Google acquires smart glasses company North, whose Focals 2.0 won’t ship

Google confirmed today via blog post that it has acquired Canadian smart glasses company North, which began life as human interface hardware startup Thalmic Labs in 2012. The company didn’t reveal any details about the acquisition, which was first reported to be happening by The Globe and Mail, last week. The blog post is authored by Google’s SVP of Devices & Services Rick Osterloh, which cites North’s “strong technology foundation” as a key driver behind the deal.

Osterloh also emphasizes Google’s existing work in building “ambient computing,” which is to say computing that fades into the background of a user’s life, as the strategic reasoning behind the acquisition. North will join Google’s existing team in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, where North is already based, and it will aid with the company’s “hardware efforts and ambient computing future,” according to Osterloh.

In a separate blog post, North’s co-founders Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant discuss their perspective on the acquisition. They say the deal makes sense because it will help “significantly advance our shared vision,” but go on to note that this will mean winding down support for Focals 1.0, the first-generation smart glasses product that North released last year, and cancelling any plans to ship Focals 2.0, the second-generation version that the company had been teasing and preparing to release over the last several months.

Focals received significant media attention following their release, and provided the most consumer-friendly wearable-glasses-computing-interface ever launched. They closely resembled regular optical glasses, albeit with larger arms to house the active computing components, and projected a transparent display overlay onto one frame which showed things like messages and navigation directions.

Around the Focals 1.0 debut, North co-founder and CEO Stephen Lake told me that the company had originally begun developing its debut product, the Myo gesture control armband, to create a way to interact naturally with the ambient smart computing platforms of the future. Myo read electrical pulses generated by the body when you move your arm, and translated that into computer input. After realizing that devices it was designed to work with, including VR headsets and wearable computers like Google Glass, weren’t far enough along for its novel control paradigm to take off, they shifted to addressing the root of the problem with Focals.

Focals had some major limitations, however, including initially requiring that anyone wanting to purchase them go into a physical location for fitting, and then return for adjustments once they were ready. They were also quite expensive, and didn’t support the full range of prescriptions needed by many existing glasses-wearers. Software limitations, including limited access to Apple’s iMessage platform, also hampered the experience for Apple mobile device users.

North (and Myo before it) always employed talented and remarkable mechanical electronics engineers sourced from the nearby University of Waterloo, but its ideas typically failed to attract the kind of consumer interest that would’ve been required for sustained independent operation. The company had raised nearly $ 200 million in funding since its founding; as mentioned, no word on the total amount Google paid, but it doesn’t seem likely to have been a blockbuster exit.

In an email to North customers, the company also said it would be refunding the full amount paid for any Focals purchases — likely to defray any complaints about the end of software support, which occurs relatively soon, on July 31, 2020.

Startups – TechCrunch

Where can I contact manufacturers? Is there an “Alibaba” type of site for North America?

I've been talking on Alibaba but we want to see what's available in Mexico and the United States. Should I just contact random companies that manufacture products like ours or is there an "Alibaba" type of site for North America? We want to see our options and do you guys prefer having local manufacturers or does it not matter to you?

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Startups – Rapid Growth and Innovation is in Our Very Nature!

[Klook in PR Newswire] Klook Partners with Redeam to Accelerate Development in the North American Market and Recovery of Experience Sector

“Klook’s strong reputation precedes this partnership, which it’s important for our collaboration to achieve its shared objective of aiding more operators during these challenging times,” said Redeam CEO Melanie Meador.

Read more on PR Newswire here.

The post [Klook in PR Newswire] Klook Partners with Redeam to Accelerate Development in the North American Market and Recovery of Experience Sector appeared first on OurCrowd.

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Experience marketplace Pollen lays off 69 North America staff, furloughs 34 in UK

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, throwing countries into lockdown and recession, two of the hardest-hit sectors have been travel and events. And startups operating in the space that have recently raised significant funding aren’t immune to the crisis.

Pollen, the U.K.-based influencer marketplace for travel and events that closed $ 60 million in funding in October, has axed about 31% of its staff, nearly 70 people, across the US and Canada, TechCrunch has learned. In addition, multiple sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say that around three dozen staff in the U.K. have been put on furlough and that up to 10 U.K. contractors have been let go.

Founded in 2014 and previously called Verve, Pollen operates in the influencer or “word-of-mouth” marketing space. The marketplace lets friends or “members” discover and book travel, events and other experiences — and in turn helps promoters use word-of-mouth recommendations to sell tickets. Pollen’s backers include Northzone, Sienna Capital, Draper Esprit, Backed and Kindred.

Confirming the North American job cuts, Pollen co-founder and CEO Callum Negus-Fancey (pictured right) told TechCrunch that 24 team members in Las Vegas have been axed, 29 in LA, 6 in Canada, and 10 that worked remote throughout U.S. That’s a cull of approximately 31% of Pollen’s 216 staff overall.

He also said that around 34 U.K. employees have been furloughed, and confirmed that the furloughed staff in question are being paid 80% of their salary up to £2,500 (via the U.K. taxpayer), with no top up from Pollen.

We also understand from sources that U.S. staff were provided with no additional severance, and that some staff were given as little as one week’s notice. Negus-Fancey doesn’t entirely dispute this, telling TechCrunch that “U.S. employees were given 1 week severance, plus 1 week for each additional year they [were] with the company” rounded up to the nearest 12 months.

The Pollen CEO also confirmed that U.S. employees were not given any paid additional medical benefits beyond the month they were served notice. However, each staff member laid off has the option to continue with COBRA coverage at their own cost.

Meanwhile, back in the U.K., a picture of confusion has emerged with regards to whether or not all U.K. staff put on furlough under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will have jobs to return to.

Internal communication seen by TechCrunch shows Pollen management in late March discussing plans to make a group of U.K. staff redundant and then ask them to go on furlough in the interim anyway i.e. in a number of instances there wouldn’t be a job being retained.

Some days later, a series of group Zoom calls, rather than one-to-ones, were held between managers and teams affected. Accounts of exactly what was discussed on those calls vary, although some people present said attendees were “shocked,” with one attendee describing the atmosphere as “uncomfortable”.

Emails subsequently sent from team managers to a number of individual team members appear to offer confirmation that they no longer had a role at the company but would be offered furlough from 1st of April onwards. Those staff were also locked out of Pollen’s systems with immediate effect (Slack, emails etc.), and in some instances offered “next steps” coaching and help with job search.

Separate emails sent to affected staff by Pollen’s General Counsel sought “deemed consent” in relation to being put on furlough, giving them just 24 hours to raise any objections.

Asked about internal discussions with regards to redundancies and staff being told by their managers that they were being let go, Negus-Fancey disputes that U.K. staff put on furlough no longer have jobs to return to. In a statement provided to TechCrunch he said “there is a possibility for every employee who has been put on furlough to have their job back”.

Adds the Pollen CEO:

We believed it was appropriate to tell some employees it was unlikely they would get their job back – this seemed like the humane and appropriate thing to do. There was so much uncertainty at the time and we were processing/managing unknown territory and a lot of new information. We had no way of knowing the answer to the question and did not want to mislead anyone or give them a false sense of hope. This made sure that affected employees fully understood the situation and could plan accordingly. Some have looked for new permanent roles and successfully found a new role and we are happy for them. Our number one goal was to put our team first and support them during this time.

The scheme has been very successful, many employees who would have otherwise been made redundant will now keep their job. The extension of the scheme has further increased the number of jobs which will be saved at Pollen.

Furthermore, Negus-Fancey says “FAQs and other resources” were produced to help managers with furlough conversations, adding that if any management “miscommunicated” to U.K. staff that they were being let go, then this “would have been because of a misunderstanding”.

One question the Pollen founder wasn’t able to answer immediately was why some furloughed employees had access to the company’s systems revoked, while others did not, if they were all expected to return to work once the furlough period ended.

Initially, Negus-Fancey suggested it was so that furloughed staff wouldn’t be tempted to work (under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, working for the company that put you on furlough is prohibited).

Later, after clarifying this with members of his U.K. team, he emailed to say that “employees who were furloughed who had the highest possibility of coming back (top of the list if jobs became available) were not locked out of some systems e.g. social tools. On top of this, anyone who asked not to be locked out, wasn’t locked out”.

Travel and events at a standstill

The upheaval at Pollen is just one example of the challenges that travel and events-focused tech companies have faced in recent weeks. With consumers virtually unable to travel anywhere or converge for any in-person group events, companies that have built business models around such leisure activities have found themselves scrambling to reduce their burn rate or having to more fundamentally change how they operate.

Airbnb is probably the most high-profile example. The popular peer-to-peer accommodation and experiences platform has seen a halt to much of its business in the last two months, leading it to lay off 1,900 employees (25% of its global workforce) and rethink its product offerings. It’s also seen its valuation nearly halved to $ 18 billion according to reports. Another example is TripAdvisor, which announced it was laying off 900 people, or 25% of staff.

In the case of event-based companies (events being a key part of Pollen’s business model), there is an argument to be made that even before the coronavirus took hold, it was a challenging business model for all but the most focused and scaled efforts.

Fyre Festival, with its own focus on exclusivity and influencer marketing, was an infamous flop; the U.K.’s Yplan eventually sold at a major loss, and Eventbrite, which is now public, has seen its stock drop drastically since mid-February, just as COVID-19 really started to take its grip on the globe. It’s not all doom and gloom — pre-coronavirus crisis, Get Your Guide had actually been scaling nicely — but it’s a grim situation.

Turning back to Pollen, the company says that even with the coronavirus crisis, it has been bringing in revenue by shifting to selling experiences for 2021. Asked about current burn-rate, post-layoffs, Negus-Fancey said Pollen does not disclose its cash position publicly. “However, we’re comfortable from a financial perspective,” he added.

Startups – TechCrunch

My startup is now a part of biggest tech conference in North America

I am happy to tell you all that my startup is now a part of collision conf.

It is a tech conference attended by many big companies like lyft, Uber, Airbnb, and many more known investors, like Light speed ventures, Khosla ventures, and many others.

We will be sending two free audience tickets of this event randomly to two of our first 200 users.

Link to our website: Voxup

Tickets will be sent out to you on May 25.

Your tickets will be sent to your email address you applied with.

If you don't believe in our Idea, we highly recommend you not to apply for early access.

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OMERS Ventures announces a new $750M fund for investing in North America, Europe

OMERS Ventures, the venture capital arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), has put together a new, $ 750 million fund to invest in both Europe and North America.

The capital vehicle is larger than the group’s preceding European and North American funds combined. In 2019 OMERS Ventures announced a €300 million fund Europe-focused fund (TechCrunch covered its launch here), and the venture group’s last North American fund was worth $ 300 million back in 2017. The new $ 750 million is a hybrid, acting as both the firm’s Europe-focused capital pool and the source of funds from which it can invest in North American startups.

According to Damien Steel, a managing partner at OMERS Ventures, the firm invested about CAD$ 100 million from the original Europe fund, with the rest now reserved for follow-on investments; Steel told TechCrunch that he doesn’t anticipate that the full amount will be used for that purpose.

But the remaining differential is somewhat immaterial as the venture collective has a new, three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollars capital pool to put to work. According to Steel, OMERS Ventures has “consolidated [its] efforts and made a new transatlantic fund.” The firm’s hope is that the shared capital will lead to a more cohesive investing group than having two funds for different teams engendered.

OMERS Ventures expects to deploy around $ 200 million a year across Europe and North America, a pace that Steel says will be similar to preceding efforts.

The COVID era

I wanted to chase down what Steel and company are doing that’s different in the new era. Something new is a slightly different mindset concerning runway. Instead of the usual 18-month expectation between rounds, Steel told TechCrunch that expectations and planning are lengthening to 24 months or longer between capital events — enough cash to get through whatever the current downturn winds up becoming.

Happily for Steel and his firm, some OMERS portfolio companies are well capitalized, with the venture capitalist telling TechCrunch during a call that “that the companies [his firm has] invested in a have really benefited from the exceptional amount of liquidity that’s been available in the market over the last two years,” with some of their startups winding up “sitting on quite a lot of cash because arguably they raised too much in 2019 and 2018.”

The capital was cheap, Steel notes, so lots of companies took what was on offer. The result? Many startups heading into 2020’s recession have well-stocked bank accounts. Not all, of course, raised right before things got worse. The firms that didn’t may struggle.

Given that the new OMERS Ventures fund intends to invest both in North America and Europe, I wanted to know what’s different between the two regions today as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive economic havoc. Notable to me was the fact that Europe is doing as well as it is, with Steel noting that “the funding environment has remained more active in Europe than it has in the US.”

He’s seeing “healthy” activity in Europe around the Series A and B stages. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that Steel told TechCrunch that the startup valuation pressure it’s easy to find in the North America venture scene isn’t quite as tough in Europe. Steel noted that 20% and 30% drops in valuation multiples in American and Canada from prior levels are common, while in Europe “it’s definitely less than that.”

For founders that there’s new funds of scale coming together at all is likely welcome. OMERS Ventures expects to have closed eight deals from its new fund “within a month,” a quick pace given its age.

Disclosure: OMERS Ventures invested in Crunchbase, my former employer. 

Startups – TechCrunch

Decrypted: Post-coronavirus, Auth0’s close call, North Korea warning, Awake’s Series C

Welcome to a look back at the past week in security and what it means for you. Each week we’ll look at the big news of the week and why it matters.

What will the world look like after the coronavirus pandemic subsides?

Some of us are now in our fifth week of sheltering in place, but there’s no fixed end-date in sight. We’ve gone from a period of confusion and concern to testing and mitigation. Now we’re starting to look ahead at the world post-coronavirus. Things still have to get done. But how do we regain a semblance of normality in the middle of a pandemic?

Tech can be the answer but it’s not a panacea; Apple and Google have explained more about their contact tracing efforts to help better understand the spread of the virus seems promising. But privacy concerns and worries that the system could be abused have raised justified concerns. On the other hand, with a U.S. presidential election slated for later this year, many experts want tech out of the picture in favor of a secure solution that uses paper ballots.

Will tech save the day, or will it kick us while we’re down? Let’s dive in.


THE BIG PICTURE

Voting by mail should be having its moment. Will it?

This year’s U.S. presidential election will still go ahead — it’s in the constitution as an immutable fact — but a pandemic throws a wrench in the works.

But security experts say electronic voting isn’t secure or resilient enough to protect from foreign interference. Even the more established mobile voting offerings have been shown to be deeply flawed.

Startups – TechCrunch

UK mobile operator Truphone backed by Russian billionaire secures €34.5M to expand across North America & Asia Pacific

Truphone, a London-based mobile tech firm backed by Chelsea owner and Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has recently raised $ 38 million (approx €34.5 million) at a $ 516 million (approx €470 million) valuation. The funding was raised from Vollin Holdings and Minden, the fund of Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov.

The UK company intends to use the funding to develop software development and network upgrades. Some parts of the financing will be used to expand its presence in North America and the Asia Pacific as well. As per the company claims, it has supplied somewhere around 4 million eSIM profiles globally to date.

Founded by Alexander Straub and James Tagg, Truphone was founded in 2006 on a farm in Kent with a mission to improve connectivity to mobile services where current cellular providers could not reach. Its patented technology now serves over 3,500 multinational enterprises in 196 countries.

This UK company offers the remote SIM provisioning platform that enables mobile operators, OEMs, and others to roll out support for eSIM enabled devices by providing a complete “as-a-service” solution. Furthermore, it also has a unique in-network mobile call recording solution that is helping global organisations comply with FCA and MiFID II regulations.

It’s worth mentioning that Truphone is the next big investment for Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich after the Chelsea football club.

Ralph Steffens, CEO of Truphone, in a statement:

“We have long championed eSIM as the superior method of connectivity, and it’s immensely rewarding to reap the benefits of this decision. We are delighted that our investors continue to support us as we develop this technology, which is maturing and accelerating all the time. Backed further by our investors, the future looks bright for Truphone, our partners, customers, and a better-connected world.”

The telecommunication company was an early partner of Apple for its iPad as well. Last year, the Truphone secured deals from 25 major operator customers across four continents covering 200 million customers. Headquartered in London, we have 12 offices across four continents and continue to expand globally.

Main image credits: magicinfoto/Shutterstock

Stay tuned to Silicon Canals for more European technology news

The post UK mobile operator Truphone backed by Russian billionaire secures €34.5M to expand across North America & Asia Pacific appeared first on Silicon Canals .

Startups – Silicon Canals

North Carolina-based The Climate Service raises $3.8 million for climate audits

With corporations across the world taking a closer look at the effects their operations have on global climate change, investors are backing a crop of software and services that are cropping up to pull back the curtain on those climate impacts.

The latest of these to raise capital is The Climate Service, which just closed on $ 3.82 million in its most recent round of funding.

Interestingly, in addition to the traditional mix of venture investment firms and angel investors, the Durham, N.C.-based company also picked up a commitment from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

Institutional capital, including Persei Venture and Synovia Capital also joined the round.

The company said it would use the cash to expand the scope of its climate scenarios, risks and asset classes monitored by its software service.

The Climate Service bases its models and pricing of climate risk on the framework developed by the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which is used by more than 1,000 organizations around the world, according to the company.

“Investors, markets and regulators are increasingly requiring businesses to measure their exposure to climate change-related risk. As a result, we designed this fundraising round to enable TCS to respond to the demands of industries under pressure to understand, quantify and manage climate risk,” said David L. Jadow of Persei Venture. “We forecast significant continued growth for TCS, and we are proud to support the company’s vision and mission to embed climate risk into global decision-making.”

Startups – TechCrunch

[EMQ in Business Chief] FinTech: EMQ expands into North America via Canada

Hong Kong-based financial settlement network EMQ has announced its plan to expand operations into the North American market, starting in Canada.

Read more here.

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