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Announcing the MIT Technology Review Covid Inequality Fellowships

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Early in the pandemic, some headlines argued that covid-19 was the great equalizer—because anyone, no matter their circumstance, could catch it. In reality, it was clear that the virus was affecting some groups of Americans in disproportionate, devastating ways. 

Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, Indigenous communities, and other people of color have been affected the most, and are dying at much higher rates. Incarcerated people have been left unprotected, and those in poverty have been among the hardest hit. Schoolchildren from poorer backgrounds are suffering the biggest educational setbacks, with lifelong repercussions. 

We know many of the reasons, including frontline jobs that expose workers to the virus, economic stresses, unstable housing and unequal health care that leads to worse outcomes. But there’s much more to learn, and much more to do about it.

To help explore these issues and help people’s stories get told, we’ve joined with the Heising Simons Foundation to create five MIT Technology Review Covid Inequality Fellowships.

Each fellowship provides up to $7,500 of financial support to help journalists report and produce stories about covid inequality—and how it’s being tackled—in under-covered communities in the US. Applicants will be judged by a panel of experts that includes some of the most incisive journalists and informed experts working today. Fellows will receive editorial oversight and assistance from our award-winning team; and the end results will be published in MIT Technology Review.

Applying for a Fellowship is straightforward: just take a look through our description of what we’re looking for, and then start submitting your application.

Who should apply

We’re offering two kinds of fellowship.

Freelancer fellowships: Apply for this if you’re an independent journalist who is not already attached to a specific publication. You may come from one of the affected communities you plan to report on, or you may know of an important story about a group you have gotten to know well.

Newsroom fellows: Apply for this if you’re a staff journalist working with a specific outlet, who is looking for extra support to follow up on a story that is important to you and the readers you serve.

If you have journalistic experience, and you want to tell stories about the way covid is affecting people—and what’s being done about it—we encourage you to apply.

What we’re looking for

Your story—or series of stories—will focus on a specific group of people and show how they have been affected by covid-19. It will show the human impacts and explore what kind of disparities exist in exposure, safety, treatment, or outcomes. It may look at how communities are using technologies, developing systems, or building alliances to overcome the problems they face.

MIT Technology Review is a publication about emerging technologies and the ways in which they are used, so we are particularly interested in:

  • The impact of vaccines and how they are distributed
  • Contact tracing, exposure notification, and/or the use of health data
  • How the pandemic is affecting the digital divide
  • Workplace virus protocols and surveillance
  • The impact of long covid on communities

Above all, these are human stories, with people at their center and a search for solutions at their core.

To get there, we’re looking for people who are committed to telling stories with care and dedication while applying rigorous standards and maintaining journalistic integrity. You don’t have to have a long track record in healthcare or science reporting, but you do have to be determined, prepared to challenge preconceptions, and be comfortable asking for help and taking guidance.

What we’re not looking for

These fellowships will not produce simplistic disaster narratives that underscore pre-existing tropes, and we don’t want parachute journalism from reporters who have no history with or insight into the communities they’re writing about. That doesn’t mean you have to identify as part of the community you’re proposing to cover, but it does mean you do have to show that you can report sensitively and thoroughly—and without further endangering them during the pandemic.

How we’ll support your work

Successful applicants will receive up to $7,500 to report and publish their stories. Work will be produced in conjunction with MIT Technology Review and published on our website—or co-published, in the case of Newsroom Fellowships. This money can be used to cover any or all costs related to the story, including your own time, reporting expenses, and travel (where it is safe.)  

We’ll provide editorial support to all fellows, with regular check-ins with our editors and advice from our team. For newsroom fellows, we’ll coordinate with your publication’s team to help you get the most out of the project.

Our panel of judges

Entries will be examined by a panel of some of the leading journalists and voices on the subjects we’re looking at. 

Alexis Madrigal is a senior writer at The Atlantic and co-founder of the Covid Tracking Project, which compiles, annotates, and publishes high-quality data about the outbreak. 

Mark J. Rochester is the editor in chief of Type Media Center, and was previously senior news director for investigations at the Detroit Free Press. He has served on the national board of directors of Investigative Reporters & Editors.

Krystal Tsosie is a Navajo bioethicist and geneticist at Vanderbilt University. She is an advocate for ethical genomic research that respects the rights of Indigenous people.

Seema Yasmin is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, poet, medical doctor and author. She is currently director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative at Stanford University, and a regular contributor on the covid pandemic for CNN.

Gideon Lichfield is the editor in chief of MIT Technology Review. He joined the publication in 2017 after being a founding editor at Quartz and reporting from Moscow, Jerusalem, and Mexico City for The Economist.

Applications for the Fellowships are now open. The final deadline for applications is Sunday March 21, 2021. Selected fellows will be announced in early April 2021.

The fine print

These fellowships are US-only; Fellows must be legally able to work in the United States. Stories must be designed for text: although video and audio can be part of the output, your story will need to center around written journalism, which can include news reporting, narratives, or data. Projects do not have a minimum timescale, but drafts must be completed by the end of 2021. All stories will be subject to editing, fact-checking, and legal review.

Here are some of the key things we’ll require in the first stage of the application process.

  • A well-written outline of your story or project of no more than 750 words. We are looking for a compelling pitch that gives an overview of the people, places, information, and issues that you will be bringing into the spotlight.
  • A reporting plan that includes (a) a proposed timeline and (b) an explanation of how you plan to report in a covid-safe manner on the communities you are focused on. Speed is not a factor in our decision, but it’s good to know how you plan to carry out the task of researching, reporting, and producing your story.
  • A written personal statement (maximum 500 words) telling us about your prior work, relevant experiences and your connection to the community you’re proposing to cover.
  • Three samples of original work. If this is not freely available online (for example, it is behind a paywall, or only available in print) please provide PDF files.
  • Newsroom fellowship applicants will be required to submit a letterhead statement confirming that you have the support of your publication.

Shortlisted applicants will be asked to provide more information, including a breakdown of how they’d spend the fellowship award, answer a questionnaire about the risks their project faces, and supply two letters of recommendation.

If you have any questions about this application process, you can contact senior editor Bobbie Johnson by email.

Click here to apply now

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

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Terminus raises $90M to grow its B2B marketing platform, now valued at around $400M

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Sales and marketing are often considered a single category on a business plan, but ironically, when it comes to building apps and services to help with them, they usually become separate entities, and so too do the teams that address sales and marketing in organizations. Today, however, a startup called Terminus — which is building a platform that views sales and marketing in a more integrated way, through account-based marketing — is announcing funding and growth, a sign of how its approach is gaining more traction.

The startup has closed a Series C of $90 million, at a valuation we understand from sources to be around $400 million. This is a huge jump on Terminus’s valuation in its last round, which was $96 million post-money in 2018, according to PitchBook data.

Part of the reason for the hike is likely because of the huge focus that digital marketing has had especially in the last year — a time when, because of the pandemic, a lot of more legacy and traditional channels have ceased to be as visible). Account-based marketing alone was estimated, in 2018, to be a $458 billion market opportunity.

Another reason for interest in Terminus specifically is because of its customer record within that. It has around 1,000 enterprise customers, including divisions of IBM, Salesforce, Thomson Reuters, and more.

“We’re building the new marketing automation,” said CEO Tim Kopp in an interview. “We think account-based marketing is the most important thing to have happened in sales software. Teams are switching from lead-based to account-based approaches, and we’ve now moved into addressing all points of engagement, a modern B2B marketing cloud.”

The equity round is being led by Great Hill Partners, with previous investors Atlanta Ventures and Edison Partners, and new backer Hallet Capital also participating. The funding brings the total raised by Terminus — co-headquartered in Atlanta, GA and Indianapolis, IN — to about $120 million.

The world of marketing has seen a huge shift in the two decades, with the rise in internet consumption, and the proliferation of digital services, driving a big business in what is now collectively called “martech”.

The area that Terminus specifically focuses on within that is account-based marketing. In short, this is a way for B2B sales and marketing teams to conceive of potential targets at a business not as individual entities but collective groups. This means a more joined up effort to work across whole organizations, providing a way to market something to more than one person, increasing the chances of connecting with someone to then make the sale.

Terminus’ platform and approach, CEO Kopp points out, essentially brings the functions of sales and marketing together, instead of needing to hand off work from one to the other (eliminating the admin and cost of working across different software within those groups as part of that).

“We see an overwhelming opportunity in bringing together marketing and sales,” he said in an interview. “Marketing is joining in on sales meetings and sales has become a part of the client success, where you are marketing to your own customers. It’s an area where customers stink because they typically come at it from the sales or marketing side.”

Terminus’ platform today consists of a “data studio” that brings together sales intelligence, account information, and other data sources to help compile a list of would-be targets. On top of this, it also has been building out a marketing engine that includes the ability to build advertising, email and web campaigns, and chatbot management. Some of this has been built in-house, and some has come to the company by way of acquisitions (for example the chat functionality comes by way of its acquisition of Ramble last April).

Terminus is by far not the only company working in this area. Others include Marketo (part of Adobe), 6sense, Sendoso and many others. Terminus’s approach is to bring different aspects of the marketing and sales process (analytics, orchestration, automation and execution) into one platform.

Fittingly, the startup’s name was based on an early nickname for Atlanta, and used as a reference to its aim of being the single for its customers’ various marketing and sales activities.

This is one reason why investors have been knocking.

“Terminus continues to redefine how teams go to market, innovating how companies generate revenue in a digital-first environment,” said Derek Schoettle, a growth partner at Great Hill. “We’ve been so impressed with this team, the company’s significant growth over the last year, its continued product innovation, and the huge market opportunity ahead.”

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Berlin’s MorphAIs hopes its AI algorithms will put its early-stage VC fund ahead of the pack

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MorphAIs is a new VC out of Berlin, aiming to leverage AI algorithms to boost its investment decisions in early-stage startups. But there’s a catch: it hasn’t raised a fund yet.

The firm was founded by Eva-Valérie Gfrerer who was previously head of Growth Marketing at FinTech startup OptioPay and her background is in Behavioural Science and Advanced Information Systems.

Gfrerer says she started MorphAIs to be a tech company, using AI to assess venture investments and then selling that as a service. But after a while, she realized the platform could be applied an in-house fund, hence the drive to now raise a fund.

MorphAIs has already received financing from some serial entrepreneurs, including: Max Laemmle, CEO & Founder Fraugster, previously Better Payment and SumUp; Marc-Alexander Christ, Co-Founder SumUp, previously Groupon (CityDeal) and JP Morgan Chase; Charles Fraenkl, CEO SmartFrog, previously CEO at Gigaset and AOL; Andreas Winiarski, Chairman & Founder awesome capital Group.

She says: “It’s been decades since there has been any meaningful innovation in the processes by which venture capital is allocated. We have built technology to re-invent those processes and push the industry towards more accurate allocation of capital and a less-biased and more inclusive start-up ecosystem.”

She points out that over 80% of early-stage VC funds don’t deliver the minimum expected return rate to their investors. This is true, but admittedly, the VC industry is almost built to throw a lot of money away, in the hope that it will pick the winner that makes up for all the losses.

She now plans to aim for a pre-seed/seed fund, backed by a team consisting of machine learning scientists, mathematicians, and behavioral scientists, and claims that MorphAIs is modeling consistent 16x return rates, after running real-time predictions based on market data.

Her co-founder is Jan Saputra Müller, CTO and Co-Founder, who co-founded and served as CTO for several machine learning companies, including askby.ai.

There’s one problem: Gfrerer’s approach is not unique. For instance, London-based Inreach Ventures has made a big play of using data to hunt down startups. And every other VC in Europe does something similar, more or less.

Will Gfrerer manage to pull off something spectacular? We shall have to wait and find out.

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Lob raises $50M for its direct mail platform

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Lob is a startup promising to help businesses deliver physical mail more quickly and affordably, and with more personalization.

The company estimates that its platform has been used to deliver mail to one in two U.S. households. And today, it’s announcing that it has raised $50 million in Series C funding.

CEO Leore Avidar told me he founded Lob with Harry Zhang nearly a decade ago to “allow people to send mail programmatically.” Over time, the company has become increasingly focused on enterprise clients — its 8,500-plus customers include Twitter, Expedia and Oscar Health — although Avidar said it will always offer a product for small businesses as well.

Avidar explained that in a digital age, there are two main categories of physical mail that Lob continues to support for its customers. First, there’s mail sent for “a regulatory purpose, a compliance purpose” — in other words, mail that businesses are legally required to send in printed form. Second, there’s direct mail sent as marketing, which Avidar said many companies are rediscovering.

“Marketing as a whole is always trying to find a unique channel in order to make their customer aware of whatever their call to action is,” he said. “Right now, social is really expensive, Google AdWords is super expensive, with email you can easily unsubscribe. No one’s been paying attention to direct mail, and the prices don’t scale with supply and demand.”

Lob says that it can reduce the execution time on a direct mail campaign by 95%, from 90 days to less than a day. For the actual printing and delivery, it has built out a network of partners across the country. And other companies like PostPilot and Postalaytics are building on top of the Lob platform.

The startup has now raised $80 million in total funding. The new round was led by Y Combinator Continuity Fund — Lob participated in the YC accelerator and the Continuity Fund also led the startup’s previous funding.

Avidar said the company is planning to triple the amount of physical mail delivered through the platform this year, which means the round will allow it to continue expanding the Print Delivery Network, as well as increasing headcount to more than 260 employees.

“Lob is leading the digital transformation of direct mail, a business process used by every company on Earth that has remained virtually untouched by software,” said YC Managing Partner and Lob board member Ali Rowghani in a statement. “Lob’s platform delivers exceptional value to some of the world’s largest senders of direct mail by lowering cost and improving deliverability, tracking, reporting, and ROI. Even for the most sophisticated senders of direct mail, Lob’s API-driven product is vastly superior to legacy approaches.”

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