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Your first lab-grown burger is coming soon—and it’ll be “blended”

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One cool fall night 10 years ago, Jessica Krieger went for a run to clear her head. Krieger, then an undergraduate in neuroscience, had just watched a documentary that showed the gruesome ways many animals are slaughtered for food. “The animals were terrified, in pain, dying,” she recalls. 

Krieger was already worried about the meat industry’s contribution to climate change, and the documentary convinced her to stop eating meat for good and become vegan. It also compelled her to try, in vain, to persuade her friends and family to do the same. But she wanted to do more—so she decided to get radical.

“I felt really helpless and hopeless about protecting animals and the planet,” she says. “That wasn’t a good feeling. So I preferred to pursue a crazy idea than do nothing.”

Krieger threw herself into what at the time was a fringe area of biotech research: growing and harvesting edible animal cells without killing any sentient creatures. There had been a lot of talk—and some interesting results, including a lab-grown hamburger that cost as much as a house to create—but making a dent in the commodity meat industry was not remotely on the menu. 

Today, though, things look a bit different. Cultured meat (or, if you prefer your high-tech foodstuffs seasoned with a bit more marketing savvy, “cultivated meat”—the industry now eschews phrases like “lab-grown” or “in vitro”) is already a nascent industry. The product is still exorbitantly expensive compared with old-­fashioned meat, you can’t yet buy it at the supermarket, and for the most part it doesn’t look or taste much like the real thing. At least not on its own. That’s where the startup Krieger cofounded, Artemys Foods, comes in. 

While lab-grown meat was busy trying to find its way out of the petri dish, plant-based meat substitutes were undergoing a revolution. Firms such as Impossible and Beyond Meat broke through to the mainstream by cleverly mimicking the flavor and texture of ground beef, pork, and chicken using vegetable proteins and fats. These days you can pick up an Impossible Whopper at Burger King and Beyond Meat sausages in supermarkets in dozens of countries.

That kind of competition could be seen as bad news for cultured-meat startups. But Krieger and a number of other entrepreneurs think it’s the opening they need to finally bring their creations to market—in the form of “blended meat,” melding the best of the plant-based and cultured-meat substitutes. Even the world’s biggest fast-food firms are interested: KFC has announced it will be working to produce blended chicken nuggets that could be available this year. 

Regardless of who gets there first, blended meat is coming, and it might not be long before you get a chance to taste it. 

Tastes like chicken?

In terms of industry buzz, cultured meat has never been hotter. At the end of 2016 there were just four firms working on it, according to a report by the Good Food Institute, the nonprofit that produced the documentary Krieger found so unsettling. By early 2020, that number had jumped to at least 55 startups around the world trying to re-create at least 15 different types of animal flesh, including pork, shrimp, chicken, duck, lamb, even foie gras. 

The process for making these products has come a long way since Mark Post, a researcher at Maastricht University, had his $320,000 lab-grown burger cooked on television in 2013—but it essentially follows the same principles. A small sample of cells is taken from an animal, usually via biopsy, and then fed a broth of nutrients. When millions of new cells have grown, they are encouraged to differentiate into muscle cells and eventually strands of muscle fiber. 

The technology’s promise is to reproduce the flavor and texture of meat without harming animals, and without the huge environmental costs of rearing them. Proponents also point out that cultured meat won’t carry diseases or need antibiotics, which breed drug-resistant bacteria.

petri dishes with meat and plants

KATE DEHLER

Investors are biting. Memphis Meat, one of the biggest players, announced an infusion of $161 million in January 2020. It plans to open its first pilot factory in 2021 to produce its wares at scale (it has already created versions of beef meatballs, chicken, and duck). Many others, such as BlueNalu (fish) and Meatable (pork and beef), have also raked in substantial sums. 

Another sign of the industry’s growing maturity is that a second tier of companies have sprung up to specialize in certain aspects of the process: developing better-quality growth media or novel bioreactor designs, for example, or just collecting and banking useful stem-cell lines from different animals. From the hype, the press releases, and the promotional videos—in which actors delightedly sample minuscule strips of flesh in fashionably lit restaurants and homes—it might seem as if the first cultured product is just months away.

But there’s a problem. The medium that nurtures the cells is expensive. The cost is dropping from the early days, when startups in the R&D stage relied on repurposed cell culture media taken from biomedical research. But growth media still make up the bulk of production expenses—estimates range from 55% to 95% of the total—and a kilogram of cultured meat still costs hundreds of dollars. Even allowing for eventual economies of scale as factories get up and running, it’s no recipe for success. No wonder, then, that cultured-meat firms have started thinking about how to get a piece of the huge market that plant-meat companies have opened up. 

“When I was looking at the costs associated with 100% cell-based products, they were astronomical,” says Krieger. “And I also was becoming more and more impressed with the burgers that Beyond and Impossible had come out with. It seemed like a natural fit.”

Artemys, which has recently come out of stealth, expects to announce taste tests of the Artemys Burger any day now: a hybrid burger made from cultured beef cells mixed with plant-based proteins. Earlier this year the team ran an experiment, combining its cell-based beef with a store-bought plant-based burger. “It was really incredible,” says Krieger. “It was like the missing link when it comes to meat alternatives.” For her, the cells added “umami flavor” to the plant burger and increased its juiciness—all for a much lower price than a pure cultured burger.

That cost saving is also appealing for Benjamina Bollag, founder and CEO of Higher Steaks, a startup based in Cambridge, UK, that has been focusing on cultured pork. She says she’s still deciding whether the firm will launch with blended products, but so far her team has experimented with making pork belly and bacon from a mixture of cultured pork cells and plant products. The pork belly was around 50% cultured cells, while the bacon was 70% cultured, says Bollag. The rest was mostly plant proteins. 

Bollag and Krieger are unusual in the cultured-meat world in openly treating a hybrid or blended product as a welcome first step—desirable, even. For many, the mission to create 100% meat analogues from scratch is, ostensibly anyway, still paramount. Behind closed doors, it’s likely a different story, however. “Even if they don’t say it publicly, the vast majority of the cultivated-meat prototypes you may have seen in the news are in fact hybrid products,” says Liz Specht, associate director of science and technology at the Good Food Institute.

Fast-food chains have no such idealistic notions about purity. In July, KFC announced that it was planning to start selling hybrid chicken nuggets: 20% cultured chicken cells, with the rest from plants. To make the nuggets, the company said, it is pairing with 3D Bioprinting Solutions, a Russian firm that in 2019 helped 3D-print a cultured-meat sample on the International Space Station. 

The nuggets will be created by first putting down a layer of extruded plant protein engineered to produce a more realistic meat-like texture instead of a kind of slurry. A layer of cultured chicken will follow, then another plant layer, and so on. Then this mixture will be shipped off to KFC’s kitchens, where the nuggets will take shape and be coated in the Colonel’s secret seasoning.

The first taste tests for the KFC blended nuggets are due to take place early in 2021. “The market is ready,” says Yusef Khesuani, 3D Bioprinting Solutions’ CEO.

Muscle memory

If you think about it, there’s nothing new about blended meat. Ground-meat products like sausages, nuggets, and burgers have always been a mashup (McDonald’s has said one of its burgers can contain beef from over 100 cows), often mixed with breadcrumbs and other ingredients. That’s because even conventionally produced meat is expensive. Bulking it out makes for a cheaper product that’s still full of meaty flavor.

For big, traditional meat firms, that can be good for business and attractive to the growing number of people who want to eat less meat but aren’t ready to give it up entirely. Tyson’s “Raised and Rooted” line of sausages and nuggets blends real meat with pea proteins to appeal to such flexitarians in the US. And Perdue Farms has its own line of blended products that include “Chicken Plus” nuggets, voted the best nuggets in the US by the Food Network in 2020. The “plus” is plant material supplied by the Better Meat Company. “Think about it: the number one best-tasting frozen chicken nugget in America is only 50% chicken,” says Paul Shapiro, Better Meat’s founder.

Shapiro believes foods like the hybrid nuggets will help cultured-meat companies get a foothold with consumers. “The first cultivated-meat products on the market will be blended,” he says. “That’s what I’m predicting. Cultivated meat is still hundreds of dollars a pound. Better Meat Company formulas are closer to $2 a pound.”

When you bite into a piece of meat you encounter fats, connective tissue like collagen, that juice dripping down your chin … it’s all part of the sensory experience.

But besides cost, there’s another reason for blending cultured meat with plants. Meat is mostly muscle, but from a flavor perspective, muscle is a relatively minor player. When you bite into a piece of meat you encounter fats, connective tissue like collagen, that juice dripping down your chin … it’s all part of the sensory experience. Eating pure muscle tissue—which is what most cultured meats are right now—is liable to feel like gnawing on a hunk of shoe leather.

This is where the advances in plant analogues can help. Scientists at Impossible and the Better Meat Company have perfected techniques for adding ingredients like coconut oil and sunflower oil to create moisture in their burgers and sausages. Plant ingredients, used expertly, can help make early cultured-meat products taste and feel more like the real thing.

“We’re able to enhance that chew so when you bite down you get that pushback and satiating feel of biting into a piece of meat,” Shapiro says.

That’s important, because there are an awful lot of meat-lovers like me who will need to be convinced. And for the moment, plant-based products could still do with a helping hand in one crucial area of the gustatory experience.

Fat: where the flavor’s at

Ah, fat. Villainized for decades, it’s still avoided by many of the health-conscious among us. But true foodies know that it’s responsible for so much of what we love about food. In her hymn to good cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, the chef and writer Samin Nosrat describes fat as the element that “carries flavor.” 

“Without the flavors and texture that fat makes possible, food would be immeasurably less pleasurable to eat,” she writes.

For all the terrific advances by the likes of Impossible, plant-based meats that substitute plant fats for animal tissue get close but don’t quite convince the palate. Call it a fatty uncanny valley.

That’s why some cultured-meat startups have turned their attention, for now, away from trying to reproduce an entire hunk of meat from scratch and toward the aspects of meat that impart the most flavor. 

Fat is the focus for Peace of Meat, a startup based in Antwerp, Belgium, that aims to provide high-quality cultured fats, particularly duck and chicken fat, to other players in the industry. The company’s biologists extract stem cells from a fertilized chicken egg, cultivate them, and then grow fat cells in a bioreactor.

“The protein part of plant-based meats is actually pretty good,” says founder David Brandes. “But when you bite into it, you suddenly feel like it’s soy. Those products are missing the magic ingredient: animal fat. That’s what drives texture and flavor.”

Make no mis-steak

One evening in early October my wife and I went to Hawksmoor, a steakhouse in central London. It was our wedding anniversary and our first night in a restaurant since the pandemic lockdown began. For all the very many good reasons to eat less meat (environmental, ethical, health), steak still has that special-occasion tag. When it came, the T-bone we chose was beautifully charred from the grill on the outside, and pink, sweet, and succulent inside. It was juicy, packed full of flavor—in a word: heaven.

Cultured meat is years, if not decades, from delivering anything that approaches such an experience. Most cultured prototypes are closer to the consistency of ground meat. But if and when something approximating a real steak hits your plate, there’s every chance that it will be a hybrid. 

In November, Krieger left Artemys to found a new blended-meat startup, Ohayo Valley. Instead of a burger, Ohayo Valley will be working on making a full steak, complete with marbled fat, out of a combination of plants and beef cells. She says she hopes to have the first taste tests of the steak later this year.

petri dish meat plant

KATE DEHLER

Just, a firm based in San Francisco, is working on chicken nuggets that were granted regulatory approval to be sold to consumers in Singapore in November.  Eventually, it plans to create a full chicken breast made of nothing but cultured meat. Like my steak, a chicken breast gains its shape and texture from a complex mix of elements, including collagen, elastin, and tendons. Re-creating all of this in a bioreactor is no simple task. 

“A 100% product would be an amazing thing, and I believe we will get there—it’s just a lot more difficult,” says Nate Park, the firm’s director of product development and a former gourmet chef. In the meantime, Park and his team are working with edible, plant-based scaffolds that can act as connective tissue. “We have these beautiful systems we already understand,” he says. “We can take our cultured mass and apply the two things together. It’s like a chocolate-and-
peanut-butter situation.”

This is also the vision of Israeli firm Aleph Farms. Its proof-of-­concept steaks, first shown at the end of 2018, don’t look quite ready to take on my Hawksmoor T-bone—but they’re recognizably meat, at least. Aleph, which partnered with 3D Bioprinting Solutions on the stunt aboard the International Space Station, expects to open its first production plant by the end of 2021, according to CEO Didier Toubia.

Toubia says the trend toward blended products is here to stay. “I believe in convergence,” he says. “There will not be competition between plant and cultured meat; there will be collaboration and integration between the different solutions.” 

Finger-licking’ good

The Good Food Institute’s report estimates that cultured products will compete with certain premium meats, like bluefin tuna or foie gras, within the next three years. By the 2030s, hybrid products might be able to undercut the cost of conventional meat, especially as the plant-based-meat industry grows in parallel, according to Specht. An analysis by management consultancy Kearney estimates that cultured meat, in some form, could take as much as 35% of the global meat market by 2040. The dream of animal-free meat is, it would seem, getting closer to reality.

It’s clear that blended products will have to pave the way. But even ignoring the substantial technical obstacles that remain, a big question looms: Will consumers like these foods? The image of meat grown in giant vats, monitored by scientists in lab coats, has a distinct sci-fi ick factor that doesn’t compete well with the cachet of organic, farm-to-table meat from animals that have spent their lives dancing in pastoral bliss.

“We’re not going to stop causing the enormity of harms we do to animals because we care about chickens and pigs—it’s going to be because we create a new technology that renders the current system obsolete.”

Blended meat might, then, do one final job for the cultured-meat industry: help it gain acceptance. People who are already pretty comfortable with the idea if not the flavor of plant burgers will soon get to try them with a sprinkling of cultured cells to add some extra meaty oomph—an Impossible Plus, perhaps. Many of the people I spoke to suggested that this might win the average customer over more easily than an entire lab-grown meat product.

That’s the hunch Krieger’s been working from ever since her run that night. And it’s one more and more people in the industry share.

“Facts alone don’t change people’s behavior,” says Shapiro. “We didn’t stop exploiting horses because we cared about horses; we stopped using them because new tech came along that rendered their exploitation obsolete. We’re not going to stop causing the enormity of harms we do to animals because we care about chickens and pigs—it’s going to be because we create a new technology that renders the current system obsolete.”

That system of raising and then slaughtering animals has stood for millennia and won’t be easily upended. Cultured meat—first blended, and then in pure form—will only stand a chance if it tastes at least as good as traditional meat. Krieger, for one, is gung-ho. “I think there’s going to be a huge shift in consumer perception once people actually get to try cell-based products,” she says, “and realize they taste amazing.” 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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No one knows what anything is worth

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Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Click here if you want it in your inbox every Saturday morning.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.


It was yet another week of startups that became unicorns going public, only to see their valuation soar. Already marked up by their IPO pricing, seeing so many unicorns achieve such rich public-market valuations made us wonder who was mispricing whom.

It’s a matter of taste, a semantic argument, a tempest in a teacup. What matters more is that precisely no one knows what anything is worth, and that’s making a lot of people rich and/or mad.

This is not a new theme. I’ve touched on it for years, but what matters for us today is that there appear to be three distinct valuation bands for companies, and the gaps between them do not appear ready to shrink. You could even argue that they have widened.

Band 1 is the private capital cohort. These are the folks who valued Affirm at $19.93 per share in its September 2020 round and Roblox at $4 billion in February of 2020. Now Affirm is worth $116.58 per share, and Roblox is worth $29.5 billion. Whoops?

Band 2 is the long-term public investing cohort. These are folks critical in the IPO pricing context. They are willing to pay more for startups than the private capital crew. Affirm was not worth under $20 per share to this group, instead it was worth $49 per share just a few months later. Whoops?

Band 3 is the retail cohort, the /r/WallStreetBets, meme-stock, fintech Twitter rabble that are both incredibly fun to watch and also the sort of person you wouldn’t loan $500 to while in Las Vegas. They are willing to pay nearly infinite money for certain stocks — like Tesla — and often far more than the more conservative public money. Demand from the retail squad can greatly amplify the value of a newly listed company by making the supply/demand curve utterly wonky. This is how you get Poshmark more than doubling a strong IPO valuation on its first day.

Most investors do well in today’s world. Though Band 1 likes to blame Band 2 for not being willing to pay Band 3 prices, it always sounds like the private capital folks are merely complaining about sharing some of the winnings with another party.

Regardless, who really knows what anything is worth? I was recently chatting with an early-stage founder who has a history of investing — narrowing it down to 17,823 people, I know — about the price of software companies both private and public and why they may or may not make sense. He said that old valuation models at banks presumed that software companies’ growth would go to zero over time, and that profits would be rare among SaaS concerns. Both concepts were wrong, so prices went up.

But I have yet to have anyone explain to me why companies that would have been valued at 10x next year’s revenues can now get, at median, 18.1x. I have a working theory of what’s going on, but none of it points to sanity, or pricing that is grokkable through a lens that isn’t hype.

(You can hit reply to this email and tell me why I am dumb if you’d like. I will buy the person with the best valuation explanation coffee when the world works again.)

Milestones and megarounds

On the milestone front, it was a huge week for leaving the private markets and joining the Big Kid Club. Namely for Affirm and Poshmark, which priced well and started to trade. And for Bumble, which filed to go public. They are targeting a good IPO window.

But there was lots more going on, including a milestone that caught my eye. M1 Finance, a fintech startup that brings together lots of pieces of the fintech playbook into a single service, reached $3 billion in assets under management (AUM) this week. The company had reached $2 billion in AUM last September, after reaching $1 billion in February of 2020.

Why do we care? The company previously told TechCrunch that it works to generate revenues worth around 1% of AUM. If that percentage has held past its October, 2020 Series C, the company just added around $10 million in ARR in under half a year. That’s a pace of revenue creation that made me sit up and take notice. (Shoutout Josh for never shutting up about the Midwest.)

But I really bring up the M1 Finance milestone for a different reason. Namely that I am consistently surprised at how deep certain markets are. Neobanks that are still growing; the OKR software market’s surprising depth; the ability of M1 to accrete deposits in a market with so many incumbents and well-funded startups.

Perhaps this is why prices make no sense; if you can’t see the edge limits of TAM, can anything be overpriced?

Moving on, some quick notes on things from the week that mattered:

  • GitLab is now worth $6 billion and hit $150 million in annual recurring revenue last year. It grew 75%, we presume year-over-year in its most recent quarter.
  • Fintech upstart LendingPoint raised $125 million at an undisclosed valuation.
  • NYC-based Paige raised $100 million. It uses computers to help make diagnoses.

One more VC Visa-Plaid take

Aziz Gilani, a managing director at Mercury Fund and an advocate of Texas (observe his Twitter handle), wrote in late regarding our query for investor notes on the Visa-Plaid breakup. You can read the rest here.

But who are we to deprive you of useful notes. And Gilani is a nice person. So, here are his $0.02:

My big take-away on the Plaid/Visa deal falling apart is about how fast everything in 2021 is moving. Arguably the biggest advantage of SPACs over direct listings and IPOs is how fast those liquidity events can get done. In a world in which valuation[s] change week to week, the delays created by the DOJ can kill a deal – even if the DOJ would eventually lose in court.

I’m philosophically super negative about the government imposing their will, but I’m also personally excited about the current wave of insurgent startups not getting gobbled up by the FAANGs of the world. For the last several years too many startups fell victim to the “quick exit” mentality personified by Mint selling so fast to Intuit. With fast/cheap capital freely available, today’s crop of startups are going big.

Worth chewing on.

Odds/Ends

What a week. I have only a few things left for you, including some early-stage rounds that I could not get thanks to waves arms around generally but wanted to flag all the same.

  • Goldman Sachs chose Marqeta for Marcus. If you know what those words mean, they matter. If you don’t, congrats on having a life.
  • Nayya raised $11 million for what VentureBeat calls “an insurance benefits management platform,” including money from Felicis.
  • Minna raised €15.5 million for what Tech.eu called a “subscription management app.”
  • Muniq closed a  $8.2M Series A to sell a shake-sort-of-thing that could help with blood sugar control.
  • And from TechCrunch two more highlights, this neat Crossbeam round and more money for Moss.

Hugs,

Alex

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Human Capital: Labor issues at GitHub, Facebook’s new civil rights exec and a legal battle against Prop 22

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This week kicked off with a report of a GitHub worker who was fired after cautioning his coworkers in the DC area to stay safe from Nazis during the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Meanwhile, Facebook created a new executive role pertaining to civil rights and California’s Proposition 22 faced its first legal challenge this year.

All that and more in this week’s edition of Human Capital.

Facebook hires VP of civil rights

Facebook hired Roy Austin to become its first-ever VP of Civil Rights and Deputy General Counsel to create a new civil rights organization within the company. Austin is set to start on January 19 and will be based in Washington, DC.

Austin most recently served as a civil rights lawyer at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP. Prior to that, Austin co-authored a report on big data and civil rights and worked with President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Prop 22 faces lawsuit challenging its constitutionality

A group of rideshare drivers in California and the Service Employees International Union filed a lawsuit alleging Proposition 22 violates California’s constitution. The goal of the suit is to overturn Prop 22, which classifies gig workers as independent contractors in California.

The suit, filed in California’s Supreme Court, argues Prop 22 makes it harder for the state’s legislature to create and enforce a workers’ compensation system for gig workers. It also argues Prop 22 violates the rule that limits ballot measures to a single issue, as well as unconstitutionally defines what would count as an amendment to the measure. As it stands today, Prop 22 requires a seven-eights legislative supermajority in order to amend the measure.

Best tech companies to work for, according to Glassdoor

Glassdoor released its annual ranking of the best companies to work for in 2021. We broke out the top 10 tech companies from the list of large businesses (1,000+ employees) as well as from the small to medium-sized business list.

Despite recent allegations of wrongful firings and demands of better workplace conditions, Google ranked number three on the list of best tech companies, while Facebook ranked fifth. 

Netflix releases first diversity report

This was not the first time Netflix had shared this type of data, but the company had not put a bow on it until now.

Worldwide, women make up 47.1% of Netflix’s workforce. Since 2017, representation of white and Asian employees has been on a slow decline, while representation of Hispanic or Latinx, Black, mixed race and folks from native populations has been on the rise. In the U.S., Netflix is 8.1% Hispanic or Latinx, 8% Black and 5.1% of its employees are mixed race, while 1.3% of employees are either Native American, Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and/or from the Middle East or North Africa.

Github faces backlash after firing of Jewish employee who made comment about Nazis

On the day a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, a worried GitHub employee warned his co-workers in the D.C. area to be safe. In an interview with TechCrunch, the now-former employee said he was genuinely concerned about his co-workers in the area, in addition to his Jewish family members. 

TechCrunch agreed to keep the identity of the terminated employee confidential due to fears of his and his family’s safety.

After making a comment in Slack saying, “stay safe homies, Nazis are about,” a fellow employee took offense, saying that type of rhetoric wasn’t good for work, the former employee told me. Two days later, he was fired, with a human relations representative citing a “pattern of behavior that is not conducive to company policy” as the rationale for his termination, he told me.

Now, the terminated employee says he is currently seeking counsel to ensure his family is protected, as well as figure out if he can receive damages or some other form of reconciliation. The fired employee said GitHub has reached out to him for help in the internal investigation, but is waiting to engage with the company until he has legal representation in place.

You can read the full story here.

Dropbox lays off 315 people

Dropbox laid off 11% of its global workforce, which comes to 315 people affected. In an email to employees, CEO Drew Houston said the company simply doesn’t need as much in-office support due to the shift to remote work, “so we’re scaling back that investment and redeploying those resources to drive our ambitious product roadmap

In the note, Houston said the changes will make Dropbox more efficient and nimble this year.

Apple launches racial justice and equity programs

Apple unveiled a few key projects as part of its $100 million commitment to racial equity and justice. 

The first is a $25 million investment in the Propel Center, an innovation and learning hub for HBCUS. As part of the investment into the Propel Center, Apple employees will help to develop the curriculum and offer mentorship to students. 

In Detroit, Apple will launch a developer academy for young Black entrepreneurs in collaboration with Michigan State University. In all, Apple hopes to reach 1,000 students per year in Detroit.

Additionally, Apple invested $10 million in VC firm Harlem Capital, $25 million in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund and donated an undisclosed amount to the King Center.

Amazon warehouse workers scheduled to vote on union starting next month

The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled a mail-in voting process for Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama to begin on February 8 and end March 29. Workers at the facility will decide whether or not to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The bargaining unit includes about 6,000 workers, including hourly full-time and regular part-time fulfillment workers, as well as the hundreds of Amazon’s seasonal workers, and others.

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Stay gold, ‘Plaid for X’ startups

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A failed acquisition usually triggers the same series of questions: What does this mean for early-stage startups in the sector? Will a chilling effect occur and hurt valuations? Will VCs stop funding this category? How will the exit environment look going forward?

This week gave that narrative a bullish twist. Visa and Plaid announced that they have reached a mutual agreement to no longer pursue a merger. The $5.3 billion deal had been under antitrust scrutiny from the DOJ, and eventually ended amid these regulatory challenges.

Fintech VCs and startups alike reacted to the fallen deal with aggressive optimism about Plaid’s future as an independently-owned fintech startup.

The most common arguments?

  • Plaid’s price in this current moment is far beyond $5.3 billion, so now that it is a free bird it will pursue a much larger exit
  • Plaid will go public through SPAC because it is in charge of its own destiny.
  • And my favorite: One day, Plaid will buy Visa.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Plaid CEO Zach Perret wouldn’t give too many details on the future (and whether a SPAC is involved), but he did say he has new ‘clarity’ going forward.

The fact that fintech is bullish on the future of fintech isn’t quite surprising. I will say that while one deal can never make or break a sector, a flopped merger certainly can surface the current temperature in the market. Startups Weekly readers will remember last week’s edition about how P&G’s decision not to acquire Billie could hurt DTC exit opportunities. Fintech seems unbothered and, in fact, celebratory. The only counterargument I got, via Twitter DM, is that it could set a bad precedent on big fintech mergers.

“Or maybe…corporations learn from this and look to make riskier acquisitions earlier in a company’s lifecycle because they know that if they let the company get too big they’ll lose the chance,” Rami Essaid, founder of Finmark, told me.

Only in 2021 could a $5.3 billion break-up and a DOJ investigation be considered a blessing. Rock on, ‘Plaid for X’ startups.

Before we go on, make sure to follow me on Twitter for my bad jokes and early-stage startup coverage. You can also always reach me at natasha.m@techcrunch.com.

Columbus is the new Miami which is new the San Francisco

I hope that sub-hed gave you a headache, because that’s exactly what debates about where the best place to start a company do to me. The rise of Work From Anywhere has emboldened VCs to leave San Francisco for markets such as Miami or Austin in search of the next unsung hero of their portfolios.

For investors, though, the financial benefit of moving to an emerging market might not be apparent within months, but instead years. Venture is a long game (at least most of the time).

Here’s what to know, per Silicon Valley editor Connie Loizos: Drive Capital, a venture capital firm based in Columbus, Ohio, and started by two ex-Sequoia investors now has over $1.2 billion in assets. But before it had breakout companies like Root and Olive AI, Drive had to play the unusual role of investing in a region without key investing infrastructure.

Etc: Founding partner Chris Olsen explained how they set up their roots:

“We’ve had to spend a lot of time going into the universities and putting new seed managers in business and helping them fundraise and sort of building all of this infrastructure from scratch so that the next entrepreneur is out here [versus moves away], and it works. In our first year, we had inbound interest from 1,800 [startups], then it went to about 3,000 and now it’s up to about 7,000, which is more than I’ve heard any other venture firms say that they see in California. And I don’t think it’s because we’re great. I think that’s more [a reflection of the] scale of the opportunity that’s here now. One of the things that we would love to see more of is more venture capitalists coming here, because there’s certainly more opportunity than we can invest in.”

Ideal paper world powered with alternative wind and solar energy. environmental concept.

Image Credits: Paula Dani/ABlse (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The CFO Tech Stack

If you want to start a company, go to a startup and look where employees are still using an Excel sheet. The best products are the ones fueled by frustrations, right?

Here’s what to know per managing editor Danny Crichton: For a trio of Palantir alums, 15 collective years at the now-public government tech company showed a huge gap in technology for CFOs. So, they started Mosaic, a techstack to help financial officers better communicate and perform their jobs.

Etc: Co-founder Bijan Moallemi describes the mistake other platforms are making:

“Everyone wants to be strategic, but it’s so tough to do because 80% of your time is pulling data from these disparate systems, cleaning it, mapping it, updating your Excel files, and maybe 20% of [your time] is actually taking a step back and understanding what the data is telling you.”

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Image via Getty Images / alashi

The future of consumer hardware startups beyond Peloton

Are wearables still exciting? Is consumer hardware ever going to get easier to pull off? What was the strategy that made Peloton so successful?

These questions and more are answered in the latest consumer hardware-focused Extra Crunch Survey, which brings together VCs from SOSV, Lux Capital, Shasta Ventures, and more.

Here’s what to know: Everyone is studying the Peloton success recipe. But the big question for consumer hardware startups is if the at-home fitness market’s boom is translating to other use cases.

Etc: Cyril Ebersweiler of SOSV noted that supply chain distribution disruption during COVID-19 has been difficult for category startups, but the need for innovative solutions has never been more clear.

“Everybody is waiting for new and mind-blowing experiences, and I guess we’ve all experienced the shortcomings or the magic of some IoT products over the shelter-in-place [orders]. Spatial and ambient technologies that work well will be in demand (audio or visual), while “holographic Skype” will invade households thanks to Looking Glass.”

Also: In another investor survey, five VCs weighed in on the future of cannabis in 2021.

3D render, visualization of a man holding virtual reality glasses, electronic device, head surrounded by virtual data with neon green grid. Player one ready for the VR game. Virtual experience.

Pop goes the public market

We had yet another noisy week of privately-held startups going public to a Very Warm Wall Street reception. The most opulent story of the week was definitely Affirm’s debut, which doubled its already-increased price when it started to officially trade.

Here’s what to know, per our resident IPO reporter Alex Wilhelm, who writes The Exchange:

Etc:

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JUNE 11: PayPal Co-Founder & Affirm CEO Max Levchin visits “Countdown To The Closing Bell” at Fox Business Network Studios on June 11, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Around TechCrunch

Extra Crunch Live is returning in a big way in 2021. We’ll be interviewing VC/founder duos about how their Series A deals went down, and Extra Crunch members will have the chance to get live feedback on their pitch deck. You can check out our plans for ECL in 2021 right here, or hit up this form to submit your pitch deck. Episodes air every Wednesday at 3pm ET/12pm PT starting in February.

And if you’re feeling extra generous, take this survey to help shape the future of TechCrunch

Across the week

Seen on TechCrunch

Glassdoor: Best tech companies to work for in 2021

Signal’s Brian Acton talks about exploding growth, monetization and WhatsApp data-sharing outrage

Two-year-old NUVIA sells to Qualcomm for $1.4 billion

Loop launches out of stealth to make auto insurance more equitable

Nuclear fusion tech developer General Fusion now has Shopify and Amazon founders backing it

Seen on Extra Crunch

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree

12 ‘flexible VCs’ who operate where equity meets revenue share

Dear Sophie: What’s the new minimum salary required for H-1B visa applicants?

Equity (and a bonus Equity)

The news keeps coming so we keep recording. This week, the trio chatted about the Plaid-Visa deal, but also about the Palantir mafia‘s next big bet. In early-stage news, I covered a fintech accelerator that pivoted into an edtech accelerator and a new startup coming out of Austin that makes car insurance more equitable. We also debated SPACs for a bit, and Danny was…optimistic?

Listen to our episode, follow the pod on Twitter, and if you so please, tune into our bonus Equity episode that just came out today. It’s an episode dedicated entirely to the barrage of payments and e-commerce funding that came out this week.

Until next week,

Natasha 

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