All posts in “economy”

The Coinmine One is a box that mines crypto at home

For $799 you can start mining cryptocurrencies in your home, a feat that previously either required a massive box costing thousands of dollars or, if you didn’t actually want to make any money, a Raspberry Pi. The Coinmine One, created by Farbood Nivi, soundly hits the sweet spot between actual mining and experimentation.

The box is about as big as a gaming console and runs a custom OS called MineOS. The system lets you pick a cryptocurrency to mine – Monero, for example, as the system isn’t very good with mature, ASIC-dependent currencies like BTC – and then runs it on the built in CPU and GPU. The machine contains a Intel Celeron Processor J Series processor and a AMD Radeon RX570 graphics card for mining. It also has a 1 TB drive to hold the massive blockchains required to manage these currencies.

The box mines Ethereum at 29 Mh/s and Monero at 800 h/s – acceptable numbers for an entry level miner like this one. You can upgrade it to support new coins, allowing you to get in on the ground floor of whatever weird thing crypto folks create tomorrow.

I saw the Coinmine in Brooklyn and it looks nice. It’s a cleverly-made piece of consumer tech that brings the mystery of crypto mining to the average user. Nivi doesn’t see this as a profit-making machine. Instead, it is a tool to help crypto experimenters try to mine new currencies and run a full node on the network. That doesn’t mean you can’t get Lambo with this thing, but expect Lambo to take a long, long time.

The device ships next month to hungry miners world-wide. It’s a fascinating move for the average user to experience the thrills and spills of the recent crypto bust.

Today in brighter crypto news: SEC says tokens are securities

Crypto news got a little boost last week after a dark month of crashes, stablecoins, and birthdays. The SEC ruled that two ICO issuers, CarrierEQ Inc. and Paragon Coin Inc., were in fact selling securities instead of so-called utility tokens.

“Both companies have agreed to return funds to harmed investors, register the tokens as securities, file periodic reports with the Commission, and pay penalties,” wrote Pamela Sawhney of the SEC. “These are the Commission’s first cases imposing civil penalties solely for ICO securities offering registration violations.”

From the release:

Airfox, a Boston-based startup, raised approximately $15 million worth of digital assets to finance its development of a token-denominated “ecosystem” starting with a mobile application that would allow users in emerging markets to earn tokens and exchange them for data by interacting with advertisements. Paragon, an online entity, raised approximately $12 million worth of digital assets to develop and implement its business plan to add blockchain technology to the cannabis industry and work toward legalization of cannabis. Neither Airfox nor Paragon registered their ICOs pursuant to the federal securities laws, nor did they qualify for an exemption to the registration requirements.

This behavior – a sort of “damn the torpedoes” for the Fintech set – was all the rage at the beginning of the year as no clear guidance was available for filing security tokens – essentially pieces of company equity – versus utility tokens which were, in theory, used within the company ecosystem. In fact ICOed companies contorted themselves into all sorts of knots to appear to fit their “utility token” within the torturous confines of securities law.

“We have made it clear that companies that issue securities through ICOs are required to comply with existing statutes and rules governing the registration of securities,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division. “These cases tell those who are considering taking similar actions that we continue to be on the lookout for violations of the federal securities laws with respect to digital assets.”

The SEC fined both companies $250,000 each. Future ICOs, at least in the U.S., would do well to keep this in mind.

Cities that didn’t win HQ2 shouldn’t be counted out

The more than year-long dance between cities and Amazon for its second headquarters is finally over, with New York City and Washington, DC, capturing the big prize. With one of the largest economic development windfalls in a generation on the line, 238 cities used every tactic in the book to court the company — including offering to rename a city “Amazon” and appointing Jeff Bezos “mayor for life.”

Now that the process, and hysteria, are over, and cities have stopped asking “how can we get Amazon,” we’d like to ask a different question: How can cities build stronger startup ecosystems for the Amazon yet to be built?

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it would seek a second headquarters. But rather than being the typical site-selection process, this became a highly publicized Hunger Games-esque scenario.

An RFP was proffered on what the company sought, and it included everything any good urbanist would want, with walkability, transportation and cultural characteristics on the docket. But, of course, incentives were also high on the list.

Amazon could have been a transformational catalyst for a plethora of cities throughout the U.S., but instead, it chose two superstar cities: the number one and five metro areas by GDP which, combined, amounts to a nearly $2 trillion GDP. These two metro areas also have some of the highest real estate prices in the country, a swath of high-paying jobs and, of course power — financial and political — close at hand.

Perhaps the take-away for cities isn’t that we should all be so focused on hooking that big fish from afar, but instead that we should be growing it in our own waters. Amazon itself is a great example of this. It’s worth remembering that over the course of a quarter century, Amazon went from a garage in Seattle’s suburbs to consuming 16 percent — or 81 million square feet — of the city’s downtown. On the other end of the spectrum, the largest global technology company in 1994 (the year of Amazon’s birth) was Netscape, which no longer exists.

The upshot is that cities that rely only on attracting massive technology companies are usually too late.

At the National League of Cities, we think there are ways to expand the pie that don’t reinforce existing spatial inequalities. This is exactly the idea behind the launch of our city innovation ecosystems commitments process. With support from the Schmidt Futures Foundation, 50 cities, ranging from rural townships, college towns and major metros, have joined with more than 200 local partners and leveraged over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young businesses, leverage technology and expand STEM education and workforce training for all.

The investments these cities are making today may in fact be the precursor to some of the largest tech companies of the future.

With that idea in mind, here are seven cities that didn’t win HQ2 bids, but are ensuring their cities will be prepared to create the next tranche of high-growth startups. 

Austin

Austin just built a medical school adjacent to a tier-one research university, the University of Texas. It’s the first such project to be completed in America in more than 50 years. To ensure the addition translates into economic opportunity for the city, Austin’s public, private and civic leaders have come together to create Capital City Innovation to launch the city’s first Innovation District at the new medical school. This will help expand the city’s already world-class startup ecosystem into the health and wellness markets.

Baltimore

Baltimore is home to more than $2 billion in academic research, ranking it third in the nation behind Boston and Philadelphia. In order to ensure everyone participates in the expanding research-based startup ecosystem, the city is transforming community recreation centers into maker and technology training centers to connect disadvantaged youth and families to new skills and careers in technology. The Rec-to-Tech Initiative will begin with community design sessions at four recreation centers, in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation, to create a feasibility study and implementation plan to review for further expansion.

Buffalo

The 120-acre Buffalo Niagara Medical Center (BNMC) is home to eight academic institutions and hospitals and more than 150 private technology and health companies. To ensure Buffalo’s startups reflect the diversity of its population, the Innovation Center at BNMC has just announced a new program to provide free space and mentorship to 10 high-potential minority- and/or women-owned startups.

Denver

Like Seattle, real estate development in Denver is growing at a feverish rate. And while the growth is bringing new opportunity, the city is expanding faster than the workforce can keep pace. To ensure a sustainable growth trajectory, Denver has recruited the Next Generation City Builders to train students and retrain existing workers to fill high-demand jobs in architecture, design, construction and transportation. 

Providence

With a population of 180,000, Providence is home to eight higher-education institutions — including Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design — making it a hub for both technical and creative talent. The city of Providence, in collaboration with its higher education institutions and two hospital systems, has created a new public-private-university partnership, the Urban Innovation Partnership, to collectively contribute and support the city’s growing innovation economy. 

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh may have once been known as a steel town, but today it is a global mecca for robotics research, with more than 4.5 times the national average robotics R&D within its borders. Like Baltimore, Pittsburgh is creating a more inclusive innovation economy through a Rec-to-Tech program that will re-invest in the city’s 10 recreational centers, connecting students and parents to the skills needed to participate in the economy of the future. 

Tampa

Tampa is already home to 30,000 technical and scientific consultant and computer design jobs — and that number is growing. To meet future demand and ensure the region has an inclusive growth strategy, the city of Tampa, with 13 university, civic and private sector partners, has announced “Future Innovators of Tampa Bay.” The new six-year initiative seeks to provide the opportunity for every one of the Tampa Bay Region’s 600,000 K-12 students to be trained in digital creativity, invention and entrepreneurship.

These seven cities help demonstrate the innovation we are seeing on the ground now, all throughout the country. The seeds of success have been planted with people, partnerships and public leadership at the fore. Perhaps they didn’t land HQ2 this time, but when we fast-forward to 2038 — and the search for Argo AISparkCognition or Welltok’s new headquarters is well underway — the groundwork will have been laid for cities with strong ecosystems already in place to compete on an even playing field.

Pitching a $99 tax advisory service for the masses, Visor has raised $9 million

The only sure things in this life, according to Ben Franklin, are death and taxes. And a new startup called Visor has just raised $9 million in financing to make one of them as painless as possible.

Unlike Nectome, Visor won’t kill anyone, but it may ring the death knell for the high-end tax advisors that most Americans can’t even access to get help filing and paying their taxes. It’s like having a personalized accountant for the cost of a high-end do-it-yourself tax-prep service.

The $9 million Visor raised came from the venture capital firm Defy, with participation from Unusual Ventures, SVB Capital and existing investors like Obvious Ventures, Fika Ventures and Boxgroup, which had put a previous $6.5 million into the company. 

The idea for the company had been percolating for co-founder and chief executive Gernot Zacke since he settled in the U.S. 

Growing up in Sweden, Zacke was exposed to a much different process for paying taxes. “The experience of filing taxes in Sweden is that you receive a message from the government that stated how much you made and how much you were withholding. That’s it,” said Zacke. “Taxes should be as easy as ordering a cab.”

That’s the service that Visor aims to provide.

“If you think about the market there are two ways to get your taxes done. There’s the DIY space and then there are other online services but it requires the tax payer to fill out the forms and it leaves the tax payer with a little bit of anxiety,” said Zacke. “We’re delivering the CPA experience through the convenience of a web app and a mobile app.”

On average, Americans spend about 13 hours each year dealing with taxes, and the average American doesn’t have the benefits of a professional advisor who can help optimize the process. That’s what Visor wants to provide.

“You provide the same amount of information you provide to a CPA or TurboTax… we make sure that that information is filed securely on AWS and shared between the docs and the backend,” said Zacke. 

The target customers for Zacke’s services are folks who have had a change to their tax situation — whether moving, buying a home or any other life event; or folks who have had a CPA and don’t want to pay the higher fees, he said.

Visor currently has an operations team of around 34 people split between San Francisco and Atlanta.

For Zacke, the pain point he’s solving with the Visor service is very real. A former employee of the European investment firm Atomico, Zacke bounced between the U.S. and Europe — eventually running U.S. investments for the firm before leaving to launch Visor.

Other co-founders and senior executives hail from the tax advisory world, and from employee benefits outsourcing services company Zenefits, along with former Venmo and Square developers.

“Taxpayers spend $20 billion a year to get their taxes prepared and are stuck between spending hours filling out DIY tax software and hiring an expensive CPA,” said Zacke, in a statement. “

Travel startups are taking off

The second wave of Internet-era travel companies has captured the attention of venture capitalists.

In the last five years, travel companies have raised more than $1 billion in venture capital funding. That includes short-term rental startups, travel and tourism apps, marketplaces for “experiences” and other travel or hospitality tech platforms. Airbnb, a $38 billion company and an anomaly in the category, has raised $3 billion in that same time frame, according to PitchBook.

In the last few months alone, aspiring Concur-competitor TripActions and travel activities platform Klook entered the “unicorn” club with large venture rounds that valued both of the businesses at more than $1 billion. Meanwhile, luggage maker Away raised $50 million at a $400 million valuation and smaller startups in the space like Freebirds, IfOnly, KKDay, Duffel and RedDoorz all closed modest funding rounds.

“Something is really happening in the industry; something bigger than us,” TripActions co-founder Ariel Cohen said in a recent conversation with TechCrunch about his company’s $154 million Series C financing. “Different startups are identifying the opportunity here and the fact that companies want to make sure their employees are happy while they are on the go. That’s why you see investments in companies like Brex and like TripActions.”

Brex, though not classified as a travel startup, lets startup employees earn extra points on business travel with its corporate credit card for startups. It recently raised a $125 million Series C at a $1.1 billion valuation.

Global travel and tourism is one of the most valuable industries worth some $7 trillion. The online travel market, in particular, is expected to grow to $817 billion by 2020. VCs are hunting for tech-enabled startups poised to dominate that slice.

“You have a new wave of businesses where all of that digital infrastructure is set up, so the focus can be on things like efficiency, improved customer service, scale and growth — you have a ton of companies popping up catering to those needs,” Defy Partners co-founder Neil Sequeira told TechCrunch. Sequeira was a managing director at General Catalyst when the firm made its first investment in Airbnb.

On the other hand, you have a whole cohort of travel business founded amid the dot-com boom that are looking to technology startups for a much-needed infusion of innovation. Many of those larger companies have become active acquirers, fueling VC interest in the space. SAP Concur, for example, acquired the formerly VC-backed travel-booking startup Hipmunk in 2016. Before that, it bought travel planning company TripIt for $120 million, among others.

Expedia has gobbled up a number of travel brands too, like travel photography community Trover; Airbnb-competitor HomeAway, which it paid a whopping $3.9 billion for in 2015; and most recently, both Pillow and ApartmentJet.

Many of these acquisitions are for peanuts, which is far from ideal for a venture-funded company. And building a travel business is cash intensive, hence the $4.4 billion Airbnb has raised to date or even TripActions’ $236 million in total VC funding. To keep momentum in the space, companies need to be striking larger M&A deals.

It doesn’t help that many in and around the venture capital industry are predicting an imminent turn in the market. Travel companies, which are reliant upon a consumer’s tendency to spend excess cash, will be among the first sectors to be impacted by hostile economic conditions.

“If the market turns, people aren’t going to spend $10,000 on a trip to Zimbabwe,” Sequeira said, referencing companies like IfOnly, which sells curated experiences.

Travel startups should raise now while the market is hot. The conditions may not remain favorable for long.