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Zoom, the profitable tech unicorn, prices IPO above range

Posted by on Apr 17, 2019 in board member, economy, Emergence Capital, Finance, Fundings & Exits, initial public offering, Li Ka-shing, NASDAQ, photo sharing, Pinterest, Private Equity, sequoia capital, Startups, TC, Venture Capital, video conferencing, zoom | 0 comments

Zoom, a relatively under-the-radar tech unicorn, has defied expectations with its initial public offering. The video conferencing business priced its IPO above its planned range on Wednesday, confirming plans to sell shares of its Nasdaq stock, titled “ZM,” at $36 apiece, CNBC reports.

The company initially planned to price its shares at between $28 and $32 per share, but following big demand for a piece of a profitable tech business, Zoom increased expectations, announcing plans to sell shares at between $33 and $35 apiece.

The offering gives Zoom an initial market cap of roughly $9 billion, or nine times that of its most recent private market valuation.

Zoom plans to sell 9,911,434 shares of Class A common stock in the listing, to bring in about $350 million in new capital.

If you haven’t had the chance to dive into Zoom’s IPO prospectus, here’s a quick run-down of its financials:

  • Zoom raised a total of $145 million from venture capitalists before filing to go public
  • It posted $330 million in revenue in the year ending January 31, 2019 with a gross profit of $269.5 million
  • It more than doubled revenues from 2017 to 2018, ending 2017 with $60.8 million in revenue and 2018 with $151.5 million
  • Its losses have shrunk from $14 million in 2017, $8.2 million in 2018 and just $7.5 million in the year ending January 2019

Zoom is backed by Emergence Capital, which owns a 12.2 percent pre-IPO stake; Sequoia Capital (11.1 percent); Digital Mobile Venture, a fund affiliated with former Zoom board member Samuel Chen (8.5 percent); and Bucantini Enterprises Limited (5.9 percent), a fund owned by Chinese billionaire Li Ka-shing.

Zoom will debut on the Nasdaq the same day Pinterest will go public on the NYSE. Pinterest, for its part, has priced its shares above its planned range, per The Wall Street Journal.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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A new lawsuit involving Stanford and Sequoia Capital highlights fights to come over cell-free DNA testing

Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in CareDx, guardant health, Health, Illumina, Lawsuit, Natera, sequoia capital, Stanford University, TC | 0 comments

This morning, a publicly traded transplant diagnostics company called CareDx, along with Stanford University, sued another publicly traded genetic testing company, Natera, for patent infringement.

Much appears to be at stake, and it all centers on cell-free DNA testing, a type of technology that has already been at the crux of numerous lawsuits and looks poised to play center stage again in future corporate battles.

Loosely defined, cell-free DNA (or cfDNA) technology involves blood tests that enable physicians to understand what’s happening in someone’s body. They’re not looking at red or white blood cells (thus the “cell free” part) but at plasma, which carries pieces of broken-up DNA, among other things.

Companies like newly public Guardant Health are using it to try to ensure that cancer patients receive the right drugs. Prenatal cfDNA screening has meanwhile become a common way to screen for specific chromosomal problems in a developing baby — including Down syndrome, trisomy 13 and trisomy 18. The latter has become particularly popular as an alternative to amniocentesis, a more intrusive, and sometimes high-risk, procedure in which a small amount of amniotic fluid is sampled from the amniotic sac surrounding a developing fetus.

Yet another way that cfDNA testing can monitor clinical conditions and make a major impact on healthcare is by distinguishing the relative proportion of DNA molecules in a patient’s blood after that person has had an organ transplant. Though traditionally, recipients have had to undergo biopsies to gauge whether or not their new organ was being accepted or rejected, it’s now possible to measure through the far-less traumatic process of providing blood samples. (Broadly speaking, if, over time, the amount of donor DNA increases in the patient’s blood, things aren’t going well.)

It’s an important, if relatively new, development, and CareDx, a 19-year-old, Brisbane, Calif.-based company that went public in 2014, claims in its newly filed lawsuit that two patents it controls give it the exclusive right to non-invasively diagnose graft rejection in a great many organ transplant patients via cfDNA testing. What we mean: one of the patents covers “kidney transplant, a heart transplant, a liver transplant, a pancreas transplant, a lung transplant, a skin transplant, and any combination thereof.” The second patent covers 16 different methods, devices, compositions and kits for diagnosing or predicting transplant status or patient outcome.

The patents were awarded to Stanford academics in recent years, including Stephen Quake, a renowned professor of bioengineering and applied physics. Though Stanford owns the patents, however, it licenses them to CareDx, and they’ve dramatically enhanced the company’s prospects. Indeed, while its shares were priced at $10 apiece at the time of its IPO, they’ve been trading at $40 each more recently, thanks largely to its AlloSure test, which is designed specifically for kidney transplant patients and, critically, is now covered by Medicare.

Indeed, CareDx’s lawsuit against 15-year-old Natera, which went public in 2015, accuses it of “preparing to develop and commercialize” a too-similar kidney transplant rejection test beginning in the middle of last year. It’s seeking cash compensation and a court order that blocks the sale of Natera’s offering. It’s an offensive move, too, seemingly, given all those other organs at stake and the markets they could unlock.

Natera, which counts Sequoia Capital’s Roelof Botha as a board member, did not provide management for comment on the suit. Botha also declined through a Sequoia spokesperson to comment. But Natera sent us the following statement about it: “We are confident that we will prevail in this suit should it proceed and do not expect this suit to impact our commercialization plans or disrupt our operations in any way. We are not surprised that CareDx would attempt to disrupt the imminent commercialization of Natera’s innovative organ transplant rejection test, which does not require donor genotyping, and will compete with CareDx’s older test. In recently published studies, Natera demonstrated superior analytical and clinical test performance.”

What happens next remains to be seen, but it’s not the first imbroglio in which Natera finds itself.  A year ago, the gene-testing company Illumina filed a lawsuit against Natera, alleging that the company’s non-invasive prenatal testing infringes a patent that Illumina controls and that relies on analysis of cell-free DNA present in maternal blood. That case is still moving toward a trial. In the meantime, Illumina last year separately won a $26.7 million jury verdict in a lawsuit accusing a subsidiary of Roche Holdings of using patented prenatal testing technology without authorization.

Last year, Natera also agreed to pay $11.4 million to settle a lawsuit with the U.S. government, after it alleged that Natera submitted false claims to several government health programs based on tips by two former Natera employees who filed an earlier whistleblower lawsuit against the company.

Natera — whose founding CEO, Matthew Rabinowitz, stepped down from his position in January of this year, replaced by longtime Natera employee and COO Steve Chapman — denied the allegations and, as part of the settlement terms, did not admit any wrongdoing.

Either way, Natera, CareDx and Illumina aren’t the only ones duking it out over cell-free DNA testing.

In 2017, for example, Guardant filed a lawsuit against rival Foundation Medicine, alleging that Foundation’s advertising for its own liquid and tissue tests harmed both Guardant and cancer patients by misleading oncologists about the relative accuracy and sensitivity of the competing genomic tests. Foundation later sued Guardant, alleging infringement of a patent that covers methods for analyzing a cancer patient’s tissue or blood sample to detect multiple classes of genomic alterations.

The two companies have since settled both without disclosing the terms of their agreement.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Zoom, a profitable unicorn, files to go public

Posted by on Mar 22, 2019 in Cisco, Cisco Systems, Emergence Capital, Eric Yuan, Fundings & Exits, Goldman Sachs, jp morgan, morgan stanley, oracle, sequoia capital, TC, telecommunications, unicorn, Venture Capital, Video, video conferencing, web conferencing, WebEX, zoom | 0 comments

Zoom, the video conferencing startup valued at $1 billion in early 2017, has filed to go public on the Nasdaq as soon as next month.

The company joins a growing list of tech unicorns making the leap to the public markets in 2019, but it stands out for one very important reason: It’s actually profitable.

Zoom was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, an early engineer at WebEx, which sold to Cisco for $3.2 billion in 2007. Before launching Zoom, he spent four years at Cisco as its vice president of engineering. In a conversation with TechCrunch last month, he said he would never sell another company again, hinting at his dissatisfaction at WebEx’s post-acquisition treatment being his motivation for taking Zoom public as opposed to selling.

Zoom, which raised a total of $145 million to date, posted $330 million in revenue in the year ending January 31, 2019, a remarkable 2x increase year-over-year, with a gross profit of $269.5 million. The company similarly more than doubled revenues from 2017 to 2018, wrapping fiscal year 2017 with $60.8 million in revenue and 2018 with $151.5 million.

The company’s losses are shrinking, from $14 million in 2017, $8.2 million in 2018 and just $7.5 million in the year ending January 2019.

Zoom is backed by Emergence Capital, which owns a 12.5 percent pre-IPO stake, according to the IPO filing. Other investors in the business include Sequoia Capital (11.4 percent pre-IPO stake); Digital Mobile Venture (9.8 percent), a fund affiliated with former Zoom board member Samuel Chen; and Bucantini Enterprises Limited (6.1 percent), a fund owned by Li Ka-shing, a Chinese billionaire and among the richest people in the world.

Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs have been recruited to lead the offering.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Netflix star and tidying expert Marie Kondo is looking to raise $40M

Posted by on Mar 8, 2019 in economy, Finance, marie kondo, money, Netflix, sequoia capital, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, Venture Capital | 0 comments

Marie Kondo, the woman who stole millions of Netflix viewers hearts this year with her show, “Tidying Up,” is in talks to raise up to $40 million in venture capital funding to scale KonMari, the business behind her personal brand, books and TV series.

The round, first reported by The Information, wouldn’t be KonMari’s first infusion of venture investment, surprisingly. Last year, the company closed a small funding round led by top-tier VC fund Sequoia Capital, TechCrunch confirmed. A spokesperson for the business told TechCrunch KonMari isn’t commenting on fundraising at this time.

Sources have also confirmed with TechCrunch that Kondo is indeed on the fundraising circuit again, with plans to build an ecommerce platform.

“Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” debuted on Netflix on January 1, 2019 to near-instant success, spurring a wave of internet-fandom for Kondo with her catchphrase “does it spark joy?” and efficient method of cleaning and organizing. The KonMari Method encourages cleaners to tidy by category, starting with clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items. “Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go,” Kondo explains on her website.

KonMari was founded in 2015 by Kondo and her husband, Takumi Kawahara.

 


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Startups Weekly: Flexport, Clutter and SoftBank’s blood money

Posted by on Feb 23, 2019 in alex wilhelm, allianz, Bessemer Venture Partners, Coatue Management, connie loizos, DoorDash, dragoneer investment group, DST Global, Flexport, founders fund, GIC, Ingrid Lunden, Keith Rabois, Lyft, mindworks ventures, Naspers, Panda Selected, Pinterest, sequoia capital, Shunwei Capital, Startups, susa ventures, TC, the wall street journal, Uber, Venture Capital, WaitWhat, Y Combinator | 0 comments

The Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking story this week, highlighting limited partners’ concerns with the SoftBank Vision Fund’s investment strategy. The fund’s “decision-making process is chaotic,” it’s over-paying for equity in top tech startups and it’s encouraging inflated valuations, sources told the WSJ.

The report emerged during a particularly busy time for the Vision Fund, which this week led two notable VC deals in Clutter and Flexport, as well as participated in DoorDash’s $400 million round; more on all those below. So given all this SoftBank news, let us remind you that given its $45 billion commitment, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the Vision Fund’s largest investor. Saudi Arabia is responsible for the planned killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Here’s what I’m wondering this week: Do CEOs of companies like Flexport and Clutter have a responsibility to address the source of their capital? Should they be more transparent to their customers about whose money they are spending to achieve rapid scale? Send me your thoughts. And thanks to those who wrote me last week re: At what point is a Y Combinator cohort too big? The general consensus was this: the size of the cohort is irrelevant, all that matters is the quality. We’ll have more to say on quality soon enough, as YC demo days begin on March 18.

Anyways…

Surprise! Sort of. Not really. Pinterest has joined a growing list of tech unicorns planning to go public in 2019. The visual search engine filed confidentially to go public on Thursday. Reports indicate the business will float at a $12 billion valuation by June. Pinterest’s key backers — which will make lots of money when it goes public — include Bessemer Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, FirstMark Capital, Fidelity and SV Angel.

Ride-hailing company Lyft plans to go public on the Nasdaq in March, likely beating rival Uber to the milestone. Lyft’s S-1 will be made public as soon as next week; its roadshow will begin the week of March 18. The nuts and bolts: JPMorgan Chase has been hired to lead the offering; Lyft was last valued at more than $15 billion, while competitor Uber is valued north of $100 billion.

Despite scrutiny for subsidizing its drivers’ wages with customer tips, venture capitalists plowed another $400 million into food delivery platform DoorDash at a whopping $7.1 billion valuation, up considerably from a previous valuation of $3.75 billion. The round, led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from previous investors SoftBank Vision Fund, DST Global, Coatue Management, GIC, Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, will help DoorDash compete with Uber Eats. The company is currently seeing 325 percent growth, year-over-year.

Here are some more details on those big Vision Fund Deals: Clutter, an LA-based on-demand storage startup, closed a $200 million SoftBank-led round this week at a valuation between $400 million and $500 million, according to TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden’s reporting. Meanwhile, Flexport, a five-year-old, San Francisco-based full-service air and ocean freight forwarder, raised $1 billion in fresh funding led by the SoftBank Vision Fund at a $3.2 billion valuation. Earlier backers of the company, including Founders Fund, DST Global, Cherubic Ventures, Susa Ventures and SF Express all participated in the round.

Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets

Menlo Ventures has a new $500 million late-stage fund. Dubbed its “inflection” fund, it will be investing between $20 million and $40 million in companies that are seeing at least $5 million in annual recurring revenue, growth of 100 percent year-over-year, early signs of retention and are operating in areas like cloud infrastructure, fintech, marketplaces, mobility and SaaS. Plus, Allianz X, the venture capital arm attached to German insurance giant Allianz, has increased the size of its fund to $1.1 billion and London’s Entrepreneur First brought in $115 million for what is one of the largest “pre-seed” funds ever raised.

Flipkart co-founder invests $92M in Ola
Redis Labs raises a $60M Series E round
Chinese startup Panda Selected nabs $50M from Tiger Global
Image recognition startup ViSenze raises $20M Series C
Circle raises $20M Series B to help even more parents limit screen time
Showfields announces $9M seed funding for a flexible approach to brick-and-mortar retail
Podcasting startup WaitWhat raises $4.3M
Zoba raises $3M to help mobility companies predict demand

Indian delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai. ( INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

According to Indian media reports, Uber is in the final stages of selling its Indian food delivery business to local player Swiggy, a food delivery service that recently raised $1 billion in venture capital funding. Uber Eats plans to sell its Indian food delivery unit in exchange for a 10 percent share of Swiggy’s business. Swiggy was most recently said to be valued at $3.3 billion following that billion-dollar round, which was led by Naspers and included new backers Tencent and Uber investor Coatue.

Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup, is the latest venture-backed business to enter the unicorn club with the close of a $300 million Series D round this week. The latest round is split into two, with Hillhouse Capital leading the “D1” tranche and Sequoia China heading up the “D2” portion. New backers Eastern Bell Venture Capital and PV Capital and returning investors ShunWei Capital, Xiang He Capital and MindWorks Ventures also participated.

Longtime investor Keith Rabois is joining Founders Fund as a general partner. Here’s more from TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos: “The move is wholly unsurprising in ways, though the timing seems to suggest that another big fund from Founders Fund is around the corner, as the firm is also bringing aboard a new principal at the same time — Delian Asparouhov — and firms tend to bulk up as they’re meeting with investors. It’s also kind of time, as these things go. Founders Fund closed its last flagship fund with $1.3 billion in 2016.”

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and I discuss Pinterest’s IPO, DoorDash’s big round and SoftBank’s upset LPs.

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Source: The Tech Crunch

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Aurora cofounder and CEO Chris Urmson on the company’s new investor, Amazon, and much more

Posted by on Feb 11, 2019 in Amazon, aurora, Automotive, Logistics, Robotics, self-driving, sequoia capital, t.rowe price, TC, Transportation, waymo | 0 comments

You might not think of self-driving technologies and politics having much in common, but at least in one way, they overlap meaningfully: yesterday’s enemy can be tomorrow’s ally.

Such was the message we gleaned Thursday night, at a small industry event in San Francisco, where we had the chance to sit down with Chris Urmson, the cofounder and CEO of Aurora, a company that (among many others) is endeavoring to make self-driving technologies a safer and more widely adopted alternative to human drivers.

It was a big day for Urmson. Earlier the same day, his two-year-old company announced a whopping $530 million in Series B funding, a round that was led by top firm Sequoia Capital and that included “significant investment” from T. Rowe Price and Amazon.

The financing for Aurora — which is building what it calls a “driver” technology that it expects to eventually integrate into cars built by Volkswagen, Hyundai, and China’s Byton, among others —  is highly notable, even in a sea of giant fundings. Not only does it represent Sequoia’s biggest bet yet on any kind of self-driving technology, it’s also an “incredible endorsement” from T. Rowe Price, said Urmson Thursday night, suggesting it demonstrates that the money management giant “thinks long term and strategically [that] we’re the independent option to self-driving cars.”

Even more telling, perhaps, is the participation of Amazon, which is in constant competition to be the world’s most valuable company, and whose involvement could lead to variety of scenarios down the road, from Aurora powering delivery fleets overseen by Amazon, to Amazon acquiring Aurora outright. Amazon has already begun marketing more aggressively to global car companies and Tier 1 suppliers that are focused on building connected products, saying its AWS platform can help them speed their pace of innovation and lower their cost structures. In November, it also debuted a global, autonomous racing league for 1/18th scale, radio-controlled, self-driving four-wheeled race cars that are designed to help developers learn about reinforcement learning, a type of machine learning. Imagine what it could learn from Aurora.

Indeed, at the event, Urmson said that as Aurora had “constructed our funding round, [we were] very much thinking strategically about how to be successful in our mission of building a driver. And one thing that a driver can do is move people, but it can also move goods. And it’s harder to think of a company where moving goods is more important than Amazon.” Added Urmson, “Having the opportunity to have them partner with us in this funding round, and [talk about] what we might build in the future is awesome.” (Aurora’s site also now features language about “transforming the way people and goods move.”)

The interest of Amazon, T. Rowe, Sequoia and Aurora’s other backers isn’t surprising. Urmson was the formal technical lead of Google’s self-driving car program (now Waymo) . One of his cofounders, Drew Bagnell, is a machine learning expert who still teaches at Carnegie Mellon and was formerly the head of Uber’s autonomy and perception team. Aurora’s third cofounder is Sterling Anderson, the former program manager of Tesla’s Autopilot team.

Aurora’s big round seemingly spooked Tesla investors, in fact, with shares in the electric car maker dropping as a media outlets reported on the details. The development seems like just the type of possibility that had Tesla CEO Elon Musk unsettled when Aurora got off the ground a couple of years ago, and Tesla almost immediately filed a lawsuit against it, accusing Urmson and Anderson of trying poach at least a dozen Tesla engineers and accusing Anderson of taking confidential information and destroying the  evidence “in an effort to cover his tracks.”

That suit was dropped two and a half weeks later in a settlement that saw Aurora pay $100,000. Anderson said at the time the amount was meant to cover the cost of an independent auditor to scour Aurora’s systems for confidential Tesla information. Urmson reiterated on Thursday night that it was purely an “economic decision” meant to keep Aurora from getting further embroiled in an expansive spat.

But Urmson, who has previously called the lawsuit “classy,” didn’t take the bait on Thursday when asked about Musk, including whether he has talked in the last two years with Musk (no), and whether Aurora might need Tesla in the future (possibly). Instead of lord Aurora’s momentum over the company, Urmson said that Aurora and Tesla “got off on the wrong foot.” Laughing a bit, he went on to lavish some praise on the self-driving technology that lives inside Tesla cars, adding that “if there’s an opportunity to work them in the future, that’d be great.”

Aurora, which is also competing for now against the likes of Uber, also sees Uber as a potential partner down the line, said Urmson. Asked about the company’s costly self-driving efforts, whose scale has been drastically downsized in the eleven months since one of its vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, Urmson noted simply that Aurora is “in the business of delivering the driver, and Uber needs a lot of drivers, so we think it would be wonder to partner with them, to partner with Lyft, to partner [with companies with similar ambitions] globally. We see those companies as partners in the future.”

He’d added when asked for more specifics that there’s “nothing to talk about right now.”

Before Thursday’s event, Aurora had sent us some more detailed information about the four divisions that currently employ the 200 people that make up the company, a number that will obviously expand with its new round, as will the testing it’s doing, both on California roads and in Pittsburgh, where it also has a sizable presence. We didn’t have a chance to run them during our conversation with Urmson, but we thought they were interesting and that you might think so, too.

Below, for example, is the “hub” of the Aurora Driver. This is the computer system that powers, coordinates and fuses signals from all of the vehicle’s sensors, executes the software and controls the vehicle. Aurora says it’s designing the Aurora Driver to seamlessly integrate with a wide variety of vehicle platforms from different makes, models and classes with the goal of delivering the benefits of its technology broadly.

Below is a visual representation of Aurora’s perception system, which the company says is able to understand complex urban environments where vehicles need to safely navigate amid many moving objects, including bikes, scooters, pedestrians, and cars.

It didn’t imagine it would at the outset, but Aurora is building its own mapping system to ensure what it (naturally) calls the highest level of precision and scalability, so vehicles powered by the company can understand where they are and update the maps as the world changes.

We asked Urmson if, when the tech is finally ready to go into cars, they will white-label the technology or else use Aurora’s brand as a selling point. He said the matter hasn’t been decided yet but seemed to suggest that Aurora is leaning in the latter direction. He also said the technology would be installed on the carmakers’ factory floors (with Aurora’s help).

One of the ways that Aurora says it’s able to efficiently develop a robust “driver” is to build its own simulation system. It uses its simulator to test its software with different scenarios that vehicles encounter on the road, which it says enables repeatable testing that’s impossible to achieve by just driving more miles.

Aurora’s motion planning team works closely with the perception team to create a system that both detects the important objects on and around the road, and tries to accurately predict how they will move in the future. The ability to capture, understand, and predict the motion of other objects is critical if the tech is going to navigate real world scenarios in dense urban environments, and Urmson has said in the past that Aurora has crafted its related workflow in a way that’s superior to competitors that send the technology back and forth.

Specifically, he told The Atlantic last year: “The classic way you engineer a system like this is that you have a team working on perception. They go out and make it as good as they can and they get to a plateau and hand it off to the motion-planning people. And they write the thing that figures out where to stop or how to change a lane and it deals with all the noise that’s in the perception system because it’s not seeing the world perfectly. It has errors. Maybe it thinks it’s moving a little faster or slower than it is. Maybe every once in a while it generates a false positive. The motion-planning system has to respond to that.

“So the motion-planning people are lagging behind the perception people, but they get it all dialed in and it’s working well enough—as well as it can with that level of perception—and then the perception people say, ‘Oh, but we’ve got a new push [of code].’ Then the motion-planning people are behind the eight ball again, and their system is breaking when it shouldn’t.”

We also asked Urmson about Google, whose self-driving unit was renamed Waymo as it spun out from the Alphabet umbrella as its own company. He was highly diplomatic, saying only good things about the company and, when asked if they’d ever challenged him on anything since leaving, answering that they had not.

Still, he told as one of the biggest advantage that Aurora enjoys is that it was able to use the learnings of its three founders and to start from scratch, whereas the big companies from which each has come cannot completely start over.

As he told TechCrunch in a separate interview last year when asked how Aurora tests its technology, then it comes to self-driving tech, size matters less than one might imagine. “There’s this really easy metric that everyone is using, which is number of miles driven, and it’s one of those things that was really convenient for me in my old place [Google] because we’re out there and we were doing a hell of a lot more than anybody else was at the time, and so it was an easy number to talk about. What’s lost in that, though, is it’s not really the volume of the miles that you drive.” It’s about the quality of the data, he’d continued, suggesting that, for now, at least, Aurora’s is hard to beat.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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Startups Weekly: Will Trump ruin the unicorn IPOs of our dreams?

Posted by on Jan 12, 2019 in aurora, BlackRock, Facebook, First Round Capital, funding, goodwater capital, Insight Venture Partners, Lyft, Magic Leap, money, Mr Jeff, Pinterest, Postmates, romain dillet, sequoia capital, Softbank, Startups, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Uber, Valentin Stalf, Venture Capital | 0 comments

The government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, upping concerns of potentially long-lasting impacts on the U.S. stock market. Private market investors around the country applauded when Uber finally filed documents with the SEC to go public. Others were giddy to hear Lyft, Pinterest, Postmates and Slack (via a direct listing, according to the latest reports) were likely to IPO in 2019, too.

Unfortunately, floats that seemed imminent may not actually surface until the second half of 2019 — that is unless President Donald Trump and other political leaders are able to reach an agreement on the federal budget ASAP.  This week, we explored the government’s shutdown’s connection to tech IPOs, recounted the demise of a well-funded AR project and introduced readers to an AI-enabled self-checkout shopping cart.

1. Postmates gets pre-IPO cash

The company, an early entrant to the billion-dollar food delivery wars, raised what will likely be its last round of private capital. The $100 million cash infusion was led by BlackRock and valued Postmates at $1.85 billion, up from the $1.2 billion valuation it garnered with its unicorn round in 2018.

2. Uber’s IPO may not be as eye-popping as we expected

To be fair, I don’t think many of us really believed the ride-hailing giant could debut with a $120 billion initial market cap. And can speculate on Uber’s valuation for days (the latest reports estimate a $90 billion IPO), but ultimately Wall Street will determine just how high Uber will fly. For now, all we can do is sit and wait for the company to relinquish its S-1 to the masses.

3. Deal of the week

N26, a German fintech startup, raised $300 million in a round led by Insight Venture Partners at a $2.7 billion valuation. TechCrunch’s Romain Dillet spoke with co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf about the company’s global investors, financials and what the future holds for N26.

4. On the market

Bird is in the process of raising an additional $300 million on a flat pre-money valuation of $2 billion. The e-scooter startup has already raised a ton of capital in a very short time and a fresh financing would come at a time when many investors are losing faith in scooter startups’ claims to be the solution to the problem of last-mile transportation, as companies in the space display poor unit economics, faulty batteries and a general air of undependability. Plus, Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital.


Here’s your weekly reminder to send me tips, suggestions and more to kate.clark@techcrunch.com or @KateClarkTweets


5. A unicorn’s deal downsizes

WeWork, a co-working giant backed with billions, had planned on securing a $16 billion investment from existing backer SoftBank . Well, that’s not exactly what happened. And, oh yeah, they rebranded.

6. A startup collapses

After 20 long years, augmented reality glasses pioneer ODG has been left with just a skeleton crew after acquisition deals from Facebook and Magic Leap fell through. Here’s a story of a startup with $58 million in venture capital backing that failed to deliver on its promises.

7. Data point

Seed activity for U.S. startups has declined for the fourth straight year, as median deal sizes increased at every stage of venture capital.

8. Meanwhile, in startup land…

This week edtech startup Emeritus, a U.S.-Indian company that partners with universities to offer digital courses, landed a $40 million Series C round led by Sequoia India. Badi, which uses an algorithm to help millennials find roommates, brought in a $30 million Series B led by Goodwater Capital. And Mr Jeff, an on-demand laundry service startup, bagged a $12 million Series A.

9. Finally, Meet Caper, the AI self-checkout shopping cart

The startup, which makes a shopping cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card swiper, has revealed a total of $3 million, including a $2.15 million seed round led by First Round Capital .

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Source: The Tech Crunch

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The Wing gets $75M from Sequoia, Airbnb

Posted by on Dec 19, 2018 in Airbnb, brian chesky, funding, jess lee, kara nortman, kerry washington, sequoia capital, Startups, upfront ventures, valerie jarrett, Venture Capital, WeWork | 0 comments

The Wing, the owner of several co-working spaces and social clubs designed for women, has garnered the support of Sequoia Capital in its latest funding round.

The startup has announced a $75 million Series C led by the storied venture capital firm, with support from Airbnb and Upfront Ventures, as well as existing investors NEA and WeWork.

Headquartered in New York, The Wing was founded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan in 2015. To date, the pair have raised $117.5 million, including a $32 million Series B in November 2017 led by WeWork, a co-working giant presumably interested in an eventual acquisition of its female-friendly counterpart.

A spokesperson for The Wing declined to disclose its valuation.

The Wing has 6,000 members across locations in New York, Washington, DC and San Francisco — where it first opened its doors just two months ago. The company has additional spots slated to open in West Hollywood, Chicago, Boston, London, Toronto and Paris in 2019. Memberships at the workspaces, which are complete with feminist imagery, conference rooms, a cafe, library, lactation room, beauty room, showers and more, are $215 apiece.

The Wing’s staff is majority female and its spaces are designed by female architects. It’s not surprising the investors behind its latest fundraise are mostly women, too.

As part of the Series C funding, Sequoia partner Jess Lee and Upfront partner Kara Nortman have joined The Wing’s board of directors. Lee, in a statement, said the funding would assist The Wing in bringing its physical community of career-oriented women into the digital realm.

Earlier this year, the company launched a mobile application for its members to stay connected with each other and to RSVP to Wing events.

“This investment will enable us to further The Wing’s mission and scale to new heights both offline and online,” Gelman, The Wing’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

“The Wing’s mission is the advancement of women through community, and we could not be more excited to partner with such a powerful community of women who lead their fields in tech, Hollywood, policy, and sports. This round is proof positive that women can be on both sides of the table.”

Also participating in the financing are actress Kerry Washington, producer Katie McGrath, former White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and two of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense co-founders Robbie Kaplan and Hilary Rosen. U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team players Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Meghan Klingenberg and Becky Sauerbrunn also provided capital to The Wing.

Airbnb, for its part, has not previously invested in The Wing and is not an active investor in startups. It’s unclear what sort of partnership may be brewing between the home-sharing “unicorn” and the feminist co-working space. In a statement provided to TechCrunch, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said he was “incredibly inspired” by The Wing and was “thrilled to support them.”

According to a report from The Information published Tuesday, Airbnb is in talks to lead a $75 million investment in a startup called Lyric, which transforms apartment buildings into hotels for travelers. That, coupled with its contribution to The Wing’s funding round, could mean Airbnb is foraying into the business of startup investing.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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AI chip startup Graphcore closes $200M Series D, adds BMW and Microsoft as strategic investors

Posted by on Dec 18, 2018 in AI, Artificial Intelligence, Atomico, BMW, Bristol, chipset hardware, Dell Technologies Capital, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Graphcore, Hardware, machine learning, Microsoft, sequoia capital, Sofina | 0 comments

UK AI chip startup Graphcore has announced a $200 million Series D round today that’s jointly led by two of its existing investors, European VC Atomico and investment holding firm Sofina.

Graphcore says the Series D values the company at $1.7M. We’ve confirmed the valuation is $1.5M before including the new capital raised. We’re also told that all the new money is inbound, with no cash-outs at this growth stage.

The 2016-founded, Bristol-based startup, which is building dedicated processing hardware for machine learning applications, bagged $50M in Series C financing a year ago, led by Sequoia Capital. That came hard on the heels of a $30M Series B led by Atomico, in July 2017.

It also raised a $32M Series A in October 2016. So Graphcore’s total funding raised to date is circa $312M.

In a blog post announcing the Series D, co-founder Nigel Toon says interest in the round was high but that meant there was a bit of a balancing act between existing and incoming investors.

“We have been receiving very strong interest from lots of large potential new investors, but our existing investors can see the strong growth path we are on, also wanted to invest much more and didn’t want to be diluted,” he writes. “We worked through the different offers and were able to reach a great outcome with new investors taking half the round and our existing investors matching this investment amount.”

One new investor in the Series D is London-based Merian Global Investors, via their Merian Chrysalis Fund along with other funds they manage.

Also joining are two new strategic investors BMW and Microsoft — clearing excited by the potential of Graphcore’s flagship Intelligence Processor Unit (IPU) PCIe processor cards to accelerate the deployment of a range of AI-based technologies that intersect with their own R&D labs.

Commenting in a statement, Tobias Jahn, principal at BMW i Ventures, said: “The versatility of Graphcore’s IPU – which supports multiple machine learning techniques with high efficiency – is well-suited for a wide variety of applications from intelligent voice assistants to self-driving vehicles. With the flexibility to use the same processor in both a data centre and a vehicle, Graphcore’s IPU also presents the possibility of reduction in development times and complexity.”

Existing investors also contributing to the Series D include Amadeus Capital Partners, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, C4 Ventures, Dell Technologies Capital, Draper Esprit, Foundation Capital, Pitango, Samsung and Sequoia Capital.

“We had to tell lots of potential investors that we didn’t have room for them,” Toon adds. 

Graphcore says the new funding will go towards scaling rapidly, with the company set to beef up its engineer teams at its Bristol HQ; its offices in London; Oslo in Norway; and Palo Alto in Silicon Valley.

It will also be opening new offices in Beijing, China and in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Overall it says it intends to triple the size of its team.

“We will be ramping up our production and will be adding to our sales, marketing, finance, legal and people teams,” notes Toon. “Our goal is to build the global market leader in machine intelligence hardware and we are looking forward to an exciting new period of massive growth.”

Graphcore has been shipping its first products to early access customers this year — and generating its first revenues. And it says high volume production is now “ramping up” to meet demand for its IPU cards — which it bills as delivering an increase in speed of 10x to 100x vs current gen chipset hardware.

At the same time there’s growing competition in the dedicated AI chipset space — with what’s now an array of startups attracting an influx of VC dollars (SambaNova, Cerebras Systems, Cambricon Technology and Horizon Robotics, to name a few); alongside existing chip giants (like Intel and Nvidia) also now placing their own bets; and device makers like Apple getting deeper into designing their own silicon.

The race is certainly on to try out different ideas and architectures and see what meshes best with AI technologies and developers.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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China’s Infervision is helping 280 hospitals worldwide detect cancers from images

Posted by on Nov 30, 2018 in Artificial Intelligence, Asia, Beijing, Cancer, chicago, China, cybernetics, Disease, Health, healthcare, hospital, imaging, Infervision, medical imaging, medicine, sequoia capital, Sequoia Capital China, shenzhen, University of Chicago | 0 comments

Until recently, humans have relied on the trained eyes of doctors to diagnose diseases from medical images.

Beijing-based Infervision is among a handful of artificial intelligence startups around the world racing to improve medical imaging analysis through deep learning, the same technology that powers face recognition and autonomous driving.

The startup, which has to date raised $70 million from leading investors like Sequoia Capital China, began by picking out cancerous lung cells, a prevalent cause of death in China. At the Radiological Society of North America’s annual conference in Chicago this week, the three-year-old company announced extending its computer vision prowess to other chest-related conditions like cardiac calcification.

“By adding more scenarios under which our AI works, we are able to offer more help to doctors,” Chen Kuan, founder and chief executive officer of Infervision, told TechCrunch. While a doctor can spot dozens of diseases from one single image scan, AI needs to be taught how to identify multiple target objects in one go.

But Chen says machines already outstrip humans in other aspects. For one, they are much faster readers. It normally takes doctors 15 to 20 minutes to scrutinize one image, whereas Infervision’s AI can process the visuals and put together a report under 30 seconds.

AI also addresses the longstanding issue of misdiagnosis. Chinese clinical newspaper Medical Weekly reported that doctors with less than five years’ experience only got their answers right 44 percent of the time when diagnosing black lung, a disease common among coal miners. And research from Zhejiang University that examined autopsies between 1950 to 2009 found that the total clinical misdiagnosis rate averaged 46 percent.

“Doctors work long hours and are constantly under tremendous stress, which can lead to errors,” suggested Chen.

The founder claimed that his company is able to improve the accuracy rate by 20 percent. AI can also fill in for doctors in remote hinterlands where healthcare provision falls short, which is often the case in China.

Winning the first client

infervision medical imaging

A report on bone fractures produced by Infervision’s medical imaging tool

Like any deep learning company, Infervision needs to keep training its algorithms with data from varied sources. As of this week, the startup is working with 280 hospitals — among which 20 are outside of China — and steadily adding a dozen new partners weekly. It also claims that 70 percent of China’s top-tier hospitals use its lung-specific AI tool.

But the firm has had a rough start.

Chen, a native of Shenzhen in south China, founded Infervision after dropping out of his doctoral program at the University of Chicago where he studied under Nobel-winning economist James Heckman. For the first six months of his entrepreneurial journey, Chen knocked on the doors of 40 hospitals across China — to no avail.

“Medical AI was still a novelty then. Hospitals are by nature conservative because they have to protect patients, which make them reluctant to partner with outsiders,” Chen recalled.

Eventually, Sichuan Provincial People’s Hospital gave Infervision a shot. Chen with his two founding members got hold of a small batch of image data, moved into a tiny apartment next to the hospital, and got the company underway.

“We observed how doctors work, explained to them how AI works, listened to their complaints, and iterated our product,” said Chen. Infervision’s product proved adept, and its name soon gathered steam among more healthcare professionals.

“Hospitals are risk-averse, but as soon as one of them likes us, it goes out to spread the word and other hospitals will soon find us. The medical industry is very tight-knit,” the founder said.

It also helps that AI has evolved from a fringe invention to a norm in healthcare over the past few years, and hospitals start actively seeking help from tech startups.

Infervision has stumbled in its foreign markets as well. In the U.S., for example, Infervision is restricted to visiting doctors only upon appointments, which slows product iteration.

Chen also admitted that many western hospitals did not trust that a Chinese startup could provide state-of-the-art technology. But they welcomed Infervision in as soon as they found out what it’s able to achieve, which is in part thanks to its data treasure — up to 26,000 images a day.

“Regardless of their technological capability, Chinese startups are blessed with access to mountains of data that no startups elsewhere in the world could match. That’s an immediate advantage,” said Chen.

There’s no lack of rivalry in China’s massive medical industry. Yitu, a pivotal player that also applies its AI to surveillance and fintech, unveiled a cancer detection tool at the Chicago radiological conference this week.

Infervision, which generates revenues by charging fees for its AI solution as a service, says that down the road, it will prioritize product development for conditions that incur higher social costs, such as cerebrovascular and cardiovascular diseases.


Source: The Tech Crunch

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