Luge Capital raises $85M to invest in Canadian fintech startups

There are 831 financial technology startups headquartered in or operating in Canada, according to data collected by Fintech Growth Syndicate, yet only a handful of venture capital funds specializing in the region and sector.

Luge Capital, a fintech and AI-focused venture capital fund headquartered in Montreal and Toronto, is looking to close that gap. The firm has raised $85 million for its debut fund and plans to make seed investments as small as $150,000 and as large as $2 million.

The relatively new outfit, founded in 2018, is led by David Nault, a former vice president at iNovia Capital, and Karim Gillani, who previously led corporate development for Xoom, the PayPal -acquired remittances startup.

Luge Capital is backed by iA Financial Group, BDC Capital, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Desjardins Group, La Capitale, Sun Life Financial and Fonds de solidarité FTQ. In a somewhat unusual series of events, some of the limited partners approached Nault and Gillani and said if they raised a fund, they would bankroll them. And so the pair left their jobs to raise a debut vehicle to support fintech companies in Canada’s growing tech scene.

Luge Capital will deploy capital to startups across North America, but will focus on Canadian tech.

“We’ve seen growth in terms of absolute numbers of fintech companies,” Gillani tells TechCrunch. “We think it’s because there’s new access to capital. Companies can now find themselves getting funded and there’s a bigger appetite for larger companies to partner with these startups.”

Luge Capital has to date made five investments, three of which they were able to disclose. Gillani says they’ve provided checks to Flinks, which helps businesses connect apps and users’ bank accounts; Owl, a provider of a service that supports financial institutions with customer onboarding, fraud detection and more; and insurance technology company Finaeo.

According to PitchBook, nearly $3 billion has been invested in Canadian startups, a record year for the country.

“We are going to see more growth in venture in Canada,” says Gillani. “I think we are going to see founders in Canada having more of a global mindset such that they look at Canada as an initial market for them, with a focus to expand geographically soon after they’ve been able to prove the model in Canada. And I think because of that dynamic, we are going to see more and more outside capital to finance these founders.”

Former Stitch Fix COO Julie Bornstein is rewriting the e-commerce playbook

More than two years after Julie Bornstein–Stitch Fix’s former chief operating officer–mysteriously left the subscription-based personal styling service only months before its initial public offering, she’s taking the wraps off her first independent venture.

Shortly after departing Stitch Fix, Bornstein began building The Yes, an AI-powered shopping platform expected to launch in the first half of 2020. She’s teamed up with The Yes co-founder and chief technology officer Amit Aggarwal, who’s held high-level engineering roles at BloomReach and Groupon, and most recently, served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bain Capital Ventures, to “rewrite the architecture of e-commerce.”

“This is an idea I’ve been thinking about since I was 10 and spending my weekends at the mall,” Bornstein, whose resume includes chief marketing officer & chief digital officer at Sephora, vice president of e-commerce at Urban Outfitters, VP of e-commerce at Nordstrom and director of business development at Starbucks, tells TechCrunch. “All the companies I have worked at were very much leading in this direction.”

Coming out of stealth today, the team at The Yes is readying a beta mode to better understand and refine their product. Bornstein and Aggarwal have raised $30 million in venture capital funding to date across two financings. The first, a seed round, was co-led by Forerunner Ventures’ Kirsten Green and NEA’s Tony Florence. The Series A was led by True Ventures’ Jon Callaghan with participation from existing investors. Bornstein declined to disclose the company’s valuation.

“AI and machine learning already dominate in many verticals, but e-commerce is still open for a player to have a meaningful impact,” Callaghan said in a statement. “Amit is leading a team to build deep neural networks that legacy systems cannot achieve.”

Bornstein and Aggarwal withheld many details about the business during our conversation. Rather, the pair said the product will speak for itself when it launches next year. In addition to being an AI-powered shopping platform, Bornstein did say The Yes is working directly with brands and “creating a new consumer shopping experience that helps address the issue of overwhelm in shopping today.”

As for why she decided to leave Stitch Fix just ahead of its $120 million IPO, Bornstein said she had an epiphany.

“I realized that technology had changed so much, meanwhile … the whole framework underlying e-commerce had remained the same since the late 90s’ when I helped build Nordstrom.com,” she said. “If you could rebuild the underlying architecture and use today’s technology, you could actually bring to life an entirely new consumer experience for shopping.”

The Yes, headquartered in Silicon Valley and New York City, has also brought on Lisa Green, the former head of industry, fashion and luxury at Google, as its senior vice president of partnerships, and Taylor Tomasi Hill, whose had stints at Moda Operandi and FortyFiveTen, as its creative director. Other investors in the business include Comcast Ventures and Bain Capital Ventures

Google's new emulator makes Android Automotive development easier

That means they can test everything about an app, including downloading and installing it, without having to wait for a car actually running Android Automotive. With its close ties to Android Auto, Google adds that it’s “simple” to port over any existing experiences to Android Automotive, with the company showing off examples from Amazon and Audioburst (seen below). All of this is good news if you plan to hop on Android Automotive early, since Google is taking the right steps to ensure the system has a compelling third-party ecosystem at launch. The lower barrier of entry may mean you’ll also see apps from more than just the big names like Spotify.

Watch the final trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

The Skywalker saga that started more than 40 years ago in Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope is finally coming to an end, and the final trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker teases an epic conclusion. The trailer debuted tonight during ESPN’s Monday Night Football matchup between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.

Landing a finale is often considered one of the most difficult feats in Hollywood, whether it’s a film franchise or TV series. The Rise of Skywalker, which sees the final battle between the Resistance and the First Order, will give the story a meaningful end, according to director J.J. Abrams. “We went into this thing knowing it has to be an ending. We’re not screwing around,” Abrams told Entertainment Weekly.

The Rise of Skywalker picks up one year after the events of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren and Rey are preparing to face off in their final battle against one another, as other members of the Resistance, including Poe Dameron, Finn, and BB-8 fight for the universe’s future. The Rise of Skywalker will also see the return of more classic characters, including Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine (whose iconic laugh was heard at the end of the first trailer) and Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian.

Tickets for the film, which comes out on December 20th, are now on sale. AMC Theaters is also offering a 27-hour marathon, which includes all nine films in the main trilogy (no Rogue One or Solo).

Watch the final 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' trailer

The end is almost here — The Rise of Skywalker will close out the third Star Wars trilogy when it premieres on December 20th (with early screening starting the night before). If you’d like to see a bit more of Episode IX instead of going in completely unspoiled, then watch the new trailer below that just aired during Monday Night Football, but if you’ve already decided in favor of seeing the movie, then tickets are on sale now.

What's on TV this week: 'The Outer Worlds'

This week is a big one for sports fans, with the MLB World Series, NBA regular season action and Formula 1 in Mexico. For gamers, there’s a new Call of Duty as well as Obsidian’s latest title The Outer Worlds is arriving complete with a rich world that thrives on “absurdist humor.” On TV, we’ll be waiting for the second episode of HBO’s Watchmen series, as well as part one of the next season for Bojack Horseman on Netflix and Eddie Murphy’s first new title in years, Dolemite is my Name, also on Netflix. Look after the break to check out each day’s highlights, including trailers and let us know what you think (or what we missed).

Adobe may reveal Illustrator for iPad in November

A spokeswoman for Adobe wouldn’t confirm or deny the rumor, telling Bloomberg that the company had “nothing new to share at this time.”

As with Photoshop, both Adobe and Apple have mutual interests in bringing Illustrator to the iPad. For Adobe, this is another way to spur Creative Cloud subscriptions. You might be more likely to sign up if you know you can finish a project on your tablet using an app similar to the one on your computer. Apple, meanwhile, has fought to position the iPad (especially the iPad Pro) as a laptop replacement that can handle demanding tasks. Even if an iPad-native Illustrator has significant compromises, Apple could benefit by reeling in customers who were previously convinced that mobile tablets couldn’t handle heavy-duty creative work.

Amazon joins Facebook's fight against deepfakes

The Challenge will also add two professors, the Technical University of Munich’s Laura Leal-Taixé and the University of Naples Federico II’s Luisa Verdoliva, as academic advisors.

At the same time, Facebook is giving researchers some of the samples they need to help spot deepfakes. It’s releasing the first 5,000 example videos out of the 100,000-plus created explicitly for the Challenge. That will only go so far in helping to catch AI-assisted trickery, but it offers something to work with ahead of the full data set release and Challenge launch in December.

The DFDC already had a string of big names behind it, including Microsoft, MIT, the New York Times and the University of Oxford. However, the addition of AWS illustrates the shared interest in combatting deepfake videos. Fake news and similar deceptions are already common problems for many of them, and it’s only going to get worse as the technology advances.

Twitter is working on a policy to fight deepfakes and it wants users’ help

Twitter is the latest social platform to confirm that it’s working on a policy to address the rise of deepfakes.

The company plans to update its policies in order to address “synthetic and manipulated media,” Twitter revealed. Twitter’s announcement follows earlier comments from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who said earlier this year that the social network was “evaluating” potential policies. 

Deepfakes, or “synthetic and manipulated media,” as Twitter calls them, are videos that have been realistically altered using artificial intelligence. The issue was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year after an altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went viral on Facebook.

That video, which was eventually debunked by Facebook fact checkers, wasn’t technically a deepfake since it was merely slowed down and not manipulated with AI, but it nevertheless brought attention to the potential danger of sharing video that has been deceptively edited on social media. 

Twitter has previously banned fake porn videos with celebrity faces, but doesn’t yet have a broad policy to address manipulated video in other contexts.

In a tweet, Twitter said it plans to define synthetic media as “media that’s been significantly altered or created in a way that changes the original meaning/purpose, or makes it seem like certain events took place that didn’t actually happen.”

The company didn’t indicate what its policy would look like, or when it might curtail these types of images, but suggested it would prioritize physical safety and potential for “offline harm.”

Twitter plans to solicit feedback from its users and and other experts before coming up with a more exact policy — similar to the wide-ranging approach its taken to improving conversations

If recent history is any indication, though, it will still be some time before Twitter has a concrete policy ready to implement. The company announced it would ban “dehumanizing language” on its platform last September, but it didn’t start implementing the new policy until nearly a year later. And even then, the new rules so far only apply to a narrow subset of language aimed at religious groups (Twitter says it plans to expand the rules, but hasn’t provided a timeline for doing so). 

“We need to consider how synthetic media is shared on Twitter in potentially damaging contexts,” Twitter said Monday.

“We want to listen and consider your perspectives in our policy development process. We want to be transparent about our approach and values.”

NVIDIA's EGX supercomputer tech can crunch 1.6 terabytes a second

As an example, NVIDIA said Walmart deployed its EGX tech in its Levittown, NY retail lab to improve in-store shopping. It can apparently tell employees to retrieve shopping carts, restock produce and meat, open up checkout lanes and stock shelves. In that application, “Walmart is able to compute in real time more than 1.6 terabytes of data generated each second,” NVIDIA said.

Samsung is using the app to help it design and manufacture semiconductors, while BMW is crunching data from cameras and other sensors to automate vehicle inspection. NVIDIA offers a variety of apps for the product, including NVIDIA Metropolis, used by cities to streamline traffic and pedestrian flow, among other jobs. In another application, EGX can be used to speed up 5G radio network deployments while making them more flexible with new services like AR, VR and gaming.

None of this is very consumer friendly, but you could feel the effects of it when you go about your daily business. NVIDIA said it’s already being used by over 100 tech companies around the world.