Timnit Gebru is a leader among those examining the societal impacts of the technology. She had also criticized the company’s diversity efforts.
Joe White MBE — a General Partner of Entrepreneur First, a Greylock backed early-stage deep tech fund — is leaving after being appointed as Her Majesty’s Consul-General, San Francisco, and Technology Envoy to the United States in a new, combined and powerful, role for the UK government.
One of the key figures from the last two decades of the tech industry in the UK, most recently White has been co-chair of GBx, a curated network of British entrepreneurs; a non-executive director for the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team where he advised on social impact technology products; and a former co-founder of Moonfruit, a website and ecommerce platform hosting 7 million sites, which was acquired by Yell.com in 2012. He received an MBE from HM Queen in 2017 for Services to Technology Businesses.
White brings to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) huge experience as an entrepreneur and VC. The appointment is also a first for the UK. White’s role as HM Consul-General has been combined with that of the new role of Technology Envoy to the United States. TechCrunch understands that this will involve high-level activity not just in San Francisco but also in Washington DC, as tech goes up the political agenda under the new Biden Presidency.
White’s combined role will lead the Consulate, manage relationships in the northwest of the US, support the UK Ambassador to the US on areas of shared UK-US interest including technology and entrepreneurship, and support Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner in “promoting and enhancing the UK as partner of choice in trade, investment and research and development.”
In a statement, White said: “It is an honour to represent the UK at this critical time, and a pleasure to support our world-renowned tech sector which continues to go from strength to strength. I am looking forward to working closely with UK government tech teams in the US and in the UK, to further our growing and important relationship with the US tech community.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added: “The UK and the US are the largest investors in each other’s economies and this important appointment further underlines our commitment to the tech sector. I am delighted Joe will take on this enhanced role as we look to build back better and support an innovative post-pandemic global economy.”
White will take up his appointment later this year. He will report to Dame Karen Pierce DCMG, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the United States of America.
Joe White just hit a quadruple. He is the right man, in the right place, with the right experience, at the right time.
He’s a former entrepreneur, investor and has worked on both sides of ‘the pond’, so knows the UK and European tech scene as well as Silicon Valley. He has deep connections in all those ecosystems. And it can’t hurt that his wife, Wendy Tan White MBE, is Vice-President at X, (formerly Google X), Alphabet’s moonshot company, and co-founded Moonfruit with him. Furthermore, White is no stranger to the worlds of politics and diplomacy. His father, Michael White, was The Guardian newspaper’s political editor for many years.
Under Prime Minister David Cameron, the UK government was a keen exponent of the tech industry. Brexit cooled its ire in recent years, but the current chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has proved his interest by creating the UK’s Future Fund, hailed as a big success during the COVID period.
The UK and US not only have a shared history, but they also have shared industries. The UK has been the traditional launching pad for US startups into Europe. Likewise, Silicon Valley is now awash with British-born entrepreneurs and investors. But with tensions around the actions of US Big Tech in the UK (the ‘Online Harms’ legislation is aimed at social platforms), controversies over tax and global security issues all on the agenda, it’s right that the Consul General role in SF is bolstered by this new Tech Envoy moniker.
Silicon Valley is also about to get a fellow tech entrepreneur into one of the highest roles the UK government can bestow overseas. There could hardly be a better person for the job.
The number of Coloradans filing for unemployment keeps going up amid the third wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, unemployment filers dealt with another customer service interruption this week, this time caused by an expired domain name. The state’s unemployment office is preparing to launch a modern claims system in early 2021.
“Yes, we’ve learned our systems are put together with duct tape and chicken wire,” Colorado Department of Labor and Employment executive director Joe Barela said Wednesday of trying to keep up with unprecedented needs during the pandemic. “We’re working every day to ensure we are bringing in technology so people can get help through our online system.”
Another 17,130 people sought state unemployment support last week, the CDLE reported. That’s a 12.5% increase over the 15,219 people who filed claims the week ending Nov. 21, according to the labor department.
Weekly unemployment filings more than doubled in Colorado in the month of November as the state tightened restrictions on businesses in hopes of reining in spiking COVID-19 infections.
As of Thursday, 29 Colorado counties were now under Level Red restrictions on the state’s color-coded coronavirus dial, a level that bans indoor dining in restaurants and clamps down on capacity in many other businesses. People working in the foodservice and accommodation industries represented 20.2% of all new claims filed the week of Nov. 14.
On Monday morning, some people trying to log onto myui.coworkforce.com site to request benefit payments or file a new claim hit a dead end because the domain registration had lapsed. The labor department updated the domain by 10:30 a.m., according to deputy executive director Cher Haavind, though complaints about access issues have persisted. People still having trouble accessing the site are advised to clear their browser cache or try another device.
“It was a brief and temporary outage that was quickly addressed with little to no impact on claimants and no impact to payments,” Haavind said Wednesday.
Following the latest snag in service delivery, Barela this week touted the coming launch of a new claims portal slated for January installing “this-century technology.” The update had been scheduled for April before the pandemic upended operations at CDLE, he said.
CDLE also released numbers for the soon-to-end Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program on Thursday for the first time since a spike in new filings for that troubles support mechanism triggered a fraud investigation last month. The state adjusted down total filings between Sept. 27 and Nov. 7 to just 11,667 claims. For the weekend ending Nov. 28, however, CDLE fielded 14,242 new PUA claims, according to Thursday’s report, almost double the 7,369 PUA claims filed the week before.
The combined 31,272 regular UI and PUA claims filed last week is the highest total since the first week of May when Colorado was dealing with the fallout from the first wave of the virus, according to tracking by The Denver Post.
More than 800,000 people have filed unemployment claims in Colorado since mid March, according to CDLE. More than 208,000 people have filed containing claims for support in the third week of November.
Without Congressional action to extend the programs, state labor officials estimated that 153,000 people on federally funded PUA and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs will lose benefits when those programs expire on Dec. 26.
Nationally, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell as the nation celebrated Thanksgiving last week to a still-high 712,000.
Thursday’s report from the Labor Department said initial claims for jobless aid dropped from 787,000 the week before. Before the virus paralyzed the economy in March, the number of people applying for unemployment benefits each week had typically amounted to roughly 225,000. The chronically high pace of applications shows that nearly nine months after the pandemic struck, many employers are still slashing jobs.
“Thanksgiving seasonals likely explain the drop” in jobless claims last week, Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note. “Expect a rebound next week.”
The total number of people who are continuing to receive traditional state unemployment benefits declined to 5.5 million from 6.1 million. That figure is down sharply from its peak of nearly 23 million in May. It means that some jobless Americans are finding jobs and no longer receiving aid. But it also indicates that many of the unemployed have used up their state benefits, which typically expire after six months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Google fires a leading researcher, Stripe launches a new banking service and WarnerMedia shakes up the theatrical business model. This is your Daily Crunch for December 3, 2020.
The big story: Google fires co-lead of its Ethical AI team
Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence, tweeted last night that Google fired her in response to a message she sent to an internal email list.
Casey Newton obtained the email in question, in which Gebru expressed frustration with her treatment at Google and disappointment at its diversity and inclusion efforts: “We just had a Black research all hands with such an emotional show of exasperation. Do you know what happened since? Silencing in the most fundamental way possible.”
Google declined to comment, except to point to an email from Jeff Dean, the head of Google Research, in which he said Gebru had threatened to resign unless certain conditions were met. (“I hadn’t resigned — I had asked for simple conditions first and said I would respond when I’m back from vacation,” Gebru said.)
The tech giants
YouTube introduces new feature to address toxic comments — The feature appears when users are about to post something offensive in a video’s comments section and warns them to “Keep comments respectful.”
Developers can now enroll in Apple’s ‘Small Business Program’ for reduced App Store fees — Just a few weeks back, we learned that Apple would be launching a program to reduce its fees from 30% to 15% for developers earning less than $1 million per year from the App Store.
Android’s winter update adds new features to Gboard, Maps, Books, Nearby Share and more — One of the more fun bits in the winter update will be a dramatic expansion of the Emoji Kitchen.
Startups, funding and venture capital
Stripe announces embedded business banking service Stripe Treasury — The company is partnering with banks to offer a banking-as-a-service API.
Everlywell raises $175M to expand virtual care options and scale its at-home health testing — Earlier this year, Everlywell launched an at-home COVID-19 test collection kit, the first test of its kind to receive an emergency authorization from the FDA.
VSCO acquires mobile app Trash to expand into AI-powered video editing — The deal will see Trash’s technology integrated into the VSCO app.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
VCs who want better outcomes should use data to reduce founder team risk — Using an objective, data-backed process to evaluate teams will help VCs make better investment decisions.
This is a good time to start a proptech company — At least, it’s a good time according to Colton Pace of Fika Ventures.
Boost ROI with intent data and personalized multichannel marketing campaigns — More mass email blasts are not going to get you the connections with prospects you crave.
(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
All of Warner Bros.’ theatrical movies will get simultaneous releases on HBO Max next year — This includes movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” “Mortal Kombat,” “In the Heights,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” “The Suicide Squad,” “Dune,” the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Matrix 4.”
NASA selects four companies for moon material collection as it seeks to set precedent on private sector outer space mining — The four companies all have rides booked on future commercial lunar lander missions.
Bill Gates just released a plan for US leadership on climate change, including $35B in funding — Gates wrote that we “need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy.”
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
We’re back with not an Equity Shot or Dive of Monday, this is just the regular show! So, we got back to our roots by looking at a huge number of early stage rounds. And a few other things that we were just too excited about to not mention.
- A hacker house aimed at college-age women and non-binary individuals.
- What Sketchy is and why it just raised north of $30 million.
- AgentSync’s rapid-fire funding news, and what we can discern from it.
- Pave’s round, Welcome’s second this year, and what’s up with helping startup employees navigate equity compensation.
- What Heru is building in Mexico with its new round.
- How BuildBuddy managed to raise double what it had originally targeted.
- Then we touched on AI: The new Scale AI round, what happened to Element AI, and Danny’s take on some big news from the technology itself.
- Finally, Lightspeed bought Upserve, Facebook bought Kustomer, Vista bought Gainsight, and Amazon wants to get into paid podcasting.
That was a lot, but how could we leave any of it out? We’re back Monday with more!
A 15-year-old Lone Tree girl has been named Time magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year for 2020.
Gitanjali Rao, a young scientist and inventor, was selected from a field of more than 5,000 nominees to be named Time’s Kid of the Year.
“Observe, brainstorm, research, build and communicate.” That’s what Rao told actor and activist Angelina Jolie during a recent Zoom meeting, according to Time.
Gitanjali, as a 12-year-old, earned the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist” in 2017 while attending STEM School Highlands Ranch. At that time, Gitanjali won the award for inventing a device named Tethys, after the Greek goddess of fresh water, into the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She told The Denver Post she entered the contest, in part, looking for a solution to the Flint, Mich., water crisis.
“I was stunned,” Gitanjali told The Post in 2017. “All the other finalists are amazing. Their innovations were completely mind-blowing, so it was amazing to see that I was picked.”
In her Zoom interview with Jolie, Gitanjali spoke about using technology to solve problems ranging from unfit “drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying.”
“If I can do it,” she told Jolie, “anybody can do it.”
A broadcast special on the Kid of the Year will air on Nickelodeon on Dec. 4.
- The Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope collapsed Tuesday morning, when its 900-ton suspended platform crashed into the enormous dish below.
- Arecibo was one of Earth’s best radio astronomy tools for 57 years. Its death is a blow to asteroid-tracking efforts and the hunt for alien life.
- Photos of the iconic telescope show what it looked like before and after the crash.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Arecibo Observatory’s enormous radio telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning. Its 900-ton platform crashed into the 1,000-foot-side disk below, yanking down the tops of three support towers as it fell.
The demise was not entirely a surprise. After the telescope suffered two cable breaks in August and November, the National Science Foundation, which owns the telescope, determined it was too structurally unsound for workers to repair safely. The Foundation decommissioned the Puerto Rico telescope in late November, and engineers were working to figure out how to deconstruct it. But the platform crashed before that work could progress.
“Friends, it is with deep regret to inform you that the Arecibo Observatory platform has just collapsed,” Deborah Martorell, a meteorologist in Puerto Rico, tweeted in Spanish on Tuesday morning.
Before the crash, the telescope’s massive platform hung 450 feet in the air above its giant bowl-shaped disk. The disk reflected radio waves from space to instruments on the suspended platform.
But on Tuesday morning, cables that connected the platform to one of the towers snapped, sending it plummeting down.
Jonathan Friedman, who has worked on the Arecibo Observatory’s scientific staff since 1993, told local news outlet NotiCentro the collapse sounded like the rumble of an earthquake, a train, or an avalanche.
A life spent hunting asteroids and starring in movies
Since it was completed in 1963, the Arecibo telescope has played a role in some of humanity’s most exciting findings about space.
It discovered the first known planet beyond our solar system, sent out powerful broadcasts for potential aliens to intercept, and tracked potentially hazardous asteroids to see whether they could hit Earth.
It even helped scientists confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity by detecting the first binary pulsar: a highly magnetized, compact star orbiting another star.
Arecibo also enabled researchers to hunt for radio waves from potential alien technology. The only other radio telescope that equals Arecibo’s former power is China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).
The telescope’s scale and setting also led it to a life onscreen: It starred in the 1995 James Bond film “GoldenEye” and the 1997 movie “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster.
Scientists around the world are mourning the loss of the Arecibo telescope, but it was of special significance to many in Puerto Rico, where it drew 90,000 visitors a year. It also served as a training ground for graduate students in astronomy, physics, and other space-related disciplines.
“When I learned of the news, I was totally devastated,” Abel Mendez, the director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, told Business Insider in November, after the telescope was decommissioned.
Mendez had been around the observatory since he was 10 and worked with it professionally for a decade.
“It’s hard to take. It’s like losing someone important in your life,” he said. “Yeah, 2020 – it’s not good.”
Morgan McFall-Johnsen, Aylin Woodward, and Dave Mosher contributed reporting.
Esports One, a startup bringing the fantasy approach to esports, is announcing that it has raised an additional $4 million in funding.
When I first wrote about Esports One in April, co-founder and COO Sharon Winter described it as the first “all-in-one fantasy platform” in the esports world, allowing you to research players, create fantasy teams and watch games, with an initial focus on the North American and European divisions of League of Legends.
According to the Esports One team, creating this platform required building out a set of data and analytics products, as well as using computer vision technology that can track game activity (and update player stats) without relying on a publisher’s API.
The startup says its user base has been growing by more than 25% month-over-month. It may also have benefited from the pause in professional sports earlier this year, while CEO and co-founder Matt Gunnin told me recently that he also sees fantasy as a way to make video games accessible to a broader audience — he recalled one Esports One user who introduce his sister to League of Legends using the fantasy platform.
“I use the example of growing up and sitting there with my dad, watching a baseball game, he’s telling me everything that’s happening,” Gunnin said. “Now it’s the opposite — parents are sitting and watching their kids.”
Many parents, he suggested, are “never going to pick up a mouse and keyboard and play League of Legends,” but they might play the fantasy version: “That’s an entry point … if we can make it easily accessible to individuals both that are hardcore gamers playing video games and watching League of Legends their entire life, as well as someone who has no idea what’s going on.”
The new funding was led led by XSeed Capital, Eniac Ventures, and Chestnut Street Ventures, bringing Esports One to a total of $7.3 million raised. The company also recently signed a partnership deal with lifestyle company ESL Gaming.
Gunin said the money will allow the company to grow its Bytes virtual currency, which players use to enter contests and buy customizations — starting next year, players will be able to spend real money to purchase Bytes. In addition, it’s working on native iOS and Android apps (Esports One is currently accessible via desktop and mobile web).
Gunnin and his team also plan to develop fantasy competitions for Rainbow Six: Siege, Rocket League, Valorant and Fortnite.
“As a fairly new player in the esports world, we’ve seen immense determination and grit from Matt, Sharon, and the whole Esports One team to grow into a household name, ” said XSeed’s Damon Cronkey in a statement. “I’m excited to be partnering with a company that will deliver new perspectives and features to an evolving industry. We’re eager to see how Esports One grows in 2021.”
Like many things in life, building great businesses is all about timing. We’ve seen multibillion dollar failures from the dot-com era such as Pets.com and Webvan be reincarnated a decade later as Chewy and Instacart — this time as runaway successes.
The same could be said about real estate technology companies, but startups in this category have not gotten the same opportunity and attention as their peers in other sectors.
For decades, proptech has received the short end of the stick. Real estate is the world’s largest asset class worth $277 trillion, three times the total value of all publicly traded companies. Still, fintech companies have received seven times more VC funding than real estate companies.
These lower levels of investment were previously attributed to the slow rate of technology adoption and digitalization within the real estate industry, but this is no longer the case. Companies in real estate are adopting innovation faster than ever. Now, 81% of real estate organizations plan to use new digital technologies in traditional business processes and spending on tech and software is growing at over 11% per year. Technological adoption has even accelerated throughout the pandemic as enterprises were forced to quickly adapt.
Historically, the strength or weakness of the broader economy and the real estate industry have been tightly coupled and correlated. While some may point to COVID-19’s negative impact on certain parts of real estate as evidence that proptech can only thrive in boom times, I believe building a successful proptech company is less about anticipating economic upswings and markets and more about timing and taking advantage of the right technological trends. In short, this is as good of a time as any to start a proptech company if you know where to look.
History is littered with examples of companies that have done just this. Let’s take a look at three:
- Founded: 2002.
- Early traction: Used by celebrity housing projects in California.
- Inflection point: 2012 (people start using iPads and smartphones on job sites).
- Today: $5 billion valuation as of May 2020.
Procore was founded in 2002 in the aftermath of the dot-com bust, well before widespread WiFi and five years before the iPhone. The company saw the capability for software and technology to transform the construction industry long before practitioners did. Its team faithfully and stubbornly kept at it through the financial crisis, but only had $5 million in revenue by 2012. Here’s where the timing kicks in: At this time, iPads and smartphones had become more common on worksites, enabling widespread adoption.
Realizing this change in-market and adapting to it, Procore strategically priced its product as a subscription, rather than based on headcount, as was typical in the industry. In this way, early customers like Wieland and Mortenson got their subcontractors and temp employees to use the product, which then created a flywheel effect that spread Procore to other projects and clients. Fast forward to today, Procore now has more than $290 million in ARR and is valued over $5 billion.
Procore’s persistence and agility ultimately enabled it to capitalize on the right technological trends and shifts, despite what initially seemed like a poorly timed decision to start a software company in a recession. Procore is now on a venture exit path as it continues to acquire new-age proptech companies like Avata Technologies, Honest Buildings and BIMAnywhere.
- Founded: 2006.
- Early traction: Launched with 1 million website visits.
- Inflection point: 2009 (financial crisis mindset).
- Today: Public — $27 billion market capitalization.
Zillow was founded by the co-founders of Hotwire and Expedia. While that might not seem relevant, the vision to bring transparency to consumers is the connecting line, the mission being to provide access to siloed data and knowledge to previously convoluted industries. Before Zillow, homeowners did not know how much their house was worth. With Zillow’s Zestimate, consumers can put a price tag on every roof across North America.
Advancements in the tech and the cyber threat landscape are creating vast job opportunities. The global cyber security market is projected to reach £210 billion by 2026. But in the UK, out of 952,000 working aged (16-64) UK military veterans and 15,000 service leavers a year, only 4% of them are working in tech and cyber. This is 20% lower than the non-veteran population. The cost to the UK economy of underemployed or unemployed veterans has been estimated at £1.5 billion over 5 years. This means all this talent – talent which has literally been trained to adapt to fast-moving situations like the one the world finds itself in now – is going to waste, just when the era of massive digitization of business and society is upon us.
So it’s significant that the UK’s RFEA, the Forces Employment charity, is launching a new partnership with TechVets, the non-profit set up to build a bridge for veterans into cyber security and the technology sector.
With the RFEA’s support, TechVets will create extensive new free upskilling and job opportunities for ‘tech-curious’ service leavers and veterans, through its offering of networking, mentoring, signposting and training services, via its new TechVets Academy.
The initiative is timely. It’s estimated that over 173,000 UK military veterans are at risk due to the economic impact of COVID and the ending of the government’s furlough scheme in March 2021.
Since its launch in 2018, TechVets has grown to a community of over 6,000 members and several ‘chapters’ around the UK.
TechVets uses a blend of open-source resources, partner training, and community support, to empower those new to cyber/tech to choose the pathway that is best for them. And it’s all free to veterans and service leavers.
TechVets Programme Director, James Murphy (pictured), is an Army Veteran of 19 years. He joined the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment in 2000, before transferring to the Intelligence Corps in 2013 after sustaining life-long injuries in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
In a statement, he said: “Anyone who has held a role in the Forces comes armed with an understanding of the sensitivities of working in security. Ex-Services also possess an innate ability to learn new skills and are natural problem solvers, who can work quickly and fit into a team with ease. Ex-military personnel are also the kind of people who thrive in pressurized, or time-sensitive, situations. These soft skills are incredible assets in the security and technology industries, which can be used to fill the current skills shortage in this area.”
RFEA’s Chief Executive Officer, Alistair Halliday, added: “The TechVets Programme is a fantastic new addition to RFEA’s services that will, no doubt, encourage talented veterans to consider tech and security-based roles that may have otherwise overlooked. It will also help veterans to upskill digitally to help them get into wider roles too.”
TechVets member Gareth Paterson, joined the Army in 1994. He started out as a Tank crewman and then transferred to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers as an instructor in 2001. He left in 2018, having completed operational tours of Northern Ireland, Former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. He says his life has been changed by TechVets: “I left the Army as I was at the end of my 24-year career… I did not have a clue what career to move into, then I was introduced to offensive cybersecurity and penetration testing. I joined TechVets and it gave me my first insight into the tools and techniques of penetration testing. After that, I was hooked! The support of everyone at TechVets, and its community, has helped me to gain confidence and push harder. I was able to gain qualifications in penetration testing which improved my job prospects in the sector. By November 2018 I started working as a cybersecurity consultant.”