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Archivo del Autor: Belen De Leon

A Better Motor Is the First Step Towards Electric Planes

Magnix is testing a new motor designed specifically for aviation, which is lighter weight, and higher power.
Source: Wired

Cats Bad at Nabbing Rats But Feast on Other Beasts

Researchers wanted to know what cats would do with a large colony of rats in Brooklyn. The answer: Not much. But cats could still pose a huge threat to more vulnerable urban wildlife.
Source: Wired

Apple's Screen Time limits are no match for determined kids – CNET

They’re already defying parents with clever workarounds.
Source: CNET

Opendoor just raised $400 million in funding from SoftBank’s Vision Fund

It’s official. Two weeks ago, we reported that Opendoor —  the four year-old, San Francisco-based company aiming to make it possible to buy and sell residential real estate with a few key strokes —  was close to sealing up funding from SoftBank. Today, it’s announcing that the ink is dry on the deal.

The terms: SoftBank’s massive Vision Fund is investing $400 million for a minority equity stake in the company, with one of its five managing directors, Jeff Housenbold, taking a board seat. The round brings Opendoor’s total funding to slightly more than $1 billion, the vast majority of it raised in the last six months. (It had separately closed on $325 million in a June round that brought its total equity funding at the time to $645 million.)

The deal also further cements its status as a unicorn, though we gather there wasn’t a huge bump in valuation with this newest round. Opendoor was, and continues to be, valued at north of $2 billion, says once source familiar with the deal.

The move is also another feather in the cap of Housenbold, who long ran the personal publishing company Shutterfly before joining SoftBank last year, and who has been closing deals left and right with the regional founders he has been tracking. Among other recent deals that have landed him on the board of directors: SoftBank’s investments in the dog-walking service Wag, the delivery service DoorDash, the construction company Katerra, and the e-commerce company Brandless.

Asked yesterday how Opendoor and SoftBank came together, Opendoor cofounder and CEO Eric Wu tell us that Housenbold first approached Wu 18 months ago, before Housenbold joined SoftBank. “The minute he joined,” says Wu, “he reached out to me and let me know he was joining, saying if there was an opportunity to work together, to reach out to him.”

Given Opendoor’s ambitious plans, now apparently was the time to do that, and it’s easy to see why. Representatives from the Vision Fund often talk of having the ambition and the patience to transform entire industries, and Opendoor is trying to upend the traditional home-buying process by bidding on homes sight unseen, agreeing to buy them, then — contingent on an inspection to verify the quality of the home —selling them, charging a fee of between 6 percent and 13 percent.

To date, Opendoor, which now employs roughly 950 people, has largely been working with people who need to sell their homes quickly because of a new job or other life event. But the company increasingly wants to help customers buy that next house, too. Indeed, toward that end, the company earlier this month acquired Open Listings, a four-year-old, L.A.-based startup that aimed to make it easier and cheaper for buyers to purchase homes by automating much of what an agent would do, thus reducing the fee an agent would traditionally take.

Opendoor never said what it planned to pay for Open Listings,  which had raised $7.6 million from investors over the years, but Open Listings was the first acquisition for the company. And armed with $400 million in fresh capital, we probably shouldn’t be surprised to see Opendoor go shopping again.

Wu has also been talking about for years about a financial business that sounds closer now to fruition. “We’re doing some things around mortgages that will integrated into the shopping experience,” he told us earlier this month, without wanting to elaborate further. Home improvement loans may also be on the horizon. (Wu says Opendoor “also wants to enable home buyers to personalize their experience.”)

Indeed, in addition to the substantial amount of equity funding that Opendoor has now raised to date, it has also now raised more than $2 billion in debt over the years.

Explains Wu of the two pillars, “We’re using the equity funding to invest in tech and software and to build an experience that enables a one-lick [home-buying experience].” As for the debt, “That’s used to purchase real estate,” he says.

Source: TechCrunch

Russian hackers ‘Fancy Bear’ now targeting governments with rootkit malware

Security researchers say that they have found evidence that for the first time Russia-backed hackers are now using a more sophisticated type of malware to target government entities.

ESET presented its case Thursday that the hacker group, known as Fancy Bear (or APT28), is using rootkit malware to target its victims. That marks an escalation in tactics, which the researchers say the group’s hacking capabilities “may be even more dangerous than previously thought.”

Although the researchers would not name the targeted governments, they said that the hackers were active in targeting the Balkans and some central and eastern European countries.

The malware, dubbed LoJax, uses a portion of LoJack, an anti-theft software that has been criticized for its brutal persistence making it challenging to remove — even when a user reinstalls their operating system. Arbor Networks found earlier this year that the LoJack agent now connected to a malicious command and control server operated by the hackers.

LoJax, like other rootkits, embeds in the computer’s firmware and launches when the operating system boots up. Because it sits in a computer’s flash memory, it takes time, effort and extreme care to reflash the memory with new firmware.

According to its investigation, ESET said that the hackers were “successful at least once” in writing a malicious module into a system’s flash memory.

Although attribution is typically difficult, the researchers found that systems hit by LoJax also contained other hacking tools known to used by Fancy Bear, including backdoors and proxy tools used for funneling network traffic to and from the hackers’ servers.

ESET said it could link the malware to earlier network infrastructure used by the hacker group “with high confidence.”

Fancy Bear has been active for more than a decade, but is best known for hacking into the Democratic National Committee and its disinformation and election influencing campaign against the U.S. in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. The hackers have also targeted senators, social media sites, the French presidential elections, and leaked Olympic athletes’ confidential medical files.

The researchers said that there are preventative measures. Because Fancy Bear’s rootkit isn’t properly signed, a computer’s Secure Boot feature could prevent the attack by properly verifying each component in the boot process. That can usually be switched on at a computer’s pre-boot settings.

ESET said that the discovery “serves as a heads-up, especially to all those who might be in the crosshairs of Fancy Bear.”

Source: TechCrunch

Insurance startups have raised billions as industry players fight tech disruptors

The once sleepy world of insurance has become the hot ticket for venture investors.

Insurance technology companies have raised multiple billions of dollars in the past four years as venture capitalists finance industry disruptors and enabling technologies for established players to fend off new technology-based challengers.

In the month since tech-enabled car insurance startup Root Insurance joined the billion dollar club after its $100 million investment round, new investments in startups serving insurers in categories like life insurance, liability insurance, and — most notably — in insurance assessment and analysis services illustrate both the pace of dealmaking in the category and the breadth of technologies being developed for the industry.

In the second quarter of 2018, insurance technology investments totaled $527 million in 71 deals, according to a quarterly survey by Willis Tower Watson Securities. While that total amount committed was actually down significantly from the $985 million across 64 transactions in the second quarter of 2017, the total number of deals — at 71 — actually went up.

No investment better illustrates the opportunity for investors to play both sides of the insurance industry against each other than the recent $20 million extension Slice Labs raised to an original $11.6 million Series A round which closed in October of 2017. It’s not normal. But abnormal is the new normal for insurance technology investing.

Strategic investor The Co-operators, a $3.6 billion collective of Canadian insurance cooperatives, led the extension with participation from the company’s previous investors, XL Innovate, Horizons Fund, and Munich  Re/HSB Ventures, and SOMPO, and additional new investors Vero Norte, the investment arm of Grupo Sura and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

Slice now offers what it calls “insurance cloud services”, which basically takes the insurance modeling and approval methodologies that other companies have raised significant money to create standalone businesses with, and white labels them for established insurance providers.

It’s a bit of a pivot for Slice, which initially launched with the thesis of providing an on-demand insurance policy and coverage for anything anyone wanted insured.

If Slice is trying to give insurers the ability to build their own tools in-house and fight back against a deluge of startups, Covr Financial Technologies is trying to give those insurers new channels to sell through as they confront the dwindling of their direct sales channels.

That company raised $10 million in a Series A round of its own — bringing the company’s total financing to $20 million. Joining previous investors Nyca Partners, Commerce Ventures, Contour Venture Partners and Connectivity Capital Partners was the strategic investor Allianz Life Ventures — the investment arm of the insurance giant Allianz.

“Financial institutions see protection as an important component of the financial planning discussions they have with their customers – and Covr is in a unique position to tap modern technology to solve this challenge,” said Emily Reitan, vice president of Strategy and Business Development for Allianz Life.

Big banks like Morgan Stanley, US Bank and SunTrust all use either Covr’s digital advisor or consumer facing platforms to make life insurance sales part of a broader package of wealth management services. The idea is that the banks provide an additional service, and life insurers get another way to pitch to a customer while Covr gets a cut.

“Covr is helping us solve an important financial need for our clients” said Michael Finnegan, Head of Insurance Platforms at Morgan Stanley in a statement. “They have allowed us to fundamentally change our insurance process to a technology-enabled solution that delivers a positive experience for both the financial advisor and our clients.”

Finally there’s Jones, a startup that’s pitching liability insurance backed by Chubb for independent contractors and the building owners and managers that hire them. The company raised $2.8 million in a seed round fromHetz Ventures, JLL Spark, MetaProp Ventures, GroundUp Ventures and 500 Startups.

The company’s technology marries pay-as-you-go insurance for contractors to obtain a certificate of insurance with a back-end management system for building managers and construction companies to ensure their compliance and oversight requirements are being met.

The company is in beta with construction companies and real estate management firms like ARCO Construction and JLL, but if its services gain ground, it would mean a huge windfall for Chubb Insurance, which is the company’s sole underwriter for the insurance policies it’s pitching.

Slice, Covr, and Jones all represent one type of startup business that’s attracting venture dollars — the enabling technologies or channels for existing insurers to experiment with or sell through to reach new consumers.

Meanwhile, there’s another category of startup — and one that’s attracted massive valuations by running directly at incumbent players with an eye toward dislodging them from their perches atop the industry.

It’s this category that has attracted the most money and the largest valuations in property and casualty, health, and auto insurance.

Root Insurance is only the most recent example of this type of company. In health insurance Oscar Health is also valued at $1 billion for its attempts to try and unseat incumbents in health insurance. Lemonade raised $120 million from SoftBank (in what might be that firm’s only intelligent real estate-related deal) and is likely approaching or surpassing that billion-dollar valuation threshold itself.

As Rafal Walkiewicz, the chief executive of Willis Tower Watson noted in his report on the industry in the first quarter, “Investors are clearly willing to make increased bets on InsurTech and funding rounds are becoming larger.” But the bulk of the biggest investments were being made by pure-play venture capital firms rather than industry incumbents with more experience in insurance. “Perhaps the stakes are becoming too high for insurers,” Walkiwicz writes. “Especially if they are mostly investing in order to learn how to improve their existing processes.”

Source: TechCrunch

Doctolib to open up telemedicine appointments

French startup Doctolib will take advantage of recent legal changes that will make telemedicine legal in France. Starting on January 1st, you’ll be able to book face-to-face appointments on Doctolib as well as remote appointments.

Doctolib is a marketplace with 60,000 practitioners using the platform to manage their calendars and let people book appointments through Doctolib’s website. Millions of people then browse Doctolib’s website and app to find practitioners and book appointments. Doctors pay a monthly fee to access Doctolib’s service.

While it’s still unclear how it’s going to work, Doctolib plans to tap its existing community of doctors to let them accept remote appointments too.

Doctolib is already testing the service with 500 practitioners. According to the legal framework, you won’t be able to hop on Doctolib, find an available doctor and start a video call with them.

The idea is that you don’t have to show up in person every time you need to see your doctor. Once in a while, a remote appointment is enough. That’s why you’ll only be able to book remote appointments with practitioners who know you already.

But the good news is that remote appointments will be reimbursed by the national healthcare system, just like any appointment. Details are still thin when it comes to the payment system and the communication platform.

In order to work on that new service, Doctolib plans to hire 150 engineers and open up a big office — the Health Tech Center. It’s not going to be limited to the Doctolib team as the company plans to invite officials, practitioners and more.

Source: TechCrunch

24 hours left to apply as a TC Top Pick at Disrupt Berlin 2018


Die Zeit läuft aus, Leute — time is running out, people! You have less than 24 hours to apply to be a TechCrunch Top Pick at Disrupt Berlin 2018, which goes down on 29-30 November. It’s one of the smartest moves that early-stage startup founders can make, so go apply now before the application window closes on Friday 28 September.

You’re still here? OK, so maybe you need more information about how we select TC Top Picks and all the benefits associated with that prized designation. We get it.

For starters, to be a TC Top Pick candidate — and have a shot at attending Disrupt Berlin and exhibiting in Startup Alley GRATIS — your early-stage startup must fall into one of the following tech categories:

  • AI/Machine Learning
  • Blockchain
  • CRM/Enterprise
  • E-commerce
  • Education
  • Fintech
  • Healthtech/Biotech
  • Hardware, Robotics, IoT
  • Mobility
  • Gaming

The vetting process is very competitive, and our TechCrunch editors — a highly discerning lot — will thoroughly review every eligible application. Up to five cream-of-the-crop startups in each category will earn a TC Top Pick designation and each startup will receive one free Startup Alley Exhibitor Package. Free as in zero Euros. Talk about some mighty ROI.

The Startup Alley Exhibitor Package includes a one-day exhibit space, three Disrupt Berlin Founder passes, access to CrunchMatch (our free investor-to-startup matching platform) and access to the Disrupt press list. In a classic “but wait, there’s more” moment, all TC Top Picks will be interviewed by a TechCrunch editor on the Showcase Stage. We’ll promote each three-minute video interview across all our social media platforms. It’s the marketing gift that keeps on giving.

If you’re not familiar with Startup Alley, it’s Disrupt’s exhibition hall and the pulsing heart of the tech conference. Hundreds of pre-series A startups will showcase their tech talent, products, platforms and services to more than 3,000 attendees and more than 300 hundred media outlets. If you’re looking for new customers, media coverage or future investors, you need to exhibit in Startup Alley.

We’re not the only people who hold that opinion. Here’s Zeroqode co-founder Vlad Larin’s take on the experience: “Startup Alley was a great networking opportunity. It was full of all the people you could possibly hope to meet at a tech conference. They spanned diverse backgrounds and industries. We talked to people looking for partnerships, investments, new ideas, collaboration and inspiration.”

Die Zeit läuft aus, Leute! Don’t let time run out on your chance to be a TC Top Pick and exhibit at Disrupt Berlin 2018 for FREE. The September 28 application deadline is less than 24 hours away — apply here right now.

Source: TechCrunch

Bitmain IPO concerns: the crypto giant recorded a big loss in Q2 2018

Bitmain’s IPO is the big news in the crypto world this week. The company just filed its IPO prospectus and the numbers are impressive, particularly the year-on-year growth between the first six months of 2018 and a year prior, which saw a near-10x jump in revenue and 7x growth in profit. Nevertheless, that aggregated six-month number may be masking what was a poor quarter of business for Bitmain.

Bitmain didn’t break out its revenue for Q1 and Q2 2018 in its prospectus, instead it blended them together with a nice looking figure for the first six months of the year, H1 2018. But we can crunch some numbers to give an idea of what it might be.

TechCrunch previously reported through sources that the company’s Q1 2018 revenue hit approximately $2 billion. Additionally, Fortune previously reported that the company carded a $1.1 billion profit during the same quarter, a number that’s in line with these revenue figures given that the prospectus reports a net margin of around 50 percent. For comparison, popular cryptocurrency wallet Coinbase made $1 billion in revenue in 2017.

But if we combine the aforementioned data points with the figures that were just reported, the Q2 numbers don’t look pretty. Specificifically, if combined H1 revenue was $2.9 billion with a $1.1 billion profit, then Q2 saw revenue sink to around $800 million with a loss of $400 million. That would be Bitmain’s worse quarter yet and not the kind of momentum that you want going into a listing.

My colleague Jon Russell earlier observed a number of potential risk signs in stated numbers: margins overall have come down. Gross margin in the first six months was 36 percent, down from 48 percent in 2017 and 54 percent in 2016. Contributing to that, the cost of sale percentage in the first half of 2018 rose to 64 percent from 51 and 52 percent in 2017 and 2016, respectively. Additionally, he detailed how the company over-estimated demand in 2018, and, as a result, its inventory ballooned by $1 billion. That unsold product is another indicator that Q2 did not go as planned.

Wu Jihan, co-founder of Bitmain Technologies Ltd., speaks during the Coingeek Conference in Hong Kong, China, on Friday, May 18, 2018. The conference runs through today. Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We can also examine the financials from a holistic perspective. Adjusted return-on-asset (ROA) and return-on-equity (ROE) are indicators of how profitable a company is relative to its total assets and equity, respectively. Both numbers almost halved in 2018 vs 2017. So even though Bitmain was able to grow its top and bottom line, its overall operating efficiency has declined significantly, from 60.9 percent to 31.4 percent in adjusted ROA and 112.3 percent to 58.9 percent in adjusted ROE.

Where that operating efficiency level could stabilize will likely be a focus for public equity investors. With 94 percent of 2018 revenue coming from mining rigs, up from 80 percent from 2017, Bitmain is increasingly looking like a pure chips company, subject to cryptocurrency market conditions. As a reference, hardware company Nvidia, a company based out of California that also makes computer chips, generated revenues of $9.7 billion in its 2018 fiscal year (2017 calendar year). It’s been operating for 19 years as a public company and its ROA was around 27 percent and adjusted ROE was around 40 percent in calendar year 2017. Nvidia told investors last month that revenue from crypto-related sales had substantially declined, another factor that indicates Bitmain’s Q2 was a tough one.

More generally, Bitmain currently has 11 mining farms in China, including Sichuan and Inner Mongolia. It’s looking to build out 3 new mining farms in the U.S. in Washington, Texas and Tennessee, while it is also contemplating a mining farm in Quebec. This indicates that the team is cognizant of their concentration in revenue from mining rigs and is attempting to diversify into other businesses.

TechCrunch looked at the top equity holders closely and it appears a total of ~60 percent is owned by the top 5 founding individuals. We know of co-CEOs Wu Jihan and Micree Zhang that own majority of the portion, but there is also Zhao Zhaofeng, Ge Yuesheng, and Song Wenbao. The next largest shareholder is Sequoia, which owned the investment through another entity called SCC Venture VI. Sequoia owns over 2 percent of Bitmain shares through its various funds. Coatue also owns 0.14 percent. The employee’s pool in aggregate was about 18.5 percent.

Aside from Q2 numbers and potentially a hit in Q3 from the ongoing market downtrend, there are few other investor concerns that may surface. For one, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is Bitmain’s single largest supplier, accounting for 59.2 percent of total supply in the first half of 2018, and generally hovering over 58 percent in the last 2.5 years, leading to concentrated supplier risk.

Another issue is that for the cryptocurrencies that Bitmain owns — that is, Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ether, Litecoin and Dash. Bitmain accounted for these cryptocurrencies at cost, which means that the value of these cryptocurrencies is priced at the time of acquisition, not at the current market value. A decent portion could have been acquired during the bull market last year, this may be perceived as overly bullish or unrealistic by public investors, especially by those who have yet to be bought into the value of cryptocurrency, or already find it extremely risky as an asset class.

The questions and doubts from public investors around the unpredictability of the crypto market will be one of the many challenges that crypto companies face if they choose public markets. As we mentioned previously, there are many reasons to stay private as a crypto company, including keeping quarterly financials private as well as dealing with market fluctuations and the ongoing volatility and uncertainty in the cryptocurrency world. However, the con is that early employees may not get liquidity in their stock options.

Wu has said that a Bitmain IPO would be a “landmark” for both the company and the cryptocurrency space. In such a bear market, Bitmain may be taking a risk by going public, but it’s certainly a large step on behalf of the crypto market. When the filings came out, the value of Bitcoin Cash rose by 23.7 percent from the start of the day, reaching a nearly three-week high, and at around 6pm PST it was still up 20 percent.

Several of Bitmain’s competitors have filed for IPO since the beginning of 2018, but most of them are significantly smaller. For example, Hong Kong-based Canaan Creative filed in May, and its latest target is $1 billion to $2 billion in fundraising with 2017 revenue of $204 million. If Bitmain’s Q2 was as poor as the numbers suggest, it may need to revise the target raise for its Hong Kong listing.

Source: TechCrunch

Vinay Gupta to talk about Mattereum at Disrupt Berlin

Cryptocurrency speculation is over. That’s why I’m excited to announce that Vinay Gupta will join us at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin to talk about cool use cases that could make blockchain projects useful, beyond financial services.

Gupta worked on the initial release of Ethereum back in 2015. He contributed when it comes to project management. He then worked with the Consensys team on other cryptocurrency projects.

But he’s now 100 percent focused on his own project — Mattereum. As the name suggests, it’s all about bringing physical objects to the blockchain.

For instance, if you buy an expensive painting, you want to make sure that you sign a contract with the previous owner that says that you now own this painting.

Mattereum helps you set up self-executing smart contracts to transfer digital assets (including tokens that could prove the ownership of a painting).

But if you want to combine smart contracts with good old legal contracts, Mattereum has also worked on Ricardian contracts so that those contracts have a legal value. Finally, Mattereum also worked on a decentralized dispute resolution platform that can be enforced in a national court.

If you want to listen to Gupta talk about Mattereum himself, then you should come to Disrupt Berlin.

Buy your ticket to Disrupt Berlin to listen to this discussion and many others. The conference will take place on November 29-30.

In addition to fireside chats and panels, like this one, new startups will participate in the Startup Battlefield Europe to win the highly coveted Battlefield cup.

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Vinay Gupta

Founder, Mattereum Ltd.

Vinay Gupta is a technologist and policy analyst with a particular interest in how specific technologies can close or create new avenues for decision makers. This interest has taken him through cryptography, energy policy, defence, security, resilience and disaster management arenas.

He is the founder of Hexayurt.Capital, a fund which invests in creating the Internet of Agreements™. Mattereum is the first Internet of Agreements infrastructure project, bringing legally-enforceable smart contracts, and enabling the sale, lease, and transfer of physical property and legal rights.

He is known for his work on the hexayurt, a public domain disaster relief shelter designed to be build from commonly-available materials, and with Ethereum, a distributed network designed to handle smart contracts.

Source: TechCrunch