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Here are all 21 companies from Alchemist Accelerator’s latest batch

24 January, by Greg Kumparak[ —]

We’re down in Sunnyvale, CA today, where Alchemist Accelerator is hosting a demo day for its most recent batch of companies. This is the 23rd class to graduate from Alchemist, with notable alums including LaunchDarkly, MightyHive, Matternet, and Rigetti Computing. As an enterprise accelerator, Alchemist focuses on companies that make their money from other businesses, rather than consumers.

21 companies presented in all, each getting five minutes to explain their mission to a room full of investors, media, and other founders.

Here are our notes on all 21 companies, in the order in which they presented:

i-50: Uses AI to monitor human actions on production lines, using computer vision to look for errors or abnormalities along the way. Founder Albert Kao says that 68% of manufacturing issues are caused by human error. The company currently has 3 paid pilots, totalling $190k in contracts.

Perimeter: A data visualization platform for firefighters and other first responders, allowing them to more quickly input and share information (such as how a fire is spreading) with each other and the public. Projecting $1.7M in revenue within 18 months.

Einsite: Computer vision-based analytics for mining and construction. Sensors and cameras are mounted on heavy machines (like dump trucks and excavators). Footage is analyzed in the cloud, with the data ultimately presented to job site managers to help monitor progress and identify issues. Founder Anirudh Reddy says the company will have $1.2M in bookings and be up and running on 2100 machines this year.

Mall IQ: A location-based marketing/analytics SDK for retail stores and malls to tie into their apps. Co-founder Batu Sat says they’ve built an “accurate and scalable” method of determining a customer’s indoor position without GPS or additional hardware like Bluetooth beacons.

Ipsum Analytics: Machine learning system meant to predict the outcome of a company’s ongoing legal cases by analyzing the relevant historical cases of a given jurisdiction, judge, etc. First target customer is hedge funds, helping them project how legal outcomes will impact the market.

Vincere Health: Works with insurance companies to pay people to stop smoking. They’ve built an app with companion breathalyzer hardware; each time a user checks in with the breathalyzer to prove they’re smoking less, the user gets paid. They’ve raised $400k so far.

Harmonize: A chat bot system for automating HR tasks, built to work with existing platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams. An employee could, for example, message the bot to request time off — the request is automatically forwarded to their manager, presenting them with one-click approve/deny buttons which handle everything behind the scenes. The company says it currently has 400 paying customers and is seeing $500k in ARR, projecting $2M ARR in 2020.

Coreshell Technologies: Working on a coating for lithium-Ion batteries which the company says makes them 25% cheaper and 50% faster to produce. The company’s co-founder says they have 11 patents filed, with 2 paid agreements signed and 12 more in the pipeline.

in3D: An SDK for 3D body scanning via smartphone, meant to help apps do things like gather body measurements for custom clothing, allow for virtual clothing try-ons, or create accurate digital avatars for games.

Domatic: “Intelligent power” for new building construction. Pushes both data and low-voltage power over a single “Class 2” wire , making it easier/cheaper for builders to make a building “smart”. Co-founder Jim Baldwin helped build Firewire at Apple, and co-founder Gladys Wong was previously a hardware engineer at Cisco.

MeToo Kit: a kit meant to allow victims of sexual assault or rape to gather evidence through an at-home, self-administered process. Co-founder Madison Campbell says that they’ve seen 100k kits ordered by universities, corporations, non-profits, and military organizations. The company garnered significant controversy in September of 2019 after multiple states issued cease-and-desist letters, with Michigan’s Attorney General arguing that such a kit would not be admissible in court. Campbell told Buzzfeed last year that she would “never stop fighting” for the concept.

AiChemist Metal: Building a thin, lightweight battery made of copper and cellulose “nanofibers”. Co-founder Sergey Lopatin says the company’s solution is 2-3x lighter, stronger, and cheaper than alternatives, and that the company is projecting profitability in 2021. Focusing first on batteries for robotics, flexible displays, and electric vehicles.

Delightree: A task management system for franchises, meant to help owners create and audit to-dos across locations. Monitors online customer reviews, automatically generating potential tasks accordingly. In pilot tests with 3 brands with 16 brands on a waitlist, which the company says translates to about $400k in potential ARR.

DigiFabster: A ML-powered “smart quoting” tool for manufacturing shops doing things like CNC machining to make custom parts and components. Currently working with 125 customers, they’re seeing $500k in ARR.

NachoNacho: Helps small/medium businesses monitor and manage software subscriptions their employees sign up for. Issues virtual credit cards which small businesses use to sign up for services; you can place budgets on each card, cancel cards, and quickly determine where your money is going. Launched 9 months ago, NachoNacho says it’s currently working with over 1600 businesses.

Zapiens: a virtual assistant-style tool for sharing knowledge within a company, tied into tools like Slack/Salesforce/Microsoft 365. Answers employee questions, or uses its understanding of each employee’s expertise to find someone within the company who can answer the question.

Onebrief: A tool aiming to make military planning more efficient. Co-founder/Army officer Grant Demaree says that much of the military’s planning is buried in Word/Powerpoint documents, with inefficiencies leading to ballooning team sizes. By modernizing the planning approach with a focus on visualization, automation and data re-usability, he says planning teams could be smaller yet more agile.

Perceive: Spatial analytics for retail stores. Builds a sensor that hooks into existing in-store lighting wiring to create a 3D map of stores, analyzing customer movement/behavior (without face recognition or WiFi/beacon tracking) to identify weak spots in store layout or staffing.

Acoustic Wells: IoT devices for monitoring and controlling production from oil fields. Analyzes sound from pipes “ten thousand feet underground” to regulate how a machine is running, optimizing production while minimizing waste. Charges monthly fee per oil well. Currently has letters of intent to roll out their solution in over 1,000 wells.

SocialGlass: A marketplace for government procurement. Lets governments buy goods/services valued under $10,000 without going through a bidding process, with SocialGlass guaranteeing they’ve found the cheapest price. Currently working with 50+ suppliers offering 10,000 SKUs.

Applied Particle Technology: Continuous, realtime worker health/safety tracking for industrial environments. Working on wireless, wearable monitors that stream environmental data to identify potential exposure risks. Focusing first on mining and metals industries, later moving into construction, firefighting, and utilities environments.


Relativity Space could change the economics of private space launches

24 January, by Darrell Etherington[ —]

The private launch market is an area of a lot of focus in the emerging space startup industry, not least because it unlocks the true potential of most of the rest of the market. But so far, we can count on one hand the number of new, private space launch companies that have actually transported payloads to orbit. Out of a number of firms racing to be the next to actually launch, LA-based Relativity Space is a prime contender, with a unique approach that could set it apart from the crowd.

I spoke to CEO Tim Ellis about what makes his company different and about what kind of capabilities it will bring to the launch market once it starts flying, something the company aims to do beginning next year. Fresh off a $140 million funding round in October 2019, Relativity’s model could provide another seismic shift in the economics of doing business in space, and has the potential to be as disruptive to the landscape — if not more so — as SpaceX.

“We built the largest metal 3D printers in the world, which we call a ‘Stargate,’ ” Ellis said. “It’s actually replacing a whole factory full of fixed tooling — and having all of our processes being 3D printing, we really view that as being the future because that lets us automate almost the entire rocket production, and then also reduce part count for much larger launch vehicles so our rocket can carry a 1,250-kg payload to orbit.” Because Relativity Space’s launch vehicle is nearly 10 times larger than those made by Rocket Lab or Orbex, “it’s a totally different payload class.”

That difference is crucial, and represents the paradigm shift that Relativity Space could engender once its products are introduced to the commercial market. The company knows first-hand how its approach fundamentally differs from existing launch providers like Blue Origin and SpaceX — Ellis previously worked as a propulsion engineer at Blue Origin, and co-founder and CTO Jordan Noone worked on SpaceX’s Dragon capsule program. Ellis said Relativity’s approach won’t just unlock cost savings due to automation, it will also provide clients with the ability to launch payloads that weren’t possible with previous launch vehicle design constraints.


Wikipedia now has more than 6 million articles in English

24 January, by Manish Singh[ —]

Wikipedia has surpassed a notable milestone today: The English version of the world’s largest online encyclopedia now has more than six million articles.

The feat, which comes roughly 19 years after the website was founded, is a testament of “what humans can do together,” said Ryan Merkley, chief of staff at Wikimedia, the nonprofit organization that operates the omnipresent online encyclopedia.

The 6 millionth article is about Maria Elise Turner Lauder, a 19th-century Canadian school teacher, travel writer and fiction writer. The article was written by Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, a longtime editor of Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is available in dozens of languages, but its English-language version has the most number of articles. Following the English edition, which hit 5 million articles in late 2015, are the German version, with about 2.3 million articles, and the French version, which has about 2.1 million articles.

The English edition is also the most visited project on the website. According to publicly disclosed figures, the English version of the website averages about 255 million pageviews a day. According to web analytics firm SimilarWeb, Wikipedia overall is the eighth most visited website.

Over the years, Wikipedia has conducted seminars in many nations to encourage more people to become contributors in their own local languages, and has also improved its tools to make it easier for them to write, publish and cite items.

When Jimmy Wales founded Wikipedia, he said his goal was to provide “free access to the sum of all human knowledge.” According to one estimate, the sum of human knowledge would require 104 million articles — and we will need 20 more years to get there.


Playing traffic cop for drones in cities and towns nets Airspace Link $4 million

23 January, by Jonathan Shieber[ —]

As the number of drones proliferates in cities and towns across America, government agencies are scrambling to find ways to manage the oncoming traffic that’s expected to clog up their airspace.

Companies like Airmap and KittyHawk have raised tens of millions to develop technologies that can help cities manage congestion in the friendly skies, and now they have a new competitor in the Detroit-based startup, Airspace Link, which just raised $4 million from a swarm of investors to bring its services to the broader market.

The financing for Airspace Link follows the company’s reception of a stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for low-altitude authorization and notification capabilities, according to chief executive Michael Healander.

According to Healander, what distinguishes Airspace Link from the other competitors in the market is its integration with mapping tools used by municipal governments to provide information on ground-based risk.

“We’re creating the roads based on ground-based risk and we push that out into the drone community to let them know where it’s okay to fly,” says Healander.

That knowledge of terrestrial critical assets in cities and towns comes from deep integrations between Airspace Link and the mapping company ESRI, which has long provided federal, state and local governments with mapping capabilities and services.

We’ve just spent the past month understanding what regulation is going to be around to support it. In two years from now every drone will be live tracked in our platform,” says Healnder. “Today we’re just authorizing flight plans.”

As drone operators increase in number, the autonomous vehicles pose more potential risks to civilian populations in the wrong hands.

Parking lots, sporting events, concerts — really any public area — could be targets for potential attacks using drones.

“Drones are becoming more and more powerful and smarter,” EU Security Commissioner Julian King warned in a statement last summer, “which makes them more and more attractive for legitimate use, but also for hostile acts.”

Already roughly half of the population of the U.S. lives in controlled airspace where drones flying with more than a half a pound of weight require flight plan authorization, according to Healander.

“We build out population data and give state and local governments a tool to create advisories for emergency events or any areas where high densities of people will be,” says Healander. “That creates an advisory that goes through our platform to the drone industry.”

Airspace Link closed a $1 million pre-seed round in September 2019 with a $6 million post-money valuation. The current valuation of the company is undisclosed, but the company’s progress was enough to draw the attention of investors led by Indicator Ventures with participation from 2048 Ventures, Ludlow Ventures, Matchstick Ventures, Detroit Venture Partners and Invest Detroit.

For Healander, Airspace Link is only the latest entrepreneurial venture. He previously founded GeoMetri, an indoor GPS tracking company, which was acquired by Acuity Brands.

I’ve been a partner of ESRI my entire life,” says Healander. “I’ve been in the geospatial industry for four or five companies with them.”

The company has four main components of its service. There’s AirRegistry, where people can opt-in or out of receiving drone deliveries; AirInspect, which is a service that handles city and state permitting for drone operators; AirNetm, which works with the FAA to create approved air routes for drones; and AirLink, an API that connects drone operators with local governments and collects fees for registering drones.


Aki acquires Eyeview’s ad personalization tech

23 January, by Anthony Ha[ —]

Video advertising company Eyeview shut down in December, but its technology will live on thanks to an acquisition by Aki Technologies.

Aki CEO Scott Swanson told me that he’s anticipating serious growth in the demand for ad personalization, particularly as consumers see personalization everywhere else online.

Swanson argued that Eyeview’s technology stands out thanks to its focus on video, with “the ability to generate millions of permutations of a video creative and store them in the cloud.” It offers even more opportunities when combined with Aki’s existing platform, which delivers ads targeted for specific “mobile moments,” like whether the viewer is relaxing at home or out running errands.

Plus, the acquisition allows Aki to expand beyond mobile advertising to desktop and connected TV.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Swanson said that in addition to acquiring the technology, he’s also working to bring on old Eyeview clients and hire Eyeview team members (he estimated that he’s hired nearly 15 so far and is aiming for around 20). At the same time, he acknowledged that there are challenges in resurrecting a business that had been shut down.

“The technology itself was decommissioned, it was taken down, it was backed up in the cloud,” Swanson said. “As the acquisition proceeds, we’ll literally be taking the code base and relaunching it in the cloud … Hiring the people was super important, and then because it’s not a traditional acquisition where we get customers and stuff, we have to go call up all the customers one-by-one, just as we have to hire people one-by-one.”

Eyeview had raised nearly $80 million in funding before running out of cash and laying off a team of around 100 employees. (Aki, meanwhile, has raised only a seed round of $3.75 million back in 2016; Swanson said the company has grown organically since then.) The news came only a few months after digital media veteran Rob Deichert took over as CEO.

“While it was disappointing to have to shut down the Eyeview business, I’m very happy that the technology assets have found a home with Aki,” Deichert told me via email. “Their business is a logical fit for the technology.”

And despite Eyeview’s misfortunes, Swanson said he’s confident that the company still works as a standalone business: “Look, these guys have been running a business that was full of really happy customers who were seeing good results and seem to have been disappointed when they shut down.”

The bigger issue, he suggested, is the adtech industry as a whole, with advertisers feeling fatigued “with having too many options,” along with a lack of “appetite on the large exit side.”

“The broader trend here is for companies that operate profitably and can support themselves effectively to become a little bit more tech-enabled managed services business,” Swanson said.


Goldman Sachs says it won’t take startups public without at least one ‘diverse’ director; it should go further

23 January, by Connie Loizos[ —]

Some of the biggest banks in the United States are among the most powerful institutions in the world. But like every incumbent, they still have to hustle to stay relevant. Morgan Stanley has increasingly gotten behind investors who say they want to see more direct listings, for example. Some of those investors wield a lot of influence after all, and if you can’t beat them (and you want to stay ahead of the competition), you’d better join them.

Now Goldman Sachs has made an announcement of its own that’s very much a part of the times: its CEO, David Solomon, today told CNBC that beginning this year, Goldman will no longer take companies public if they don’t have at least one “diverse” member on its board of directors.

“Starting on July 1st in the U.S. and Europe, we’re not going to take a company public unless there’s at least one diverse board candidate, with a focus on women,” Solomon said specifically on the network’s “Squawk Box.”

Some will, perhaps rightly, see the announcement as little more than marketing. After all, it’s already widely viewed as unacceptable for a company to go public without at least one female board member and preferably far more “diversity” than that. WeWork, for example, tried to go public last year with an all-male board, only to realize soon after that if it wanted to pursue an initial public offering, it had better mix it up a bit. (Of course, by the time it amended its S-1 to name Harvard professor Frances Frei as its first female board member, its offering was already starting to implode.)

Adding one’s first female board member ahead of an IPO is such a cliche at this point that the more interesting question is how close to the filing a related announcement will be made.

Airbnb, founded in 2008, brought aboard its first female board member in 2018, so let’s call it two years ahead of its presumed 2020 IPO. A decade is a long time to go without any diversity on a board, but it’s also not atypical. Slack’s first female board member, Sarah Friar, joined the company in March 2017, roughly two years before the company — eight years old at the time — staged its direct listing last year. Similarly, Peloton, the fitness company, now eight years old, brought aboard its first female board director, Pamela Thomas-Graham, in the spring of 2018; in September of last year, it went public.

More important to note at all three companies is what’s gone on at the employee level. Slack, for years, has made diversity core to its operations. Airbnb has also made gains in terms of employing a more diverse workforce.  Peloton, which was roundly heckled for a recent “sexist,” “dystopian” advertisement, has a highly diverse management team.

Indeed, we’re not criticizing Solomon — when it comes to diversity, every little bit helps. But if Goldman Sachs really wants to maintain its place in the banking hierarchy, a much bolder stance would be to only take public companies that have diverse workforces, which is far more important — and beneficial to all stakeholders — than adding a woman and/or person of color to a board of directors as part of preparing an IPO.

Let’s be real here. Directors of public companies typically meet just four times a year to review quarterly results. It’s important and necessary, sure. But beyond ensuring that strategic objectives are being met and hopefully making useful introductions to the company, these roles are assigned more importance by industry watchers than they should. (They often pay ludicrous amounts, too.)

Even pledging that Goldman is only going to take public companies that give back — say 1% of future profits to the NAACP, as one idea — would instantly put it in pole position for those founders and investors who truly want to be progressive. Goldman might miss out on a lot of business in the immediate term, we realize, but we’re guessing it’s a gamble that would pay off over time.

In the meantime, institutionalizing a process that’s already happening and doesn’t have nearly enough real-world impact may be better, just barely, than not institutionalizing that process. Though it’s shocking to note, according to Solomon, about 60 companies in the U.S. and Europe have gone public recently with all-white, male boards.

When we reached out to other big banks today to see if they might make a public commitment of their own regarding pre-IPO companies — we wrote to Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and JPMorgan — each of them, which have said in various ways that they are committed to diversity, declined to comment.

Said Solomon earlier to CNBC, “We realize that this is a small step, but it’s a step in a direction of saying, ‘You know what, we think this is right, we think it’s the right advice and we’re in a position also, because of our network, to help our clients if they need help placing women on boards . . . So this is an example of us saying, ‘How can we do something that we think is right and help moves the market forward?’”


US regulators need to catch up with Europe on fintech innovation 

https://thefinancialbrand.com/89922/challenger-bank-neobank-fintech-regulator-sandbox/play episode download
23 January, by Walter Thompson[ —]

Fintech companies are fundamentally changing how the financial services ecosystem operates, giving consumers powerful tools to help with savings, budgeting, investing, insurance, electronic payments and many other offerings. This industry is growing rapidly, filling gaps where traditional banks and financial institutions have failed to meet customer needs.

Yet progress has been uneven. Notably, consumer fintech adoption in the United States lags well behind much of Europe, where forward-thinking regulation has sparked an outpouring of innovation in digital banking services — as well as the backend infrastructure onto which products are built and operated.

That might seem counterintuitive, as regulation is often blamed for stifling innovation. Instead, European regulators have focused on reducing barriers to fintech growth rather than protecting the status quo. For example, the U.K.’s Open Banking regulation requires the country’s nine big high-street banks to share customer data with authorized fintech providers.

The EU’s PSD2 (Payment Services Directive 2) obliges banks to create application programming interfaces (APIs) and related tools that let customers share data with third parties. This creates standards that level the playing field and nurture fintech innovation. And the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority supports new fintech entrants by running a “sandbox” for software testing that helps speed new products into service.

Regulations, if implemented effectively as demonstrated by those in Europe, will lead to a net positive to consumers. While it is inevitable that regulations will come, if fintech entrepreneurs take the action to engage early and often with regulators, it will ensure that the regulations put in place support innovation and ultimately benefit the consumer.


Uber’s Shin-pei Tsay is coming to TC Sessions: Mobility

23 January, by Kirsten Korosec[ —]

Government and policy experts are among the most important people in the future of transportation. Any company pursuing the shared scooters and bikes business, ride-hailing, on-demand shuttles and eventually autonomous vehicles has to have someone, or a team of people, who can work with cities.

Enter Shin-pei Tsay, the director of policy, cities and transportation at Uber . TechCrunch is excited to announce that Tsay will join us onstage at TC Sessions: Mobility, a one-day conference dedicated to the future of mobility and transportation.

If there’s one person who is at the center of this universe, it’s Tsay. In her current role at Uber, she leads a team of issues experts focused on what Uber calls a “sustainable multi-modal urban future.”

Tsay is also a founder. Prior to Uber, she founded a social impact analysis company called Make Public. She was also the deputy executive director of TransitCenter, a national foundation focused on improving urban transportation. She also founded and directed the cities and transportation program under the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

For the past four years, Shinpei has served as a commissioner for the City of New York Public Design Commission. She is on the board of the national nonprofit In Our Backyard.

Stay tuned, we’ll have more speaker announcements in the coming weeks. In case you missed it, TechCrunch has already announced Ike co-founder and chief engineer Nancy Sun, Waymo’s head of trucking Boris Sofman and Trucks VC’s Reilly Brennan will be participating in TC Sessions: Mobility.

Don’t forget that $250 Early-Bird tickets are now on sale — save $100 on tickets before prices go up on April 9; book today.

Students, you can grab your tickets for just $50 here.


Firefly Aerospace investigating a fire that resulted from a test of its Alpha rocket’s engines

23 January, by Darrell Etherington[ —]

Space launch startup Firefly Aerospace encountered a setback as it kicked off the first “hot” tests of its Alpha launch vehicle’s engines — a fire resulted from its first test-engine fire. The fire occurred at 6:23 PM local time on Wednesday during the first planned five-second fire in a series of test firings Firefly intended to run for Alpha at its Briggs, Texas facility. The fire was located “in the engine bay at the base of the rocket’s stage,” Firefly has said in a new statement about the incident.

Firefly’s engineers immediately stopped the engine test, and the facility’s fire suppression system put out the fire, the company says. The team is currently reviewing data around the test to identify the cause, and will perform a complete investigation to figure out what’s going on and then report those results, according to the statement. Firefly also says that “at no time during the test were Firefly operations personnel or the public in danger” and adds that it’s working with local emergency response and governing authorities throughout the investigation.

The launch startup has encountered setbacks before, though its biggest previous hurdle was of a different nature: Firefly Space Systems filed for bankruptcy protection in 2017, before returning with a slightly different corporate identity as Firefly Aerospace later that year, still under the leadership of founder and current CEO Tom Markusic. Firefly was rescued at least in part thanks to a lifeline investment from Noosphere Ventures, and said at the time it had enough runway to fund it fully through development and flight of Alpha, an expendable launch vehicle that will be able to deliver as much as a metric ton to low-Earth orbit.

This fire is a setback, but it does appear that it was at least quickly contained and didn’t result in any kind of explosion or total destruction of the test launch vehicle. It’s too soon to say what this will mean for Firefly’s timelines, which at the end of last year, anticipated a first launch of Alpha sometime between this February and March.

Anomalies are part of the process of developing new launch systems and spacecraft, so this isn’t necessarily a major blow for Firefly — depending, of course, on what the investigation reveals regarding the ultimate cause.

Firefly’s statement on the incident is included in full below.

Firefly Aerospace maintains a 200-acre manufacturing and test facility in Briggs, Texas, 27 miles north of its headquarters.

On January 22, 2020, test engineers were conducting a planned test of the first stage of the company’s “Alpha” launch vehicle. The test was to be the first in a series of propulsion tests to verify design and operation of the stage, and involved a short, 5-second firing of the stage’s four engines.

At 6:23 pm local time, the stage’s engines were fired, and a fire broke out in the engine bay at the base of the rocket’s stage. The 5-second test was immediately aborted and the test facility’s fire suppression system extinguished the fire. The cause of the anomaly is under investigation. Firefly engineers are reviewing test data from the stage to identify potential causes for the test failure, and Firefly will share results of that investigation once it is complete.

Firefly is committed to workplace safety, and at no time during the test were Firefly operations personnel or the public in danger. Firefly is coordinating closely with local authorities and emergency response personnel as it investigates the anomaly and refines its contingency procedures.


It’s time for tech startups to get political

23 January, by Walter Thompson[ —]

Between 2005 and 2018, the five biggest U.S. tech firms collectively spent more than half a billion dollars lobbying federal policymakers. But they shelled out even more in 2019: Facebook boosted its lobbying budget by 25%, while Amazon hiked its political outlay by 16%. Together, America’s biggest tech firms spent almost $64 million in a bid to shape federal policies.

Clearly, America’s tech giants feel they’re getting value for their money. But as CEO of Boundless, a 40-employee startup that doesn’t have millions of dollars to invest in political lobbying, I’m proposing another way. One of the things we care most about at Boundless is immigration. And while we’ve yet to convince Donald Trump and Stephen Miller that immigrants are a big part of what makes America great — hey, we’re working on it! — we’ve found that when you have a clear message and a clear mission, even a startup can make a big difference.

So how can scrappy tech companies make a splash in the current political climate? Here are some guiding principles we’ve learned.

1) Speak out

You can’t make a difference if you don’t make some noise. A case in point: Boundless is spearheading the business community’s pushback against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “public charge rule.” This sweeping immigration reform would preclude millions of people from obtaining U.S. visas and green cards — and therefore make it much harder for American businesses to hire global talent — based on a set of new, insurmountable standards. We’re doing that not by cutting checks to K Street but by using our own expertise, creativity and people skills — the very things that helped make our company a success in the first place.

By leveraging our unique strengths — including our own proprietary data — we’ve been able to put together a smart, business-focused amicus brief urging courts to strike down the public charge rule. And because we combine immigration-specific expertise with a real understanding of the issues that matter most to tech companies, we’ve been able to convince more than 100 other firms  — such as Microsoft, Twitter, Warby Parker, Levi Strauss & Co. and Remitly — to cosign our amicus brief. Will that be enough to persuade the courts and steer federal policy in immigrants’ favor? The jury’s still out. But whatever happens, we take satisfaction in knowing that we’re doing everything we can on behalf of the entire immigrant community, not just our customers, in defense of a cause we’re passionate about.

2) Take a stand

Taking a stand is risky, but staying silent is a gamble, too: Consumers are increasingly socially conscious, and almost nine out of 10 said in one survey that they prefer to buy from brands that take active steps to support the causes they care about. It depends a bit on the issue, though. One survey found that trash-talking the president will win you brownie points from millennials but cost you support among Baby Boomers, for instance.

So pick your battles — but remember that media-savvy consumers can smell a phony a mile off. It’s important to choose causes you truly stand behind and then put your money where your mouth is. At Boundless, we do that by hiring a diverse workforce — not just immigrants, but also women (we’re over 60%), people of color (35%) and LGBTQ+ (15%) — and putting time and energy into helping them succeed. Figure out what authenticity looks like for your company, and make sure you’re living your values as well as just talking about them.

3) Band together

Tech giants might have a bigger megaphone, but there are a lot of startups in our country, and quantity has a quality all its own. In fact, the Small Business Administration reported in 2018 that there are 30.2 million small businesses in the United States, 414,000 of which are classified as “startups.” So instead of trying to shout louder, try forging connections with other smart, up-and-coming companies with unique voices and perspectives of their own.

At Boundless, we routinely reach out to the other startups that have received backing from our own investor groups — national networks such as Foundry Group, Trilogy Equity Partners, Pioneer Square Labs, Two Sigma Ventures and Flybridge Capital Partners — in the knowledge that these companies will share many of our values and be willing to listen to our ideas.

For startups, the venture capitalists, accelerators and incubators that helped you launch and grow can be an incredible resource: Leverage their expertise and Rolodexes to recruit a posse of like-minded startups and entrepreneurs that can serve as a force multiplier for your political activism. Instead of taking a stand as a single company, you could potentially rally dozens of companies — from a range of sectors and unique weights in their fields — on board for your advocacy efforts.

4) Use your superpowers

Every company has a few key superpowers, and the same things that make you a commercial success can help to sway policymakers, too. Boundless uses data and design to make the immigration process more straightforward, and number-crunching and messaging skills come in handy when we’re doing advocacy work, too.

Our data-driven report breaking down naturalization trends and wait times by location made a big splash, for instance, and not just in top-ranked Cleveland. We presented our findings to Congress, and soon afterward some Texas lawmakers began demanding reductions in wait times for would-be citizens. We can’t prove our advocacy was the deciding factor, but it’s likely that our study helped nudge them in the right direction.

5) Work the media

Whether you’re Bill Gates or a small-business owner, if you’re quoted in The New York Times, then your voice will reach the same people. Reporters love to feel like they’re including quotes from the “little guy,” so make yourself accessible, and learn to give snappy, memorable quotes to reporters, and you’ll soon find that they keep you on speed dial.

Our phones rang off the hook when Trump tried to push through a healthcare mandate by executive order, for instance, and our founders were quoted by top media outlets — from Reuters to Rolling Stone. It takes a while to build media relationships and establish yourself as a credible source, but it’s a great way to win national attention for your advocacy.

6) Know your lawmakers

To make a difference, you’ll need allies in the corridors of power. Reach out to your senators and congresspeople, and get to know their staffers, too. Working in politics is often thankless, and many aides love to hear from new voices, especially ones who are willing to stake out controversial positions on big issues, sound the alarm on bad policies or help move the Overton window to enable better solutions.

We’ve often found that prior to hearing from us, lawmakers simply hadn’t considered the special challenges faced by smaller tech companies, such as lack of internal legal, human and financial resources, to comply with various regulations. And those lawmakers come away from our meetings with a better understanding of the need to craft straightforward policies that won’t drown small businesses in red tape.

Political change doesn’t just happen in the Capital Beltway, so make a point of reaching out to your municipal and state-level leaders, too. In 2018, Boundless pitched to the Civic I/O Mayors Summit at SXSW because we knew that municipal leaders played a critical role in welcoming new Americans into our communities. Local policies and legislation can have a big impact on startups, and the support of local leaders remains a critical foundation for the kinds of change we want to see made to the U.S. immigration system.

Take the next step

It’s easy to make excuses or expect someone else to advocate on your behalf. But if there’s something you think the government could be doing better, then you have an obligation to use your company’s energy, talent and connections to push back and create momentum for reform. Sure, it would be nice to splash money around and hire a phalanx of lobbyists to shape public policy — but it’s perfectly possible to make a big difference without spending a dime.

But first, figure out what you stand for and what strengths and superpowers you can leverage to bear the problems you and your customers face. Above all, don’t be afraid to take a stand.


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