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Tag Archives: startups

Titan launches its mobile ‘not a hedge fund’

What Robinhood did to democratize buying individual stocks, Titan wants to do for investing in a managed portfolio. Instead of being restricted to rich accredited investors willing to pour $5,000 or even $500,000 into a traditional hedge fund that charges 2 percent fees and 20 percent of profits, Titan lets anyone invest as little as $1,000 for just a 1 percent fee on assets while keeping all the profits. Titan picks the top 20 stocks based on data mined from the most prestigious hedge funds, then invests your money directly in those with personalized shorts based on your risk profile. Titan has more $10 million under management after quietly spinning up five months ago, and this week the startup graduates from Y Combinator. Now Titan is ready to give upscale millennials a more sophisticated way to play the markets. This startup is hot. It refused to disclose its funding, likely in hopes of not tipping off competitors and incumbents to the opportunity it’s chasing. But it’s the buzz of YC, with several partners already investing their own money through Titan. When you consider Stanford-educated free stock-trading app Robinhood’s stunning $5.6 billion valuation thanks to its disruption of E*Trade, it’s easy to imagine why investors are eager to back Titan’s attack on other financial vehicles. “We’re all 28 to 30 years old,” says co-founder Clayton Gardner about his team. “We want to actively invest and participate in the market but most of us who don’t have experience have no idea what we’re doing.” Most younger investors end up turning to family, friends or Reddit for unreliable advice. But Titan lets them instantly buy the most reputable stocks without having to stay glued to market tickers, while using an app to cut out the costs of pricey brokers and Wall Street offices. Titan co-founders (from left): Max Bernardy, Joe Percoco, Clayton Gardner “We all came from the world of having worked at hedge funds and private equity firms like Goldman Sachs

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YC-backed Sterblue aims to enable smarter drone inspections

As government regulation for commercial drone usage seems to be trending in a very positive direction for the companies involved, there is an ever-growing opportunity for drone startups to utilize artificial intelligence to deliver insights without requiring much human effort. Sterblue , a French drone software startup that is launching out of Y Combinator’s latest class of companies, is aiming to get off-the-shelf drones inspecting large outdoor structures up close with automated insights that identify anomalies that need a second look. The startup’s software is specifically focused on enabling drones to easily inspect large power lines or wind turbines with simple automated trajectories that can get a job done much quicker and with less room for human error. The software also allows the drones to get much closer to the large structures they are scanning so the scanned images are as high-quality as possible. Compared to navigating a tight urban environment, Sterblue has the benefit of there being very few airborne anomalies around these structures, so autonomously flying along certain flight paths is as easy as having a CAD structure available and enough wiggle room to correct for things like wind condition. Operators basically just have to connect their drones to the Sterblue cloud platform where they can upload photos and view 3D models of the structures they have scanned while letting the startup’s neural net identify any issues that need further attention. All and all, Sterblue says their software can let drones get within three meters of power lines and wind turbines, which allows their AI systems to easily detect anomalies from the photos being taken. Sterblue says their system can detect defects as small as one millimeter in size. The startup was initially working on their own custom drone hardware but decided that their efforts were best spent supporting off-the-shelf devices from companies like DJI, with their software solution sitting on top. The founding team is composed of former Airbus employees that are focusing early efforts on utility companies, with some of the first customers based in Europe, Africa and Asia.

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Incentivai launches to simulate how hackers break blockchains

Cryptocurrency projects can crash and burn if developers don’t predict how humans will abuse their blockchains. Once a decentralized digital economy is released into the wild and the coins start to fly, it’s tough to implement fixes to the smart contracts that govern them. That’s why Incentivai is coming out of stealth today with its artificial intelligence simulations that test not just for security holes, but for how greedy or illogical humans can crater a blockchain community. Crypto developers can use Incentivai’s service to fix their systems before they go live. “There are many ways to check the code of a smart contract, but there’s no way to make sure the economy you’ve created works as expected,” says Incentivai’s solo founder Piotr Grudzień. “I came up with the idea to build a simulation with machine learning agents that behave like humans so you can look into the future and see what your system is likely to behave like.” Incentivai will graduate from Y Combinator next week and already has a few customers. They can either pay Incentivai to audit their project and produce a report, or they can host the AI simulation tool like a software-as-a-service. The first deployments of blockchains it’s checked will go out in a few months, and the startup has released some case studies to prove its worth. “People do theoretical work or logic to prove that under certain conditions, this is the optimal strategy for the user. But users are not rational. There’s lots of unpredictable behavior that’s difficult to model,” Grudzień explains.

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DoorDash raises another $250M, nearly triples valuation to $4B

Food delivery startup DoorDash announced this afternoon that it has raised $250 million, just five months since the company announced a $535 million round . Why raise more money so soon? CEO Tony Xu told Axios that he wasn’t actively looking for additional investment, but was open to investor interest because it could help the company expand more quickly. (Maybe he’ll have more to say about those plans at Disrupt SF next month.) The new funding was led by Coatue Management and DST Global. It sounds like the terms were pretty appealing too, with the valuation growing from $1.4 billion to $4 billion. In a blog post , the company said it’s had a good 2018, with deliveries increasing 250 percent year-over-year, restaurant chains like Chipotle and IHOP signing up and last week’s launch of the DashPass subscription service , where you can pay $9.99 per month to get unlimited free deliveries. “As we grow, we will stay true to our values and our mission of connecting people with possibility  —  and, trust us, we’re just getting started,” DoorDash wrote.

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Autonomous retail startup Inokyo’s first store feels like stealing

Inokyo wants to be the indie Amazon Go. It’s just launched its prototype cashierless autonomous retail store. Cameras track what you grab from shelves, and with a single QR scan of its app on your way in and out of the store, you’re charged for what you got. Inokyo ‘s first store is now open on Mountain View’s Castro Street selling an array of bougie kombuchas, snacks, protein powders and bath products. It’s sparse and a bit confusing, but offers a glimpse of what might be a commonplace shopping experience five years from now. You can get a glimpse yourself in our demo video below: “Cashierless stores will have the same level of impact on retail as self-driving cars will have on transportation,” Inokyo co-founder Tony Francis tells me. “This is the future of retail. It’s inevitable that stores will become increasingly autonomous.” Inokyo (rhymes with Tokyo) is now accepting signups for beta customers who want early access to its Mountain View store. The goal is to collect enough data to dictate the future product array and business model. Inokyo is deciding whether it wants to sell its technology as a service to other retail stores, run its own stores or work with brands to improve their product’s positioning based on in-store sensor data on custom behavior. “ We knew that building this technology in a lab somewhere wouldn’t yield a successful product,” says Francis. “Our hypothesis here is that whoever ships first, learns in the real world and iterates the fastest on this technology will be the ones to make these stores ubiquitous.” Inokyo might never rise into a retail giant ready to compete with Amazon and Whole Foods. But its tech could even the playing field, equipping smaller businesses with the tools to keep tech giants from having a monopoly on autonomous shopping experiences

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The company behind BarkBox is opening an ‘outdoor clubhouse’ for Nashville’s dogs

Bark , the company behind the BarkBox subscription for dog treats and toys , is planning to open what it calls its first BarkPark in Nashville. It sounds like the goal is to create a space that combines a dog park with a coffee shop or other hangout spot for humans. “I was out with friends, we’re drinking wine, it’s a really cool restaurant … it was like a poster for people having a good time in the city,” said Bark co-founder Henrik Werdelin said in a company blog post. “But my dog Molly was left out. And I realized: she deserves a space like this. We should be here together.” At BarkPark, dogs will be able to play off-leash, and also try out Bark toys and treats (a selection will also be available for purchase). Their owners, meanwhile, will get free WiFi, access to a little coffee shop and the ability to ask questions of Bark staff. Plus, both the dog and their owners will be able to attend weekly dog-friendly programming, like live music and beer tastings. Day passes cost $19, and you can also buy four-week ($49) or seasonal ($78) passes. The memberships are designed to be dog-centric — while you (the human) will presumably be paying the bill, your dog is the actual BarkPark member, and can be accompanied by any two humans. So if you’re out of town, you don’t need to worry about getting access for, say, your dogwalker or dogsitter. Bark is currently building out the Nashville BarkPark location (which is why all the illustrations in this story are either renderings or sketches), with plans to open on September 8. And while the company is treating this as a three-month pop up initially, with BarkPark closing for the winter on November 18, the idea could be extended in Nashville and expanded elsewhere. Why start in Nashville? While the city has many virtues, Bark said it was ultimately because it’s “ahead of the curve” as a pet-friendly city.

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Descartes Labs launches its geospatial analysis platform

Descartes Labs , a New Mexico-based geospatial analytics startup, today announced that its platform is now out of beta. The well-funded company  already allowed businesses to analyze satellite imagery it pulls in from NASA and ESA and build predictive models based on this data, but starting today, it is adding weather data to its library, as well as commercial high-resolution imagery thanks to a new partnership with Airbus’ OneAtlas project . As Descartes Labs co-founder Mark Johnson, who you may remember from Zite , told me, the team now regularly pulls in 100 terabytes of new data every day. The company’s clients then use this data to predict the growth of crops, for example. And while Descartes Labs can’t disclose most of its clients, Johnson told me that Cargill  and teams at Los Alamos National Labs are among its users. While anybody could theoretically access the same data and spin up thousands of compute nodes to analyze it and build models , the value of a service like this is very much about abstracting all of that work away and letting developers and analysts focus on what they do best. “If you look at the early beta customers of the system, typically it’s a company that has some kind of geospatial expertise,” Johnson told me. “Oftentimes, they’re collecting data of their own and their primary challenge is that the folks on their team who ought to be spending all their time doing science on the data sets — the majority of their time, sometimes 80 plus percent of their time — they are collecting the data, cleaning the data, getting the data analysis ready. So only a small percentage of their work time is spent on analysis.” So far, Descartes Labs’ infrastructure, which mostly runs on the Google Cloud Platform, has processed more than 11 petabytes of compressed data. Thanks to the partnership with Airbus, it’s now also getting very high-resolution data for its users. While some of the free data from the Landsat satellites, for example, have a resolution of 30m per pixel, the Airbus data comes in at 1.5m per pixel across the entire world and 50cm per pixel over 2,600 cities. Add NOAA’s global weather data to this, and it’s easy to imagine what kind of models developers could build based on all of this information. Many users, Johnson tells me, also bring their own data to the service to build better models.

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Flowbox is a tool that makes it easy to build special effects

What do you get when you connect a bunch of filmmakers with a bunch of programmers? Something like Flowbox . Flowbox, which began life as a unique object-oriented programming language for visual effects, has grown into something truly powerful in the moviemaking industry. Run by Mikołaj Valencia​, Michał Urbańczyk​, Paweł Pietraszko, and Mat Bujalski, this Polish company is currently working with a number of big studios to add VFX to huge productions. “Flowbox is an industrial strength image processing platform incorporating many recent innovations in computer graphics field,” said Valencia. “It delivers semi-automated rotoscopy, one of the most tedious manual labor used in 25 precent of all video content processing. It allows for huge time savings.” The team is working on adding other tools to the toolchain as well including color correction and image composition. The system is unique in that it uses a visual interface to change the video. It also supports distributed computing which speeds up the compositing system immensely. The idea was born in 2010 as a reaction to the poor tools available to filmmakers at the time. “The idea for the Flowbox project was initiated in 2010 by Wojciech Daniło, by this time as Senior Technical Director at Alvernia Studios (the most modern film studio in Poland),” said Valencia. “His job was to design and create solutions for visual effects for international productions like Arbitrage with Richard Gere and Vamps of Sigourney Weaver. That’s when he discovered the problems faced by his associates and how limited and inflexible the leading tools were.” The company has raised $1 million so far including an infusion from Innovation Nest . The app’s high-tech approach to rotoscoping could be just the thing filmmakers need to unlock the true potential of their already powerful tools.

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Cytera CellWorks aims to bring cell culture automation to your dinner plate

Cytera CellWorks  hopes to revolutionize the so-called “clean meat” industry through the automation of cell cultures — and that could mean one day, if all goes to plan, the company’s products could be in every grocery store in America. Cytera is a ways off from that happening, though. Founded in 2017 by two college students in the U.K., Ignacio Willats and Ali Afshar, Cytera uses robotic automation to configure cell cultures used in things like growing turkey meat from a petri dish or testing stem cells. The two founders — Willats, the events and startups guy and Afshar the scientist, like to do things differently to better configure the lab, as well — like strapping GoPros to lab workers’ heads, for instance. The two came together at the Imperial College of London to run an event for automation in the lab and from there formed their friendship and their company. “At the time, lab automation felt suboptimal,” Afshar told TechCrunch, further explaining he wanted to do something with a higher impact. Cellular agriculture, or growing animal cells in a lab, seems to hit that button and the two are currently enrolled in Y Combinator’s Summer 2018 cohort to help them get to the next step. There’s been an explosion in the lab-made meat industry, which relies on taking a biopsy of animal cells and then growing them in a lab to make the meat versus getting it from an actual living, breathing animal. In just the last couple of years startups like Memphis Meats have started to pop up, offering lab meat to restaurants. Even the company known for its vegan mayo products, Hampton Creek (now called Just), is creating a lab-grown foie gras . Originally, the company was going to go for general automation in the lab, but had enough interest from clients and potential business in just the cell culture automation aspect they changed the name for clarity. Cytera already has some promising prospects, too, including a leading gene therapy company the two couldn’t name just yet. Of course, automation in the lab is nothing new and big pharma has already poured billions into it for drug discovery. One could imagine a giant pharma company teaming up with a meat company looking to get into the lab-made meat industry and doing something similar, but so far Willats and Afshar says they haven’t really seen that happening. They say bigger companies are much more likely to partner with smaller startups like theirs to get the job done

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Y Combinator invests in HappiLabs to help scientists shop smarter

To create life-saving drugs or groundbreaking technological advancements, scientists first need the proper lab equipment. Everything from intricate and expensive specialized machines to beakers and rubber gloves must be sourced, price compared and ordered by a lab manager before even the first steps toward discovery can take place. But, says Tom Ruginis, CEO and founder of the virtual lab manger startup HappiLabs , the process for finding the best and most cost-effective materials for your lab is far from a standardized process. “The pricing aspect started catching my attention more and more,” Ruginis told TechCrunch. “The profit margin for lab supplies is extraordinarily large. Scientists don’t know that, and even if they know that it’s really hard for them to shop around. There’s nowhere for them to go.” As an ex-PhD student and lab manager himself, Ruginis has first-hand experience with the struggles — and shortcuts — necessary to properly stock your lab. After leaving his PhD program in pharmacology, Ruginis took a job as a salesman for a scientific distributor and saw that even labs that were floors apart were paying drastically different prices for the same basic supplies. Taken aback at how far behind scientific purchasing was from the rest of the retail world, Ruginis began compiling his own spreadsheet of pricing information and, with the help of his then-girlfriend (now wife) Rachel, began designing small price-comparison pamphlets for items like gloves and beakers to distribute to local labs to give them a perspective on the pricing space. “I went to this one lab that I knew was paying too much,” said Ruginis. “I had data showing that a lab three floors up in their building was paying almost half the price. I went straight to the lab and showed them this. I asked ‘would you give me $10 for this info and if I kept bringing you more pricing info?’ They gave me $10 and in my head that was our first customer.” Ruginis says the pamphlets grew from one page to eight and it wasn’t long after that labs began coming to him directly for purchasing guidance and outsourcing. And in 2012, with $20,000 raised from friends and family, he launched HappiLabs as a virtual lab manager for labs, spanning topics from biotech and brain research to robotics

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Y Combinator invests in a build-your-own mac and cheese restaurant

Y Combinator has invested $120,000 in Mac’d , a build-your-own mac and cheese restaurant that lets customers choose their own adventure from the beginning. I popped over to one of the Mac’d locations last week in San Francisco to get my mac on and chat with the founders. For starters, the mac and cheese was bomb. Sure, one could argue it’s hard to mess up mac and cheese, but it’s somehow been done before. Trust me, I know this from firsthand experience. I opted for a relatively basic mac and cheese with what Mac’d calls its “#Basic” sauce, which is a blend of cheddar cheeses, a spice mix and a hint of asiago. From there, I selected a combination of a shells and elbow noodle base. For those who are gluten-free, Mac’d also offers a cauliflower base. Next, I picked my mix-ins. Again, I’m super basic, so I just went with bacon and topped it with pulled pork and breadcrumbs. Although the restaurant is tech-enabled, it’s less of a tech play and more of a restaurant play, Mac’d founder Chen-Chen Huo (pictured above on right) told TechCrunch.

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African tech leaders Fope Adelowo, Ken Njoroge, Tayo Oviosu to speak at Disrupt SF

Africa’s startup scene is growing by leaps and bounds and three tech leaders are set to share insights on this vibrant space at Disrupt San Francisco.    Paga CEO Tay0 Oviosu, Helios Investment Partners’ Vice President Fope Adelowo , and Cellulant CEO Ken Njoroge will take the stage September 7 to discuss topics such as fintech, Africa’s founder experience, data privacy, VC investment, and the continent’s future unicorn and IPO prospects. Nearly two decades of improved stability, economic growth and reform have created some bright spots on the continent, rapid modernization and a growing technology scene among them. Africa minted its first unicorn — e-commerce venture Jumia — in 2016 and over the last five years, just about every big-name U.S. tech company, including Facebook , Google and Netflix , has expanded there. The continent now has 442 active tech hubs , accelerators and innovation spaces across IT hotspots in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and Rwanda. Thousands of African startups are moving into every imaginable sector: from blockchain , logistics and education to healthcare and agriculture . And hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital is flowing to these startups, with the expectation that some of their solutions for Africa’s 1.2 billion people will produce significant ROI. Two of those ventures are Oviosu’s Paga and Njoroge’s Cellulant. Paga has become one of Nigeria’s leading digital payments providers in a market where many people are just signing on to financial services. Since 2012 the company has processed 57 million transactions worth $3.6 billion, reached 9 million users, and achieved profitability, according to Oviosu. Cellulant—a Nairobi headquartered Pan-African payment startup—has also posted some impressive fintech stats. The company offers  B2B  and P2B services to clients that include some of the continent’s largest banks.

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Taiwan startup FunNow gets $5M Series A to help locals in Asian cities find last-minute things to do

“Instant booking” apps that let tourists sign up for activities on very short notice have been in the news a lot lately, partly because of Klook’s new unicorn status , but also because of the proliferation of startups in the space, especially in Asia. With so many instant booking apps, are there any niches left to fill? FunNow thinks so. Instead of targeting tourists, FunNow serves locals who want to find new things to do in their cities. The Taipei, Taiwan-based startup announced today that it has raised a $5 million Series A led by the Alibaba Entrepreneur Fund, with participation from CDIB, a returning investor, Darwin Venture and Accuvest. The capital will be used to expand FunNow into Southeast Asian and Japanese cities. Along with a pre-A round closed last July, its newest funding brings FunNow’s total raised since its launch in November 2015 to $6.5 million. FunNow currently claims 500,000 members and 3,000 vendors, who provide more than 20,000 activities and services daily. Co-founder and CEO T.K. Chen says the startup will focus on building its presence in Hong Kong, Okinawa, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Osaka and Tokyo. One noteworthy fact about its Series A is the participation of Alibaba, which is beefing up its online-to-offline (or O2O, the business of enabling users to book and pay for offline services) offerings as competitor Meituan-Dianping prepares to go public in Hong Kong . A roster of Alibaba apps, including Koubei for local bookings, food delivery platform Ele.me and travel app Feizhu, compete against Meituan-Dianping, which describes itself as a “one-stop super app” because it offers all those services. A not-for-profit initiative, the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund supports startups that might eventually contribute to the tech giant’s ecosystem. While Alibaba’s O2O apps are focused on capturing a bigger share away from Meituan-Dianping in China, Chen says future synergies may include listing FunNow’s activities on Koubei so Chinese tourists can continue using the app when they travel. (Chen added that Alibaba wants FunNow to expand in Southeast Asia as soon as possible.) Even with a backer like Alibaba, however, the obvious question is how does FunNow compare with other instant booking apps?

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Founder Zain Jaffer may be looking to take back control of Vungle

Zain Jaffer may be gearing up for a fight to take back control of Vungle , the mobile ad company he founded. Jaffer was removed from his role as CEO last fall following his arrest on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and performing a lewd act on a child. However, a San Mateo County judge subsequently dismissed the charges.  The district attorney’s office released a statement offering more context for the dismissal, saying that they did not believe there was any sexual conduct on the evening in question, and that “the injuries were the result of Mr. Jaffer being in a state of unconsciousness caused by prescription medication.” So what’s next for Jaffer and Vungle? There are hints in a recent letter from Jaffer’s attorney, John Pernick, which was sent to current Vungle CEO Rick Tallman. TechCrunch has obtained a copy of the letter, which requests access to Vungle’s records, specifically the names and addresses of company shareholders. Pernick’s letter suggests that this could be a prelude to further action (emphasis added): Mr. Jaffer is considering various options with respect to Vungle and his shares of Vungle. He has considered selling some portion of his Vungle shares. However, he is also considering pursuing a leadership change at Vungle through calling for a shareholders meeting for the purpose of voting on a new board of directors and/or purchasing shares of additional Vungle stock.

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Apeel Sciences is combating food waste with plant-derived second peels

In a world bursting with abundances like self-driving cars and robotic personal assistants , you would think that basic needs like sustainable food sourcing and distribution would be a problem of the past. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) , every year roughly a third — 1.3 billion tons — of food grown for consumption is lost or wasted. In industrialized countries like the U.S., this results in a loss of $680 billion per year, and in countries without standardized infrastructure (such as proper cooling systems), this results in a loss of $310 billion per year. Among the billions of tons of food lost per year, the largest percentage is in vital, nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables and roots and tubers (such as potatoes and carrots), each seeing about 45 percent wasted annually. There are many factors responsible for food waste, including poorly regulated “Best By” and “Sell By” dates in the U.S. that tempt fickle customers into wasting otherwise good food, and unreliable or non-existent cooling distribution systems in less-industrialized countries. But an underlying cause of both of these issues, especially for easily spoiled foods, is the inherent shelf life of the food itself. And that’s where Apeel Sciences steps in . The California-based startup is combating food waste by using plant-derived materials from food itself to create an extra protective barrier to prolong its life and stave off spoilage — essentially, creating a second peel. To create it, farmers just add water to Apeel’s protective powder and apply it to produce as a spray or wash. For founder and CEO James Rogers, who was working on a PhD in materials engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara when he was inspired to create Apeel Sciences, the solution to the problem of quickly spoiled food could be found by looking to a problem science had already solved: rust. “Factors that cause spoilage are water loss and oxidation,” Rogers told TechCrunch.

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