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Looking to become the video-based social network of the gaming world, Medal.tv raises $9 million

September 6, 2019 No Comments

When Medal.tv first launched on the scene, the company was an upstart trying to be the social network for the gaming generation.

Since its debut in February, the clipping and messaging service for gamers has amassed 5 million total users with hundreds of thousands of daily active users. And now it has a $ 9 million new investment from firms, led by Horizons Ventures, the venture capital fund established by Hong Kong multi-billionaire Li Ka-shing.

“We’re seeing sharing of short-form video emerge as a means of self-expression and entertainment for the current generation. We believe Medal’s platform will be a foundation for interactive social experiences beyond what you can find in a game,” says Jonathan Tam, an investor with Horizons Ventures .

Medal sees potential both in its social network and in the ability for game developers to use the platform as a marketing and discovery tool for the gaming audience.

“Friends are the main driver of game discovery, and game developers benefit from shareable games as a result. Medal.tv is trying to enable that without the complexity of streaming,” says Matteo Vallone, the former head of Google Play games in Europe and an angel investor in Medal.

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It’s a platform that saw investors willing to fork over as much as $ 20 million for the company, according to chief executive Pim de Witte. “There are still too many risks involved to take capital like that,” de Witte says.

Instead, the $ 9 million from Horizons, and previous investors like Makers Fund, will be used to steadily grow the business.

“At Medal, we believe the next big social platform will emerge in gaming, perhaps built on top of short-form content, partially as a result of gaming publishers trying to build their own isolated gaming stores and systems,” said de Witte, in a statement. “That drives social fragmentation in the market and brings out the need for platforms such as Medal and Discord, which unite gamers across games and platforms in a meaningful way.”

As digital gaming becomes the social medium of choice for a generation, new tools that allow consumers to share their virtual experiences will become increasingly common. This phenomenon will only accelerate as more events like the Marshmello concert in Fortnite become the norm.

“Medal has the exciting potential to enable a seamless social exchange of virtual experiences,” says Ryann Lai, an investor from Makers Fund.


Social – TechCrunch


At-home blood testing startup Baze rakes in $6 million from Nature’s Way

August 31, 2019 No Comments

By now, the venture world is wary of blood testing startups offering health data from just a few drops of blood. However, Baze, a Swiss-based personal nutrition startup providing blood tests you can do in the convenience of your own home, collects just a smidgen of your sanguine fluid through an MIT manufactured device, which, according to the company, is in accordance with FDA regulations.

The idea is to find out (via your blood sample) which vitamins you’re missing out on and are keeping you from living your best life. That seems to resonate with folks who don’t want to go into the doctor’s office and separately head to their nearest lab for testing.

Most health professionals would agree it’s important to know if you are getting the right amount of nutrition — Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide epidemic affecting calcium absorption, hormone regulation, energy levels and muscle weakness. An estimated 74% of the U.S. population does not get the required daily levels of Vitamin D.

“There are definitely widespread deficiencies across the population,” Baze CEO and founder Philipp Schulte tells TechCrunch. “[With the blood test] we see that we can actually close those gaps for the first time ever in the supplement industry.”

While we don’t know exactly how many people have tried out Baze just yet, Schulte says the company has seen 40% month-over-month new subscriber growth.

That has garnered the attention of supplement company Nature’s Way, which has partnered with the company and just added $ 6 million to the coffers to help Baze ramp up marketing efforts in the U.S.

Screen Shot 2019 08 30 at 2.27.12 PMI had the opportunity to try out the test myself. It’s pretty simple to do. You just open up a little pear-shaped device, pop it on your arm and then press it to engage and get it to start collecting your blood. After it’s done, plop it in the provided medical packaging and ship it off to a Baze-contracted lab.

I will say it is certainly more convenient to just pop on a little device myself — although it might be tricky if you’re at all squeamish, as you’ll see a little bubble where the blood is being sucked from your arm. For anyone who hesitates, it might be easier to just head to a lab and have another human do this for you.

The price is also nice, compared to going to a Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, which can vary depending on which vitamins you need to test for individually. With Baze it’s just $ 100 a pop, plus any additional supplements you might want to buy via monthly subscription after you get your results. The first month of supplements is free with your kit.

Baze’s website will show your results within about 12 days (though Schulte tells TechCrunch the company is working on getting your results faster). It does so with a score and then displays a range of various vitamins tested.

I was told that, overall, I was getting the nutrients I require with a score of 74 out of 100. But I’m already pretty good at taking high-quality vitamins. The only thing that really stuck out was my zinc levels, which I was told was way off the charts high after running the test through twice. Though I suspect, as I am not displaying any symptoms of zinc poisoning, this was likely the result of not wiping off my zinc-based sunscreen well enough before the test began.

For those interested in conducting their own at-home test and not afraid to prick themselves in the arm with something that looks like you might have it on hand in the kitchen, you can do so by heading over to Baze and signing up.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky just raised another $200 million for his newest company, Tempus

June 1, 2019 No Comments

When serial entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky grows a company, he puts the pedal to the metal. When in 2011 his last company, the Chicago-based coupons site Groupon, raised $ 950 million from investors, it was the largest amount raised by a startup ever. It was just over three years old at the time, and it went public later that same year.

Lefkofsky seems to be stealing a page from the same playbook for his newest company, Tempus. The Chicago-based genomic testing and data analysis company was founded a little more than three years ago, yet it has already hired nearly 700 employees and raised more than $ 500 million — including through a new $ 200 million round that values the company at $ 3.1 billion.

According to the Chicago Tribune, that new valuation makes it — as Groupon once was — one of Chicago’s most highly valued privately held companies.

So why all the fuss? As the Tribune explains it, Tempus has built a platform to collect, structure and analyze the clinical data that’s often unorganized in electronic medical record systems. The company also generates genomic data by sequencing patient DNA and other information in its lab.

The goal is to help doctors create customized treatments for each individual patient, Lefkofsky tells the paper.

So far, it has partnered with numerous cancer treatment centers that are apparently giving Tempus human data from which to learn. Tempus is also seemingly generating data “in vitro,” as is another company we featured recently called Insitro, a drug development startup founded by famed AI researcher Daphne Koller. With Insitro, it is working on a liver disease treatment owing to a tie-up with Gilead, which has amassed related human data over the years from which Insitro can use to learn. As a complementary data source, Insitro, like Tempus, is trying to learn what the disease does in a “dish,” then determine if it can use what it observes using machine learning to predict what it sees in people.

Tempus hasn’t come up with any cancer-related cures yet, but Lefkofsky already says that Tempus wants to expand into diabetes and depression, too.

In the meantime, he tells Crain’s Chicago Business that Tempus is already generating “significant” revenue. “Our oldest partners, have, in most cases, now expanded to different subgroups (of cancer). What we’re doing is working.”

Investors in the latest round include Baillie Gifford; Revolution Growth; New Enterprise Associates; funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price; Novo Holdings; and the investment management company Franklin Templeton.


Startups – TechCrunch


Mueller Report Says No Collusion, Barr Raises a Million Questions

March 25, 2019 No Comments

In a convoluted letter to Congress, Attorney General William Barr summarized Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation and said he won’t charge President Trump with obstruction.
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Backed by Benchmark, Blue Hexagon just raised $31 million for its deep learning cybersecurity software

February 5, 2019 No Comments

Nayeem Islam spent nearly 11 years with chipmaker Qualcomm, where he founded its Silicon Valley-based R&D facility, recruited its entire team and oversaw research on all aspects of security, including applying machine learning on mobile devices and in the network to detect threats early.

Islam was nothing if not prolific, developing a system for on-device machine learning for malware detection, libraries for optimizing deep learning algorithms on mobile devices, and systems for parallel compute on mobile devices, among other things.

In fact, because of his work, he also saw a big opportunity in better protecting enterprises from cyberthreats through deep neural networks that are capable of processing every raw byte within a file and that can uncover complex relations within datasets. So two years ago, Islam and Saumitra Das, a former Qualcomm engineer with 330 patents to his name and another 450 pending, struck out on their own to create Blue Hexagon, a now 30-person Sunnyvale, Ca.-based company that is today disclosing that it has raised $ 31 million in funding from Benchmark and Altimeter.

The funding comes roughly one year after Benchmark quietly led a $ 6 million Series A round for the firm.

So what has investors so bullish on the company’s prospects, aside from its credentialed founders? In a word, speed, seemingly. According to Islam, Blue Hexagon has created a real-time, cybersecurity platform that he says can detect known and unknown threats at first encounter, then block them in “sub seconds” so the malware doesn’t have time to spread.

The industry has to move to real-time detection, he says, explaining that four new and unique malware samples is released every second, and arguing that traditional security methods can’t keep pace. He says that sandboxes, for example, meaning restricted environments that quarantine cyber threats and keep them from breaching sensitive files, are no longer state of the art. The same is true of signatures, which are mathematical techniques used to validate the authenticity and integrity of a message, software or digital document but are being bypassed by rapidly evolving new malware.

Only time will tell if Blue Hexagon is far more capable of identifying and stopping attackers, as Islam insists is the case. It is not the only startup to apply deep learning to cybersecurity, though it’s certainly one of the first. Critics, some who are protecting their own corporate interests, also worry that hackers can foil security algorithms by targeting the warning flags they look for.

Still, with its technology, its team, and its pitch, Blue Hexagon is starting to persuade not only top investors of its merits, but a growing —  and broad — base of customers, says Islam. “Everyone has this issue, from large banks, insurance companies, state and local governments. Nowhere do you find someone who doesn’t need to be protected.”

Blue Hexagon can even help customers that are already under attack, Islam says, even if it isn’t ideal. “Our goal is to catch an attack as early in the kill chain as possible. But if someone is already being attacked, we’ll see that activity and pinpoint it and be able to turn it off.”

Some damage may already be done, of course. It’s another reason to plan ahead, he says. “With automated attacks, you need automated techniques.” Deep learning, he insists, “is one way of leveling the playing field against attackers.”


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Corruption at DJI may cost the company $150 million

January 20, 2019 No Comments

DJI, the world’s leading maker of consumer drones, said today that extensive corruption discovered within the company could lead to losses as great as $ 150 million in the 2018 financial year. The exact nature of the corruption is not stated, but it seems to involve dozens of people at the least.

The China Securities Journal, a state-operated finance-focused newspaper, got hold of an internal company report on a corruption investigation that said some 40 people had been investigated so far, but the numbers may also be as high as 100.

Reuters confirmed with the company that it “set up a high-level anti-corruption task force to investigate further and strengthen anti-corruption measures,” and that “a number of corruption cases have been handed over to the authorities, and some employees have been dismissed.”

When contacted for details, DJI offered a statement (just after this post went live) partly explaining the situation:

During a recent investigation, DJI itself found some employees inflated the cost of parts and materials for certain products for personal financial gain. We took swift action to address this issue, fired the bad actors, and contacted law enforcement officials. We continue to investigate the situation and are cooperating fully with law enforcement’s investigation.

We are taking steps to strengthen internal controls and have established new channels for employees to submit confidential and anonymous reports relating to any violations of the company’s ethical and workplace conduct policies.

It’s a little hard to believe that people padding invoices and giving sweetheart deals to certain contractors for kickbacks could amount to more than a million dollars per person involved, but then again, DJI makes a lot of hardware and a few well-placed people could siphon off quite a bit.

Gadgets – TechCrunch


Cisco to acquire silicon photonics chip maker Luxtera for $660 million

December 18, 2018 No Comments

As networks get put under increasing pressure from ever-growing amounts of data, network equipment manufacturers are facing huge challenges to increase data transmissions speeds over further distances. As a premiere networking equipment company, Cisco wants to be prepared to meet that demand. Today, it opened up its checkbook and announced its intent to acquire Luxtera for $ 660 million.

Luxtera, which was founded in 2001 and raised over $ 130 million, will give Cisco a photonic solution for that data networking problem. Rob Salvagno, head of Cisco’s M&A and venture investment team sees a company that can help modernize Cisco’s networking equipment.

“That’s why today we announced our intent to acquire Luxtera, Inc., a privately-held semiconductor company that uses silicon photonics technology to build integrated optics capabilities for webscale and enterprise data centers, service provider market segments, and other customers. Luxtera’s technology, design and manufacturing innovation significantly improves performance and scale while lowering costs,” he wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.

Photonics uses light to move large amounts of data at higher speeds over increased distances via fiber optic cable. Cisco sees this as a way to future-proof customer networking requirements, while keeping them on Cisco equipment. “The combination of Cisco’s and Luxtera’s capabilities in 100GbE/400GbE optics, silicon and process technology will enable customers to build future-proof networks optimized for performance, reliability and cost,” Salvagno wrote.

While Cisco has been acquiring its share of high-profile software properties in recent years including AppDyanmics for $ 3.7 billion in 2017 and Jasper Technologies for $ 1.4 billion in 2016, it also acquired Israeli chip designer Leaba Semiconductor for $ 320 million in 2016 for its advanced chip making capability.

Today’s announcement would seem to build on that earlier purchase as Cisco tries to modernize its hardware offerings to meet increasingly stringent demands inside large-scale data centers.

The acquisition is subject to the typical regulatory scrutiny, but Cisco expects it to close in its fiscal year 2019 Q3. It reported its Q1 2019 earnings in November.


Enterprise – TechCrunch


Phiar raises $3 million for an AR navigation app for drivers

November 28, 2018 No Comments

Augmented reality is a very buzzy space, but the fundamental technologies underpinning it are pushing boundaries across a lot of other verticals. Machine learning, object recognition and visual mapping tech are the pillars of plenty of new ventures, enabling there to be companies that thrive in the overlap.

Phiar (pronounced fire) is building an augmented reality navigation app for drivers, but the same tech it’s built to help drivers easily pinpoint where they need to make their next turn also helps them build up rich mapping data that can give partners like autonomous car startups the high-quality data they so deeply need.

The SF-based company has just closed a $ 3 million seed deal led by Norwest Venture Partners and The Venture Reality Fund. Other investors include Anorak Ventures, Mayfield Fund, Zeno Ventures, Cross Culture Ventures, GFR Fund, Y Combinator, Innolinks Ventures and Half Court Ventures.

While phone and headset-based AR have received a lot of the broader media attention, the automotive industry is a central focus for a lot of augmented reality startups attracted by the proposition of a mobile environment that can showcase and integrate bulky tech. There certainly have been quite a few heads-up display startups looking to take advantage of a car’s windshield real estate, and prior to joining Y Combinator, Phiar was actually looking to build some of this hardware themselves before deciding on a more software-focused route for the company.

Unlike a lot of phone AR apps built on top of Apple or Google’s developer platforms, Phiar’s use case doesn’t quite work with the limitations of these systems, which understandably weren’t built with the idea a user would be moving at 60 miles per hour. As a result, the company has had to build tech to greater understand the geometry of a quickly updating world through a single camera while ensuring that it’s not just some ugly directional overlay, using techniques like real-time occlusion to ensure that the digital and physical worlds interact nicely.

While the startup’s big consumer-facing play is the free AR mobile app, Phiar is really just an augmented reality company on the surface; its real sell is what it can do with the data and insights gathered from an always-on dash camera. The same object recognition tech that will allow the app to seamlessly toss AR animations onto the scene in front of you is also analyzing that environment and uploading metadata to build up its mapping insights.

In addition, the app saves up to 30 minutes of footage from each ride, offering users the utility of a free dash cam in case they get in an accident and need video for an insurance claim, while providing some rich anonymized data for the company to build up high-quality mapping data it can sell to partners.

This kind of data is incredibly useful to companies building autonomous car tech, ridesharing companies and a lot of entities that are interested in access to quickly updating map data. The challenge for Phiar will be building up enough users so their map data is as rich as their partners will demand.

CEO Chen-Ping Yu says that the startup is in talks with partners in the automotive space to integrate their tech and is also working to bring what they’ve built to companies in the ridesharing space. Yu says the company plans to release their consumer app in mid-2019.


Startups – TechCrunch


6 million users had installed third-party Twitter clients

August 20, 2018 No Comments

Twitter tried to downplay the impact deactivating its legacy APIs would have on its community and the third-party Twitter clients preferred by many power users by saying that “less than 1%” of Twitter developers were using these old APIs. Twitter is correct in its characterization of the size of this developer base, but it’s overlooking millions of third-party app users in the process. According to data from Sensor Tower, six million App Store and Google Play users installed the top five third-party Twitter clients between January 2014 and July 2018.

Over the past year, these top third-party apps were downloaded 500,000 times.

This data is largely free of reinstalls, the firm also said.

The top third-party Twitter apps users installed over the past three-and-a-half years have included: Twitterrific, Echofon, TweetCaster, Tweetbot and Ubersocial.

Of course, some portion of those users may have since switched to Twitter’s native app for iOS or Android, or they may run both a third-party app and Twitter’s own app in parallel.

Even if only some of these six million users remain, they represent a small, vocal and — in some cases, prominent — user base. It’s one that is very upset right now, too. And for a company that just posted a loss of one million users during its last earnings, it seems odd that Twitter would not figure out a way to accommodate this crowd, or even bring them on board its new API platform to make money from them.

Twitter, apparently, was weighing data and facts, not user sentiment and public perception, when it made this decision. But some things have more value than numbers on a spreadsheet. They are part of a company’s history and culture. Of course, Twitter has every right to blow all that up and move on, but that doesn’t make it the right decision.

To be fair, Twitter is not lying when it says this is a small group. The third-party user base is tiny compared with Twitter’s native app user base. During the same time that six million people were downloading third-party apps, the official Twitter app was installed a whopping 560 million times across iOS and Android. That puts the third-party apps’ share of installs at about 1.1 percent of the total.

That user base may have been shrinking over the years, too. During the past year, while the top third-party apps were installed half a million times, Twitter’s app was installed 117 million times. This made third-party apps’ share only about 0.4 percent of downloads, giving the official app a 99 percent market share.

But third-party app developers and the apps’ users are power users. Zealots, even. Evangelists.

Twitter itself credited them with pioneering “product features we all know and love,” like the mute option, pull-to-refresh and more. That means the apps’ continued existence brings more value to Twitter’s service than numbers alone can show.

Image credit: iMore

They are part of Twitter’s history. You can even credit one of the apps for Twitter’s logo! Initially, Twitter only had a typeset version of its name. Then Twitterrific came along and introduced a bird for its logo. Twitter soon followed.

Twitterrific was also the first to use the word “tweet,” which is now standard Twitter lingo. (The company used “twitter-ing.” Can you imagine?)

These third-party apps also play a role in retaining users who struggle with the new user experience Twitter has adopted — its algorithmic timeline. Instead, the apps offer a chronological view of tweets, as some continue to prefer.

Twitter’s decision to cripple these developers’ apps is shameful.

It shows a lack of respect for Twitter’s history, its power user base, its culture of innovation and its very own nature as a platform, not a destination.

P.S.:

twitterrific

Mobile – TechCrunch


Xage secures $12 million Series A for IoT security solution on blockchain

July 23, 2018 No Comments

Xage (pronounced Zage), a blockchain security startup based in Silicon Valley, announced a $ 12 million Series A investment today led by March Capital Partners. GE Ventures, City Light Capital and NexStar Partners also participated.

The company emerged from stealth in December with a novel idea to secure the myriad of devices in the industrial internet of things on the blockchain. Here’s how I described it in a December 2017 story:

Xage is building a security fabric for IoT, which takes blockchain and synthesizes it with other capabilities to create a secure environment for devices to operate. If the blockchain is at its core a trust mechanism, then it can give companies confidence that their IoT devices can’t be compromised. Xage thinks that the blockchain is the perfect solution to this problem.

It’s an interesting approach, one that attracted Duncan Greatwood to the company. As he told me in December his previous successful exits — Topsy to Apple in 2013 and PostPath to Cisco in 2008 — gave him the freedom to choose a company that really excited him for his next challenge.

When he saw what Xage was doing, he wanted to be a part of it, and given the unorthodox security approach the company has taken, and Greatwood’s pedigree, it couldn’t have been hard to secure today’s funding.

The Industrial Internet of Things is not like its consumer cousin in that it involves getting data from big industrial devices like manufacturing machinery, oil and gas turbines and jet engines. While the entire Internet of Things could surely benefit from a company that concentrates specifically on keeping these devices secure, it’s a particularly acute requirement in industry where these devices are often helping track data from key infrastructure.

GE Ventures is the investment arm of GE, but their involvement is particularly interesting because GE has made a big bet on the Industrial Internet of Things. Abhishek Shukla of GE Ventures certainly saw the connection. “For industries to benefit from the IoT revolution, organizations need to fully connect and protect their operation. Xage is enabling the adoption of these cutting edge technologies across energy, transportation, telecom, and other global industries,” Shukla said in a statement.

The company was founded just last year and is based in Palo Alto, California.


Startups – TechCrunch