Starting a robotics company out of school? Not so fast, suggest investors

Every once in a while, a college student or recent graduate dares to launch a robotics startup and . . . everything goes as well as could be expected. Such is the case, for example, with Alex Rodrigues and Brandon Moak, two former University of Waterloo students who worked on self-driving technologies together in college and formed their now venture-backed, self-driving truck company, Embark, instead of graduating. (Originally called Varden Labs, the startup’s trip through Y Combinator undoubtedly helped.)

Still, to capture the sustained interest of robotics investors, it helps to either have experience in a particular industry or to pull in someone, quickly, who does. That much was established yesterday at UC Berkeley, when three veteran investors — Renata Quintini of Lux Capital, Rob Coneybeer of Shasta Ventures, and Chris Evdemon of Sinovation Ventures — took the stage of a packed Zellerbach Hall to talk about where they’ve invested previously, and where they are shopping now.

Though the three expressed interest in a wide range of technologies and plenty of optimism about what’s to come, each lingered a bit on one point in particular, which was the difficulty robotics founders face who are completely unfamiliar with the particular industry they may hope to reshape with their innovation.

You can catch the entire interview below, but we  thought college students — and their professors and mentors — might want to pay particularly close attention to this concern if they’re thinking about hitting up investors in the not-too-distant future.

Quintini on how comfortable she and her colleagues at Lux are when it comes to backing recent college graduates:

What we care the most about what is your unique insight and what do you know about tackling a certain market or problem that’s not obvious or easy to replicate. In some cases, it’s very fair for someone right out of university who finds a technological breakthrough and . . . that breakthrough alone is understandable and comprehensible to the market and it’s a very backable company, and we’ve done that in the past.

But in some cases, and you’ve heard today, [CEO] Patrick [Sobalvarro] from Veo Robotics speak — and [Veo is] actually giving robotic arms perception sensors to allow people and robots to work together — all his insights came because he came from industry. He was at Rethink Robotics; he’s been in the robotics industry, selling to people who use robots as part of the manufacturing process. And so he actually understands the importance of safety and the selling of those systems to customers. Because he knew that, it made a big difference in how he approaches his go-to-market strategy and how he approaches building a product. And somebody who’s just thinking about, ‘Oh, let me figure out the technology and how to understand when a human is close or not’ and who didn’t think about the other angle wouldn’t be so successful or differentiated in our opinion.

Coneybeer sounded a similar tone. In fact, when asked if he felt there were other overlooked opportunities like that identified by Veo — which is refitting existing robotic arms, rather than trying to remake them from scratch — Coneybeer said the most attractive thing of all to him are startups in search of a problem that actually exists: 

What we’re very cognizant of is people who love robots and are trying to invent a market or invent a need and kind of force fit it, as opposed to people who understand a need and are using robotics as a tool to truly solve that need. That’s a really key differentiator.

We directed an entirely different question to Evdemon, about how Sinovation thinks about domestic versus industrial robots and whether it expects to commit more capital to one or the other. But Evdemon first took the time to note that the problem of founders who don’t know their industries is a very big one, and deserved more discussion:

Chiming in to what Renata and Rob were saying, you understated [the issue]. The majority of the teams that we are looking on both the consumer and industrial robot [worlds] at the moment are more of a technology trying to find a fit in the market, and that’s obviously a very big problem from a venture point of view.

We also see a lot of teams that are fresh out of school, usually a supervising professor with a couple of his or her PhD students having come across some kind of technological breakthrough in university and trying to commercialize that. But robotics are all about what sectors they are being applied to. An ag tech team that knows nothing about agriculture, or a security robot that has a team that’s come up with a great computer vision breakthrough around security issues but that has no idea how the security industry in the U.S. or other parts of the world is structured, is obviously not a good starting point — at least not from a business-minded point of view.

And all of these companies run across tremendous difficulty when it comes to sales. Complementary of teams and market fit [both, are] important for [students] who are thinking about such a move straight out of school.

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Adobe CTO leads company’s broad AI bet

There isn’t a software company out there worth its salt that doesn’t have some kind of artificial intelligence initiative in progress right now. These organizations understand that AI is going to be a game-changer, even if they might not have a full understanding of how that’s going to work just yet.

In March at the Adobe Summit, I sat down with Adobe executive vice president and CTO Abhay Parasnis, and talked about a range of subjects with him including the company’s goal to build a cloud platform for the next decade — and how AI is a big part of that.

Parasnis told me that he has a broad set of responsibilities starting with the typical CTO role of setting the tone for the company’s technology strategy, but it doesn’t stop there by any means. He also is in charge of operational execution for the core cloud platform and all the engineering building out the platform — including AI and Sensei. That includes managing a multi-thousand person engineering team. Finally, he’s in charge of all the digital infrastructure and the IT organization — just a bit on his plate.

Ten years down the road

The company’s transition from selling boxed software to a subscription-based cloud company began in 2013, long before Parasnis came on board. It has been a highly successful one, but Adobe knew it would take more than simply shedding boxed software to survive long-term. When Parasnis arrived, the next step was to rearchitect the base platform in a way that was flexible enough to last for at least a decade — yes, a decade.

“When we first started thinking about the next generation platform, we had to think about what do we want to build for. It’s a massive lift and we have to architect to last a decade,” he said. There’s a huge challenge because so much can change over time, especially right now when technology is shifting so rapidly.

That meant that they had to build in flexibility to allow for these kinds of changes over time, maybe even ones they can’t anticipate just yet. The company certainly sees immersive technology like AR and VR, as well as voice as something they need to start thinking about as a future bet — and their base platform had to be adaptable enough to support that.

Making Sensei of it all

But Adobe also needed to get its ducks in a row around AI. That’s why around 18 months ago, the company made another strategic decision to develop AI as a core part of the new  platform. They saw a lot of companies looking at a more general AI for developers, but they had a different vision, one tightly focussed on Adobe’s core functionality. Parasnis sees this as the key part of the company’s cloud platform strategy. “AI will be the single most transformational force in technology,” he said, adding that Sensei is by far the thing he is spending the most time on.”

Photo: Ron Miller

The company began thinking about the new cloud platform with the larger artificial intelligence goal in mind, building AI-fueled algorithms to handle core platform functionality. Once they refined them for use in-house, the next step was to open up these algorithms to third-party developers to build their own applications using Adobe’s AI tools.

It’s actually a classic software platform play, whether the service involves AI or not. Every cloud company from Box to Salesforce has been exposing their services for years, letting developers take advantage of their expertise so they can concentrate on their core knowledge. They don’t have to worry about building something like storage or security from scratch because they can grab those features from a platform that has built-in expertise  and provides a way to easily incorporate it into applications.

The difference here is that it involves Adobe’s core functions, so it may be intelligent auto cropping and smart tagging in Adobe Experience Manager or AI-fueled visual stock search in Creative Cloud. These are features that are essential to the Adobe software experience, which the company is packaging as an API and delivering to developers to use in their own software.

Whether or not Sensei can be the technology that drives the Adobe cloud platform for the next 10 years, Parasnis and the company at large are very much committed to that vision. We should see more announcements from Adobe in the coming months and years as they build more AI-powered algorithms into the platform and expose them to developers for use in their own software.

Parasnis certainly recognizes this as an ongoing process. “We still have a lot of work to do, but we are off in an extremely good architectural direction, and AI will be a crucial part,” he said.

These schools graduate the most funded startup CEOs

There is no degree required to be a CEO of a venture-backed company. But it likely helps to graduate from Harvard, Stanford or one of about a dozen other prominent universities that churn out a high number of top startup executives.

That is the central conclusion from our latest graduation season data crunch. For this exercise, Crunchbase News took a look at top U.S. university affiliations for CEOs of startups that raised $1 million or more in the past year.

In many ways, the findings weren’t too different from what we unearthed almost a year ago, looking at the university backgrounds of funded startup founders. However, there were a few twists. Here are some key findings:

Harvard fares better in its rivalry with Stanford when it comes to educating future CEOs than founders. The two universities essentially tied for first place in the CEO alum ranking. (Stanford was well ahead for founders.)

Business schools are big. While MBA programs may be seeing fewer applicants, the degree remains quite popular among startup CEOs.  At Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, more than half of the CEOs on our list graduated as business school alum.

University affiliation is influential but not determinative for CEOs. The 20 schools featured on our list graduated CEOs of more than 800 global startups that raised $1M or more in roughly the past year, a minority of the total.
Below, we flesh out the findings in more detail.

Where startup CEOs went to school

First, let’s start with school rankings. There aren’t many big surprises here. Harvard and Stanford far outpace any other institutions on the CEO list. Each counts close to 150 known alum among chief executives of startups that raised $1 million or more over the past year.

MIT, University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia round out the top five. Ivy League schools and large research universities constitute most of the remaining institutions on our list of about twenty with a strong track record for graduating CEOs. The numbers are laid out in the chart below:

Traditional MBA popular with startup CEOs

Yes, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard. And Steve Jobs ditched college after a semester. But they are the exceptions in CEO-land.

The typical path for the leader of a venture-backed company is a bit more staid. Degrees from prestigious universities abound. And MBA degrees, particularly from top-ranked programs, are a pretty popular credential.

Top business schools enroll only a small percentage of students at their respective universities. However, these institutions produce a disproportionately large share of CEOs. Wharton School of Business degrees, for instance, accounted for the majority of CEO alumni from the University of Pennsylvania . Harvard Business School also graduated more than half of the Harvard-affiliated CEOs. And at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, the share was nearly half.

CEO alumni background is really quite varied

While the educational backgrounds of startup CEOs do show a lot of overlap, there is also plenty of room for variance. About 3,000 U.S. startups and nearly 5,000 global startups with listed CEOs raised $1 million or more since last May. In both cases, those startups were largely led by people who didn’t attend a school on the list above.

Admittedly, the math for this is a bit fuzzy. A big chunk of CEO profiles in Crunchbase (probably more than a third) don’t include a university affiliation. Even taking this into account, however, it looks like more than half of the U.S. CEOs were not graduates of schools on the short list. Meanwhile, for non-U.S. CEOs, only a small number attended a school on the list.

So, with that, some words of inspiration for graduates: If your goal is to be a funded startup CEO, the surest path is probably to launch a startup. Degrees matter, but they’re not determinative.

Gillmor Gang: Pop-Up Shop

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The Gillmor Gang — Doc Searls, Frank Radice, Esteban Kolsky, Michael Markman, and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, May 11, 2018. Audio networks, a new Beatles, and other digital cliffhangers

@stevegillmor, @dsearls, @fradice, @mickeleh, @ekolsky

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

Liner Notes

Live chat stream

The Gillmor Gang on Facebook

Apple hit with lawsuit over the “completely reinvented” Macbook keyboard it rolled out back in 2015

A little more than three years ago, Apple announced a new MacBook with a “butterfly” keyboard that was 40 percent thinner and ostensibly four times more stable than the previous “scissor” mechanism that MacBooks employed.

The promise was to more evenly distribute pressure on each key. Not everyone loved this “reinvention,” however, and now, Apple is facing a class action lawsuit over it.

According to a complaint lodged in the Northern District Court of California yesterday and first spied by the folks over at AppleInsider, “thousands” of MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops produced in 2015 and 2016 experienced failure owing to dust or debris that rendered the machines useless. The complaint further alleges that Apple “continues to fail to disclose to consumers that the MacBook is defective, including when consumers bring their failed laptops into the ‘Genius Bar’ (the in-store support desk) at Apple stores to request technical support.”

It just not a lack of disclosures that’s problematic, the suit continues. Customers who think the issue will be covered by their warranties are sometimes in for an unpleasant surprise. As stated in the filing: “Although every MacBook comes with a one-year written warranty, Apple routinely refuses to honor its warranty obligations. Instead of fixing the keyboard problems, Apple advises MacBook owners to try self-help remedies that it knows will not result in a permanent repair. When Apple does agree to attempt a warranty repair, the repair is only temporary—a purportedly repaired MacBook fails again from the same keyboard problems. For consumers outside of the warranty period, Apple denies warranty service, and directs consumers to engage in paid repairs, which cost between $400 and $700. The keyboard defect in the MacBook is substantially certain to manifest.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two users, ZIxuan Rao and Kyle Barbaro, and more broadly “on behalf of all others similarly situated.” It was brought by Girard Gibbs, a San Francisco-based law firm that has battled with Apple numerous times in the past, including filing a class-action suit centered on the iPod’s “diminishing battery capacity.” (Apple appears to have settled that one.)

We’ve reached out to Apple for comment.

Interestingly, AppleInsider appears to have provided the fodder for this new lawsuit, or some of it at least. Last month, the outlet reported findings of its own separate investigation into the problem after hearing enough anecdotes to support a deep dive. It says that after collecting service data for the first year of release for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 MacBook Pros, it concluded that —  excluding Touch Bar failures — the 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard has been failing its users twice as often in the first year of use as the 2014 or 2015 MacBook Pro models.

AppleInsider says it collected its data from “assorted Apple Genius Bars in the U.S.” that it has worked with for several years, as well as  Apple-authorized third-party repair shops.

The investigation clearly resonated with MacBook owners, because soon after, more than 17,000 people signed a Change.org petition demanding that Apple recall all MacBooks with butterfly switch keyboards.

That petition — which cites among others the highly regarded writer and UI designer John Gruber, who has called the keyboard “one of the biggest design screwups in Apple history” —  continues to gain steam, fueled possibly by news of the lawsuit. As of this writing, roughly 18,000 people have provided their signature.

What do AI and blockchain mean for the rule of law?

Digital services have frequently been in collision — if not out-and-out conflict — with the rule of law. But what happens when technologies such as deep learning software and self-executing code are in the driving seat of legal decisions?

How can we be sure next-gen ‘legal tech’ systems are not unfairly biased against certain groups or individuals? And what skills will lawyers need to develop to be able to properly assess the quality of the justice flowing from data-driven decisions?

While entrepreneurs have been eyeing traditional legal processes for some years now, with a cost-cutting gleam in their eye and the word ‘streamline‘ on their lips, this early phase of legal innovation pales in significance beside the transformative potential of AI technologies that are already pushing their algorithmic fingers into legal processes — and perhaps shifting the line of the law itself in the process.

But how can legal protections be safeguarded if decisions are automated by algorithmic models trained on discrete data-sets — or flowing from policies administered by being embedded on a blockchain?

These are the sorts of questions that lawyer and philosopher Mireille Hildebrandt, a professor at the research group for Law, Science, Technology and Society at Vrije Universiteit Brussels in Belgium, will be engaging with during a five-year project to investigate the implications of what she terms ‘computational law’.

Last month the European Research Council awarded Hildebrandt a grant of 2.5 million to conduct foundational research with a dual technology focus: Artificial legal intelligence and legal applications of blockchain.

Discussing her research plan with TechCrunch, she describes the project as both very abstract and very practical, with a staff that will include both lawyers and computer scientists. She says her intention is to come up with a new legal hermeneutics — so, basically, a framework for lawyers to approach computational law architectures intelligently; to understand limitations and implications, and be able to ask the right questions to assess technologies that are increasingly being put to work assessing us.

“The idea is that the lawyers get together with the computer scientists to understand what they’re up against,” she explains. “I want to have that conversation… I want lawyers who are preferably analytically very sharp and philosophically interested to get together with the computer scientists and to really understand each other’s language.

“We’re not going to develop a common language. That’s not going to work, I’m convinced. But they must be able to understand what the meaning of a term is in the other discipline, and to learn to play around, and to say okay, to see the complexity in both fields, to shy away from trying to make it all very simple.

“And after seeing the complexity to then be able to explain it in a way that the people that really matter — that is us citizens — can make decisions both at a political level and in everyday life.”

Hildebrandt says she included both AI and blockchain technologies in the project’s remit as the two offer “two very different types of computational law”.

There is also of course the chance that the two will be applied in combination — creating “an entirely new set of risks and opportunities” in a legal tech setting.

Blockchain “freezes the future”, argues Hildebrandt, admitting of the two it’s the technology she’s more skeptical of in this context. “Once you’ve put it on a blockchain it’s very difficult to change your mind, and if these rules become self-reinforcing it would be a very costly affair both in terms of money but also in terms of effort, time, confusion and uncertainty if you would like to change that.

“You can do a fork but not, I think, when governments are involved. They can’t just fork.”

That said, she posits that blockchain could at some point in the future be deemed an attractive alternative mechanism for states and companies to settle on a less complex system to determine obligations under global tax law, for example. (Assuming any such accord could indeed be reached.)

Given how complex legal compliance can already be for Internet platforms operating across borders and intersecting with different jurisdictions and political expectations there may come a point when a new system for applying rules is deemed necessary — and putting policies on a blockchain could be one way to respond to all the chaotic overlap.

Though Hildebrandt is cautious about the idea of blockchain-based systems for legal compliance.

It’s the other area of focus for the project — AI legal intelligence — where she clearly sees major potential, though also of course risks too. “AI legal intelligence means you use machine learning to do argumentation mining — so you do natural language processing on a lot of legal texts and you try to detect lines of argumentation,” she explains, citing the example of needing to judge whether a specific person is a contractor or an employee.

“That has huge consequences in the US and in Canada, both for the employer… and for the employee and if they get it wrong the tax office may just walk in and give them an enormous fine plus claw back a lot of money which they may not have.”

As a consequence of confused case law in the area, academics at the University of Toronto developed an AI to try to help — by mining lots of related legal texts to generate a set of features within a specific situation that could be used to check whether a person is an employee or not.

“They’re basically looking for a mathematical function that connected input data — so lots of legal texts — with output data, in this case whether you are either an employee or a contractor. And if that mathematical function gets it right in your data set all the time or nearly all the time you call it high accuracy and then we test on new data or data that has been kept apart and you see whether it continues to be very accurate.”

Given AI’s reliance on data-sets to derive algorithmic models that are used to make automated judgement calls, lawyers are going to need to understand how to approach and interrogate these technology structures to determine whether an AI is legally sound or not.

High accuracy that’s not generated off of a biased data-set cannot just be a ‘nice to have’ if your AI is involved in making legal judgment calls on people.

“The technologies that are going to be used, or the legal tech that is now being invested in, will require lawyers to interpret the end results — so instead of saying ‘oh wow this has 98% accuracy and it outperforms the best lawyers!’ they should say ‘ah, ok, can you please show me the set of performance metrics that you tested on. Ah thank you, so why did you put these four into the drawer because they have low accuracy?… Can you show me your data-set? What happened in the hypothesis space? Why did you filter those arguments out?’

“This is a conversation that really requires lawyers to become interested, and to have a bit of fun. It’s a very serious business because legal decisions have a lot of impact on people’s lives but the idea is that lawyers should start having fun in interpreting the outcomes of artificial intelligence in law. And they should be able to have a serious conversation about the limitations of self-executing code — so the other part of the project [i.e. legal applications of blockchain tech].

“If somebody says ‘immutability’ they should be able to say that means that if after you have put everything in the blockchain you suddenly discover a mistake that mistake is automated and it will cost you an incredible amount of money and effort to get it repaired… Or ‘trustless’ — so you’re saying we should not trust the institutions but we should trust software that we don’t understand, we should trust all sorts of middlemen, i.e. the miners in permissionless, or the other types of middlemen who are in other types of distributed ledgers… ”

“I want lawyers to have ammunition there, to have solid arguments… to actually understand what bias means in machine learning,” she continues, pointing by way of an example to research that’s being done by the AI Now Institute in New York to investigate disparate impacts and treatments related to AI systems.

“That’s one specific problem but I think there are many more problems,” she adds of algorithmic discrimination. “So the purpose of this project is to really get together, to get to understand this.

“I think it’s extremely important for lawyers, not to become computer scientists or statisticians but to really get their finger behind what’s happening and then to be able to share that, to really contribute to legal method — which is text oriented. I’m all for text but we have to, sort of, make up our minds when we can afford to use non-text regulation. I would actually say that that’s not law.

“So how should be the balance between something that we can really understand, that is text, and these other methods that lawyers are not trained to understand… And also citizens do not understand.”

Hildebrandt does see opportunities for AI legal intelligence argument mining to be “used for the good” — saying, for example, AI could be applied to assess the calibre of the decisions made by a particular court.

Though she also cautions that huge thought would need to go into the design of any such systems.

“The stupid thing would be to just give the algorithm a lot of data and then train it and then say ‘hey yes that’s not fair, wow that’s not allowed’. But you could also really think deeply what sort of vectors you have to look at, how you have to label them. And then you may find out that — for instance — the court sentences much more strictly because the police is not bringing the simple cases to court but it’s a very good police and they talk with people, so if people have not done something really terrible they try to solve that problem in another way, not by using the law. And then this particular court gets only very heavy cases and therefore gives far more heavy sentences than other courts that get from their police or public prosecutor all life cases.

“To see that you should not only look at legal texts of course. You have to look also at data from the police. And if you don’t do that then you can have very high accuracy and a total nonsensical outcome that doesn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know. And if you do it another way you can sort of confront people with their own prejudices and make it interesting — challenge certain things. But in a way that doesn’t take too much for granted. And my idea would be that the only way this is going to work is to get a lot of different people together at the design stage of the system — so when you are deciding which data you’re going to train on, when you are developing what machine learners call your ‘hypothesis space’, so the type of modeling you’re going to try and do. And then of course you should test five, six, seven performance metrics.

“And this is also something that people should talk about — not just the data scientists but, for instance, lawyers but also the citizens who are going to be affected by what we do in law. And I’m absolutely convinced that if you do that in a smart way that you get much more robust applications. But then the incentive structure to do it that way is maybe not obvious. Because I think legal tech is going to be used to reduce costs.”

She says one of the key concepts of the research project is legal protection by design — opening up other interesting (and not a little alarming) questions such as what happens to the presumption of innocence in a world of AI-fueled ‘pre-crime’ detectors?

“How can you design these systems in such a way that they offer legal protection from the first minute they come to the market — and not as an add-on or a plug in. And that’s not just about data protection but also about non-discrimination of course and certain consumer rights,” she says.

“I always think that the presumption of innocence has to be connected with legal protection by design. So this is more on the side of the police and the intelligence services — how can you help the intelligence services and the police to buy or develop ICT that has certain constrains which makes it compliant with the presumption of innocence which is not easy at all because we probably have to reconfigure what is the presumption of innocence.”

And while the research is part abstract and solidly foundational, Hildebrandt points out that the technologies being examined — AI and blockchain — are already being applied in legal contexts, albeit in “a state of experimentation”.

And, well, this is one tech-fueled future that really must not be unevenly distributed. The risks are stark.   

“Both the EU and national governments have taken a liking to experimentation… and where experimentation stops and systems are really already implemented and impacting decisions about your and my life is not always so easy to see,” she adds.

Her other hope is that the interpretation methodology developed through the project will help lawyers and law firms to navigate the legal tech that’s coming at them as a sales pitch.

“There’s going to be, obviously, a lot of crap on the market,” she says. “That’s inevitable, this is going to be a competitive market for legal tech and there’s going to be good stuff, bad stuff, and it will not be easy to decide what’s good stuff and bad stuff — so I do believe that by taking this foundational perspective it will be more easy to know where you have to look if you want to make that judgement… It’s about a mindset and about an informed mindset on how these things matter.

“I’m all in favor of agile and lean computing. Don’t do things that make no sense… So I hope this will contribute to a competitive advantage for those who can skip methodologies that are basically nonsensical.”

ConsenSys Ventures invests in six companies and launches its Accelerator

ConsenSys Ventures, the venture arm of the ConsenSys Ethereum blockchain powerhouse, has invested in a new round of six companies and is today formally launching its Accelerator, “Tachyon” (a Tachyon is a particle which moves faster than the speed of light).

The five companies were invested in with a “combination of equity and tokens together. It was a unique termsheet created by Consensys Ventures,” according to Kavita Gupta (pictured), the founding managing partner of ConsenSys and the lead on their Blockchain focused fund which is investing in an Ethereum powered “Web 3.0” startups.

She went on to elaborate to me on the thinking behind these investments: “It’s very important for us to invest into companies that both embody the ethos of decentralization while also pushing the Ethereum ecosystem forward. In this crop of investments, you can see projects that represent the globalization of financial systems on blockchain (Cryptomarket), create innovative solutions to bring institutions into the space (Virtuoso) bring power and monetization back to artists (Dada), democratize the ability to participate in the proof of stake (Rocket Pool) and show the bright minds of traditional tech who are now choosing to bring Ethereum mobile (Vault).”

ConsenSys’ Accelerator is also coming out of the gate too, as, Gupta says, to “connect the traditional Web 2.0 world with the technically complex Ethereum ecosystem.”

The 8week accelerator program will see a cohort of 8-10 projects work towards building an MVP and work towards raising a successful round of pre-seed/seed funding.

The program will bring on advisors from traditional 21st-century technology unicorns like Google/Uber/Fb/Salesforce etc. and combine their expertise with the talent and Ethereum know-how at ConsenSys. The program will feature hands-on education, mentorship, open office hours and will feature demo days both in the US and Europe.

Here’s quick overview of next 5 companies Consensys Ventures has invested in, in their own words:

Virtuoso
“Founded by the team behind TrueEx – the leading electronic interest rate swap platform – Virtuoso is building a cryptocurrency exchange that will support ether futures, creating a more robust Ethereum trading market for institutional investors.”

Ink
“Ink is a decentralized reputation and payment protocol looking to bring transferrable reputation to P2P marketplaces founded by Gee Chuang. It is live on the Listia platform and plans to expand to other P2P marketplaces where lack of reputation is a major driver for centralization.”

Vault
“Vault is a secure wallet and dApp discovery platform for your mobile device, founded by ex-Facebook employee John Egan and his team. The team launched Vault after looking into wallet options, and feeling frustrated from a usability standpoint, specifically as they explored mobile options. Vault is focused on building out two primary features in the short term: 1) the best and most user friendly mobile wallet and 2) a dApp browser.”

Rocket Pool
Rocket Pool is a next-generation Ethereum Proof of Stake pool for Casper, currently in Alpha and based in Australia. Started by David Rugendyke, Rocket Pool allows individuals and businesses to stake as little as .1 ether and avoid extensive withdrawal times and gain exposure to Ethereum’s move to Proof-of-Stake.

CryptoMKT
“CryptoMKT is a Latin American based Ethereum exchange and leader in Chile and Argentina, and are expanding to be a leader in other South American markets. Founded by Rafael Meruane and Martin Jofre, the team has bootstrapped to-date and have traded over $30M in ETH over the last year.”

DADA
“DADA is a social network for digital art where people interact with digital drawings founded by Beatriz Ramos. Currently, DADA offers a collection of 100 limited edition digital drawings (all made within the DADA platform via the provided drawing tools) which is available for purchase with Ether via the MetaMask wallet. Each digital artwork available for purchase is tokenized, with each token representing ownership over a copy of the drawing. DADA’s goal is to allow artists to have full control over their work and earn a universal basic income from their work.”

Munchery shuts down operations in LA, New York and Seattle

Munchery, the on-demand food delivery startup, has shut down its operations in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle, the company announced on its blog today. That means the teams from those cities are also being let go. In total, 257 people (about 30 percent of workforce) were let go, according to a Munchery spokesperson.

“We recognize the impact this will have on the members of our team in those regions,” Munchery CEO James Beriker wrote on the company blog. “Our teams in each city have built their businesses from scratch and worked tirelessly to serve our customers and their communities. I am grateful for their unwavering commitment to Munchery’s mission and success. I truly wish that the outcome would have been different.”

With LA, New York and Seattle off the table, Munchery says it’s going to focus more on its business in San Francisco, its first and largest market. This shift in operations will also enable Munchery to “achieve profitability on the near term, and build a long-term, sustainable business.”

The last couple of years for Munchery has not gone very well, between scathing reports of the company wasting an average of 16 percent of the food it makes, laying off 30 employees and burning through most of the money it raised.

During that time, Munchery tried a number of different strategies. Munchery, which began as a ready-to-heat meal delivery service, in 2015 started delivering meal recipes and ingredients for people who want to cook. Then, Munchery launched an $8.95 a month subscription plan for people who order several times a month. In late 2016, Munchery opened up a shop inside a San Francisco BART station to try to bring in new business.

But it’s not just Munchery that has struggled. The on-demand food delivery business is tough in general. Over the last couple of years, a number of companies have shuttered due to the now well-known fact that the on-demand business is tough when it comes to margins. The most recent casualty was Sprig, which shut down last May, after raising $56.7 million in funding. Other casualties include Maple, Spoonrocket and India’s Ola.

Munchery has raised more than $120 million in capital from Menlo Ventures, Sherpa Capital and others. In March, the company was reportedly seeking $15 million in funding to help keep its head above water.

Ring’s doorbell cam allowed video access after its password was changed

This is likely to be a bit of a black eye from Amazon, as the company looks to bolster its presence in the home security space. The Information reports that, until earlier this year, a security loophole allowed users to continue to view a feed from Ring’s doorbell camera even after its password was changed.

Ring, which was purchased by Amazon for $1 billion earlier this year, acknowledged that it patched the issue in January. The update arrived after a Miami man told the company that his ex had continued to watch the feed, after he had updated the password. Even so, the update doesn’t occur immediately, CEO Jamie Siminoff acknowledged, adding that kicking users off immediately would slow down the app, according to the site.

Ring was a centerpiece of a number of recent acquisitions for Amazon, allowing the company to expend delivery directly into customers’ homes and serving as a foundation of new home security offerings. While the outward-facing nature of the doorbell camera is less intrusive than those products designed to sit directly inside the home, this issue will no doubt lead many users to think twice before introducing a cloud-connected device in their home.

We’ve reached out to Amazon/Ring for a comment on the issue.