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March 19, 2019
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Silicon Valley

The Silicon Valley exodus continues

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For a long time, it was the norm for founders to haul their hardware to the 3000 block of Sand Hill Road, where the venture capitalists of “Silicon Valley” would be awaiting their pitches. Today, many of the investors that touted the exclusivity of “The Valley” have moved north to San Francisco, where they have better access to top entrepreneurs.

Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley institution and to many the lifeblood of the startups and venture capital ecosystem, is the latest to pack up shop. YC, which invests $150,000 for 7 percent equity in a few hundred startups per year, is currently searching for a space in SF to operate its accelerator program, sources close to YC confirm to TechCrunch, because the majority of YC’s employees and its portfolio founders reside in the city.

Founded in 2005, YC’s roots are in Mountain View, California. In its first four years, YC offered programs in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Mountain View before opting in 2009 to focus exclusively on The Valley. In late 2013, as more and more of its partners and portfolio companies were establishing themselves in SF, YC opened a satellite office in the city in what would be the beginning of its journey northbound.

The small satellite office, used to support SF-based staff and provide portfolio companies resources and workspace, is located in Union Square. The fate of YC’s Mountain View office is unclear.

YC’s move north will be the latest in a series of small changes that, together, point to a new era for the Sam Altman-run accelerator. Approaching its 15th birthday, YC announced in September it was changing up the way it invests. No longer would it seed startups with $120,000 for 7 percent equity, it would give startups an additional 30,000 to cover the expenses of getting a business off the ground and it would admit a whole lot more companies.

YC began mentoring its largest cohort of companies to date in late 2018. The astonishing 200-plus group in its winter 2019 batch is more than 50 percent larger than the 132-team cohort that graduated in spring 2018. To accommodate the truly gigantic group at YC Demo Days later this month (March 18 and 19), YC has moved to a new venue, SF’s Pier 48. Historically, YC Demo Days were hosted at the Computer History Museum near its home in Mountain View.

YC has also ditched “Investor Day,” which is typically an opportunity for investors to schedule meetings with startups that just completed the accelerator program. YC writes that the decision came “after analyzing its effectiveness.” On top of that, rumors suggest YC is planning to put an end to Demo Days. Other accelerators, AngelPad for example, put a stop to the tradition last year after realizing demo day was more of a stress to startup founders than a resource. Sources close to YC, however, tell TechCrunch these rumors are categorically false.

YC isn’t the first accelerator to ditch its Silicon Valley digs. 500 Startups, a smaller yet still prolific accelerator, opened an SF satellite office the same year as YC, and in 2018, the nine-year-old program made the decision to permanently relocate to SF. Venture capital firms, too, have realized the opportunities are larger in SF than on Sand Hill Road.

VCs say Silicon Valley isn’t the gold mine it used to be

The transition from the peninsula to the city began around 2012, when VC heavyweights like Uber and Twitter-backer Benchmark opened an office in SF’s mid-market neighborhood. Months later, 47-year-old Kleiner Perkins, an investor in Stripe and DoorDash, opened the doors to its new workplace in SF’s South Park neighborhood.

Around that same time a whole bunch of firms followed suit: Shasta Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Accel, GV, General Catalyst and NEA opened SF shops, to name a few. Many of these firms, Benchmark, Kleiner and Accel, for example, held onto their Silicon Valley locations. Firms like True Ventures and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund planted stakes in SF years prior. Both firms have operated SF offices since 2005; True Ventures, for its part, has managed a Palo Alto office from the get-go, as well.

“When we first started, it was [expected] that it would be maybe 60-40 Peninsula to the city; it’s actually turned out to be 80-20 SF to The Valley,” True Ventures co-founder Phil Black told TechCrunch. “For us, it was important to be near our customer: the founder. It’s important for us to be in and around where founders are doing their things.”

The transition out of The Valley is ongoing. Other VC funds are still in the process of opening their first SF offices as more partners beg for shorter commutes. Khosla Ventures, for example, is currently searching for an SF headquarters.

Silicon Valley real estate will likely remain a hot — or warm, at least — commodity, however. Why? Because long-time investors have lives established in that part of the bay, where they’ve built homes in well-kept, affluent cities like Woodside, Atherton and Los Altos.

Still, Y Combinator’s move highlights an increasingly adopted mantra: Silicon Valley isn’t the goldmine it used to be. For the best deals and greatest access to entrepreneurs, SF takes the cake — for now, that is. But with rising rents and a changing attitude toward geographically diverse founders, how long SF will remain the destination for top talent is an entirely different question.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Why Silicon Valley needs more visas

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When I hear protesters shout, “Immigrants are welcome here!” at the San Francisco immigration office near my startup’s headquarters, I think about how simple a phrase that is for a topic that is so nuanced, especially for me as an immigrant entrepreneur.

Growing up in Brazil, I am less familiar with the nuances of the American debate on immigration legislation, but I know that immigrants here add a lot of jobs and stimulate the local economy. As an immigrant entrepreneur, I’ve tried to check all of those boxes, and really prove my value to this country.

My tech startup Brex has achieved a lot in a short period of time, a feat which is underscored by receiving a $1 billion dollar valuation in just one year. But we didn’t achieve that high level of growth in spite of being founded by immigrants, but because of it. The key to our growth and to working towards building a global brand is our international talent pool, without it, we could never have gotten to where we are today.

So beyond Brex, what do the most successful Silicon Valley startups have in common? They’re also run by immigrants. In fact, not only are 57% of the Bay Area’s STEM tech workers immigrants, they also make up 25% of business founders in the US. You can trace the immigrant entrepreneurial streak in Silicon Valley from the founders of SUN Microsystems and Google to the Valley’s most notorious Twitter User, Tesla’s Elon Musk.

Immigrants not only built the first microchips in Silicon Valley, but they built these companies into the tech titans that they are known as today. After all, more than 50% of billion dollar startups are founded by immigrants, and many of those startups were founded by immigrants on H-1B visas.

Photo courtesy of Flickr/jvoves

While it might sound counterintuitive, immigrants create more jobs and make our economy stronger. Research from the National Foundation of American Policy (NFAP) has shown that immigrant-founded billion-dollar companies doubled their number of employees over the past two years. According to the research, “WeWork went from 1,200 to 6,000 employees between 2016 and 2018, Houzz increased from 800 to 1,800 employees the last two years, while Cloudflare went from 225 to 715 employees.”

We’ve seen the same growth at Brex. In just one year we hired 70 employees and invested over $6 million dollars in creating local jobs. Our startup is not alone, as Inc. recently reported, “50 immigrant-founded unicorn startups have a combined value of $248 billion, according to the report [by NFAP], and have created an average of 1,200 jobs each.”

One of the fundamental drivers of our success is our international workforce. Many of our key-hires are from all over Latin America, spanning from Uruguay to Mexico. In fact, 42% of our workforce is made up of immigrants and another 6% are made up of children of immigrants. Plenty of research shows that diverse teams are more productive and work together better, but that’s only part of the reason why you should bet on an international workforce. When you’re working with the best and brightest from every country, it inspires you to bring forth your most creative ideas, collaborate, and push yourself beyond your comfort zone. It motivates you to be your best.

With all of the positive contributions immigrants bring to this country, you’d think we’d have less restrictive immigration policies. However, that’s not the case. One of the biggest challenges that I face is hiring experienced, qualified engineers and designers to continue innovating in a fast-paced, competitive market.

This is a universal challenge in the tech industry. For the past 10 years, software engineers have been the #1 most difficult job to fill in the United States. Business owners are willing to pay 10-20 percent above the market rate for top talent and engineers. Yet, we’re still projected to have a shortage of two million engineering jobs in the US by 2022. How can you lead the charge of innovation if you don’t have the talent to do it?

What makes matters worse is that there are so few opportunities and types of visas for qualified immigrants. This is limiting job growth, knowledge-sharing, and technological breakthroughs in this country. And we risk losing top talent to other nations if we don’t loosen our restrictive visa laws.

H1-B visa applications fell this year, and at the same time, these visas have become harder to obtain and it has become more expensive to acquire international talent. This isn’t the time to abandon the international talent pool, but to invest in highly specialized workers that can give your startup a competitive advantage.

Already, there’s been a dramatic spike in engineering talent moving to Canada, with a 40% uptick in 2017. Toronto, Berlin, and Singapore are fastly becoming burgeoning tech hubs, and many fear (rightfully) that they will soon outpace the US in growth, talent, and developing the latest technologies.

This year, U.S. based tech companies generated $351 billion of revenue in 2018. The U.S. can’t afford to miss out on this huge revenue source. And, according to Harvard Business School Professor William R. Kerr and the author of The Gift of Global Talent: How Migration Shapes Business, Economy & Society, “Today’s knowledge economy dictates that your ability to attract, develop, and integrate smart minds governs how prosperous you will be.”

Immigrants have made Silicon Valley the powerhouse that it is today, and severely limiting highly-skilled immigration benefits no-one. Immigrants have helped the U.S. build one of the best tech hubs in the world— now is the time for startups to invest in international talent so that our technology, economy, and local communities can continue to thrive.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Bowtie raises $30M to bring the digital insurance model to Hong Kong

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The digital revolution has spawned ‘challenger’ banks that operate entirely online, with no high street presence. That phenomenon has taken off in Europe — particularly the UK — but over in Hong Kong, one of the world’s key financial hubs, the digital-only push is coming to the insurance industry.

Bowtie, a Hong Kong-based digital insurer, just announced a double milestone today: the company has become the first online-only operator to earn a license in the country while it has also revealed it has raised a HK$234 million ($30 million) Series A funding round.

Founded just over one year ago, Bowtie plans to offer a range of health-focused insurance products to Hong Kong consumers. It’ll launch in the first half of 2019 however, per the ‘virtual’ insurer license issued by Hong Kong’s Insurance Authority (IA), it will not maintain any physical presence for consumers. That’s in stark contrast to the traditional industry, but the idea is to pass on cost benefits to consumers, provide strong offline customer service and offer a more transparent experience.

That vision already has some hefty weight behind it. Sun Life, the $20 billion global insurance giant, is one investor in that Series A round via its Hong Kong business unit. The other backer is Hong Kong X Technology Fund, a two-year-old program backed by the likes of Tencent founder Pony Ma and Sequoia China chief Neil Shen.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Bowtie co-founder and co-CEO Michael Chan stressed that his company will operate independently of Sun Life Hong Kong.

“We definitely like the value alignment,” he explained. “They have been very gracious and trusting, giving us a lot of management control.”

Chan clarified that there will be no sharing of customers or customer data. He painted a picture of a business — Sun Life — that’s curious about the potential of digital-only services and keen to see what a startup — Bowtie — can do with a leaner and more agile model. However, Chan was unable to confirm the size of Sun Life’s investment, and whether it owns a majority of the startup.

“We believe in Bowtie’s vision and commitment to enhancing the customer experience. Our investment complements our business, while enabling new distribution modes through the latest technology and digital innovations,” said Fabien Jeudy, CEO of Sun Life Hong Kong, in a press statement.

Indeed, there could be the potential for collaboration in the future, particularly since Sun Life has a strong presence in Asia Pacific, where its operations span Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, India, China, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.

“If this business model makes sense, we could potentially collaborate on expansions,” said Chan, who spent nearly a decade with the likes of EY and PwC in the U.S. before returning to Hong Kong in 2015.

The Bowtie team at its office in Hong Kong

That’s looking a little far into the future for a company that has only just received the regulatory green light. When pushed on a potential expansion strategy, such as possible markets and entry times, Chan said there’s currently no information to share.

“It’s really very much a one step at a time approach,” Chan told TechCrunch. “Everything has to run smoothly” before the company considers moving outside of Hong Kong. Although he did acknowledge that “most of the growth” from the global insurance industry is happening in Asia.

Chan and fellow co-CEO and co-founder Fred Ngan met working in the U.S. and, after both returning to their country of birth, they visualized the potential for a disruptive online play whilst working in consulting and other companies, Chan said. The IA’s ‘fast track’ for virtual insurers was that spark. Announced in September 2017, the program quickly attracted over 40 applicants — including global firms — and Chan said that, while there were teething issues around accommodating online-only businesses, the process was rapid and as thorough as the awarding of a traditional license.

“Bowtie is all about delivering convenience through technology. Our market research shows Hong Kong consumers would love to be able to sign up for health insurance and submit a claim online, but the insurance industry has essentially operated the same way when it first began 300 years ago,” Chan said in a prepared statement.

Unlike others in the tech space across Asia, Bowtie doesn’t plan to locate its development team in other parts of the world, despite the challenge of hiring tech teams in Hong Kong.

“That’s fine for more established or mature models, but with the level of commitment we’ve given the regulator and our customers, I think that it’s best we are all here,” Chan said in an interview. “I truly believe there is good talent in Hong Kong.”

Where it has needed to, Chan said the company has hired from overseas, including Silicon Valley.

Certainly, the ongoing privacy snafus from U.S. tech companies and the polarizing politics mean that markets like Hong Kong have never been in a stronger position to lure new hires from Silicon Valley, New York, London and other Western hubs. Meanwhile, its insurance industry hires have from come from firms such as AIA, AXA, Chubb, Manulife, Prudential and Sun Life.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Robot couriers scoop up early-stage cash

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Much of the last couple of decades of innovation has centered around finding ways to get what we want without leaving the sofa.

So far, online ordering and on-demand delivery have allowed us to largely accomplish this goal. Just point, click and wait. But there’s one catch: Delivery people. We can never all lie around ordering pizzas if someone still has to deliver them.

Enter robots. In tech-futurist circles, it’s pretty commonplace to hear predictions about how some medley of autonomous vehicles and AI-enabled bots will take over doorstep deliveries in the coming years. They’ll bring us takeout, drop off our packages and displace lots of humans who currently make a living doing these things.

If this vision does become reality, there’s a strong chance it’ll largely be due to a handful of early-stage startups currently working to roboticize last-mile delivery. Below, we take a look at who they are, what they’re doing, who’s backing them and where they’re setting up shop.

The players

Crunchbase data unearthed at least eight companies in the robot delivery space with headquarters or operations in North America that have secured seed or early-stage funding in the past couple of years.

They range from heavily funded startups to lean seed-stage operations. Silicon Valley-based Nuro, an autonomous delivery startup founded by former engineers at Alphabet’s Waymo, is the most heavily funded, having raised $92 million to date. Others have raised a few million.

In the chart below, we look at key players, ranked by funding to date, along with their locations and key investors.

Who’s your backer?

While startups may be paving the way for robot delivery, they’re not doing so alone. One of the ways larger enterprises are keeping a toehold in the space is through backing and partnering with early-stage startups. They’re joining a long list of prominent seed and venture investors also eagerly eyeing the sector.

The list of larger corporate investors includes Germany’s Daimler, the lead investor in Starship Technologies. China’s Tencent, meanwhile, is backing San Francisco-based Marble, while Toyota AI Ventures has invested in Boxbot.

As for partnering, takeout food delivery services seem to be the most active users of robot couriers.

Starship, whose bot has been described as a slow-moving, medium-sized cooler on six wheels, is making particularly strong inroads in takeout. The San Francisco- and Estonia-based company, launched by Skype founders Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla, is teaming up with DoorDash and Postmates in parts of California and Washington, DC. It’s also working with the Domino’s pizza chain in Germany and the Netherlands.

Robby Technologies, another maker of cute, six-wheeled bots, has also been partnering with Postmates in parts of Los Angeles. And Marble, which is branding its boxy bots as “your friendly neighborhood robot,” teamed up last year for a trial with Yelp in San Francisco.

San Francisco Bay Area dominates

While their visions of world domination are necessarily global, the robot delivery talent pool remains rather local.

Six of the eight seed- and early-stage startups tracked by Crunchbase are based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the remaining two have some operations in the region.

Why is this? Partly, there’s a concentration of talent in the area, with key engineering staff coming from larger local companies like Uber, Tesla and Waymo . Plus, of course, there’s a ready supply of investor capital, which bot startups presumably will need as they scale.

Silicon Valley and San Francisco, known for scarce and astronomically expensive housing, are also geographies in which employers struggle to find people to deliver stuff at prevailing wages to the hordes of tech workers toiling at projects like designing robots to replace them.

That said, the region isn’t entirely friendly territory for slow-moving sidewalk robots. In San Francisco, already home to absurdly steep streets and sidewalks crowded with humans and discarded scooters, city legislators voted to ban delivery robots from most places and severely restrict them in areas where permitted.

The rise of the pizza delivery robot manager

But while San Francisco may be wary of a delivery robot invasion, other geographies, including nearby Berkeley, Calif., where startup Kiwi Campus operates, have been more welcoming.

In the process, they’re creating an interesting new set of robot overseer jobs that could shed some light on the future of last-mile delivery employment.

For some startups in early trial mode, robot wrangling jobs involve shadowing bots and making sure they carry out their assigned duties without travails.

Remote robot management is also a thing and will likely see the sharpest growth. Starship, for instance, relies on operators in Estonia to track and manage bots as they make their deliveries in faraway countries.

For now, it’s too early to tell whether monitoring and controlling hordes of delivery bots will provide better pay and working conditions than old-fashioned human delivery jobs.

At least, however, much of it could theoretically be done while lying on the sofa.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Mexican venture firm ALL VP has a $73 million first close on its latest fund

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Buoyed by international attention from U.S. and Chinese investors and technology companies, new financing keeps flowing into the coffers of Latin American venture capital firms.

One day after the Brazilian-based pan-Latin American announced the close of its $150 million latest fund comes word from our sources that ALL VP, the Mexico City-based, early stage technology investor, has held a first close of $73 million for its latest investment vehicle.

The firm launched its first $6 million investment vehicle in 2012, according to CrunchBase, just as Mexico’s former President Enrique Peña Nieto was coming to power with a pro-business platform. One which emphasized technology development as part of its strategy for encouraging economic growth.

ALL VP founding partner Fernando Lelo de Larrea said he could not speak about ongoing fundraising plans.

And while the broader economy has stumbled somewhat since Nieto took office, high technology businesses in Mexico are surging. In the first half of 2018, 82 Mexican startup companies raised $154 million in funding, according to data from the Latin American Venture Capital Association. It makes the nation the second most active market by number of deals — with a number of those deals occurring in later stage transactions.

In this, Mexico is something of a mirror for technology businesses across Latin America. While Brazilian startup companies have captured 73% of venture investment into Latin America — raising nearly $1.4 billion in financing — Peru, Chile, Colombia and Argentina are all showing significant growth. Indeed, some $188 million was invested into 23 startups in Colombia in the first half of the year. 

Overall, the region pulled in $780 million in financing in the first six months of 2018, besting the total amount of capital raised in all of 2016.

It’s against this backdrop of surging startup growth that funds like ALL VP are raising new cash.

Indeed, at $73 million the first close for the firm’s latest fund more than doubles the size of ALL VP’s capital under management.

ALL VP management team

But limited partners can also point to a burgeoning track record of success for the Mexican firm. ALL VP was one of the early investors in Cornershop — a delivery company acquired by Walmart for $225 million earlier this year. Cornershop had previously raised just $31.5 million and the bulk of that was a $21 million round from the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm, Accel.

International acquirers are making serious moves in the Latin American market, with Walmart only one example of the types of companies that are shopping for technology startups in the region. The starting gun for Latin American startups stellar year was actually the DiDi acquisition of the ride-hailing company 99 for $1 billion back in January.

That, in turn, is drawing the attention of early stage investors. In fact, it’s venture capital firms from the U.S. and international investors like Naspers (from South Africa) and Chinese technology giants that are fueling the sky-high valuations of some of the region’s most successful startups.

Loggi, a logistics company raised $100 million from SoftBank in October, while the delivery service, Rappi, raked in $200 million in August, in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital.

In a market so frothy, it’s no wonder that investment firms are bulking up and raising increasingly large funds. The risk is that the market could overheat and that, with a lot of capital going to a few marquee names, should those companies fail to deliver, the rising tide of capital that’s come in to the region could just as easily come back out.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

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