New York Auto Show canceled for 2020, pushed to spring 2021

Organizers of the New York International Auto Show, once hoping to hold the rescheduled event in August, have decided to scrap the entire year. The show has been officially canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers announced Friday.

The next show will take place April 2 to April 11, 2021. Press days will be March 31 and April 1.

The New York Auto Show, which is organized by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, was scheduled to begin April 10 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. The event was rescheduled for late August after COVID-19 swept into Europe and North America.

The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the traditional location for the show, was set up as a field hospital for COVID-19 cases. The center doesn’t have any patients. However, it is still set up as an active hospital and is in standby mode for the foreseeable future, according to organizers.

Mark Schienberg, president of the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, noted that “immense planning” is needed for automakers and their exhibit partners to construct a show.

“Because of the uncertainty caused by the virus, we feel it would not be prudent to continue with the 2020 Show and instead are preparing for an even greater 2021,” Schienberg said.

“As representatives of automobile retailers, we know when this crisis passes there will be enormous pent-up demand for new vehicles in this region and across the country,” he added. “We also know how important the Show is for consumers navigating the process.”

Cake brings a Swedish take on e-motorcycle design to the U.S.

Cake has crafted the Swedish edition of electric motorcycle design starting in the dirt.

The Stockholm based mobility startup’s debut, the Kalk OR, is a 150 pound, battery powered two-wheeler engineered for agile off-road riding and available in a street-legal version.

On appearance, Cake’s Kalk has a minimalist stance and doesn’t evoke “motorcycle” in any conventional sense.

That was intentional, according to the company’s CEO, Stefan Ytterborn — a design aficionado and serial founder — who was more of a mountain biker and skier than a motorcyclist, before launching Cake with is two sons Karl and Nils.

“I wasn’t a motorcycle geek…I actually learned how to ride a motorcycle,” he explained on his foray into the business.

Ytterborn has worked in design development his entire career, leaving Sweden for Milan in his early days, developing product lines for IKEA in the ’90s and founding several design oriented companies over the years.

His last venture — outdoor sporting gear venture POC — supplied Olympic gold medalist Bode miller and the U.S. Ski Team with helmets and optics before it was acquired by Investcorp in 2015 for a reported $65 million.

Cake Motorcycles

Cake’s Kalk OR, Image Credits: Cake

Ytterborn’s current company shares some similarities with POC, namely creating products for natural forward motion in the outdoors.

The direction for Cake — according to its founder — was to design a motorcycle from a clean slate, harnessing the advantages of what voltage power could offer to the form.

“I was stoked by the idea of what an electric drive-train could bring,” Ytterborn told TechCrunch . “But then I started realizing nobody is really optimizing the performance of the electric drive-train. Everyone’s trying to imitate what the combustion motorcycle does,” he said.

One of the first things Ytterborn took from that view was engineering a lighter platform with a better power to weight ratio.

A distinguishing characteristic of most e-moto offerings, including the few oriented toward off-road use, is they are heavier than gas motorcycles. Even one of the lightest choices out there for street and dirt use, Zero’s FX, weighs nearly 100 pounds more than Cake’s Kalk OR.

The $13,000 Swedish e-motorcycle has a 2.6kWh battery, charges to 80% in an hour and a half using a standard outlet, and offers up to three-hours of off road ride time, according to Cake. The Kalk has 30 ft-lbs of torque and a top speed of 50 miles per hour.

The street legal version, the Kalk&, has similar specs with a mixed city/highway range of 53 miles. Both have capability for quick battery swaps and a second battery goes for $3,000.

Cake introduced an additional model in 2020, the $8,500 Ösa+, which the company characterizes as an urban utility moped with off-road capabilities.

Cake’s Ösa+, Image Credits: Cake

As a startup, Cake has raised $20 million in VC, including a $14 million Series A financing round led by e.ventures and Creandum in 2019.

The U.S. is a prime market for the company. Cake has a subsidiary in Park City, Utah, a U.S. representative — Zach Clayton — and is poised to open a sales store in New York City this quarter. 

The company has sold 300 motorcycles in the U.S. this year and America makes up 60% of its sales market, according to its CEO.

On where the Cake fits into motorcycle market, “We’re much more Patagonia than Kawasaki,” said Ytterborn,

He described Cake as something developed for a far from static mobility world, where everything about how people move from A to B is being redefined, including the concept of the motorcycle.

That entails creating something that captures the exhilaration of riding off-road for an eco-conscious market segment, put off by the noise and fumes of gas motocross bikes.

“What really got me going was the intuition that we could flip the market upside down [with Kalk],” said Ytterborn.

Cake’s street legal Kalk&; Image Credits: Cake

“It’s silent, it doesn’t disturb, it doesn’t pollute and is the opposite of what non-motorcycle people associate with motorcycles,” he said.

The U.S. motorcycle market could use some fresh ideas, as it’s been in pretty bad shape since the last recession, particularly with young folks. New sales dropped by roughly 50% in 2008 — with sharp declines in ownership by everyone under 40 — and have never recovered.

At least one of the big gas manufactures — Harley Davidson — and several EV startups, such as Zero, are offering e-motorcycles as a way to convert gas riders to electric and attract a younger generation to motorcycling.

It’s notable that Harley Davidson acquired a youth electric scooter maker, Stacyc, in 2019 and has committed to produce e-scooters and e-mountain bikes as part of its EV pivot. The strategy is to use these platforms to create a new bridge for young people to motorcycles in the on-demand mobility world.

HD’s moves could provide some insight on where Cake might fit in that space. On one hand, the startup’s models could become premium electric motorcycles for the eco-friendly, Outside Magazine and action sports crowd. On the other, Cake could fill a new segment on the mobility product line — somewhere between e-scooters, e-bikes and traditional motorcycles.

“We want to establish a new category where people with an active lifestyle, whether they’re motorcycle people or not, can proceed with sustainability, responsibility and respect,” said CEO Stefan Ytterborn.

One challenge for this thesis could be Cake’s price and performance points compared to the competition. Zero Motorcycle’s FX, while heavier than the $13,000 Kalk, starts at $8,995 and has a top speed of 85 miles per hour.

Polestar to open first U.S. stores in the second half of 2020

Polestar’s first U.S. retail stores will open in Los Angeles, New York City and two locations in San Francisco later this year — the latest milestone for the automaker as it gets closer to bringing its all-electric vehicle to market.

Polestar, which is jointly owned by Volvo Car Group and Zhejiang Geely Holding of China, was once a high-performance brand under Volvo Cars. The 2021 Polestar 2 is the first EV to come out of Polestar since it was recast as an electric performance brand in 2017.

The company has had plans to open physical retail showrooms called “Polestar Spaces.” Those plans have been delayed by stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The stores are expected to open the second half of 2020.

Polestars plans to expand its retail footprint in the first half of 2021 with locations in Boston, Denver, Texas, Washington D.C. and Florida regions. More than 80% of Polestar 2 reservation holders reside within a 150-mile range of the stores scheduled to open by mid 2021, according to Gregor Hembrough, head of Polestar USA.

Unlike the traditional dealership model, Polestar will sell or lease its cars online to customers in all 50 states. The physical stores, which will be in partnership with retailers such as Manhattan Motorcars, Galpin Motors and Price-Simms Automotive Group, are meant to supplement its digital strategy.

Uber drivers and riders will be required to wear face coverings

Uber is planning to require drivers and riders to wear face masks as it prepares to ramp its ride-hailing business back up after being hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

CNN was first to report that executives approved a new policy that would require drivers and riders to wear face masks or coverings in some markets, including the U.S.. TechCrunch confirmed Monday that Uber has developed a policy for certain markets.

Uber still faces one considerable challenge: securing enough face masks and other supplies to protect drivers. The company said multiple orders have either been delayed or canceled as from major manufacturers prioritize healthcare workers and other first responders.

It’s also not clear how Uber will enforce its policy.

“As countries reopen, Uber is focused on safety and proceeding with caution,” an Uber spokesperson said in a emailed statement. “Today, we continue to ask riders to stay home if they can, while shipping safety supplies to drivers who are providing essential trips. At the same time, our teams are preparing for the next phase of recovery, where we will all have a role to play. We’ll communicate updates directly to users when ready, but in the meantime, we continue to urge all riders and drivers to wear masks or face coverings when using Uber.”

Uber has been encouraging riders to stay home through an in-app message and through marketing such as TV spots. The app is still available and people have used it to take trips to grocery stores, to essential jobs and pharmacies. Uber has urged, but not yet required, riders and drivers to wear masks or face coverings.

Protecting drivers

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Europe and North America, Uber drivers have found themselves on the front lines, often times transporting healthcare and other essential workers who were potentially exposed to the disease.

Uber announced last month that it would buy and ship face masks to active drivers and delivery workers globally. However, COVID-19 has squeezed global supplies for face masks and disinfectant. Uber and other ride-share drivers have reported problems accessing the supplies.

In the first week of April, Uber said it began receiving and then shipping about 500,000 ear-loop face masks to drivers. The company initially targeted the most active drivers in COVID-19 hotspots such as New York City and Los Angeles. (In LA, Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a Worker Protection Order that requires companies to provide essential workers with personal protective equipment.) Uber said it also is prioritizing cities and states such as San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New Jersey that have asked drivers to wear face covers.

Uber said it will make these supplies available to all active drivers as more become available. Uber’s goal is to be able to offer masks nationwide regardless of local regulations.

As of this week, Uber has either shipped or preparing to ship 1.4 million ear-loop face masks in the United States. The company also started in early April to ship disinfectant to drivers in Chicago, Los Angeles, NYC, Seattle and Washington D.C.

Tech for good during COVID-19: Sky-high gifts, extra help, and chips

When Roger Lee, the co-founder of Human Interest, heard that San Francisco imposed shelter-in-place orders, he started blogging about layoff news and posting crowdsourced lists of employees who were laid off. His goal was to increase awareness about layoffs and give recruiters a place to search for candidates.

However, one week and 40 startup layoffs later, Lee saw his blog was not going to be able to keep up with the massive number of cuts happening across the country. So, Layoffs.fyi tracker was born and currently receives tens of thousands of visitors every day.

As for how he’s balancing the tracker and Human Interest? Lee noted that he has transitioned to work at the company from a board-level capacity.

Lee’s work is one example of many inspiring initiatives we’re going to showcase this week. Let’s get into the list.

  1. Plan your future adventures. A number of sites have popped up to encourage people to buy gift cards and support their local restaurants. But what about their local tourism industries? Adam Faris, a student at the University of Oregon, launched a coronavirus initiative with a team of folks to support businesses in the action sports and adventure experience space. Faris has aggregated a number of businesses offering discounts on skiing, surfing, whitewater rafting and more to encourage people to support small businesses.
  2. Extra help for developers. YouTeam, a Y Combinator-backed marketplace for building remote development teams, is launching a volunteer developers group. Any startups working on COVID-19-related issues can turn to the group to find technical support to aid them, and apply for free development hours of front-end, back-end or UX support. 
  3. Tiny steps, big impact. Tiny Organics, a child nutrition company, is pledging $10,000 annually to Partnership for Healthier America, which works to make sure kids have access to health food. Tiny Organics also created a special edition plant-based meal, Michelle My Broccoli Belle, and will donate 100% of the proceeds to the Food Bank for New York City. 
  4. Help from above. Skydio is donating dozens of self-flying drones to first responders across the country, as part of its Emergency Response program. The drones do not have speakers and will not be used as a communication mechanism, but instead as a way for fire and police units to see potential issues close up. Skydio will provide training and support at no cost. Additionally, the company is teaming up with Frontline Support, a nonprofit, to source and deliver more than a million units of PPE equipment to the University of Washington Hospital System through its logistical and supply chain systems. 
  5. A safe space. Equal space (=SPACE), co-working space for multicultural, LGBTQ, and women-owned startups, has opened up its doors virtually. =Space is offering resources online for freelancers and small business owners that includes training, workshops, productivity sessions, and wellness talks all free of charge.
  6. Aid for healthcare workers. Work & Co partnered with employees at Adobe, Dropbox, and a number of medical students to create a tool to connect healthcare workers with access to grocery delivery, discounted childcare, and free mental health services. The tool was made with input from doctors, nurses, and medical school faculty to help workers meet their basic needs, beyond PPE. It is currently available in New York.
  7. Bandcamp waives fees. Bandcamp, a music company that lets users directly support artists, announced that it will be waiving fees for artists for a number of select days. Last time the platform waived fees, sales for music and merchandise pulled in $4.3 million for artists. It’s a refreshing way to support artists in a world where concerts are no longer a reality. Read more here
  8. A pro bono portal. The American Bar Association and a justice tech company, Paladin, teamed up to create a portal to connect those impacted by COVID-19 to lawyers working pro bono. LegalZoom and Clio are also connected to the project. Read more here.
  9. Hiring help. Binc, a recruitment company that works with companies like Tiktok, Stripe, Nest, Groupon, and more, has launched a free program to help tech workers find jobs. The company is placing employees in engineering, product, design, market, and recruitment professionals in jobs for no charge until the end of the month.
  10.  Chipping in for COVID. Morning Brew is holding an online poker tournament-turned-fundraiser to raise money for Frontline Foods, which supports restaurants and feeds frontline workers. A donation of $100 is required to play.

Latest COVID-19 projections from Columbia University show mid-May spike if social distancing is relaxed

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has released updated projections of when we can expect U.S. case numbers of COVID-19 infections to peak and decline, based on different levels of social distancing measures. The updated projects, which take into account the most recent information, show that with around a 30% decrease in social contact we could be nearing a national peak of new cases for now by the end of April — but that if you decrease social contact by just 20%, the picture changes drastically, with a late peak that extends into mid-May and grows the number of new daily cases to as many as 30,000.

The Columbia projections are used to advise the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New York City and many other governments across the U.S. These updated projections also note that while we may hit a peak in the coming days, that also means that hospital and ICU capacity will be at their max in the same period. Again, Columbia researchers note, too, that this info doesn’t take into account local variances in when peaks arrive, and that some areas could have different peaks at different times even with a consistent 30% social contact reduction.

The model developed by the Columbia research team includes transmission and fatality numbers, movement by populations across city and state lines and information like the capacity of emergency field hospitals, all info that was not available when the original modeling was done. You can take a look at the interactive graphs and daily estimates resulting from the model, via Columbia’s website.

This is one of a number of recent updated projections from public health experts, epidemiologists and medical researchers that predict the impact of a relaxation of social distancing measures now could have disastrous consequences in terms of prolonging and worsening the spread of COVID-19, and also on taxing healthcare resources (not to mention front-line workers).

MIT also projected a similar impact from the relaxation of measures currently in place, predicting an “exponential explosion” would result. Meanwhile, some states are already implementing such restriction relaxations, despite consensus from informed experts and researchers indicating it’s too early to begin such rollbacks.

Seeqc raises $5M to help make quantum computing commercially viable

Seeqc, a startup that is part of a relatively new class of quantum computing companies that is looking at how to best use classical computing to manage quantum processors, today announced that it has raised $5 million from M Ventures, the strategic corporate venture capital arm of Merck, the German pharmaceutical giant. Merck will be a strategic partner for Seeqc and will help it to develop its R&D efforts to develop useful application-specific quantum computers.

With this, New York state-based Seeqc has now raised a total of $11 million, including a recent $6.8 million seed round that included BlueYard Capital, Cambium, NewLab and the Partnership Fund for New York City.

Since developing new pharmaceuticals is an obvious use case for quantum computing, it makes sense that large pharmaceutical companies are trying to get ahead of their competitors by making strategic investments in companies like Seeqc.

The company is a spin-out of Hypres, a company that specializes in building superconductor-integrated circuits. Hypres itself had raised about $100 million in total and notes that much of the work it did on building its solutions are now part of Seeqc.

As a company spokesperson told me, the idea behind Seeqc is to bring today’s room-sized quantum computers down to a more manageable scale. It’s doing so by combining its (and Hypres’) expertise in building superconductors with a hybrid approach to combine analog and digital. This includes digital qubit control and readout, together with the company’s own proprietary chip technology that integrates classical and quantum circuits into a hybrid system (and by default, quantum computers are hybrid systems that need a classical computer to control them).

The company argues that co-locating the classical compute with the quantum processor is critical to achieving the best performance. And since it owns and operates its own fab to build these chips, Seeqc also believes that it is one of the few companies that has the right infrastructure and expertise in place to design, test and build these superconductors.

“The ‘brute force’ or labware approach to quantum computing contemplates building machines with thousands or even millions of qubits requiring multiple analog cables and, in some cases, complex CMOS readout/control for each qubit, but that doesn’t scale effectively as the industry strives to deliver business-applicable solutions,” said John Levy, co-chief executive officer at Seeqc. “With Seeqc’s hybrid approach, we utilize the power of quantum computers in a digital system-on-a-chip environment, offering greater control, cost reduction and with a massive reduction in energy, introducing a more viable path to commercial scalability.”

The company believes that its approach can cut the cost of today’s large-scale quantum computers to 1/400th. All of this, of course, is still a while out and, for now, the company will use the new funding to build a small-scale version of its system.

“We’re excited to be working with a world-leading team and fab on one of the most pressing issues in modern quantum computing,” says Owen Lozman, vice president at M Ventures . “We recognize that scaling the current generations of superconducting quantum computers beyond the noisy intermediate-scale quantum era will require fundamental changes in qubit control and wiring. Building on deep expertise in single flux quantum technologies, Seeqc has a clear, and importantly cost-efficient, pathway towards addressing existing challenges and disrupting analog, microwave-controlled architectures.”

Seeqc is, of course, not the only startup working on more efficient quantum control schemes. Quantum Machines, for example, also recently raised quite a bit of venture capital for its hardware/software quantum orchestration platform that also includes a custom processor, though that company’s overall approach is quite different from Seeqc’s.

New York City bans Zoom in schools citing security concerns

As schools lie empty, students still have to learn. But officials in New York City say schools are not permitted to use Zoom for remote teaching, citing security concerns with the video conferencing service.

“Providing a safe and secure remote learning experience for our students is essential, and upon further review of security concerns, schools should move away from using Zoom as soon as possible,” said Danielle Filson, a spokesperson for the New York City Dept. of Education. “There are many new components to remote learning, and we are making real-time decisions in the best interest of our staff and students.”

Instead, the city’s Dept. of Education is transitioning schools to Microsoft Teams, which the spokesperson said has the “same capabilities with appropriate security measures in place.”

The ban will cover some 1.1 million students in more than 1,800 schools across the city’s five boroughs. The decision to ban Zoom from schools was made in part by New York City’s Cyber Command, which launched in 2018 to help keep the city’s residents safe.

Zoom did not immediately comment.

News of the ban comes after a barrage of criticism over the company’s security policies and privacy practices, as hundreds of millions of users forced to work during the pandemic from home turn to the video calling platform. On Friday, Zoom’s chief executive apologized for “mistakenly” routing some calls through China, after researchers said the setup would put ostensibly encrypted calls at risk of interception by Chinese authorities. Zoom also apologized for claiming its service was end-to-end encrypted when it was not.

Zoom also changed its default settings to enable passwords on video calls by default after a wave of “Zoombombing” attacks, which saw unprotected calls invaded by trolls and used to broadcast abusive content.

Not all schools are said to be finding the transition easy. As first reported by Chalkbeat, Zoom quickly became the popular video calling service of choice after city schools closed on March 16. But one school principal in Brooklyn warned the publication that the shift away from Zoom would make it harder to remotely teach their classes, citing a “clunkiness” of Microsoft’s service.

The city spokesperson said it had been training schools on Microsoft Teams for “several weeks.”

But the spokesperson did not rule out an eventual return to Zoom, saying that the department “continues to review and monitor developments with Zoom,” and will update schools with any changes.

The Station: Bird and Lime layoffs, pivots in a COVID-19 era and a $2.2 trillion deal

Hello folks, welcome back (or hi for the first time) to The Station, a weekly newsletter dedicated to the all the ways people and packages move around this world. I’m your host, Kirsten Korosec, senior transportation reporter at TechCrunch.

I also have started to publish a shorter version of the newsletter on TechCrunch . That’s what you’re reading now. For the whole enchilada — which comes out every Saturday — you can subscribe to the newsletter by heading over here, and clicking “The Station.” It’s free!

Before I get into the thick of things, how is everyone doing? This isn’t a rhetorical question; I’m being earnest. I want to hear from you (note my email below). Maybe you’re a startup founder, a safety driver at an autonomous vehicle developer, a venture capitalist, engineer or gig economy worker. I’m interested in how you are doing, what you’re doing to cope and how you’re getting around in your respective cities.

Please reach out and email me at [email protected] to share thoughts, opinions or tips or send a direct message to @kirstenkorosec.

Micromobbin’

the station scooter1a

It was a rough week for micromobility amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Bird laid off about 30% of its employees due to the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

In a memo obtained by TechCrunch, Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden said:

The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis has forced our leadership team and the board of directors to make many extremely difficult and painful decisions relating to some of your teammates. As you know, we’ve had to pause many markets around the world and drastically cut spending. Due to the financial and operational impact of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are saying goodbye to about 30% of our team.

The fallout from COVID-19 isn’t limited to Bird. Lime is also reportedly considering laying off up to 70 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Meanwhile, Wheels deployed e-bikes with self-cleaning handlebars and brake levers to help reduce the risk of spreading the virus. NanoSeptic’s technology, which is powered by light, uses mineral nano-crystals to create an oxidation reaction that is stronger than bleach, according to the company’s website. NanoSeptic then implements that technology into skins and mats to turn anything from a mousepad to door handles to handlebars into self-cleaning surfaces.

The upshot to all of this: COVID-19 is turning shared mobility on its head. That means lay offs will continue. It also means companies like Wheels will try to innovate or pivot in hopes of staying alive.

While some companies pulled scooters off city streets, others changed how they marketed services. Some turned efforts to gig economy workers delivering food. Others, like shared electric moped service Revel, are focusing on healthcare workers.

Revel is now letting healthcare workers in New York rent its mopeds for free. To qualify, they just need to upload their employee ID. For now, the free rides for healthcare workers is limited to Brooklyn, Queens and a new service area from upper Manhattan down to 65th street. Revel expanded the area to include hospitals in one of the epicenters of the disease.

Revel is still renting its mopeds to the rest of us out there, although they encourage people to only use them for essential trips. As you might guess, ridership is down significantly. The company says it has stepped up efforts of disinfecting and cleaning the mopeds and helmets. Revel also operates in Austin, New York City, Oakland, and Washington. It has suspended service in Miami per local regulations.

Megan Rose Dickey (with a cameo from Kirsten Korosec)

Deal of the week

money the station

Typically, I would highlight a large funding round for a startup in the “deal of the week” section. This week, I have broadened my definition.

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a historic stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or “CARES” act. President Donald Trump signed it hours later. The CARES act contains an unprecedented $2.2 trillion in total financial relief for businesses, public institutions and individuals hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

TechCrunch has just started what will be a multi-day dive into the 880-page document. And in the coming weeks, I will highlight anything related or relevant to the transportation industry or startups here.

I’ll focus today on three items: airlines, public transit and small business loans.

U.S. airlines are receiving $58 billion. It breaks down to about $25 billion in loans for commercial carriers, $25 billion in payroll grants to cover the 750,000 employees who work in the industry.  Cargo carriers will receive $4 billion in loans and $4 billion in grants. These loans come with some strings attached. Airlines will have to agree not to lay off workers through the end of September. The package forbids stock buybacks and issuing dividends to shareholders for a year after paying off one of the loans.

Public transit has been allocated $24.9 billion. The CARES Act provides almost three times the FY 2020 appropriations for this category, according to the American Public Transportation Association. The funds are distributed through a formula that puts $13.79 billion to urban, $2 billion to rural, $7.51 billion towards state of good repair and $1.71 billion for high-density state transit. APTA notes that these funds are for operating expenses to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19 beginning on January 20, 2020.

Amtrak received an additional $1 billion in grants, that directs $492 million of those funds towards the northeast corridor. The remaining goes to the national network.

Small business loans are a critical piece of the bill, and an area where many startups may be focused. There is a lot to unpack here, but in basic terms the act provides $350 billion in loans that will be administered by the Small Business Administration to businesses with 500 or fewer employees. These loans are meant to cover an eligible borrower’s payroll, rent, utilities expenses and mortgage interest for up to eight weeks. If the borrower maintains its workforce, some of the loan may be forgiven.

Venture-backed startups seeking relief may run into problems qualifying. It all comes down to how employees are counted. Normally, SBA looks at a company’s affiliates to determine if they qualify. So, a startup owned by a private equity firm is considered affiliated with the other companies in that firm’s portfolio, which could push employment numbers far beyond 500. That rule also seems to apply to venture-backed startups, in which more than 50% of voting stock is held by the VC.

The guidance on this is still spotty. But Fenwick & West, a Silicon Valley law firm, said in recent explainer that the rule has the “potential to be problematic for startups because the SBA affiliation rules are highly complex and could cause lenders to group together several otherwise unaffiliated portfolio companies of a single venture capital firm in determining whether a borrower has no more than 500 employees.”

One final note: The SBA has waived these affiliation rules for borrowers in the food services and food supply chain industry. It’s unclear what that might mean for those food automation startups or companies building autonomous vehicles for food delivery.

More deal$

COVID-19 has taken over, but deals are still happening. Here’s a rundown of some of partnerships, acquisitions and fundraising round that got our attention.

  • Lilium, the Munich-based startup that is designing and building vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft and aspires to run in its own taxi fleet, has raised $240 million in a funding round led by Tencent. This is being couched as an inside round with only existing investors, a list that included participation from previous backers such as Atomico, Freigeist and LGT. The valuation is not being disclosed. But sources tell us that it’s between $750 million and $1 billion.
  • Wunder Mobility acquired Australia-based car rental technology provider KEAZ. (Financial terms weren’t disclosed, but as part of the deal KEAZ founder and CTO Tim Bos is joining Wunder Mobility) KEAZ developed a mobile app and back-end management tool that lets rental agencies, car dealerships, and corporations provide shared access to vehicles.
  • Cazoo, a startup that buys used cars and then sells them online and delivers to them your door, raised $116 million funding. The round was led by DMG Ventures with General Catalyst, CNP (Groupe Frère), Mubadala Capital, Octopus Ventures, Eight Roads Ventures and Stride.VC also participating.
  • Helm.ai came out of stealth with an announcement that it has raised $13 million in a seed round that includes investment from A.Capital Ventures, Amplo, Binnacle Partners, Sound Ventures, Fontinalis Partners and SV Angel. Helm.ai says it developed software for autonomous vehicles that can skip traditional steps of simulation, on-road testing and annotated data set — all tools that are used to train and improve the so-called “brain” of the self-driving vehicle.
  • RoadSync, a digital payment platform for the transportation industry, raised a $5.7 million in a Series A led by Base10 Partners with participation from repeat investor Hyde Park Venture Partners and Companyon Ventures. The company developed cloud-based software that lets businesses invoice and accept payments from truck drivers, carriers and brokers. Their platform is in use at over 400 locations nationwide with over 50,000 unique transactions monthly, according to RoadSync.
  • Self-driving truck startup TuSimple is partnering with automotive supplier ZF to develop and produce autonomous vehicle technology, such as sensors, on a commercial scale. The partnership, slated to begin in April, will cover China, Europe and North America.

A final word

Remember, the weekly newsletter features even more mobility news and insights. I’ll leave ya’ll with this one chart from Inrix. The company has launched a U.S. traffic synopsis that it plans to publish every Monday. The chart shows traffic from the week of March 14 to March 20. The upshot: COVID-19 reduced traffic by 30% nationwide.

inrix traffic drop from covid

88 out of top 200 US cities have seen internet speeds decline this past week, 3 cities by more than 40%

The impacts of telecommuting, shelter-in-place laws and home quarantines resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak are starting to impact broadband speeds across a number of U.S. cities, a new report has found. According to broadband analysis site BroadbandNow, 88 out of the top 200 most populous U.S. cities analyzed have now experienced some form of network degradation over the past week, compared with the 10 weeks prior, as more people are going online to work from home, video chat and stream movies and TV to keep themselves entertained. In a small handful of cities over the past week, there have even been significant degradations with download speeds dropping more than 40%, compared with the 10 weeks prior.

It’s not necessarily the areas hit hardest by the spread of the novel coronavirus that are experiencing the worst problems.

Cities including LA, Chicago, Brooklyn and San Francisco have seen little or no disruption in download speeds, the report claims. Seattle is also holding up well.

But New York City, now considered the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., saw download speeds drop by 24% last week, compared to the previous 10-week range. That said, NYC home network connections, which have a median speed of nearly 52 Mbps, are managing.

The good news is that in the majority of markets, network speeds are holding up.

But of the 88 out of 200 cities that saw declines, more than two dozen saw dips of either 20% below range or more, the data indicates.

These include:

Austin, TX (-44%); Charlotte, NC (-24%); Fayetteville, NC (-22%); Fort Lauderdale, FL (-29%); Hialeah, FL (-21%); Houston, TX (-24%); Irvine, CA (-20%); Jersey City, NJ (-25%); Kansas City, MO (-25%); Lawrenceville, GA (-24%); Littleton, CO (-22%); Marietta, GA (-29%); Miami, FL (-27%); Nashville, TN (-20%); New York, NY (-24%); Omaha, NE (-24%); Overland Park, KS (-33%); Oxnard, CA (-42%); Plano, TX (-31%); Raleigh, NC (-20%); Rochester, NY (-33%); St. Louis, MO (-21%) St. Paul, MN (-29%); San Jose, CA (-38%); Scottsdale, AZ (-32%); Washington, DC (-30%); and Winston-Salem, NC (-41%).

Three cities, in particular, were seeing serious network degradations of over 40%: Austin, TX (-44%), Winston Salem, NC (-41%), and Oxnard, CA (-42%). San Jose, CA was nearing this range, with a drop of 38%.

Internet service providers have been responding to the health crisis by suspending data caps, increasing base-level speeds and extending free access to low-income families during this time. But their ability to keep up with this level of high demand is being tested.

Streaming services, being one of the larger draws on bandwidth, have been lowering the quality of their streams to use less network capacity, as U.S. connectivity needs have grown. Yesterday, for example, YouTube announced it would default to SD connections to tame bandwidth demands. Amazon and Netflix have reduced stream quality in Europe. But despite record levels of network traffic in the U.S., Netflix hasn’t made any commitments to do the same in the U.S. Today, Netflix had an hour-long service interruption impacting some U.S. and European users.

Another area of concern is how well more rural areas will hold up with new stay-at-home and work-from-home orders in place. Often, these markets are only served by legacy technologies like DSL . So far, they’ve held up, BroadbandNow reports, but this could still change.