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Steering innovation toward the public good

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Steering innovation toward the public good

Millennia ago, some unnamed innovator created humanity’s most famous early invention: the wheel. And ever since, the story of transportation has been one of human creativity, innovation, and technology. From e-scooters to spacecraft, technology shapes most human journeys, whether it’s a historic spaceflight or a daily cross-town commute.

At the U.S. Department of Transportation, my colleagues and I think every day about how transportation technologies are evolving, and we use our policy tools to support these innovations and make sure they deliver convenience, safety, and economic opportunity for the American people.

At any time in history, and certainly in ours, innovation shapes and reshapes how people and goods move to where they need to be. But in recent years, “innovation” has become such a buzzword that it risks losing its meaning—and policymakers risk losing our focus as we contend with the constantly shifting and rapidly developing world of transportation technology.

As policymakers, we must prioritize. We need to assess which important innovations will develop on their own, and which require federal support for basic research. We must consider when a technology should be given as much room as possible to develop experimentally, and when it raises concerns that require regulation to keep people safe.

The current decade is especially full of challenges and opportunities from developments in transportation technology. We are witnessing the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles, the widespread adoption of recreational and commercial drones, renewed attention to cybersecurity vulnerabilities in our infrastructure, increasingly routine commercial space travel, and, perhaps most urgently, the high-stakes race to dramatically reduce transportation’s impact on our climate before it’s too late.

Amid these changes, the role of public policy is not always obvious, but it’s always important. To inform our work, today our department is establishing a set of six guiding principles for our work on innovation in transportation.

Innovation is not an end in itself, but a chance to improve. Our innovation efforts should serve our most important public policy goals, like creating economic opportunity, advancing equitable access to transportation, and helping to confront the climate crisis.

Innovation should be shaped in ways that help America win the 21st century, with transportation systems and infrastructure that make communities more competitive, adaptable, and resilient.

Our innovation strategy must support workers, knowing that our choices will help to define whether any given technological development meets its potential to create economic benefits for all.

A good innovation strategy allows for experimentation and learns from setbacks, because these are indispensable parts of the scientific method that underpin all invention and discovery.

Our approach to innovation should center on opportunities to collaborate, recognizing the distinct but related roles of the public, private, and academic sectors.

And finally, our policies should be flexible and adapt as technology changes, because we can’t prepare for an evolving future with policy that only makes sense under present or past conditions.

These principles will help us to ensure that the enormous potential of U.S. transportation innovation benefits our nation and its people. To some, “government” and “innovation” are not words that go together naturally. But in reality, the public sector has always played a vital role in unlocking the innovative capacity of the American people.

Consider the smartphone, an invention that transformed the way we live in a matter of just a few years. Smartphones could only be the result of private-sector inventions and marketing—the natural role of private companies, not government departments. But the technologies on which smartphones depend—like microprocessors, lithium batteries, touchscreens, GPS, and indeed the internet itself—were all supported or invented by government researchers.

Some of our largest tech companies—including Google, Apple, and Tesla—benefited from government subsidies, loan guarantees, or other public support early in their growth.

And while government is far from the source of all invention, it does have a responsibility to help ensure that all inventions are safe and practical for the public.

Government didn’t invent planes, trains, or automobiles, but it did build airports, lay tracks, and construct highways. It enacted laws requiring seat belts and air bags, and created an air traffic control system so that people could travel safely.

As secretary of Transportation, I’ve had the privilege of seeing firsthand the latest frontiers of transportation innovation in our country.

In Georgia last year, I saw the nation’s first-ever solar roadway, which provides clean power for nearby electric vehicle (EV) chargers. In Oregon, I test-drove one of the electric buses that cities around the country are embracing as cleaner and quieter alternatives to outdated diesel vehicles. And in North Carolina, I visited an advanced research lab working on an extremely important, if unglamorous, subject: the future of pavement, including more durable asphalt and even materials that can recycle carbon dioxide.

American companies and scientists are at work every day pushing the boundaries of what is possible in transportation. And our department is at work every day supporting basic research and maintaining the guardrails that ensure those technologies unfold in ways that are safe, equitable, and clean. In the years ahead, these core principles will guide that work—and thanks to President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we have new resources to support those efforts.

These investments will help more Americans adopt electric vehicles and save money on fuel. They will help more children take the bus to school without being exposed to toxic fumes. And they will put more people to work creating the infrastructure of the future.

When it comes to transportation innovation, perhaps the hardest thing to predict is the timing of how and when these developments will impact our everyday lives. Less than 60 years passed between the first flight at Kitty Hawk and the first crewed American spaceflight. Less than 10 years after the first smartphones hit the market, ride-sharing was overtaking taxi use in many American cities. Electric vehicles were in commercial production in 1902 at Studebaker factories in my hometown of South Bend, Indiana—only to all but disappear for most of the 20th century, then re-emerge as a dominant force in the 21st.

It’s not the job of policymakers to guess or dictate how and when these advancements will unfold. But our role in supporting, fostering, and safeguarding the work of transportation innovation is vital, and it comes at an exceptionally important time in the story of American transportation. The decade ahead will bring countless transformative changes in how people and goods move around the country and the world. And the Department of Transportation will be here to help support those innovations and ensure they benefit us all.

Source: Tech

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Crypto.com expands venture arm to $500 million to back early-stage web3 startups

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Crypto.com, a popular cryptocurrency exchange, has extended its venture arm’s fund size to $500 million as it looks to more aggressively back early-stage startups to help the nascent ecosystem grow, following similar moves by rivals Binance, Coinbase and FTX.

The broadening of Crypto.com Capital comes less than a year after the Singapore-headquartered firm unveiled its maiden fund of $200 million. The fund, unlike those of many of its rivals, has no LPs (meaning, it’s fully financed by the firm’s balance sheet.)

The maiden fund, whose individual checks run up to $10 million in size, has been so far deployed to back about 20 startups including YGG SEA, multi-chain crypto portfolio tracker DeBank, cross-chain token infrastructure Efinity and Ethereum scaling solution Matter Labs.

Crypto.com will continue to focus on backing early-stage startups, said Jon Russell, who joined the firm as a general partner this month, in an interview with TechCrunch.

With the fund, Crypto.com is broadly focusing on gaming, decentralized-finance and startups innovating on cross-chain solutions. But he cautioned that the industry could change and expand, as it has in recent years, to areas “we don’t know about,” hence the firm is keeping an eye out on everything.

Tuesday’s announcement also further illustrates the growing involvement of cryptocurrency exchanges in being the rainmaker – and beneficiary – of the ecosystem which encompasses the industry in which they operate.

FTX, which has backed over 15 startups, last week announced a $2 billion crypto fund. Its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, also owns Alameda Research, a venture firm that has backed close to 100 web3 startups.

Coinbase Ventures, the investment arm of the only crypto exchange that is publicly traded, and Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange by trading volume, are also among the most prolific investors in the web3 space.

Venture investment in crypto / web3 in 2021 by category (Image credits: Galaxy Digital)

The funding activity in the space, even as most of the aforementioned names often co-invest in startups, is at an all-time high. VCs invested more than $33 billion in crypto/web3 startups in 2021, more than all prior years combined, Galaxy Digital, another prolific investor in the space, wrote in a recent report.

“Valuations in the crypto/blockchain space were 141% higher than the rest of the venture capital space in Q4, highlighting a founder-friendly environment and the intense competition among investors for deal allocations,” the report added.

Scores of venture capital firms have also raised new funds for their crypto investments. Just last year, Andreessen Horowitz added a $2.2 billion crypto fund, Paradigm unveiled a $2.5 billion fund, and Hivemind Capital Partners announced a $1.5 billion fund. Katie Haun, who co-led a16z’s $2.2 billion crypto fund, has left the firm to launch her own crypto-focused fund.

Russell – a former journalist who previously had stints at TechCrunch, The Next Web, and The Ken – said Crypto.com is backing startups to help the ecosystem grow.

“If you’re in the industry, it’s in your interest to help companies grow in the ecosystem and the ecosystem itself to grow,” he said. (Worth pointing out that Solana, Avalanche, Polkadot — as well as some of their major investors — are also aggressively backing startups that are building applications for the native blockchains.)

The startups Crypto.com backs are under no obligation to list their tokens on Crypto.com over any of its rivals or offer the exchange any other preferential treatment, he said. The exchange team similarly doesn’t have a soft spot for the investment arm’s portfolio firms, he added.

(What’s up with the career move? “I’ve been crypto curious for a number of years but I wasn’t gasping to dive in full-time. This project appeals to me because Crypto.com is ambitious but yet it does things the right way. There’s certainly a lot of hype and hot air in crypto and web3 right now, but it’s impossible to ignore the talent that’s pouring into the industry,” he said.)

Crypto.com, which started its life as a blog of professor Matt Blaze (who sold the domain to the crypto exchange), has aggressively expanded in the past year as it looks to court more users. The Singapore-headquartered firm last year agreed to pay more than $700 million for the naming rights of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The downtown Los Angeles complex has been rebranded as Crypto.com Arena for the next 20 years.

The firm, which bills itself as the “fastest-growing” crypto exchange, said at the time of the announcement that the move is positioned to make cryptocurrencies mainstream. Crypto.com, which processes trade volumes of over $2.5 billion every day, also teamed up with Hollywood star Matt Damon last year to promote the brand and cryptocurrencies.

The Damon-starring ad equated buying crypto tokens and NFTs to one of the greatest and boldest accomplishments in the history of humankind. Hyperbole, to be sure, but having the most mainstream American actor as Crypto.com’s celebrity sponsor has certainly helped bring the trading platform, and all that it sells, into the mainstream. The ad went viral and also attracted criticism for being cringeworthy.

Source: Tech

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Focused on smaller cities, Vietnamese social commerce startup Mio raises $8M Series A

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Mio, the Vietnamese social commerce platform, has raised an $8 million Series A, less than a year after announcing its seed round. The funding was led by Jungle Ventures, Patamar Capital and Oliver Jung, with participation from returning investors GGV, Venturra, Hustle Fund, iSEED SEA and Gokul Rajaram.

TechCrunch first covered Mio at the time of its $1 million seed funding in May 2021. Founded in 2020, Mio is a group buying platform that focuses on selling fresh produce and groceries in Tier 2 and 3 cities in Vietnam. The company is able to offer next day delivery because it built a logistics infrastructure that enables it to send produce directly from farms to customers.

The Series A brings Mio’s total raised to $9.1 million, and will be used to expand its logistics and fulfillment system, enter new areas in Vietnam and add new product categories like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) and household appliances.

Mio co-founder and chief executive officer Trung Huynh said that since TechCrunch first covered Mio seven months ago, it has achieved 10x gross merchandise value growth, a 10x increase in agents, or resellers, and grew its team from 60 people to 240. It now fulfills more than 10,000 pieces of fresh produce per day, operating in Ho Chi Minh, Thu Duc, Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An, with plans to expand into northern Vietnam.

The numbers “strengthened our conviction in this model and its potential,” he said. “We need fresh capital to accelerate hiring, product development and supply chain to keep up with the pace of growth as we deepen our presence in existing geographies and expand to new provinces.”

Mio is able to offer next day deliveries because its vertically integrated mayor layers of the value chain, including procurement, warehousing, order sorting and bulk delivery. The startup owns the majority of its logistics infrastructure and uses its own fleet of couriers. Its ability to delivery fresh produce directly from farms to customers in less than 16 hours contributed to higher customer retention and growth, Huynh said, and it will continue to shorten delivery times. .

Mio resellers are called Mio Partners. Huynh said one of the driving factors behind Mio is targeting the right people for the program, or “housewives and stay-home-moms in lower income regions who love sharing value-for-money products to their social circle of friends.”

They aggregate orders, usually from friends and family, and orders are delivered to them in batches for distribution. The startup claims Mio Partners can make up to $400 a month, including a 10% commission on each order and additional commissions based on the monthly performance of other resellers they referred to the program.

“There is a strong possibility” that Mio will expand beyond Vietnam, Huynh said, “but will only be considered at a more appropriate time after we successfully built our playbook for Vietnam.”

Source: Tech

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South Korean HR automation platform flex raises $32M Series B at a $287M valuation

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South Korea-based human resources management platform flex announced today it has closed a $32 million Series B round at a valuation of $298 million. The latest funding, which brings its total raised to $42 million, was led by Greenoaks, with participation from DST Global Partners.  

The startup’s mission is to enable corporations to automate and streamline manual human resources work processes and focus more on people. Its automation tools optimize the employee experience to ensure seamless data flow across groups for use in payroll, e-signature support, on/offboarding and people analytics. It also plans to launch performance review and talents relation management tools in the first quarter of 2022. 

“At flex we define HR as Human Relations, not Human Resources. We believe HR teams deserve world-class software to manage and service their employees, but today it’s clear that many organizations still use spreadsheets or legacy products to make ends meet, said Haenam Chang, CEO of flex.

The two-year-old startup will use the proceeds to scale operations to meet demand, advance its HR automation and SaaS products and increase its headcount.

The Series B funding comes on the back of growth in revenue of almost ten times, compared to last year, driven by a number of product launches and new customers. The startup has primarily been serving SMBs in the IT sector. However, flex plans to expand the addressable market by targeting new industries in the SMB space this year. It did not disclose any user or customer numbers when asked. 

Currently, flex is focused on growing in South Korea by offering a SaaS solution that modernizes the HR functions and processes, which have been slow to adapt to technical progress over the past 20 years. The company said its deep understanding of cultural nuances in people management and the HR regulations in the country help flex to be well-positioned to offer a set of products tailored to South Korean businesses.  

“While some companies have adopted solutions to track and improve how they manage their employees, most still rely on gut instinct or insufficient data to make ad-hoc decisions on employees. At flex, we empower customers with a reliable source of employee data and a rich set of tools to manage their people, maximizing individual and organizational performance. Our goal isn’t just to provide a great HR software solution – it’s to empower companies to better track and manage their most important assets, their people,” Chang said. 

“Korea is one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies but has historically lacked a native solution for companies to manage and pay their employees – leaving businesses frustrated and left to develop their own homegrown solutions,” said Josh Cho, principal of Greenoaks. “Now, flex is rapidly building the country’s first next-generation human resources information system and payroll platform. We are excited about their vision for an end-to-end product that will let companies handle all their HR functions in a single place, from performance management to recruiting to payroll and more.” 

Source: Tech

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