Tel Aviv ranks 6th in global startup report

I’m not a huge fan of ‘beauty contests’ of startup ecosystems, but it’s helpful to compare ecosystems to measure progress, especially for the smaller or up and coming hubs. And, I do like stats.

Today The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020 by Startup Genome was released, ranking the top 30 and 10 runner up global startup ecosystems, with a data-driven approach based on talent availability, connectedness (density), VC activity, etc. It would be awkward if Silicon valley wasn’t the top spot, although a lot of signs are pointing to shaky foundations. It was followed by New York and London, both tied for #2, a ranking that remained unchanged since 2017.

The top 30 global startup ecosystems ranked

Tel Aviv ties with Los Angeles at #6

Overall, Tel Aviv went down one spot from 2019 but faired relatively well:

  • Tel Aviv ranked as #6 Startup Ecosystem Globally
  • Israel’s regional sub-sector strengths include AI, Big Data & Analytics and Cybersecurity
  • The National pre-seed fund and Density of Startups & R&D hubs are cited as reasons a startup should move to Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv as the #6 top startup ecosystem globally

Covid-19 poses unique challenges

No report in 2020 would be complete without the impact of Covid-19:

  • Capital availability – three out of every four startups have had the fundraising process disrupted
    • 18% with term sheets had rounds cancelled
    • 54% experienced delays
  • Demand – About 72% of startups saw their revenue drop since the beginning of the crisis, with the average startup experiencing a decline of 32%. Travel, beauty and fashion and manufacturing were most impacted.
  • Limited resources: Over 60% of startups have laid off employees or reduced salaries. For startups reducing FTEs, an average of 33% of jobs were cut

Use AI responsibly to uplift historically disenfranchised people during COVID-19

One of the most distressing aspects of the ongoing pandemic is that COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on communities of color and lower-income Americans due to structural factors rooted in history and long-standing societal biases.

Those most at risk during this pandemic are 24 million of the lowest-income workers; the people who have less job security and can’t work from home. In fact, only 9.2% of the bottom 25% have the ability to work from home. Compare that to the 61.5% of the top 25% and the disparity is staggering. Additionally, people in these jobs typically do not have the financial security to avoid public interaction by stockpiling food and household goods, buying groceries online or avoiding public transit. They cannot self-isolate. They need to venture out far more than other groups, heightening their risk of infection.

The historically disadvantaged will also be hit the hardest by the economic impacts of the pandemic. They are overrepresented in the industries experiencing the worst downturn. The issues were atrocious prior to COVID-19, with the typical Black and Latinx households having a net worth of just $17,100 and $20,765, respectively, compared with the $171,000 held by the typical white household. An extended health and economic crisis will only exacerbate these already extreme disparities.

AI as a beacon of hope

A rare encouraging aspect of the ongoing pandemic response is the use of cutting-edge technology — especially AI — to address everything from supply chains to early-stage vaccine research.

The potential of human + AI exceeds the potential of humans working alone by far, but there are tremendous risks that require careful consideration. AI requires massive amounts of data, but ingrained in that data are the societal imperfections and inequities that have given rise to disproportionate health and financial impacts in the first place.

In short, we cannot use a tool until we know it works and understand the potential for unintended consequences. Some health groups hurried to repurpose existing AI models to help track patients and manage the supply of beds, ventilators and other equipment in their hospitals. Researchers have tried to develop AI models from scratch to focus on the unique effects of COVID-19, but many of those tools have struggled with bias and accuracy issues. Balancing the instinct to “help now” and the risks of “unforeseen consequences” amidst the high stakes of the COVID-19 pandemic is why the responsible use of AI is more important now than ever.

4 ways to purposefully and responsibly use AI to combat COVID-19

1. Avoid delegating to algorithms that run critical systems

Think of an AI system designed to distribute ventilators and medical equipment to hospitals with the objective of maximizing survival rates. Disadvantaged populations have higher comorbidities and thus may be less likely to receive supplies if the system is not properly designed. If these preexisting prejudices are not accounted for when designing the AI system, then well-intentioned efforts could result in directing supplies away from especially vulnerable communities.

Artificial intelligence is also being used to improve supply chains across all sectors. The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is prototyping AI that can track data on ventilators, PPE, medical supplies and food. When the goal is to anticipate panic-buying and ensure health care professionals have access to the equipment they need, this is a responsible use of AI.

As these examples illustrate, we can quickly arrive at a problematic use case when decision-making authority is delegated to an algorithm. The best and most responsible use of AI is maximizing efficiency to ensure the necessary supplies get to those truly in need. Previous failures in AI show the need for healthy skepticism when delegating authority on potentially life-and-death decisions to an algorithm.

2. Be wary of disproportional impacts and singling out specific communities

Think of an AI system that uses mobility data to detect localized communities that are violating stay-at-home orders and route police for additional enforcement. Disadvantaged populations do not have the economic means to stockpile food and other supplies, or order delivery, forcing them to go outside.  As we mentioned earlier, being overrepresented in frontline sectors means leaving the home more frequently. In addition, individuals and families experiencing homelessness could be targeted for violating stay-at-home enforcement. In New York City, police enforcement of stay-at-home directives has disproportionately targeted Black and Latinx residents. Here is where responsible AI steps in. AI systems should be designed not to punish these populations with police enforcement, but rather help identify the root causes and route additional food and resources. This is not a panacea, but will avoid exacerbating existing challenges.

Israel has already demonstrated that this model works. In mid-March it passed an emergency law enabling the use of mobile data to pinpoint the infected as well as those they had come in contact with. Maccabi Healthcare Services are using AI to ID its most at-risk customers and prioritize them for testing. This is a fantastic example of adopting previously responsible and successful AI by adapting an existing system that was built and trained to identify people most at risk for flu, using millions of records from over 27 years.

3. Establish AI that is human-centric with privacy by design and native controls

Think of an AI system that uses mobile phone apps to track infections and trace contacts in an effort to curb new infections. Minority and economically disadvantaged populations have lower rates of smartphone ownership than other groups. AI systems should take these considerations into account to avoid design bias. This will ensure adequate protections for vulnerable populations, but also improve the overall efficacy of the system since these individuals may have high human contact in their jobs. Ensuring appropriate track and trace takes place within these populations is critically important.

In the U.S., MIT researchers are developing Private Automatic Contact Tracing (PACT), which uses Bluetooth communications for contact tracing while also preserving individual privacy. If you test positive and inform the app, everyone who has been in close proximity to you in the last 14 days gets a notification. Anonymity and privacy are the biggest keys to responsible use of AI to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In India the government’s Bridge to Health app uses a phone’s Bluetooth and location data to let users know if they have been near a person with COVID-19. But, again, privacy and anonymity are the keys to responsible and ethical use of AI.

This is a place where the true power of human + AI shines through. As these apps are rolled out, it is important that they are paired with human-based track and trace to account for disadvantaged populations. AI allows automating and scaling track and trace for most of the population; humans ensure we help the most vulnerable.

4. Validate systems and base decisions on sanitized representative data

Think of an AI system that helps doctors make rapid decisions on which patients to treat and how to treat them in an overburdened health care system. One such system developed in Wuhan identified biomarkers that correlate with higher survival rates to help doctors pinpoint which patients likely need critical care and which can avoid the hospital altogether.

The University of Chicago Medical Center is working to upgrade an existing AI system called eCART. The system will be enhanced for COVID to use more than 100 variables to predict the need for intubation eight hours in advance. While eight hours may not seem like much, it provides doctors an opportunity to take action before a patient’s condition deteriorates.

But, the samples and data sets systems like these rely on could have the potential to produce unreliable outcomes or ones that reinforce existing biases. If the AI is trained on observations of largely white individuals — as was the case with data in the International Cancer Genome Consortium — how willing would you be to delegate life-and-death health care decisions for a nonwhite patient? These are issues that require careful consideration and demonstrate why it is so important to validate not only the systems themselves, but also the data on which they rely.

Questions we must ask

As companies, researchers and governments increasingly leverage AI, a parallel discussion around responsible AI is necessary to ensure benefits are maximized while harmful consequences are minimized. We need better guidelines and assessments of AI around fairness, trustworthiness, bias and ethics.

There are dozens of dimensions we should evaluate every use case against to ensure it is developed in a responsible manner. But, these four simple questions provide a great framework to start a discussion between AI system developers and policy makers who may be considering deploying an AI solution to combat COVID-19.

  • What are the consequences if the system makes a mistake? Can we redesign the system to minimize this?
  • Can we clearly explain how the AI system produced specific outcomes in a way that is understandable to the general public?
  • What are potential sources of bias — data, human and design — and how can they be minimized?
  • What steps can be taken to protect the privacy of individuals?

When to use AI solutions and tools

Each of these questions will apply in different ways to particular use cases. A natural language processing (NLP) system sifting through tens of thousands of scientific papers that might focus the search for a COVID-19 vaccine poses no direct threat of harm to individuals and performs a task faster that an army of research assistants ever could. Case in point, in April at Harvard the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Human Vaccines Project announced the Human Immunomics Initiative to leverage AI models to accelerate vaccine development.

This is a global effort with scientists around the world working together to expedite drug discovery processes to defeat COVID-19 through the use of AI. From the aforementioned work in the U.S. all the way to Australia where Oracle cloud technology and vaccine technology developed by Vaxine is being leveraged by Flinders University to develop promising vaccine candidates, we can see AI being used for its most ethical purpose, saving human lives.

Another use case is the omnipresent issue facing us during this pandemic: dissemination of misinformation across the planet. Imagine trying to manually filter the posts of the 1.7 billion daily Facebook users every day and scan for misinformation about COVID-19. This is an ideal project for human + AI — with humans confirming cases of misinformation flagged by AI.

This use case is relatively low risk, but its ultimate success depends on human oversight and engagement. That’s even more so the case in the high-risk use cases that are grabbing headlines amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Human + AI is not just a safeguard against a system gone off the rails, it’s critical to AI delivering meaningful and impactful results as illustrated through earlier examples.

We need to classify use cases into three buckets to guide our decision making:

1. Red

  • Use case represents a decision that should not be delegated to an AI system.
  • Using an AI system to decide which patients receive medical treatment during a crisis. This is a case where humans should ultimately be making decisions because of their impact on life-and-death decisions. This has already been recognized by the medical community, where ethical frameworks have been developed to support these very types of decisions.

2. Yellow

  • Use case could be deployed responsibly, but it depends upon the design and execution.
  • Using an AI system to monitor adherence to quarantine policies. This is a case where use cases may be acceptable depending on design and deployment of systems. For example, using the system to deploy police to neighborhoods to “crackdown” on individuals not adhering to quarantine policies would be problematic. But deploying police to these neighborhoods to understand why quarantine is being broken so policy makers can better address citizen needs would be legitimate — provided privacy of individuals is protected.

3. Green

  • Use case is low risk and the benefits far outweigh the risks.
  • Content filtering on social media platforms to ensure malicious and misleading information regarding COVID-19 is not shared widely.

We must ask our four questions and deliberately analyze the answers we find. We can then responsibly and confidently decide which bucket to put the project into and move forward in a responsible and ethical manner.

A recent U.S. example

We recently created Lighthouse, a new dynamic navigation cockpit that helps organizations capture a holistic picture of the ongoing crisis. These “lighthouses” are being used to illuminate the multiple dimensions of the situation. For example, we recently partnered with an American city to develop a tool that predicted disruptions in the food supply chain. One data source was based on declines in foot traffic in and around distribution centers. Without accessing any personally identifiable information (PII) — and therefore preserving individual privacy — it shows which parts of the city were most likely to suffer shortages, enabling leaders to respond preemptively and prevent an even worse public health crisis.

This is an easily duplicated process that other organizations can follow to create and implement responsible AI to help the historically disenfranchised navigate and thrive during the age of COVID-19.

Moving forward

When confronting the ethical dilemmas presented by crises like COVID-19, enterprises and organizations equipped with responsible AI programs will be best positioned to offer solutions that protect the most vulnerable and historically disenfranchised groups by respecting privacy, eliminating historical bias and preserving trust. In the rush to “help now,” we cannot throw responsible AI out the window. In fact, in the age of COVID-19, it is more important than ever before to understand the unintended consequences and long-term effects of the AI systems we create.

13 Israeli startups that received global recognition this week

It seems to be the season for startup lists and the glory hasn’t skipped Israeli startups. This week saw several of them get global recognition. Below are the ‘winners’, who were recognised this past week:

World Economic Forum Technology Pioneers 2020

The WEF Technology Pioneers is a prestigious list launched in 2000 that highlights the “future headline-makers addressing global issues with cutting-edge technology” and technologies “using innovations to protect climate, improve healthcare and much more, helping us to reset society and build towards a better future”

Out of the 100, 6 are Israeli startups:

  • 3d Signals – Plug-and-play factory digitalization for improved productivity. Its AI based asset performance monitoring platform has been proven to significantly improve machine productivity and overall equipment effectiveness. Founded in 2015 by Ariel Rosenfeld.
    Most-recent deal: $20.5M, 16 October 2019
  • Aleph Farms – Leading a sustainable food system to nurture a thriving planet. The company has new meat cultivation technology enabling growing real beef steaks directly from the cells. Founded in 2017 by Didier Toubia. Most-recent deal: $12M, 14 May 2019
  • MorphiSec – Deterministic endpoint protection against fileless attacks and evasive malware. Its polymorphic engine scrambles the application’s runtime environment randomly and without a trace, making the memory space unpredictable to attackers. Founded in 2014 by Ronen Yehoshua.  $12M, 19 February 2018
  • Optibus – A high-tech mobility platform improving mass transportation in cities. A SaaS platform that plans and schedules the movements of vehicles and drivers. It is currently powering some of the most complex and large-scale transit operations worldwide, improving quality of service and efficiency and reducing costs and emissions. Founded in 2011 by Amos Haggiag.
  • Prospera – Transforming how food is grown with data and artificial intelligence. It uses machine vision to continuously monitor and analyse plant development, health and stress, providing growers actionable insights via their mobile phones. Founded in 2016 by Daniel Koppel. Most-recent deal: $15M, 7 March 2017
  • Seebo – Helping manufacturers increase capacity and prevent losses using artificial intelligence. Using a visual, code-free modeller, a client’s end-to-end production line processes and manufacturing knowhow are captured into an AI-powered digital twin, without the client having to master data science. Founded in 2012 by Lior Akavia. Most-recent deal: Undisclosed amount, 10 December 2019

CNBC Disruptor 50

The Disruptor 50 list compiled by CNBC for the past eight years, highlights “private companies whose breakthroughs are influencing business and market competition at an accelerated pace”. Amongst unicorns like Stripe, Airbnb and Robinhood, this year’s list includes five excellent Israeli startups:

  • Lemonade – insurance to renters and homeowners powered by AI, chatbots and behavioural economics. The company recently filed to go public. Founded in 2015 by Daniel Schreiber and Shai Wininger (who just took Fiverr, a company he co-founded, public last year). Most-recent deal: $300M, 11 April 2019
  • Healthy.io – uses smartphone technology to make remote urinalysis possible. It received FDA approval to diagnose chronic kidney disease, urinary tract infections and prenatal testing and is used by leading health-care systems worldwide. Founded by Yonatan Adiri in 2013. Most-recent deal: $60M, 11 September 2019
  • SentinelOne –  a machine learning-based solution for monitoring and securing laptops, phones and many other devices and services connected to a company’s network. Founded in 2013 by Tomer Weingarten and Almog Cohen. Most-recent deal: $200M, 19 February 2020
  • K-Health – digital primary care symptom checker. This AI driven service offers remote access to health professionals through a smartphone. Free to users to get diagnostic information and a $19 fee to chat with a doctor. Founded in 2016 by Ran Shaul, Allon Bloch, and Adam Singolda. Most-recent deal: $48M, 27 February 2020
  • Neetera – a micro-radar remote that senses tiny movements on the skin’s surface to monitor human vital signs and physical indicators such as stress, fatigue, and pain, as well as symptoms of Covid-19. Founded in 2014 in Jerusalem by Isaac Litman. Most-recent deal: $4.5M, 5 September 2019

CB Insights 50 Future Unicorns

Thee 50 Future Unicorns list by research firm CB Insights and the National Science Foundation teamed up to algorithmically predict future unicorns through publicly available data since 2015. 35 of the 50 companies are in the US but there are also two Israeli startups:

  • BigID –  enables organizations to discover and map all types of data from all enterprise data sources; automatically classify, correlate, and catalog identity & entity data into profiles; manage and protect enterprise data with advanced data intelligence; and automate data privacy and protection. Founded in 2016 by Dimitri Sirota and Nimrod Vax, the company raised $146M to date. Most-recent deal: $50M, 6 January 2020
  • Gong.io – automatically records, transcribes, and analyzes sales calls, helping sales reps to improve their pitch and win more deals. Founded in 2015 by Amit Bendov and Eilon Reshef. Most-recent deal: $65M, 3 December 2019

Bird launches navigation app to help riders stay in the right lane

Bird is rolling out a new standalone app called Bird Maps in Paris and Tel Aviv that will provide turn-by-turn navigation for riders who want to use bike or micromobility lanes for their entire trip.

The app, which will be available on iOS and Android, was created using navigation software from Trailze, a Israeli startup that has mapped the urban grid with micromobility in mind. Bird has not determined how long it will pilot Bird Maps. The results of the pilot will determine testing in other cities, spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Bird Maps prioritizes bike lanes, wide roads or paths with less traffic and offer visual and, more importantly, audio directions to riders. A Bird spokesperson said the company expects that the audio feature will be the main method people use the app. Bird is not testing phone mounts, which would be the only safe way for riders to view the navigation.

“With millions of people embracing shared electric micromobility and cities everywhere committing more resources to the development of bike and micromobility lanes, we wanted to ensure that riders could more easily navigate and utilize city infrastructure,” said Patrick Studener, head of Bird EMEA said in a statement. “By working with Trailze to pilot Bird Maps in Paris and Tel Aviv – two cities that have recently committed to and developed additional bike lanes – we are making it easier for riders to feel more comfortable and safe as they move about their cities without relying upon cars and hope to pave the way for increased adoption and usage of clean transportation.”

Making it easier and safer to use scooters will help boost ridership, and as a result, generate more revenue. But it also builds goodwill with cities that have grown weary of scooter, bike share and ride-hailing companies creating new problems and running afoul of local regulations. If Bird can provide a safe alternative to riding on sidewalks, the scooter company could get a warmer welcome from cities.

Bird and Trailze see more opportunity to find safe pathways for scooters and bikes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdowns, which prompted more than 300 cities to introduce plans to designate some 2,600 additional miles of slow streets and temporary bike lanes.

Bird said this maps app follows other initiatives it has launched that uses to technology to improve safety such as Helmet Safety and Warm up mode.

Decrypted: DEA spying on protesters, DDoS attacks, Signal downloads spike

This week saw protests spread across the world sparked by the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last month.

The U.S. hasn’t seen protests like this in a generation, with millions taking to the streets each day to lend their voice and support. But they were met with heavily armored police, drones watching from above, and “covert” surveillance by the federal government.

That’s exactly why cybersecurity and privacy is more important than ever, not least to protect law-abiding protesters demonstrating against police brutality and institutionalized, systemic racism. It’s also prompted those working in cybersecurity — many of which are former law enforcement themselves — to check their own privilege and confront the racism from within their ranks and lend their knowledge to their fellow citizens.


THE BIG PICTURE

DEA allowed ‘covert surveillance’ of protesters

The Justice Department has granted the Drug Enforcement Administration, typically tasked with enforcing federal drug-related laws, the authority to conduct “covert surveillance” on protesters across the U.S., effectively turning the civilian law enforcement division into a domestic intelligence agency.

The DEA is one of the most tech-savvy government agencies in the federal government, with access to “stingray” cell site simulators to track and locate phones, a secret program that allows the agency access to billions of domestic phone records, and facial recognition technology.

Lawmakers decried the Justice Department’s move to allow the DEA to spy on protesters, calling on the government to “immediately rescind” the order, describing it as “antithetical” to Americans’ right to peacefully assembly.

Dear Sophie: What’s the best option for international founders to expand in the US?

Here’s another edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

“Your questions are vital to the spread of knowledge that allows people all over the world to rise above borders and pursue their dreams,” says Sophie Alcorn, a Silicon Valley immigration attorney. “Whether you’re in people ops, a founder or seeking a job in Silicon Valley, I would love to answer your questions in my next column.”

“Dear Sophie” columns are accessible for Extra Crunch subscribers; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Dear Sophie:

I’m a startup founder in Israel looking to expand into the U.S. market. What is the best visa option for me and a key member of my executive team to come to the U.S. to establish a sales and marketing office there? I would like my spouse and children to join me if my spouse can also work in the U.S. Is that possible?

— Tenacious in Tel Aviv

Dear Tenacious:

Thanks for reaching out. Based on your situation, the E-2 visa for treaty investors and employees may offer the best option.

An underutilized option, the E-2 visa is ideal for startup founders and employees whose home country has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the U.S. Israelis became eligible for E-2 visas just last year, joining the citizens of 80 other treaty countries. For more details on E-2 visas for founders and employees, check out Episode 16 of my “Immigration Law for Tech Startups” podcast.

The Station: Audi punts on Level 3, Lyft layoffs and Nio’s $1 billion deal

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive it every Saturday in your inbox.

Hi readers. Welcome back to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the future (and present) of transportation. I’m your host Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch .

While COVID-related stay-at-home orders have been extended in places like the San Francisco Bay area, officials in other counties and states in the U.S. have decided to open up for business. The rest of us are watching and waiting to see how these two experiments play out.

These opposing approaches have managed to create even more tension in the United States. If politics didn’t divide us before, how and when to open amid a health pandemic is proving to be an effective wedge.

The “how” is as important, or even more so, than the “when.” What will life and business look like? Wuhan, China, a transportation and manufacturing metropolis of 11 million people and where COVID-19 started, offers a view into one approach. (The photo below shows a worker disinfecting a bus in Wuhan on April 30.)

China-wuhan-bus-covid

A staff member sprays disinfectant on a bus at a long-distance bus station in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 30, 2020, ahead of the Labor Day holiday which started May 1.

When those stay-at-home orders are finally lifted, returning to work won’t be quick or easy. Wuhan was placed on lockdown January 23. Wuhan officials eased outgoing travel restrictions April 8. While the strictest component of that lockdown has been lifted, many businesses remain closed. Didi didn’t reopened its ride-hailing services in the city until April 30.

In short, it’s going to be complex. Ford’s back-to-work playbook is a case in point. The plan includes a number of daily measures such as online health self-certifications completed before work every day, face masks and no-touch temperature scans upon arrival. But that’s just a sliver of what it will take. Check it out their complete playbook.

Here’s a friendly reminder to reach out and email me at [email protected] to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

I’ll alrighty folks, shall we dig in? Vamos. 

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility. Over at Lyft, the company laid off 982 employees and furloughed 288 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyft also permanently ceased scooter operations in Oakland, San Jose and Austin.

“We’re focusing our resources where we can have the biggest impact and best serve cities and riders,” a Lyft spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch. “We’re continuing to invest in our bike and scooter business, but have made the tough decision to shift resources away from three scooter markets and toward opportunities where we are set up for longer-term success.”

At Lime, the startup let go 13% of its staff while the very next day relaunching its electric scooters in Baltimore and Ogden, Utah.

“Almost overnight, our company went from being on the eve of accomplishing an unprecedented milestone — the first next-generation micromobility company to reach profitability — to one where we had to pause operations in 99% of our markets worldwide to support cities’ efforts at social distancing,” Lime CEO Brad Bao wrote in a note to employees.

Just one day after those layoffs, the company relaunched scooters in Baltimore to help support essential medical workers as well as in Ogden.

Uber is weighing its own layoffs. The Information reported that the company could cut up to 20% of its staff. That translates to more than 5,000 jobs. Those cuts could be announced in stages over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Thuan Pham, who was hired as Uber’s chief technology officer by former CEO Travis Kalanick back in 2013, is leaving the company in three weeks, the ride-share giant revealed in an SEC filing.

— Megan Rose Dickey

Deal of the week

money the station

Chinese electric vehicle startup Nio secured a $1 billion investment from several state-owned companies in Hefei in return for agreeing to establish headquarters in the city’s economic development hotspot and giving up a stake in one of its business units.

The injection of capital comes from several investors, including Hefei City Construction and Investment Holding Group, CMG-SDIC Capital and Anhui Provincial Emerging Industry Investment Co.

Why deal of the week? The deal alleviates some concerns about Nio’s liquidity. It also marks the latest Chinese EV startup to turn to the state as private capital has shrunk.

There is no free lunch, however. The deal itself is complex and involves some asset shuffling. Nio is transferring its core businesses in China into a new company called Nio China. The investors will get a 24.1% stake in Nio China. The shareholding structure of the parent company is unchanged.

Other deals announced this week are below. Keep in mind that just because a deal is announced that doesn’t mean it closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising rounds often close weeks and even months before they’re announced.

Otonomo, an automotive data services startup based in Israel, raised $46 million in a Series C funding round that included investments from SK Holdings, Avis Budget Group and Alliance Ventures. Existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners also participated. Otonomo has raised $82 million, to date.

The company has a software platform that captures and anonymizes vehicle data so it can then be used to create apps to provide services such as electric vehicle management, subscription-based fueling, parking, mapping, usage-based insurance and emergency service.

KlearNow, a startup that has built a software platform to automate the customs clearance process, raised $16 million in a Series A funding round led by GreatPoint Ventures, with additional participation from Autotech Ventures, Argean Capital and Monta Vista Capital. Ashok Krishnamurthi, managing partner at GreatPoint Ventures, will join KlearNow’s board. Daniel Hoffer from Autotech Ventures is joining as a board observer.

Skycell, a Switzerland-based startup that builds hardware and operates a logistics network designed to transport pharmaceuticals has raised $62 million.

A merger between UK’s JustEat and the Netherlands’ Takeaway.com has been approved by regulators. The merged company announced that it had raised €700 million ($756 million) in new outside funding in the form of new shares and convertible bonds.

Cheetah, a San Francisco-based startup that provided a wholesale delivery service and has pivoted to selling to consumers during COVID-19, raised $36 million in Series B funding.

Innovation of the week

Computer vision company Eyesight Technologies has tweaked its driver monitoring system so it can detect driver distraction and drowsiness even while wearing a medical face mask.

This “innovation of the week” gets back to my opening remarks about “how” we get back to work. Face masks will likely be a part of our world for some time.

Driver monitoring systems, which are increasingly being used by commercial fleets, are trained to detect and monitor facial features of the driver. The system will take in data points like head pose, mouth, eyes and eyelids and use the gathered visual data to detect signs of drowsiness and distraction. If the sensor can’t read one or more of these features the system could fail to detect a drowsy truck driver or inattentive transit worker.

Driver Monitoring with mask

Eyesight Technologies

Eyesight Technologies says that its computer vision and AI algorithms have been trained to detect distraction and drowsiness even if a driver is wearing a mask and glasses.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Eyesight Technologies CEO David Tolub said. “Without a concrete end date to the current situation, wearing medical masks may be a reality for the foreseeable future. Eyesight Technologies is forging ahead and adapting to provide a reliable solution to help guarantee safety even under less than ideal circumstances.”

Audi punts on Level 3

Audi has scrapped plans to roll out a Level 3 automated driving system in its A8 flagship sedan. Automotive News Europe broke the story.

The feature, which is branded Traffic Jam Pilot, theoretically allows the vehicle to operate on its own without the human driver keeping their eyes on the road. But it’s never been commercially deployed.

Traffic Jam Pilot was supposed to be in the latest-generation A8 that debuted in 2017. It’s now 2020. What happened? Regulations, or lack of them, have been the primary scapegoat. But it’s not quite the whole story.

TechCrunch reached out to Audi to dig into why? In short, the company told us, that it’s complicated. The lack of a legal framework has raised concerns about liability. To further complicate the problem, the A8 is now progressing through its generational life cycle. And Audi was faced with continuing to pour money into the feature to adapt it without promise of framework progressing.

Here’s a few tidbits from the folks at Audi.

On the legal framework:

As of now, there is no legal framework for Level 3 automated driving. Consistently it is not possible to homologate such function anywhere in the world in a series production car. It is still very challenging to plan the exact introduction scenarios for level 3 systems, as we continuously moving in an intensive interplay between the findings from ongoing testing and the requirements that legislators and approval authorities are now defining for conditional automated driving.

On development costs:

As these clarifications and safeguards continue to take time, we also monitor economic aspects in addition. This includes development costs, which are summing up continuously. Secondly, the remaining life of the determined target model A8 combined with the forecasted installation rate and the expected market greediness in the individual countries are playing an important role.

This has brought us to the following decision: We will not see the traffic jam pilot on the road with its originally planned level 3 series function in the current model generation of the Audi A8 because our luxury sedan has already gone through a substantial part of its model life cycle.

Audi’s belief in automated driving:

We still believe in the technology of automated driving and today we know better than almost anyone when it comes to the decisive technological key factors. During the development phase we continuously learned more and more technical “unknown unknowns” and developed approaches how to handle the fact, that there will appear more.

Together with the above mentioned dependencies concerning legislation and type approval, we believe that actually it is not the right moment to deliver the function to the customer. This is our attitude of responsibility.

How Audi is moving forward:

An important part of the truth, which the industry is now facing: development of automated driving is extremely complex and cost-intensive. Our aim more than ever before is to generate the greatest possible synergies.

Within the VW group we therefore have the best preconditions. We have consolidated our efforts to further develop level 3 automated driving in the Car.Software organization. This is a new organization within the Volkswagen Group .

Former Audi managers will be head of two out of the five domains within this new organization: Thomas Müller will manage the automated driving area, and Dr. Klaus Büttner will manage the Intelligent Body&Cockpit area. Together with the specialists coming from Audi, Volkswagen and Porsche, this ensures that the current expertise in this cross-brand organization is available for the greatest possible benefit to everyone in the Volkswagen Group.

10 lessons from Syte on building an inside sales machine to survive the crisis [guest post]

By Lihi Pinto-Fryman, co-founder and CRO and Gal Aga, VP of Sales at Syte.ai, a visual search startup and Remagine Ventures portfolio company

Working from home, banning travel, and limiting the movement of people. Social distancing measures are in place for an indefinite period, and sales teams have to quickly adapt to reach customers and prospects solely through virtual meetings and channels.

Inside sales is a method that primarily sells remotely, rather than meeting in person. Sales reps prospect, engage, and convert leads to customers over the phone and web. While the lines between inside and field sales are blurring, the situation today calls for a more inside sales approach to selling.

At Syte, inside sales has always been our focus. As field sales temporarily took a back seat, our inside sales engine proved to be effective and is helping us cope with this health and economic crisis. We compiled this blog post with all the lessons learned from running a high performing inside sales department in the past two years.

How we built our inside sales team and how to start yours

Syte.ai visual search technology

1. Define a go-to-market strategy

Go-to-market strategy (GTM) is an orchestrated plan that defines the process of bringing your product to market and reaching your customers. It should target the right pain point, have the right messaging, use the right channel and time, and implement the right sales and marketing process.

We formulated and answered a lot of questions to help us finalize our GTM. Here are some of the key elements you have to address:

Target market

  • Who is the target market? How do you define it?
  • Is your product for small and medium businesses (SMB), enterprises, or both?
  • Do you start from one segment or do you look further beyond the other?

Pricing

  • Is using a freemium model feasible?
  • Would you consider selling more of the same product to the customer (deep selling) or more transactional?

Team structure

  • Do you do field sales in combination with inside sales (hybrid) or just inside sales? 
  • Are you inbound, outbound, or both? 
  • What is the appropriate team structure?

Product

  • What is your competitive advantage that can make prospects switch from competitors?
  • Do you plan to land and expand? Or is it mostly a new business?

We approached inside sales as a whole organization. Everyone made a contribution. In the beginning, the founders gave demos all day. Marketers and sales reps focused on outbound tactics. Product and customer support shared insights from development and existing customers. Getting everyone on board was crucial and it helped a lot to make the plan successful.

2. Build an initial sales plan

After the GTM, we started formulating our sales plan. A sales plan often includes overarching targets, specific revenue, and performance goals for a given period. It entails the specific strategies and procedures that can help achieve your sales goals. 

When you create your sales plan, here are a few questions that guided us:

  • How much can you close?
    • What is your win ratio?
  • How much pipeline do you need to reach your goals?
  • How much can one enterprise business development representative (BDR) bring?
    • What is your annual contract value (ACV)? What factors do you include in calculating its value?
  • How fast can you recruit and train?
    • What does your ramp up process look like?

We started from the bottom up. Our goal for the first year was to build a strong foundation before scaling significantly.

3. Conduct analysis and create a second-year sales plan

Evaluation is a critical step in any strategy, especially so for your initial sales plan. It can help you determine and understand what works well, identify things to improve on, and pinpoint the best way to move forward based on data and evidence.

In the second year, we formulated conclusions and the target was very clear. We had to triple our revenue. So, we calculated our top down program this time. It included the following:

  • Structure
  • Recruitment
  • Channels
  • Confidence intervals
  • Weekly, monthly, quarterly goals
  • Performance indicators
  • Budget
  • Process stability and management

We made sure all of these elements were in place and that our overall infrastructure was scalable before we clicked the scale button. Everyone in the organization knew about the changes in strategy. We made sure we were all in sync, moving towards the same mission.

It took some time. But in the end, we straightened out and found the formula in everything. Eventually, it all ticked like a lubricated machine.

Now, after going through our second year, every bolt sits in place, ready for the extra triple in revenue. We now have 30 insides sales team, made up of account executives (AEs), sales development reps (SDRs), BDRs, presales, directors, and team leaders.

How we created our sales plan and strategy after the second year and how you can develop yours 

image credit: Syte.ai

4. Build the pipeline creation machine before increasing your sales lineup

How do you envision the journey your prospects have to make to purchase your products or services? How many opportunities does your organization have to pursue to close a certain number of deals?

Creating a pipeline helps visualize the sales process. It shows the status of each prospect and sales activity. It not only identifies what works but it also adds a layer of accountability. A sales pipeline should make your goals easier to track and achieve.

Our sales pipeline has the following elements. Look through and see what you can adapt considering your existing and future sales strategy:

  • Outbound machine. Our outbound system has a win rate of over 20%. When selling to enterprises, an outbound approach is not necessarily harder or longer. You just need to know how to do it. What are the benefits of doing outbound sales? It is predictable. There is no competition. You will also have the possibility of communicating directly to the decision maker who can create a budget and set the rules of the game of the decision process.
  • Events. Not during this time but attending events is one of our key pipe generators. As events are moving to virtual conferences soon, we will definitely participate. You should too!
  • Partnerships. We have a 45% win rate here! It is just a gold mine. Syte has partners such as Microsoft, SAP, and resellers in Japan who function as outsourced BDRs. It works great in France and other non-native English markets as well. Leveraging resellers is a great strategy to have an inside sale machine while being able to “be everywhere” and reach the markets. 
  • Inbound, Inbound, Inbound. Our SDR team works closely together with Marketing to constantly optimize performance. We do content marketing such as webinars, guest posts, thought leadership pieces, press releases, and more. We also do social media marketing. LinkedIn is a mighty engine for us. It also took a while, but we got there.
  • Expansions. We “deep sell” to our existing customers. And since it works well, we made it a method. We are proactive. We connect with our customers every quarter and try to upgrade. Our win rate here is over 50%!

5. Create a sales playbook 

Organizations with an up-to-date, comprehensive sales playbook see many benefits. From onboarding new sales reps to evaluating performance. A sales playbook provides a structure for closing deals, describes the roles and responsibilities of every member of the sales team, and identifies metrics for success and improvement.

Our sales bible has been with us since day one. We constantly document and update it. Every little thing goes to the playbook. We now have 150+ pages which are built as a presentation to make it easy for everyone.

What’s inside our sales playbook and what to include in yours?

  • Steps for presales, sales, outbound, inbound, partnerships, and more. Why? So you can learn and find your magic formula. Of course, along the way, it also helps teach and inspire others.
  • Best practices of every stage. Sales process, Salesforce process, and success stories.
  • Boot camp on every chapter of the playbook. That is how all the training at Syte is structured. It is clear to everyone what to learn and where it is at.

6. Foster an environment where you recognize and leverage the entire organization for the benefit of transactions

Sales team morale and the whole work culture can have a huge impact on overall quota attainment and performance. Today’s crisis, joined with an existing competitive landscape, requires an inclusive and thoughtful work environment (even virtually). One that will boost your sales reps’ satisfaction and engagement to impact the bottom line. 

Stay connected

For us, gone are the days when founders and even VPs are in the field daily. However, the most important thing is to keep connected. Feel, help, set an example, and keep learning about the people, the market, the product.

Otherwise, you will become irrelevant. You will lose grip. You will not understand your sales team. If you don’t know the essence of your organization, then how will you help when issues arise?

Streamline communication 

The same is true of the other areas and key functions in other departments. Everyone in your organization has a part to play and expertise that will help sales, nurture prospects, and engage customers.

For instance, these are the specific contributions of the different teams we have:

  • Customer success engages in the presales process
  • Product talks about future offerings
  • CEO brings company vision, gives confidence, and helps to promote big customers
  • Customer support provides input for product development

Aligning not only sales but also across departments provides visibility. As a result, it will become easier and faster to solve problems, create more growth channels, and enhance customer confidence in your products or services.  

7. Work on the team’s DNA all the time—this is the key!

What is the secret to sales success and a strong inside sales team? A winner mindset embedded in the team’s DNA.

Having a mindset of “everything is possible” and “dream big” is the most important muscle for a sales rep. You can teach a sales rep everything about the product and industry. You can also coach and improve his or her skills. But the most difficult to train is the sales rep’s attitude and psychology. It doubles the power. 

At Syte, we tell sales reps to work on themselves more than they work on anything else. We recommend getting up early and practicing meditation. We also suggest setting life goals and tuning in to them every day.

In the history of the department, we broke a lot of records and reached new heights we thought were unimaginable before. We strongly believe the above approach was key in achieving them.

8. Always look for growth 

SaaS sales is a profession. There are a million courses, blogs, opinion leaders, and methods to follow to build yourself and your sales team from scratch.

Part of the culture we constantly cultivate is that if you do not grow, you are noble and dead. There is no benefit to merely standing in place. You must constantly grow personally and professionally.

Routine is our biggest enemy. What do we do to make sure we are constantly improving? We line up every quarter. Every manager needs to make cross-sectional conversations with their staff. We set growth goals for individuals and a common team plan for improvement.

9. Don’t start too fast, know what works first

You may have heard it too many times. Slow but steady wins the race. Taking the time to find the right formula for each sales role is another crucial element in building an inside sales powerhouse.

The most significant thing for us was finding AEs, BDRs, and managers that fit our strategy and culture:

  • AEs and BDRs. It is clear that we need cannon people for these roles. Those with crazy hunger, who are very intelligent, and successful. Those who move fast and make things happen. We always prefer talent over experience. When we see that someone has really learned and recognized it. When he or she sees SaaS sales as a profession, that itself is already a pro. 
  • Management. Finding team managers and bringing in people with the potential for management from outside is very difficult. If possible, we would just like to promote from within. And that is the direction we are going for. Our sales director was an awesome AE and now a team leader. We also promoted a team leader in SDR.

In general, though, we are still experimenting with it. We are combining people with enterprise experience, and people with experience freelancing who can do retraining. We also include in the mix, people who were SMB stars in serious companies.

Sales reps know how to sell themselves well. They speak all the concepts and know how to win people. But in the end, it will always be difficult to get really good people that match what you are looking for—even though there is a big market out there. So, patience. Promise, it will be worth the wait.

10. Build your sales organization, or your startup with unrelated mission

If you approach sales management with only an “exit” goal, you can easily lose the human side of what you do. The tendency is to just focus on what affects your successes the most, without regard for anything else.

But if you desire to build people and an environment where they can feel at home and find a personal development path, the results will be meaningful. These are two of the most significant lessons we’d like to share with you:

  • First, when you focus on people, you will get huge satisfaction in the job. For us, it feels like coming to our second home every day, with tremendous fulfillment and desire to devour the world.
  • Second, your people will also feel this way. As a result, your successes will be even greater.

The health crisis we are going through right now is truly one of a kind. As we tread uncharted waters, developing or pivoting to inside sales has benefits that not only can help you ride the waves of uncertainty. If successful, it can also provide your people a new challenge and an opportunity for growth. 

***

Lihi Pinto-Fryman

Lihi is the Co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer at Syte, the leader in Visual AI for Retail. Lihi has over 15 years of experience in entrepreneurship, finance, and investment banking. At Syte, Lihi leads the Marketing, Sales and Customer Success teams. Under her leadership, Syte has ascended to the top 1% of SaaS companies in terms of revenue growth. Lihi is an experienced speaker and thought-leader in the retail-tech industry, speaking at conferences such as Shoptalk, and interviewing for publications such as TechCrunch,  Hubspot and more. Before Syte, Lihi was VP of Private Banking at Bank Leumi (UK).

Gal Aga

Gal is VP Sales at Syte, the leader in Visual AI for Retail. He has over 10 years of experience in the enterprise SaaS Sales industry, with expertise in international field and enterprise inside sales. At Syte, Gal built and trained the global sales team of enterprise AEs, Sales Engineers, Directors, SDRs, BDRs, Channels and Operations. His leadership significantly contributed to Syte’s success, reaching a 300% YoY revenue growth. Gal is a skilled coach who is passionate about helping people grow and creating top winning teams with a strong culture and mindset. Prior to joining Syte, Gal was Director of Sales at Sisense

Tyto Care raises $50 million as it looks to buy and build new services during COVID-19 demand surge

Tyto Care, the provider of a home health diagnostic device and telemedicine consultation app, said it has raised $50 million in a new round of funding.

The round was led by Insight Partners, Olive Tree Ventures, and Qualcomm Ventures, according to a statement, and brings the startup’s total capital raised to more than $105 million.

The funding comes just as Tyto has seen a dramatic surge in demand brought on by the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tyto Care’s toolkit is being used as a telehealth diagnostic solution that was already seeing three times sales growth in 2019 alone.

Last year, the company inked a deal with Best Buy and works with most of the major telemedicine providers, including American Well, Teladoc and others.

Previous investors Orbimed, Echo Health, Qure, Teuza and others also participated in the new financing, the company said in a statement.

With the financing, Tyto Care is well-positioned to both buy and build new tools based on its existing diagnostics platform, as well as expand its home health testing kit into new areas.

Companies like Scanwell Health are providing at-home diagnostic tests for things like urinary tract infections, and Tyto Care chief executive Dedi Gilad definitely sees options for new products around different kinds of at-home tests, the Tyto Care founder said in an interview.

All of this new capital comes with surging demand where Tyto Care’s telehealth technology is being used by every hospital in Israel to provide remote examinations of quarantined and isolated patients infected with COVID-19. Other hospital networks are also turning to the company’s diagnostics tools for similar applications, the company said.

The remote medical exams can protect health providers from exposure to SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and enables uninfected patients to get an examination of their basic health remotely, without needing to go to a medical facility.

“Over the past two years, Tyto Care has increased momentum faster than ever before and is playing a leading role in changing how people receive healthcare. Telehealth is heeding the call of the COVID-19 pandemic and we are proud that our unique solution is aiding health systems and consumers around the world in the fight against the virus,” said Gilad, in a statement. “This new funding comes at a pivotal moment in the evolution of telehealth and will enable us to continue to transform the global healthcare industry with the best virtual care solutions.”

Alternative tech job boards during Covid-19

Startups are getting hit hard by the economic price of Covid-19. As the New York Times reported yesterday, many companies have started laying off people already. Social distancing means that in many cases, this happens via video conferencing. As a record number of Americans filed for unemployment, this is a very stressful time for job seekers.

According to an HR survey conducted by Viola Ventures, an Israeli venture capital fund, a third of respondents reported that they are planning layoffs. Most have frozen hiring as well, in an effort to reduce cash burn and extend runway until fundraising options open up. For many, including some well capitalised startups like Bird or Airbnb, layoffs are a matter of survival.

“Around 30% of companies have already frozen or are planning on freezing talent acquisition except for key positions. It’s worth noting that two companies have already started firing people, or plan to.” – Viola Venture Blog

The number of people who filed for unemployment in the US shot up dramatically in the last two weeks, reaching over 6.6 million people (as of April 1st). In a report by the Washington Post, Economist Heidi Shierholz, who has spent her life studying the job market and said she is predicting 20 million Americans will be out of work by July — the worst unemployment situation since the Great Depression. That is her “best case” scenario if Congress does another big stimulus package to aid the economy.

Some estimate the unemployment rate in the US could reach 10%, the highest rate since the great depression. (source)

There are questions about the role of government in supporting venture backed startups. The US just announced that startups are eligible for government support as part of the $2 trillion aid package. France has announced a €4.3 billion plan to support startups. Israel treasury approved a 650 million NIS for startups and in the UK investors are lobbying for a package.

Community job boards and lists

A few crowdsourced initiatives were quickly put together to help job seekers understand who’s hiring, who’s laying off, and who’s furloughing (forced holiday with reduced pay). Sharing it here in case it’s helpful for anyone looking for a job.

Crowdsourced jobs in Israel

Techjobs Corona

(started by Fusion LA, an accelerator for Israeli startups in LA)

Pitango’s – Who’s hiring DB

(started by Pitango, an Israeli VC fund)

In the UK

Talent Tech UK

(Started by David Fogel, co-organiser of the Israeli tech parliament in the UK). submit your job openings to [email protected]

Cananda startup job board

Best of luck out there, stay safe.