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VergeSense raises $12M Series B for its workplace analytics service

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VergeSense, a startup that uses machine vision to help businesses better understand how their office spaces are being utilized, today announced that it has raised a $12 million Series B funding round led by Tola Capital.

Including the company’s $9 million Series A round, which it raised earlier this year, VergeSense has now raised a total of $22.6 million. Previous investors include JLL Spark, Allegion Ventures, MetaProp, Y Combinator, Pathbreaker Ventures and West Ventures.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s maybe no surprise that VergeSense would be seeing quite a bit of demand for its service and sensors. While the company was seeing strong growth since its launch in 2017, the pandemic is accelerating the move to smarter office spaces. As VergeSense CEO and co-founder Dan Ryan told me, over the course of the last few months, the company added new features to help businesses manage social distancing, for example, and to better understand where in a given office they should intensify their cleaning protocols.

VergeSense sensor

It’s also becoming increasingly clear that even after we get the pandemic under control, office spaces — and office work — will look radically different. “It’s going to be a sort of a hybrid model of working, which, pre-pandemic, was already something that was happening — companies were experimenting with this — but now it’s been turbocharged,” Ryan said. “We never anticipated any of this, but I think it’s a great example of the possibilities that you can help support when you have this intelligent infrastructure all around you that allows you to almost program the physical world.”

Another new feature the company launched this year allows its tools to register when a seat is likely occupied, even though nobody is in it right now, by looking for backpacks and other signs that would signal that a desk is in use.

VergeSense currently has customers in 29 countries. These include the likes of Shell, Quicken Loans, Roche, Cisco and Telus. In total, the company’s tools watch more than 40 million square feet of space now.

Image Credits: VergeSense

As Ryan told me, the company saw quite a bit of inbound interest from investors this year and the team wanted to capitalize on the current trends. “As we look forward to ’21, especially now that this transition to an agile hybrid seating model is going to be turbocharged, we were preparing for and planning for additional growth there as well. So this was sort of opportunistic opportunity to team up with Tola to help go to the next level,” Ryan explained.

The company plans to use the new funding to continue to work on its core computer vision capabilities and hardware, but as Ryan noted, one of the focus areas for VergeSense in 2021 will also include new partnerships and integrations with tools for booking desks and rooms, as well as building automation systems. To do so, it plans to double its headcount and hire across all departments.

VergeSense is obviously not the only company playing in this space. Swiss startup Locatee, for example, raised a Series A round for its service earlier this year, though it uses network data to measure occupancy and not the kind of dedicated sensors that VergeSense is developing. Other players include the likes of Density, Basking and SteerPath.

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MIT develops method for lab-grown plants that eventually lead to alternatives to forestry and farming

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Researchers at MIT have developed a new method for growing plant tissues in a lab – sort of like how companies and researchers are approaching lab-grown meat. The process would be able to produce wood and fibre in a lab environment, and researchers have already demonstrated how it works in concept by growing simple structures using cells harvested from zinnia leaves.

This work is still in its very early stages, but the potential applications of lab-grown plant material are significant, and include possibilities in both agriculture and in ruction materials. While traditional agricultural is much less ecologically damaging when compared to animal farming, it can still have a significant impact and cost, and it takes a lot of resources to maintain. Not to mention that even small environmental changes can have a significant effect on crop yield.

Forestry, meanwhile, has much more obvious negative environmental impacts. If the work of these researchers can eventually be used to create a way to produce lab-grown wood for use in construction and fabrication, in a way that’s scalable and efficient, then there’s tremendous potential in terms of reducing the impact of forestry globally. Eventually, the team even theorizes you could coax the growth of plant-based materials into specific target shapes, so you could also do some of the manufacturing in the lab, by growing a wood table directly for instance.

There’s still a long way to go from what the researchers have achieved. They’ve only grown materials on a very small scale, and will look to figure out ways to grow plant-based materials with different final properties as one challenge. They’ll also need to overcome significant barriers when it comes to scaling efficiencies, but they are working on solutions that could address some of these difficulties.

Lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, and lab-grown plant material is even more nascent. But it has tremendous potential, even if it takes a long time to get there.

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Cannabis marketing startup Fyllo acquires DataOwl

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Fyllo has acquired DataOwl, a company offering marketing and loyalty tools for cannabis retailers.

Fyllo said it already works with 320 cannabis retailers across 25 states (plus Puerto Rico and Jamaica). According to Chief Marketing Officer Conrad Lisco, this acquisition allows the company to offer the industry’s “first end-to-end marketing solution,” combining consumer data, digital advertising, regulatory compliance (thanks to Fyllo’s acquisition of CannaRegs last year) and, through DataOwl, CRM and loyalty tied into a business’ point-of-sale system.

As an example, founder and CEO Chad Bronstein (previously the chief revenue officer at digital marketing company Amobee) said that retailers will be able to use the Fyllo platform to send promotional texts to regular customers while, crucially, ensuring that those campaigns are fully in compliance with state and local regulations. He added that eventually, the platform could be used beyond cannabis, in other regulated industries.

“Beauty, gambling, etc. — the same things need to happen in every regulated industry, they would all benefit from loyalty and compliance automation,” Bronstein said.

In addition, he argued that mainstream brands are increasingly interested in using data around cannabis and CBD consumers, as borne out in a Forrester study commissioned by Fyllo.

Lisco said this acquisition comes at a crucial time for the cannabis industry, with dispensaries classified as essential businesses in many states, as well as continuing momentum behind marijuana legalization.

“In 2020, cannabis came of age,” he said. “We would say it went form illicit to essential in 10 months … 2021 is really about watching endemic [marijuana] brands try to scale, so that they can capitalize on the explosive growth. They’ve historically been excluded from the kinds of integrated marketing capabilities that other non-endemic [mainstream] brands get to use when go to market.”

Bronstein said Fyllo aims to bring those capabilities to marijuana brands, first by bringing the its compliance capabilities into the DataOwl product. The company also aims to create a national cannabis loyalty platform, allowing a marijuana retailer in one state to easily expand its marketing capabilities into other states in a compliant fashion.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. DataOwl co-founders Dan Hirsch and Vartan Arabyan are joining Fyllo, as is the rest of their team, bringing the company’s total headcount to 110.

“By integrating with Fyllo, DataOwl’s solutions will reach the widest possible audience via the industry’s most innovative marketing platform,” Hirsch said in a statement.

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SpaceX delivers 60 more Starlink satellites in first launch of 2021, and sets new Falcon 9 rocket reusability record

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SpaceX has launched its 17th batch of Starlink satellites during its first mission of 2021, using a Falcon 9 rocket that was flying for the eighth time, and that landed again, recording a record for its reusability program. This puts the total Starlink constellation size at almost 1,000, as the company has expanded its beta access program for the service to the UK and Canada, with a first deployment in the latter company serving a rural First Nations community in a remote part of the province of Ontario.

The launch took off from Florida at 8:02 AM EST (5:02 AM PST), with delivery of the satellites following as planned at around an hour after lift-off. The booster on this launch flew seven times previously, as mentioned – including just in December when it was used to delivery a SiriusXM satellite to orbit to support that company’s satellite radio network.

Today’s launch was also notable because it included a landing attempt in so-called “envelope expansion” conditions, which means that the winds in the landing zone where SpaceX’s drone recovery ship was stationed at sea actually exceeded the company’s previously-defined safety window for making a landing attempt.

As a result of today’s success, SpaceX will likely now have higher tolerances for wind speeds in order to attempt recovery, which should translate to fewer cancellations of launches based on weather conditions in the landing zone.

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