Mar
10
2020
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Hitachi Vantara acquires what’s left of Containership

Hitachi Vantara, the wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi that focuses on building hardware and software to help companies manage their data, today announced that it has acquired the assets of Containership, one of the earlier players in the container ecosystem, which shut down its operations last October.

Containership, which launched as part of our 2015 Disrupt New York Startup Battlefield, started as a service that helped businesses move their containerized workloads between clouds, but as so many similar startups, it then moved on to focus solely on Kubernetes and helping enterprises manage their Kubernetes infrastructure. Before it called it quits, the company’s specialty was managing multi-cloud Kubernetes deployments. The company wasn’t able to monetize its Kubernetes efforts quickly enough, though, the company said at the time in a blog post that it has now removed from its website.

Containership enables customers to easily deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters and containerized applications in public cloud, private cloud, and on-premise environments,” writes Bobby Soni, the COO for digital infrastructure at Hitachi Vantara. “The software addresses critical cloud native application issues facing customers working with Kubernetes such as persistent storage support, centralized authentication, access control, audit logging, continuous deployment, workload portability, cost analysis, autoscaling, upgrades, and more.”

Hitachi Vantara tells me that it is not acquiring any of Containership’s customer contracts or employees and has no plans to keep the Containership brand. “Our primary focus is to develop new offerings based on the Containership IP. We do hope to engage with prior customers once our new offerings become commercially available,” a company spokesperson said.

The companies did not disclose the price of the acquisition. Pittsburgh-based Containership only raised about $2.6 million since it was founded in 2014, though, and things had become pretty quiet around the company in the last year or two before its early demise. Chances are then that the price wasn’t all that high. Investors include Birchmere Ventures, Draper Triangle and Innovation Works.

Hitachi Vantara says it will continue to work with the Kubernetes community. Containership was a member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Hitachi never was, but after this acquisition, that may change.

Oct
03
2019
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T4 wants to transform market research data with a combination of AI and humans

When T4 co-founder and CEO Maks Khurgin was working at Bain and Company, he ran into a common problem for analysts looking for market data. He spent way too much time searching for it and felt there had to be a better way. He decided to build a centralized market data platform himself, and T4 was born. This week the company competes in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield.

What he created with the help of his long-time friend and CTO, Yev Spektor, was built on a couple of key components. The first is an industry classification system, a taxonomy, that organizes markets by industries and sub-industries. Using search and aggregation tools powered by artificial intelligence, it scours the web looking for information sources that match their taxonomy labels.

As they researched the tool, the founders realized that the AI could only get them so far. There were always pieces that it missed. So they built a second part to provide a way for human indexers to fill in those missing parts to offer as comprehensive a list of sources as possible.

“AI alone cannot solve this problem. If we bring people into this and avoid the last mile delivery problem, then you can actually start organizing this information in a much better way than anyone else had ever done,” Khurgin explained.

It seems simple enough, but it’s a problem that well-heeled companies like Bain have been trying to solve for years, and there was a lot of skepticism when Khurgin told his superiors he was leaving to build a product to solve this problem. “I had a partner at Bain and Company actually tell me, “You know, every consulting firm has tried to do something like this — and they failed. Why do you think you can do this?””

He knew that figuring out the nature of the problem and why the other attempts had failed was the key to solving the puzzle. He decided to take the challenge, and on his 30th birthday, he quit his job at Bain and started T4 the next day — without a product yet, mind you.

This was not the first time he had left a high-paying job to try something unconventional. “Last time I left a high paying job, actually after undergrad, I was a commodities derivatives trader for a financial [services company]. I left that to pursue a lifelong dream of being in the Marine Corps,” Khurgin said.

T4 DSC00953

T4 was probably a less risky proposition, but it still took a leap of faith that only a startup founder can understand, who believes in his idea. “I felt the problem first-hand, and the the big kind of realization that I had was that there is actually a finite amount of information out there. Market research is created by humans, and you don’t necessarily have to take a pure AI approach,” he said.

The product searches for all of the related information on a topic, finds all of the data related to a category and places it in an index. Users can search by topic and find all of the free and paid reports related to that search. The product shows which reports are free and which will cost you money, and like Google, you get a title and a brief summary.

The company is just getting started with five main market categories so far, including cloud computing, cybersecurity, networking, data centers and eSports. The founders plan to add additional categories over time, and have a bold goal for the future.

“Our long-term vision is that we become your one-stop shop to find market research in the same way that if you need to buy something, you go to Amazon, or you need financial data, you go on Bloomberg or Thomson. If you need market research, our vision is that T4 is the place that you go,” Khurgin said.


Oct
03
2019
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Osano makes business risk and compliance (somewhat) sexy again

A new startup is clearing the way for other companies to better monitor and manage their risk and compliance with privacy laws.

Osano, an Austin, Texas-based startup, bills itself as a privacy platform startup, which uses a software-as-a-service solution to give businesses real-time visibility into their current privacy and compliance posture. On one hand, that helps startups and enterprises large and small insight into whether or not they’re complying with global or state privacy laws, and manage risk factors associated with their business such as when partner or vendor privacy policies change.

The company launched its privacy platform at Disrupt SF on the Startup Battlefield stage.

Risk and compliance is typically a fusty, boring and frankly unsexy topic. But with ever-changing legal landscapes and constantly moving requirements, it’s hard to keep up. Although Europe’s GDPR has been around for a year, it’s still causing headaches. And stateside, the California Consumer Privacy Act is about to kick in and it is terrifying large companies for fear they can’t comply with it.

Osano mixes tech with its legal chops to help companies, particularly smaller startups without their own legal support, to provide a one-stop shop for businesses to get insight, advice and guidance.

“We believe that any time a company does a better job with transparency and data protection, we think that’s a really good thing for the internet,” the company’s founder Arlo Gilbert told TechCrunch.

Gilbert, along with his co-founder and chief technology officer Scott Hertel, have built their company’s software-as-a-service solution with several components in mind, including maintaining its scorecard of 6,000 vendors and their privacy practices to objectively grade how a company fares, as well as monitoring vendor privacy policies to spot changes as soon as they are made.

One of its standout features is allowing its corporate customers to comply with dozens of privacy laws across the world with a single line of code.

You’ve seen them before: The “consent” popups that ask (or demand) you to allow cookies or you can’t come in. Osano’s consent management lets companies install a dynamic consent management in just five minutes, which delivers the right consent message to the right people in the best language. Using the blockchain, the company says it can record and provide searchable and cryptographically verifiable proof-of-consent in the event of a person’s data access request.


“There are 40 countries with cookie and data privacy laws that require consent,” said Gilbert. “Each of them has nuances about what they consider to be consent: what you have to tell them; what you have to offer them; when you have to do it.”

Osano also has an office in Dublin, Ireland, allowing its corporate customers to say it has a physical representative in the European Union — a requirement for companies that have to comply with GDPR.

And, for corporate customers with questions, they can dial-an-expert from Osano’s outsourced and freelance team of attorneys and privacy experts to help break down complex questions into bitesize answers.

Or as Gilbert calls it, “Uber, but for lawyers.”

The concept seems novel but it’s not restricted to GDPR or California’s upcoming law. The company says it monitors international, federal and state legislatures for new laws and changes to existing privacy legislation to alert customers of upcoming changes and requirements that might affect their business.

In other words, plug in a new law or two and Osano’s customers are as good as covered.

Osano is still in its pre-seed stage. But while the company is focusing on its product, it’s not thinking too much about money.

“We’re planning to kind of go the binary outcome — go big or go home,” said Gilbert, with his eye on the small- to medium-sized enterprise. “It’s greenfield right now. There’s really nobody doing what we’re doing.”

The plan is to take on enough funding to own the market, and then focus on turning a profit. So much so, Gilbert said, that the company is registered as a B Corporation, a more socially conscious and less profit-driven approach of corporate structure, allowing it to generate profits while maintaining its social vision.

The company’s idea is strong; its corporate structure seems mindful. But is it enough of an enticement for fellow startups and small businesses? It’s either dominate the market or bust, and only time will tell.

Oct
02
2019
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Render challenges the cloud’s biggest vendors with cheaper, managed infrastructure

Render, a participant in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF Startup Battlefield, has a big idea. It wants to take on the world’s biggest cloud vendors by offering developers a cheaper alternative that also removes a lot of the complexity around managing cloud infrastructure.

Render’s goal is to help developers, especially those in smaller companies, who don’t have large DevOps teams, to still take advantage of modern development approaches in the cloud. “We are focused on being the easiest and most flexible provider for teams to run any application in the cloud,” CEO and founder Anurag Goel explained.

He says that one of the biggest pain points for developers and startups, even fairly large startups, is that they have to build up a lot of DevOps expertise when they run applications in the cloud. “That means they are going to hire extremely expensive DevOps engineers or consultants to build out the infrastructure on AWS,” he said. Even after they set up the cloud infrastructure, and move applications there, he points out that there is ongoing maintenance around patching, security and identity access management. “Render abstracts all of that away, and automates all of it,” Goel said.

It’s not easy competing with the big players on scale, but he says so far they have been doing pretty well, and plan to move much of their operations to bare metal servers, which he believes will help stabilize costs further.

render DSC02051

“Longer term, we have a lot of ideas [about how to reduce our costs], and the simplest thing we can do is to switch to bare metal to reduce our costs pretty much instantly.” He says the way they have built Render will make that easier to do. The plan now is to start moving their services to bare metal in the fourth quarter this year.

Even though the company only launched in April, it is already seeing great traction. “The response has been great. We’re now doing over 100 million HTTP requests every week. And we have thousands of developers and startups and everyone from people doing small hobby projects to even a major presidential campaign,” he said.

Although he couldn’t share the candidate’s name, he said they were using Render for everything including their infrastructure for hosting their web site and their back-end administration. “Basically all of their cloud infrastructure is on Render,” he said.

Render has raised a $2.2 million seed round and is continuing to add services to the product, including several new services it will announce this week around storage, infrastructure as code and one-click deployment.


Sep
05
2019
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Battlefield winner Forethought adds tool to automate support ticket routing

Last year at this time, Forethought won the TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield competition. A $9 million Series A investment followed last December. Today at TechCrunch Sessions: Enterprise in San Francisco, the company introduced the latest addition to its platform, called Agatha Predictions.

Forethought CEO and co-founder Deon Nicholas said that after launching its original product, Agatha Answers (to provide suggested answers to customer queries), customers were asking for help with the routing part of the process, as well. “We learned that there’s a whole front end of that problem before the ticket even gets to the agent,” he said. Forethought developed Agatha Predictions to help sort the tickets and get them to the most qualified agent to solve the problem.

“It’s effectively an entire tool that helps triage and route tickets. So when a ticket is coming in, it can predict whether it’s a high-priority or low-priority ticket and which agent is best qualified to handle this question. And this all happens before the agent even touches the ticket. This really helps drive efficiencies across the organization by helping to reduce triage time,” Nicholas explained.

The original product (Agatha Answers) is designed to help agents get answers more quickly and reduce the amount of time it takes to resolve an issue. “It’s a tool that integrates into your Help Desk software, indexes your past support tickets, knowledge base articles and other [related content]. Then we give agents suggested answers to help them close questions with reduced handle time,” Nicholas said.

He says that Agatha Predictions is based on the same underlying AI engine as Agatha Answers. Both use Natural Language Understanding (NLU) developed by the company. “We’ve been building out our product, and the Natural Language Understanding engine, the engine behind the system, works in a very similar manner [across our products]. So as a ticket comes in the AI reads it, understands what the customer is asking about, and understands the semantics, the words being used,” he explained. This enables them to automate the routing and supply a likely answer for the issue involved.

Nicholas maintains that winning Battlefield gave his company a jump start and a certain legitimacy it lacked as an early-stage startup. Lots of customers came knocking after the event, as did investors. The company has grown from five employees when it launched last year at TechCrunch Disrupt to 20 today.

Jul
31
2019
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Calling all hardware startups! Apply to Hardware Battlefield @ TC Shenzhen

Got hardware? Well then, listen up, because our search continues for boundary-pushing, early-stage hardware startups to join us in Shenzhen, China for an epic opportunity; launch your startup on a global stage and compete in Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen on November 11-12.

Apply here to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019. Why? It’s your chance to demo your product to the top investors and technologists in the world. Hardware Battlefield, cousin to Startup Battlefield, focuses exclusively on innovative hardware because, let’s face it, it’s the backbone of technology. From enterprise solutions to agtech advancements, medical devices to consumer product goods — hardware startups are in the international spotlight.

If you make the cut, you’ll compete against 15 of the world’s most innovative hardware makers for bragging rights, plenty of investor love, media exposure and $25,000 in equity-free cash. Just participating in a Battlefield can change the whole trajectory of your business in the best way possible.

We chose to bring our fifth Hardware Battlefield to Shenzhen because of its outstanding track record of supporting hardware startups. The city achieves this through a combination of accelerators, rapid prototyping and world-class manufacturing. What’s more, TC Hardware Battlefield 2019 takes place as part of the larger TechCrunch Shenzhen that runs November 9-12.

Creativity and innovation no know boundaries, and that’s why we’re opening this competition to any early-stage hardware startup from any country. While we’ve seen amazing hardware in previous Battlefields — like robotic armsfood testing devicesmalaria diagnostic tools, smart socks for diabetics and e-motorcycles, we can’t wait to see the next generation of hardware, so bring it on!

Meet the minimum requirements listed below, and we’ll consider your startup:

Here’s how Hardware Battlefield works. TechCrunch editors vet every qualified application and pick 15 startups to compete. Those startups receive six rigorous weeks of free coaching. Forget stage fright. You’ll be prepped and ready to step into the spotlight.

Teams have six minutes to pitch and demo their products, which is immediately followed by an in-depth Q&A with the judges. If you make it to the final round, you’ll repeat the process in front of a new set of judges.

The judges will name one outstanding startup the Hardware Battlefield champion. Hoist the Battlefield Cup, claim those bragging rights and the $25,000. This nerve-wracking thrill-ride takes place in front of a live audience, and we capture the entire event on video and post it to our global audience on TechCrunch.

Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen takes place on November 11-12. Don’t hide your hardware or miss your chance to show us — and the entire tech world — your startup magic. Apply to compete in TC Hardware Battlefield 2019, and join us in Shenzhen!

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at Hardware Battlefield at TC Shenzhen? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Sep
05
2018
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Forethought looks to reshape enterprise search with AI

Forethought, a 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participant, has a modern vision for enterprise search that uses AI to surface the content that matters most in the context of work. Its first use case involves customer service, but it has a broader ambition to work across the enterprise.

The startup takes a bit of an unusual approach to search. Instead of a keyword-driven experience we are used to with Google, Forethought uses an information retrieval model driven by artificial intelligence underpinnings that they then embed directly into the workflow, company co-founder and CEO Deon Nicholas told TechCrunch. They have dubbed their answer engine “Agatha.”

Much like any search product, it begins by indexing relevant content. Nicholas says they built the search engine to be able to index millions of documents at scale very quickly. It then uses natural language processing (NLP) and natural language understanding (NLU) to read the documents as a human would.

“We don’t work on keywords. You can ask questions without keywords and using synonyms to help understand what you actually mean, we can actually pull out the correct answer [from the content] and deliver it to you,” he said.

One of first use cases where they are seeing traction in is customer support. “Our AI, Agatha for Support, integrates into a company’s help desk software, either Zendesk, Salesforce Service Cloud, and then we [read] tickets and suggest answers and relevant knowledge base articles to help close tickets more efficiently,” Nicholas explained. He claims their approach has increased agent efficiency by 20-30 percent.

The plan is to eventually expand beyond the initial customer service use case into other areas of the enterprise and follow a similar path of indexing documents and embedding the solution into the tools that people are using to do their jobs.

When they reach beta or general release, they will operate as a cloud service where customers sign up, enter their Zendesk or Salesforce credentials (or whatever other products happen to be supported at that point) and the product begins indexing the content.

The founding team, mostly in their mid-20s, have had a passion for artificial intelligence since high school. In fact, Nicholas built an AI program to read his notes and quiz him on history while still in high school. Later, at the University of Waterloo, he published a paper on machine learning and had internships at Palantir, Facebook and Dropbox. His first job out of school was at Pure Storage. All these positions had a common thread of working with data and AI.

The company launched last year and they debuted Agatha in private beta four months ago. They currently have six companies participating, the first of which has been converted to a paying customer.

They have closed a pre-seed round of funding too, and although they weren’t prepared to share the amount, the investment was led by K9 Ventures. Village Global, Original Capital and other unnamed investors also participated.

Sep
05
2018
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McCarthyFinch AI services platform automates tedious legal tasks

McCarthyFinch sounds a bit like a law firm — and with good reason. The startup has developed an AI as a Service platform aimed at the legal profession. This week, it’s competing in the 2018 TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield in San Francisco.

The company began life as a project at a leading New Zealand law firm, MinterEllisonRuddWatts. They wanted to look at how they could take advantage of AI to automate legal processes to make them more efficient, cost-effective and faster, according to company president Richard DeFrancisco.

“They were working on leveraging technology to become the law firm of the future, and they realized there were some pretty tremendous gaps,” he explained. They found a bunch of Ph.Ds working on artificial intelligence who worked with more than 30 lawyers over time to address those gaps by leveraging AI technology.

That internal project was spun out as a startup last year, emerging as an AI platform with 18 services. MinterEllison, along with New Zealand VC Goat Ventures, gave the fledgling company US$2.5 million in pre-seed money to get started.

The company looked at automating a lot of labor-intensive tasks related to legal document review and discovery such as document tagging. “Lawyers spend a lot of time tagging things with regards to what’s relevant and not relevant, and it’s not a good use of their time. We can go through millions of documents very quickly,” DeFrancisco said. He claims they can lower the time it takes to tag a set of documents in a lawsuit from weeks to minutes.

He says that one of their key differentiators is their use of natural language processing (NLP), which he says allows the company to understand language and nuance to interpret documents with a high level of accuracy, even when there are small data sets. Instead of requiring thousands of documents to train their models, which he says law firms don’t have time to do, they can begin to understand the gist of a case in as little as two or three documents with 90 percent accuracy, based on their tests.

They don’t actually want to sell their platform directly to law firms. Instead, they hope to market their artificial intelligence skills as a service to other software vendors with a legal bent who are looking to get smarter without building their own AI from scratch.

“What we are doing is going to technology service providers and talking to them about using our solution. We have restful APIs to integrate into their technology and do a Powered By-model,” DeFrancisco explained.

The startup currently has 10 trials going on. While he couldn’t name them, he did say that they include the largest law firm in Europe, largest global provider of legal information and the fastest growing SaaS company in history. They are also working on agreements with large systems integrators including Deloitte and Accenture to act as resellers of their solution.

While they are based in New Zealand, they plan to open a U.S. office in the Los Angeles area shortly after Disrupt. The engineering team will remain in New Zealand, and DeFrancisco will build the rest of the company in the U.S as it seeks to expand its reach. They also plan to start raising their next round of funding.


Sep
05
2018
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PoLTE lets you track devices using LTE signal

Meet PoLTE, a Dallas-based startup that wants to make location-tracking more efficient. Thanks to PoLTE’s software solution, logistics and shipment companies can much more easily track packages and goods. The startup is participating in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield at Disrupt SF.

If you want to use a connected device to track a package, you currently need a couple of things — a way to determine the location of the package, and a way to transmit this information over the air. The most straightforward way of doing it is by using a GPS chipset combined with a cellular chipset.

Systems-on-chip have made this easier as they usually integrate multiple modules. You can get a GPS signal and wireless capabilities in the same chip. While GPS is insanely accurate, it also requires a ton of battery just to position a device on a map. That’s why devices often triangulate your position using Wi-Fi combined with a database of Wi-Fi networks and their positions.

And yet, using GPS or Wi-Fi as well as an LTE modem doesn’t work if you want to track a container over multiple weeks or months. At some point, your device will run out of battery. Or you’ll have to spend a small fortune to buy a ton of trackers with big batteries.

PoLTE has developed a software solution that lets you turn data from the cell modem into location information. It works with existing modems and only requires a software update. The company has been working with Riot Micro for instance.

Behind the scene PoLTE’s magic happens on their servers. IoT devices don’t need to do any of the computing. They just need to send a tiny sample of LTE signals and PoLTE can figure out the location from their servers. Customers can then get this data using an API.

It only takes 300 bytes of data to get location information with precision of less than a few meters. You don’t need a powerful CPU, Wi-Fi, GPS or Bluetooth.

“We offer 80 percent cost reduction on IoT devices together with longer battery life,” CEO Ed Chao told me.

On the business side, PoLTE is using a software-as-a-service model. You can get started for free if you don’t need a lot of API calls. You then start paying depending on the size of your fleet of devices and the number of location requests.

It doesn’t really matter if the company finds a good business opportunity. PoLTE is a low-level technology company at heart. Its solution is interesting by itself and could help bigger companies that are looking for an efficient location-tracking solution.


May
15
2018
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Aircall raises another $29 million

French startup Aircall has raised a funding round of $29 million for its cloud based call center solution. Draper Esprit led the round with NextWorld Capital, Balderton Capital and Newfund also participating.

The company has raised $40.5 million in total. Aircall participated in the Startup Battlefield at TechCrunch Disrupt SF a few years ago. The company first started at eFounders.

Aircall is following the software-as-a-service playbook. First, you take a boring industry like phone systems for large support and sales teams. Second, you bet everything on software. And third, you keep adding new features and integrations, and chasing new customers.

The company now has two offices in New York and Paris and handles millions of calls every day. With today’s funding round, the company plans to hire more people in both offices.

When you sign up to Aircall, you get virtual phone numbers in one or multiple countries. You can then configure a greeting message, add business hours and handle your call queue.

But the magic happens when you have multiple people handling sales or support calls. When someone calls, it can ring multiple people at once or someone specific first, then a second person if the first person isn’t available, etc. You get an overview of all your calls so you can assign them, tag them and more.

Aircall doesn’t work in a vacuum. So you can integrate Aircall with CRMs and other solutions like Salesforce, Zendesk and Zoho. The startup also launched a deep integration with Intercom that lets you switch from a text conversation to a phone call from the popup window.

It’s hard to list all the features right here. But chances are that if you’re running a call center, you’ll have everything you need for your team. Aircall currently costs $30 to $50 per user and per month to access all of this.

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