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Known for 5G mmWave testing solutions, Taiwan’s TMYTEK sets its sights on base stations



TMYTEK recently raised a Series A+ round of about $10 million for products that make it easier to test 5G millimeter wave equipment. So far, the company’s clients include KDDI, NTT DoCoMo and research institutions. But the Taiwanese startup has aspirations to sell its own base stations, too, competing with well-established players like Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung and Huawei. TMYTEK plans to use its expertise, gleaned from helping other researchers develop 5G infrastructure, to create what its chief executive officer describes as a “complete 5G industrial chain.”

Its latest funding round was led by TMYTEK’s manufacturing partner Inventec, one of the largest OEMs in Taiwan, and brings the startup’s total funding so far to $13.3 million. Other investors included Taisic Materials, ITEQ, Tamagawa Electronics, and Taiwan’s National Development Fund. TMYTEK also recently took part in SparkLabs Taipei’s accelerator program.

Co-founder and chief executive officer Su-Wei Chang told TechCrunch that it plans to raise a Series B next to develop and commercialize its base stations. To get ready for its base station business, TMYTEK recently joined the O-RAN Alliance, founded by some of the world’s biggest telecoms to create more interoperable mobile networks, in a bid to encourage the development of new technology and faster deployment.

Chang said TMYTEK’s base in Taiwan gives it a strategic advantage. 5G manufacturing is an important part of Taiwan’s economy, with exports reaching record highs during the second half of 2020, thanks in part to demand for 5G-related equipment and technology for smartphones, autonomous vehicles and smart devices.

Chang studied at University of Massachusetts Amherst and when TMYTEK was founded six years ago, he was often asked why he didn’t stay in the United States, where it would have been easier to secure startup funding. But being in Taiwan puts the company closer to many important markets, including Japan, where 30% of its current business comes from, and gives TMYTEK a good foundation to expand into the U.S. and European market, he said.

It has also given the company a supply chain advantage. TMYTEK has manufacturing partners across Asia, including Inventec in Taiwan, and factories in Vietnam and Thailand, in addition to China. Chang said this means TMYTEK was not limited by the COVID-19 pandemic or the U.S-China trade war.

Before launching TMYTEK in 2014, Chang and co-founder Ethan Lin both worked at Academia Sinica, one of the top research institutions in Taiwan, where they focused on millimeter waves even though at the time most researchers were more interested in the mid-band spectrum.

But as more devices and applications began to crowd the 4G spectrum, mmWave became less niche. With Qualcomm’s launch of next-generation 5G mmWave hardware and chips, and more carriers launching mmWave coverage, mmWave is poised to become mainstream.

Millimeter waves offer powerful signals with wide bandwidth and low latency, but drawbacks include difficulty traveling through obstacles like buildings. It also has a limited range, which is why millimeter waves need more base stations. Beamforming, which directs signals toward a specific device, and antenna array, or multiple antennas that work like a single antenna, are used to extend its coverage.

Making mmWave development faster

One of the main challenges for the millimeter wave market, however, is the lack of R&D tools to speed up their development and time to market, resulting in higher costs and slower deployment.

To keep up with market opportunities, TMYTEK transitioned from design and manufacturing projects for clients to offering 5G-focused solutions like the BBox, which stands for “beamforming box.” The BBox was created after a professor at National Taiwan University told Chang that his team was working on antenna design, but didn’t have the resources to work on beamforming technology, too. It lets researchers create 16 beams and control the signal’s amplitude and phase with software, so they can test how it works with antennas and other hardware more quickly. TMYTEK claims the BBox can save researchers and engineers up to 80% in time and cost.

Chang said TMYTEK realized that if researchers at NTU, one of Taiwan’s largest research universities, needed a solution, then other labs did, too. So far, it has delivered 30 sets to companies including KDDI, NTT DoCoMo, Fujitsu, several Fortune 500 companies and research institutions.

While the BBox was created for antenna designers, the company also began exploring solutions to help other designers, including algorithm developers who want to test beam tracking, communicate with base stations and collect data.

TMYTEK vice president Ethan Lin holds the antenna-in-package for its XBeam millimeter wave testing solution

TMYTEK vice president Ethan Lin holds the antenna-in-package for its XBeam millimeter wave testing solution

For that scenario, TMYTEK created the XBeam, which is describes as a “total solution,” and is meant for the mass production phase, testing modules, smartphones and base stations before they are shipped. Traditional solutions to test modules rely on mechanical rotators, but Chang said this is more suited to the research and development process. The XBeam, which is based on the BBox, electronically scans beams instead. The company claims the XBeam is up to 20 times faster than other testing solutions.

TMYTEK created the XBeam’s prototype in 2019 and launched the commercialized version in November 2020.

The BBox and XBeam will help TMYTEK build its own base station business in two ways, Chang said. First, having its own solutions will allow TMYTEK to test base stations and bring them to market faster. Second, the startup hopes building a reputation on effective research and development tools will help it market its base stations to private and public networks. This is especially important to TMYTEK’s ambitions since their base stations will be up against products from major players like Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung and Huawei.

“Our advantage at TMYTEK is that we’re doing the design and we have good partners for manufacturing. Inventec, our investor, is a top five manufacturer in Taiwan,” he said. “And TMYTEK also builds our own testing solution, so our value is that we can provide a total solution to our customers.”

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

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Will this time be any different for Twitter?



As Twitter seems to buy its way into competing with Clubhouse and Substack, one wonders whether the beleaguered social media company is finally ready to move past its truly awful track record of seizing opportunities.

Twitter’s pace of product ambition has certainly seemed to speed in the past several months, conveniently following shareholder action to oust CEO Jack Dorsey last year. They’ve finally rolled out their Stories product Fleets, they’ve embraced audio both in the traditional feed and with their beta Spaces feature, and they’ve taken some much-publicized steps to reign in disinformation and content moderation woes (though there’s still plenty to be done there).

In the past few weeks, Twitter has also made some particularly interesting acquisitions. Today, it was announced that they were buying Revue, a newsletter management startup. Earlier this month, they bought Breaker, a podcasting service. Last month, they bought Squad, a social screen-sharing app.

It’s an aggressive turn that follows Twitter’s announcement that it will be shutting down Periscope, a live video app that was purchased and long-neglected by Twitter despite the fact that the company’s current product chief was its founder.

TikTok’s wild 2020 success in fully realizing the broader vision for Vine, which Twitter shut down in 2017, seems to be a particularly embarrassing stain on the company’s history; it’s also the most crystallized example of Twitter shooting itself in the foot as a result of not embracing risk. And while Twitter was ahead of that curve and simply didn’t make it happen, Substack and Clubhouse are two prime examples of competitors which Twitter could have prevented from reaching their current stature if it had just been more aggressive in recognizing adjacent social market opportunities and sprung into action.

It’s particularly hard to reckon in the shadow of Facebook’s ever-swelling isolation. Once the eager enemy of any social upstart, Facebook finds itself desperately complicated by global politics and antitrust woes in a way that may never strike it down, but have seemed to slow its maneuverability. A startup like Clubhouse may once seemed like a prime acquisition target, but it’s too complicated of a purchase for Facebook to even attempt in 2021, leaving Twitter a potential competitor that could scale to full size on its own.

Twitter is a much smaller company than Facebook is, though it’s still plenty big. As the company aims to move beyond the 2020 US election that ate up so much of its attention and expand its ambitions, one of its most pertinent challenges will be reinvigorating a product culture to recognize opportunities and take on rising competitors — though another challenge might be getting its competition to take it seriously in the first place.

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Sila Nanotechnologies raises $590M to fund battery materials factory



Sila Nanotechnologies, a Silicon Valley battery materials company, has spent years developing technology designed to pack more energy into a cell at a lower cost — an end game that has helped it lock in partnerships with Amperex Technology Limited as well as automakers BMW and Daimler.

Now, Sila Nano, flush with a fresh injection of capital that has pushed its valuation to $3.3 billion, is ready to bring its technology to the masses.

The company, which was founded nearly a decade ago, said Tuesday it has raised $590 million in a Series F funding round led by Coatue with significant participation by funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Existing investors 8VC, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Sutter Hill Ventures also participated in the round.

Sila Nano plans to use the funds to hire another 100 people this year and begin to buildout a factory in North America capable of producing 100 gigawatt-hours of silicon-based anode material, which is used in batteries for the smartphone and automotive industries. While the company hasn’t revealed the location of the factory, it does have a timeline. Sila Nano said it plans to start production at the factory in 2024. Materials produced at the plant will be in electric vehicles by 2025, the company said.

“It took eight years and 35,000 iterations to create a new battery chemistry, but that was just step one,” Sila Nano CEO and co-founder Gene Berdichevsky said in a statement. “For any new technology to make an impact in the real-world, it has to scale, which will cost billions of dollars. We know from our experience building our production lines in Alameda that investing in our next plant today will keep us on track to be powering cars and hundreds of millions of consumer devices by 2025.”

The tech

A lithium-ion battery contains two electrodes. There’s an anode (negative) on one side and a cathode (positive) on the other. Typically, an electrolyte sits in the middle and acts as the courier, moving ions between the electrodes when charging and discharging. Graphite is commonly used as the anode in commercial lithium-ion batteries.

Sila Nano has developed a silicon-based anode that replaces graphite in lithium-ion batteries. The critical detail is that the material was designed to take the place of graphite in without needing to change the battery manufacturing process or equipment.

Sila Nano has been focused on silicon anode because the material can store a lot more lithium ions. Using a material that lets you pack in more lithium ions would theoretically allow you to increase the energy density — or the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery per its volume — of the cell. The upshot would be a cheaper battery that contains more energy in the same space.

The opportunity

It’s a compelling product for automakers attempting to bring more electric vehicles to market. Nearly every global automaker has announced plans or is already producing a new batch of all-electric and plug-in electric vehicles, including Ford, GM, Daimler, BMW, Hyundai and Kia. Tesla continues to ramp up production of its Model 3 and Model Y vehicles as a string of newcomers like Rivian prepare to bring their own EVs to market.

In short: the demand of batteries is climbing; and automakers are looking for the next-generation tech that will give them a competitive edge.

Battery production sat at about 20 GWh per year in 2010. Sila Nano expects it to jump to 2,000 GWh per year by 2030 and 30,000 GWh per year by 2050.

Sila Nano started building the first production lines for its battery materials in 2018. That first line is capable of producing the material to supply the equivalent of 50 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries.

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Daily Crunch: Calendly valued at $3B



A popular scheduling startup raises a big funding round, Twitter makes a newsletter acquisition and Beyond Meat teams up with PepsiCo. This is your Daily Crunch for January 26, 2021.

The big story: Calendly valued at $3B

Calendly, which helps users schedule and confirm meeting times, has raised $350 million from OpenView Venture Partners and Iconiq.

Until now, the Atlanta-based startup had only raised $550K, but the company says it has 10 million monthly users, with $70 million in subscription revenue last year.

“Calendly has a vision increasingly to be a central part of the meeting life cycle,” said OpenView’s Blake Bartlett.

The tech giants

Twitter acquires newsletter platform Revue — Twitter is getting into the newsletter business.

TikTok is being used by vape sellers marketing to teens — Sellers are offering flavored disposable vapes, parent-proof “discreet” packaging and no ID checks.

PepsiCo and Beyond Meat launch poorly named joint venture for new plant-based food and drinks — The name? The PLANeT Partnership.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Fast raises $102M as the online checkout wars continue to attract huge investment — The new funding was led by Stripe.

SetSail nabs $26M Series A to rethink sales compensation — SetSail says salespeople should be paid them throughout the sales cycle.

Mealco raises $7M to launch new delivery-centric restaurants — By launching a restaurant with Mealco, chefs don’t sign a lease or pay any other upfront costs.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Ten VCs say interactivity, regulation and independent creators will reshape digital media in 2021 — We asked about the likelihood of further industry consolidation, whether we’ll see more digital media companies take the SPAC route and, of course, what they’re looking for in their next investment.

The five biggest mistakes I made as a first-time startup founder — Finmark CEO Rami Essaid has some regrets.

Does a $27B or $29B valuation make sense for Databricks? — A look at Databricks’ growth history, economics and scale.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

President Joe Biden commits to replacing entire federal fleet with electric vehicles — His commitment is tied to a broader campaign promise to create 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry and supply chains.

Meet the early-stage founder community at TC Early Stage 2021 — Early Stage part one focuses on operations and fundraising and takes place on April 1-2, while Early Stage part two focusing on marketing, PR and fundraising and runs July 8-9.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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