Category Archives: Tech News

Skydio partners with EagleView for autonomous residential roof inspections via drone

Posted by on 28 September, 2020

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Skydio only just recently announced its expansion into the enterprise and commercial market with hardware and software tools for its autonomous drone technology, and now it’s taking the lid off a brand new big partnership with one commercial partner. Skydio will work with EagleView to deploy automated residential roof inspection using Skydio drones, with service initially provide via EagleView’s Assess product, launching first in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas.

The plan is to expand coverage to additional metro areas starting next year, and then broaden to rural customers as well. The partners will use AI-based analysis, paired with Skydio’s high-resolution, precision imaging to provide roofing status information to insurance companies, claims adjustment companies and government agencies, providing a new level of quality and accuracy for property inspections that don’t even require an in-person roof inspection component.

Skydio announced its enterprise product expansion in July, alongside a new $100 million funding round. The startup, which has already delivered two generations of its groundbreaking fully autonomous consumer drone, also debuted the X2, a commercial drone that includes additional features like a thermal imaging camera. It’s also offering a suite of “enterprise skills,” software features that can provide its partners with automated workflows and AI analysis and processing, including a House Scan feature for residential roof inspection, which is core to this new partnership.

Privacy data management innovations reduce risk, create new revenue channels

Posted by on 25 September, 2020

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Privacy data mismanagement is a lurking liability within every commercial enterprise. The very definition of privacy data is evolving over time and has been broadened to include information concerning an individual’s health, wealth, college grades, geolocation and web surfing behaviors. Regulations are proliferating at state, national and international levels that seek to define privacy data and establish controls governing its maintenance and use.

Existing regulations are relatively new and are being translated into operational business practices through a series of judicial challenges that are currently in progress, adding to the confusion regarding proper data handling procedures. In this confusing and sometimes chaotic environment, the privacy risks faced by almost every corporation are frequently ambiguous, constantly changing and continually expanding.

Conventional information security (infosec) tools are designed to prevent the inadvertent loss or intentional theft of sensitive information. They are not sufficient to prevent the mismanagement of privacy data. Privacy safeguards not only need to prevent loss or theft but they must also prevent the inappropriate exposure or unauthorized usage of such data, even when no loss or breach has occurred. A new generation of infosec tools is needed to address the unique risks associated with the management of privacy data.

The first wave of innovation

A variety of privacy-focused security tools emerged over the past few years, triggered in part by the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) within the European Union in 2018. New capabilities introduced by this first wave of innovation were focused in the following three areas:

Data discovery, classification and cataloging. Modern enterprises collect a wide variety of personal information from customers, business partners and employees at different times for different purposes with different IT systems. This data is frequently disseminated throughout a company’s application portfolio via APIs, collaboration tools, automation bots and wholesale replication. Maintaining an accurate catalog of the location of such data is a major challenge and a perpetual activity. BigID, DataGuise and Integris Software have gained prominence as popular solutions for data discovery. Collibra and Alation are leaders in providing complementary capabilities for data cataloging.

Consent management. Individuals are commonly presented with privacy statements describing the intended use and safeguards that will be employed in handling the personal data they supply to corporations. They consent to these statements — either explicitly or implicitly — at the time such data is initially collected. Osano, Transcend.io and DataGrail.io specialize in the management of consent agreements and the enforcement of their terms. These tools enable individuals to exercise their consensual data rights, such as the right to view, edit or delete personal information they’ve provided in the past.

The highest valued company in Bessemer’s annual cloud report has defied convention by staying private

Posted by on 25 September, 2020

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This year’s Bessemer Venture Partners’ annual Cloud 100 Benchmark report was published recently and my colleague Alex Wilhelm looked at some broad trends in the report, but digging into the data, I decided to concentrate on the Top 10 companies by valuation. I found that the top company has defied convention for a couple of reasons.

Bessemer looks at private companies. Once they go public, they lose interest, and that’s why certain startups go in and out of this list each year. As an example, Dropbox was the most highly valued company by far with a valuation in the $10 billion range for 2016 and 2017, the earliest data in the report. It went public in 2018 and therefore disappeared.

While that $10 billion benchmark remains a fairly good measure of a solidly valued cloud company, one company in particular blew away the field in terms of valuation, an outlier so huge, its value dwarfs even the mighty Snowflake, which was valued at over $12 billion before it went public earlier this month.

That company is Stripe, which has an other worldly valuation of $36 billion. Stripe began its ascent to the top of the charts in 2016 and 2017 when it sat behind Dropbox with a $6 billion valuation in 2016 and around $8 billion in 2017. By the time Dropbox left the chart in 2018, Stripe would have likely blown past it when its valuation soared to $20 billion. It zipped up to around $23 billion last year before taking another enormous leap to $36 billion this year.

Stripe remains an outlier not only for its enormous valuation, but also the fact that it hasn’t gone public yet. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden pointed out in article earlier this year, the company has remained quiet about its intentions, although there has been some speculation lately that an IPO could be coming.

What Stripe has done to earn that crazy valuation is to be the cloud payment API of choice for some of the largest companies on the Internet. Consider that Stripe’s customers include Amazon, Salesforce, Google and Shopify and it’s not hard to see why this company is valued as highly as it is.

Stripe came up with the idea of making it simple to incorporate a payments mechanism into your app or website, something that’s extremely time-consuming to do. Instead of building their own, developers tapped into Stripe’s ready-made variety and Stripe gets a little money every time someone bangs on the payment gateway.

When you’re talking about some of the biggest companies in the world being involved, and many others large and small, all of those payments running through Stripe’s systems add up to a hefty amount of revenue, and that revenue has led to this amazing valuation.

One other company, you might want to pay attention to here, is UIPath, the robotic process automation company, which was sitting just behind Snowflake with a valuation of over $10 billion. While it’s unclear if RPA, the technology that helps automate legacy workflows, will have the lasting power of a payments API, it certainly has come on strong the last couple of years.

Most of the companies in this report appear for a couple of years as they become unicorns, watch their values soar and eventually go public. Stripe up to this point has chosen not to do that, making it a highly unusual company.

NUVIA raises $240M from Mithril to make climate-ready enterprise chips

Posted by on 24 September, 2020

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Climate change is on everyone’s minds these days, what with the outer Bay Area on fire, orange skies above San Francisco, and a hurricane season that is bearing down on the East Coast with alacrity (and that’s just the United States in the past two weeks).

A major — and growing — source of those emissions is data centers, the cloud infrastructure that powers most of our devices and experiences. That’s led to some novel ideas, such as Microsoft’s underwater data center Project Natick, which just came back to the surface for testing a bit more than a week ago.

Yet, for all the fun experiments, there is a bit more of an obvious solution: just make the chips more energy efficient.

That’s the thesis of NUVIA, which was founded by three ex-Apple chip designers who led the design of the “A” series chip line for the company’s iPhones and iPads for years. Those chips are wicked fast within a very tight energy envelope, and NUVIA’s premise is essentially what happens when you take those sorts of energy constraints (and the experience of its chip design team) and apply them to the data center.

We did a deep profile of the company last year when it announced its $53 million Series A, so definitely read that to understand the founding story and the company’s mission. Now about one year later, it’s coming back to us with news of a whole bunch of more funding.

NUVIA announced today that it has closed on a $240 million Series B round led by Mithril Capital, with a bunch of others involved listed below.

Since we last chatted with the company, we now have a bit more detail of what it’s working on. It has two products under development, a system-on-chip (SoC) unit dubbed “Orion” and a CPU core dubbed “Phoenix.” The company previewed a bit of Phoenix’s performance last month, although as with most chip companies, it is almost certainly too early to make any long-term predictions about how the technology will settle in with existing and future chips coming to the market.

NUVIA’s view is that chips are limited to about 250-300 watts of power given the cooling and power constraints of most data centers. As more cores become common pre chip, each core is going to have to make do with less power availability while maintaining performance. NUVIA’s tech is trying to solve that problem, lowering total cost of ownership for data center operators while also improving overall energy efficiency.

There’s a lot more work to be done of course, so expect to see more product announcements and previews from the company as it gets its technology further finalized. With $240 million more dollars in the bank though, it certainly has the resources to make some progress.

Shortly after we chatted with the company last year, Apple sued company founder and CEO Gerald Williams III for breach of contract, with the company arguing that its former chip designer was trying to poach employees for his nascent startup. Williams counter-sued earlier this year, and the two parties are now in the discovery phase of their lawsuit, which remains ongoing.

In addition to lead Mithril, the round was done “in partnership with” the founders of semiconductor giant Marvell (Sehat Sutardja and Weili Dai), funds managed by BlackRock, Fidelity, and Temasek, plus Atlantic Bridge and Redline Capital along with Series A investors Capricorn Investment Group, Dell Technologies Capital, Mayfield, Nepenthe LLC, and WRVI Capital.

Airship acquires SMS commerce company ReplyBuy

Posted by on 24 September, 2020

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Airship is announcing that it has acquired mobile commerce startup ReplyBuy.

The startup (which was a finalist at TechCrunch’s 1st and Future competition in 2016) works with customers like entertainment venues and professional and college sports teams to send messages and sell tickets to fans via SMS. It raised $4 million in funding from Sand Hill Angels, Kosinski Ventures, SEAG Ventures, Enspire Capital, MRTNZ Ventures and others, according to Crunchbase.

Airship, meanwhile, has been expanding its platform beyond push notifications to cover customer communication across SMS, email, mobile wallets and more. But CEO Brett Caine said this is the first time the company is moving into commerce.

While sports and concerts tickets might not be a booming market right now, Caine suggested that the company is actually seeing increased purchasing activity “in and around the Airship platform” as businesses try to drive more in-app purchases. He also suggested that both the COVID-19 pandemic and increased restrictions on mobile data collection and ad targeting are going to “accelerate direct-to-consumer motion by large brands.”

Airship isn’t disclosing the deal price, but Caine said the seven-person ReplyBuy team will be joining the company, with CEO Brandon O’Halloran becoming Airship’s general manager of commerce and CTO Anthony Saia leading the commerce engineering team.

“Nobody directly connects more brands to mobile consumers than Airship,” O’Halloran said in a statement. “Joining Airship offers ReplyBuy the opportunity to serve the global market with a more comprehensive solution across more industries, and provide more valuable mobile customer experiences.”

Caine added, “These are really key roles, demonstrating the importance, in our view, of extending commerce to the customer engagement experience.”

He also said that Airship will continue to support ReplyBuy as a standalone product, while also integrating and extending its capabilities to other areas of the Airship platform.

“This one-to-one commerce at scale is a key part of the ReplyBuy solution,” he said. “We’re going to bring it into all the digital channels that Airship powers [to create] a seamless, fast, easy experience around commerce.”

Ripjar, founded by GCHQ alums, raises $36.8M for AI that detects financial crime

Posted by on 24 September, 2020

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Financial crime as a wider category of cybercrime continues to be one of the most potent of online threats, covering nefarious actives as diverse as fraud, money laundering and funding terrorism. Today, one of the startups that has been building data intelligence solutions to help combat that is announcing a fundraise to continue fueling its growth.

Ripjar, a UK company founded by five data scientists who previously worked together in British intelligence at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ, the UK’s equivalent of the NSA), has raised $36.8 million (£28 million) in a Series B, money that it plans to use to continue expanding the scope of its AI platform — which it calls Labyrinth — and scaling the business.

Labyrinth, as Ripjar describes it, works with both structured and unstructured data, using natural language processing and an API-based platform that lets organizations incorporate any data source they would like to analyse and monitor for activity.

Sources close to the company say that the funding values the startup in the region of £100 million, or about $127 million. Ripjar is currently profitable, the company confirmed.

The funding is being led by Long Ridge Equity Partners, a specialist fintech investor, with previous investors Winton Capital Ltd and Accenture plc also participating. Accenture is a strategic partner: the consultancy/systems integrator uses Ripjar’s tech to work with a number of clients in the financial services sector. Ripjar also has government clients, where its platform is used for counterterrorism work. It declines to disclose any specific names but it does note that its extensive partner list also includes the likes of PWC, BAE Systems, Dow Jones and more.

“We are excited to partner with Long Ridge who bring expertise and resources in scaling fast-growing software companies,” said Jeremy Annis, the co-founder who is both the CEO and CTO of Ripjar. “This investment signals enormous confidence in our world-leading data intelligence technology and ability to protect companies and governments from criminal behaviour which threatens their assets and prosperity. With this funding, we will accelerate the expansion of Ripjar worldwide to provide our customers with the most advanced financial crime solutions, as well as creating new iterations of the Labyrinth platform.”

The startup says that it’s had its biggest year yet — no surprise, given the circumstances. Not only has there been huge shift to online transactions in 2020 because of the rise of the Covid-19 global health pandemic; but a tightening of the world economy has led to more financial scrambling and new nefarious activity, as well as criminal acts to profit from the instability.

That’s led to inking deals with six new enterprise customers and expanding deals with four existing major clients, and Ripjar said that it now has some 20,000 clients globally.

London, as one of the world’s financial centers, has developed a strong reputation for hatching and growing interesting fintech startups, and that has also meant the UK — which also has a strong talent base in artificial intelligence — has become very fertile ground also for startups building services to help protect those fintechs.

Ripjar’s raise, and rise, come within months of two other companies building AI to combat fraud and financial crime also raising money and growing. In July, ComplyAdvantage, which has also been building a database and platform to help combat financial crime, announced a $50 million raise. And a week before that, another UK company also building AI for financial and other cybercrime detection, Quantexa, raised $64.7 million.

Ripjar counts both of these, as well as bigger targets like Palantir, among its competitors. As is most likely, the big institutions that are grappling with financial crime are most likely using a several companies’ technology at the same time.

Indeed, with the issue of money laundering alone a $2 trillion problem (with only 1-2% of that ever identified and recovered), you can see why, at least for right now, banks, governments and others would be willing to put multiple resources on the problem to try to tackle it.

“Financial institutions, corporates and government agencies face ever-increasing risks associated with financial crime and cyber threats” said Kevin Bhatt, a Managing Partner at Long Ridge, in a statement. “We believe Ripjar is well-positioned to provide artificial intelligence solutions that will allow its clients to reduce the cost of compliance, while uncovering new threats through automation. We are incredibly excited to partner with Ripjar to support their continued growth and look forward to working closely with the Ripjar team as they expand to new geographies, customers, and verticals.”

Selling a startup can come with an emotional cost

Posted by on 23 September, 2020

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Every founder dreams of building a substantial company. For those who make it through the myriad challenges, it typically results in an exit. If it’s through an acquisition, that can mean cashing in your equity, paying back investors and rewarding long-time employees, but it also usually results in a loss of power and a substantially reduced role.

Some founders hang around for a while before leaving after an agreed-upon time period, while others depart right away because there is simply no role left for them. However it plays out, being acquired can be an emotional shock: The company you spent years building is no longer under your control,

We spoke to a couple of startup founders who went through this experience to learn what the acquisition process was like, and how it feels to give up something after pouring your heart and soul into building it.

Knowing when it’s time to sell

There has to be some impetus to think about selling: Perhaps you’ve reached a point where growth stalls, or where you need to raise a substantial amount of cash to take you to the next level.

For Tracy Young, co-founder and former CEO at PlanGrid, the forcing event was reaching a point where she needed to raise funds to continue.

After growing a company that helped digitize building plans into a $100 million business, Young ended up selling it to Autodesk for $875 million in 2018. It was a substantial exit, but Young said it was more of a practical matter because the path to further growth was going to be an arduous one.

“When we got the offer from Autodesk, literally we would have had to execute flawlessly and the world had to stay good for the next three years for us to have the same outcome,” she said at a panel on exiting at TechCrunch Disrupt last week.

“As CEO, [my] job is to choose the best path forward for all stakeholders of the company — for our investors, for our team members, for our customers — and that was the path we chose.”

For Rami Essaid, who founded bot mitigation platform Distil Networks in 2011, slowing growth encouraged him to consider an exit. The company had reached around $25 million run rate, but a lack of momentum meant that shifting to a broader product portfolio would have been too heavy a lift.

WhyLabs brings more transparancy to ML ops

Posted by on 23 September, 2020

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WhyLabs, a new machine learning startup that was spun out of the Allen Institute, is coming out of stealth today. Founded by a group of former Amazon machine learning engineers, Alessya Visnjic, Sam Gracie and Andy Dang, together with Madrona Venture Group principal Maria Karaivanova, WhyLabs’ focus is on ML operations after models have been trained — not on building those models from the ground up.

The team also today announced that it has raised a $4 million seed funding round from Madrona Venture Group, Bezos Expeditions, Defy Partners and Ascend VC.

Visnjic, the company’s CEO, used to work on Amazon’s demand forecasting model.

“The team was all research scientists, and I was the only engineer who had kind of tier-one operating experience,” she told me. “So it was like, ”Okay, how bad could it be?’ I carried the pager for the retail website before it can be bad. But it was one of the first AI deployments that we’d done at Amazon at scale. The pager duty was extra fun because there were no real tools. So when things would go wrong — like we’d order way too many black socks out of the blue — it was a lot of manual effort to figure out why was this happening.”

Image Credits: WhyLabs

But while large companies like Amazon have built their own internal tools to help their data scientists and AI practitioners operate their AI systems, most enterprises continue to struggle with this — and a lot of AI projects simply fail and never make it into production. “We believe that one of the big reasons that happens is because of the operating process that remains super manual,” Visnjic said. “So at WhyLabs, we’re building the tools to address that — specifically to monitor and track data quality and alert — you can think of it as Datadog for AI applications.”

The team has brought ambitions, but to get started, it is focusing on observability. The team is building — and open-sourcing — a new tool for continuously logging what’s happening in the AI system, using a low-overhead agent. That platform-agnostic system, dubbed WhyLogs, is meant to help practitioners understand the data that moves through the AI/ML pipeline.

For a lot of businesses, Visnjic noted, the amount of data that flows through these systems is so large that it doesn’t make sense for them to keep “lots of big haystacks with possibly some needles in there for some investigation to come in the future.” So what they do instead is just discard all of this. With its data logging solution, WhyLabs aims to give these companies the tools to investigate their data and find issues right at the start of the pipeline.

Image Credits: WhyLabs

According to Karaivanova, the company doesn’t have paying customers yet, but it is working on a number of proofs of concepts. Among those users is Zulily, which is also a design partner for the company. The company is going after mid-size enterprises for the time being, but as Karaivanova noted, to hit the sweet spot for the company, a customer needs to have an established data science team with 10 to 15 ML practitioners. While the team is still figuring out its pricing model, it’ll likely be a volume-based approach, Karaivanova said.

“We love to invest in great founding teams who have built solutions at scale inside cutting-edge companies, who can then bring products to the broader market at the right time. The WhyLabs team are practitioners building for practitioners. They have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing AI builders from their years at Amazon and are putting that experience and insight to work for their customers,” said Tim Porter, managing director at Madrona. “We couldn’t be more excited to invest in WhyLabs and partner with them to bring cross-platform model reliability and observability to this exploding category of MLOps.”

Yext launches Hitchhikers, a self-serve version of its site search tool

Posted by on 23 September, 2020

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Yext is making its site search product Yext Answers available to a broader set of customers today with the launch of a new program that it calls Hitchhikers.

The company launched Yext Answers in October 2019 with the goal of making a brand’s website — rather than whatever shows up via Google search — the authoritative source of information about that brand. And earlier this year, Yext also introduced a 90-day free trial, which CEO Howard Lerman said was designed to help more partners deliver coronavirus-related answers.

However, Lerman told me this week that Yext Answers has still been constrained by a setup process that requires a Yext employee “to understand our own software and build your knowledge graph,” which meant that the company had to turn away many potential customers. With Hitchhikers, that’s no longer the case.

Chief Strategy Officer Marc Ferrentino said the program is designed for digital marketers, SEO specialists and IT professionals. The goal is to provide everything they need to create their own site search experience — including starter “knowledge graphs” customized to specific industries that customers can populate with their own content.

And there’s an educational focus — Ferrentino said Hitchhikers should be accessible to “someone who is a novice when it comes to technology,” quickly getting them up to speed on topics like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, with different tracks and modules all brought to life with “hands-on learning” and quizzes.

Image Credits: Yext

Like Yext Answers, Hitchhikers is available through a 90-day free trial. And if you’re wondering about the name, Lerman said it’s a reference to Douglas Adams’ classic novel “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” specifically the idea of The Ultimate Question. Hitchhikers, then, is designed to help businesses answers their own Ultimate Questions.

One of the recurring themes in my recent conversations with Lerman has been the importance of brands and businesses as a source of knowledge and authoritative information. It’s something he emphasized again when discussing Hitchhikers. For example, he pointed to a Google search about what qualifies as essential travel — the top result was an article from a popular travel blogger, rather than the official definition from the U.S. State Department (a Yext Answers customer).

“The ultimate authority how to claim your gift card from Krispy Kreme is Krispy Kreme,” Lerman said. “The ultimate authority on an internet outage in a certain area is Cox … Getting that information to the user is even more important in this terrible year of misinformation and disinformation.”

Five years after creating Traefik application proxy, open source project hits 2B downloads

Posted by on 23 September, 2020

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Five years ago, Traefik Labs founder and CEO Emile Vauge was working on a project deploying thousands of microservices and he was lacking a cloud native application proxy that could handle this kind of scale. So like any good developer, he created one himself and Traefik was born.

If you go back five years, the notion of cloud native was still in its infancy. Docker has been doing containers for just a couple of years, and Kubernetes would only be released that year. There wasn’t much cloud native tooling around, so Vauge decided to build a cloud native reverse proxy out of pure necessity.

“At that time, five years ago, there was no reverse proxy that was good at managing the complexity of microservices at cloud scale. So that was really the origin of Traefik. And one of the big innovations was its automation and its simplicity,” he said.

As he explained it, a reverse proxy needs to have several features like traffic management, load balancing, observability and security, but much of this had to be done manually with the tools available at the time. As it turns out Vauge had stumbled onto a major pain point.

“Initially I created Traefik for myself. It was a side project but it turned out that there was a huge interest and very quickly a community gathered around the project,” he said. After a few months, he realized he could build a company around this and left his job to start a company called Containous.

Today, he changed the name of that company to Traefik Labs and the open source project he developed has become wildly popular. “Five years later we are at 2 billion downloads. It’s in the top 10 most downloaded projects on Docker. We have 30,000 stars on GitHub. So basically it’s one of the largest open source projects in the world,” he said. In addition, he said that there are over 550 individuals contributing to the project today.

When he formed Containous, he developed an open core-based commercial project designed for enterprise needs around scaling, high availability and more security features. Today, that includes the Traefik Proxy and an open source service mesh called Traefik Mesh.

Among the companies using the open source project today are Conde Nast, eBay Classifieds and Mailchimp.

Vauge certainly was in the right place at the right time five years ago, which he modestly attributes to luck because he was working at one of the few companies at the time who were dealing with microservices at scale. “We had to build a lot of things and Traefik was one of those things. So I was basically lucky because I created Traefik at the right time,” he said.

Not surprisingly a company with that kind of open source traction has attracted the interest of venture capitalists and Vauge has raised $16 million since he launched his company in 2015 including $10 million led by Balderton Capital in January.

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