talent marketplace by the end of the year to help developers find people and resources to help with game development. Roblox also said it will begin rolling out automatic machine translation for all supported languages, languages including Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, and Spanish. This feature will help developers more easily reach international users with localized versions of their games. Later this summer, Roblox said it will launch “Developer Events,” a new service that will help developers find one another in their local communities. Initially, these events will be held virtually, but will transition to in-person events when it’s safe to do so. The company also signed its first music label partnership with Monstercat, an indie electronic music label known for its collaborations with gaming titles and artists, including Marshmello and Vicetone. The partnership has initially yielded 51 tracks for developers to use, free of charge, in their games. These include songs from a variety of EDM genres, such as Drum & Bass, Synthwave, Electro, Chillout, Electronic, Breaks, Future Bass, and more. More tracks will be added over time, Roblox says. “The accomplishments of our developer community have eclipsed even our loftiest expectations; I am incredibly impressed by the unique and creative experiences being introduced on the Roblox platform,” said David Baszucki, founder and CEO, Roblox. “Our focus is to give developers the tools and resources they need to pursue their vision and create larger, more complex, more realistic experiences and collectively build the Metaverse.” Roblox raised an additional $150 million in Series G funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz’s late-stage venture fund, just before the COVID-19 health crisis hit the U.S., valuing the business at $4 billion. Ahead of this, Roblox had been working to take its platform further outside the U.S. and into China, through a strategic partnership with Tencent focused on bringing its coding curriculum to the region and through added support for Chinese languages, among other things. Also with the additional funding, Roblox said it planned to help further its expansion effects, and build out more tools and its developer ecosystem.

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Low-code is a hot category these days. It helps companies build workflows or simple applications without coding skills, freeing up valuable engineering resources for more important projects. Paragon, a member of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 cohort, announced a $2.5 million seed round today for its low-code application integration platform. Investors include Y Combinator, Village Global, Global Founders Capital, Soma Capital and FundersClub. “Paragon makes it easier for non-technical people to be able to build out integrations using our visual workflow editor. We essentially provide building blocks for things like API requests, interactions with third party APIs and conditional logic. And so users can drag and drop these building blocks to create workflows that describe business logic in their application,” says company co-founder Brandon Foo. Foo acknowledges there are a lot of low-code workflow tools out there, but many like UIPath, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere concentrate on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate certain tasks. He says he and co-founder Ishmael Samuel wanted to focus on developers. “We’re really focused on how can we improve developer efficiency, and how can we bring the benefits of low code to product and engineering teams and make it easier to build products without writing manual code for every single integration, and really be able to streamline the product development process,” Foo told TechCrunch. The way it works is you can drag and drop one of 1200 predefined connectors for tools like Stripe, Slack and Google Drive into a workflow template, and build connectors very quickly to trigger some sort of action. The company is built on AWS serverless architecture, so you define the trigger action and subsequent actions, and Paragon handles all of the back-end infrastructure requirements for you. It’s early days for the company. After launching in private beta in January, the company has 80 customers. It currently has 6 employees including Foo, who previously co-founded Polymail and Samuel, who was previously lead engineer at Uber. They plan to hire 4 more employees this year. With both founders people of color, they definitely are looking to build a diverse team around them. “I think it’s already sort of built into our DNA. As a diverse founding team we have perhaps a broader viewpoint and perspective in terms of hiring the kind of people that we seek to work with. Of course, I think there’s always room for improvements, and so we’re always looking for new ways that we can be more inclusive in our hiring recruiting process [as we grow],” he said. As far as raising during a pandemic, he says it’s been a crazy time, but he believes they are solving a real problem and that they can succeed in spite of the macro economic conditions of the moment.

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CES 2020 got in just under the wire, ahead of COVID-19 reaching true international pandemic levels. And until today, the show’s governing body, the CTA, was planning to keep its record unbroken. Today, however, CEO Gary Shapiro announced via video that the Las Vegas event has been canceled. Instead, CES 2021 will follow the lead of the rest of the industry as an online-only event. Big news CES 2021 is going all-digital! Get ready for a new immersive experience where you’ll have a front row seat to the action https://t.co/IzmHDpIu1Y — CES (@CES) July 28, 2020 The news won’t come as a surprise to anyone following the industry. Even January 2021 seems like an extremely optimistic timeline, social distancing measures or no. While Berlin’s IFA still plans to go forward this year, all other big tech shows have been canceled or gone all digital for the foreseeable future. “We concluded it is simply not possible to safely gather over 100,000 people indoors with a raging COVID-19 virus and no real hope for a tested and widely available vaccine by January,” Shapiro writes in a post on LinkedIn. “The world does not need more COVID-19 cases, and we decided we would do our part by ensuring we are not helping spread the disease.” In addition to hosting a huge number of people in an indoor venue, the international nature of the event makes it a prime vector for the continued spread of COVID-19. Not to mention the fact that the United States continues to lead the world in cases, by far. In spite of, well, everything, Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman was aggressively pushing reopening plans way back in April. Anecdotally, I’ve spoken to a number of regular attendees, and there remains a general sense of discomfort around the idea of attending a show like this. And to put it more crassly, becoming a potential hotbed for the spreading of this seemingly endless pandemic would be a major black eye for the organization. Canceling the show is the right move here. And certainly the CTA is well positioned to help foster the continued popularization of online-only events. The organization has the connections and the eyeballs of the world when it comes to serving as a platform for industry news and product launches. “[W]e commit to producing the best possible global digital innovation event,” Shapiro writes. “We will spread the gospel of 5G, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles and new forms of mobility, digital and telehealth, resilience, robotics, drones, new forms of entertainment, 8K Ultra HD screens and smart TVs to the curious, entrepreneurs, investors, business and media who can access the best of CES from their homes and offices.” Of course, pulling off a show of this size will be tricky. Here at TechCrunch, we certainly understand the steepness of the learning curve when it comes to transitioning to digital events. Perhaps most difficult of all for the organization will be maintaining the the presence of larger companies, many of whom have already eyed their own events to make announcements. E3 2020 is certainly a bit of a cautionary tale. This year’s event was set to be a big one with the upcoming launch of two major consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft have opted to use their own events to make product announcements for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, respectively. Notably, Samsung also announced its own launch event after officially pulling out of IFA over safety concerns. The digital event is set for the first week of January, with more news arriving soon. “We plan to return to Las Vegas for CES 2022, combining the best elements of a physical and digital show,” the CTA writes in a press release. Here’s hoping that will be an option by then. At this rate, however, who knows?  

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NASA and SpaceX are looking to finish up the final demonstration mission of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon astronaut spacecraft at the end of this week, but it’s already looking ahead to Crew-2 – the second operational flight of Crew Dragon, currently set for sometime next spring. The agency revealed the four people that will fly aboard that launch, including two NASA astronauts, as well as one from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and one from the European Space Agency (ESA). NASA astronauts Megan McCarthur and Shane Kimbrough will join JAXA’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA’s Thomas Pesquet on that flight, which will follow Crew-1 currently scheduled for sometime in late September after Demo-2 concludes. This is a regular mission, meaning the crew will be staffing the International Space Station for an extended period – six months for this stretch, sharing the orbital research platform with three astronauts who will be using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to make the trip. That means there will be seven total crew members sharing the Station at once, which is an increase of its usual full complement of six. It sounds like that’s going to become the new normal according to NASA, with the extra person meaning that the crew can “effectively double the amount of science that can be conducted in space.” If it doesn’t sound like the math works out on that, consider that ISS crew members spend a lot of their time on routine maintenance and operational tasks. A seventh person on board helping with those everyday activities should indeed free up a lot of additional time for people to conduct experiments and do research, since it means less time split for needed, but unscientific, activities involved in keeping the orbital platform operating well. All members of this crew have previously spent time in space, but this will be McArthurs’ first trip to the International Space Station. Her last trip to space was aboard the Space Shuttle in 2009, when she participated in the final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. McArthur is also the wife of fellow astronaut Bob Behnken, who is currently at the ISS having launched on Crew Dragon for its first ever human spaceflight.

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Startup stories are often too reductive — an entrepreneur dreams up an idea, snags some co-founders, raises a bit of money, and presto: success and riches. It’s nearly never true. Even breakout successes like Slack that may feel straightforward have complicated stories. Amongst the most valuable startups there are hidden crises and disappointing quarters. Some famous startups even had to execute a hard pivot after their original idea flopped. Slack was originally a gaming company, Twitter was a podcasting platform and YouTube wanted to be a dating service. But not all startups that struggle and eventually make it have to completely toss out their original idea. Some just need to shake up operations before seeing the sort of success they’d hoped for. Social e-commerce and fulfillment platform Teespring is one such company. The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday. From a 2017-era round of layoffs and restructuring, the company is on an impressive, profitable growth curve today. I was part of the reporting team that covered the company’s earlier struggles, which came after it raised more than $50 million in venture capital. So when Teespring wanted to discuss the numbers behind its recent growth, I was more than curious. This morning, let’s look at how one startup found its groove a few years after we’d figured it was a done deal. A comeback Rewinding the clock, Teespring’s 2017 was a difficult period. The company had sharply cut staff as sales declined, cost reductions that helped push the startup from regular deficits into profitability. At the time, reporting indicated that Teespring’s revenue fell off after it lost some power sellers and investments in goods other than T-shirts failed to materially improve its financial results. After the layoffs, Teespring raised $5 million at a diminished valuation to get back on its feet.

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Playground Global has an eye on the future. A quick glance at the investment firm’s portfolio showcases a wide-ranging list of investments, covering robotics, autonomous driving, neural network, quantum computing, metallic 3D printing and gene therapy. Playground GlobalCEO Barrett will join us on Extra Crunch Live to chat about these categories and more at 2 p.m. EDT/11 a.m. PDT/6 p.m. GMT. Login details are below the fold for EC members. He’ll join us to discuss these concepts and answer questions from the Extra Crunch audience. If you’d like to join in on the action, you can sign up here and check out best EC Live interviews, including Inspired Capital’s Alexa von Tobel and Emergence Capital’s Jason Green. Prior to cofounding Playground, Barrett has had a long and distinguished career, dating back to an interest in security in his late teenage years. Beyond Playground, he’s probably best known as the founder of Rocket Science Games and his time serving as the CTO of Microsoft’s IPTV unit. I’ve interviewed Barrett a number of times over the years, and he always brings thoughtful insight into future technologies. Barrett was one of our guests at last year’s event in Shenzhen, which seems like a lifetime ago now. Given how profoundly the state of the world has shifted in 2020, it’s certainly worth revisiting some of these ideas — in particular, automation and robotics, which have both been near and dear to Barrett’s heart and investment portfolio. He’ll join us to discuss these concepts and answer questions from the Extra Crunch audience. Side note: You can check out the full Extra Crunch Live agenda here.

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Lucid Motors is loading up its first electric vehicle with hardware — dozens of sensors, a driver monitoring system and an Ethernet-based architecture — for an advanced driver assistance system that aims to match and even surpass its rivals. There will be 32 sensors in all, according to Lucid, which has branded its advanced driver assistance system DreamDrive. The total number isn’t what matters. The type and location — and of course, the software — does. For now, Lucid is just providing details on the hardware.  The Air, which is set to debut September 9, will come with one lidar, radars, cameras and ultrasonic sensors. Lidar — the light detection and ranging radar that measures distance using laser light to generate a highly accurate 3D map of the world around the car — is a noteworthy inclusion. The sensor is typically used on autonomous vehicles, not the production cars, trucks and SUVs that consumers will buy and drive. Lucid said its long-range lidar sensor will be placed in the front of the vehicle. There is a small and growing list of automakers that have plans to include lidar in their production vehicles as well. Volvo revealed in May plans to start producing vehicles in 2022 that are equipped with lidar and a perception stack — technology developed by Silicon Valley startup Luminar that the automaker will use to deploy an automated driving system for highways.  The number of radar sensors and their location is also a standout feature. Lucid will have five radars in all, one located in front to augment the capabilities of the lidar. The other four will be located on the four corners of the vehicle. This gives the Air 360 degrees of radar coverage. Tesla, which has an advanced driver assistance system that is widely considered to be the most or among the most capable on the market today, has eight cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and just one radar. Tesla vehicles do not have lidar.  Image credits: Lucid Inside the vehicle, will be a driver monitoring system with a dedicated camera. Lucid Motors didn’t reveal much about its DMS. However, it’s likely to operate similarly to GM’s hands-free system known as Super Cruise. Eugene Lee, the senior director of ADAS and autonomous driving at Lucid Motors, formerly worked on GM’s Super Cruise.  Underlying all of this will be a high-speed Ethernet Ring, which Lucid describes as a unique cornerstone of advanced electric architecture. Automakers have been moving towards Ethernet technology for several years now in an effort to create a centralized network that simplifies the deployment of advanced features. Lucid said its ring, and not linear, design is what allows for a redundant platform for functions such as steering, brakes, sensors and even power sources. The system also allows for over-the-air software upgrades, an important feature (popularized by Tesla) that gives Lucid the ability to improve the ADAS over time.  All this hardware will come standard on the first iteration of the Lucid Air, a pricier and more exclusive launch version called the Dream Edition. Lucid is sourcing its hardware system from several large suppliers, including Bosch, Continental and Here. The automaker said it integrates the hardware in house.  The aim is for all of this hardware to support high functioning driver assistance features, eventually including hands-free automated highway driving. This ADAS package will not only offer Level 2 features, but is also Level 3 ready, according to Lee. There are five levels of automation under SAE’s definition. Level 2, is in which two primary functions are automated, and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 3 takes that up a notch and is considered conditional automation in geofenced areas such as highways. Driver must still be prepared to intervene with Level 3. Lucid said its DreamDrive tech will support 19 safety, driving and parking assist features that will be available as soon as the Air rolls off the assembly line. The automaker plans to add eight more features at a later date. Lucid said the system will include safety features such as surround view monitoring, blind spot display, cross traffic protection that informs the driver of vehicles perpendicular to them, traffic sign recognition, automatic emergency braking and alerts for distracted or drowsy drivers.  The driving assistant features will include adaptive cruise and lane centering for highway driving, headlight assist and an alert that tells the driver when standstill traffic has started to move again. It will also offer what Lucid describes as autonomous parking.

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XPRIZE is turning its tried and tested model of offering cash prizes to spur innovation in critical areas to the challenge of COVID-19 testing. the nonprofit has created a $5 million prize pool for a Rapid COVID Testing competition, in partnership with an organization called OpenCovidScreen formed by scientists, researchers and industry leaders to drive open scientific collaboration on the topic. The competition calls for participants to develop low-cost, rapid result testing solutions that can supplement those already in existence in order to massively scale testing capabilities and pave the way for safe reopening strategies. It’s open to potential solutions across a number of categories, including at-home tests, those conducted at point-of-care, distributed lab testing, and finally high-throughput lab solutions. Judging for the ultimate prize awards will focus on their innovation, their performance, how quickly they can delver results (with the max allowable turnaround time capped at 12 hours), how scalable they are and how easy to use and cost-effective they can be (with a cost ceiling of $15 per test). The XPRIZE organization is also encouraging people to try a range of different technologies in their proposed solutions in order to diversify and ensure sustainability of the supply chain. In order to take part, teams must joint the competition by August 31, 2020. The competition aims to announce grand prize winners by the end of January, and the plan is to award $1 million each to five teams. Following the competition, participants can also benefit from a $50 million fund established by the ‘COVID Apollo Project’ to develop, deploy and scale their solution to actual production and distribution.

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A lot of tech is built on the premise of services that can target the widest or most lucrative pools of users (and they’re a blockbuster when they can do both). But that leaves out a number of consumers, who fall into the margins for all kinds of reasons, be they physical, age, financial or other circumstances. Today, a startup building financial services specifically aimed at three typically marginalised markets — elderly or disabled people, and those who are recovering from addiction — is announcing some funding on the back of strong growth of its business and plans to do more. True Link Financial, which provides financial services — specifically, today in the form of prepaid Visa cards and investment management — aimed at the tree demographics, is announcing that it has closed a Series B of $35 million, led by Khosla Ventures with strong participation also from Centana Growth Partners, an investor that specialises in financial services. We understand that the valuation is now around $115 million. Kai Stinchcombe, the CEO who co-founded the company with Claire McDonnell (the COO), says that the plan will be to invest the money in adding more products to the mix, with insurance (life insurance) likely to come next, along with more credit-based services. Interestingly, the company had raised a smaller Series B of $21 million from Khosla about 14 months ago — and started to pitch the news to TechCrunch back then. “We’d mostly written the press release but then just didn’t get around to it,” Stinchcombe said with a little laugh. In the meantime, the company doubled in size in terms of revenues, and then Centana came along. Because of its financial services focus it was an investor True Link really wanted to get on board, so it reopened the round, closed the deal, and finally announced the news. Indeed, Centana spotted the opportunity specifically around providing services for elderly people. “True Link is fundamentally changing people’s financial lives at a time when they are the most vulnerable,” said Tom Davis, principal at Centana Growth Partners, in a statement. “The number of Americans ages 65 and older will likely double to over 80 million in the next 20 years, and this demographic is fortunately living longer and more independently than ever before. No one should be taken advantage of at a time when they need the most support, and customers and families consistently speak to the ways in which True Link has enabled them to retain financial freedom. We are thrilled to partner with True Link and invest in their mission to bring unique financial products to this market.” Davis is joining the board with this round, along with David Weiden from Khosla. It’s ironic that the boost in personalisation that’s been afforded by the expansion and growing sophistication of technology hasn’t trickled down into more services built for the long-tail of would-be customers, so it’s always refreshing when you come across a startup that is tackling that very opportunity. In the case of True Link, the startup (founded in 2012) has taken the same products but tweaked them specifically with the particular user group in mind. The True Link Card for Vulnerable Elders is based around the idea of giving an older person some autonomy with their money but with visibility for another person either to limit where and how that money is spent, or simply to be able to monitor where it is going. It also makes it easier elderly users  to pass on their cards to caregivers to make a purchase on their behalf without needing to track whether that’s been used exactly as requested (since there is a limit). It was, in fact, Stinchcombe’s own experience with a grandparent losing money in a case of fraud and financial abuse that led him to start this company. The True Link Card for People in Recovery is based around the idea that people who are in that situation are usually engaged in a long-term struggle not to fall off the wagon. This can be tailored both to limit purchases at specific types of businesses (eg casinos, or bars), and also make it harder to take money out. “The thought here is that if you have a relapse along that journey, there is a transaction that could have been prevented,” he said. “Our goal is to raise the barrier, provide one more roadblock to relapsing.” Services for those with disabilities are aimed at providing a link between a third-party administrator and the customer, so that the former has better tools for record keeping that can be necessary for benefits and also for local authorities to make sure that a person is being looked after well. Similarly those with cognitive or other behavioral issues can still maintain some financial independence and to learn more of it, but with better controls in place should something go awry.  Stinchcombe said that for many this represents the first time that they have been giving that kind of autonomy. The company is based and active for now only in the US, and True Link says it works with nearly half of participants in state-administered ABLE Act programs. While some might say that “marginal” means “small”, there is still a big opportunity, both in the US and further afield (where True Link would likely work with a partner to roll out, said Stinchcombe). “True Link has a great combination of a passionate team, a large and underserved market, and a proven product offering that is ready to scale,” said Weiden, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with them and improve financial flexibility and dignity for millions of people.”

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In a world with growing amounts of data, finding the right set for a particular machine learning model can be a challenge. Explorium has created a platform to make that an easier task, and today the startup announced a $31 million Series B. The round was led by Zeev Venture with help from Dynamic Loop, Emerge and F2 capital. Today’s investment brings the total raised to $50 million, according to the company. CEO and co-founder, Maor Shlomo says the company’s platform is designed to help people find the right data for their model. “The next frontier in analytics will not be about how you fine tune or improve a certain algorithm, it will be how do you find the right data to fit into those algorithms to make them as useful and impactful as possible,” he said. He says that companies need this more than ever during the pandemic because this can help customers find more relevant data at a time when their historical data might not be useful to help build predictive models. For instance, if you’re a retailer, your historical shopping data won’t be relevant if you are in an area where you can no longer open your store, he says. “There are so many environmental factors that are now influencing every business problem that organizations are trying to solve that Explorium is becoming this […] layer where you search for data to solve your business problems to fuel your predictive models,” he said. When the pandemic hit in March, he worried about how it would affect his company, and he put a hold on hiring, but as he saw business increasing in April and May, he decided to accelerate again. The company currently has 87 employees between offices in Israel and the United States and he plans to be at 100 in the next couple of months. When it comes to hiring, he says he doesn’t try to have hard and fast hiring rules like you have a certain degree or have gone to a certain school. “The only thing that’s important is getting good people hungry to succeed. The more diverse the culture is, the more diverse the group is, we find the more fun it is for people to discover each other and to discover different cultures,” Shlomo explained. In terms of fundraising, the while the company needs money to fuel its growth, at the same time it still had plenty of money in the bank from last year’s round. “We got into the pandemic and we didn’t know how long it’s going to last, and [early on] we didn’t yet know how it would impact the business. Existing investors were always bullish about the company. We decided to just go with that,” he said. The company was founded in 2017 and previously raised a $19.1 million Series A round last year. Explorium reveals $19.1M in total funding for machine learning data discovery platform

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Just like we enjoy a range of different possible modes of transportation on Earth, the potential of the space economy allows for many different types of of vehicles and launch systems. Dawn Aerospace took the wrapper off one today, a suborbital spaceplane called the Dawn Mk-II Aurora that’s smaller than a compact car and that will be capable of making multiple return trips to suborbital space per day. The Mk-II is, as its name suggests, a second iteration of the concept created by Dawn. The Mk-I was actually built and flew in May 2018, demonstrating its ability to fire up its rockets during flight after taking off horizontally from a traditionally airstrip. One of the Mk-II’s key capabilities is its ability to take-off and land at conventional runways, obviating the need for specialized and expensive vertical launch compounds. Dawn Aerospace was founded in Delft, in the Netherlands, with ties to the Technical University of Delft, and also operates out of New Zealand, which has a growing reputation in the New Space industry stemming from being the home of Rocket Lab, one of the most successful new companies operating commercial launch services. The company’s entire mission is built around sustainable space-based economy, and it also has a thriving business in CubeSat propulsion, building systems that use food-grade propellants for safe fuels that don’t carry as much of an environmental cost. Image Credits: Dawn Aerospace The Mk-II Aurora approaches the goal of sustainable commercial spaceflight in a different way, promising flights to 60 miles and above for payloads of 3U, which is small but perfectly suitable for a range of scientific experiments. It’ll be able to fly and return for multiple trips per day, at a cost of roughly $50,000 per flight, with realtime downlink communications capabilities. Dawn has plans for a Mk-III iteration of its space plane that will be 60 feet long and be able to carry payloads weighing between 110 and 220 lbs all the way to orbit. Combined with its ability to do multiple daily flights and take off and land from conventional runways anywhere in the world, that would be a game-changer for the small satellite launch industry.

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Swiss computer vision startup, Advertima, has raised a €15 million Series A (~$17.5M) to build out a machine learning platform for physical retail stores to ‘upgrade’ the shopping experience via real-time shopper behavior analytics. The round is led by existing shareholder, Fortimo Group, a Swiss real estate company. Fed by visual sensors, Advertima’s platform provides physical retail spaces with a real-time view of what’s going on in store — comprised of AI-powered behavioral and demographic analysis, as shoppers move through the space — with the aim of helping retailers better understand and respond dynamically to customers in store. The startup calls this its “Human Data Layer” — noting that the tech can support features like smart inventory management and autonomous checkout. Throw in digital signage (which it also offers) and its platform can be used to serve contextually relevant messaging intended for one or just a few pairs of nearby eyeballs — such as product offers for a particular gender or age bracket, or discounts for families — depending on who’s in proximity of the given digital eye. Albeit ‘relevancy’ depends upon the calibre of the AI and the quality of the underlying training data. So certainly isn’t a given. Ads that seem to personally address you when you make eye contact, meanwhile, have been a sci-fi staple for years, of course. But the reality of ‘smart’ ads informed by AI analytics could very quickly stray into creepy territory. An example message shown in a demo video on Advertima’s website isn’t great in this regard — as the system is shown IDing a stick woman and popping up a targeted message that reads: “Hello young woman. All alone?” (uhhh ). So retailers plugging such stuff into their stores need to be hyper sensitive to tone and context (and indeed take a robust approach to assessing how accurate the AI is, or isn’t). Or, well, they could find shoppers fleeing in horror. (tl;dr no one likes to feel watched while they’re shopping. And if the AI misgenders a potential customer that could be a disaster.) One flashy pledge from Advertima is that its approach to applying AI to guestimate who’s in the shop and what they’re doing is ‘privacy safe’ — with the startup noting there’s no facial recognition nor biometric detection involved in its system, for one thing. It also specifies that the visual sensors required for the analytics to function do not store any image or video recordings. Instead it claims to “only process minimal anonymized data” — and only evaluate that in “aggregated form”. “This means that the unintentional identification of a person is technically impossible,” is the top-line claim. With long-standing data protection laws covering Europe, and EU lawmakers actively considering new rules to wrap around certain applications of artificial intelligence, there’s a legal incentive not to push such tech’s intrusiveness too far (at least for local use-cases). While Switzerland, which is not a Member of the EU (though it is part of the bloc’s single market), also has a reputation for strict domestic privacy laws — so this homegrown startup’s pitch at least reflects that context. That said, its system appears to generate a “Person ID” (see below screengrab) — so we’ve asked how long it retains these individual-linked IDs for; and whether or not it links (or enables the linking of) the Person ID with any other data that might be gathered from the shopper, such as an email or a device ID. If the Person IDs are persistent it could enable a retailer to re-identify an individual via the Advertima visually tracked behavioral data — and then be in a position to plug these offline shopping behavior ‘insights’ into an identity-linked customer database or link it to an ad profile that’s maintained by a tracking giant or data broker for ad targeting purposes. All of which would be the opposite of ‘privacy safe’ — so we do have questions. We’ll update this report with any response from Advertima to this. Image credit: Advertima marketing video Advertima was founded back in 2016 and has so far forged partnerships with Switzerland’s largest retailer, Migros and the international grocer SPAR, to deploy its tech. It says the system is being used by 14 companies across eight countries at this stage. It says the new funding will go on further developing its platform, and on scaling so the business can better address the global market for smart retail solutions. Although it’s competing in a space that includes Amazon’s cashierless tech so that’s one Goliath-sized big tech competitor to Advertima’s David. In a press release announcing the Series A it notes it will be ploughing in €10M of its own revenue too — so touts a total spend of €25M over the next two years on building out its platform. “We see a world where the physical and digital layers are merged to enhance our daily professional and private lives,” said Advertima Co-Founder and CEO, Iman Nahvi, commenting in a statement. In a blog post announcing the Series A, he also talked up the autonomous store product — suggesting it will “change how people experience grocery shopping, cinemas, DIY stores, and a whole range of retailers”. “Delivering smart inventory management, autonomous checkout, in-store analytics, and contextual content on smart digital screens will allow grocers and other retailers to maximize the efficiency of their stores, increase their revenues, and generate greater returns per square meter,” he wrote. “Retailers can actualize an omnichannel strategy to orchestrate better experiences and relationships with their audience. Soon the standard for retailers will be holistically customer-centric: Cashierless checkouts, no lines, individualized experiences, and real-time product recognition for fast, easy, and fun shopping.” Given that Amazon began licensing its ‘Just Walk Out’ cashierless tech to other retailers earlier this year, and various tech startups have sprung up to chase the potential of similar systems — such as AiFi, Grabango, Standard Cognition and Zippin — Advertima’s global growth ambitions are tempered by plenty of competition. Physical retail has also taken a battering from the coronavirus pandemic. Although COVID-19 may, paradoxically, drive demand for cashierless tech — as a way to reduce the risk of viral exposure for staff and shoppers. AI technology being applied to eliminate retail jobs does raise wider socioeconomic questions too, though. Also commenting in a supporting statement, Fortimo Group founder Remo Bienz added: “It is clear that the rapid digitalisation of our society is going to have an impact on consumer habits, especially in the retail sector. Advertima is at the cutting-edge of technology in the retail space. As a long-standing shareholder, we know how visionary their technology is, but also how it has been successfully adopted by major, global organisations and already generated significant revenues. We’re excited to be part of Advertima’s journey.”

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When SpaceX set out to fly humans on board its spacecraft, it decided to create its own spacesuit in-house. That’s a very different approach from most spacesuit projects, including those at NASA, which typically involve tapping in outside specialist contractors with a long history of experience to help with the work. In a new video, SpaceX provides a look at why they took on that task themselves, and how their unique and modern-looking spacesuits are designed to be the perfect complement to their Dragon spacecraft, both aesthetically and functionally. SpaceX’s Chris Trigg, Space Suits and Crew Equipment Manager, and Maria Sundeen, Leed Space Suit Specialist take you through the concept, design and production process for the SpaceX suit, which was worn by NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on their launch to the International Space Station aboard Dragon at the end of May. They’ll don them again later this week for the return trip. Trigg notes that the suit is really one part of a system that includes the Dragon crew seat, and is designed to plug in and provide them everything they need automatically. He also explains the thinking behind the helmet design, and why they needed to create gloves that provide pressurization and protection while also offering touchscreen compatibility to work with the Dragon’s control surfaces. As mentioned, Dragon is set to come back from the ISS on August 1, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean with astronauts on board on August 2, provided weather and everything else cooperates.

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ClimaCell, the weather forecasting and intelligence service that is using a number of interesting new techniques to gather weather data, today announced that it has raised a $23 million Series C round co-led by new investor Pitango Growth and existing investor Square Peg Captial. With this new round, the Boston- and TelAviv-based company’s total funding now exceeds $100 million. As ClimaCell co-founder and CEO Shimon Elkabetz told me, the round came together well after the worldwide COVID-19 lockdowns had started and the team never met with its new investors in person. Because the pandemic affected many of ClimaCell’s customers in the travel industry, in recent months, the company did take some steps to reduce cost and expand its overall runway, but Elkabetz stressed that the company didn’t need to raise this new round and that the investors approached the company. “We took some aggressive but respectful actions around reducing our expenses and created a significant runway,” Elkabetz explained. “We didn’t really need to raise money now, but this opportunity came to us and we decided to take it, because it gives us a significant opportunity to invest in strategic things.” Image Credits: ClimaCell Given the changing business climate, the company did double down on its efforts to brand its service as an intelligence platform that helps businesses make smart decisions about the operations, even if they are not meteorologists. In practice, this means a stronger focus on its Insights service, which helps operators in various industries to make smart decisions based on the company’s forecasts. With this, ClimaCell can help a construction company ensure that a worksite is safe when a storm is coming and when it should shut down its crane operations because of wind, for example, or when a logistics company should expect slowdowns because of heavy rains. Instead of just giving its users a weather forecast, the company’s tools provide actionable suggestions instead. “65% of the world’s GDP is being impacted by weather events. ClimaCell is the only SaaS company that enables actionable items ahead of weather events rather than reacting to them and their implications and ramifications,” said Aaron Mankovski, Managing General Partner at Pitango Growth, in today’s announcement. “The opportunities coming to ClimaCell across industries including supply chain and logistics, railroads, trucking, shipping, on-demand, energy, insurance, and more represent a complete upending of the existing competitive landscape and is a testament to being laser-focused on customer value.” Image Credits: ClimaCell Elkabetz noted that the company plans to use the new funding to expand both its go-to-market efforts and to focus on the fundamental R&D that makes its platform work. He wasn’t quite ready to share what those R&D efforts will look like, but he expects to be able to announce these new capabilities “soon.” The company also expects to launch some updates to its consumer mobile app soon. While the consumer app may not be ClimaCell’s main focus, it uses the same technology in the backend, including a version of Insights for leisure activities, for example. For Elkabetz, the consumer app helps spread the ClimaCell brand but he also expects that it can become a real business in its own right.

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Israeli startup Nanox has big ambitions to take on the world of medical imaging and imaging analytics with hardware that reduces the size and cost of scanning equipment, plus software that improves the quality of images and the insights you can gain from them. Today, Nanox is announcing another big step ahead in that plan: it’s raised another $59 million in funding, closing out its Series B at $110 million, to continue building its full-body scanning hardware and securing more customers. The money is coming from a range of strategic investors that include SK Telecom, Industrial Alliance (the Canadian insurance group), Foxconn and Yozma Korea, and it has arrived swiftly on the heels of $51 million delivered in two tranches, the most recent being in June from strategic investor SK Telecom, which is building a factory to manufacture Nanox hardware in South Korea. The company is not disclosing its valuation but in June, it was $600 million, and from what we understand this is likely to be the company’s last fundraise before it goes public, although a timeline for the latter has not been set (and never say never in the world of startup funding, of course). Ran Poliakine, Nanox’s founder and CEO, said in an interview that today the startup makes the majority of its revenues from licensing deals: it provides IP to manufacturers like Foxconn, SK and Fuji (another investor) to build devices based on its concepts, and the plan is to have some 15,000 scanners out in the market over the next several years. The plan longer term is to get regulatory approval across all markets where the machines are in place to start to roll out the services side of its business, providing insights into the imaging that is sourced by way of the hardware — a process that is in play but has been delayed due to the spread of the coronavirus (and the subsequent slowdown of many processes, such as getting regulatory approvals and clearance). This services aspect of Nanox’s business is particularly interesting, as it underscores a major shift in how medical services are delivered and will be delivered in the future. Namely, the rise of more powerful communications networks, and better technology for imaging, and the high overhead of employing people and keeping costly equipment up to date, has led to a wave of deals where hospitals and others are outsourcing some of the analytics work away from on-site labs to remote facilities. And that has led to a surge of businesses looking to tap into the new opportunities arising out of that. “Telecoms carriers are looking for opportunities around how to sell 5G,” said Ilung Kim, SK Telecom’s president, in an interview in June. “Now you can imagine a scanner of this size being used in an ambulance, using 5G data. It’s a game changer for the industry.” This means that, even as it is waiting for regulatory clearance, Nanox is already signing on customers for this service — a sign of the times and the demand in the market. Most recently, it inked a deal with USA Radiology, which will be using the tech for a scan-as-a-service business across the US as well as in 15 other countries. Nanox, of course, benefits on two sides with those deals: not only is it licensing its tech for the services, but it’s getting licensing fees connected to the hardware that’s being built to use them. As we have described before, the Nanox system is based around proprietary digital X-ray technology, a relatively new area in imaging that relies on digital scans rather than X-ray plates to capture and process images. Nanox’s flagship ARC hardware comes in at 70 kg compared to 2,000 kg for the average CT scanner, and production costs are around $10,000 compared to $1-3 million for the CT scanner. In addition to being smaller (and thus cheaper) machines with much of the processing of images done in the cloud, the Nanox system, according to CEO and founder Ran Poliakine, can make its images in a tiny fraction of a second, making them significantly safer in terms of radiation exposure compared to existing methods. This makes it easier and cheaper to own the machines, as well as to take regular scans with them, covering not just one small area of the body but the full length of it, which opens the door also to gaining more insights. Nanox’s proposition is particularly compelling at the moment. As we’ve pointed out before, imaging has been in the news a lot of late because it has so far been one of the most accurate methods for detecting the progress of COVID-19 in patients or would-be patients in terms of how it is affecting patients’ lungs and other organs. But on the other hand, the global health pandemic, and the push to keep people physically away from each other, has also pointed to a big need in the healthcare community for services that make it easier to diagnose patients remotely, putting Nanox and its approach right at the heart of how all of medicine and healthcare seem to be evolving. That’s provided that it gets the necessary approvals and takes its business to the intended next level. “It is easy to say that we are aiming to change the world,” Poliakine said in a statement. “The main challenge with such statements is always the execution. We have a bold vision of helping to eradicate cancer and other disease by means of early detection. We are actively working for the deployment of a global medical imaging service infrastructure that may turn this dream into reality.”

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The growth of digital banking has opened up a wealth of opportunities for making the world of finance more accessible and transparent to a greater number of people. But the darker underbelly is that it has also created more avenues for illicit activity to flourish, with some $2 trillion laundered annually but only 1-3% of that sum “caught”. To help combat that, a London-based startup called ComplyAdvantage, which has built an AI platform and wider database of some 10 million entities to help identify and track those involved in financial crime, is today announcing a growth round of funding of $50 million expand its reach and operations. Specifically, the plan will be to use the funding for hiring, to invest in the tools it uses to detect entities and map the relationships between them, and to bring on more clients. “We’ve been focused on more granular analysis and being able to scale to hundreds of millions of searches across our database,” said Charles Delingpole, founder and CEO, said in an interview. “The next phase is more around the network of contacts and more enhanced diligence.” The company today has some 250 staff, mainly in the UK and Romania. The Series C is being led by Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board (Ontario Teachers’), a huge pension plan out of Canada (US $155 billion) that is known as a prolific growth-stage tech investor.  Previous backers Balderton and Index are also in the round. The company has raised $88 million to date, and while it’s not disclosing its valuation, for some context, it was last valued at around $141 million its last round a year ago, per PitchBook data. Today, ComplyAdvantage has over 500 customers, primarily financial institutions using it to meet regulatory compliance requirements as well as to reduce their own exposure and risk, providing some automated services to complement (and potentially replace) some of the manual checks that they make to prove you are who you say you are. It also has a growing business with other groups that are tracking fraud for their own ends, such as insurance companies trying to stem fraudulent claims and government entities. It also has a number of partners that access its database and use that as part of their own solutions (Quantexa, which announced a big funding round of its own last week, is one of those licensing partners). “A lot of companies in the wider identity space are powered by our data, even if they don’t disclose it,” Delingpole said. The company had its start originally focusing on the process of helping banks meet regulatory compliance around fraud detection by ingesting and analysing documents provided by customers ahead of opening accounts, initiating larger transactions with new entities and so on. That has taken on a more targeted purpose in recent years as ComplyAdvantage’s database has grown deeper. Today the core of the business is based around a central database of known money launderers, human traffickers, terrorists, drug lords, and others who exploit financial rails to run illegal operations and make a profit from them. It’s formed, Delingpole said, by way of “automatically ingesting tens of thousands of datapoints, from websites, national warning lists, linked real-time databases of companies, and various other applications on top of that.” That central database is still growing and Delingpole believes that it’s not unrealistic for it to run to a much higher number in order to get the most accurate picture possible. “Although we have 10 million today, we want to cover every company and person one day. We think the right number is 8 billion” — that is, the world’s population. “With that larger database we can solve other kinds of crimes too.” The startup already has a straight channel through to government agencies, reporting connections and discoveries on behalf of their clients directly to them. And to be clear, although there are now strong data protection measures in place in Europe, when people are linked to illegal activity, that puts them on a list that supersedes that. When someone is suspected and is tipped to authorities, that information is kept private. While all institutions will continue to have teams of people dedicated to risk analysis and investigations into activity, the idea here is to supercharge that work with more data that helps those investigators tackle the greater scale of data in the world today. “Detecting financial crime in billions of transactions that take place around the globe has become nearly impossible without the application of data science and machine learning. It is this approach that has made ComplyAdvantage into a leader in the category, and the go-to partner for organizations who seek to automate what are still very often manual or inadequate processes,” said Jan Hammer, a partner at Index Ventures, in a statement. The longer-term opportunity is to build out ComplyAdvantage’s customer base by leveraging information that the company is already surfacing that might be relevant to other verticals. Insurance is a key example, Delingpole said. “We already see a mention of a person having defaulted on a loan then making an insurance claim,” he said. “We see credit, fraud and ownership data together.” This, of course, puts the company into close competition not just with others building credit databases but those building strong AI platforms to leverage data to gain deeper insights into seemingly disparate digital actions and to build better pictures of activity on behalf of their clients. That includes not just partners like Quantexa but others like Palantir. The strength here, said Delingpole, is the sheer size of ComplyAdvantage’s database and its very specific focus on financial crime and how that sits for companies that need to police that, both for their own business health and for regulatory reasons. It’s that focus that has attracted investment. “ComplyAdvantage offers mission-critical technology solutions for combating financial crime and keeping pace with an ever-evolving regulatory landscape,” said Olivia Steedman, Senior Managing Director, TIP, at Ontario Teachers’. “The company is well positioned to continue its rapid growth as its powerful technology platform transforms the compliance and risk management process for its clients.”

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The world’s hardware haven is taking a digital leap for pets. In May, China’s southern city Shenzhen announced that all dogs must be implanted with a chip, joining the rank of the U.K., Japan, Australia and a growing number of countries to make microchips mandatory for dogs. This week, city regulators began to set up injection stations across their partnering pet clinics, according to social media posts from the Shenzhen Urban Management Bureau. The chip, which is said to last for at least 15 years and comes in the size of a grain of rice, is implanted under the skin of a dog’s neck. Each chip, when scanned by authorized personnel, reveals a unique 15-digit number matching the dog’s name and breed, as well as its owner’s identity and contact information — which will help reduce strays. The microchip, a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, doesn’t track the dog’s location; nor does the authority store its owner’s personal information, according to a local media report. While Shenzhen’s poster child of technology Huawei is striving to phase out foreign semiconductor parts amid U.S. trade sanctions, the city is procuring imported pet chips, including American and Sweden brands, said the same report. The Shenzhen government is footing the bill for all the implants as it aims to seize more regulatory oversight over the city’s growing pet population. Those who don’t get their dogs microchipped by November will face a fine or have to turn their pets over to regulators. The city of over 20 million residents owned around 200,000 dogs and cats in 2019, according to official data. The total number of dogs and cats nationwide grew 8.4% year-over-year to nearly 1 billion in 2019, an industry white paper showed.

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posted 8 days ago on techcrunch
The latest startup to see an uplift in inbound interest flowing from the remote work boom triggered by the coronavirus pandemic is Berlin-based Everphone, which sells a ‘mobile as a service’ device rental package that caters to businesses needing to kit staff out with mobile hardware plus associated support. Everphone is announcing a €34 million Series B funding round today, led by new investor signals Venture Capital. Other new investors joining the round include German carrier Deutsche Telekom — investing via its strategic investment fund, Telekom Innovation Pool — US-based early stage VC AlleyCorp and Dutch bank NIBC. The Series B financing will go on expanding to meet rising demand, with the startup telling TechCrunch it’s expecting to see a 70-100% increase in sales volume vs the pre-crisis period, thanks to a doubling of inbound leads during the pandemic. “The global pandemic has been a catalyst for growth in the field of digitization,” said CEO and co-founder, Jan Dzulko, in a statement. “We are currently experiencing a significant increase in demand at home and abroad, which is why we are aiming for European expansion with the funding.” Everphone describes its offer as a one-stop-shop, with the service covering not just the rental of (new or refurbished) smartphones and tablets but an administration and management wrapper that covers support needs, including handling repairs/replacements — with the promise of replacements within 24 hours if needed and less client risk from not having to wrangle traditional rental insurance fine print. Other touted pluses of its “device as a service” approach include flexibility (users get to choose from a range of iOS and Android devices); lower cost (pricing depends on customer size, device choice and rental term but starts at €7,99 a month for a refurbished budget device, rising up to €49,99 a month for high end kit with a 12-month upgrade); and rental bundles which can include standard mobile device management software (such as Cortado and AirWatch) so customers can plug the rental hardware into their existing IT policies and processes. Everphone reckons this service wrapper — which can also extend to including paid apps (such as Babbel for language learning) as an employee on-device perk/benefit in the bundle — differentiates its offer vs incumbent leasing providers, such as CHG-Meridian or De Lage Landen, and from wholesale distributors. It also touts its global rollout capability as a customer draw, checking the scalability box. While its investors (including German carrier, DK) are being fired up by the conviction that the COVID-19 induced shift away from the office to home working will create a boom in demand for well managed and secured work phones to mitigate the risk of personal devices and personal data mingling improperly with work stuff. (On that front Everphone’s website is replete with references to Europe’s data protection framework, GDPR, repurposed as scare marketing.) “Everphone envisions that every employee will one day work via their smartphone,” added Marcus Polke, partner at signals Venture Capital, in a supporting statement. “With this employee-centric approach and integrated platform, everphone goes far beyond the mere outsourcing of a smartphone IT infrastructure.” The 2016-founded startup has more than 400 customers signed up at this point, both SMEs and multinationals such as Ernst & Young. It caters to both ends of the market with an off-the-shelf package and self-service device management portal that’s intended for SMEs of between 100 and 1,500 employees — plus custom integrations for larger entities of up to 30,000 employees. It says it’s able to offer “highly competitive” prices for renting new devices because it gives returned kit a second life, refurbishing and reselling devices on the consumer market. “Thanks to this profitable secondary lifespan, we are able to offer highly competitive prices and extensive service levels on our rental devices,” Everphone writes on its website. The second hand smartphone market has also been seeing regional growth. Swappie, a European ecommerce startup that sells refurbished iPhones, aligning with EU lawmakers’ push for a ‘right to repair’ for electronics, raised its own ~$40M Series B only last month, for example. Its secondhand marketplace is one potential outlet for Everphone’s rented and returned iPhones.

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Flipkart on Tuesday launched a hyperlocal service in suburbs of Bangalore, four years after the e-commerce group abruptly concluded its previous foray into this category. The e-commerce group, owned by Walmart, said Flipkart Quick leverages the company’s supply chain infrastructure and a new location mapping technology framework to deliver more than 2,000 products across grocery, perishables, smartphones, electronics accessories, and stationary items within 90 minutes to customers. When a customer places an order, the items are sourced from local neighborhood stores, warehouses and retail chains. Flipkart Quick — initially operational in Whitefield, Panathur, HSR Layout, BTM Layout, Banashankari, RK Puram and Indiranagar among other suburbs of Bangalore — allows customers to book a convenient two-hour slot between 6am to midnight for delivery. The company, which is working with a range of partnered firms, is levying a delivery charge starting 29 Indian rupees (39 cents) on servicing these orders, it said. The launch of Quick stands to provide Flipkart an opportunity to reach a new set of users, especially those who otherwise see no reason to buy online, offer more timely deliveries and also become a headache for some existing startups such as Dunzo that already operate in a similar space. It also marks Flipkart’s foray into servicing fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and milk orders. “This is a great model for India as households of all sizes are already used to their neighbourhood Kirana stores. In fact, Indian families are so comfortable with what we call the ‘hyperlocal context’, that there is a tendency to develop deep, familial ties with vendors, shopkeepers and service providers – now with the convenience of e-commerce,” said Sandeep Karwa, a VP at Flipkart, in a statement. “While we start with our dark store (no-walkin) model, wherein we enable sellers to store inventory close to the consumer; this model has the potential of encouraging local entrepreneurship and enabling new business strategies and partnerships. Today, with Flipkart Quick – our Hyperlocal capability, we have the potential to bring together the whole network of neighbourhood Kirana stores onto our platform with just a click,” he added. This isn’t the first time Flipkart has explored the hyperlocal delivery category. In late 2015, Flipkart launched Nearby to deliver perishables, grocery, wellbeing, and household items within 60 minutes. But the company abruptly discontinued Nearby reportedly because of poor demand and thin margin. Flipkart did not reference Nearby today, but talked about the efforts it has made to build Quick and the opportunities it sees in the market. A Flipkart spokeswoman told TechCrunch that the company plans to expand Quick hyperlocal delivery service outside of Bangalore in a few months. Flipkart said for Quick, it is also moving away from the traditional model of using zip code system to identify delivery location and instead using a latitude and longitude approach. This model enables the company to “not only narrow down the location” but also be “more precise” and deliver more efficiently.

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