Archive for février 2012
Australian-based travel marketplace Jayride.com has lined up $400,000 AUD in seed funding for its ride-sharing service, which also aggregates transportation data. The angel funding was led by Andrey Shirben, one of the first investors in Kenshoo, a digital marketing software company. In addition to helping in the financing, Shirben will also bring his digital marketing expertise to assist the company, as well as connect Jayride with other players in the global travel sector.
Compared with other current ride-sharing and carpooling startups, Jayride’s unique angle is to provide a single interface for finding all your transportation options, including commercial transport, and combining that data with the available ride-sharing options. This way, travelers will never be in a situation where they research a route and end up without options. Instead, when there are no ride-shares found on your planned route, Jayride will show you bus schedules, shuttles, relocation cars and other transportation options.
Shirben tells us that the angel round was supposed to be for $350,000 AUD, but after he put his money in, it became overbooked by 30-40%. Within a year, Jayride plans to raise another round led by a U.S. VC firm, as it prepares to expand its geographical transport data coverage.
“Jayride is the only land-transport marketplace attacking ride-sharing this way,” says Shirben of the startup’s transport data aggregation play. “There are many ride-sharing startups around the world, but almost every one fails this simple UX test: if you search from point A to point B outside a main thoroughfare, you find no search results. This is the main limitation of ride-sharing today.”
Shirben says that after meeting the Jayride founding team, and following up over the course of a few months, the decision to invest was an easy one. “Great team, disruptive idea, lots of business potential in a huge market,” he remarks.
Founded in 2008 by Rod Bishop and Ross Lin as a carpooling site, Jayride made the move to aggregate all travel data last fall. The service currently supports Australia, New Zealand, and is coming soon to the U.K. and Ireland.
Word got around way back in the middle of 2010 that Apple was building a monster data center near Maiden,
South North Carolina. Later, it was shown to be hosting a ton of Nuance software, for obvious reasons. Less widely reported was the fact that nearby, scores of acres were being cleared for a solar array.
Now, it turns out that solar array will be the largest “end user-owned, onsite” one in the nation. They’re also planning a biogas/fuel-cell facility with similar credentials.
The information comes from Apple’s latest environmental report which, it should be noted, has nothing at all to do with the environmental factors involved in the actual manufacturing of Apple goods. Nor does the “Waste and Recycling” section detail the fact that Apple is regularly rated as being among the least eco-conscious packagers and device-builders in the world. But that is all by the by. The report is a voluntary, domestic one.
The facilities, neither of which is complete (with no date set for completion), are directly adjacent to the new datacenter, which is itself in a league of its own in terms of energy efficiency. The solar array will cover 100 acres and produce 20 megawatts or 42 million kilowatt-hours annually, depending on how you want to measure it. The fuel cell installation will be 5 megawatts, providing around the same kWh.
The datacenter has been estimated to require as much as 100 megawatts, however, so the rest will, of course, be made up by the coal plants powering much of North Carolina. And saying it’s the biggest “end user-owned, onsite” facility is putting rather a fine point on it. Still meritorious, just not revolutionary.
It seemed to me that in light of recent criticism of Apple’s policies regarding its manufacturing partners abroad (including my own), it was only fair to provide this information as well. Not because Apple somehow deserves it, but because it helps give an idea of how money can and must be invested in tech. China has invested trillions and decades to creating the manufacturing capabilities it has today. It would be folly to attempt the same in the US, starting today — a US-built iPhone is not a proposal that bears any scrutiny.
But there are great advantages to locating datacenters in the US, and in investing heavily in green power. Most major companies are doing so, and almost none are opting to manufacture goods locally. At the moment, even major investments like this one are peanuts compared to the costs and scale of energy consumption and manufacturing power required elsewhere, but it’s nice to see records being set this way by Apple, even if it’s only a drop in the bucket.
Ethical Community, an online, eco-friendly marketplace (which has plans for a snazzier name in the works!), has secured a £200,000 ($316,640 USD) round of seed funding from a syndicate of angel investors, the company is announcing today. Founded in 2009, the marketplace has signed up over 850 sellers from around the world, who have now listed over 7,000 eco-friendly, organic and natural products including clothing, jewelry, health and beauty products, food and drink items, pet items and more.
The new investors include AlertMe.com CEO and ASOS.com board member Mary Turner, founding partner at Alchemy Partners, Robert Barnes, venture investor Kelvin Au, and CEO of Orange Advertising Networks, Giuliano Stiglitz.
The company was started by entrepreneurs Liam Patterson and Jason Dainter, who had the idea to connect customers to sellers in a more personal way. People want to hear the stories behind the products, explains Patterson. “To conscious shoppers, this story is more important than the visual appearance of the product,” he says.
As someone who is often the recipient of gifts like handmade, dye-free soaps and homemade jewelry, I know from first-hand experience that it’s the story that convinces the eco-friendly shopper to make their purchase. I never receive just the item in question as my gift, I also receive the card telling me about the story behind the product, as well as a personal anecdote regarding the item’s makers.
To be able to make that same one-on-one connection on the sometimes more impersonal platform of the web is a challenge, but one that seems worth the attempt. To personalize the experience, sellers can now create blog posts on the Ethical Community website to share their stories and interests, as well as post videos from their homes or workshops.
Ethical Community, which is based in the startup-friendly Shoreditch area of London, says it will use the seed funding to grow its seller and shopper base, continue its expansion plans, and launch an improved version of the site in the spring.
Admits co-founder Dainter, the focus until today has been acquiring great sellers, but now they’re working on rebranding. “To be honest, the name and brand needs a revamp, and the funding will help in that respect. Structurally, we have a lot of changes coming.”
One of those changes will involve making the video system a more predominant part of the site, and integrating it more heavily into the social feeds.
“Our brand is very much about the personal connection with buyers and sellers. Video is a great way to do that, so we’re intending to build on that,” Dainter says.
Things are going smoothly for Tesla. Their big Model X debut was a success, their cars are pre-ordered to capacity, and new business opportunities are presenting themselves. They’re still posting a net loss, of course, but that was expected and will continue for another year or so.
Here are the most salient points from their latest earnings statement, released today:
- Total Q4 revenues: $39M (up 9% YOY)
- Total 2011 revenues: $204M (up 75% vs. 2010)
- Expected revenues for 2012: $550M-$600M (mostly in late 2012)
- Operating expenses: $89M (GAAP)
- Capital expenditures: $54M (mostly building production infrastructure)
- Net Q4 losses: $81M (GAAP) or $0.78 per share on ~104M shares
- Net 2011 losses: $264M (GAAP) or $2.53 per share
- Beta Model S vehicles are being built at the nearly complete factory – 30 out of 50
- Model S betas successfully do 0-60MPH in 4.5s
- 8000 total reservations for Model S
- Model X debut caused 500 reservations, with $5000 commitment each
- Model X to ship in late 2013 at around 10,000-15,000 units per year
- New deal with Daimler to develop a new Mercedes all-electric powertrain
- There are more Tesla battery packs at Daimler and Toyota than there are Roadsters
Everything seems to be going according to plan. 2012 should see the Model S hit the streets (in July) and Tesla-developed batteries and powertrains ship in partners’ vehicles. With luck we’ll have a chance to review the car and its interesting new dash system at that time.
The full earnings report and shareholder letter can be found at Tesla’s investor relations site.
Greenstart, the San Francisco-based startup accelerator dedicated to the cleantech industry – and more importantly, to making it “sexy” enough to attract investors – announced its second cadre of of companies this week. This time around, the organization is tightening its focus to concentrate solely on the intersection of I.T. and cleantech, specifically in areas of smart grid, the built environment, consumer services and transportation.
It’s also being highly selective in terms of the startups accepted into the program. Of the 152 applicants, only five companies got in.
“We’re trying to make cleantech a little sexier in the investment community,” explains Greenstart co-founder Mitch Lowe who runs the program alongside five other entrepreneurs and greentech/cleantech believers. “Cleantech has gotten kind of a bad rap lately, and we want to show that this intersection of cleantech and I.T. has a lot of good investment opportunities,” he says.
To keep the quality of the startups high, Greenstart only selected the few startups it felt would really appeal to investors. But the plan is to ramp up the numbers so that, by next year, the accelerator will have around 12 to 15 companies per program, meaning it will work with at least 30 per year.
Despite the small size, round two is actually one startup larger than Greenstart’s first group, which only included four companies out of 129 applications. The high bar, however, has led to some success in terms of its goal of investor appeal. Of the initial four, one is approaching the close of a Series A round, two are doing mid-six figure angel rounds closing this month, and one is not yet in need of funding.
With the launch of the second cadre, Greenstart is also launching an in-house design practice which will be led by its new COO, David Merkoski, the former Executive Creative Director of frog design. The organization realized the need for design talent in this space during its first run, says Lowe.
“There tends to be a high aptitude for development and a high understanding of design importance, but so far that cleantech/I.T. connection hasn’t inspired designers to be a part of that founding team yet,” Lowe says. “In general right now, entrepreneurs are still driven to create the next Facebook instead figuring out the next Opower,” he explains. “The responsibility is on us and others to show that it’s just as exciting – if not more exciting – to do something in this category.”
Eventually, the goal is to build out a team of designers, but the program will launch with Merkoski and five junior designers and interns.
With the next cadre underway, participating startups receive all the typical benefits – mentoring, discounts, office space, etc., as well as $25,000 in seed funding. The companies (below) will demo to investors when the three month program completes. Here’s a sneak peek as to what they’re up to:
Growing Energy Labs
Founders: Ryan Wartena, Cris Wagner
Growing Energy Labs enables advanced communications between energy storage, generation and loads via their ‘micro-utility in a box’.
Twitter handle: @growingenergy
Founders: Colin Davis, Greg Davis, Shobin Uralil
kWhOURS develops a mobile data collection and management software platform for building energy auditors, reducing the time and cost of performing energy audits.
Twitter handle: @kWhOURS
Smart Grid Billing
Founder: Henrik Westergaard
Smart Grid Billing intelligently shifts small business and residential energy consumption off peak, selling the shifted watts as a ‘power producer’ to ISOs.
Twitter handle: @SGBill
Sony is working on a new technology that authenticates devices via the power outlet, allowing for a few interesting applications. The system, based on the Japanese Felica standard, would allow authenticated power usage, power management for cafes and offices, as well as payments for power use. The system could authenticate with the power outlet via a chip inside the laptop or device or through a smartcard that user waves at the outlet.
According to the press release, the system will allow building and home owners to control power use from a central location and ensure people aren’t using power willy nilly.
This technology is definitely something we will soon see in modern buildings, at least in terms of energy maintenance. It may feel freaky to log in your power outlet, but if it keeps us from sucking down too many jiggawatts, we’ll probably all need to get on board.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK have found a way to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic cells by as much as 25% through harnessing more of the sun’s spectrum than most traditional silicon-based solar cells can.
The new design, developed at the university’s Cavendish Laboratory in the Department of Physics, can absorb both red and blue light, and generates electrons from photons at a two-to-one ratio on the blue light spectrum. Most current solar cells lose blue photon energy as heat, leaving them unable to turn more than about 34% of the sunlight they absorb into power.
The team, led by professors Neil Greenham and Sir Richard Friend, recently published results in a paper. The hybrid cells have an added organic semiconductor called pentacene, which helps harness blue light energy to strengthen the electrical current coming from the cell, making the product up to 44% efficient.
The university’s team also innovated on how the cells are made, by producing the cells in bulk using a roll-to-roll printing technique. While cheaper, more efficient photovoltaics sound promising, there remain hurdles to be overcome. The greatest costs in building a solar power plant are installation hardware, labor and land, so a cheaper solar cell is only a piece of the puzzle.
On the surface, the StartX Demo Day last night could have looked like any other accelerator pushing its latest class of startups. Nine groups got on stage and fired off presentations about how they were working on something cool, and why they deserved funding.
But it wasn’t the rash of lightweight consumer applications you often see at other demo days. These were Stanford students, particularly technical graduate students, who have been nerding out on solving real problems for years in their labs and dorm rooms, and who are now in the middle of commercializing their hard work. Big-name investors from around Silicon Valley unsurprisingly showed up to check them out.
Before I get into the companies, which ran the gamut from health care to batteries to professional networking, it’s important to understand what StartX is. It’s the non-profit accelerator arm of Stanford Student Enterprises, which is a student-run, independent organization that handles a variety of stores, directories, financial services and other businesses for students. SSE is the business branch of the student government, and it’s independent enough from the university that StartX companies get maximum freedom. They own their own intellectual property, and neither StartX/SSE nor any other entity takes any equity.
The only requirements are that at least one cofounder of each applying company needs to have enrolled at Stanford within the last three academic quarters before the application period, and that person needs to own significant equity.
The program is young — it started in 2010 and this is its fifth class. but it’s on the right track. The energy in the room was what you feel at that rare tech event where everyone present knows they’re getting in early on something big.
We’ll no doubt be covering many of the presenting companies in more detail over the coming months, but here’s a quick look at each, in the order they presented:
MindSumo: Employers want to find smart students with skills and interests that they can develop. The problem is that student resumes are normally skimpy on this information because, well, students have mostly been in school and not the workforce. MindSumo’s answer: partner with employers to create “challenges,” or sets of questions for students to answer. For example, Recology, a large recycling and trash disposal company, is currently asking “What can you do or make with glass (A LOT of it)? Propose three alternate uses for recycled glass so that we can use our resources in an innovative way and keep them from landfill!” Currently in private beta, MindSumo has already been running challenges for seven companies (some of whom are paying), with 500 or so Stanford students participating.
AgeTak: Health care data is currently separated across insurers and health care providers, which makes it hard for doctors to do comprehensive analysis of diseases and other conditions. AgeTak uses distributed databases to combine, anonymize and get user consent for data sharing. Founder Pratik Verma, who recently got his PhD in computation chemistry from Stanford, is on a personal mission here. His father passed away in 2010 from nerve cell disease ALS, which has no known causes or cures. His father’s only option was to participate in extensive clinical trials over the years, in the hopes that doctors would make breakthroughs by discovering trends among those afflicted. But, as Pratik discovered, data from patients was not being shared by researchers because it was siloed at institutions, and held back by privacy concerns.
Through AgeTak, the anonymized and aggregated data can be used by analysts, researchers, physicians and pharmaceutical companies. Insurance giant United Health is already using it for a drug claims database, and OptumHealth is using it to offer graphs that show consumers how their health care costs stack up against the average. AgeTak has already made $3.7 million in revenue; it’s headquartered in Minnesota with offices in Menlo Park and India. Check out this recent writeup by Barb Darrow at GigaOm for more details.
Zoku: If you’re trying to build a network — let’s say, to help with your new startup — you want to know who out there is doing something relevant to your needs. But it can be hard sorting through all the noise on Facebook, LinkedIn and other sites to spot the key people and activities. Zoku lets you combine your email and social networking contacts, then pick out people and actions that you want to keep track of. It uses algorithms to filter for what you care about, then shows you the signals – people who are visiting town, changing jobs, or doing anything else relevant to what you might need to get done — in a dashboard on its site.
Vi Energy: In what looks like the most ambitious technical idea out of all the presentations, Vi Energy is developing a new kind of rechargeable battery that promises to be three times cheaper and last 50% longer than anything on the market today. Over the past twenty years, lithium ion batteries have dominated, but they can be unsafe, have relatively weak capacity, and are expensive. As a mature technology, there’s only marginal improvements to be had from them. Sister-cofounders Meghali and Sonali Chopra have, with the support of top scientific researchers, already created a pilot battery that uses significantly cheaper raw materials, can be easily synthesized, and has a unique spherical morphology with conductive codings for better performance. Their lab tests already show that the new battery lasts longer than the lithium ion ones on the market today.
Breakthrough: This online mental health treatment startup has been featured before — on stage at TechCrunch 50 (Disrupt) back in 2009. It uses secure video and chat features to help people connect with professionals to get the help they need privately and immediately. As Leena noted before, clients can search for providers (including psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses) on a variety of criteria, including price, speciality (i.e. depression, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder), and gender. On a provider’s page you can see his or her education, experience, pricing for services, the insurance the professional accepts, and even a video introduction of the provider explaining his or her specialities. BreakThrough certifies all providers are credentialed professionals.
TipTopMed: How much will a trip to the doctor’s cost? How much, in particular, if you don’t have a good insurance plan? That’s a question more and more Americans are asking themselves — that TipTopMed is trying to answer. Its site will show local providers, and include information about them like the upfront price, and other details about provider specialties. Users can then book an appointment, and pay online. Providers — mostly small and medium-sized businesses — want this because they lose lots of money on patients who can’t or don’t pay. The site is launching at the end of this month, and will feature a proprietary database of Bay Area health care professionals.
Smit’s Crew: The only entertainment-oriented startup out of the mix, it offers a web site and mobile app that lets venue owners (bars, clubs, etc.) create a type of loyalty program for regular patrons. The app lets customers receive advance notifications of discounts and other deals, particularly on slow nights, then buy them immediately. They then go to the establishment and show the waiter or bartender the purchase; because payment has been received, the food and drinks can be delivered immediately, without the hassle of trying to pay with cash or credit card at, say, a packed bar. Even more importantly, the app lets owners keep track of which people are visiting the most regularly and buying the most — this allows them to figure out who they should focus on providing the best service to. The “crew” concept lets customers group themselves together around specific establishments, so the venue can provide group discounts if they show up.
There were also two more health care startups that presented, but they haven’t publicly launched yet so I won’t be including them here. All in all, as you can see, this is a serious bunch of companies, that are interested in solving hard real-world problems.
Venture firms and law offices in Silicon Valley have sensed the opportunity to get in early, and they’ve rallied behind the effort. VC supporters, who provide dollars and mentorship, include Benchmark Capital, General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, Charles River Ventures and Greylock Partners. Legal backers are Cooley LLP, Fenwick & West LLP, Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Goodwin Proctor, and Orrick. Resource partners include Amazon Web Services, First Republic Bank, Fog Creek Software, Github, Rackspace and Usabilla.
And even that distant global media and advertising conglomerate that owns TechCrunch is involved, it turns out, because it provides office space and other material support. So time for a Full Disclosure: I didn’t even know AOL was involved until I got to the event this afternoon — but good job, whoever made that call at my parent company. I also attended Stanford as an undergraduate, and while I have a variety of feelings about my alma mater, I generally expect a lot out of its graduates — maybe this connection is one reason I think StartX is pretty great? On the other hand, I worked at a key campus competitor to SSE, The Stanford Daily student-run newspaper. So maybe I’m biased against SSE and so my biases all equal themselves out….
The future of easy home energy monitoring may be a little bit closer, thanks to a government initiative designed to allow consumers direct access to their energy consumption data.
The White House’s new Green Button gives utilities a way to simplify and standardize sharing usage statistics with their customers via a one-click download. Two California providers, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, already launched the feature, adding what is literally a green button to their websites. Utility companies in other regions are expected to implement it within the next year. Customers can click the button to download their personal usage information in one place.
The interesting aspect isn’t so much in the download itself, but what can be done with it. Federal officials hope this kind of data liberation will inspire developers to build apps and services that will help customers track and reduce their energy consumption. One study showed that subjects who were given access to their data reduced their usage by $369 billion power bill.
The Green Button was inspired by the government’s success with its Blue Button initiative, which allows veterans instant access to their health care data.
Quick, what’s the second most traded commodity in the world, after oil? Sorry, no: it’s not coffee. In fact, while hard data is scant, it may well be — of all things — carbon. No, really. According to the World Bank (PDF) , the global carbon market was worth a whopping 1.42 Facebooks US$142 billion in 2010.
Mind you, it’s not like container ships weighed down to the gills with graphite are crossing and recrossing the Pacific every week. What we’re actually talking about here is the trade in carbon offsets, ie, the absence of carbon. Very Zen, no? Techies should be comfortable with this notion; I seem to recall spending less time studying electrons than I did “holes,” ie their absence, while acquiring my EE degree…
Anyway, where there’s a $twelve-figures market, there are startups fighting for a share. In particular, there’s a battle on to see who will be the primary aggregator of carbon-market data. On one side, dominating the market, I give you the Goliaths Point Carbon, a tentacle of the Thomson Reuters kraken, providing “independent news, analysis and consulting services for European and global power, gas and carbon markets,” and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, doing much the same. On the other, I give you plucky little David eCO2Market, a Paris-based startup with an algorithmic sling.
Point Carbon and BNEF crank out tomes and tomes of research analysis and offer subscription-based information tools. eCO2Market dispenses with weighty reports, and disintermediates analysts and researchers. Instead it tries to build up the biggest, most thorough, and most up-to-date database of carbon-market information, and then gives its users algorithmic tools to search, slice, dice, and organize that data themselves. The more users pay, the better the tools. (They have a free tier, too, if you’re a data geek who wants to play with what they’ve got.)
“It’s our job to take this incredibly convoluted carbon area and put it into a nice little package for investors, environmentalists, everyone, and make it as easy as possible to find projects and their participants, buy credits, or make an investment,” says Chris Draper of eCO2Market. For instance, solar-power company ToughStuff uses eCO2Market’s data to find early-stage solar projects who might be ideal ToughStuff customers.
It’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll thrive. The carbon market is in something of a fraught state right now: aside from the embarrassing theft of millions of dollars worth of carbon credits by hackers a year ago, what the World Bank delicately refers to as “regulatory uncertainty” — ie the stalled attempts to cement a successor to the Kyoto Protocol — means that the near-term future is at best uncertain.
On the other hand, this year should see the launch of the Western Climate Initiative, a cap-and-trade system involving California, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec; and in the long run, though, cap-and-trade carbon markets are probably a growth bet. Either way, eCO2Market is an interesting example of a small startup disrupting an information market by replacing human-written research and analysis with big-data aggregation, algorithms, and visualization. The optimal solution probably features both…but it says here the scale will tip further towards the latter with every passing year.
Image: Global bubble map of carbon projects, from eCO2Market.