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2018-05-22T13:46:20.631Z
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Techstars Mobility has a new home. The accelerator program is moving from its in Ford Field to the 7th floor of WeWork Merchant’s Row. This puts the program in a central location in Detroit’s growing tech scene, giving participants the opportunity to interact with other entrepreneurs looking to be, as they say in Detroit, a big fish in a small pound.

Techstars Mobility has made in impact in Detroit since its first program in 2014. The program has invested in 33 startups who have raised $45 million. Focusing on all areas of mobility, the program leverages partnerships with top automakers and suppliers to utilize Detroit’s long history of innovating mobile transportation.

The 2018-2019 program will work with CSAA Insurance Group, Bosh, Ford Motor Company, Honda, Volvo and others. It’s an impressive group spanning the mobility space from automakers to insurers.

I’ve long pointed to Techstars programs as a good example of using an area’s strengths to grow startups. Detroit’s Mobility program is the perfect example. To me, it makes more sense to build on an area’s proven industry than try to copy what works elsewhere. It allows the Motor City to continue to be the Motor City rather than trying to become Silicon City.

As sensors become cheaper and easier to install, the whole process of maintaining equipment and assets is starting to shift from just scrambling to fix problems to getting a hold of issues before they get out of control.

That’s opened the door for startups like Fiix, which are creating workflow software that helps companies manage equipment and assets. That software enables companies to keep a close eye on equipment and resolve issues quickly before they become more complex to the point of costing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix. Every percentage point of efficiency, for some operations, can translate to revenue significant enough to the point that this kind of software is an easy sell. Fiix said today it has raised $12 million in a new financing round led by BuildGroup.

“It was one of the last bastions of enterprise software that’s yet to go through the same disruption that every other major software co,” CEO Marc Castel said. “If you look at human resource software, CRM software, accounting software, they’ve all gone through the same transition. This market was one of the last ones to go through that transition.”

Fiix takes the process of managing work orders, assets and inventories and throws it all into a set of software that’s designed to be easier to use when compared to existing complex asset management software. That includes making sure all of this is available on a phone, where managers and employees can...

Readdle, the company behind popular email client Spark, is releasing a major new version of Spark on iOS and macOS. Spark is expanding beyond a personal email client. You can now work on emails with your team.

While some of the features made me think about Front, the company says that it wasn’t the inspiration for this update. Front lets you share inboxes, such as jobs@yourcompany.com so that the entire HR team can collaborate on inbound emails. With Spark, you can’t share inboxes altogether.

But you can create links and invite people to an email thread. After that, it works pretty much like Google Docs. Multiple people can write and edit emails in real time. You can comment and have a private chat about the email before writing a reply.

Along the launch of those new collaboration features, Readdle is launching a new premium subscription. Existing features remain free forever. You’ll get limited access to the new collaboration features. It works pretty much like Slack’s free plan — comments search history is limited to one month, your team is limited to 5GB of storage, etc.

You’ll be able to pay $6.39 to $7.99 per user per month to unlock everything. Each team member will get 10GB of storage to share files in comments, you will be able to add more collaborators to an email thread, etc.

It’s a software-as-a-service business model, and it’s good to see that Readdle finally plans to make money...

As companies start to gather more and more data on their users and customers, including a firehose of information from a nigh-endless flow of tests, managing and maintaining that data isn’t the only place companies are hitting a wall — and figuring out who can actually access it is becoming just as big of a problem.

That was the experience Amandeep Khurana had throughout his career and as he kept talking to more and more larger companies. So he and his co-founder decided to start Okera, which is looking to make it easier for stewards of various sets of data to ensure the right people have the right access. With data coming in from a myriad of sources — and hopefully ending up in the same database — it can be increasingly complex to track who has access to what, and the hope is that Okera can reduce that problem to flipping a few switches.

Okera is coming out of stealth mode and said it has raised a new $12 million financing round led by Bessemer Venture Partners, with existing investors Felicis Ventures and Capital One Growth Ventures participating. Bessemer’s Ethan Kurzweil and Felicis’ Wesley Chan are joining the company’s board of directors, and Okera has raised $14.6 million to date.

“I was very underwhelmed by what other vendors were offering, there was pretty much nothing happening,” co-founder Khurana said. “There were not a lot of good solutions, and...

Gift cards today are a $100 billion business annually, and as they continue to grow as a key way for companies to incentivise people in our too-often unengaged digital world, a startup that is helping corral the long tail of retailers, and match that up to the wave of businesses that want to offer the cards — a model that it’s dubbed “rewards as a service” — has raised a substantial round of funding.

Tango Card — which brings together some 500 companies’ gift cards so that they can easily be used by companies like Microsoft, Chevron and Marketo to help build out their own schemes for gifting those cards to their employees, customers, or other businesses to in turn offer them to customers — has raised $35 million to expand its business. The round comes from a single investor, FTV Capital, a growth equity firm that has a long track record in taking stakes in e-commerce companies (its portfolio formerly included WePay, which was recently sold to Visa).

David Leeds, the founder and CEO of Tango Card, said that Tango is not disclosing its valuation with this round except to note that it is “absolutely an up round”. The company has had an average of 1200 percent revenue growth over the last five years, he said, and it is “nearing profitability”. Tango had only raised $9.5 million previously with other investors including Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors, Allegro, Floodgate and others.

The space that Tango Card is working...

Yubico, the company behind the increasingly popular YubiKey security keys, today announced the launch of a new SDK for iOS developers that allows them to add support for two-factor authentication over NFC with the company’s YubiKey NEO keys. With this, the company now offers solutions for all the major platforms. The first company to support this new feature, by the way, is LastPass, which already supported the Yubico one-time passwords over NFC on Android.

While it was already possible to build an integration with the YubiKey NEO once iOS 11 launched, the new SDK will make it significantly easier for more developers to support these keys over NFC.

It’s absolutely critical to have a hardware-based root of trust, like the YubiKey, to establish an approved relationship between a mobile phone and the apps we use,” said Stina Ehrensvard, Yubico’s CEO and founder, in today’s announcement. “Mobile authentication methods, like SMS or push apps, cannot be considered as trusted second factors to authenticate in a mobile app setting.”

The company argues that NFC authentication is about four times faster than getting traditional one-time passwords. Developers can use the NEO keys for giving users access to an application, as well as for step-up security to initiate actions like money transfers or password resets.

Users simply have to touch the phone with their key (assuming they have an iPhone 7 or newer and run iOS 11) and they should...

Packet, the bare metal cloud provider, today announced that it has partnered with open source hybrid cloud specialist Platform9 and storage and data management service Datera to launch a new private cloud solution for businesses that want to have greater control over their platforms. Packet argues that this new solution can save businesses up to 50 percent in cost when compared to using a public cloud solution.

“What we’re providing here is the polished experience of the public cloud, but with significantly more choice and performance,” noted Zac Smith, CEO at Packet . “By combining the strengths of market leaders like Datera and Platform9 with Packet-managed bare metal, we’re able to deliver it at a fraction of the cost of traditional public or private cloud solutions.”

Packet notes that this partnership came about after Platform9 itself migrated away from AWS. The restrictions of the public cloud model, the company argues, combines with the complexity of the public cloud billing and delivery model, lead it to look for greener pastures.

Over the course of the last few months, we’ve seen a couple of similar matchups where smaller cloud providers have teamed up to provide their own solutions to better combat the likes of AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. Just last month, Packet also partnered with Backblaze and Server Central are Backblaze’s B2 cloud storage service.

Packet notes that this new solution is available in its 18 global...

Valimail helps businesses ensure that nobody can impersonate them over email. That’s not a sexy business to be in, but very much a necessary one. The company’s email authentication service, which uses standards like SPF, DKIM and DMARC, is currently in use by the likes of Yelp, Uber, Fanni Mae and WeWork. Today, the company announced that it has raised a $25 million Series B round led by Tenaya Capital, with participation from Shasta Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners and Bloomberg Beta.

This round bring Valimail’s total amount of funding to $38.5 million, including the company’s $12 million Series A round in 2016.

“Authentication is at the root of trusted communications,” Valimail CEO and co-founder Alexander Garcia-Tobar told me. “You must be able to trust the authenticity of who/what is on the other side, or the communication is meaningless. For example, no retailer would never accept a credit card without swiping it first (either physically or virtually). What happens in the credit card world needs to happen for communications.”

The funding round is coming at an important time for email authentication. The DMARC standard is now supported by over 5 billion inboxes, according to Valimail. Over the course oft he last six month, domain owners have also published more DMARC records than in the five previous years combined. In addition, all federal agencies must implement this standard, too.

Valimail promises to take care of...

Madrona Venture Group typically flies under the radar of Silicon Valley reporters, partly because it’s in Seattle. But the 23-year-old, early-stage venture firm has been having a pretty good run of late — success it just used to close its seventh fund with $300 million, the same amount it raised for its sixth fund in 2015.

Among its investors: Bezos Expeditions, Vulcan Capital, and billionaire John Stanton, who is the chairman of the board of Trilogy International Partners (as well as the majority owner of the Major League Baseball team the Seattle Mariners).

Madrona’s momentum didn’t build overnight. Four Madrona portfolio companies that have IPO’d over the last 20 months — the cloud software companies Smartsheet, Apptio, the real estate site Redfin, and the RFID chip maker Impinj —  took on average 12 years to get into the hands of public market investors.

Madrona, the firm is quick to note, was there from the start, writing seed and Series A checks that today range from $200,000 to upwards of $5 million to $7 million. (The firm has, on rare occasion, invested upwards of $30 million in a single company over the life of its investment.)

Yet those four now-public companies share another trait in common; they’re all based in the Pacific Northwest, which includes greater Seattle but also cities like Portland, Ore.; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Spokane, Wa.

That’s no accident. About 90 percent of Madrona’s deals are local, where the startup scene has seemingly expanded dramatically in recent years....

A new U.K. self-driving car startup founded by Amar Shah and Alex Kendall, two machine learning PhDs from University of Cambridge, is de-cloaking today. Wayve — backed by New York-based Compound, Europe’s Fly Ventures, and Brent Hoberman’s Firstminute Capital — is building what it describes as “end-to-end machine learning algorithms” to make autonomous vehicles a reality, an approach it claims is different to much of the conventional thinking on self-driving cars.

Specifically, as Wayve CEO Shah explained in a call last week, the young company believes that the key to making an autonomous vehicle that is truly just that (i.e. able to drive safely in any environment it is asked to), is a much greater emphasis on the self-learning capability of its software. In other words, self-driving cars is an AI problem first and foremost, and one that he and co-founder Kendall argue requires a very specific machine-learning development skill set.

“Wayve is building intelligent software to decide how to control a vehicle on all public roads,” he tells me. “Rather than hand-engineering our solution with heavily rule-based systems, we aim to build data-driven machine learning at every layer of our system, which would learn from experience and not simply be given if-else statements. Our learning-based system will be safer in unfamiliar situations than a rule-based system which would behave unpredictably in a situation it has not seen before”.

To explain his thinking in laymen’s terms, Shah points to the way a human who is relatively proficient in driving in...

The growth of China’s Bytedance, an ambitious $30 billion tech firm, and its highly-addictive Toutiao news aggregator app has set off a search for services with similar growth potential across the world.

India, second in population only to China with rapidly-growing internet access, is an obvious place to look, and would-be pretender to the Toutiao crown has been found in the shape of NewsDog, a Chinese company that stumbled on success in India. Today, NewsDog announced a $50 million Series C round led by Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Toutiao is a phenomenon in China. The app has around 200 million daily users, and it is one of the few new tech products to emerge in a China where Tencent and Alibaba dominate the consumer app landscape. Point in case, it is so mainstream now that it has even run into issues with China’s internet censors. Toutiao is essentially a news aggregation service that lets consumers catch their daily reads and discover stories with an experience tailored to their habits and likes.

That’s very much the style of NewsDog, which claims over 50 million users. The service has branched out to cover 10 of Indians many languages, while it recently established a platform — ‘WeMedia’ — that augments its content aggregation by allowing users to submit stories, too.

This round is a major milestone for the company. In a competitive environment,...

Let’s be honest, the RED Hydrogen One is destined to be a niche product. With a “holographic display” and a $1,200 starting price point, the thing wasn’t really designed with mainstream consumers in mind. An announcement of a forthcoming camera from the company doesn’t do a lot to change that, but it does shed a bit more light on who, precisely, the company is targeting here.

In a press release, RED announced a partnership with 3D camera manufacturer Lucid for an upcoming product that will make interesting use of the upcoming phone. The as of yet unnamed RED camera will utilize Lucid’s tech to create 8K, 3D video, using dual 4K cameras and a beam splitter.

What’s most interesting, here, however, is that the camera will output that content to the Hydrogen One in real-time, essentially letting the phone double as a viewfinder for the camera. The company assures us that, much like the Hydrogen One itself, the unnamed camera is very much a real product.

In fact, it will be available through RED and retail partners at some point during Q4 of this year — likely months after the phone itself arrives in August. The company even showed off a preview of the product at an event last week.

Pricing, like the name, is still TBD. This being RED, however, I don’t imagine it’s going to come cheap —...

One of the more interesting applications of AI to the world of advertising and marketing has been in how it’s being used to help measure and ultimately shape campaigns. Now, a company providing the technology to do that has raised a round both to expand its business in adtech as well as to tackle new applications in healthcare and education.

Realeyes, a London-based startup that uses computer vision to read a person’s emotional responses when they are watching a video as short as six seconds long, and then using predictive analytics to help map that reading to the video to provide feedback on its effectiveness, has raised $16.2 million in funding, money that it plans to use to expand in engineering and business development.

The rise of “smart” and connected hardware that picks up data as much as produces it is the opportunity that Realeyes is tapping. “We are surrounded by devices with cameras and microphones in them,” CEO and founder Mihkel Jäätma said in an interview.

The Series A round comes after a strong run of growth at the company. It says that revenues have shot up 932 percent in the last four years, and it has added customers like Coca Cola, Mars, Publicis, Turner and Oath (which also owns TechCrunch) to its books.

Realeyes is not wasting time in bringing on extra talent to support the expansion. Barry Coleman, formerly at LootCrate, is coming on as COO. And Maja Pantic, a professor of affective and behavioural computing at Imperial College London who had...

Meet Maze, a startup building a user interface testing tool for your app prototypes. Maze is a simple web-based service that lets you turn InVision and Marvel files into UX tests.

While most designers work with InVision and Marvel, it’s hard to turn those designs into a quantitative test. Maze isn’t a video recording tool and doesn’t require you to watch video footage.

It isn’t a new prototyping tool either as the startup wants you to keep using InVision and Marvel. Maze can record a user path from a web browser on desktop or mobile without having to install anything.

After setting up your test, you can share a link with a bunch of users. When you open this link, you get clear instructions telling you what you’re supposed to do (“find the nearest Lebanese restaurant” or “add John as friend” for instance). After each test, Maze automatically shows you the next one so you can keep going.

Developers then get a dashboard with a clear overview of the different tests. You can see the success rate, the time it takes to do something and the screen areas that get a lot of taps. You can also look at individual tests.

You can use Maze for simple A/B tests by sending two different designs to different groups and comparing the results.

Thousands of designers have tried the service so far, including people working for Amazon, Airbnb, Uber and Shopify.

The company has raised a $470,000 pre-seed round with Partech and Seedcamp (£350,000). Maze uses...

VivaTech is starting in a couple of days, which means TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield Europe is also starting on Thursday. So let me introduce you to the last batch of judges that will come to Paris for the event.

If you haven’t been to TechCrunch Disrupt, the Startup Battlefield  is arguably the most interesting part of the show. Before everybody started doing a startup competition, there was the Startup Battlefield. Companies like Dropbox, Fitbit, N26 and Yammer all launched on the TechCrunch stage.

And we’re bringing talented investors and founders to judge the startups. Here’s the third round of judges (see part 1part 2 and part 3).

Roxanne Varza, Director, Station F

Roxanne Varza is the Director of Station F, which is the largest startup campus worldwide, backed by Xavier Niel. She is also involved in the European Commission's European Innovation Council (EIC) and is on the board of Agence France Presse (AFP).

Prior to her current role, Roxanne was the lead for Microsoft’s start-up activities in France, running both Bizspark and Microsoft Ventures programs for 3 years. She was also Editor of TechCrunch France from 2010-2011 and has written for several publications including Business Insider and The Telegraph.

In April 2013, Business Insider listed her as one of the top 30 women under 30 in tech. She has also been listed in additional rankings by Business Insider, Vanity Fair and Le Figaro, The Evening Standard and more.

Roxanne also co-founded StartHer...

The United States and China are said to be working on a deal that would keep ZTE from going out of business. According to the Wall Street Journal, the two countries have agreed on a “broad outline” of a deal to settle a trade dispute sparked when the Commerce Department banned American companies from selling to ZTE for seven years after it violated sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

If the deal goes through, the U.S. would lift the ban. In return, ZTE would have to make major leadership changes and also potentially face heavy fines. The deal would enable its business to survive, however, since many of its most important suppliers, including Qualcomm, are American and the ban has the potential to cause irreversible damage to its business. ZTE is also the fourth-largest vendor of mobile phones in the U.S.

As part of the deal, China reportedly offered to remove tariffs that impact billions of dollars in U.S. farm products, though one of the WSJ’s sources said “the White House was meticulous in affirming that the case is a law enforcement matter and not a bargaining chip in negotiations.”

Talk of the deal isn’t a complete surprise. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump tweeted that “President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast.” He was met with backlash from officials and lawmakers concerned that the administration is...

A couple of gaming hardware announcements just dropped from team Razer. What makes the Core X graphics enclosure arguably the most notable of the bunch is the inclusion of a standard Thunderbolt 3 connection on the rear of the device.

In addition to Razer’s own systems and Windows 10 PCs, the new enclosure is compatible with Apple products running macOS High Sierra 10.13.4. That’s part of a whole new focus on gaming for Apple’s devices, unveiled back at WWDC roughly this time last year, along with the promise of VR development support.

In late March, external GPU support officially arrived for High Sierra 10.13.4, and now Razer’s ready to get on-board. The Core X is designed to hold up to three desktop graphics cards and can charge a connected laptop through the aforementioned Thunrderbolt 3 connection.

The enclosure is available now for $299. Along with the X, Razer’s Core V2 is now also compatible with Macs via Thunderbolt 3. That one will run you $499. Good new all around for Mac users ready to get serious about gaming.

Also new today is the Razer Blade 15.6-inch, an ultra thin gaming notebook the company has taken to calling “the world’s smallest…in its class.” The 15.6-inch display comes 1920 x 1080, standard, which users can upgrade to 4k. All of that is surrounded by some skinny 4.9mm bezels....

A former Uber software engineer filed a lawsuit against the company today in the Superior Court of California, accusing it of retaliating against her for after she reported sexual harassment and discrimination.

The complaint by Ingrid Avendaño, who worked at Uber from 2014 to 2017, alleges that Uber’s workplace “was permeated with degrading, marginalizing, discriminatory and sexually harassing conduct toward women.” Avendaño’s account and her claim that “this culture was perpetuated and condoned by numerous managers, including high level company leaders” is similar to the description of Uber’s internal culture presented by Susan Fowler, also a former Uber engineer, in her pivotal February 2017 blog post. Fowler’s account led to an internal investigation, multiple firings and, along with other company scandals, contributed to the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick.

Avendaño’s complaint (“Ingrid Avendaño v. Uber Technologies, Inc.,” Case No. CGC-18-566677 in the Superior Court of California, San Francisco County) claims that when she tried to report misconduct, she faced “blatant retaliation, including denial of promotions and raises, unwarranted negative performance reviews and placement on an oppressively demanding on-call schedule that had detrimental effects on her health. She was also threatened with termination.” Avendaño eventually resigned from Uber, the lawsuit says.

Avendaño is represented by Outten & Golden, a law firm that specializes in employee rights. Last October, Avendaño and two other Latina software engineers were the named plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Uber for allegedly discriminating against women and people of color. But Avendaño later...

Streaming video services invest heavily in technology to improve their ability to show users a set of personalized recommendations about what to what next. But according to a new research study released today by UserTesting, it seems that consumers aren’t watching much recommended content – in fact, only 29 percent of the study’s participants said they actually watched something the service recommended.

On some services, those figures were extremely low – for example, only 6 percent of HBO NOW users said they watched recommended content.

That’s probably because consumers found it difficult to locate HBO NOW’s recommendations in the first place. The service was given a low 16.8 “customer experience” score on this front, the study says. That’s a much lower score than all other services analyzed, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and YouTube TV – all of which had scores in the 80’s. (See first chart, below).

To be fair, HBO NOW doesn’t really do recommendations in the same way as the others.

Its app offers a “Featured” selection of content for all users, and, if you scroll down further, there are a couple of editorial collections, like “Essential HBO” or “14 Hidden Gems You Missed the First Time.” A separate “Collections” section includes more of these suggestions, like “New Movies,” “Just Added,” “Last Chance” and others.

The lack of personalized, easily located recommendations also impacted HBO NOW’s overall score in the UserTesting study, which rated the services across a variety of metrics including availability...

Amazon is launching new app store with tools created specifically to help its sellers manage their listings and orders. Called the Marketplace Appstore, it will feature apps made using Amazon Marketplace Web Service (Amazon MWS) by Amazon and third-party developers screened by the company. According to a report by CNET, the Marketplace Appstore launches to sellers today.

There are now about two million sellers on Amazon, including more than a million small to medium-sized businesses in the United States. Amazon MWS is an integrated web service API that allows sellers to share data about their inventory, orders and logistics with Amazon in order to automate more tasks. It also enables sellers to build apps for their own accounts and other sellers.

The company told CNET that “many developers have innovated and created applications that complement our tools and integrate with our services. We created the Marketplace Appstore to help businesses more easily discover these applications, streamline their business operations and ultimately create a better experience for our customers.”

The Marketplace Appstore is free for developers to join and use, but they are currently required to submit an application to Amazon and undergo a business and practices review.