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Fintech and clean tech? An odd couple or a perfect marriage?

The Valley’s rocky history with clean tech investing has been well-documented.

Startups focused on non-emitting generation resources were once lauded as the next big cash cow, but the sector’s hype quickly got away from reality.

Complex underlying science, severe capital intensity, slow-moving customers, and high-cost business models outside the comfort zones of typical venture capital, ultimately caused a swath of venture-backed companies and investors in the clean tech boom to fall flat.

Yet, decarbonization and sustainability are issues that only seem to grow more dire and more galvanizing for founders and investors by the day, and more company builders are searching for new ways to promote environmental resilience.

While funding for clean tech startups can be hard to find nowadays, over time we’ve seen clean tech startups shift down the stack away from hardware-focused generation plays towards vertical-focused downstream software.

A far cry from past waves of venture-backed energy startups, the downstream clean tech companies offered more familiar technology with more familiar business models, geared towards more recognizable verticals and end users. Now, investors from less traditional clean tech backgrounds are coming out of the woodworks to take a swing at the energy space.

An emerging group of non-traditional investors getting involved in the clean energy space are those traditionally focused on fintech, such as New York and Europe based venture firm Anthemis — a financial services-focused team that recently sat down with our fintech contributor Gregg Schoenberg and I (check out the full meat of the conversation on Extra Crunch).

The tie between clean tech startups and fintech investors may seem tenuous at first thought. However, financial services has long played a significant role in the energy sector and is now becoming a more common end customer for energy startups focused on operations, management and analytics platforms, thus creating real opportunity for fintech investors to offer differentiated value.

Finance powering the world?

Though the conversation around energy resources and decarbonization often focuses on politics, a significant portion of decisions made in the energy generation business is driven by pure economics — Is it cheaper to run X resource relative to resources Y and Z at a given point in time? Based on bid prices for Request for Proposals (RFPs) in a specific market and the cost-competitiveness of certain resources, will a developer be able to hit their targeted rate of return if they build, buy or operate a certain type of generation asset?

Alternative generation sources like wind, solid oxide fuel cells, or large-scale or even rooftop solar have reached more competitive cost levels – in many parts of the US, wind and solar are in fact often the cheapest form of generation for power providers to run.

Thus as renewable resources have grown more cost competitive, more, infrastructure developers, and other new entrants have been emptying their wallets to buy up or build renewable assets like large scale solar or wind farms, with the American Council on Renewable Energy even forecasting cumulative private investment in renewable energy possibly reaching up to $1 trillion in the US by 2030.

A major and swelling set of renewable energy sources are now led by financial types looking for tools and platforms to better understand the operating and financial performance of their assets, in order to better maximize their return profile in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Therefore, fintech-focused venture firms with financial service pedigrees, like Anthemis, now find themselves in pole position when it comes to understanding clean tech startup customers, how they make purchase decisions, and what they’re looking for in a product.

In certain cases, fintech firms can even offer significant insight into shaping the efficacy of a product offering. For example, Anthemis portfolio company kWh Analytics provides a risk management and analytics platform for solar investors and operators that helps break down production, financial analysis, and portfolio performance.

For platforms like kWh analytics, fintech-focused firms can better understand the value proposition offered and help platforms understand how their technology can mechanically influence rates of return or otherwise.

The financial service customers for clean energy-related platforms extends past just private equity firms. Platforms have been and are being built around energy trading, renewable energy financing (think financing for rooftop solar) or the surrounding insurance market for assets.

When speaking with several of Anthemis’ clean tech portfolio companies, founders emphasized the value of having a fintech investor on board that not only knows the customer in these cases, but that also has a deep understanding of the broader financial ecosystem that surrounds energy assets.

Founders and firms seem to be realizing that various arms of financial services are playing growing roles when it comes to the development and access to clean energy resources.

By offering platforms and surrounding infrastructure that can improve the ease of operations for the growing number of finance-driven operators or can improve the actual financial performance of energy resources, companies can influence the fight for environmental sustainability by accelerating the development and adoption of cleaner resources.

Ultimately, a massive number of energy decisions are made by financial services firms and fintech firms may often times know the customers and products of downstream clean-tech startups more than most.  And while the financial services sector has often been labeled as dirty by some, the vital role it can play in the future of sustainable energy offers the industry a real chance to clean up its image.

Read more: techcrunch.com

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Software

Apple seeks to counter lawsuits, complaints

In the midsts of antitrust lawsuits and monopoly complaints, Apple is trying to prove its app store promotes innovation and welcomes competition.

“We created the App Store with two goals in mind: that it be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers,” the company wrote on a new website created to defend its app store rules and requirements. “We take responsibility for ensuring that apps are held to a high standard for privacy, security, and content because nothing is more important than maintaining the trust of our users.”

Earlier this month, Apple was caught in a lawsuit with iPhone owners protesting Apple’s monopolization of iPhone apps, and arguing that Apple uses that monopolization to overcharge for their apps. Apple argued iPhone owners cannot sue the App Store since the apps were developed by third-party developers, and tried to get the lawsuit dismissed. The lawsuit made its all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the iPhone owners.  

“In short, we do not understand the relevance of the upstream market structure in deciding whether a downstream consumer may sue a monopolistic retailer. Apple’s rule would elevate form (what is the precise arrangement between manufacturers or suppliers and retailers?) over substance (is the consumer paying a higher price because of the monopolistic retailer’s actions?). If the retailer’s unlawful monopolistic conduct caused a consumer to pay the retailer a higher-than-competitive price, the consumer is entitled to sue the retailer under the antitrust laws,” according to the Supreme Court document.

Additionally, Apple is undergoing a European Union investigation after Spotify filed a complaint against the company for its unfair app store policies. “In recent years, Apple has introduced rules to the App Store that purposely limit choice and stifle innovation at the expense of the user experience — essentially acting as both a player and referee to deliberately disadvantage other app developers. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issues directly with Apple, we’re now requesting that the EC take action to ensure fair competition,” Daniel Ek, the founder and CEO of Spotify, wrote in a post.

Apple argues on its new website that the app store welcomes competition and lists a number of competitors to their in-house apps such as calendar apps, camera apps, cloud storage apps and mail apps. “Our users trust Apple — and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution,” the company wrote.

On the new website, Apple claims that 60 percent of developers can have their apps available immediately after approval, that developers have a chance to have app rejections reviewed by the App Review Board, and that 84 percent of apps are free.

“The App Store has also helped millions of people with great ideas easily learn how to code, create, and distribute their ideas in 155 countries,” Apple wrote.

The post Apple seeks to counter lawsuits, complaints appeared first on SD Times.

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Technology Videos

AMAZING MACHINES AND COOL WORKERS THAT ARE ON A NEW LEVEL


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BRAIN TIME ► https://goo.gl/tTWgH2

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Software

Angular 8 released with builder APIs and web worker support

The Angular team has announced a major release of its mobile and desktop framework. Angular 8 spans the entire platform and includes updates to Angular Material, the CLI, improved application startup time, and more web standards.

One significant feature is the addition of differential loading by default. According to Angular developer advocate Stephen Fluin, differential loading enables browsers to choose between modern or legacy JavaScript based on its capabilities. By enabling this by default, users will automatically get the necessary bundle. Additionally, Fluin explained developers are finding their apps are able to save between 7 to 20 percent of their bundle size depending on the modern JavaScript features available.

RELATED CONTENT: JavaScript has come a long way and shows no sign of slowing

Version 8’s new builder APIs are similar to Schematics in that it allows developers to use ng build, ng test, and ng run to perform processes. “Builders are functions that implement the logic and behaviour for a task that can replace a command,” the team wrote in a blog post. The team is also introducing a new API to make it easier for developers to use Schematics to open and modify their angular.json files. The workspaces API is designed to make it easier to read and modify the file.

For CPU-intensive processing applications, the team is introducing web workers support for offloading work to the background such as image or video manipulation, Fluin explained.

Other features include AngularJS migration improvements, support for EcmaScript dynamic, and CLI telemetry. More about the release is available here.

In addition, there is a new deprecation guide available. The team will continue to maintain semantic versioning and stability across major versions. “Angular strives to balance innovation and stability. Sometimes, APIs and features become obsolete and need to be removed or replaced so that Angular can stay current with new best practices, changing dependencies, or changes in the (web) platform itself,” according to the guide. “To make these transitions as easy as possible, we deprecate APIs and features for a period of time before removing them. This gives you time to update your apps to the latest APIs and best practices.”

The post Angular 8 released with builder APIs and web worker support appeared first on SD Times.

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News

Delane Parnell’s plan to conquer amateur esports

Most of the buzz about esports focuses on high-profile professional teams and audiences watching live streams of those professionals.

What gets ignored is the entire base of amateurs wanting to compete in esports below the professional tier. This is like talking about the NBA and the value of its sponsorships and broadcast rights as if that is the entirety of the basketball market in the US.

Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) wants to become the dominant platform for amateur esports, starting at the high school level. The company raised $46 million last year—its first year operating—with the vision that owning the infrastructure for competitions and expanding it to encompass other social elements of gaming can make it the largest gaming company in the world.

I recently sat down with Founder & CEO Delane Parnell to talk about his company’s formation and growth strategy. Below is the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Founding PlayVS

Eric P: You have a fascinating background as a serial entrepreneur while you were a teenager.

Delane P.: I grew up on the west side of Detroit and started working at the cell phone store of a family friend when I was 13. When I turned 16 or so, I joined two guys in opening our own Metro PCS franchise. And then two additional franchises. And I was on the founding team of a car rental company called Executive Rental Car.

Eric P: And this segued into tech startups after meeting Jon Triest from Ludlow Ventures?

Delane P: He got me a ticket to the Launch conference in SF, and that experience inspired me to start a Fireside Chat series in Detroit that brought in people like Brian Wong from Kiip and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit to speak. Starting at 21, I worked at a venture capital firm called IncWell based in Birmingham, Michigan then joined a startup called Rocket Fiber.

We were focused on internet infrastructure – this is 2015-ish – and I was appointed to lead our strategy in esports. So I met with many of the publishers, ancillary startups, tournament organizers, and OG players and team owners. Through the process, I became passionate about esports and ended up leaving Rocket Fiber to start a Call of Duty team that I quickly sold to TSM.

Eric P: What then drove you to found PlayVS? Did it seem like an obvious opportunity or did it take you a while to figure it out?

Delane P.: What esports means is playing video games competitively bound to governance and a competitive ruleset. As a player, what that experience means is you play on a team, in a position, with a coach, in a season that culminates in some sort of championship.

Read more: techcrunch.com

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NEXT LEVEL WORKERS THAT ARE REALLY INGENIOUS


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Mind Warehouse ► https://goo.gl/aeW8Sk

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Software

SD Times news digest: Microsoft teams up to teach Q#, Zendesk’s new developer capabilities and inNative for WebAssembly

Microsoft is teaming up with Brilliant.org to launch an interactive course focused on quantum computing. The course will teach quantum computing and programming in Q#, Microsoft’s quantum-tuned programming language.

Students can implement advanced quantum algorithms in Q# on the web without having to download an IDE. Q# has Python integration within the course, allowing the use of Python for the classical side of an algorithm and Q# to run the quantum side, according to Microsoft’s post.

“Brilliant’s circuit simulator allows self-learners to solve quantum circuit puzzles, peek inside the quantum state at any point along the simulation, and get a feel for the operations that a quantum computer may be able to perform,” Microsoft wrote.

ThousandEyes releases digital experience performance benchmark report
ThousandEyes released its 2019 Digital Experience Benchmark Report designed to explore how key performance indicators can impact user experience. According to the report, while each industry displays performance patterns, setting a minimum Internet Performance Bar should deliver top-tier website performance, regardless of industry.

Other key findings show that performance variations across CDN providers, ISPs and geographies exist in the US and that 60 percent of sites with 1st quartile response times delivered DNS and network performance at or better than the median.

“Internet performance is an under-appreciated yet major contributor to digital experience, and in the battle for customer loyalty, every millisecond matters,” said Alex Henthorn-Iwane, report author and vice president of product marketing at ThousandEyes.

Zendesk announces new developer capabilities
Zendesk’s expansion of Zendesk Sunshine will make it easier to connect siloed data and deliver deep customer insight to advance proactive customer experiences, according to the company’s post.

The expansions include new partnerships, integrations and Zendesk’s acquisition of Smooch, a platform that allows businesses and customers have more personalized and human conversations.

Customers can now leverage open APIs and create solutions with the ability to integrate other applications versus being locked into a closed system.

InNative launched to run WebAssembly
InNative was launched to WebAssembly outside the sandbox, boasting near-native speed, according to an inNative team post. WebAssembly enables developers to use languages other than JavaScript, such as C, C++, Rust, Zig and Go on the web.

“We could break the stranglehold of i386 on the software industry and free developers to experiment with novel CPU architectures without having to worry about whether our favorite language compiles to it,” inNative wrote. “WebAssembly isn’t just a way to run C++ in a web browser, it’s a chance to reinvent how we write programs, and build a radical new foundation for software development. inNative is just a first step towards a new frontier.”

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BUILDING TECHNOLOGIES THAT ARE ON A NEW LEVEL


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BRAIN TIME ► https://goo.gl/tTWgH2

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Indie travel app Lambus makes group trip planning easier

There are plenty of travel apps for researching flights and hotels or generally organizing your trips, but indie German developer Hans Knöechel struggled to find one that could gather all his travel-related information in one place, in addition to allowing a group of friends to collaborate on the trip-planning process. So he built one for himself: Lambus, an app that lets you organize your travel documents, manage expenses, plus collaborate and chat with fellow co-travelers about the trip being planned.

Previously a senior software engineer at Appcelerator in San Jose, Knöechel came up with the idea for Lambus after being on the road a lot himself, and finding existing travel apps lacking.

“When traveling, you either use a manual folder with dozens of pages for all your information — or countless apps to display travel expenses, booking confirmations and waypoint planning. Alternatives like Google Trips, Sygic and Roadtrippers were always limited to one person and never offered all the features I needed during the trip,” he explains. “This gave me the idea for Lambus: A collaborative platform on which travel groups — in real-time — can display all the properties of the trip in an easy-to-use platform: Waypoints, travel expenses, booking documents, notes, photos and chat,” he says.

The resulting app he refers to as a “Swiss Army Knife” for travel planning.

Like TripIt and others, travel documents can be shared with Lambus by forwarding emails to a unique personal email address. The imported documents — like plane tickets or Airbnb stays — will then be made available to all group attendees automatically. This is handy for group trips where often multiple people take turns making the various reservations, but don’t have any easy way to share the information with others beyond forwarding emails or writing down information in a shared online document.

Documents can also be uploaded through an “Import PDF” feature, as an alternative to email sharing. And photos can be added by snapping a picture or importing from the phone’s Camera Roll, as well.

The photo feature is handy for saving those miscellaneous pieces of travel information — like how to access an Airbnb upon arrival, travel directions posted on an event or venue’s website, a helpful online review you saved and more. It’s also a fast way to import any other information, without having to rely on email or uploads.

In the expenses section, you can keep track of either private or group expenses by entering the amount and what it was for, and, optionally, if it’s been paid.

While largely aimed at group travel because of the collaboration and built-in chat features, the app can be used for solo trips, too.


In testing the app, we found there were a few kinks that still needed to be corrected.

The calendar, for example, didn’t include the days of the week, only the dates — which was unusual. The app also had trouble finding some points of interest — like a convention center, for example, when it was entered directly in the search box. (It came up when we searched for a “nearby place” to an existing waypoint, oddly.) This appears to be a bug.

Some parts of the German app hadn’t been localized to English, either. For instance, when viewing the detail page for a waypoint, the “On My List” section read: “Noch keine Orte in der Nähe geplant.” (Meaning: “No places planned nearby.”) 

More importantly, Lambus didn’t turn imported documents into an easy-to-read itinerary, as TripIt does. The travel plan, instead, included a list of waypoints but not the dates and times, with all the details like flight numbers or hotel reservation numbers. That’s perhaps a deal-breaker in terms of dumping all other travel apps in favor of Lambus alone.

Despite its quirks, the concept here is solid and the app is nicely designed with a bright and clean look-and-feel. The app is only a couple of months old, so given a little more time, attention and a few more releases, it has the potential to become a seriously useful travel tool for group trip planning.

The name, “Lambus,” is an odd choice, we have to also note.

Knöechel says he was searching for a word that was easy to pronounce in many different languages, and settled on this — a domain name he already owned.

While Knöechel is the sole founder, Lambus is a team of seven, including mainly university friends, he says. The startup is seed-funded by the Ministry of Economics in Germany (~€120,000), and eventually has plans to generate affiliate revenue by offering hotel, flight, Airbnb and activity bookings in-app.

Lambus is live on iOS and Google Play.

Read more: techcrunch.com

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eFounders backs Yousign to build a European eSignature company

French startup Yousign is partnering with startup studio eFounders. While eFounders usually builds software-as-a-service startups from scratch, the company is trying something new with this partnership.

eFounders wants to create all the tools you need to make your work more efficient. The startup studio is behind many respectable SaaS successes, such as Front, Aircall or Spendesk. And electronic signatures are a must if you want to speed up your workflow.

Sure, there are a ton of well-established players in the space — DocuSign, SignNow, Adobe Sign, HelloSign, etc. But nobody has really cracked the European market in a similar way.

Yousign has been around for a while in France. When it comes to features, it has everything you’d expect. You can upload a document and set up automated emails and notifications so that everybody signs the document.

Signatures are legally binding and Yousign archive your documents. You can also create document templates and send contract proposals using an API.

The main challenge for Yousign is that Europe is still quite fragmented. The company will need to convince users in different countries that they need to switch to an eSignature solution. Starting today, Yousign is now available in France, Germany, the U.K. and Spain.

Yousign had only raised some money. eFounders is cleaning the cap table by buying out existing investors and replacing them.

“We can’t really communicate on the details of the investment, but what I can tell you is that we bought out existing funds for several millions of euros in order to replace them — founders still have the majority of shares,” eFounders co-founder and CEO Thibaud Elzière told me.

In a blog post, Elzière writes that eFounders has acquired around 50 percent of the company through a SPV (Single Purpose Vehicle) that it controls. The startup studio holds 25 percent directly, and investors in the eFounders eClub hold 25 percent.

Yousign now looks pretty much like any other eFounders company when they start. Of course, founders and eFounders might get diluted further down the road if Yousign ends up raising more money.

Read more: techcrunch.com