January 18, 2019
Category archive


Why Google engineers worked full-time to combat sex trafficking

in Delhi/Developer/Diversity/google.org/Health/India/Politics/TC/tech non-profits/Thorn by

When the government seized classified-ads site Backpage, forcing it to shut down in April, it became a lot harder to find and locate potential victims of sex trafficking. While it was symbolically good that the site, whose CEO later pled guilty to charges of sex trafficking, shut down, it created a significant technical challenge for law enforcement and the organizations trying to help prevent sex-trafficking, Google Senior Software Engineer Sam Ainsley told TechCrunch.

“Once Backpage was gone, you were looking at an ecosystem in which all of those previously more centralized advertisements [for those being sex trafficked] are being redistributed on much more websites,” Ainsley said.

Ainsley got involved with this work through Google.org’s new fellowship program, which embeds Google engineers inside non-profit organizations on a full-time basis for six months. She did this work at Thorn, a non-profit organization founded by Ashton Kutcher that seeks to protect children from sexual abuse and trafficking. Thorn was the first non-profit to host Google Fellows.

When Backpage was up-and-running, Thorn had been indexing the advertisements and then providing them to law enforcement in order to facilitate the recovery of victims. That task became harder once Backpage shut down. While working at Thorn, Ainsley and four other Google engineers set out to help make this information more easily available to law enforcement.

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 15: Ashton Kutcher, Actor and Co-Founder of Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children, speaks at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Ending Modern Slavery: Building on Success at Dirksen Senate Office Building on February 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)

“The goal of this project was to create actual profiles of victims so that this information could be as accessible as possible,” Ainsley said. “That you could actually understand that victim’s history and where they might be at any given period of time; what are the cities they’ve been in over time; What are the various phone numbers they’ve used over time? How that has their appearance changed? This is all incredibly important because, in this space, that is the strategy. It’s to change things as quickly as possible to evade being found. So it’s really about taking a holistic approach and a personal approach.”

Google machine learning engineers were able to take the massive number of ads and try to understand which advertisements belonged to one individual, and then formulate that one person’s history, Ainsley said. As a data visualization expert, Ainsley’s part was to visualize all of that information in a way that is accessible to law enforcement.

“At this point in time we have built a prototype that we’re really excited about,” Ainsley said. “So we’re really optimistic about where this can go.”

Although her fellowship is over, Ainsley said she’s going to stay on working with the Thorn team one day a week because she wants to see the work taken all the way into the field.

“That’s the dream and I want to be available as much as I possibly can to assist in that effort,” Ainsley said.

(L) Doug Grundman, Google.org Fellow and Software Engineer, Google; (R) Julie Cordua, CEO, Thorn. Photo via Google

Thorn CEO Julie Cordua told TechCrunch it was a successful product, noting it “was an exploration we’ve been wanting to do for quite a while.”

In addition to working with law enforcement around sex trafficking, Thorn tackles child pornography, livestream abuse and grooming. The organization also works to activate companies in the private sector to identify and remove child porn.

Thorn recently launched Safer, a tool for small to medium-sized businesses to identify child pornography on their platforms. Currently, Imgur, Roblox and Flickr are participating in the beta program.

“Larger companies have good systems in place but when you don’t have the capacity to build out risks teams, then this type of bad content starts to flourish,” Cordua said. “That’s what we’re trying to solve for.”

(L) Samantha Ainsley, Google.org Fellow and Software Engineer, Google; (R) Doug Grundman, Google.org Fellow and Software Engineer, Google. Photo via Google.

Thorn was the first partner for the Google.org fellowship, but there are two active fellowships at the Family Independence Initiative and Goodwill, which started in November. Before selecting an organization to work with, Google.org examines the potential for impact and ability of the organization to continue the work once the Google engineer leaves.

“And we want to look for an area where there’s a really complex challenge where technology is the solution, or at least is a solution that can really help move the needle,” Google.org Product Manager and Head of Technical Team Jen Carter told TechCrunch.

And for Google, it’s a good retention strategy. Ainsley, for example, said the opportunity came at the right time because she had actually been considering leaving the company.

“I had been at this crossroads in my career as an engineer, where I was feeling pretty siloed in terms of the impact that my work was having,” Ainsley said. “I loved the work I was doing from a technical aspect — I always have — but I was considering potentially even exploring different career options because it was unclear to me how, through programming, I could have a direct impact on people’s lives. And that was something that I really wanted. And when this program was posted, it was right around that time.”

Cordua agrees, noting that it could be a good retention strategy for companies. It’s also a model that she thinks should be replicated by other tech companies.

“Our goal is to get more companies to think about this for their engineering teams,” Cordua said. “It’s an opportunity to build engineering teams that have empathy and understanding of tech’s social impact on both negative and positive things. Tech can do amazing things. Let’s channel it toward these social issues.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Women’s co-working space The Wing adjusts membership policy to allow all genders

in co-working space/Delhi/Diversity/India/Politics/Startups/TC/The.Wing/Venture Capital by

The Wing opened its doors to entrepreneurial women in New York City in 2016 with the support of about $2.5 million in seed funding, marketing itself as a place for women of diverse backgrounds to meet and do work. Now, as it officially amends its membership policy to allow all genders — yes, men included — it will have to work harder to stay true to its promise and purpose: to create a feminist co-working empire.

In two years, The Wing built a committed social media following and launched an in-house magazine and an online store offering merchandise adorned with third-wave feminist catchphrases. It established additional co-working spaces in New York, Washington, DC and San Francisco and entered into financial agreements with high-profile venture capitalists. Just three weeks ago, The Wing company announced a $75 million Sequoia-led Series C funding that more than doubled the New York-based female-founded startup’s previous valuation to $375 million, according to PitchBook.

While The Wing grew its community of female-identifying members to more than 6,000, debates surrounding its anti-male doctrine sprang up on and off the internet. Men aren’t allowed in The Wing — is that legal? Many questioned. No, probably not. Why? Because as much as The Wing disguises itself as a social club, it’s technically too large to benefit from laws that actually permit those sorts of groups to practice gender discrimination, according to a Jezebel report. So yes, male-only social clubs were able to thrive for decades because they were lean — small enough to legally discriminate. Still, there’s no reason The Wing needed to bar men from accessing its properties and resources, other than the fact that there have been protected male safe-havens promoting business and entrepreneurship for a very long time, while female-focused rooms of that sort have been few and far between.

Thought pieces were written, Tweets were sent and the New York City Commission on Human Rights opened a “commission-initiated investigation,” which is still ongoing, according to The Wing. Then a man by the name of James Pietrangelo filed a $12 million lawsuit against The Wing alleging its “illegal discrimination against men … was/is egregious: brazen, flagrant, intentional, willful, wanton, actually malicious, motivated by evil and ill-will, deliberately oppressive, outrageous, and willfully and callus disregardful of the rights of men.”

Pietrangelo takes issue with essentially every piece of The Wing’s DNA: its slogans, decor, schemes and employees. “The Wing’s brazen attitude towards the law and the civil rights of men can be summed up by one of The Wing’s own favorite slogans: “Girls Doing Whatever The F*ck They Want,” the lawsuit states.

“Of the 53 corporate and/or front-of-the-house positions, identified on the wing’s About page of its website, all 53 are women — arguably a statistical impossibility if the wing is not discriminating based on sex and/or gender-identity,” it continues.

Now, The Wing says it’s altered its membership policy to allow access to anyone, as first reported by Insider. The company, however, said the transition has been planned for some time and is not a result of the ongoing lawsuit: “The membership policy was codified and adopted before the lawsuit,” a spokesperson for The Wing told TechCrunch.

Keychains for sale on The Wing’s online shop.

“Gender identity and gender presentation are two distinct concepts and do not always align,” co-founder and chief executive Audrey Gelman wrote in a letter to members announcing the policy amendment. “To that end, we’ve made some internal updates and adopted written membership policies to ensure that our staff is trained not to make assumptions about someone’s identity based on how they present, or to ask prospective members or guests to self-identify. We initiated these trainings and policies so that we can continue to build a community that reflects our values and pushes us all to be more inclusive.”

As for how new membership policies will change The Wing’s female-friendly environment and community of women, that’s to be determined. The company is still figuring out just how it will ensure any new members believe and respect its mission of promoting women.

Ultimately, The Wing’s decision to open up membership is good business. Given that it is a space meant for entrepreneurs to get work done, it makes sense that it would be inclusive of all genders, as women and non-binary folk often build businesses with cisgender males, too. The Riveter, another female-focused co-working startup, has allowed men in from the very beginning for that very reason.

“I don’t think the future is female, I think the future is fluid,” The Riveter founder and CEO Amy Nelson told TechCrunch last month. “Gender is becoming an outdated idea but at the same time, it’s important to think of women when we build these spaces … There is a lot of value to women’s only spaces but our take on it is we want to redefine the future of work for women and we want everyone to be part of it.”

Despite demonstrating a certain brand of millennial feminism that isn’t inclusive or appealing to all, The Wing has been very blatant about its diversity and inclusion efforts since its beginning. Sure, it’s learned and adapted along the way, but considering the dearth of attempts in Silicon Valley to create safe spaces for women or to fund women’s businesses, The Wing’s efforts to promote women should be encouraged rather than torn down.

News Source = techcrunch.com

With $15M, The Riveter plans to open 100 new female-focused co-working spaces

in blake mycoskie/Brilliant Ventures/co-working space/Delhi/Diversity/Entrepreneurship/India/madrona venture group/Politics/Recent Funding/Startups/The Riveter/Venture Capital by

In a disappointing year for female-founded startups — at least those looking to raise venture capital — The Riveter not only closed its first institutional funding round, but it’s today announcing a $15 million Series A funding, bringing its total backing to $20.5 million.

The Seattle-based co-working startup, led by co-founder and chief executive Amy Nelson (pictured), has raised the capital from lead investor Alpha Edison, with support from Madrona Venture Group, New America president and CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter, fashion designer Liz Lange and TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie .

As of November, startups founded by all-female teams had closed 391 deals worth $2.3 billion, an increase from the $2 billion invested in 2017, though still just 2.2 percent of all VC invested this year.

Nelson, an advocate for female entrepreneurs who’s spoken publicly about women’s struggles in the workplace, the difficulties of launching a business in a man’s world and raising venture dollars as a solo female founder, started The Riveter in 2016 after a decade-long career as a lawyer. Today, the startup operates five locations in the U.S., with ambitious plans to open another 100 female-focused co-working spaces by 2022.

“I want The Riveter to be the place people think of when they think of women and work,” Nelson told TechCrunch.

The Riveter has 2,000 members throughout its locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Wash. and Los Angeles. Its expansion plans include new spots in Texas, Colorado and Portland.

The spaces are built with women in mind but are not exclusive to one gender. Nelson tells us The Riveter’s membership is 25 percent male, setting it apart from spaces like The Wing, which is only available to female-identifying people.

A look inside one of The Riveter’s Seattle co-working spaces

“I don’t think the future is female, I think the future is fluid,” she said. “Gender is becoming an outdated idea but at the same time, it’s important to think of women when we build these spaces … There is a lot of value to women’s only spaces but our take on it is we want to redefine the future of work for women and we want everyone to be part of it.”

The Riveter provides space to work and collaborate; a digital network, currently in beta, for its members to connect; and programming ranging from office hours with venture capitalists to “self-care Saturday.”

Other investors in the startup include Brilliant Ventures, The Helm and X Factor Ventures.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Awaken offers meditations focused on healing from systems of oppression

in Delhi/Diversity/India/meditation/Politics/TC by

A mindful, contemplative approach to internalized racism and sexism is a necessary piece of the puzzle of dismantling systems of oppression, Awaken founder and CEO Ravi Mishra says. That’s the entire point of Awaken, a mindfulness and meditation app specifically geared toward helping people cope with the harsh realities of today’s society.

Awaken got its roots in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Mishra told TechCrunch. The election surfaced these “larger questions that have to do with race, gender, sexuality and power, and how they live inside of us.”

Through Awaken, Mishra hopes to offer mindfulness and meditation practices that help cultivate stability within marginalized communities. These contemplative practices center around sitting with certain questions and identity construction. Awaken’s founding teachers are Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens and Sensei Greg Snyder — three leaders focused on the intersection of mindfulness and social change.

Similar to meditation app Headspace, which is valued at $320 million, Awaken has a freemium plan in place. For full access to content, Awaken charges $8.99 a month. While Awaken does seek to make money, Mishra says he’s not doing it for profit. Instead, the plan is to use all the money Awaken makes for activist work.

“We’re currently running at a loss and figuring out how to break even,” he told me. “The hope and idea is once we are fully profitable, we’ll move that into activist work.”

Awaken has plans to close a round of funding from mission-aligned angel investors early next year.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Dallas-based TXV Partners targets $50M for its debut fund

in Delhi/Diversity/India/Politics/TXV Partners/Venture Capital by

Marcus Stroud and Brandon Allen met six years ago as roommates at Princeton University. The pair bonded over a common interest and a shared dream: to be venture capitalists.

“We were at a lecture and there were a couple VCs on campus speaking,” 25-year-old Stroud told TechCrunch. “Being a kid from a small town in Texas, Princeton was already a huge culture shock, but hearing about a world of VC, investment banking and private equity just really intrigued me.”

In 2016, Stroud and Allen graduated. Stroud, a former linebacker on the Princeton football team, went off to Wall Street where he was a fixed income analyst, and then to Austin, where he joined the alternative asset manager Vida Capital to learn the ins and outs of investing. Twenty-four-old Allen, meanwhile, clocked in about two years as a consultant.

It didn’t take long for the aspiring VCs to find their way back to each other to finally start on the project they had discussed in their dorm room. Over the last several months, Allen and Stroud have been quietly building a Dallas-based venture firm called TXV Partners . Their lofty target: $50 million, which would be the largest fund ever for an all-black line-up of general partners, an especially notable feat given Allen and Stroud are located in a market largely ignored by the storied VC firms of Silicon Valley.

TXV co-founder and general partner Marcus Stroud

Building the next great VC hub

Stroud and Allen plan to spend the $50 million on millennials. That is, millennial-friendly startups in the consumer, fintech and blockchain verticals, of which they’ll provide between $500,000 and $3 million in equity funding. So far, they’ve invested in one company, an Austin-based blockchain music platform called Matter Music.

Thanks to Stroud’s time on Princeton’s football team and his father, who is a former NFL player, TXV has tapped some athletic talent to support the fund and its portfolio companies. Former NFL player and Northgate Capital managing director Brent Jones is a mentor, and the firm’s advisors include athletes-turned-investors Torii Hunter and Steve Wisniewski, a former professional baseball player and NFL player, respectively.

A rapid transit train (DART) with the skyline of Dallas, Texas in the background

Allen is leading the firm’s Dallas office and Stroud is scouting full-time for startups in Austin, which is already a well-known source of tech talent.

“We wanted to be part of the next great VC hub,” Allen told TechCrunch. “We felt like it made sense and we felt comfortable in Texas. The thought of moving to San Francisco was out of reach for us. Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like.”

With large universities feeding the talent pool, Texas has the potential but has yet to fully emerge as a force to be reckoned with for technology investors, even with the buzz surrounding Austin’s rising startup ecosystem. So far this year, companies headquartered in Texas have raised roughly $2.5 billion, on par with levels seen in the state in recent years, according to PitchBook. California startups, for context, have raised more than $50 billion this year.

Texas has the opportunity to be at the forefront of what the next generation of technology will look like. TXV co-founder Brandon Allen

In Austin this year, startups have pulled in $1.4 billion, just north of the $1.3 billion in total capital commitments in 2017. Dallas startups, for their part, have raised just $600 million across 87 deals. Deal count in Dallas actually looks to be dropping, hitting 173 in 2013, 143 in 2016 and falling down to 106 last year, but localized funds like TXV’s may help push the city’s tech scene forward.

‘For Texans, for African Americans and for millennials’

Stroud and Allen are not only first-time general partners of what may become a multi-million-dollar VC fund, but they’re also two African Americans in a field dominated by white men. For them, it’s high stakes and failure is not an option.

VC is known for its lack of diversity. Indeed, 81 percent of VC firms don’t have a single black investor, according to data collected by Richard Kerby, a partner at Equal Ventures. Roughly 50 percent of black investors in the industry are at the associate level, or the lowest level at a firm, and only 2 percent of VC partners are black.

Base10 Partners’ $137 million fund, announced in September, is the largest black-led VC fund to date, but only one of the two general partners are black. Based in San Francisco, Base10 is run by two veteran investors with a well-established network in the Bay Area. The challenges for TXV are much larger, and the barriers may be much tougher to overcome.

“We’re young, black and in Texas,” Allen added. “We’re trying to do it differently. We wanted to really see if we can redefine the VC model from the bottom up. It’s important for Texans, for African Americans and for millennials.”

Brandon Allen and Marcus Stroud want to bring more diversity to venture capital

Allen was raised in New England and Stroud in Prosper, Texas, a small town outside of Dallas. Neither of them comes from wealth, as many Stanford-educated Silicon Valley elite do. They’ll have to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into TXV, but if they succeed — and even if they don’t — they’ll have helped paint a new archetype for VCs.

“African Americans aren’t that well represented on either side of the table as an investor or a startup founder,” Stroud said. “I think, if anything, that doesn’t discourage us, it just makes us feel proud and empowered that we have an opportunity to help cultivate a fund that is majority minority-led. It’s something that fires me up.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

1 2 3 14
Go to Top