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Big data VC OpenOcean hits $111.5M for third fund, appoints Ekaterina Almasque to GP

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OpenOcean, a European VC which has tended to specialise in big-data-oriented startups and deep tech, has reach the €92 million ($111.5 million) mark for its third main venture fund, and is aiming for a final close of €130M by mid-way this year. LPs in the new fund include the European Investment Fund (EIF), Tesi, pension funds, major family offices, and Oxford University’s Corpus Christi College.

Ekaterina Almasque — who has already led investments in IQM (superconducting quantum machines) and Sunrise.io (multi-cloud hyper-converged infrastructure) and is leading the London team and operations for the firm — has been appointed as General Partner. Before joining, Almasque was a managing director at Samsung Catalyst Fund in Europe, led investments in Graphcore’s processor for Artificial Intelligence, Mapillary’s layer for rapid mapping and AIMotive’s autonomous driving stack.
 
The enormous wealth of data in the modern world means the next generation of software is being built at the infrastructure. Thus, the fund said it would invest primarily at the Series A level with initial investments of €3M to €5M, across OpenOcean’s principle areas of artificial intelligence, application-driven data infrastructure, intelligent automation, and open source.
 
OpenOcean’s team includes Michael “Monty” Widenius, the “spiritual father” of MariaDB, and one of the original developers of MySQL, the predecessor to MariaDB; Tom Henriksson who invested in MySQL and MariaDB; as well as Ralf Wahlsten and Patrik Backman.

Tom Henriksson, General Partner at OpenOcean, commented: “Ekaterina… brings an immense amount of expertise to the team and exemplifies the way we want to support our founders. Fund 2020 is an important step for OpenOcean, with prestigious LPs trusting our approach and our knowledge, and believing in our ability to identify the very best data solutions and infrastructure technologies in Europe.”

Almasque said: “The next five years will be critical for digital infrastructure, as breakthrough technologies are currently being constrained by the capabilities of the stack. Enabling this next level of infrastructure innovation is crucial to realising digitisation projects across the economy and will determine what the internet of the future looks like. We’re excited by the potential of world-leading businesses being built across Europe and are looking forward to supporting the next generation of software leaders.”

Speaking to TechCrunch she added: “It’s very rare to find such a VC so be deep in the stack which also invested in one of the first unicorns in Europe and really built the open source ecosystem globally. So for me, this was absolutely an interesting team to join. And what OpenOcean was doing since inception in 2011 was very unique among pioneering ecosystems, such as big data analytics… and it remains very pioneering, pushing the frontiers in artificial intelligence and now quantum computing. This is what really attracts me, and I think there is a very, very big future.”

In an interview Henriksson told me: “What we are seeing is that our economy is shifting more and more towards the digital, data driven economy. It started with few industries, but now we see a larger shift, including new industries like health care, like manufacturing.”

Asked about the effects of the pandemic on the sector, he said: “Obviously we see a lot of startups who are doing plugging into things like the UiPath platform. This is very relevant for the pandemic. Because the companies that had started automating strongly before the pandemic hit… they’ve actually accelerated and they find benefits for their teams and organisations and actually the people are happier because they have better automation technologies in place. The ones that didn’t start before [the pandemic hit] they’re a little behind now.”

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Facebook will pay $650 million to settle class action suit centered on Illinois privacy law

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Facebook was ordered to pay $650 million Friday for running afoul of an Illinois law designed to protect the state’s residents from invasive privacy practices.

That law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), is a powerful state measure that’s tripped up tech companies in recent years. The suit against Facebook was first filed in 2015, alleging that Facebook’s practice of tagging people in photos using facial recognition without their consent violated state law.

1.6 million Illinois residents will receive at least $345 under the final settlement ruling in California federal court. The final number is $100 higher than the $550 million Facebook proposed in 2020, which a judge deemed inadequate. Facebook disabled the automatic facial recognition tagging features in 2019, making it opt-in instead and addressing some of the privacy criticisms echoed by the Illinois class action suit.

A cluster of lawsuits accused Microsoft, Google and Amazon of breaking the same law last year after Illinois residents’ faces were used to train their facial recognition systems without explicit consent.

The Illinois privacy law has tangled up some of tech’s giants, but BIPA has even more potential to impact smaller companies with questionable privacy practices. The controversial facial recognition software company Clearview AI now faces its own BIPA-based class action lawsuit in the state after the company failed to dodge the suit by pushing it out of state courts.

A $650 million settlement would be enough to crush any normal company, though Facebook can brush it off much like it did with the FTC’s record-setting $5 billion penalty in 2019. But the Illinois law isn’t without teeth. For Clearview, it was enough to make the company pull out of business in the state altogether.

The law can’t punish a behemoth like Facebook in the same way, but it is one piece in a regulatory puzzle that poses an increasing threat to the way tech’s data brokers have done business for years. With regulators at the federal, state and legislative level proposing aggressive measures to rein in tech, the landmark Illinois law provides a compelling framework that other states could copy and paste. And if big tech thinks navigating federal oversight will be a nightmare, a patchwork of aggressive state laws governing how tech companies do business on a state-by-state basis is an alternate regulatory future that could prove even less palatable.

 

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AWS reorganizes DeepRacer League to encourage more newbies

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AWS launched the DeepRacer League in 2018 as a fun way to teach developers machine learning, and it’s been building on the idea ever since. Today, it announced the latest league season with two divisions: Open and Pro.

As Marcia Villalba wrote in a blog post announcing the new league, “AWS DeepRacer is an autonomous 1/18th scale race car designed to test [reinforcement learning] models by racing virtually in the AWS DeepRacer console or physically on a track at AWS and customer events. AWS DeepRacer is for developers of all skill levels, even if you don’t have any ML experience. When learning RL using AWS DeepRacer, you can take part in the AWS DeepRacer League where you get experience with machine learning in a fun and competitive environment.”

While the company started these as in-person races with physical cars, the pandemic has forced them to make it a virtual event over the last year, but the new format seemed to be blocking out newcomers. Since the goal is to teach people about machine learning, getting new people involved is crucial to the company.

That’s why it created the Open League, which as the name suggests is open to anyone. You can test your skills and if you’re good enough, finishing in the top 10%, you can compete in the Pro division. Everyone competes for prizes as well such as vehicle customizations.

The top 16 in the Pro League each month race for a chance to go to the finals at AWS re:Invent in 2021, an event that may or may not be virtual, depending on where we are in the pandemic recovery.

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Free 30-day trial of Extra Crunch included with TC Sessions: Justice tickets

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TC Sessions: Justice is coming up on Wednesday, and we’ve decided to sweeten the deal for what’s included with your event pass. Buy your ticket now and you’ll get a free month of access to Extra Crunch, our membership program focused on founders and startup teams with exclusive articles published daily.

Extra Crunch unlocks access to our weekly investor surveys, private market analysis and in-depth interviews with experts on fundraising, growth, monetization and other core startup topics. Get feedback on your pitch deck through Extra Crunch Live, and stay informed with our members-only Extra Crunch newsletter. Other benefits include an improved TechCrunch.com experience and savings on software services from AWS, Crunchbase and more.

Learn more about Extra Crunch benefits here, and buy your TC Sessions: Justice tickets here.  

What is TC Sessions: Justice? 

TC Sessions: Justice is a single-day virtual event that explores diversity, equity and inclusion in tech, the gig worker experience, the justice system and more. We’ll host a series of interviews with key figures in the tech community. 

The event will take place March 3, and we’d love to have you join. 

View the event agenda here, and purchase tickets here

Once you buy your TC Sessions: Justice pass, you will be emailed a link and unique code you can use to claim the free month of Extra Crunch.

Already bought your TC Sessions: Justice ticket?

Existing pass holders will be emailed with information on how to claim the free month of Extra Crunch membership. All new ticket purchases will receive information over email immediately after the purchase is complete.

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We’re happy to extend a free month of access to existing users. Please contact extracrunch@techcrunch.com and mention that you are existing Extra Crunch members who bought a ticket to TC Sessions: Justice. 

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