Sam Altman’s leap of faith

Earlier this year, founder-investor Sam Altman left his high-profile role as the president of Y Combinator to become the CEO of OpenAI, an AI research center at its outset that founded by some of the most prominent people in the tech industry in late 2015. The idea: to ensure that artificial intelligence is “developed in a way that is safe and is beneficial to humanity,” as one of those founders, Elon Musk, said back then to the New York Times.

The move is intriguing for many reasons, including that artificial general intelligence — or the ability for machines to be as smart as humans — does not yet exist, with even AI’s top researchers far from clear about when it might. Under the leadership Altman, OpenAI has also restructured as a for-profit company with some caveats, saying it will “need to invest billions of dollars in upcoming years into large-scale cloud compute, attracting and retaining talented people, and building AI supercomputers.”

Whether OpenAI is able to attract so much funding is an open question, but our guess is that it will, if for no reason other than Altman himself — a force of nature who easily charmed a crowd during an extended stage interview with this editor Thursday night, in a talk that covered everything from YC’s evolution to Altman’s current work at OpenAI.

On YC, for example, we discussed that “ramen profitable” was once the goal but that a newer goal seems to be to graduate from the popular accelerator program with millions of dollars in venture funding, if not tens of millions of dollars. (“If I could control the market — obviously the free market is going to do its thing — I would not have YC companies raise the amounts of money they raise or at the valuations they do,” Altman told attendees at the small industry event. “I do think it is, on net, bad for the startups.”)

Altman was also candid when asked personal and occasionally corny questions, even offering up a story about the strong relationship he has long enjoyed with mom, who happened to be in town for the event. Not only did he say that she remains one of a small handful of people who he “absolutely” trusts, but he acknowledged that it has become harder over time to get unvarnished feedback from people outside that small circle. “You get to some point in your career where people are afraid to offend you or say something you might not want to hear. I’m definitely aware that I get stuff filtered and planned out ahead of time at this point.”

Certainly, Altman is given more rope than most.  Not only was this evidenced in the way that Altman ran Y Combinator for five years — essentially supersizing it time and again — but it’s plain from the way he discusses OpenAI that his current thinking is no less audacious. Indeed, much of what Altman said Thursday night would be considered pure insanity coming from someone else. Coming from Altman, it merely drew raised brows.

Asked for example, how OpenAI plans to make money (we wondered if it might license some of its work), Altman answered that the “honest answer is we have no idea. We have never made any revenue. We have no current plans to make revenue. We have no idea how we may one day generate revenue.”

Continued Altman, “We’ve made a soft promise to investors that, ‘Once we build a generally intelligent system, that basically we will ask it to figure out a way to make an investment return for you.'” When the crowd erupted with laughter (it wasn’t immediately obvious that he was serious), Altman himself offered that it sounds like an episode of “Silicon Valley,” but he added, “You can laugh. It’s all right. But it really is what I actually believe.”

We also asked what it means that, under Altman’s leadership, OpenAI has become a “capped profit” company, with the promise of giving investors up to 100 times their return before giving away excess profit to the rest of the world. We noted that 100x is a very high bar — so high in fact that most investors investing in plain-old for-profit companies seldom get close to a 100x return. For example, Sequoia Capital, the only institutional investor in WhatsApp, reportedly saw 50 times the $60 million it had invested in the company when it sold to Facebook for $22 billion, a stunning return.

But Altman not only pushed back on the idea the idea that “capped profit” is a bit of marketing brilliance, he doubled down on why it makes sense. Specifically, he said that the opportunity with artificial general intelligence is so incomprehensibly enormous that if OpenAI manages to crack this particular nut, it could “maybe capture the light cone of all future value in the universe, and that’s for sure not okay for one group of investors to have.”

Before we parted ways, we also shared with Altman various criticisms by AI researchers who we’d interviewed ahead of our sit-down and who’d complained that, among other things, OpenAI seeks out attention for qualitative and not foundational leaps in already proven work, and that its very mission of discovering a path to “safe” artificial general intelligence needlessly raises alarms and makes their research harder.

Altman absorbed and responded to each point. He wasn’t entirely dismissive of them, either, saying of OpenAI’s alarmist bent, for example, that he does have “some sympathy for that argument.”

Still, Altman insisted there’s a better argument to be made for thinking about — and talking with the media about — the potential societal consequences of AI, no matter how aggravating some may find it. “The same people who say OpenAI is fear mongering or whatever are the same ones who are saying, ‘Shouldn’t Facebook have thought about this before they did it?’ This is us trying to think about it before we do it.”

You can check out the full interview below. The first half of our chat is largely centered on his Altman’s career at YC, where he remains chairman. We begin discussing OpenAI in greater detail around the 26-minute mark.

Part fund, part accelerator, Contrary Capital invests in student entrepreneurs

First Round Capital has both the Dorm Room Fund and the Graduate Fund. General Catalyst has Rough Draft Ventures. And Prototype Capital and a few other micro-funds focus on investing in student founders, but overall, there’s a shortage of capital set aside for entrepreneurs still making their way through school.

Contrary Capital, a soon-to-be San Francisco-based operation led by Eric Tarczynski, is raising $35 million to invest between $50,000 and $200,000 in students and recent college dropouts. The firm, which operates a summer accelerator program for its portfolio companies, closed on $2.2 million for its debut, proof-of-concept fund in 2018.

“We really care about the founders building a great company who don’t have the proverbial rich uncle,” Tarczynski, a former founder and startup employee, told TechCrunch. “We thought, ‘What if there was a fund that could democratize access to both world-class capital and mentorship, and really increase the probability of success for bright university-based founders wherever they are?’ “

Contrary launched in 2016 with backing from Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard, Reddit co-founder Steve Huffman, SoFi co-founder Dan Macklin, Twitch co-founder Emmett Shear, founding Facebook engineer Jeff Rothschild and MuleSoft founder Ross Mason. The firm has more than 100 “venture partners,” or entrepreneurial students at dozens of college campuses that help fill Contrary’s pipeline of deals.

Contrary Capital celebrating its Demo Day event last year

Last year, Contrary kicked off its summer accelerator, tapping 10 university-started companies to complete a Y Combinator -style program that culminates with a small, GP-only demo day. Admittedly, the roughly $100,000 investment Contrary deploys to its companies wouldn’t get your average Silicon Valley startup very far, but for students based in college towns across the U.S., it’s a game-changing deal.

“It gives you a tremendous amount of time to figure things out,” Tarczynski said, noting his own experience building a company while still in school. “We are trying to push them. This is the first time in many cases that these people are working on their companies full-time. This is the first time they are going all in.”

Contrary invests a good amount of its capital in Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and MIT students, but has made a concerted effort to provide capital to students at underrepresented universities, too. To date, the team has completed three investments in teams out of Stanford, two out of MIT, two out of University of California San Diego and one each at Berekely, BYU, University of Texas-Austin, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and University of California Santa Cruz.

“We wanted to have more come from the 40 to 50 schools across the U.S. that have comparable if not better tech curriculums but are underserviced,” Tarczynski explained. “The only difference between Stanford and these others universities is just the volume. The caliber is just as high.”

Contrary’s portfolio includes Memora Health, the provider of productivity software for clinics; Arc, which is building metal 3D-printing technologies to deliver rocket engines; and Deal Engine, a platform for facilitating corporate travel.

“We are one giant talent scout with all these different nodes across the country,” Tarczynski added. “I’ve spent every waking moment of my life the last eight years living and breathing university entrepreneurship … it’s pretty clear to me who is an exceptional university-based founder and who is just caught up in the hype.”

As concerns over medical device security rise, MedCrypt raises $5.3 million

As medical devices move to networked technologies, securing those devices becomes increasingly important.

Regulators, seemingly late to the threat that unsecured medical devices posed, only began requiring protections for medical devices like pacemakers and insulin pumps two years ago, and since then new technology companies have leapt into the breach to begin providing security services for the healthcare industry.

Most recently, MedCrypt, a graduate from the most recent batch of Y Combinator companies raised $5.3 million in a new round of funding, from investors led by Section 32, the investment firm founded by former Google Ventures partner Bill Maris.

Joining Maris’ firm were previous investors Eniac Ventures and Y Combinator itself.

“Internet-connected medical technology is entering the market at light speed, calling for devices to be secure by design, which leads to a heightened level of patient safety at all times,” said MedCrypt chief executive Mike Kijewski in a statement.

Securing patient data has been a longtime requirement for health technology companies, but both patient records and hospital networks are dangerously vulnerable to cyberattacks.

In 2018, over 6 million patient records in the U.S. were exposed thanks to network intrusions and cyberattacks, according to the publication Health IT Security. And those were just in the ten largest security breaches.

The healthcare industry has only managed to achieve 72% compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule for protecting patient data, according to an April report from CynergisTek.

Investors have recognized the problem and are investing more into companies focused on the healthcare market specifically. MedCrypt’s competition for these security dollars include companies like Medigate, which raised $15 million earlier this year.

While Medigate focuses on network security, MedCrypt is focused on securing devices themselves. Both security functions are critical, according to investors.

“With regulators appropriately taking a hard look at medical device security and the sheer growth in the number of devices being added to already complex clinical networks,” there is a significant opportunity for companies tackling medical device security, according to a statement from Dr. Jonathan Root who has led several IT-enabled healthcare investments for USVP.

Coinbase loses its first CTO after just one year in the job

Coinbase, the $8 billion-valued crypto exchange, has lost its CTO after Balaji Srinivasan announced his departure from the company.

Srinivasan became the U.S. company’s first CTO one year ago after it acquired Earn.com, where he was CEO and co-founder. Given the tenure — one year and one day — it looks like Srinivasan’s departure comes after he served the minimum agreed period with Coinbase.

A high-profile figure in the crypto space who has also spent time with Coinbase and Earn investor A16z, Srinivasan announced his move on Twitter. He declined to go into specifics but told TechCrunch that he plans to take time off to get fit, among other things, before launching into his next product.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong paid tribute to Srinivasan’s “incredible contributions” to the company.

Srinivasan’s time at Coinbase saw the company ramp up its expansion efforts. Those include the launch of its own USDC stablecoin, the expansion (and planned expansion) of assets sold to consumers and ‘pro’ traders, and a wider global push. Away from consumers, it launched a slew of services for retail investors and today its services also include staking and over-the-counter trading.

There’s also Coinbase’s own VC arm for doing deals with promising startups and, also on the M&A side, the firm has continued making acquisitions and acquihires. This year, it has snapped up Y Combinator graduate Blockspring and Neutrino, whose founders controversially once worked for surveillance firm Hacking Team, in what were its eleventh and twelfth acquisitions to date.

Talent retention appears to be becoming a bit of an issue at Coinbase.

Srinivasan’s exit comes a month after Dan Romero, the company’s head of international, left after a five-year stint. According to Coindesk, the company has seen at least a dozen senior or mid-level executives leave since October when it raised $300 million led by Tiger Global.

How tech entrepreneurs think of Universal Basic Income

As tech has grown, policy debates have become an important pastime. Today’s tech industry aspires to replace human drivers with self-driving cars, secretaries with AI assistants, permanent jobs with gigs — and as a result, the human impact of tech has become an everyday conversation.

No other idea is as emblematic of this as Universal Basic Income, a policy that would distribute a monthly sum to every adult regardless of their income or employment status.

The conversation is widespread. Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have said that UBI may be desirable or necessary. Y-Combinator Research and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes are running basic income studies. Tech-friendly presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang support the issue.

But should the average tech entrepreneur or investor support UBI? The answer is not entirely clear.

The good news is that the tech industry is deeply familiar with risk, which is an important component of arguments for UBI. The bad news: risk isn’t the whole story, and both positive and negative evidence for the policy are currently thin.

Image via H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images

The role of risk

Entrepreneurs understand the risk component of UBI because it’s the same risk they take in starting companies. Many entrepreneurs start with savings or seed funding that reduce their downside risk — and it’s not hard for them to imagine that others lack these resources. A UBI could solve the issue.

“The hypothesis is, [UBI will] fundamentally change people’s lives. They’ll do something different from what they were doing, because they have a continuous stream of basic income they can depend on. They can start small firms, invest in assets that give them better incomes and wealth, and that translates into better health and education for their kids,” summarizes Tavneet Suri, an applied economics professor at MIT who is helping GiveDirectly run a UBI program providing about 75 cents per day to recipients in rural Kenya.

Risk is clearly important in the developing world, but it’s also an increasingly urgent story in the US. Rates of new business formation have, in recent years, fallen below business closings. There’s a correlation between low entrepreneurship and low savings rates: 40 percent of American adults say they can’t cover a $400 emergency expense, according to the Federal Reserve. Starting businesses may simply be too risky for this generation.

In fact, a newly insecure class is already growing in developed countries worldwide. Guy Standing, a professorial research associate at the University of London, calls this class the precariat. “What is distinctive about global capitalism today, and this will continue, is that even many of those currently earning enough to put them into middle-income categories feel insecure, and often live on the edge of unsustainable debt,” Standing wrote to TechCrunch. “What is significant for those interested in promoting entrepreneurial risk-taking is that one can show that the emancipatory value of a basic income is greater than its monetary value, which is the opposite to all other forms of social policy.”

The universality of risk in both rich and poor countries is a positive for UBI proponents, since studies like Suri’s are taking place in the developing world. An argument can easily be made that behaviors like immigrating to a city or going to college may be riskier in developing countries, but also carry risks in the rich world, which aren’t necessarily offset by financial instruments like loans. “I would never have done my Ph.D. if I’d had to pay for it. There’s no probability in any world. I wouldn’t have wanted to take the loans, because what if I don’t get a job?” says Suri.

However, it will take years to answer the question of how UBI interplays with risk. Suri’s study, for instance, includes cohorts who receive an up-front lump sum, a 2-year monthly UBI payout, and a 12-year payout — so the full effects won’t be visible for some time.

Image via Getty Images / iNueng

The effects on workers

Estimating the effects of a UBI on entrepreneurship, immigration or higher education offer clear arguments for risk. But when it’s extended to people who are currently employed and have no obvious need or desire to start their own company, the picture becomes more muddled.

Some hypothesize that a UBI could lead to workers quitting jobs, or the unemployed choosing to stay that way. Wesley Pech, a behavioral economist at Wofford College, frames these possibilities as a tension between two theories of consumer behavior. The income effect and substitution effect respectively predict that people given basic incomes would choose unemployment or choose to continue seeking work. No basic income study has definitively shown that either outweighs the other. “I can’t think of an experiment so well designed that it could serve as a benchmark,” says Pech.

So here, too, UBI needs more study. But for the time being, anecdotal reports praise basic income.

In Germany, which is generally regarded as fairly wealthy and egalitarian, a startup called Mein Grundeinkommen is using crowdfunding to supply a €1,000 monthly income to 316 people, and currently adds about 15 more people each month. Founder Michael Bohmeyer says universality is an important psychological component of basic income.

“When you frame basic income as a poverty distinction instrument, then it feels like welfare money. You’re the one who didn’t make it, the stupid one, and now you get money to fix it,” he told TechCrunch. “Basic income is something else, it’s for everyone and free of conditions.” That leads to different results than welfare. For instance, one older man on welfare — an identical amount to the Mein Grundeinkommen basic income — decided to end his own unemployment by starting an online business after receiving his basic income from Mein Grundeinkommen.

The psychological effects can be huge even for the well-off. “Surprisingly, we’ve found out that the people who thought that they wouldn’t really need it, they had the biggest effects and changes in their lives,” says Bohmeyer.

Image via Getty Images / Mongkol Chuewong

Another of Mein Grundeinkommen’s basic income recipients was unhappy with her family inheritance, a hotel she was expected to run. After starting to receive her stipend, she had the mental space needed to work through her issues, and took the steps necessary to become a good business owner.

“We have a strong idea that when basic income is introduced, people will stop working. This is even what people think before receiving the money. They think, I’ll start a business, I’ll quit my job, and we have a lot of women who say, I’ll quit my marriage to my stupid husband because I’m not dependent on him anymore. All of a sudden, the basic income comes, and you have more possibilities. You’re free to go. Once you can say no, it’s different to say yes,” says Bohmeyer.

These stories reveal a side of UBI that goes beyond risk and basic human behavior: it can also be framed as an argument for basic human dignity, and a world that exists for more than just work. “The people with basic incomes seemed to not be so ego focused anymore, they had an empathetic, wider approach to look at the world,” says Bohmeyer.

“It sounds so silly when I say it, but that’s what I realized. I think we need to find more about this because we have tremendous changes in our society. It’s the ending of the industrial age and beginning of the digital age, and I think this is what we need in our society.”

At the end of the day, though, Mein Grundeinkommen’s stories remain anecdotal, and thus flawed, just like past basic income studies. Bohmeyer is aware of the problem: Mein Grundeinkommen will join the ranks of more rigorous projects by the end of this year, as it works with the German government to begin a multi-year study giving €1,200 monthly to on 100 participants.

And that’s the best policy that anyone in tech can take: wait, watch, and if possible, contribute support to the studies taking place around the world. UBI is too complicated an issue for partisan stands or knee-jerk reactions. And in the future that the tech industry expects and hopes for, it may yet prove to be one of the best policy ideas available.

Microbiome testing service uBiome puts its co-founders on administrative leave after FBI raid

The microbiome testing service uBiome has placed its founders and co-chief executives, Jessica Richman and Zac Apte, on administrative leave following an FBI raid on the company’s offices last week.

The company’s board of directors have named John Rakow, currently the company’s general counsel, as its interim chairman and chief executive, the company said in a statement.

Directors of the company are also conducting an independent investigation into the company’s billing practices, which is being overseen by a special committee of the board.

It was only last week that the FBI went to the company’s headquarters to search for documents related to an ongoing investigation. What’s at issue is the way that the company was billing insurers for the microbiome tests it was performing on customers.

“As interim CEO of uBiome, I want all of our stakeholders to know that we intend to cooperate fully with government authorities and private payors to satisfactorily resolve the questions that have been raised, and we will take any corrective actions that are needed to ensure we can become a stronger company better able to serve patients and healthcare providers,” Rakow said in a statement.

”My confidence is based on the significant clinical evidence and medical literature that demonstrates the utility and value of uBiome’s products as important tools for patients, health care providers and our commercial partners.” added Mr. Rakow.

It’s been a rough few weeks for consumer companies working on developing microbiome testing services and treatments based on those diagnosis. In addition to the FBI raid, the Seattle-based company, Arivale, was forced to shut down its “consumer program” after raising more than $50 million from investors, including Maveron, Polaris Partners and ARCH Venture Partners.

UBiome is backed by investors including Andreessen Horowitz, OS Fund, 8VC, Y Combinator, DNA Capital, Crunchfund, StartX, Kapor Capital, Starlight Ventures and 500 Startups.

Unshackled Ventures has $20M to invest exclusively in immigrant founders

Unshackled Ventures isn’t like other venture capital funds.

The firm invests in immigrant founders and helps them secure visas so they can ditch their corporate job and launch the startup of their dreams. Today, Unshackled is announcing its sophomore fund of $20 million, topping its debut effort by $15.5 million.

“The point is to take the burden off of founders because they are not immigration experts, they are experts at building satellites or extracting protein from plants,” Unshackled founding partner Nitin Pachisia told TechCrunch. “These are people that if you go to a workspace, you’ll see them show up on nights and weekends because they want to build something but they can’t.”

Immigrants looking to start their own businesses face a huge barrier. Take Jyoti Bansal for example. He famously waited seven years before launching AppDynamics, a business that later sold to Cisco for $3.7 billion days before its initial public offering. Why? Because as an Indian immigrant with H-1B visa status, he could work for startups but wasn’t legally allowed to start his own. It wasn’t until receiving an employment authorization document (EAD), a part of the green card process, that Bansal could finally found AppDynamics. If Bansal had the opportunity to pitch to Unshackled, which provides bespoke immigration solutions to each founder, he could have launched AppDynamics years prior.

Immigrant founders, according to a 2018 study by the National Foundation for American Policy, are responsible for 55 percent of U.S. billion-dollar companies, or “unicorns,” as they are known. Uber, SpaceX, WeWork, Palantir Technologies, Stripe, Slack, Moderna Therapeutics, Robinhood, Instacart, Houzz, Credit Karma, Tanium, Zoox and CrowdStrike all count at least one immigrant co-founder.

“The difference between success and failures is oftentimes who you know and when,” Unshackled founding partner Manan Mehta told TechCrunch. “We can bring those resources at just 1/200th the size of Andreessen Horowitz to immigrants at day zero.”

“We’re creating the best place for immigrants to start their companies,” he added. “And guess what? We’re keeping American innovation in America.”

Unshackled Ventures portfolio company Lily AI.

The firm was founded by Mehta, the son of immigrants, and Pachisia, an Indian immigrant, in 2015. Since then, the duo have written pre-seed checks to 31 companies with a 100 percent success rate in procuring visas to keep talent working in the U.S. Startups in its portfolio include the very recent Y Combinator graduate Career Karma, Starsky Robotics, Plutoshift, Togg, Hype, Lily AI and more.

“I didn’t think it was possible to start a company on a visa in the U.S., let alone scale one to hit the next major milestone so quickly,” Plutoshift founder Prateek Joshi said in a statement. “That all changed when we met the Unshackled team.”

Mehta and Pachisia say its startups have gone on to raise $54 million in follow-on investments from top investors like First Round Capital, NEA and Shasta.

In addition to supporting companies based in Silicon Valley, the investors search far and wide for aspiring immigrant founders, as well as respond to every single cold email they receive. Recently, they joined the Rise of the Rest tour, a trip hosted by Steve Case and JD Vance that showcases startups in underrepresented geographies, and they make frequent visits to college campuses across the U.S.

Unshackled’s limited partners include Bloomberg Beta, Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures and Emerson Collective.

“I think the name represents the feeling that you’re a little bit shackled to a framework or a policy that doesn’t necessarily encourage entrepreneurship,” Mehta said. “When if you take a step back, immigrants are probably more entrepreneurial than native-born people.”

Inspection robots are climbing the walls to monitor safety conditions in hazardous locations

Down in Christchurch, New Zealand a team of roboticists at Invert Robotics has commercialized an inspection robot that uses tiny suction cups on a series of treads and a specialty chemical to create a technology that has robots literally climbing the walls.

Meanwhile, a world away in Pittsburgh, Gecko Robotics is tackling much the same problem with high-powered magnets and an inspection robot of its own.

Both companies have recently closed on new financing, with Invert raising $8.8 million from investors including Finistere Ventures and Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley, and Gecko Robotics wrapping up a $9 million round, which began fundraising last June, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

For the food-focused investment fund, Finistere Ventures, the benefit of a wall-climbing robot is apparent in looking at supply chain issues, according to co-founder and partner Arama Kukutai .

“The immediate value of Invert Robotics across the global food supply chain – from ensuring food and beverages are stored and transported in safe, pathogen-free environments, to avoiding catastrophic failures in agrichemical-industry containers and plants – is undeniably impressive,” Kukutai said in a statement. “However, we see the potential applications as almost limitless.”

Plant inspections in the food, chemicals and aviation industry are dangerous endeavors, and automation can make a significant improvement in how companies address the critical function of quality assurance, according to investors and entrepreneurs.

“There has been virtually no innovation in industrial services technology for decades,” Founders Fund  partner Trae Stephens told TechCrunch in a statement. “Gecko’s robots massively reduce facility shutdown time while gathering critical performance data and preventing potentially fatal accidents. The demand for what they are building is huge.”

While Gecko uses powerful magnets to secure its robots to surfaces, Invert Robotics uses powerful suction to enable its robots to climb the walls.

“If you think of a plunger and how a plunger adheres to a surface… it creates a perfect seal with the surface, you find it very hard to lift the plunger off the surface,” said managing director, Neil Fletcher. “We’ve taken that concept and we’ve made it able to slide along the surface without losing the vacuum. It’s a fine balance between maintaining the vacuum that we’ve created and leaking enough air into the vacuum to allow the unit to slide along and we coat the suction cups with a special chemical that reduces the friction.”

Both agriculture and chemicals represent billion-dollar markets for non-destructive testing, Fletcher said, and the company is already working with companies like Dow Chemical and BASF to assess their processing assets and ensure that they’re fit for use.

Yamaha has a strategic interest in developing these types of robotics systems, which prompted the investment from the firm’s skunkworks and investment shop out of Silicon Valley.

“As part of Yamaha’s long-term vision supporting the development of advanced robots to improve workplace efficiency and safety, Invert Robotics’ technology and its value proposition made a positive impression on our investment committee,” added Craig Boshier, partner and general manager for Yamaha Motor Ventures in Australia and New Zealand. “Importantly, the robotic technology’s adaptability to different environments and industries is well supported by an engaged team. That combination, with proper capitalization, positions Invert Robotics for success in its global market expansion.”

Pittsburgh’s own Gecko Robotics has similar aspirations, and an investor base including Mark Cuban, Founders Fund, The Westly Group, Justin Kan and Y Combinator.

Since 2012, the company has been working on its technology using ultrasound transducers and a high-def camera to scan boiler walls as the company’s robot would scale them.

Given the billions of dollars in demand, and the potential life-saving applications, it’s no wonder investors are clambering to get a piece of the market.

 

SoftBank makes a huge bet on Latin America

Rappi represents a new era for Latin American technology startups.

Based in Bogotá, Colombia, the on-demand delivery startup has taken the region by storm, attracting a record amount of venture capital funding in mere months. Today marks the beginning of a new round of explosive growth as SoftBank, the Japanese telecom giant and prolific Silicon Valley tech investor, has confirmed a $1 billion investment in the business.

The king-sized financing comes two months after SoftBank announced its Innovation Fund, a new pool of capital committed to spending billions on the growing tech ecosystem in Central and South America.

VC funding in Latin America catapulted to new heights in 2018. Startups located across Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and more have secured nearly $2.5 billion since the beginning of 2018, according to PitchBook, up from less than $1 billion invested in 2017.

SoftBank plans to transfer the Rappi investment to the Innovation Fund “upon the fund’s establishment,” according to a press release. For now, the SoftBank Group and affiliated Vision Fund will each invest $500 million in the company. Jeffrey Housenbold, a managing director at SoftBank responsible for investments in Brandless, Opendoor and DoorDash, will join Rappi’s board of directors.

“SoftBank’s vision of accelerating the technology revolution deeply resonated with our mission of improving how people live through digital payments and a super-app for everything consumers need,” Rappi co-founder Sebastian Mejia said in a statement. “We will continue to focus on building innovations for couriers, restaurants, retailers and start-ups that translate into new sources of growth.”

The latest round, the largest ever for a Latin American tech startup, brings Rappi’s total raised to date to a whopping $1.2 billion. The company was valued at more than $1 billion last year with a $200 million financing.

Rappi is among few venture-backed ‘unicorns’ based in Latin America. São Paulo-based Nubank, a fast-growing fintech startup, garnered a $4 billion valuation last year with a $180 million investment.

Rappi didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bad PR ideas, esports, and the Valley’s talent poaching war

Sending severed heads, and even more PR DON’Ts

I wrote a “master list” of PR DON’Ts earlier this week, and now that list has nearly doubled as my fellow TechCrunch writers continued to experience even more bad behavior around pitches. So, here are another 12 things of what not to do when pitching a startup:

DON’T send severed heads of the writer you want to cover your story

Heads up! It’s weird to send someone’s cranium to them.

This is an odd one, but believe it or not, severed heads seem to roll into our office every couple of months thanks to the advent of 3D printing. Several of us in the New York TechCrunch office received these “gifts” in the past few days (see gifts next), and apparently, I now have a severed head resting on my desk that I get to dispose of on Monday.

Let’s think linearly on this one. Most journalists are writers and presumably understand metaphors. Heads were placed on pikes in the Middle Ages (and sadly, sometimes recently) as a warning to other group members about the risk of challenging whoever did the decapitation. Yes, it might get the attention of the person you are sending their head to, in the same way that burning them in effigy right in front of them can attract eyeballs.

Now, I get it — it’s a demo of something, and maybe it might even be funny for some. But, why take the risk that the recipient is going to see the reasonably obvious metaphorical connection? Use your noggin — no severed heads.

Why your CSO — not your CMO — should pitch your security startup