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Why Terry Crews is launching a social currency



Actor Terry Crews is going in on the blockchain. With the help of social currency startup Roll, Crews is launching his own social currency, $POWER.

But first, let’s break down what that means. Anyone can create a social currency, which hundreds of creators have already done via Roll, to change their relationships with fans and users. Roll enables creators to mint and distribute their own social currency under the ERC20 standard and then determine the ways in which their communities can earn and spend that social currency.

“Anyone, anywhere, anytime can create their own content,” Roll founder and CEO Bradley Miles told TechCrunch. “We refer to this as mass personalization of content. Right now, Roll is experiencing the same thing with money itself. Anyone, anywhere, anytime can create their own money.”

The way I think of it is it’s almost like the process for earning and redeeming credit card points but minus the credit card company and plus the blockchain and creators. I haven’t run this analogy by Miles, but I’m going with it. Just how your credit card provider gives you points for using your card and then you can redeem those points for cash, airline tickets, etc., creators give fans social currency for engaging with their work in a variety of ways. Then, fans can redeem that social currency for more art, content or what have you.

Currently, there are about 300 creators, including Crews, using Roll. Roll, which has $2.7 million in funding from investors like Balaji Srinivasan, Trevor McFederies and others, recently saw its social currency market cap surpass $1 billion. Bradley Miles gifted me .10 $WHALE (worth about $3) so I could get a better understanding of how creators are already using Roll. $WHALE is backed by tangible and rare non-fungible token assets, which means that I can use my $WHALE to buy NFTs. And because Roll enables users to trade their social currency for over 600 other digital assets, that means I could buy the below NFT over on NFT marketplace OpenSea.

Image Credits: Screenshot/OpenSea

However, you’ll see that the Podmork Pix 35 WS cost 28 $WHALE, so I will not be buying this NFT.

In the case of Crews, he envisions folks earning $POWER via blockchain art purchases, NFTs, physical goods and experiences. Initially, Crews is engaging with his $POWER community through Discord. Folks with 50 $POWER, for example, can access a special channel within Discord. To date, Crews had distributed $POWER to about 100 people, he said.

“If I give you $POWER, you own a piece of me,” Crews said. “There’s no other way to put it. And I want to be very careful about who is holding me, no puns intended.”

It’s still early days for $POWER, but Crews says he eventually wants to offer interest-free microloans to artists. The ultimate goal with $POWER is to empower artists.

“That’s our long-term plan,” Crews said. “To become this thing that this community can live and exist in. You could use it anywhere you are — at Target, the grocery store.”

Crews attributes his interest in this space to something that happened to him about four years ago.

While in Milan, Crews said he was trying to buy designer furniture from an artist he respected at Salone del Mobile. He realized he needed extra money to complete the purchase, but didn’t have enough cash in his checking account to cover it. So he got on the phone with American Express, he said, who told him to go to a local bank. American Express, on Crews’ behalf, then tried to explain the situation to the local bank manager so that Crews could get the funds he needed to complete the transaction. Crews said the local bank manager took one look at him and said, “no.”

“And I’m watching all these white men and women pass me in line, and they’re looking at me strangely,” Crews said. “I’d been standing there for 15 minutes and it slowly dawns on me that because I’m Black, I was not going to get my money,” he said. “That was the moment I knew everything had to change for me.”

Crews ended up going to a check-cashing place, in an area where he said his Uber driver refused to go, and got the funds to pay the fees.

“Bringing it up still makes me angry,” he said. “What I love about this new world of finance is that cryptocurrency does not know what race you are, how old you are.”

Through $POWER, Crews hopes to put power back in the hands of artists and creators, Crews explained.

“There’s no gatekeeper to tell us no,” he said.

Crews says he’s also going to start putting out his own content into the $POWER community, where the community will collectively own it together.

“This is bigger than me,” he said. “This is a new future.”

For Miles, he envisions a world in which $POWER is accepted at movie theaters or at Paramount Pictures properties.

“[Social currency] is not to replace the dollar,” Miles said. “It’s to complement [money] and do work that probably the dollar is not suited to do.”

I asked Crews if this means he’s leaving Hollywood and will solely focus on producing his own content for his $POWER community. But Crews said he left Hollywood when he sued William Morris Endeavor in 2017 alleging an executive from the firm groped him. Crews and WME settled the suit in 2018.

“And they were done with me,” he said. “But the deal is, is that I had my power. I still had my talent. William Morris threatened to end everything I’m doing. But everything I’m doing right now, you can’t take. So that’s when I separated from Hollywood. I’ve never felt like a Hollywood person, even to this day. But every artist out there probably feels the same way. They want their power.”



Vietnamese electric motorbike startup Dat Bike raises $2.6M led by Jungle Ventures



Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike on one of the startup's motorbikes

Son Nguyen, founder and chief executive officer of Dat Bike

Dat Bike, a Vietnamese startup with ambitions to become the top electric motorbike company in Southeast Asia, has raised $2.6 million in pre-Series A funding led by Jungle Ventures. Made in Vietnam with mostly domestic parts, Dat Bike’s selling point is its ability to compete with gas motorbikes in terms of pricing and performance. Its new funding is the first time Jungle Ventures has invested in the mobility sector and included participation from Wavemaker Partners, Hustle Fund and iSeed Ventures.

Founder and chief executive officer Son Nguyen began learning how to build bikes from scrap parts while working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. In 2018, he moved back to Vietnam and launched Dat Bike. More than 80% of households in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam own two-wheeled vehicles, but the majority are fueled by gas. Nguyen told TechCrunch that many people want to switch to electric motorbikes, but a major obstacle is performance.

Nguyen said that Dat Bike offers three times the performance (5 kW versus 1.5 kW) and 2 times the range (100 km versus 50 km) of most electric motorbikes in the market, at the same price point. The company’s flagship motorbike, called Weaver, was created to compete against gas motorbikes. It seats two people, which Nguyen noted is an important selling point in Southeast Asian countries, and has a 5000W motor that accelerates from 0 to 50 km per hour in three seconds. The Weaver can be fully charged at a standard electric outlet in about three hours, and reach up to 100 km on one charge (the motorbike’s next iteration will go up to 200 km on one charge).

Dat Bike’s opened its first physical store in Ho Chi Minh City last December. Nguyen said the company “has shipped a few hundred motorbikes so far and still have a backlog of orders.” He added that it saw a 35% month-over-month growth in new orders after the Ho Chi Minh City store opened.

At 39.9 million dong, or about $1,700 USD, Weaver’s pricing is also comparable to the median price of gas motorbikes. Dat Bike partners with banks and financial institutions to offer consumers twelve-month payment plans with no interest.

“These guys are competing with each other to put the emerging middle class of Vietnam on the digital financial market for the first time ever and as a result, we get a very favorable rate,” he said.

While Vietnam’s government hasn’t implemented subsidies for electric motorbikes yet, the Ministry of Transportation has proposed new regulations mandating electric infrastructure at parking lots and bike stations, which Nguyen said will increase the adoption of electric vehicles. Other Vietnamese companies making electric two-wheeled vehicles include VinFast and PEGA.

One of Dat Bike’s advantages is that its bikes are developed in house, with locally-sourced parts. Nguyen said the benefits of manufacturing in Vietnam, instead of sourcing from China and other countries, include streamlined logistics and a more efficient supply chain, since most of Dat Bike’s suppliers are also domestic.

“There are also huge tax advantages for being local, as import tax for bikes is 45% and for bike parts ranging from 15% to 30%,” said Nguyen. “Trade within Southeast Asia is tariff-free though, which means that we have a competitive advantage to expand to the region, compare to foreign imported bikes.”

Dat Bike plans to expand by building its supply chain in Southeast Asia over the next two to three years, with the help of investors like Jungle Ventures.

In a statement, Jungle Ventures founding partner Amit Anand said, “The $25 billion two-wheeler industry in Southeast Asia in particular is ripe for reaping benefits of new developments in electric vehicles and automation. We believe that Dat Bike will lead this charge and create a new benchmark not just in the region but potentially globally for what the next generation of two-wheeler electric vehicles will look and perform like.”

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Binance Labs leads $1.6M seed round in DeFi startup MOUND, the developer of Pancake Bunny



Decentralized finance startup MOUND, known for its yield farming aggregator Pancake Bunny, has raised $1.6 million in seed funding led by Binance Labs. Other participants included IDEO CoLab, SparkLabs Korea and Handshake co-founder Andrew Lee.

Built on Binance Smart Chain, a blockchain for developing high-performance DeFi apps, MOUND says Pancake Bunny now has over 30,000 daily average users, and has accumulated more than $2.1 billion in total value locked (TVL) since its launch in December 2020.

The new funding will be used to expand Pancake Bunny and develop new products. MOUND recently launched Smart Vaults and plans to unveil Cross-Chain Collateralization in about a month, bringing the startup closer to its goal of covering a wide range of DeFi use cases, including farming, lending and swapping.

Smart Vaults are for farming single asset yields on leveraged lending products. It also automatically checks if the cost of leveraging may be more than anticipated returns and can actively lend assets for MOUND’s cross-chain farming.

Cross-Chain Collateralization is cross-chain yield farming that lets users keep original assets on their native blockchain instead of relying on a bridge token. The user’s original assets serve as collateral when the Bunny protocol borrows assets on the Binance Smart Chain for yield farming. This allows users to keep assets on native blockchains while giving them liquidity to generate returns on the Binance Smart Chain.

In statement, Wei Zhou, Binance chief financial officer, and head of Binance Labs and M&A’s, said “Pancake Bunny’s growth and MOUND’s commitent to execution are impressive. Team MOUND’s expertise in live product design and servie was a key factor in our decision to invest. We look forward to expanding the horizons of Defi together with MOUND.”

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Battery Resourcers raises $20M to commercialize its recycling-plus-manufacturing operations



As a greater share of the transportation market becomes electrified, companies have started to grapple with how to dispose of the thousands of tons of used electric vehicle batteries that are expected to come off the roads by the end of the decade.

Battery Resourcers proposes a seemingly simple solution: recycle them. But the company doesn’t stop there. It’s engineered a “closed loop” process to turn that recycled material into nickel-manganese-cobalt cathodes to sell back to battery manufacturers. It is also developing a process to recover and purify graphite, a material used in anodes, to battery-grade.

Battery Resourcers’ business model has attracted another round of investor attention, this time with a $20 million Series B equity round led by Orbia Ventures, with injections from At One Ventures, TDK Ventures, TRUMPF Venture, Doral Energy-Tech Ventures and InMotion Ventures. Battery Resourcers CEO Mike O’Kronley declined to disclose the company’s new valuation.

The cathode and anode, along with the electrolyzer, are major components of battery architecture, and O’Kronley told TechCrunch it is this recycling-plus-manufacturing process that distinguishes the company from other recyclers.

“When we say that we’re on the verge of revolutionizing this industry, what we are doing is we are making the cathode active material — we’re not just recovering the metals that are in the battery, which a lot of other recyclers are doing,” he said. “We’re recovering those materials, and formulating brand new cathode active material, and also recovering and purifying the graphite active material. So those two active materials will be sold to a battery manufacturer and go right back into the new battery.”

“Other recycling companies, they’re focused on recovering just the metals that are in [batteries]: there’s copper, there’s aluminum, there’s nickel, there’s cobalt. They’re focused on recovering those metals and selling them back as commodities into whatever industry needs those metals,” he added. “And they may or may not go back into a battery.”

The company says its approach could reduce the battery industry’s reliance on mined metals — a reliance that’s only anticipated to grow in the coming decades. A study published last December found that demand for cobalt could increase by a factor of 17 and nickel by a factor of 28, depending on the size of EV uptake and advances in battery chemistries.

Thus far, the company’s been operating a demonstration-scale facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, and has expanded into a facility in Novi, Michigan, where it does analytical testing and material characterization. Between the two sites, the company can make around 15 tons of cathode materials a year. This latest funding round will help facilitate the development of a commercial-scale facility, which Battery Resourcers said in a statement will boost its capacity to process 10,000 tons of batteries per year, or batteries from around 20,000 EVs.

Another major piece of its proprietary recycling process is the ability to take in both old and new EV batteries, process them and formulate the newest kind of cathodes used in today’s batteries. “So they can take in 10-year-old batteries from a Chevy Volt and reformulate the metals to make the high-Ni cathode active materials in use today,” a company spokesman explained to TechCrunch.

Battery Resourcers is already receiving inquiries from automakers and consumer electronics companies, O’Kronley said, though he did not provide additional details. But InMotion Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jaguar Land Rover, said in a statement its participation in the round as a “significant investment.”

“[Battery Resourcers’] proprietary end-to-end recycling process supports Jaguar Land Rover’s journey to become a net zero carbon business by 2039,” InMotion managing director Sebastian Peck said.

Battery Resourcers was founded in 2015 after being spun out from Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The company has previously received support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium, a collaboration between General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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