Agtech startup Agrilyst is now Artemis, raises $8M Series A

Artemis, the ag-tech startup formerly known as Agrilyst, today announced that it has raised an $8 million Series A funding round. The round was co-led by Astanor Ventures and Talis Capital, with participation from iSelect Fund and New York State’s Empire State Development Fund. With this, the company, which won our 2015 Disrupt SF Battlefield competition, has now raised a total of $11.75 million.

When Agrilyst launched, the company mostly focused on helping indoor farmers and greenhouse operators manage their operations by gathering data about their crop yields and other metrics. Over the course of the last few years, that mission has expanded quite a bit, though, and today’s Artemis sees itself as an enterprise Cultivation Management Platform (CMP) that focuses on all aspects of indoor farming, including managing workers and ensuring compliance with food safety and local cannabis regulations, for example.

The expanded platform is meant to give these businesses a single view of all of their operations and integrates with existing systems that range from climate control to ERP tools and Point of Sale systems.

Compliance is a major part of the expanded platform. “When you look at enterprise operations, that risk is compounded because it’s not just that risk across many, many sites and many acres, so in 2018, we switched to almost entirely focusing on those operations and have gained a lot of momentum in that space,” Kopf said. “And now we’re using the funding to expand from mainly focusing on managing that data to help with profitability to using that data to help you with everything from compliance down to the profitability element. We want to limit that exposure to controllable risk.”

With this new focus on compliance, the company also added Dr. Kathleen Merrigan to its board. Merrigan was the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama administration and is the first Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University . She is also a venture partner at Astanor Ventures .

“Technology innovation is rapidly transforming the agriculture sector. Artemis’ approach to using data as a catalyst for growth and risk management provides the company a significant advantage with enterprise-level horticulture operations,” said Merrigan.

Cannabis, it’s worth noting, was not something the company really focused on in its early years, but as the company’s CEO and founder Allison Kopf told me, it now accounts for about half of the company’s revenue. Only a few years ago, many investors were also uncomfortable investing in a company that was in the cannabis business, but that’s far less of an issue today.

“When we raised our seed round in 2015, we were pitching to a lot of funds and a lot of funds told us that they had LPs that can’t invest in cannabis. So if you’re pitching that you’re going to eventually be in cannabis, we’re going to have to step away from the investment, ” Kopf said. “Now, folks are saying: ‘If you’re not in cannabis, we don’t want to invest.’”

Today, Artemis’s clients are worth a collective $5 billion. The company plans to use the

LG developed its own AI chip to make its smart home products even smarter

As its once-strong mobile division continues to slide, LG is picking up its focus on emerging tech. The company has pushed automotive, and particularly its self-driving capabilities, and today it doubled down on its smart home play with the announcement of its own artificial intelligence (AI) chip.

LG said the new chip includes its own neural engine that will improve the deep-learning algorithms used in its future smart home devices, which will include robot vacuum cleaners, washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners. The chip can operate without an internet connection thanks to on-device processing, and it uses “a separate hardware-implemented security zone” to store personal data.

“The AI Chip incorporates visual intelligence to better recognize and distinguish space, location, objects and users while voice intelligence accurately recognizes voice and noise characteristics while product intelligence enhances the capabilities of the device by detecting physical and chemical changes in the environment,” the company wrote in an announcement.

To date, companies seeking AI or machine learning (ML) smarts at chipset level have turned to established names like Intel, ARM and Nvidia, with upstarts including Graphcore, Cerebras and Wave Computing provided VC-fueled alternatives.

There is, indeed, a boom in AI and ML challengers. A New York Times report published last year estimated that “at least 45 startups are working on chips that can power tasks like speech and self-driving cars,” but that doesn’t include many under-the-radar projects financed by the Chinese government.

LG isn’t alone in opting to fly solo in AI. Facebook, Amazon and Apple are all reported to be working on AI and ML chipsets for specific purposes. In LG’s case, its solution is customized for smarter home devices.

“Our AI C​hip is designed to provide optimized artificial intelligence solutions for future LG products. This will further enhance the three key pillars of our artificial intelligence strategy – evolve, connect and open – and provide customers with an improved experience for a better life,” IP Park, president and CTO of LG Electronics, said in a statement.

The company’s home appliance unit just recorded its highest quarter of sales and profit to date. Despite a sluggish mobile division, LG posted an annual profit of $2.4 billion last year with standout results for its home appliance and home entertainment units — two core areas of focus for AI.

XPRIZE names two grand prize winners in $15 million Global Learning Challenge

XPRIZE, the non-profit organization developing and managing competitions to find solutions to social challenges, has named two grand prize winners in the Elon Musk-backed Global Learning XPRIZE .

The companies, KitKit School out of South Korea and the U.S., and onebillion, operating in Kenya and the U.K., were announced at an awards ceremony hosted at the Google Spruce Goose Hangar in Playa Vista, Calif.

XPRIZE set each of the competing teams the task of developing scalable services that could enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills within 15 months.

Musk himself was on hand to award $5 million checks to each of the winning teams.

Five finalists including: New York-based CCI, which developed lesson plans and a development language so non-coders could create lessons; Chimple, a Bangalore-based, learning platform enabling children to learn reading, writing and math on a tablet; RobotTutor, a Pittsburgh-based company which used Carnegie Mellon research to develop an app for Android tablets that would teach lessons in reading and writing with speech recognition, machine learning, and human computer interactions, and the two grand prize winners all received $1 million to continue developing their projects.

The tests required each product to be field tested in Swahili, reaching nearly 3,000 children in 170 villages across Tanzania.

All of the final solutions from each of the five teams that made it to the final round of competition have been open-sourced so anyone can improve on and develop local solutions using the toolkits developed by each team in competition.

Kitkit School, with a team from Berkeley, Calif. and Seoul, developed a program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture to help kids learn independently, while onebillion, merged numeracy content with literacy material to provide directed learning and activities alongside monitoring to personalize responses to children’s needs.

Both teams are going home with $5 million to continue their work.

The problem of access to basic education affects more than 250 million children around the world, who can’t read or write and one-in-five children around the world aren’t in school, according to data from UNESCO.

The problem of access is compounded by a shortage of teachers at the primary ad secondary school level. Some research, cited by XPRIZE, indicates that the world needs to recruit another 68.8 million teachers to provide every child with a primary and secondary education by 2040.

Before the Global Learning XPRIZE field test, 74% of the children who participated were reported as never having attended school; 80% were never read to at home; and 90% couldn’t read a single word of Swahili.

After the 15 month program working on donated Google Pixel C tablets and pre-loaded with software, the number was cut in half.

“Education is a fundamental human right, and we are so proud of all the teams and their dedication and hard work to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into their own hands,” said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE, in a statement. “Learning how to read, write and demonstrate basic math are essential building blocks for those who want to live free from poverty and its limitations, and we believe that this competition clearly demonstrated the accelerated learning made possible through the educational applications developed by our teams, and ultimately hope that this movement spurs a revolution in education, worldwide.”

After the grand prize announcement, XPRIZE said it will work to secure and load the software onto tablets; localize the software; and deliver preloaded hardware and charging stations to remote locations so all finalist teams can scale their learning software across the world.

Algorithmia raises $25M Series B for its AI automation platform

Algorithmia, a Seattle-based startup that offers a cloud-agnostic AI automation platform for enterprises, today announced a $25 million Series B funding round led by Norwest Partners. Madrona, Gradient Ventures, Work-Bench, Osage University Partners and Rakuten Ventures also participated in this round.

While the company started out five years ago as a marketplace for algorithms, it now mostly focuses on machine learning and helping enterprises take their models into production.

“It’s actually really hard to productionize machine learning models,” Algorithmia CEO Diego Oppenheimer told me. “It’s hard to help data scientists to not deal with data infrastructure but really being able to build out their machine learning and AI muscle.”

To help them, Algorithmia essentially built out a machine learning DevOps platform that allows data scientists to train their models on the platform and with the framework of their choice, bring it to Algorithmia — a platform that has already been blessed by their IT departments — and take it into production.

“Every Fortune 500 CIO has an AI initiative but they are bogged down by the difficulty of managing and deploying ML models,” said Rama Sekhar, a partner at Norwest Venture Partners, who has now joined the company’s board. “Algorithmia is the clear leader in building the tools to manage the complete machine learning lifecycle and helping customers unlock value from their R&D investments.”

With the new funding, the company will double down on this focus by investing in product development to solve these issues, but also by building out its team, with a plan to double its headcount over the next year. A year from now, Oppenheimer told me, he hopes that Algorithmia will be a household name for data scientists and, maybe more importantly, their platform of choice for putting their models into production.

“How does Algorithmia succeed? Algorithmia succeeds when our customers are able to deploy AI and ML applications,” Oppenheimer said. “And although there is a ton of excitement around doing this, the fact is that it’s really difficult for companies to do so.”

The company previously raised a $10.5 million Series A round led by Google’s AI fund. It’s customers now include the United Nations, a number of U.S. intelligence agencies and Fortune 500 companies. In total, over 90,000 engineers and data scientists are now on the platform.

Market map: the 200+ innovative startups transforming affordable housing

In this section of my exploration into innovation in inclusive housing, I am digging into the 200+ companies impacting the key phases of developing and managing housing.

Innovations have reduced costs in the most expensive phases of the housing development and management process. I explore innovations in each of these phases, including construction, land, regulatory, financing, and operational costs.

Reducing Construction Costs

This is one of the top three challenges developers face, exacerbated by rising building material costs and labor shortages.

Binance pledges to ‘significantly’ increase security following $40M Bitcoin hack

Binance has vowed to raise the quality of its security in the aftermath of a hack that saw thieves make off with over $40 million in Bitcoin from the exchange.

The company — which is widely believed to operate the world’s largest crypto exchange based on trading volumes — said today that it will “significantly revamp” its security measures, procedures and practices in response. In particular, CEO Changpeng Zhao wrote in a blog post that Binance will make “significant changes to the API, 2FA, and withdrawal validation areas, which was an area exploited by hackers during this incident.”

Speaking on a livestream following the disclosure of the hack earlier this week, Zhao said the hackers had been “very patient” and, in addition to targeting high-net-worth Binance users, he suggested that attack had used both internal and external vectors. That might well mean phishing, and that’s an area where Zhao has pledged to work on “more innovative ways” to combat threats, alongside improved KYC and better user and threat analysis.

“We are working with a dozen or so industry-leading security expert teams to help improve our security as well as track down the hackers,” Zhao wrote. He added that other exchanges are helping as best they can to track and freeze the stolen assets.

The real focus must be to look forward, and in that spirit, Binance said it will soon add support for hardware-based two-factor-authentication keys as a method to log in to its site.

That’s probably long overdue and, perhaps to make up for the delay, Zhao said the company plans to give away 1,000 YubiKeys when the feature goes live. That’s a worthy gesture but, unless Binance is giving out a discount code to redeem on the website directly, security purists would likely recommend users to buy their own key to ensure it has not been tampered with.

The final notable update is when Binance will resume withdrawals and deposits, which it froze in the wake of the attack. There’s no definitive word on that yet, with Zhao suggesting that the timeframe is “early next week.”

Oh, and on that proposed Bitcoin blockchain “reorg” — which attracted a mocking reaction from many in the blockchain space — Zhao, who is also known as CZ, said he is sorry.

“It is my strong view that our constant and transparent communication is what sets us apart from the “old way of doing things”, even and especially in tough times,” he wrote defiantly, adding that he doesn’t intend to reduce his activity on Twitter — where is approaching 350,000 followers.

Twitter publishes latest government data request figures

Twitter’s latest transparency report is out.

The social media giant said it received six percent fewer requests for user data from governments between June and December 2018 than during its previous reporting period.

According to the newly released data, Twitter received 6,904 government requests for information on 11,112 accounts — the exact number of requests as its most recent report but with fewer accounts affected. The company turned over some data in just over half of all cases.

The U.S. filed the most requests — a total of 2,092 requests for data on 3,860 accounts, representing about one-third of all global requests.

Twitter also had 30 requests for data on 108 Periscope video-streaming accounts, disclosing some information in 40 percent of cases.

The company said it had received permission to disclose two national security letters (NSLs), which are subpoenas issued by the FBI with no judicial oversight that often come with a gag order. Although the company didn’t publish the letters as it has done previously, the two affected users have been informed.

Twitter also said it suspended 166,513 accounts associated with the promotion of terrorism, down 19 percent on the previous reporting period, and suspended 458,989 accounts for violating its rules relating to child sexual exploitation.

Reserve your student ticket to TC Sessions: Mobility 2019

The future of mobility is the big topic driving TC Sessions: Mobility 2019, which takes place July 10 in San Jose, Calif. Will it include flying cars? Space tourism? Transporter beams? Before we can go where no person has gone before, we need to foster a deep bench of thinkers, makers and technologists.

Students are essential to the future of mobility. If you’re in high school or college and have a passion for mobility tech, take advantage of our deeply discounted student tickets. Come to TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 to meet, network with and learn from some of mobility’s most creative thinkers, makers and investors.

Student tickets cost only $45, which means you’ll save $250 over the general admission price. Apply here for a student ticket and, once we verify your student status, we’ll send you an email with your ticket.

What can you expect at TC Sessions: Mobility? Our day-long conference — with more than 1,000 attendees — is packed with discussions, demos and workshops with the brightest founders, technologists and investors in mobility and transportation.

You’ll hear from industry experts like Dmitri Dolgov, Waymo’s CTO and VP of engineering. Waymo started out as Google’s super-secret self-driving car project, and Dolgov’s been involved since the beginning. Learn about the early days, how the company evolved and where it’s headed. We’ll dig into the tech behind self-driving cars, too.

You’ll also hear from Jump founder Ryan Rzepecki and Katie DeWitt, the SVP of product at Scoot, as they talk about the future of micromobility. That includes topics like asset management, unit economics, partnering with cities, data sharing and more.

That’s just a small sample of what you’ll experience. Check out our list of speakers — we’re announcing more every week. If you’d like to speak, demo your technology or nominate someone else, you can submit an application right here.

If $45 is still too rich for your budget, you can earn a free ticket. Simply join our Ambassador Program by downloading the Social Ladder app. Share your unique code with friends, family and colleagues to sell tickets. When you earn enough points, you score a free pass to TC Mobility 2019.

TC Sessions: Mobility 2019 takes place July 10 in San Jose, Calif. Students are the future of mobility, so book your student ticket today. Join us to learn, share and connect with a community that creates the opportunity to build the future.