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TechCrunch+ roundup: Cell-cultured meat, alternative financing, avoiding tech debt



You don’t need to be a scientist to understand the impacts of factory farming: if you’ve been near a North Carolina hog waste lagoon or driven past the enormous cattle feedlot in Coalinga, CA, the smell travels for miles.

In exchange for affordability and convenience, consumers, regulators and meat producers have learned to live with the many downsides of raising animals for food at scale: Greenhouse gases, water pollution, unsafe working conditions, and inhumane practices, just for starters.

But a United Nations report estimates that we’ll need to double global food production by 2050 to meet the needs of 10 billion people.

Rising demand for meat is driven in part by the rise of a global middle class. It turns out that the people who have the most buying power are also fans of cheeseburgers, and with consumption and population growth steadily increasing, one might even say meat is eating the world.

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In a deeply researched report for TechCrunch+, reporter Christine Hall examined the state of the cell-cultured meat industry and identified many of the startups innovating in the sector, along with the challenges they face when it comes to ramping up production and getting regulators and consumers on their side.

“It is still small-scale, and the most important thing we are doing that other companies should do is focus on the design, engineering and full-scale installations of vessels and the supporting systems to make a lot of it,” said Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, which sells lab-grown chicken meat in Singapore.

Friederike Grosse-Holz, a director at impact investment firm Blue Horizon, said lab-grown meat is “a little like a moonshot,” but predicts that 11% of the seafood, meat, eggs and dairy consumed globally in 2035 will come from alternative sources.

“We are far from clear in knowing which technology will be the best,” she said. “So it is good there are so many players and a space for them.”

Thanks very much for reading,

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch+

Use alternative financing to fuel VC-level growth without diluting ownership

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Investors are hungry for startups to throw their money at, but VC funding isn’t always the right option at all times or for every startup.

Alternative financing options such as revenue financing or expense financing are often overshadowed by the VC model, but they can be just as, and sometimes more, useful for SaaS startups, writes Miguel Fernandez, CEO and co-founder of Capchase.

In an in-depth post, Fernandez explains alternative financing for startups, and how to tell which option is right for you.

Startup accelerators’ definition of ‘value add’ is due for a refresh

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One of the most notable trends in tech that has emerged during the pandemic is the steady commoditization of capital.

As founders find themselves fielding ample investor interest, accelerators are changing how they invest, what they offer to their cohorts, and how they maximize value and attract top talent, reports Natasha Mascarenhas.

“As capital gets further commoditized, early-stage investors are going back to the drawing board to see what is truly — and excuse my language here — a value-add service.”

Don’t trust averages: How to assess and strengthen the health of your business

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Startups grow fast, and when you’re building one, it can be easy to lose track of what’s working — and what’s not.

One way to track how well your business is doing is to look at the big-picture numbers, but Karen Peacock, CEO of Intercom, has a warning: averages can be dangerously misleading.

“If Jeff Bezos walks into a bar with 100 people, suddenly, on average, the net worth of each individual in that bar is over a billion dollars. Is that useful? Would that lead you to take the right actions? No — averages hide true insights.”

Peacock explains how founders can assess where their business’ strengths lie, and where they need to work harder, including how to gauge revenue health and using customer segmentation to find “leaks in the bucket.”

Here’s how startups can prevent tech debt from piling up

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Focusing on going to market, introducing new features and customizing your product to help land a major client are all proven tactics for driving growth.

But companies that go on building sprees without a clear product roadmap in hand usually end up with a ton of technical debt, writes Sowmyanarayan Raghunathan, VP of Engineering at Talentica Software.

To minimize tech debt, Raghunathan posits four rules for engineering teams:

  • Don’t let specific implementations continue for over three months
  • Do an architecture review of the product every 18-24 months
  • Upgrade to new open source versions two months after launch
  • Understand the product and identify NFRs in advance

With more data available than ever, are companies making smarter decisions?

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For many companies, data is their greatest asset and at the same time, their largest problem.

In a follow-up to a 2014 post about the rise of Big Data, enterprise reporter Ron Miller looks back at the intervening seven years and found that infrastructure, technology and data analysis tools “have all improved dramatically, but it’s by no means a problem solved.”

3 views on CES 2022

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If an event only attracts 25% of its usual crowd, for whom is it essential?

After covering CES 2022 from multiple angles for several years, TechCrunch Transportation Editor Kirsten Korosec, Hardware Editor Brian Heater and reporter Haje Jan Kamps shared their thoughts on how the pandemic has changed the event, and what this means for hardware companies:

  • Kristin Korosec: CES hasn’t lost its automotive luster
  • Brian Heater: Hardware startups should reconsider their media strategies
  • Haje Jan Kamps: I missed it sorely this year

Source: Tech


Baidu’s electric car brand Jidu closes $400M Series A round



Once an industry with long development cycles, the automotive space is being upended by China’s tech giants. One can hardly keep up with all the new electric vehicle brands that come out of the country nowadays. Jidu, an electric carmaking company founded by Baidu and its Chinese auto partner Geely only a year ago, said Wednesday it has banked nearly $400 million in a Series A funding round.

The new injection, bankrolled by Baidu and Geely, which owns Volvo, is a boost to the $300 million initiation capital that Jidu closed last March. The proceeds will speed up Jidu’s R&D and mass production process and allow it to showcase its first concept “robocar” — which it classifies as an automotive robot rather than a car — at the Beijing auto show in April. The mass-produced version of the robocar will launch in 2023.

Jidu’s chief executive Xia Yiping previously headed the connected car unit of Fiat Chrysler in the APAC region and co-founded Mobike, the Chinese bike-sharing pioneer acquired by Meituan in 2018.

The rate at which Jidu has moved forward is remarkable but could easily attract skeptics who question its tech’s viability. The speedy cycle, the carmaker explained, is thanks to its strategy of using a simulated prototype car to develop its smart cockpit and autonomous driving systems, rather than testing individual hardware parts in a mass-produced vehicle.

The carmaker said in as short as nine months, it has “tested and proven” the safety and reliability of its Level 4 (autonomous driving without human interaction in most circumstances) capabilities for urban and highway roads.

The EV startup is also putting a big emphasis on branding and fan community, something its competitor Nio is known for. In December, it started recruiting car lovers to join its “Jidu Union” to geek out about cars at online and offline events.

Moving forward, Jidu will be hiring and training talent specializing in autonomous driving, smart cockpits, smart manufacturing and other related technologies.

Source: Tech

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Resilience raises $45 million for its cancer care startup



French startup Resilience announced yesterday that it has raised a $45 million (€40 million) Series A round led by Cathay Innovation. The startup wants to improve the treatment journey when you’re diagnosed with cancer so that you live a healthier and longer life.

In addition to Cathay Innovation, existing investor Singular is also participating. Other funds are joining the round, such as Exor Seeds, Picus Capital and Seaya Ventures. Finally some healthcare investors are rounding up the round — Fondation Santé Service, MACSF, Ramsay Santé and Vivalto Ventures.

I already profiled Resilience in March 2021 so I encourage you to read my previous article to learn more about the company. Co-founded by two serial entrepreneurs, Céline Lazorthes and Jonathan Benhamou, the company wants to help both patients and caregivers when it comes to cancer care.

On the patient side, Resilience helps you measure, understand and deal with the effects and side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. Users can track various data points in the app and find content and information about their illness.

But Resilience isn’t just an app that you use at home. It is also a software-as-a-service solution for hospitals so that they can better personalize their treatments. Resilience has been founded in partnership with Gustave Roussy, one of the leading cancer research institutes in the world.

Practitioners will be able to take advantage of all the data that patients have gathered from the app. This way, cancer treatment facilities understand the patient better and can adapt their care more quickly. Resilience has acquired Betterise to gain a head start when it comes to data-driven cancer care.

The long-term vision is even more ambitious than that. If you talk with a caregiver working for a cancer treatment facility, they’ll tell you they never have enough time.

And it’s even more difficult to keep track of new treatments that are becoming more and more specialized. Resilience doesn’t want to replace doctors. But it wants to help them overcome blindspots.

The result should be better care for patients, as well as more support through the Resilience app. Cancer care is a long and painful process, so anything that can improve this process is a good thing.

Source: Tech

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PQShield raises $20M for its quantum-ready, future-proof cryptographic security solutions



Quantum computing promises to unlock a new wave of processing power for the most complex calculations, but that could prove to be just as harmful as it is helpful: security specialists warn that malicious hackers will be able to use quantum machines to break through today’s standards in cryptography and encryption. Today, a startup called PQShield that is working on “future-proof” cryptographic products — software and hardware solutions that not only keep data secure today, but also secure in anticipation of a computationally more sophisticated tomorrow — is announcing some funding as it finds some significant traction for its approach.

The startup, spun out of the research labs at Oxford, has raised $20 million, a Series A that it will be using to continue its research and, in conjunction with partners and customers, product development. The startup is already staffed with an impressive number of PhDs and other researchers across the UK (its base remains in Oxford), the U.S., France and the Netherlands, but it will also be using the funds to recruit more talent to the team.

Addition, the investment firm founded by Lee Fixel, is leading this round with Oxford Science Enterprises (formerly known as OSI) and Crane also participating. The latter two are previous backers from PQShield’s $7 million seed round in 2020.

If machine learning is shaping up to be one of the more popular (and perhaps most obvious) applications for quantum computing, security is perhaps that theme’s most ominous leitmotif.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the U.S. identified the risks of using quantum computing for malicious security intent some eight years ago and has been receiving research submissions globally in search of coming up with some standards to counteract that threat. (PQShield is one of the contributors.) Based on signals from other government bodies like the Department of Homeland Security — coupled with a memo from the White House just earlier this month mandating that the government’s intelligence and defense services make the switch to “quantum-resistant” algorithms in 180 days — it looks like the standards process will be completed this year, getting the wheels in motion for companies that are building solutions to address all this.

“One memo can change everything,” PQShield’s CEO and founder Ali El Kaafarani said in an interview.

PQShield (the PQ stands for “post-quantum”) has been working with governments, OEMs and others that are part of the customer base for this technology — adopting it to secure their systems, or building components that will be going into products that will secure their data, or in some cases, both. Its customers includes both private and public organizations impacted by the threat. Bosch is one OEM name that it has disclosed, and El Kaafarani said more will be revealed when PQShield announces its first commercially available solutions. (Other sectors it’s working with include automotive OEM, industrial IoT, and technology consulting, it says.)

PQShield’s solutions, meanwhile, are currently coming in three formats. There is a system on a chip that is designed to sit on hardware like smartcards or processors. It also is making software by way of a cryptographic SDK that can be integrated into mobile and server apps and technologies used to process data or run security operations. And thirdly, in a new addition since it raised its seed round, it’s making a toolkit aimed at communications companies designed specifically to secure messaging services. This latter is perhaps the one that might most immediately touch the consumer market, which has been fertile ground for malicious hackers, and has increasingly become a focus for regulators and ordinary people concerned about how and where their data gets used.

All of these, El Kaafarani said, are designed to work together, or separately as needed by a would-be customer, with the key being that what it is building now can be used today, as well as in a quantum computing future.

The idea of a “quantum threat” might sound remote to most people, considering that we’re still some years away from quantum computing becoming a commercial, scalable industry, but the reality is that malicious hackers have been collecting data that will help them “solve” current cryptographic keys using those machines for years at this point. Some of this data has been publicly shown off, and much has not. All of this has been leading, El Kaafarani noted, to an “inflection point where people are now ready to think about the next phase of public key infrastructure,” which he summed up in layman’s terms as the difference between “math that is still easy to solve, and math that will still be very difficult to solve, even on a quantum computer,” due to particular combinations of math problems and aspects of complexity theory.

Quantum computing, even at its still largely nascent stage, has been fueling a lot of startup and big-tech activity. Atom Computing (which designs quantum computing systems) and Terra Quantum (building quantum-computing-as-a-service, given the likely high cost of these machines) each raised $60 million earlier this month. Intel, IBM and Amazon are among those that have making significant investments in quantum servers and processors for years now. There are others also working specifically on quantum security.

In that context, PQShield groundbreaking role in helping develop standards, and its existing network of customers and partners, spells a clear opportunity and promise for investors:

“Thanks to an industry-leading team, decades of combined experience and a best-in-class product offering, PQShield has quickly emerged as a front runner and true authority in post-quantum cryptography for hardware and software, a field with enormous market potential,” said Fixel in a statement. “PQShield is already helping to define the future of information security, and we are excited to support their ongoing growth.”

Source: Tech

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