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Main article: Bill Gates

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Code.org is bringing computer education to Alaska Airlines’ in-flight entertainment

17:00 | 30 January

Code.org has partnered with Alaska Airlines to offer free educational videos on how computers and the Internet work, Code.org CEO Hadi Partovi wrote in a blog post.. The video series, which stars Microsoft founder Bill Gates and other industry leaders, will be available beginning in April on Alaska Airlines flights.

“Whether you use a PC, a smartphone, a wearable device, a connected home appliance, or a self-driving car, the same principles explain how all these computing devices function,” says Bill Gates. “In the 21st century, these computer science ideas are part of digital literacy that every student and adult can benefit from.”

The series entails short lessons on binary and data, circuits and logic, CPU, memory, input and output, and hardware and software. The series is designed to be easy for everyone to understand, Partovi wrote.

In addition to making them available on airlines, Code.org will integrate the videos into its middle and high school curriculum. They will also be available on Khan Academy, a startup that offers computer science education, and tools for parents and teachers.

“With hubs up and down the “Tech Coast”, we’re both witnessing and leveraging the innovations that we see occurring every day in our own backyard,” says David Scotland, Manager of Inflight Entertainment & Connectivity at Alaska Airlines. “Code.org’s new series is an entertaining and approachable way for us all to gain a basic awareness of how computers work. We’re pleased to offer over 40 million guests the opportunity to view Code.org’s new video series inflight through our partnership.”

Featured Image: Getty Images



Ginkgo Bioworks secures $275 million in Series D, valuing the company at over $1 billion

15:00 | 14 December

Boston biotech startup Ginkgo Bioworks has announced the raise of $275 million in Series D funding to build out its Bioworks3 production facility.

The funding comes from previous investors Viking Global, Y Combinator’s Continuity Fund, Cascade Investment, Bill Gates, as well as new investor, General Atlantic.

The company previously raised over $154 million, bringing the total up to $429 million in the three years since launching out of Y Combinator. The new raise now puts Ginkgo’s valuation at over $1 billion, according to sources.

Ginkgo started out using yeasts to create products for the flavor, fragrance and food industries and has produced probiotics in conjunction with DARPA to help U.S. soldiers stave off stomach bugs they might pick up overseas.  including creating bacteria that can decrease farmers’ reliance on chemical fertilizers and “living medicines” to cure the body of disease.

Last year, Ginkgo raised $100 million in a joint venture with pharma company Bayer to create bacteria that can decrease farmers’ reliance on chemical fertilizers by focusing on nitrogen fixation.

The new funding will be used to branch out into even more markets this next year, Ginkgo Bioworks co-founder and CEO Jason Kelly told TechCrunch.

“There are just more and more consumer goods being impacted by biotech,” Kelly said, listing off Bolt Threads and Impossible Foods as two startups doing well in the space.

But rather than honing in on one material, Ginkgo is a sort of the backbone, work in partnership with these types of companies. Ginkgo designs and ships the bugs, the companies do the rest. Right now, the biggest deals the company are coming from agriculture and pharmaceuticals.

Kelly also mentioned the possibility of going public soon. Keep in mind, the company didn’t just pop out of YC a few years back. It was founded in 2009 and already had about 15 people on the team when it entered the accelerator in 2014. An IPO would seem to be a logical next step after raising all that cash and growing to where it has.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to sell the company or seek an acquisition just because of the breadth of markets,” Kelly said. “For us this is a standalone new industry. More of an organism design industry.”

It’s exciting to see so much happening in this new biotech space, particularly with startups. Synthetic tech companies raised more than $1 billion last year and might just go beyond that by the end of 2017 — we were already at the half a billion dollars mark in July.

It will be interesting to see what Ginkgo does with its new Bioworks3 foundry over the next few months. That production facility officially begins operations today.



Zuck and Bezos back seed stage scout fund Village Global

03:12 | 26 September

Product Hunt’s first employee Erik Torenberg is ready to fund fresh new startups, not just reveal them to the world. Today is the soft launch of Village Global, a seed and pre-seed early stage venture capital fund looking to connect entrepreneurs to cash as well as all-star mentors. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates are amongst the LPs putting money and advisorship into Village Global.

Village Global partner Erik Torenberg

Torenberg declined to comment on this article, as VCs can’t legally discuss ongoing fundraising legally due to SEC rules. While the firm doesn’t list how big its fund plans to be, TechCrunch has discovered an SEC regulatory filing from June showing Village Global was targeting a $50 million fundraise. It’s unclear how much exactly it will pull in, though, as fundraising is ongoing .

So why are luminaries like former NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg, VMWare founder Diane Greene, or Disney CEO Bob Iger willing to get involved, especially when most are already outrageously wealthy? “These innovators haven’t lost their love of the startup game” Village Global wrote in its launch post. “In fact, they have a lot of wisdom to share about their entrepreneurial journeys, and insight to gain from interacting with the next generation of innovators.”

These tech titans may trust Village Global because of Torenberg’s grass-roots affiliation with that next generation through his work at Product Hunt. He could help CEOs far-removed from the startup trenches glean learnings about budding tech trends and business practices from Village Global’s portfolio founders.

The Village Global team also includes Ben Casnocha, who co-authored entrepreneurship strategy book The Startup Of You with Hoffman before becoming his chief of staff at LinkedIn. Other partners at Village Global include former IAC biz dev exec, 500 Startups head of investor relations, and Queensbridge partner Adam Corey; Chegg chief business officer and Harvard Business School entrepreneur-in-residence Anne Dwane; and SuccessFactors VP and Canaan partner Ross Fubini.

Focusing on very early stage startups could allow Village Global to make an impact without raising an exceptionally huge fund, or offering expansive service arms like Andreessen Horowitz or GV (formerly Google Ventures) do in recruiting, design, and other areas. Instead, Village Global could dangle access to its network of famous advisors, roping in founders with its star power.

“Networks are known for speed and adaptability. These are good attributes for founders” Village Global writes. The firm says it’s geography and vertical agnostic, and will do follow-on rounds, giving it plenty of flexibility to find who’s building the future.

Village Global’s opportunity lies in keeping its ear to the street and sniffing out high potential founders and startups before more established funds and angel investors do. At this moment, a small investment can equal a substantial equity stake.

“One of the unique ways we operate is that we entrust successful angel investors and inspirational founders with capital to invest on behalf of Village” the firm explains. “Village network leaders— representing different backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, geographies, and sectors — have proximity to founders, including those who might go underestimated.”

Rather than having all deal flow and decision making go through its small core team, Village Global will develop a wider scouting network of the kind of people founders already look to for advice and first checks. These “network leaders” include YouTube’s VR lead Erin Teague, Quora vice president Sarah Smith, Dropbox’s first employee Aston Motes, and board director for Target, Hilton and [TechCrunch parent company] Verizon Mel Healey.

It’s a model that acknowledges that startup returns are binary — they either become failures or huge successes with little in between that’s meaningful to investors. By being generous with how it distributes rights to the returns on its investments to scouts, Village Global could gain access to these breakout deals that can pay back an entire fund.

With so many post-exit founders and wealthy individuals flooding into the early-stage investment field, competition is fierce. But if Village Global can cast a wide net, and reel in future unicorns with the promise of being mentored by tech heroes, it could see a strong community of startups cluster around it.



As a relieved Tampa assesses its future, one of its millionaires plants a flag for VC and tech

17:10 | 13 September

While Tampa Bay residents are beginning the process of removing the sandbags from their homes and getting back to the business of daily living in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the city’s multi-millionaire real estate developer, Jeff Vinik, is busy with plans of his own.

Last year, Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascadia fund jointly acquired a swath of waterfront property in Tampa Bay.The two intend to turn the $3 billion parcel of real estate into a model of intentional urban development. And an integral part of that, Vinik tells me, is bringing technology investment and entrepreneurship to the city.

We’ve heard this song before at TechCrunch, with a seeming endless stream of cities from Coeur D’Alene, to Charlottesville, Va., to New Orleans planting a flag for technology development and business incubation. What’s different is that Vinik is putting his capital behind these projects.

These days, the conversation has taken on a new dimension: Amazon has announced that it plans to build a second headquarters outside of Seattle somewhere in North America. That’s leading a lot of people to speculate about where it might choose, and thus which city might be the lucky recipient of a huge tech boost from one of the biggest companies in the space right now. Tampa could potentially be another addition to that list.

And Vinik could help make that happen. Essentially Vinik wants to link the big corporations who are looking for new sustainable technologies to complete the real estate development project he’s financing with the startup companies that he’d help back. It’s all part of a broader effort to bring the tech industry to Tampa Bay by finding out what technologies companies in Tampa Bay need.

The first step in the process was to bring in DreamIt Ventures in to serve as the in-house accelerator program for a cohort of companies that will work hand-in-hand with the developers on the project Vinik and Gates are financing.

Vinik tells me he’ll commit 20 percent of the $50 million Dreamit is hoping to raise for its third fund and will be looking to commit an additional 20 percent to another $50 million to $100 million fund he hopes to raise to woo companies down to Florida.

“We have every raw material in this region to actually boom over the next couple of decades,” Vinik says of his slice of Eastern Gulf real estate. “Tampa Bay to Orlando will be the next region.”

The problem Vinik says, is brain drain and a lack of opportunity for a more entrepreneurially minded Floridian. And he sees the solution in the kinds of communities that have sprung up in places like Austin, Chicago, Detroit, and even Denver.

“After all of that … just from listening… I realized that one of the first things we do is set up an innovation hub,” Vinik says.

For DreamIt, the move to Tampa fits with the firm’s continuing evolution away from the typical accelerator approach used by firms like 500 Startups and Y Combinator. By partnering with the Vinik project, and focusing on urban tech that can be deployed in the new community that’s being developed, DreamIt’s approach begins to look more like Techstars, which has accelerators focused on geographies, industries, and accelerating corporate innovation.

While the firm has no particular background in urban tech, what it does have is a model that aligns well with startups at varying stages of growth, according to Andrew Ackerman, the New York-based partner who’s heading up Dreamit’s new urban tech initiative.

Traditionally, Dreamit has focused on education and healthcare, but the firm’s approach is to partner with large corporates that can become either channels for startups to bring their technology to market, or buyers of the technologies and services themselves.

That’s a model for success in any industry, according to Ackerman.

For his part, Vinik is hoping that Tampa will become a more permanent home for Dreamit and its program. “Dreamit is a cricital part of this,” he tells me.

Vinik, also the owner of the local hockey team and a former manager of Fidelity Investments’ Magellan Fund, is looking to commit a not insignificant portion of his wealth to the next Dreamit fund and establish another, later-stage fund, to invest in tech companies around the region.

“We’ve been dating this year, and there’s a good chance that we get married in 2018 — and that would mean two cohorts per year,” Vinik says.

Not even a hurricane could ruffle the commitment, in part because Dreamit does much of its early mentoring remotely.

The firm has already chosen the first nine startups that are participating in the Tampa Bay accelerator program, and they held their first meeting on Monday as Irma bore down on the city.

In a remote video conference, the leaders of Bignay, Cityzenith, Ecomedes, Energy Intelligence, Flower Turbines, Knowify, Lotik, Raxar, and Twist Homes (I’ll describe what the companies do in a minute) got their first taste of what the Dreamit program would entail.

Dreamit Ventures urban tech meetup

Part of the pitch from Dreamit, and draw for startups, is the program’s focus on getting its companies in front of companies as a part of the incubation process. For this cohort that means working with companies including COOKFox Architects, Skanska, Suffolk Construction, which are all working on the Water Street Tampa development. Other partners include Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, Odin Properties, and others.

This is all part of Vinik’s and Gates’ Cascadia Investments larger $3 billion revitalization plan that covers 53 acres and will have 5,000 new homes, 2.5 million square feet of office space and come in a built environment of 9 million total square feet.

Here’s that full list and a brief description of the startups in this first Dreamit cohort (and I have to say that a few of these don’t sound half bad… or all bad).

  • Gi Fly is the maker of a folding electric bicycle
  • Cityzenith integrates with all sorts of sensor data and architecture and project design software to give developers and building managers a comprehensive view of multi-building projects or facilities around the world.
  • Ecomedes is a data management platform for sustainable purchasing.
  • Energy Intelligence is a power generator attached to a smart speed bump (kind of like this).
  • Flower Turbines is a micro wind turbine manufacturer.
  • Knowify is a bid tracking and invoice management software as a service for commercial subcontractors.
  • Lotik is pitching a water management and services sensor network.
  • Raxar sells a visual assessment and quality assurance software for large infrastructure developments.
  • Twist Home is slling a super light bulb kitted out with wireless speakers, wifi repeaters and sensors to monitor a building’s internal environment.
Featured Image: Antoine Gady/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-ND 2.0 LICENSE



Impossible Foods just raised $75 million for its plant-based burgers

00:11 | 2 August

Impossible Foods, the six-year-old, Redwood City, Ca.-based company known for its “juicy” meatless burgers, quietly announced $75 million in funding late last week, led by Temasek, with participation from Open Philanthropy, as well as earlier investors Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures and Horizon Ventures.

The company says it isn’t providing further financial details but the round brings Impossible’s funding to nearly $300 million, including earlier rounds that have included GV, Viking Global Investors and UBS.

Impossible’s burgers are made with  soy leghemoglobin, a protein that carries heme, an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in every animal and plant.

The company has said it wants to replace a number of animal products with goods engineered from plants, but for now, it seems squarely focused on getting more of its burgers into the world. Part of that strategy involved opening a factory in Oakland, Ca., in May, where it expects to be producing 1 million pounds of ground “plant meat” each month.

The reason for ramping up: The burgers are available only in select restaurants right now, and Impossible finds itself in a race to get its product into grocery stores.

It needs to move fast. The “burgers” of Beyond Meat — another company that’s backed by Bill Gates and producing plant-based alternatives to foods made of animal proteins — are already available in hundreds of Whole Foods and Safeway locations. Last week, the company announced that it’s launching in more than 600 Kroger stores across 13 states, too.

The round isn’t surprising, given Impossible’s ambitions, though Temasek might have first had to demonstrate that it understands the company.

In May, Impossible’s founder and CEO Patrick Brown spoke at an event hosted by this editor, where he remarked that generally speaking, investors don’t do enough diligence on deals involving science they don’t understand.

“I love VCs and particularly the ones that invested in us,” Brown had said. “But it’s truly astonishing how little diligence they do in terms of the actual science that underlies some tech companies.”

“Sometimes,” he half joked, “some of the VC firms we work with will ask me to take a look at a company. But it doesn’t really matter what I say because sometimes I’ll say, ‘If I were you I’d just flush my money down the toilet because it is faster and easier.’ But it doesn’t matter.They’ll do the deal.”

Featured Image: Dani Padgett/Dani Padgett for Strictly VC



Ballmer explains why he invested in Twitter

03:20 | 31 May

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage at Code Conference on Tuesday and talked about why he owns a large position in Twitter.

“There’s a real opportunity to make that a valuable economic asset,” said Ballmer, defending his decision to invest in what has been a volatile ride for the social media company. He believes in its potential because it “gives people a chance to communicate directly with the people they want to talk to in the world.”

At one point Ballmer owned 4 percent of the company, but he declined to say how much he still owns, just referring to it as a “large percentage.”

He denied rumors that Microsoft tried to acquire Twitter when he was at the helm, but did think it was possible that they’ll end up getting bought. “The business over time will either get sorted through or it will be an appropriately valuable asset for somebody to buy,” he said.

Ballmer also echoed a common concern that it would be too difficult for Jack Dorsey to remain CEO of both companies. “Being a CEO of two things I can’t even imagine.”

Don’t expect Ballmer to be making more investments. He said that he changed his mind about stock investing right now and he’s “back to bonds and index funds.”

He also talked about why he recently launched USAFacts, a website that keep tabs on government spending. He explained that the project stemmed from his frustration that budget data wasn’t as easy to find as a corporate 10-K (business annual filing).

“It was almost impossible to find this stuff,” Ballmer said about his search for a detailed breakdown of government spending. So he hopes that his site will be a resource for policymakers, journalists and anybody who is curious where their tax money is going.

Ballmer now spends a lot of his time with the Los Angeles Clippers, an NBA basketball team that he owns. He talked about how he “hates” seeing people looking at their phones at the games and that he’s been looking at augmented reality to improve the experience in the arena.

Featured Image: Microsoft Sweden/Flickr UNDER A CC BY 2.0 LICENSE (IMAGE HAS BEEN MODIFIED)



Reid Hoffman, Bill Gates, Sam Altman invest $30 million in Change.org

04:34 | 27 May

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman announced today that he’s making a big bet on Change.org, the site for social justice petitions. Hoffman is leading a $30 million round, with other investors including big names like Bill Gates and Y Combinator president Sam Altman.

“Change.org, the global hub for collective action, is a crucial democratizing force in this era of growing civic participation,” wrote Reid Hoffman on LinkedIn. “It helps enable a world where you don’t need to hire a lobbyist to have real impact on the issues and policies that matter to you.”

The organization was founded in 2007 by CEO Ben Rattray. Since then, almost 200 million people around the world have used the site to raise awareness for a range of causes including human rights, the environment, education and health issues.

Rattray wrote a post about the global mission. “We are in the early stages of the development of a new, more participatory form of democracy, and in order to realize the potential that technology has to transform civic engagement, we need to build tools that give us wider reach and enable deeper involvement,” he said.

The proverbial tongue-in-cheek in Silicon Valley is that people want to build things that “change the world.” This one actually does.

But they’re not a nonprofit, they’re a business. They make money by charging companies and nonprofits to sponsor petitions which they say  brought in $20 million in revenue per year. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to keep them from laying off 30% of their staff in September. They have since introduced crowdfunding, which has generated “millions of dollars of revenue.”

This isn’t the first time that Hoffman bet on the Change.org team. In 2014, he was part of a large group of high-profile investors including Richard Branson, Ashton Kutcher and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams.

They’ve raised over $42 million dating back to 2012.



Is a “robot tax” really an “innovation penalty”?

19:30 | 22 April

When Bill Gates recently suggested robots should pay income tax like any other employee, I didn’t immediately disagree. I applaud Gates’ bold thinking to help solve one of society’s biggest upcoming challenges: embracing automation in a way that “lifts all boats” instead of leaving large swaths of society behind.

A robot tax would help offset the reduced revenues flowing into public coffers as machines take some jobs previously held by humans.

However, before we start taxing companies that deploy robotics, let’s first agree on what a robot actually is.

When we think of robots, we typically conjure up images of giant arms building cars on an assembly line, or autonomous delivery vehicles ferrying goods around warehouses. But the classic definition of a robot is fairly simple: a combination of technologies that together sense, evaluate, and act to carry out a defined task.

The problem with this definition is that it’s so broad, it would categorize almost all technology – including most modern household appliances, computers, and smartphones – as robots. So where do we draw the line? Indeed, why single out robots to be taxed and not other technology that increases automation, productivity, or quality?

Is the technology that translates a surgeon’s hand movements into more precise movements of tiny instruments considered a robot? How about an ATM, an automated grocery checkout station, or a refrigerator that tells you when you need milk?

We could narrow the definition of a robot to include only those machines that do tasks once done by a human, but then we’d have to include Microsoft’s vast hardware and software offerings, since computers do things like word processing, transcribing, calculating mathematical formulas, and analyzing data – all of which used to be human tasks.

When you think of all the once-human tasks now done by machines, it quickly becomes clear how difficult it would be to separate certain automation technologies into the  “robot” category.  And if a robot tax was imposed, why wouldn’t a company simply classifying their new automation technology as “computers”, “appliances” or “equipment”?

Of course, implementing a robot tax wouldn’t just be difficult due to the challenge of defining what is and isn’t a robot. It would also be nearly impossible to prove a direct correlation between the implementation of automation technology and the net loss of jobs. In some rare instances, a company might deploy an automation device and then simultaneously lay off a person. But most companies don’t operate like this.

They continually deploy new technologies to improve productivity, laying off some workers while hiring others. In fact, if a robot causes one person to lose a job, perhaps three new people will be hired – one to run the robot and two others because the robot improves overall productivity, allowing for expansion hiring.

In reality, robots, like most automation, help people be more efficient and productive, rather than replace them. That’s been the case for centuries. A study of census data in England and Wales since 1871 found technology created far more jobs than it destroyed during that 140-year period. “Machines will take on more repetitive and laborious tasks, but seem no closer to eliminating the need for human labor than at any time in the last 150 years,” says the Deloitte report.

When Gates talks about a robot tax, in essence, he’s talking about financially penalizing companies that deploy the latest automation technology — a sort of “innovation tax” — which, to me, is a backward tax.

Shouldn’t our government support companies that embrace innovation in an effort to improve productivity and boost revenues? That’s what will make the US economy strong and competitive on a global scale.

Perhaps a better way to ensure that automation improves the lives of all citizens — instead of becoming a wedge that creates a bigger and bigger divide between the haves and have-nots — is to ensure corporations pay tax on their profits.

The more profitable a company becomes due to automation and increased productivity, the more income taxes it should pay into the collective system. Of course, closing loopholes that allow US corporations to dodge taxes will be difficult, but it’s critical to the long-term health of the global economy.

Getting companies to pay their fair share of taxes won’t solve the larger societal challenge that automation will eventually displace low-skilled workers, nor would a robot tax. Instead, governments should focus on using corporate tax revenues to create free or low-cost education programs to prepare people to work alongside automation.

For those unable to find work in tomorrow’s tech-driven society, governments could provide universal basic income or other safety nets for the least-advantaged.

There are no easy answers to the growing divide between rich and poor, which will only accelerate in an automated age that leaves unskilled workers at a distinct disadvantage. But a robot tax is not the answer to this problem.

Featured Image: Paper Boat Creative/Getty Images



Causes of the global water crisis and 12 companies trying to solve it

08:38 | 23 March

It’s World Water Day. Time to wake up and take shorter showers. That is, if we’re fortunate enough to have them. Water scarcity and pollution are persistent global problems. According to End Water Poverty, some 663 million people around the world have absolutely no reliable access to clean, safe water year-round. And two-thirds of the world population faces water scarcity for at least one month every year.

In the wealthy US, we’re facing a different kind of water crisis largely of our own making. In 2016 only 9 states reported safe lead levels in their schools’ water supply. Lead and copper contamination can come from irresponsible industry, aging pipes, ineffectual water treatment plants and too little investment in our public water infrastructure.

Droughts and natural disasters can cut off access to potable and sanitary water anywhere in the world, too. Haiti is known as a “pipeless nation,” still recovering from 2010’s catastrophic earthquake and consequent natural disasters. In Haiti, only one-quarter of residents have access to toilets, according to the World Bank. And it’s hard to believe it, but giant freshwater sources in North America like Lake Mead in Arizona or the Colorado River may not be able to keep pumping to residents’ homes and businesses much longer thanks to drought and pollution.

Our daily consumption of water affects future supply, of course. Right now, according to research by WWF, wasteful irrigation systems on farms consume about 70% of the world’s freshwater, over double that of any other industry. By contrast, municipal water represents a mere 8% of global use. Bad irrigation practices in farming can hurt our water in other ways, washing pollutants into rivers, streams or other freshwater ecosystems.

At TechCrunch, we’re lucky to see the hopeful ways that startups, investors and other organizations are working to solve huge problems plaguing humanity with tech, including the global water crisis. Here are 12 to watch:

1. WaterO

WaterO is a purifying hardware that uses reverse osmosis rather than carbon filters. The startup teamed up with the charity WATERisLIFE to send 5,000 of the company’s water filtration systems to help give Flint residents access to clean drinking water. The system uses pressure to push water through a membrane, leaving particles larger than H2O behind. It’s effective in removing heavy metals like lead and mercury, along with chlorine and bacteria.

2. charity: water

Charity: water is focused on helping people get access to clean water. Founder Scott Harrison has gotten support from the tech community throughout the years, with entrepreneurs like Sean Parker and Michael Birch involved with the organization.

3. The Human Utility: Detroit Water Project 

Backed by Y Combinator, TeeSpring and the Shuttleworth Foundation, The Human Utility is helping low-income families get help paying for their water bills so their taps won’t be turned off by utilities leaving them thirsty in their own homes.

4. WaterSmart

WaterSmart’s software helps the water industry understand what’s happening to every last drop of H2O. It aggregates and analyzes information from millions of water meters, predicts demand, and helps utilities communicate with customers about everything from leaks at home to service or rate changes. WaterSmart is making moves with a recent $7 million raise at a $21 million pre-money valuation.

5. Valor Water

Backed by Y Combinator, Valor Water helps utilities understand who is wasting and who is conserving water among their customers. With that data, they can target rate hikes at water pigs, and cut conservationists a good deal to incentivize responsible water use. The company previously competed in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in San Francisco.


TOTO manufactures high-efficiency toilets and has been named a Water Efficiency Leader by the US Environmental Protection Agency, which lauded its sustainable manufacturing and advocacy efforts. The company’s toilets clean themselves with electrolyzed water after every use. TOTO invited TechCrunch to test-drive their latest bidet-and-toilet model at CES this year, but our reporter declined since he was doing the story on camera.

7. Pluto AI

This company, which was one of our favorites from 500 Startups’ 19th class, is developing an application of deep learning for water management. Pluto.ai uses data and machine learning to predict infrastructure failures and to monitor water usage. The company is striving to reduce operating costs at two of the 10 largest water companies in the world who it counts among its partners today.

8. ImagineH20

Imagine H2O is a water-focused accelerator and fund providing water entrepreneurs with “the resources, insight and visibility to launch and scale successful businesses.” The company’s annual water innovation prize rallies entrepreneurs to focus on solving different water-related problems with their technology. This year’s winner, Utilis, uses satellite imagery and big data analytics to find leaks in underground water supplies to large, urban markets so that cities can stop them and save that water for residential use.

9. XPV Water Partners

A Toronto-based venture firm called XPV Water Partners has developed a specialization around startups in the water industry, one of the most regulated sectors in every nation. Its portfolio includes microbial monitoring tech startup LuminUltra, water reclamation and reuse venture Natural Systems Utilities, and Shenandoah Growers, a grower of organic herbs that uses 90% less water than required with traditional farming methods, but no photo-sharing or dating apps.

10. Planet Water Foundation

This nonprofit installs water filtration systems in rural communities and at schools around the world so they can have clean, safe drinking water. The systems, called Aqua Towers, trap harmful particles, and kill bacteria and viruses, providing 1,000 people with 10,000 liters of clean water per unit daily.

11. RWL Water 

New York-based RWL Water builds desalination plants and wastewater treatment systems around the world.  The company works to provide a power supply to customers who are in geographically remote areas but need water to power their communities and businesses. Most recently, RWL acquired a water plant in São Paulo, Brazil, a market that has been struggling to keep its residents and businesses in clean water after a two year, El Niño drought.

12. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a tour de force supporting tech to solve problems that plague humanity. The foundation’s Water & Sanitation Hygiene Challenge, and Reinvent the Toilet fair award grants to organizations that improve sanitation in the developing world. According to the foundation’s own research, “Better sanitation contributes to economic development, delivering up to $5 in social and economic benefits for every $1 invested through increased productivity, reduced healthcare costs, and prevention of illness, disability, and early death.”



Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and 18 others commit $1 billion to new cleantech fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures

07:25 | 12 December

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Vinod Khosla, Jack Ma, John Doerr and 15 other high-profile investors have formed a new venture firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, that will pour at least $1 billion into cleantech companies over the next 20 years.

The firm’s goal, according to its own website will be: “to provide everyone in the world with access to reliable, affordable power, food, goods, transportation, and services without contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.”

BEV will invest in tech ventures at any stage, from seed through commercialization. The deals will focus on electricity, manufacturing, agriculture, buildings and transportation.

Cleantech was once the rage in Silicon Valley, with total venture capital dollars invested in clean tech hitting $6.1 billion in 2008 before the recession. But cleantech became a dirty word following the cratering of startups that had taken venture capital, as well as significant amounts of government loans, grants, subsidies or tax credits.

Along with scores of others that shut down, failing to save the planet or to realize meaningful returns for investors were: solar panel makers Solyndra; Aptera, which attempted to make highly fuel-efficient cars; and waste-to-fuel company Kior. (Memba them?)

But a burgeoning world population, and energy demands that are growing along with it, are driving up demand for technology that can help people produce more of what they need with fewer resources. So cleantech is drawing investments again, even if some VC’s avoid labeling their portfolio companies as such.

BEV is the formal, venture investing initiative of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group announced at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference.

The group, comprised of tech and finance all-stars, pledged to invest in early-stage startups in nations that were ramping up their public, R&D funding for cleantech, to reach a collective $30 billion by 2020.

Besides making its venture fund known today, BEV published a framework today called the “Landscape of Innovation,” which it intends to be “a guide to other public and private investors committed to reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.”


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