New Google Area 120 project Shoelace aims to connect people around shared interests

A new project from Google’s in-house incubator, Area 120, aims to help people find things to do and others who share your same interests. Through a new app called Shoelace — a name designed to make you think of tying things together — users can browse through a set of hand-picked activities, or add their own to a map. For example, someone who wanted to connect with fellow dog owners could start an activity for a doggie playdate at the park, then start a group chat to coordinate the details and make new friends.

The end result feels a bit like a mashup of Facebook Events with a WhatsApp group chat, perhaps. But it’s wrapped in a clean, modern design that appeals more to the millennial or Gen Z user.

Like Meetup and others in the space, Shoelace’s focus is not on building yet another social networking app, but rather on leveraging a social app to inspire real-world connections.

This is not a novel idea. In fact, startups many times over have tried to create an alternative to Facebook by offering tools to connect users around locations or shared interests, instead of only re-creating users’ established friend networks online. And many cities today have their own social clubs designed to help people make new friends and participate in fun, local activities.

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Shoelace is still in invite-only testing and only offered in New York City, for the time being.

However, its website says that the long-term goal is to bring the app to cities nationwide after the team learns what does and does not work. There’s also a form that will allow you to request Shoelace in your own community.

Google has had a rocky history when it comes to social networking products. Its largest effort to date, Google+, finally wound down its consumer business in April. That said, Shoelace is not really a “Google” product — it’s a project built by Googlers as a part of the Area 120 incubator, where employees can experiment with new ideas full-time without having to leave the company.

“One of the many projects that we’re working on within Area 120 is Shoelace, an app that helps people meet others with similar interests in person through curated activities,” a Google spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch. “Like other projects within Area 120, it’s an early experiment so there aren’t many details to share right now,” they said.

The app is live on Google Play and iOS (TestFlight) for those who have received an invite.

Sidewalk Labs’ blueprint for a ‘mini’ smart city is a massive data mine

Sidewalk Labs, the smart city technology firm owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, released a plan this week to redevelop a piece of Toronto’s eastern waterfront into its vision of an urban utopia — a ‘mini’ metropolis tucked inside a digital infrastructure burrito and bursting with gee-whiz tech-ery.

A place where high-tech jobs and affordable housing live in harmony, streets are built for people, not just cars, all the buildings are sustainable and efficient, public spaces are dotted with internet-connected sensors and an outdoor comfort system with giant “raincoats” designed to keep residents warm and dry even in winter. The innovation even extends underground, where freight delivery system ferries packages without the need of street-clogging trucks. 

But this plan is more than a testbed for tech. It’s a living lab (or petri dish, depending on your view), where tolerance for data collection and expectations for privacy are being shaped, public due process and corporate reach is being tested, and what makes a city equitable and accessible for all is being defined.

It’s also more ambitious and wider in scope than its original proposal.

“In many ways, it was like a 50-sided Rubik’s cube when you’re looking at initiatives across mobility, sustainability, the public realm, buildings and housing and digital governance,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff said Monday describing the effort to put together the master plan called Toronto Tomorrow: A New Approach for Inclusive Growth.

Even the harshest critics of the Sidewalk Labs plan might agree with Doctoroff’s Rubik cube analogy. It’s a complex plan with big promises and high stakes. And despite the 1,500-plus page tome presenting the idea, it’s still opaque.

Airbus-owned Voom will compete with Uber Copter in the U.S. in 2019

The U.S. air taxi market is heating up: Aeronautics industry giant Airbus will be among the companies operating on-demand air travel service in 2019 in American skies, FastCompany reports. Airbus’ Voom on-demand helicopter shuttle operation will set up shop in the U.S. starting this fall, after previously providing service exclusively in Latin America.

Uber announced its own Uber Copter service earlier this month, which will provide service from Manhattan to JFK airport starting in July, and Blade also already offers similar service between New York City and its three area airports, as well as Bay Area air shuttle routes. Airbus’ Voom is also going to expand to Asia in 2019, the company confirmed to FastCompany, and intends to cover 25 cities globally by 2025 with an anticipated passenger volume of two million people per year.

All of these companies see their helicopter service as an entry point for planned shifts to use of electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) craft. Airport shuttles seem to be the perfect use case for these early instantiates of air taxi services, since they greatly reduce travel times at peak hours, and also cater to clientele who are likely frequent traveler and can either expense or afford the ~$200 trips.

 

Netflix snags Ubisoft’s ‘Tom Clancy’s The Division’ adaptation starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain

Netflix has snagged the distribution rights to Ubisoft’s adaptation of “Tom Clancy’s The Division” starring Jessica Chastain and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Directed by David Leitch, the new movie will come with a screenplay from Rafe Judkins, who’s also penning and showrunning Amazon’s adaptation of the “Wheel of Time” series.

The story is apparently set in the future when a pandemic virus spread via paper money kills millions across New York City. The heartening Christmastime-set story will focus on an attempt by a group of ragtag civilians whoa re trained to address catastrophes attempt to shore up what remains of civilizations against its ruins.

According to Variety, the producers include 87North Productions, Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories, Chastain’s Freckle Films along with Ubisoft Film and Television.

Video games are another vein that Hollywood is mining for potential tentpole franchises. While their success has been mixed, “Tomb Raider”, “Resident Evil” “Angry Birds” and even “Detective Pikachu” have all raked in hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office after making the jump from console to cinema screen.

Ubisoft’s own attempts at box office gold have been somewhat less successful. The company tried with “Assassin’s Creed” and the Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle “Prince of Persia” but neither film resonated with audiences. Perhaps Netflix’s ability to control the funnel for an audience will encourage more viewers to sing on to “Tom Clancy’s The Division”.

Where are all the biotech startups raising?

Where are all the biotechnology companies raising these days? We crunched some numbers to arrive at an answer.

Using funding rounds data from Crunchbase, we plotted the count of venture capital funding rounds raised by companies in the fairly expansive biotechnology category in Crunchbase. Click the chart below and you can hover over individual data points to see the number of venture rounds raised in a given metro area between the start of 2018 and late May 2019 (as of publication). Although there are biotechnology companies located throughout the world, we focused here on just the U.S.

USA_Biotech_2018-May2019

Unlike in the software-funding business, where New York City (and its surrounding area) ranks second in overall deal volume, the greater Boston metro area outranks the Big Apple in biotech venture deal volume. The SF Bay Area (which includes both San Francisco and the towns in Silicon Valley north and west of San Jose) outranks Boston in biotech deal volume, but, then again, it’s also a much larger geographic area with a higher density of startups overall.

The bio business model breeds big deals

Crunchbase News recently covered a $120 million round raised by immunotherapy upstart AlloVir. In the software business, a raise that large would be notable; however, in the business of biology, not so much.

Just for reference, the average Series B round raised by U.S. enterprise software startups between 2018 and May 2019 was about $22.7 million. The average Series B for biotech companies from that same time period: just about $40 million on the dot.

Spinning up a cluster of cells at a lab bench is costlier, harder to do and the outcomes of experiments are less certain than the results of implementing a new software framework. Add to that the tremendous cost of performing clinical trials and clearing regulatory hurdles — all before costly sales and marketing campaigns to get treatments in front of doctors and end users — and it’s easy to understand why many biotechnology companies need to raise so much money in the early stages of the startup cycle.

NYC’s contactless subway turnstiles open today with Apple, Google, Samsung and Fitbit Pay support

After weeks of sporting “Coming Soon” screens, the New York City MTA’s OMNY pilot finally launched today. The system augments the city’s MetroCard swipes with new contactless screens that work with contactless prepaid credit and debit cards and a variety of different smart devices.

We’ve highlighted the latter already. For starters, the system will work with Apple, Google, Samsung and Fitbit Pay, which means it will be open to a large range of smartphones and wearables.

Contactless cards are those with NFC chips sporting a four-bar wave symbol that are already available from a number of big banks and credit card companies. Per the MTA’s site, the list of partners includes Chase, Visa, Mastercard and American Express, which should cover a majority of card holders, one way or another.

That’s a big no for Diners Club, Japan Credit Bureau and China UnionPay. Also, PIN-protected cards don’t currently work, nor do gift cards and non-reloadable cards. Another important restriction in all of this is the fact that the system is currently limited to single-ride. That means the large number of New Yorkers who currently use daily, weekly and monthly passes to save on the ever-increasing ride prices are SOL for now.

Ride plans will be coming before 2021. The MTA says it also plans to have the system implemented in all subway stations and buses before then. For now it’s currently limited to the 4, 5, 6 line between Grand Central Station in Manhattan and Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center, as well as Staten Island buses.

Having demoed the system recently, I attest that it works well on both the iPhone and Apple Watch. It remains to be seen, however, how much of a logjam this technology will create in its first weeks and months. Ultimately, however, it should go a ways toward speeding things up as riders no longer have to fumble for their MetroCard and deal with aging swipe readers.

Fitbit Pay will also work with NYC’s subway turnstiles

When it officially launches on Friday, New York City’s contactless fare pilot will have no shortage of options. Following similar announcements from Google and Apple, Fitbit just announced that its own mobile Pay system will work with the MTA program.

Starting Friday, strap hangers sporting a Fitbit Charge 3 Special Edition, Versa Special Edition or Fitbit Ionic will be able to use their device to tap and pay for a ride at select subway stations and buses. The pilot is rolling out for 4, 5, 6 stops between Manhattan’s Grand Central and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn, along will all Staten Island buses on the 31st.

The system uses the smartwatch/trackers’ NFC chip for payment. For starters, things will be limited to single ride passes, which is probably a dealbreaker for many locals who rely on day/week/month passes to save a little on the MTA’s constantly increasing prices. The MTA plans to add additional ride options and branch out to all buses and subway stops by 2021.

For now, however, it’s likely concerned with how the new system will impact foot traffic. Seems likely there will be a bit of a logjam as riders figure out the ins and outs — ultimately, however, it may well save passengers time from not having to fumble for their Metrocard.

Fitbit Pay now also works with transit systems in Chicago, Singapore, Sydney, Taiwan, Vancouver and London.

Fitbit Pay will also work with NYC’s subway turnstiles

When it officially launches on Friday, New York City’s contactless fare pilot will have no shortage of options. Following similar announcements from Google and Apple, Fitbit just announced that its own mobile Pay system will work with the MTA program.

Starting Friday, strap hangers sporting a Fitbit Charge 3 Special Edition, Versa Special Edition or Fitbit Ionic will be able to use their device to tap and pay for a ride at select subway stations and buses. The pilot is rolling out for 4, 5, 6 stops between Manhattan’s Grand Central and Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn, along will all Staten Island buses on the 31st.

The system uses the smartwatch/trackers’ NFC chip for payment. For starters, things will be limited to single ride passes, which is probably a dealbreaker for many locals who rely on day/week/month passes to save a little on the MTA’s constantly increasing prices. The MTA plans to add additional ride options and branch out to all buses and subway stops by 2021.

For now, however, it’s likely concerned with how the new system will impact foot traffic. Seems likely there will be a bit of a logjam as riders figure out the ins and outs — ultimately, however, it may well save passengers time from not having to fumble for their Metrocard.

Fitbit Pay now also works with transit systems in Chicago, Singapore, Sydney, Taiwan, Vancouver and London.

Slack to livestream pitch to shareholders on Monday ahead of direct listing

Slack, the ubiquitous workplace messaging tool, will make its pitch to prospective shareholders on Monday at an invite-only event in New York City, the company confirmed in a blog post on Wednesday. Slack stock is expected to begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange as soon as next month.

Slack, which is pursuing a direct listing, will livestream Monday’s Investor Day on its website.

An alternative to an initial public offering, direct listings allow businesses to forgo issuing new shares and instead sell existing shares held by insiders, employees and investors directly to the market. Slack, like Spotify, has been able to bypass the traditional roadshow process expected of an IPO-ready business, as well as some of the exorbitant Wall Street’s fees.

Spotify, if you remember, similarly livestreamed an event that is typically for investor’s eyes only. If Slack’s event is anything like the music streaming giant’s, Slack co-founder and chief executive officer Stewart Butterfield will speak to the company’s greater mission alongside several other executives.

Slack unveiled documents for a public listing two weeks ago. In its SEC filing, the company disclosed a net loss of $138.9 million and revenue of $400.6 million in the fiscal year ending January 31, 2019. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1 million on revenue of $220.5 million for the year before.

Additionally, the company said it reached 10 million daily active users earlier this year across more than 600,000 organizations.

Slack has previously raised a total of $1.2 billion in funding from investors including Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, SoftBank, Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins.

Startups Weekly: Will the Seattle tech scene ever reach its full potential?

Greetings from Seattle, the land of Amazon, Microsoft, two of the world’s richest men and some startups.

I’m always surprised the Seattle startup ecosystem hasn’t grown to compete with the likes of Silicon Valley — or at least Boston and New York City — since the dot-com boom. Today, it’s the strongest it’s has been due to the successes of companies like the newly minted unicorn Outreach, trucking business Convoy and, of course, the dog walking startup Rover. But the city still lags behind, failing to adopt the culture of entrepreneurship that defines San Francisco.

I spent a lot of time wondering why it hasn’t reached its full potential. Is it because Microsoft and Amazon pay their employees so well they don’t have the same urge to build something from the ground up? Is it a lack of access to capital? Is the city not attracting top talent? If you have thoughts, send them my way.

“We think part of the issue is a lack of capital and a lack of help,” Rover and Pioneer Square Labs co-founder Greg Gottesman told TechCrunch earlier this year. “If we can provide a little bit of both of those things, we can really put Seattle where it deserves to be, should be and will be.”

Despite its shortcomings, there is still some action in the city I want to highlight this week. A same-day delivery business, Dolly, is on the rise. The startup told me on Thursday it had raised a $7.5 million round from Unlock Venture Partners, Maveron and Jeff Wilke, the chief executive officer of Amazon Worldwide Consumer. Maveron, if you remember, is the VC fund co-founded by Starbucks founder Howard Schultz.

In other Seattle news, Madrona Venture Group, a well-regarded fund, raised an additional $100 million this week. Typically, Madrona focuses on companies based in the Pacific Northwest, but this fund will deploy capital throughout the entire U.S. Hmmm, that’s not necessarily a good sign for Seattle founders, but great progress for the ecosystem nonetheless.

If you’re interested in learning more about Seattle tech, I’ve covered it a bit because it’s my hometown! Start with this story, which dives deep into a Seattle accelerator that’s working hard to encourage entrepreneurship in the city. Alright, on to other news.

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IPO corner!

WeWork: The co-working giant now known as The We Company submitted confidential IPO documents to the SEC, the company confirmed in a press release Monday. Is this the next massive startup win or a house of cards waiting to be toppled by the glare of the public markets? TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton investigates.

Slack: The business is in its final steps toward a much-anticipated direct listing, with one source telling TechCrunch the listing will be complete within 45 days. The WSJ reported this week that Slack will make an online presentation to potential shareholders on May 13. This week, we dug deep into Slack’s S-1 and decided to evaluate just how well the tech press, us included, did in covering the company. For the most part, the tech press did decently well, except for one curious, $162 million gap.

Uber: Finally! That ride-hailing company is going public next week. That latest news? Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick won’t be ringing the opening bell. Uber would not be where it is today without Kalanick, but him being there would surely be a reminder of Uber’s rocky past.

Beyond Meat: Shares of the company surged up 135 percent in their market opener last week, valuing the company as high as $3.52 billion. Volatility was so high on the company’s stock that the Nasdaq had to pause trading of “BYND” shares.

Micro-mobility instability:

Ofo has run into its fair share of issues, laying off hundreds of workers, shutting down its international division and more. Now, you can buy a piece of the startup’s history.

In other micro-mobility news, Lyft’s head of scooter & bikes Liam O’Connor, who was hired to help transportation company Lyft build its bike and scooter operations, has left after seven months with the newly-public company. TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden has the scoop. Plus, Bird, the electric scooter unicorn doing its best to overcome regulatory barriers, has made its way back to San Francisco. Bird is using its business license in San Francisco to introduce monthly personal rentals in the city. The program enables people to rent a scooter for $24.99 a month with no cap on the number of rides. We’ll how that goes.

WTF?

For some reason, people are giving Magic Leap more money. The company has secured another $280 million in a deal with Japan’s largest mobile operator, Docomo. Do you know what that means? The developer fo AR/VR headsets has raised a total of $2.6 billion. We’re just as confused as you.

Brand new venture capital funds:

Unshackled Ventures raised $20 million. 

Jungle Ventures closed on $175 million.

And Toyota AI Ventures launched a $100 million fund.

Startup Capital

Uber investors exit

I have the inside story on Menlo Ventures early Uber stake and TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos goes deep with early Uber backer Bradley Tusk.

Extra Crunch!

This week, we offer TechCrunch Extra Crunch subscribers exclusive tips on building extraordinary teams. Plus, the final piece in TechCrunch’s Greg Kumparak’s series on Niantic, the fast-growing developer of Pokemon Go. If you recall, we’ve captured much of Niantic’s ongoing story in the first three parts of our EC-1, from its beginnings as an “entrepreneurial lab” within Google, to its spin-out as an independent company and the launch of Pokémon GO, to its ongoing focus on becoming a platform for others to build augmented reality products upon.

If you enjoy this newsletter, be sure to check out TechCrunch’s venture-focused podcast, Equity. In this week’s episode, available here, Crunchbase News editor-in-chief Alex Wilhelm and TechCrunch’s Danny Crichton chat about updates at the Vision Fund, Cheddar’s big exit and more of this week’s headlines.