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SALT Lending offers liquidity for cryptocurrency holders

SALT Lending has issued $40 million in asset-backed loans that are aimed at investors in cryptocurrencies to give them a bit of liquidity without the need to sell off assets. 

The company rolled out its first loans late in 2017 after two years spent developing the technology to make the loans work. SALT Lending relies on a multi-signature wallet that allows counter-parties in a transaction to both access the account — and a software service that marks to market the value of the cryptocurrencies held as assets.

Founded by Blake Cohen, a former real estate executive for his family’s own business, SALT Lending is Cohen’s first foray into cryptocurrency entrepreneurship.

Cohen says the idea for the service was a no-brainer. “Cryptocurrencies and blockchain assets make the ideal collateral,” says Cohen. In typical asset-backed lending the assets need to be located, seized and liquidated for lenders to be made whole. With cryptocurrencies all of those problems go away, says Cohen.

Most of the capital that SALT is lending has come from the company’s own assets — and through SALT Blockchain Asset Management, which is a fund with several individual limited partners.

Currently the company is servicing individual borrowers, but Cohen foresees a time when exchanges, miners, and large tokenized startups can gain additional liquidity through the collateralized loans.

“The current market cap [for cryptocurrencies] is $400 billion and that is totally unleveraged. That is a gigantic inefficiency in the market,” Cohen says.

The company currently offers 36 month loans and (depending on the loan to value ratio) the company will loan up to 60% of the value of the cryptocurrency collateral, says Cohen. Interest rates on the loans range from 12% to 22%, Cohn says. SALT Lending is only lending against Ethereum and Bitcoin for the moment.

“Basically the money that we put in is as a proof of concept to entice the institutional capital providers to get involved with this,” Cohen says. “This point is to one, demonstrate that there’s a market for this, and two, that you can do this and make risk palatable to the lender.”


Source: TechCrunch

Google will start investing in early-stage startups that use the Assistant

Google is betting big on the Assistant ecosystem and it’s now putting its money where its mouth is. As the company announced today, it’s launching a new program that will provide investment capital and other resources to early-stage startups that build applications in the Google Assistant ecosystem.

Typically, companies announce these kind of program to kickstart an ecosystem around a new product. While developers have already launched plenty of services for the Google Assistant, the company says that it is launching this new program to “promote more of this creativity.”

Google VP for search and the Google Assistant Nick Fox echoed this. “With the Google Assistant, we’re focused on fostering an open ecosystem for developers, device makers, and content partners to build new experiences,” he told me. “We’re already seeing a lot of creativity from developers with the Google Assistant, and to help promote this, we’re opening a new investment program for early-stage startups.”

Investments are one part of this program, but Google will also work with these startups directly to provide them mentorship and advice from engineers, product managers and design experts. The startups in the program will also get early access to new features and tools, as well as access to the Google Cloud Platform and promotional support. That sounds a bit like an accelerator program, though that’s not quite what Google is calling it.

Fox tells me that Google won’t put a cap on the investments. “We’ll invest as much as we see fit, and are focused on helping startups succeed in this emerging space,” he said. “And we’re not just offering investment capital. We’re eager to partner with these startups and leverage our company’s strengths to help these products come to market poised for success.”

The first startups in this program include GoMoment, a concierge service for hotels and Edwin, a personal English tutor, as well as the developer tools BotSociety and Pulse Labs.

These startups are good representatives of what Google is after. Fox tells me that Google is looking for startups that are “pursuing an interesting space for Assistants, such as vertical industries like travel or gaming.” In addition, Google is also looking to deepen some of its partnerships, but for the most part, it’s simply looking for startups that are pushing technologies like the Assistant forward.


Source: TechCrunch

Fusion Fund raises a second $85M fund for heavily technical investing

While the mid 2010s were filled with massive financing rounds for companies looking to shift business models like Instacart, Uber, and others along those lines, today’s hottest sector is a more technical one: artificial intelligence.

That’s required a different approach to building companies. As tools become more and more powerful, and frameworks like TensorFlow become more robust, building a company centered around AI — and the big technical problems that either feed it or stem from it — are powering the next wave of potentially massive startups. That’s why Lu Zhang and Homan Yuen, two Stanford technical graduates, are raising a big fund based on their extensive technical experience to find companies that have that strong technology backbone that will become the next big startup.

The pair are raising $85 million for a new fund called Fusion FundFusion Fund’s companies are going to be focused on connected industries, networking technology like communications protocols, data-rich AI products and some health and medical devices. That third bit — investing in AI — is what pretty much every fund is doing, though Yuen made it clear the company isn’t investing in just algorithms, which are eventually going to be a race to the bottom.

“We noticed there weren’t many venture capitalists focusing on technology companies and actually have technical backgrounds,” Yuen said. “We thought, that’s a good opportunity to help early stage companies that need different help, and advice, and connections.”

Zhang and Yuen are two technical founders that sold their companies and were looking to figure out what to do after that. In Zhang’s case, with a masters in material science, she was approached by investors to do a fund, while Yuen had known her at Stanford and ended up syncing up to work on the fund, he said. The fund will be focused on seed-stage companies, looking to write checks between $500,000 and $1 million for companies with technical founders and a pretty difficult problem to solve that requires that expertise.

“We’re not funding science products, or expedition missions, we want clear vision in building a business on the technical advantages,” Yuen said. “Part of our thesis is, over the last five to ten years, we saw a lot of investment into business model innovation. We decided it was time to flip back to tech and infrastructure investing.”

On that front, a lot of these areas are going to get a lot more interesting as time goes on. The tech industry is in the early stages of 5G development and rollout, and once there are more rigorous standards, there will likely be a lot of activity in that space, such as new connection protocols. There’s also a strong security element to that, and all of this requires heavy technical expertise to build something pretty defensible, Yuen said.

But if you want just one example — and this is one where Yuen is sitting on the sidelines for now — on how technical these problems are getting, you can look at the rapid emergence of the custom AI chip space. That problem requires an expertise in rethinking the actual silicon where operations happen to more efficiently tackle machine learning problems, whether that’s focusing on speed, lowering the power consumption, reducing the overall space the processors take up, or getting the cost down to something more reasonable than a bleeding-edge GPU. Right now the space has a ton of VC money flowing into it, and given the size of the checks Yuen is looking to write, it’s an area where the firm has to be more thoughtful about the companies it picks.

This is actually Fusion Fund’s second fund, as it previously went under a different name. First called NewGen Capital, Zhang and Yuen raised $17 million in its first fund and backed 36 seed-stage companies in companies like TVision Insights, Stratifyd, Paperspace, MissionBio, and Paradromics.


Source: TechCrunch

The MoviePass Unlimited Plan Is Back

Two weeks after MoviePass’ unlimited plan disappeared, the service is reviving it—and explaining some of its controversial practices.
Source: Wired

Want to Prune Trees More Easily? Use Physics

A blade will slice into a limb at some particular minimum pressure—but there are different ways to reach that value.
Source: Wired

Facebook F8 Liveblog Day Two: All the News, as It Happens

Join us for live coverage of Facebook F8’s day two keynote, starting at 9:30am PDT.
Source: Wired

The Doomy Gloomy Revival of Old-School First-Person Shooters

Two new games are bringing back the narrative strokes of classic shooters—and that’s awesome.
Source: Wired

The Tricky Logistics of Delivering a Spacecraft on the Interstate

McCollister’s hauls a lot of oversized things, from astronaut capsules to weather-monitoring satellites to military aircraft. And it goes fine—usually.
Source: Wired

NASA’s InSight Lander Will Probe Mars, Measure Its Quakes

Brace yourself, Mars. NASA’s sending a 5-meter probe to take your temperature.
Source: Wired

What Mark Zuckerberg Gets Wrong—and Right—About Hate Speech

Opinion: Artificial intelligence can help identify hate speech, but even the best AI can’t replace human beings.
Source: Wired

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