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Looking to decarbonize the metal industry, Bill Gates-backed Boston Metal raises $50 million

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Steel production accounts for roughly 8 percent of the emissions that contribute to global climate change. It is one of the industries that sits at the foundation of the modern economy and is one of the most resistant to decarbonization.

As nations around the world race to reduce their environmental footprint and embrace more sustainable methods of production, finding a way to remove carbon from the metals business will be one of the most important contributions to that effort.

One startup that’s developing a new technology to address the issue is Boston Metal. Previously backed by the Bill Gates financed Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, the new company has just raised roughly $50 million of an approximately $60 million financing round to expand its operations, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The global steel industry may find approximately 14 percent of its potential value at risk if the business can’t reduce its environmental impact, according to studies cited by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Boston Metal, which previously raised $20 million back in 2019, uses a process called molten oxide electrolysis (“MOE”) to make steel alloys — and eventually emissions-free steel. The first close of the funding actually came in December 2018 — two years before the most recent financing round, according to chief executive Tadeu Carneiro, the company’s chief executive.

Over the years since the company raised its last round, Boston Metal has grown from 8 employees to a staff that now numbers close to 50. The Woburn, Mass.-based company has also been able to continuously operate its three pilot lines producing metal alloys for over a month at a time.

And while the steel program remains the ultimate goal, the company is quickly approaching commercialization with its alloy program, because it isn’t as reliant on traditional infrastructure and sunk costs according to Carneiro.

Boston Metal’s technology radically reimagines an industry whose technology hasn’t changed all that much since the dawn of the Iron Age in 1200 BCE, Carneiro said.

Ultimately the goal is to serve as a technology developer licensing its technology and selling components to steel manufacturers or engineering companies who will ultimate make the steel.

For Boston Metal, the next steps on the product roadmap are clear. The company wil look to have a semi-industrial cell line operating in Woburn, Mass. by the end of 2022, and by 2024 or 2025 hopes to have its first demonstration plant up and running. “At that point we will be able to commercialize the technology,” Carneiro said.

The company’s previous investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, and the MIT-backed “hard-tech” investment firm, The Engine. All of them came back to invest in the latest infusion of cash into the company along with Devonshire Investors, the private investment firm affiliated with FMR, the parent company of financial services giant, Fidelity, which co-led the deal alongside Piva Capital and another, undisclosed investor.

As a result of its investment, Shyam Kamadolli will take a seat on the company’s board, according to the filing with the SEC.

MOE takes metals in their raw oxide form and transforms them into molten metal products. Invented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and based on research from MIT Professor Donald Sadoway, Boston Metal makes molten oxides that are tailored for a specific feedstock and product. Electrons are used to melt the soup and selectively reduce the target oxide. The purified metal pools at the bottom of a cell and is tapped by drilling into the cell using a process adapted from a blast furnace. The tap hole is plugged and the process then continues.

One of the benefits of the technology, according to the company, is its scalability. As producers need to make more alloys, they can increase production capacity.

“Molten oxide electrolysis is a platform technology that can produce a wide array of metals and alloys, but our first industrial deployments will target the ferroalloys on the path to our ultimate goal of steel,” said Carneiro, the company’s chief executive, in a statement announcing the company’s $20 million financing back in 2019. “Steel is and will remain one of the staples of modern society, but the production of steel today produces over two gigatons of CO2. The same fundamental method for producing steel has been used for millennia, but Boston Metal is breaking that paradigm by replacing coal with electrons.”

No less a tech luminary than Bill Gates himself underlined the importance of the decarbonization of the metal business.

Boston Metal is working on a way to make steel using electricity instead of coal, and to make it just as strong and cheap,” Gates wrote in his blog, GatesNotes. Although Gates did have a caveat. “Of course, electrification only helps reduce emissions if it uses clean power, which is another reason why it’s so important to get zero-carbon electricity,” he wrote.

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

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Spain’s Glovo inks real-estate tie-up to add more dark stores for speedy urban delivery

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Spain’s Glovo, an on-demand delivery app, has announced a strategic partnership with Swiss-based real estate firm, Stoneweg.

The deal will see the latter invest €100M in building and refurbishing “prime city real estate” in some of Glovo’s key markets as the delivery app works to build out its network of dark stores and sign up more retail partners for its urban delivery service, it said today.

The initial focus for the partnership will be on growing its dark stores network in Spain, Italy, Portugal, Romania, with additional countries slated as under review in Europe.

“These are the countries in which both Glovo and Stoneweg have a major presence, and therefore are able to move much quicker when it comes to setting up,” a Glovo spokeswoman told us. “However, the deal is not limited to these countries. Glovo’s aim is to grow and strengthen their Q-Commerce and dark kitchens infrastructure across Eastern Europe too.”

Glovo currently operates 18 dark stores globally — in cities including Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon and Milan — but said it’s now looking to open similar stores in Valencia, Rome, Porto and Bucharest, among others.

It wants to have 100 dark stores up and running by the end of 2021, it added.

Last September the startup announced the sale of its LatAm ops to food-delivery focused rival Delivery Hero for $272M — leaving it more fully focused on Southern and Eastern Europe.

Then in November it announced the launch of a dedicated business unit to support expansion of the sub-30 minute urban delivery service, which it calls ‘Q-Commerce’ (that’s ‘Q’ for quick) — saying it would accelerate development of a b2b offering to stock third parties’ products in its city center warehouses (and have them delivered to shoppers via the couriers doing gig work on its platform).

Glovo said today that the Stoneweg strategic partnership will help it step on the gas to grow the infrastructure and fulfilment centers it needs to underpin this b2b offering.

The ‘deliver anything’ app is spying an opportunity to capitalize on the coronavirus’ impact on traditional bricks-and-mortar retail — betting urban consumers will make a permanent shift to outsourcing grocery and other convenience/essential shops to an app which bundles high speed delivery, rather than making such trips in person.

Its dialled-up focus on Q-Commerce is a direct response to “changing consumer sentiment and demand for instant and same-day delivery”, it added.

To date, Glovo’s platform has delivered more than 12 million multi-category orders globally, while in 2020 it experienced a growth rate of more than 300% year-on-year.

As well as supermarkets such as Carrefour, Continente, and Kaufland, Glovo’s list of retail partners includes the likes of Unilever, Nestle and L’Oréal, and IKEA — so it’s by no means focused purely on groceries.

It has said it wants Q-Commerce to power delivery of a wide range of products — from toys, music, books, flowers and beauty products to pharmacy items and groceries. And even, in some markets, a curated selected of IKEA wares — i.e. stuff that’s small enough to fit in couriers’ backpacks.

Commenting on the Stoneweg strategic investment in a statement, Oscar Pierre, co-founder and CEO, said: “We believe that the third-generation of commerce is already upon us. Following the close of Stoneweg’s investment, we are consolidating our strategic commitment to Q-Commerce, which will allow us to better connect people with a wide variety of available products in their cities.

“In the wake of COVID-19, we believe that dark stores represent the future of post-pandemic retail, and I think we’ll see a permanent shift in consumer habits towards same-day and instant delivery. We’re excited to continue to expand our offering, so that all types of businesses, from local independent stores to multi-national chains, can reach more and more customers thanks to new technological solutions and highly efficient infrastructure.”

In another supporting statement, Stoneweg’s Joaquín Castellví, founding partner and head of acquisitions for Europe, added that the strategic investment represents “an opportunity to offer our clients to diversify into a new class of retail asset through consolidated cities where Glovo operates — in a segment with great growth potential, accelerated by the situation we are experiencing”.

Glovo’s push to take a margin on a broad range of urban retail comes at a time when consolidation is eating into the thin margin food delivery space.

It is also facing legal challenges to its business model in Europe over the classification of couriers as self-employed — losing a supreme court ruling in its home market last September.

Ministers in Spain are working on a new regulatory framework for delivery apps and Glovo has said it’s awaiting that reform before making any changes but a lot will be riding on the detail.

UK-based Deliveroo also recently lost a legal challenge in Spain over the classification of its couriers. A court in Barcelona found last week that the company had falsely defined 748 riders as self employed, following a 2018 workplace inspection.

The delivery platform which competes with Glovo in the on-demand food and grocery space, announced Sunday the closing of a Series H funding round — raising $180M+ from existing investors, led by Durable Capital Partners LP and Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, which it said valued the business at over $7BN.

The investment would enable Deliveroo to continue investing in “developing the best proposition for consumers, riders and restaurants”, it said, noting that it would be expanding in on-demand grocery following “rapid” growth over the last year.

Deliveroo added that the Series H investment comes ahead of a “potential” IPO — and said it “reflects strong demand from existing shareholders to invest in the company, given the significant growth potential in the online food delivery sector in which consumer adoption is accelerating”.

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Qualcomm-backed chipmaker Kneron nails Foxconn funding, deal

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A startup based out of San Diego and Taipei is quietly nailing fundings and deals from some of the biggest names in electronics. Kneron, which specializes in energy-efficient processors for edge artificial intelligence, just raised a strategic funding round from Taiwan’s manufacturing giant Foxconn and integrated circuit producer Winbond.

The deal came a year after Kneron closed a $40 million round led by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures. Amongst its other prominent investors are Alibaba Entrepreneurship Fund, Sequoia Capital, Qualcomm and SparkLabs Taipei.

Kneron declined to disclose the dollar amount of the investment from Foxconn and Winbond due to investor requests but said it was an “eight figures” deal, founder and CEO Albert Liu told TechCrunch in an interview.

Founded in 2015, Kneron’s latest product is a neural processing unit that can enable sophisticated AI applications without relying on the cloud. The startup is directly taking on the chips of Intel and Google, which it claims are more energy-consuming than its offering. The startup recently got a talent boost after hiring Davis Chen, Qualcomm’s former Taipei head of engineering.

Among Kneron’s customers are Chinese air conditioning giant Gree and German’s autonomous driving software provider Teraki, and the new deal is turning the world’s largest electronics manufacturer into a client. As part of the strategic agreement, Kneron will work with Foxconn on the latter’s smart manufacturing and newly introduced open platform for electric vehicles, while its work with Winbond will focus on microcontroller unit (MCU)-based AI and memory computing.

“Low-power AI chips are pretty easy to put into sensors. We all know that in some operation lines, sensors are quite small, so it’s not easy to use a big GPU [graphics processing unit] or CPU [central processing unit], especially when power consumption is a big concern,” said Liu, who held R&D positions at Qualcomm and Samsung before founding Kneron.

Unlike some of its competitors, Kneron designs chips for a wide range of use cases, from manufacturing, smart home, smartphones, robotics, surveillance, payments, to autonomous driving. It doesn’t just make chips but also the AI software embedded in the chips, a strategy that Liu said differentiates his company from China’s AI darlings like SenseTime and Megvii, which enable AI service through the cloud.

Kneron has also been on a less aggressive funding pace than these companies, which fuel their rapid expansion through outsize financing rounds. Six-year-old SenseTime has raised about $2.6 billion to date, while nine-year-old Megvii has banked about $1.4 billion. Kneron, in comparison, has raised just over $70 million from a Series A round.

Like the Chinese AI upstarts, Kneron is weighing an initial public offering. The company is expected to make a profit in 2023, Liu said, and “that will probably be a good time for us to go IPO.”

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Health insurance startup Alan launches free medical app Alan Baby

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French startup Alan is generating 100% of its revenue from health insurance products — and that isn’t going to change. But the company wants to start a conversation with a bigger use base. Alan is going to launch multiple mobile apps that let you learn more about health topics, contact a doctor and chat with the community.

“We are proud to announce today that we’re launching free medical apps for everyone,” co-founder and CEO Jean-Charles Samuelian-Werve said in a virtual press conference. “We’re going to develop services for specific groups of people who are facing specific issues or questions.”

And the company is starting with Alan Baby. As you can guess from the name, Alan Baby helps you stay on top of your baby’s health. The company has chosen to focus on that segment as your baby’s health can be a great source of mental stress.

When you first open the app, you get a feed of articles on specific topics, from sleep to nutrition and child development. You can get relevant articles by entering the birthdate of your child as you often don’t have the same questions at day one and day 100.

While parents usually have 10 pediatrician appointments in the first year, you may have a burning question that cannot wait that long. From Alan Baby, you can start a text discussion with a doctor. The company says users should expect an answer within 24 hours.

Alan had already hired doctors for a similar messaging feature for its users who are covered under the health insurance products. The company is opening up that feature to more users beyond its paid customers.

Finally, people who install Alan Baby can interact with each other in the community section. It works a bit like an online forum on health topics, except that it’s mobile-first and Alan wants to moderate it with some help from its doctors.

“Thanks to what we’re setting up for parents, we will be able to extend it to other topics soon,” Samuelian-Werve said. He names fertility, mental health or diabetes as potential topics for other free apps.

While the apps are going to be free, the company expects to attract new clients for its health insurance thanks to those new apps. Essentially, Alan is broadening the top of its sales funnel with free apps.

Alan Baby is rolling out progressively in France. There’s a waitlist and the iOS app is available to pre-order (for free) in the App Store.

An update on the health insurance products

Back in October, Samuelian-Werve told me that 100,000 were covered through Alan. A few months later, 139,000 people are covered through one Alan insurance product or another. Overall, 8,300 companies have chosen the company as their health insurance provider. Basically, Alan’s user base has more than doubled in 2020.

In France, employees are covered by both the national healthcare system and private insurance companies. So Alan convinces other companies to use its product for its employees. The company has obtained its own health insurance license, which means that it can customize its health insurance products completely depending on the segment and client.

The company is also operating in Spain and Belgium. But it’s been a slow start with 300 members in Spain and 500 members in Belgium. Alan is going to focus on those two markets before launching new countries in the future.

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