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Swarm’s low-cost satellite data network is now available to commercial clients

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One of the original startups that set out to create a low-Earth orbit satellite constellation to provide a data network here on Earth is now open for business: Swarm, which now operates 81 of its sandwich-sized satellites on orbit, announced today that its network service is live and available to commercial customers.

Founded in 2017 by CEO Sara Spangelo and CTO Ben Longmier, Swarm has accomplished a lot in a relatively short time, culminating in its recent launch of 36 of its smalll satellites during SpaceX’s first ride-sharing rocket launch late last month. Now that those are all online and operational, Swarm is able to provide full global network coverage, with the ability to check in with connected devices on its network up to multiple times per day.

Swarm’s offering uses embedded modems also designed and built by the company – the Swarm Tile, a tiny, low-powered modem that’s designed for maximum compatibility. The network is low-power and low-bandwidth, meaning it’s ideally suited for situations that require relatively low amounts of data transfer, but on a regular frequency over very long durations. That describes a wide range of use cases, including in shipping in logistics, agriculture, and other Internet of Things (IoT ) deployments. The breadth of their customer base has actually been a surprise, and far outstripped the early vision for the startup.

“We actually started with the containership use case […] we talked a lot about how many containers there are in the world, how many ship there are in the world,” Spangelo told me in an interview. “We also knew that logistics, trucks, and agriculture would probably be interesting markets. But I’m frankly surprised not only how many verticals, this applies to – there’s a lot more in ag and global development and maritime than I probably ever anticipated – but also just the number of use cases within those industries.”

Swarm's sandwich-sized IoT network satellites.

Swarm’s sandwich-sized IoT network satellites.

Spangelo is referring to the depth of the need for monitoring across the industries Swarm serves. So a client in green power wouldn’t want to just monitor the amount of power being generated by their turbines, but also to monitor the grid for power outgoing and power inbound. And in agriculture, industrial farms might want to monitor soil moisture levels, but also integrate Swarm connectivity in every single truck and tractor in operation in order to monitor their assets and their location. She also told me that vertically, she was surprised to discover just how many opportunities exist for low-bandwidth networks in construction, mining and in defense.

Swarm’s focus at this stage is strictly commercial, but Spangelo said that people have even approached the company to see if they can purchase a Swarm Tile and use it with an app with their phone for providing basic emergency connectivity while hiking. She says “they’re not quite” at the point where they have a commercially available product for consumers, but it’s an idea they’re working on.

One key aspect of Swarm’s business model is affordability: Its service is available for just $5 per month per connected device (with a one-time cost of $119 for each Swarm Tile itself), which is far below any other satellite service available today. Spangelo says that has meant they are seeing new customers not only in the form of switchers from other satellite network providers, but also from businesses entirely new to satellite connectivity – and for some of those, it’s changing what’s possible at a fundamental level.

“Take wineries – it’s a high-yield type of crop,” she said. “People want to monitor very accurately the moisture and soil. Traditionally, they’ve only been able to do that within cell range. So think of like Sonoma and Napa, cell connectivity is actually is really bad, because of the rolling hills. So now with Swarm you can have connectivity in those regions outside of cell, and provide that value, and much better knowledge and user data analytics to make much more informed business decisions, save water, save energy, save all those things.”

Some of these new use cases include projects like more finite weather and climate monitor to try to assist with efforts to control and contain wildfires, as well as providing detailed tracking of the cold storage chain required to safely and effectively transport COVID-19 vaccines. Spangelo says this is one of the most exciting aspects of Swarm reaching this commercialization stage – seeing what new opportunities are possible that just couldn’t be done before.

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

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Plant-based food startup Next Gen lands $10M seed round from investors including Temasek

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Singapore is quickly turning into a hub for food-tech startups, partly because of government initiatives supporting the development of meat alternatives. One of the newest entrants is Next Gen, which will launch its plant-based “chicken” brand, called TiNDLE, in Singaporean restaurants next month. The company announced today that it has raised $10 million in seed funding from investors including Temasek, K3 Ventures, EDB New Ventures (an investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board), NX-Food, FEBE Ventures and Blue Horizon.

Next Gen claims this is the largest seed round ever raised by a plant-based food tech company, based on data from PitchBook. This is the first time the startup has taken external investment, and the funding exceeded its original target of $7 million. Next Gen was launched last October by Timo Recker and Andre Menezes, with $2.2 million of founder capital.

Next Gen’s first product is called TiNDLE Thy, an alternative to chicken thighs. Its ingredients include water, soy, wheat, oat fiber, coconut oil and methylcellulose, a culinary binder, but the key to its chicken-like flavor is a proprietary blend of plant-based fats, like sunflower oil, and natural flavors that allows it to cook like chicken meat.

Menezes, Next Gen’s chief operating officer, told TechCrunch that the company’s goal is to be the global leader in plant-based chicken, the way Impossible and Beyond are known for their burgers.

“Consumers and chefs want texture in chicken, the taste and aroma, and that is largely related to chicken fat, which is why we started with thighs instead of breasts,” said Menezes. “We created a chicken fat made from a blend, called Lipi, to emulate the smell, aroma and browning when you cook.”

Both Recker and Menezes have years of experience in the food industry. Recker founded German-based LikeMeat, a plant-based meat producer acquired by the LIVEKINDLY Collective last year. Menezes’ food career started in Brazil at one of the world’s largest poultry exporters. He began working with plant-based meat after serving as general manager of Country Foods, a Singaporean importer and distributor that focuses on innovative, sustainable products.

“It was clear to me after I was inside the meat industry for so long that it was not going to be a sustainable business in the long run,” Menezes said.

Over the past few years, more consumers have started to feel the same way, and began looking for alternatives to animal products. UBS expects the global plant-based protein market to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 30%, reaching about $50 billion by 2025, as more people, even those who aren’t vegans or vegetarians, seek healthier, humane sources of protein.

Millennial and Gen Z consumers, in particular, are willing to reduce their consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products as they become more aware of the environmental impact of industrial livestock production, said Menezes. “They understand the sustainability angle of it, and the health aspect, like the cholesterol or nutritional values, depending on what product you are talking about.”

Low in sodium and saturated fat, TiNDLE Thy has received the Healthier Choice Symbol, which is administered by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board. Next Gen’s new funding will be used to launch TiNDLE Thy, starting in popular Singaporean restaurants like Three Buns Quayside, the Prive Group, 28 HongKong Street, Bayswater Kitchen and The Goodburger.

Over the next year or two, Next Gen plans to raise its Series A round, launch more brands and products, and expand in its target markets: the United States (where it is currently recruiting a growth director to build a distribution network), China, Brazil and Europe. After working with restaurant partners, Next Gen also plans to make its products available to home cooks.

“The reason we started with chefs is because they are very hard to crack, and if chefs are happy with the product, then we’re very sure customers will be, too,” said Menezes.

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Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads

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ViacomCBS executives held a virtual investor event today where they outlined the strategy for Paramount+, the streaming service set to launch on March 4 that’s basically a rebranded, expanded version of CBS All Access.

In addition to launching in the United States, executives said the service will be available across Latin America and Canada on March 4, with a Nordic launch a few weeks later and an Australian launch also planned for this year.

And they said that Paramount+ will cost $4.99 per month with ads in the U.S. (less than the $5.99 charged for CBS All Access), or $9.99 without ads and with additional sports, news and live TV content. There are also plans to bundle this with the company’s premium subscriptions, such as Showtime.

Yes, it’s yet another streaming service with a plus in its name. But the company’s streaming president and CEO Tom Ryan said research has shown that ViacomCBS brands — not just Paramount and CBS, but Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and more — are well-known to viewers, and they’ll all be front-and-center in the new service. Plus, it’s worth noting that ViacomCBS already produces a number of hit streaming shows on other services, such as “13 Reasons Why,” “Emily in Paris” and “Jack Ryan.”

ViacomCBS executives also argued that Paramount+ will have a unique combination of live news, live sports and (to use a phrase repeated throughout the event) “a mountain of entertainment.” And from a product perspective, the service will offer originals in 4K, HDR and Dolby Vision, with easy downloads.

On the entertainment side, the service is supposed to have more than 30,000 TV show episodes and 2,500 movies. And the library will expand with new shows like a new version of “Frasier” with Kelsey Grammer returning to the role, as well as a “Halo” TV show that will now debut on Paramount+ instead of Showtime in early 2022. The service is also rebooting a variety of Paramount properties like “Love Story,” “Fatal Attraction” and “Flashdance.”

And like CBS All Access before it, Paramount+ will be home to new Star Trek shows — not just the already launched “Discovery,” “Picard” and “Lower Decks,” but also the upcoming “Strange New Worlds” and the kids animated series “Prodigy.”

On the movie side, Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos said the company is still a big believer in the theatrical model, but it will be bringing some 2021 releases — including “A Quiet Place Part 2,” the first “Paw Patrol” movie and “Mission Impossible 7” — to Paramount+ in an accelerated fashion, 30 to 45 days after they come to theaters (a much less aggressive strategy than HBO Max, which will stream all Warner Bros. movies this year simultaneously with their theatrical release). And there will be new straight-to-streaming movies as well, starting with reboots of “Paranormal Activity” and “Pet Sematary.”

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Spain’s Wallapop raises $191M at an $840M valuation for its classifieds marketplace

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Through all of the last year’s lockdowns, venue closures, and other social distancing measures that governments have enacted and people have followed to slow the spread of Covid-19, shopping — and specifically e-commerce — has remained a consistent and hugely important service. It’s not just something that we had to do; it’s been an important lifeline for many of us at a time when so little else has felt normal. Today, one of the startups that saw a big lift in its service as a result of that trend is announcing a major fundraise to fuel its growth.

Wallapop, a virtual marketplace based out of Barcelona, Spain that lets people resell their used items, or sell items like crafts that they make themselves, has raised €157 million ($191 million at current rates), money that it will use to continue growing the infrastructure that underpins its service, so that it can expand the number of people that use it.

Wallapop has confirmed that the funding is coming at a valuation of €690 million ($840 million) — a significant jump on the $570 million valuations sources close to the company gave us in 2016.

The funding is being led by Korelya Capital, a French VC fund backed by Korea’s Naver, with Accel, Insight Partners, 14W, GP Bullhound and Northzone — all previous backers of Wallapop — also participating.

The company currently has 15 million users — about half of Spain’s internet population, CEO Rob Cassedy pointed out to us in an interview earlier today, and has maintained a decent number-four ranking among Spain’s shopping apps, according to figures from App Annie.

The startup has also recently been building out shipping services, called Envios, to help people get the items they are selling to the buyers, which has expanded the range from local sales to those that can be made across the country. About 20% of goods go through Envios now, Cassedy said, and the plan is to continue doubling down on that and related services.

Naver itself is a strong player in e-commerce and apps — it’s the company behind Asian messaging giant Line, among other digital properties — and so this is in part a strategic investment. Wallapop will be leaning on Naver and its technology in its own R&D, and on Naver’s side it will give the company a foothold in the European market at a time when it has been sharpening its strategy in e-commerce.

The funding is an interesting turn for a company that has seen some notable fits and starts. Founded in 2013 in Spain, it quickly shot to the top of the charts in a market that has traditionally been slow to embrace e-commerce over more traditional brick-and-mortar retail.

By 2016, Wallapop was merging with a rival, LetGo, as part of a bigger strategy to crack the U.S. market (with more capital in tow).

But by 2018, that plan was quietly shelved, with Wallapop quietly selling its stake in the LetGo venture for $189 million. (LetGo raised $500 million more on its own around that time, but its fate was not to remain independent: it was eventually acquired by yet another competitor in the virtual classifieds space, OfferUp, in 2020, for an undisclosed sum.)

Wallapop has for the last two years focused mainly on growing in Spain rather than running after business further afield, and rather than growing the range of goods that it might sell on its platform — it doesn’t sell food, nor work with retailers in an Amazon-style marketplace play, nor does it have plans to do anything like move into video or selling other kinds of digital services — it has honed in specifically on trying to improve the experience that it does offer to users.

“I spent 12 years at eBay and saw that transition it made to new goods from used goods,” said Cassedy. “Let’s just say it wasn’t the direction I thought we should take for Wallapop. We are laser focused on unique goods, with the vast majority of that second hand with some artisan products. It is very different from big box.”

Wallapop’s growth in the past year isare the result of some specific trends in the market that were in part fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic.

People spending more time in their homes have been focused on clearing out space and getting rid of things. Others are keen to buy new items now that they are spending more time at home, but want to spend less on them. In both cases, there has been a push for more sustainability, with people putting less waste into the world by recycling and upcycling goods instead.

At the same time, Facebook hasn’t really made big inroads with its Marketplace in the country, and Amazon has also not appeared as a threat to Wallapop, Cassedy noted.

All of these have had a huge impact on Wallapop’s business, but it wasn’t always this way. Cassedy said that the first lockdown in Spain saw business plummet, as people were restricted to leave their homes.

“It was a rollercoaster for us,” he said. “We entered the year with incredible momentum, very strong.”

He noted that the drop started in March, when “not only did it become not okay to leave house and trade locally but the post office stopped delivering parcels. Our business went off a cliff in March and April.”

Then when the restrictions were lifted in May, things started to bounce back than ever before, nearly overnight, he said. “The economic uncertainty caused people to seek out more value, better deals, spending less money, and yes they were clearing out closets. We saw numbers bounce back 40-50% growth year-on-year in June.”

The big question was whether that growth was a blip or there to say. He said it has continued into 2021 so far. “It’s a validation of what we see as long term trends driving the business.”

“The global demand for C2C and resale platforms is growing with renewed commitment in sustainable consumption, especially by younger millennials and Gen Z,” noted Seong-sook HAN, CEO of NAVER Corp., in a statement. “We agree with Wallapop’s philosophy of conscious consumption and are enthused to support their growth with our technology and develop international synergies.”

“Our economies are switching towards a more sustainable development model; after investing in Vestiaire Collective last year, wallapop is Korelya’s second investment in the circular economy, while COVID-19 is only strengthening that trend. It is Korelya’s mission to back tomorrow’s European tech champions and we believe that NAVER has a proven tech and product edge that will help the company reinforce its leading position in Europe,” added Fleur Pellerin, CEO of Korelya Capital.

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