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VC Lindy Fishburne on the seemingly sudden democratization of science – TechCrunch

Deep science investor Lindy Fishburne cofounded the seed- and early-stage venture firm Breakout Ventures several years ago, after cofounding Breakout Labs within the Thiel Foundation back in 2011, and she has amassed a wide array of stakes in the process. Among her firm’s portfolio companies is Cortexyme, a company that aims to treat Alzheimer’s disease; […]

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Deep science investor Lindy Fishburne cofounded the seed- and early-stage venture firm Breakout Ventures several years ago, after cofounding Breakout Labs within the Thiel Foundation back in 2011, and she has amassed a wide array of stakes in the process. Among her firm’s portfolio companies is Cortexyme, a company that aims to treat Alzheimer’s disease; the sustainable materials maker Modern Meadow; and Strateos, a company whose robotic cloud platform is remaking how lab work gets done.

We talked with Fishburne late this week about where — based on what she is seeing — we are in the arc of this pandemic. We also talked about why more of her investments, which once seemed like long shots, suddenly look like solid bets. Parts of our chat, below, have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

TC: We want to be excited about the progress being made in vaccinating Americans. Based on the conversations you’re having, what’s your sense of things?

LF: The acceleration of the vaccines is like nothing we’ve ever seen before in science, and now we really are down to the unsexy part of of the logistics of rolling them out. That’s clearly our biggest challenge. Then the next piece we’re going to have to confront is what happens when the world is vaccinated [at] very unequal levels and how people feel about travel and exposure and equity along those issues.

TC: Science has been the big story of the last year. Are you hearing from investors and potential syndicate partners who weren’t reaching out previously?

LF: Yes. The pandemic has brought the importance of investing in science into sharp relief. For the first time, we’re really seeing a whole set of what you would think of as traditional tech investors who read about the mRNA vaccine that Moderna coded in a weekend and who are starting to believe that we’re able to engineer biology and that it doesn’t feel like a craft process anymore.

TC: You talk about coding a vaccine. Are laboratories becoming less important in that scientists are able to do much more in simulation and, if so, what does that mean for human testing? Are we getting to a point where we don’t have to rely on human testing as much as we did in the past?

LF: That’s where we hope to get on the human testing piece. We’re not there yet. You may have read and heard about organs on a chip and growing organoids, where you can have a very small piece of liver that you’re able to test toxicity on [and] we’re doing more of that. That said, we’re not ready to make that leap from completely doing it in silico to humans with a super-high level of confidence.The human body is such a complex system that we’re not able to model that fully yet.

I do think what you’re pointing toward to some degree is democratization in science and the access for more people to be able with lower skills to be able to work in drug discovery and drug development at a distance. So for example, we have a company that we’ve worked with called Strateos that has a full robotic lab that — instead of having technicians standing there — you have robots and a little train track that moves assays throughout the room so that scientists who were stuck at home this year were able to continue experiments regardless of their geography or safety in the lab or time constraints.

TC: You have another interesting portfolio company, Opus 12, which is transforming industrial carbon dioxide emissions into chemicals. Toward what end?

LF: So obviously, decarbonizing the world is a huge focus. And you’re seeing for the first time corporations like United Airlines making commitments as to what their carbon footprint will be, or going to zero carbon emissions. Opus 12 emerged from two PhDs and an MBA out of Stanford a few years ago and their breakthrough is a catalyst material that allows you to take for example, waste CO2 — the bad stuff — and run it through this catalyst material and produce useful CO. This year, for example, they produced green polycarbonate car parts in partnership with Daimler. The material is exactly the same, which makes it easy to slot into existing products, but it’s actually made by reusing carbon.

The shift in consumer awareness around carbon made materials is an enormous opportunity.

TC: Do companies get some sort of carbon credit for doing that?

LF: Yes, and in the past what we’ve seen is a lot of companies trying to green themselves by basically buying and trading carbon credits, and the shift that we’re going through right now is everyone saying, ‘Okay, to some degree, that was a bit of financial engineering; now we actually need to see these businesses making a change in their direct use of fossil fuels and their direct impact in the amount of carbon.’ [There’s growing awareness that] buying carbon offsets isn’t going to be enough. So you’re now for the first time really seeing commitments to change processes, supply chain and ultimately products.

TC: In recent years, biotech companies have been going public two and three years after being formed. Now, we’re seeing a much wider array of younger companies being transformed into public companies through a growing number of blank-check companies. Any thoughts about whether or not there are parallels here?

LF: On the therapeutic side, you tend to have a very clear playbook around what the potential exit is and who the acquirers are. We know that big pharma is cash rich and pipeline poor, and so [these pharma giants] have to pick up the assets that are working, and you see them do that regularly. And you’ve got comps, and you know what that looks like, so in placing a wide range of bets on early-stage therapeutics, it’s clear that if one wins, you’re covered.

The SPAC world is going to be really interesting because most of these companies are not operating off traditional playbooks, and it’s not clear whether they operate as public companies longer term. Are they really set up for acquisition?

[Another] difference here is these companies are going to have this enormous amount of funding, and yet they’re not going to be able to toil in obscurity, so the traditional metrics that we all want [in] public companies and looking at revenue and profits and those metrics, we’re going to have to look at these SPACs and their growth through a different lens, and I’m just not sure how receptive the public markets will be to that in the next 24 months. I think it’s unclear whether we’ll have a reckoning there or not.

If you’re curious to learn more, including about why new pots of money might be on the horizon for deep tech startups, you can hear the full conversation here.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/03/05/vc-lindy-fishburne-on-the-sudden-democratization-of-science-and-deep-tech-investing/

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South Korean antitrust regulator fines Google $177M for abusing market dominance – TechCrunch

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market. The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), […]

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The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) said on Tuesday it fined Google $177 million for abusing its market dominance in the Android operating system (OS) market.

The U.S. tech company has restricted market competition by prohibiting local smartphone makers like Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics from customizing their Android OS, through Google’s anti-fragmentation agreements (AFA), according to the antitrust regulator statement.

Under the AFA, smartphone developers are not allowed to install or develop “Android forks”, modified versions of Android.

The KFTC banned Google LLC, Google Asia Pacific and Google Korea from imposing local smartphone developers to sign the AFA and make changes on details about the existing version. The new measure in South Korea will be applied to not only mobiles devices but also other Android-powered smart devices including watches and TVs.

Android has spurred innovation among Korean mobile operator owners and software developers and that has led to a better user experience for Korean consumers, Google said in its statement. “The KFTC’s decision released today ignores these benefits, and will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers. Google intends to appeal the KFTC’s decision,” a spokesperson at Google said.

The commission has been investigating Google over the anti-competition practice in OS market since July 2016, a spokesperson at KFTC said.

Google’s global mobile OS market share excluding China has been increased to 97.7% in 2019 from 38% in 2010, as per KFTC’s announcement.

Google’s AFA has also limited to launch tech companies’ new devices like smart watches and TVs using the operating system (OS) including Samsung’s smart watch in 2013, LG Electronics’ LTE smart speaker in 2018 as well as Amazon’s smart TV in 2018.

South Korea’s watchdog is probing into three other cases including the Play Store app market, billing system and the advertisement market.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s “anti-Google law”, takes effect on 14 September, based on Korea Communications Commission’s press release.

In late August, South Korea passed a bill to curb global tech companies including Google and Apple from imposing their own proprietary in-app payment service and commissions on app developers.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/09/14/south-korean-antitrust-regulator-fines-google-177m-for-abusing-market-dominance/

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The SEC and the DOJ just charged this startup founder with fraud, saying he lied to Tiger and others – TechCrunch

Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate […]

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Today, both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged Manish Lachwani, cofounder of a mobile app testing company Headspin, with fraud. The SEC says he violated antifraud provisions, and the civil penalties it’s seeking include a permanent injunction, a conduct-based injunction, and to bar him for serving as a corporate executive or board member.

The DOJ, which arrested Lachwani earlier, has accused him of one count of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud, and the associated penalties if he’s found guilty are are more harsh, including, for wire fraud, a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. If he’s found guilty of securities fraud, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of $5,000,000.

Both the the SEC and the DOJ say Lachwani — who led the six-year-old company as CEO until May of last year — defrauded investors out of $80 million by falsely claiming that his company, Headspin, had “achieved strong and consistent growth in acquiring customers and generating revenue” when he was pitching its Series C round to potential backers.

By the SEC’s telling, his fabrications were designed to help secure the round at a so-called unicorn valuation. That apparent plan worked, too, with Palo Alto-based Headspin attracting coverage in Forbes in February of last year after Dell Technologies Capital, Iconiq Capital and Tiger Global provided the company with $60 million in Series C funding at a $1.16 billion valuation. Forbes reported at the time that the valuation was double the valuation investors assigned HeadSpin when it closed its Series B round in October 2018.

The SEC also says that Lachwani was looking to enrich himself, saying he did so “by selling $2.5 million of his HeadSpin shares in a fundraising round during which he made misrepresentations to an existing HeadSpin investor.” (It isn’t clear from its complaint whether the SEC is referring to the Series C or an earlier round.)

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that “in materials and presentations to potential investors, Lachwani reported false revenue and overstated key financial metrics of the company. . . he maintained control over operations, sales, and record-keeping, including invoicing, and he was the final decision maker on what revenue was booked and included in the company’s financial records.”

In the investigation that led to the DOJ’s charges, the FBI discovered “multiple examples” of Lachwani “instructing employees to include revenue from potential customers that inquired but did not engage Headspin, from past customers who no longer did business with Headspin, and from existing customers whose business was far less than the reported revenue,” says the department.

How far off were these collective calculations? The complaint says that ultimately, Lachwani “provided investors false information that overstated Headspin’s annual recurring revenue . . . by approximately $51 to $55 million.”

According to the complaint, Lachwani’s fraud unraveled after the company’s board of directors conducted an internal investigation and revised HeadSpin’s valuation down from $1.1 billion to $300 million. Indeed, in August of last year, The Information reported that the company was planning to lower the value of its Series C stock by nearly 80%.

The outlet reported at the time that Lachwani had already been replaced by another executive. That person, according to LinkedIn, is Rajeev Butani, who joined Headspin as its chief sales officer around the time its Series C round was being announced in February of last year.

Nikesh Arora, a former SoftBank president, the current CEO and chairman of Palo Alto Networks helped lead the internal review as a then-director on the board of Headspin, said The Information.

The SEC says it’s investigation is continuing. Meanwhile, the DOJ notes in its announcement that “a complaint merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Either way, the outlook doesn’t look very promising right now for Lachwani, who, according to Forbes, previously sold a mobile cloud business to Google and wound up co-founding Headspin after Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang introduced him to Brien Colwell, a former Palantir and Quora engineer was working at the time on a different startup.

Colwell remains with Headspin as its CTO. He has not been named in either the SEC or the DOJ’s complaints relating to Headspin.

The company itself, which says it has been cooperating with the government’s investigation, was also not charged.

Pictured above, left to right, Headspin founders Lachwani and Colwell.

The DOJ’s federal complaint suggests that Lachwani’s alleged scheming dates back to at least November 2019, when the company was fundraising. It says it was then that the success of Palo Alto-based Headspin — which helps apps and devices work in different environments around the world – was being knowingly misrepresented to investors by Lachwani.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/25/the-sec-and-the-doj-just-charged-this-startup-ceo-with-fraud-saying-he-lied-to-tiger-and-others/

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Blockchain startup XREX gets $17M to make cross-border trade faster – TechCrunch

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform. The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has […]

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Blockchain startup co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang in front of the company's logo

XREX co-founders Winston Hsiao and Wayne Huang

A substantial portion of the world’s trade is done in United States dollars, creating problems for businesses in countries with a dollar shortage. Blockchain startup XREX was launched to help cross-border businesses in emerging markets perform faster transactions with products like a payment escrow service and crypto-fiat exchange platform.

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Part of the new round will be use to apply for financial licenses in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa, and partner with banks and financial institutions, like payment gateways.

“We specifically wanted to build a regulatory-friendly cap table,” XREX co-founder and chief executive officer Wayne Huang told TechCrunch. “It’s really hard for a startup like us to raise from banks and public companies, but as you can see, this round we deliberately to do that and we were successful.”

Huang sold his previous startup, anti-malware SaaS developer Armorize Technologies, to Proofpoint in 2013. Armorize analyzed source code to find vulnerabilities, and many of its clients were developers in Bangalore and Chennai, so Huang spent a lot of time traveling there.

“We ran into all sorts of cross-border money transfer issues. It seemed almost unstoppable,” Huang said. “Growing up in the U.S. and then in Taiwan, we were not exposed to those issues. So that planted a seed, and then when Satoshi [Nakamoto] published the bitcoin white paper, of course that was a big thing for all cybersecurity experts.”

He began thinking of how blockchain can support financial inclusion in emerging markets like India. The idea came to fruition Huang teamed up with XREX co-founder Winston Hsiao, the founder of BTCEx-TW, one of Taiwan’s first bitcoin exchanges. Hsiao grew up in India and founded Verico International, exporting Taiwan-manufactured semiconductors and electronics to other countries, so he was also familiar with cross-border trade issues.

XREX Crypto Services give merchants, especially those in countries with low U.S. dollar liquidity, tools to conduct trade in digital fiat currencies. “They have to get quick access to the U.S. dollar and be able to pay it out quick enough for them to secure important commodities that they want to import, and that’s the problem we want to solve,” said Huang.

To use the platform, merchants and their customers sign up for XREX’s wallet, which includes a commercial escrow service called Bitcheck. Huang said it is similar to having a standby letter of credit from a commercial bank, because buyers can use it to guarantee they will be able to make payments. Bitcheck uses digital currencies like USDT and USDC, stablecoins that are pegged to the U.S. dollar.

Merchants pay stablecoin to suppliers and XREX escrows the funds until the supplier provides proof of shipment, at which point it moves the payment to them. XREX’s crypto-fiat exchange allows users to convert USDT and USDC to U.S. dollars, which they can also withdraw and deposit through the platform.

Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its fiat currency platform, though Huang said it doesn’t plan to add too many cryptocurrencies “because we’re not built for crypto traders, we’re built for businesses and brand really matters to them. Brand and compliance, so whatever the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency says is a good stablecoin is what they’re going to use.”

Some of XREX’s partners include compliance and anti-money laundering providers like CipherTrace, Sum&Substance and TRISA. Part of XREX’s funding will be used to expand its security and compliance features, including Public Profiles, which are mandatory for customers, and user Reputation Index to increase transparency.

In a statement about the funding, CDIB Capital Innovation Fund head Ryan Kuo said, “CDIB was an early investor in XREX. After witnessing the company’s fast revenue growth and their commitment to compliance, we were determined to double our investment and lead this strategic round.”

The Taipei-headquartered company announced today it has raised $17 million in pre-Series A funding led by CDIB Capital Group. The oversubscribed round also included participation from SBI Investment (a subsidiary of SBI Holdings), Global Founders Capital, ThreeD Capital, E.Sun Venture Capital, Systex Corporation, MetaPlanet Holdings, AppWorks, BlackMarble, New Economy Ventures and Seraph Group. XREX’s last funding was a $7 million seed round in 2019.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2021/08/22/blockchain-startup-xrex-gets-17m-to-make-cross-border-trade-faster/

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