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Uber in talks to sell ATG self-driving unit to Aurora – TechCrunch

Eighteen months ago, Uber’s self-driving car unit, Uber Advanced Technologies Group, was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Now, it’s up for sale and a competing autonomous vehicle technology startup is in talks with Uber to buy it, according to three sources familiar with the […]…

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Eighteen months ago, Uber’s self-driving car unit, Uber Advanced Technologies Group, was valued at $7.25 billion following a $1 billion investment from Toyota, DENSO and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. Now, it’s up for sale and a competing autonomous vehicle technology startup is in talks with Uber to buy it, according to three sources familiar with the deal.

Aurora Innovation, the startup founded by three veterans of the autonomous vehicle industry who led programs at Google, Tesla and Uber, is in negotiations to buy Uber ATG. Terms of the deal are still unknown, but sources say the two companies have been in talks since October and it is far along in the process.

An Uber spokesperson declined to comment, citing that the company’s general policy is not to comment on these sorts of inquiries. An Aurora spokesperson said it doesn’t comment on speculation.

The talks could falter. But if successful, they have the potential to triple Aurora’s headcount and allow Uber to unload an expensive long-term play that has sustained several controversies in its short life.

Uber has ‘been shopping’

Shedding Uber ATG would follow a string of spin-offs or other deals in recent months that has narrowed Uber’s focus and costs into core areas of ride-hailing and delivery. Two years ago, Uber’s business model could be described as an “all of the above approach,” a bet on generating revenue from all forms of transportation, including ride-hailing, micromobility, logistics, package and food delivery and someday even autonomous robotaxis.

That strategy has changed since Uber went public and has further accelerated as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the economy and fundamentally changed how people live. In the past 11 months, Uber has dumped shared micromobility unit Jump, sold a stake in its growing but still unprofitable logistics arm, Uber Freight and acquired Postmates. (The Postmates acquisition is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020).

Uber ATG has been the company’s last big, expensive holding. Uber ATG holds a lot of long-term promise and high present-day costs; Uber reported in November that ATG and “other technologies” (which includes Uber Elevate) had a net loss of $303 million in the nine months that ended September 30, 2020. In its S-1 document, Uber said it incurred $457 million of research and development expenses for its ATG and “other Technology Programs” initiatives.

Four sources within the industry told TechCrunch that Uber “has been shopping” ATG to several companies, including automakers this year. Sources have also told TechCrunch that Uber ATG was facing a potential down round, which might have been an additional motivator behind the talks with Aurora.

Aurora, which was founded in 2017, is focused on building the full self-driving stack, the underlying technology that will allow vehicles to navigate highways and city streets without a human driver behind the wheel. Aurora has attracted attention and investment from high-profile venture firms, management firms and corporations such as Greylock Partners, Sequoia Capital, Amazon and T. Rowe Price, in part because of its founders Sterling Anderson, Drew Bagnell and Chris Urmson.

Urmson led the former Google self-driving project before it spun out to become the Alphabet business Waymo. Anderson is best known for leading the development and launch of the Tesla Model X and the automaker’s Autopilot program. Bagnell, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon, helped launch Uber’s efforts in autonomy, ultimately heading the autonomy and perception team at the Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh.

Aurora has grown from a small upstart to a company with 600 employees and operations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Pittsburgh, Texas and Bozeman, Montana, home of Blackmore, the lidar company it acquired in 2019. About 12% of Aurora’s current workforce previously worked at Uber, according to records on LinkedIn.

Despite that growth, Aurora is still dwarfed by Uber ATG, the self-driving subsidiary that is majority owned by Uber. Uber ATG has more than 1,200 employees with operations in several locations, including Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. Uber holds an 86.2% stake (on a fully diluted basis) in Uber ATG, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Its investors hold a combined stake of 13.8% in Uber ATG.

Uber’s public leap into autonomous vehicle technology began in earnest in early 2015 when the company announced a strategic partnership with Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Center. The agreement to work on developing driverless car technology resulted in Uber poaching dozens of NREC researchers and scientists. A year later, with the beginnings of an in-house AV development program, Uber, then led by co-founder Travis Kalanick, acquired a self-driving truck startup called Otto.

The acquisition was troubled almost from the start. Otto was founded earlier that year by one of Google’s star engineers, Anthony Levandowski, along with three other Google veterans: Lior Ron, Claire Delaunay and Don Burnette. Uber acquired Otto less than eight months later.

Two months after the acquisition, Google made two arbitration demands against Levandowski and Ron. Uber wasn’t a party to either arbitration. While the arbitrations played out, Waymo separately filed a lawsuit against Uber in February 2017 for trade secret theft and patent infringement. Waymo alleged in the suit, which went to trial but ended in a settlement in 2018, that Levandowski stole trade secrets, which were then used by Uber.

Under the settlement, Uber agreed not to incorporate Waymo’s confidential information into their hardware and software. Uber also agreed to pay a financial settlement that included 0.34% of Uber equity, per its Series G-1 round $72 billion valuation. That was calculated at the time to be about $244.8 million in Uber equity.

In the early days of the Otto acquisition, Uber estimated it could have 75,000 autonomous vehicles on the road by 2019 and be operating driverless taxi services in 13 cities by 2022, according to court documents unsealed and first reported on by TechCrunch. To reach those ambitious goals, the ride-hailing company was spending $20 million a month on developing self-driving technologies.

Uber never came close to hitting those targets, a mission that was derailed by technical hurdles as well as the lawsuit with Waymo, its troubled relationship with Lewandowski and the fatal crash in March 2018 involving one of its self-driving test vehicles in Tempe, Arizona.

Uber halted all testing following the crash and has been slowly ramping up its more public-facing operations over the past 18 months. The expensive undertaking of developing autonomous vehicles prompted Uber to spin out the company in spring 2019 after it closed $1 billion in funding from Toyota, auto parts maker Denso and SoftBank’s Vision Fund.

The spin-out, which occurred about one month before Uber’s debut as a publicly traded company, had been the subject of speculation for months. It was seen as a way for Uber to share the expensive load with other investors and allow it to focus on its core competencies and nearer-term profit goals.

What Aurora gains

Troubles aside, Uber ATG has two important and critical features that make it attractive to Aurora: talent and Toyota.

The Japanese car giant had already invested $500 million into Uber prior to the 2019 injection of cash. At the time, the two companies announced their intention to bring pilot-scale deployments of automated Toyota Sienna-based ridesharing vehicles to the Uber ridesharing network in 2021, “leveraging the strengths of Uber ATG’s self-driving technology alongside the Toyota Guardian advanced safety support system.”

The 2019 investment into the Uber ATG unit deepened Toyota’s relationship with the company.

“While Uber was facing off against Waymo in the trade secrets lawsuit, Aurora launched with a bang. Within 18 months, Auora had secured several kinds of partnerships with Hyundai, Byton and VW Group. Some have fizzled, while there have been new gains, notably with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The musical chair-like changes underscores the sheer number of hopeful players in the self-driving business — a market that is still full of commercial and technical unknowns — and the fickleness of incumbent car makers in search of the best tech and deal.”

VW Group, which had touted its Aurora partnership in January 2018, confirmed to TechCrunch in June 2019 that “activities under our partnership have been concluded.” VW Group ultimately put its capital behind Argo AI, another autonomous vehicle technology developer that had locked up backing and a customer deal with Ford.

While Hyundai does have a minority stake in Aurora, it also went ahead and locked in a joint venture in fall 2019 with autonomous driving technology company Aptiv. Under the deal with Aptiv, both parties took a 50% ownership stake in the new joint company that is now called Motional. The combined investment in Motional from both companies will total $4 billion in aggregate value (including the value of combined engineering services, R&D and IP).

Aurora has always stated that its full driving stack — the combined suite of software and hardware that provides the brains for an AV — would be vehicle-agnostic, but some of its early testing and partnerships suggested it was focused on robotaxi applications, not logistics. Aurora started talking more openly last year about applying its technology to long-haul trucking and has become more bullish on that application, particularly following its Blackmore acquisition.

Aurora announced in July 2020 that it was expanding into Texas and planned to test commercial routes in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area with a mix of Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans and Class 8 trucks. A small fleet of Pacificas were expected to arrive first. The trucks will be on the road in Texas by the end of the year, according to the company.

The Jump precedent

What’s unclear is how an acquisition of Uber ATG might be structured; and more importantly, if it will retain any interest in the enterprise. Even with the expected depletion in Uber ATG’s valuation, it would be seemingly out-of-range for Aurora unless it was able to secure additional outside investment or structure the deal in a way that would allow Uber to keep some equity. 

There is precedent for the latter. Earlier this year, Uber led a $170 million investment round into Lime. As part of the complex arrangement, Uber offloaded Jump, the bike and scooter-sharing unit, to Lime.

Rumors that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was keen to get rid of Uber ATG have popped up from time to time in the past year. But as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, Khosrowshahi and other executives began to focus on its core competency of ride-hailing and double down on delivery. In addition to its micromobility unit and the Uber Freight spin-off, it has divested itself internationally of a number of regional operations that were proving too costly to grow in competition with strong local rivals.

It was on the heels of the Jump deal that interest in selling off Uber ATG ramped up, according to two sources.

One investor in the industry described it as an interesting Plan B for Uber, a deal that would allow the company to take ATG off the books, while potentially getting to benefit from a little upside.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2020/11/13/uber-in-talks-to-sell-atg-self-driving-unit-to-aurora/

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Cruise strikes deal to launch robotaxi service in Dubai – TechCrunch

Cruise has expanded its robotaxi ambitions beyond San Francisco. The autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has struck a deal to launch a robotaxi service in Dubai in 2023. The robotaxi service in Dubai will use the Cruise Origin, the all-electric shuttle-like vehicle that has […]

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Cruise has expanded its robotaxi ambitions beyond San Francisco. The autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM that also has backing from SoftBank Vision Fund, Microsoft and Honda, has struck a deal to launch a robotaxi service in Dubai in 2023.

The robotaxi service in Dubai will use the Cruise Origin, the all-electric shuttle-like vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals and is designed to travel at highway speeds. The Origin, which was unveiled in January 2020 will be manufactured by GM.

Cruise will establish a new local Dubai-based company which will be responsible for the deployment, operation and maintenance of the fleet.

The service will start with a limited number of vehicles with plans to scale up to 4,000 vehicles by 2030 as part of Dubai’s self-driving transport strategy, according to Mattar Mohammed Al Tayer, the director-general and chairman of the board of the RTA. The robotaxis — and eventually the service — will be introduced gradually and limited to specific areas before expanding to other parts of the city.

Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed said the agreement with Cruise is a “major step towards realizing Dubai’s Self-Driving Transport Strategy aimed at converting 25% of total trips in Dubai into self-driving transport trips across different modes of transport by 2030.”

Importantly, Cruise has a lock on Dubai for at least a few years. Under the agreement, Cruise is the “exclusive provider” for self-driving taxis and ride-hailing services in Dubai until 2029. Al Tayer said the selection of Cruise was not taken lightly and involved a comprehensive, multi-year process.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/12/cruise-strikes-deal-to-launch-robotaxi-service-in-dubai/

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China gets serious about antitrust, fines Alibaba $2.75B – TechCrunch

Chinese regulators have hit Alibaba with a record fine of 18 billion yuan (about $2.75 billion) for violating anti-monopoly rules as the country seeks to rein in the power of its largest internet conglomerates. In November, China proposed sweeping antitrust regulations targeting its interent economy. In late December, the State Administration for Market Regulation said […]

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Chinese regulators have hit Alibaba with a record fine of 18 billion yuan (about $2.75 billion) for violating anti-monopoly rules as the country seeks to rein in the power of its largest internet conglomerates.

In November, China proposed sweeping antitrust regulations targeting its interent economy. In late December, the State Administration for Market Regulation said it had launched an antitrust probe into Alibaba, weeks after the authorities called off the initial public offering of Ant Group, the financial affiliate of Alibaba.

SAMR, the country’s top market regulator, said on Saturday it had determined that Alibaba had been “abusing market dominance” since 2015 by forcing its Chinese merchants to sell exclusively on one e-commerce platform instead of letting them choose freely among different services, such as Pinduoduo and JD.com. Vendors are often pressured to side with Alibaba to take advantage of its enormous user base.

Since late 2020, a clutch of internet giants including Tencent and Alibaba have been hit with various fines for violating anti-competition practices, for instance, failing to clear past acquisitions with regulators. The meager sums of these penalties were symbolic at best compared to the benefits the tech firms reap from their market concentration. No companies have been told to break up their empires and users still have to hop between different super-apps that block each other off.

In recent weeks, however, there are signs that China’s antitrust authorities are getting more serious. The latest fine on Alibaba is equivalent to 4% of the company’s revenue generated in the calendar year of 2019 in China.

“Today, we received the Administrative Penalty Decision issued by the State Administration for Market Regulation of the People’s Republic of China,” Alibaba said in a statement. “We accept the penalty with sincerity and will ensure our compliance with determination. To serve our responsibility to society, we will operate in accordance with the law with utmost diligence, continue to strengthen our compliance systems and build on growth through innovation.”

The thick walls that tech companies build against each other are starting to break down, too. Alibaba has submitted an application to have its shopping deals app run on WeChat’s mini program platform, Wang Hai, an Alibaba executive, recently confirmed.

For years, Alibaba services have been absent from Tencent’s sprawling lite app ecosystem, which now features millions of third-party services. Vice versa, WeChat is notably missing from Alibaba’s online marketplaces as a payment method. If approved, the WeChat-powered Alibaba mini app would break with precedent of the pair’s long stand-off.

In recent weeks, however, there are signs that China’s antitrust authorities are getting more serious. The latest fine on Alibaba is equivalent to 4% of the company’s revenue generated in the calendar year of 2019 in China.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/09/china-gets-serious-about-antitrust-fines-alibaba-2-75b/

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After its first $54M fund, Algebra Ventures launches $90M fund for startups in Egypt – TechCrunch

The venture capital scene in the North African tech ecosystem will be absolutely buzzing right now with the announcement of two large VC funds in the space of two days. Today, Algebra Ventures, an Egyptian VC firm, announced that it has launched its $90 million second fund. Four years ago, Algebra Ventures closed its first […]

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The venture capital scene in the North African tech ecosystem will be absolutely buzzing right now with the announcement of two large VC funds in the space of two days. Today, Algebra Ventures, an Egyptian VC firm, announced that it has launched its $90 million second fund.

Four years ago, Algebra Ventures closed its first fund of $54 million, and with this announcement, the firm hopes to have raised a total of $144 million when the second fund closes (with first close by Q3 2021). If achieved, Algebra will most likely have the largest indigenous fund from North Africa and arguably in Africa.

According to the managing partners — Tarek Assaad and Karim Hussein, the first fund was an Egyptian-focused fund. Still, the firm made some selective investments in a few companies outside the country. The second fund will be similar — Egypt first, Egypt focused, but allocating investments in East and West Africa, North Africa and the Middle East.

Assaad and Hussein launched the firm in 2016 as one of Egypt’s first independent venture capital funds. It wasn’t easy to start one at the time, and it took the partners two years to close the first fund.

“Raising a venture capital fund in Egypt in 2016, in all honesty, was a pain. There was no venture capital to speak of back then,” Assaad told TechCrunch. “The high-flying startups back then were raising between $1 million and $2 million. We decided to take the bull by the horn and raise from very established LPs.”

These LPs include Cisco, the European Commission, Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund (EAEF), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and private family offices. From the first fund, Algebra backed 21 startups in Egypt and MENA, and according to the firm, six of its most established companies are valued at over $350 million and collectively generate more than $150 million in annual revenue. It hopes to back 31 startups from the second fund.

Algebra says it’s sector-agnostic but has a focus on fintech, logistics, health tech and agritech. Although the firm has invested in startups in seed and Series B stages, Algebra is known to be an investor in startups looking to raise Series A investments.

Another appealing proposition from Algebra lies in the fact that it owns an in-house team focused on talent acquisition — in operations, marketing, finance, engineering, etc., for portfolio companies.

The firm’s ticket size remains unchanged from the first fund and will continue to cut checks ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. However, some aspects as to how the firm handles operations might change according to the partners.

“One of the lessons learned in our first fund is that we see that there are more interesting opportunities and great entrepreneurs in the seed stage. And given that we’re more on the ground in Egypt, sometimes we wait for them to mature to Series A. But going forward, we might need to build relationships with those we find exceptional at the seed level and also expand our participation on the Series B level, too,” Hussein said on how the firm will act going forward.

Algebra Ventures

Karim Hussein (Managing partner, Algebra Ventures)

Hussein adds that the company will also be doubling down on its talent acquisition network. Typically, Algebra helps portfolio companies hire C-level executives, and while it plans to continue doing so, the firm might adopt a startup studio model — pairing some professionals to start a company that eventually gets Algebra’s backing and support.

The reason behind this stems from the next set of companies Algebra will be looking to invest in. According to Hussein, the partners at Algebra have studied successful businesses in other emerging markets for some time and want to identify parallels in North Africa where the firm can invest.

“In cases where the firm can’t find those opportunities, we may spur some of those in the network to start building those businesses and capture those opportunities,” he remarked.

Before Algebra, Hussein has been involved with building some successful tech companies in the U.S. Primarily an engineer after bagging both bachelors and doctorate degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and MIT, respectively, he ventured into the world of startup investing and crazy valuations after working for a consulting company in the dot-com era.

He would go on to start Riskclick, a software company known for its commercial insurance applications. The founders sold the company to Skywire before Oracle acquired the company to become part of its suite of insurance services. After some time at WebMD, Hussein returned to Egypt and began mentoring startups as an angel investor. Alongside other angel investors, he started Cairo Angels, an angel investor network in Egypt, in 2013.

“There was a massive gap in the market. We were putting in a bit of small angel money to these businesses but there were no VCs to take them to the next level. So I met up with Tarek and the rest is Algebra,” he said.

Assaad is also an engineer. He obtained his bachelors in Egypt before switching careers by going to Stanford Graduate School of Business. He continued on that path working for some Bay Area companies before his return to Egypt. On his return, he became a managing partner at Ideavelopers, a VC firm operating a $50 million fund since 2009. The firm has had a couple of good success stories, the most notable being fintech startup Fawry. Fawry is now a publicly traded billion-dollar company and Assaad was responsible for the investment which realized a $100 million exit for Ideavelopers in 2015.

Algebra Ventures

Tarek Assaad (Managing partner, Algebra Ventures)

With Algebra, both partners are pioneering local investments in the region. Some of its portfolio companies are the most well-known companies on the continent — health tech startup Vezeeta; social commerce platform Brimore; logistics startup Trella; ride-hailing and super app Halan; food discovery and ordering platform Elmenus; fintech startup, Khazna; and others.

The firm’s latest raise and $144 million capital amount is one of the largest funds dedicated to African startups. Other large Africa-focused funds include the $71 million fund recently closed by another Egyptian firm, Sawari Ventures; Partech’s $143 million fund; Novastar Ventures’ $200 million fund; and the $71 million Tide Africa Fund by TLcom Capital.

These funds have been very pivotal to the growth of the African tech ecosystem in terms of funding. Last year, African startups raised almost $1.5 billion from both local and international investors, according to varying reports. This number was just half a billion dollars six years ago.

However, regardless of the period — 2015 or 2021 — African VC investments have always been largely dominated by foreign investors. But VC firms like Algebra Ventures are showing that local investors can cumulatively raise nine-figure funds or attempt to do so. Obviously, this will provide more startups with more funds and pave the way for indigenous and local VCs to at least increase their participation to nearly equal levels when compared to international investors.

“Raising a venture capital fund in Egypt in 2016, in all honesty, was a pain. There was no venture capital to speak of back then,” Assaad told TechCrunch. “The high-flying startups back then were raising between $1 million and $2 million. We decided to take the bull by the horn and raise from very established LPs.”

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/04/06/after-its-first-54m-fund-algebra-ventures-launches-another-90m-fund-for-startups-in-egypt/

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