After colleges sue, ICE backs down from student visa rule change

The Trump administration has backed down from plans to revoke visas of international students studying in the U.S., whose schools planned to take their classes exclusively online in the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The reversal comes as over a dozen universities and colleges threatened legal action against the administration’s order. The multi-faceted effort also was led by attorneys general in 17 states, including D.C., led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.

On Tuesday, Harvard and MIT had a remote hearing to share a case against ICE’s rule, which would have put the lives of millions of international students in jeopardy. Within minutes of the hearing, Homeland Security agreed to revoke its initial plans to only allow international students to stay in the country if they are taking in-person classes.

The new guidance, which is based on March 9 guidelines, will only benefit students who are currently enrolled. This leaves new students or individuals set to come to the United States in the fall in flux.

The rule, announced last Monday, was broadly met with fury from the academic community. Yale Law School’s Dean, Heather Gerken, posted a statement in opposition to the rule. One professor said that “I will teach outside in the snow if I have to,” if it means keeping students in the country.

Developing… more soon


Source: Tech Crunch

Investors are browsing for Chromium startups

A few months ago, we declared that “browsers are interesting again,” thanks to increased competition among the major players. Now, as more startups are getting onboard, things are getting downright exciting.

A small but growing number of projects are building web browsers with a more specific type of user in mind. Whether that perceived user is prioritizing improved speed, organization or toolsets aligned with their workflow, entrepreneurs are building these projects with the assumption that Google’s one-size-fits-all approach with Chrome leaves plenty of users with a suboptimal experience.

Building a modern web browser from scratch isn’t the most feasible challenge for a small startup. Luckily open-source projects have enabled developers to build their evolved web browsers on the bones of the apps they aim to compete with. For browsers that are not Safari, Firefox, Chrome or a handful of others, Google’s Chromium open-source project has proven to be an invaluable asset.

Since Google first released Chrome in late 2008, the company has also been updating Chromium. The source code powers the Microsoft Edge and Opera web browsers, but also allows smaller developer teams to harness the power of Chrome when building their own apps.

These upstart browsers have generally sought to compete with the dominant powers on the privacy front, but as Chrome and Safari have begun shipping more features to help users manage how they are tracked online, entrepreneurs are widening their product ambitions to tackle usability upgrades.

Aiding these heightened ambitions is increased attention on custom browsers from investors. Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich’s Brave has continued to scale, announcing last month they had 5 million daily active users of their privacy-centric browser.

Today, Thrive Capital’s Josh Miller spoke with TechCrunch about his project The Browser Company which has raised $5 million from some notable Silicon Valley operators. Other hot upstart efforts include Mighty, a subscription-based, remote-streamed Chrome startup from Mixpanel founder Suhail Doshi, and Blue Link Labs, a recent entrant that’s building a decentralized peer-to-peer browser called Beaker browser.

Mighty

As front-end developers have gotten more ambitious and web applications have gotten more complex, Chrome has earned the reputation of being quite the RAM hog.


Source: Tech Crunch

Chrome competitor, The Browser Company, quietly raises $5M

A handful of Silicon Valley’s notable figures are backing a software startup looking to challenge Google Chrome’s dominance.

The startup, called The Browser Company, is led by Joshua Miller, who previously served as the Obama White House’s Director of Product and is currently an investor at Thrive Capital, an investment firm founded by Josh Kushner.

The New York startup has raised just north of $5 million in funding, a source familiar tells TechCrunch. The company’s backers include LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, Medium’s Ev Williams, Figma’s Dylan Field, Notion’s Akshay Kothari and GitHub’s Jason Warner.

The startup has been pretty vague in public about what exactly they’re working on. They’re building a new browser that seems to reject bare bones simplicity and embrace some of the more flexible interfaces of modern web apps. The browser’s backend is built, in part, on the bones of Chrome, utilizing open source Chromium which allows the upstart product to boast seamless support with broader web standards at launch.

“We love the internet, but it can be overwhelming,” the startup’s site reads. “What if a browser could help us make sense of it all?”

In a phone call, Miller wasn’t much more illuminating on what exactly the eventual release might look like.

“I’m going to be a little cagey just because we do have competitors that have more engineers and more money than we do,” Miller said in response to a question regarding product capabilities.

The Browser Company’s team of six isn’t the only young startup aiming to challenge Chrome’s one-size-fits-all approach to the browser market. For Extra Crunch, I dug into a number of the young browser startups that investors are backing. (Subscription required.)

Google’s Chrome flat-out dominates the browser market. In 2016, Google detailed that they had about 2 billion active installs of the application. Since then, as users of competitors like Firefox and Internet Explorer have dropped off significantly, the product has only cemented its lead.

Google’s efforts to build a version of Chrome suited for billions of people across the globe has led to a safe product that Miller says isn’t very “opinionated” about how people should use it. The Browser Company isn’t aiming to replace Chrome, he says, but is looking to find a subset of Chrome users whose needs it can better meet.

“I think one of the reasons that web browsers have remained somewhat stagnant in terms of their functionality is that the business model is built on top of is one of search ad revenue,” Miller says. “I think of Chrome and Safari as Toyotas or Hondas. They’re reliable, they’re affordable, they’re accessible and they’re simple. We’re trying to build the Tesla of web browsers.”

Miller says The Browser Company is hoping to start bringing on users to beta test the software later this year.


Source: Tech Crunch

Decrypted: As tech giants rally against Hong Kong security law, Apple holds out

It’s not often Silicon Valley gets behind a single cause. Supporting net neutrality was one, reforming government surveillance another. Last week, Big Tech took up its latest: halting any cooperation with Hong Kong police.

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and even China-headquartered TikTok said last week they would no longer respond to demands for user data from Hong Kong law enforcement — read: Chinese authorities — citing the new unilaterally imposed Beijing national security law. Critics say the law, ratified on June 30, effectively kills China’s “one country, two systems” policy allowing Hong Kong to maintain its freedoms and some autonomy after the British handed over control of the city-state back to Beijing in 1997.

Noticeably absent from the list of tech giants pulling cooperation was Apple, which said it was still “assessing the new law.” What’s left to assess remains unclear, given the new powers explicitly allow warrantless searches of data, intercept and restrict internet data, and censor information online, things that Apple has historically opposed if not in so many words.

Facebook, Google and Twitter can live without China. They already do — both Facebook and Twitter are banned on the mainland, and Google pulled out after it accused Beijing of cyberattacks. But Apple cannot. China is at the heart of its iPhone and Mac manufacturing pipeline, and accounts for over 16% of its revenue — some $9 billion last quarter alone. Pulling out of China would be catastrophic for Apple’s finances and market position.

The move by Silicon Valley to cut off Hong Kong authorities from their vast pools of data may be a largely symbolic move, given any overseas data demands are first screened by the Justice Department in a laborious and frequently lengthy legal process. But by holding out, Apple is also sending its own message: Its ardent commitment to human rights — privacy and free speech — stops at the border of Hong Kong.

Here’s what else is in this week’s Decrypted.


THE BIG PICTURE

Police used Twitter-backed Dataminr to snoop on protests


Source: Tech Crunch

Social Construct’s computer-optimized buildings could shake construction industry’s foundations

Construction is one of the largest industries still resisting the call of the 21st century, its practitioners opting for decades-old but tried and true methods. Ben Huh, of Cheezburger fame, aims to modernize the planning and assembly of buildings with software-generated floorplans and rooms that fit together like LEGO bricks.

Huh’s new company, Social Construct, handles everything from design to execution, leaving only the actual in-person work to construction contractors. By optimizing layouts, laying cables and pipes below floors instead of in walls, and standardizing both pieces and assembly, this new tech-informed method could reduce the time and cost of constructing a building by 20 to 30 percent.

The company emerged in 2017 out of a project at Y Combinator, where Huh worked after leaving web culture trailblazer Cheezburger. While researching the economics of construction, he was surprised at both the scale and dated nature of the industry.

Compared with the cost of manufacturing electronics or launching other large, multi-million-dollar endeavors, which have dropped precipitously, the costs and timeframes of construction have either remained fixed or increased for decades.

“There have been productivity increases everywhere, but not in construction. It peaks in the ’70s, then drops,” he explained, illustrating the problem as follows: “Imagine you have a 55-inch hole in your wall — it’s cheaper today to buy a TV to cover the hole than to get it fixed.”

It’s unarguably true, but why should that be? The simple fact is that most construction-related work hasn’t gotten any easier or more precise, and the jobs aren’t so desirable as they once were. So labor costs go up along with the costs of ever more sophisticated buildings. But this just raises another question: Why hasn’t the work gotten any easier or more precise?

It turns out that construction, although a huge industry, is a very fragmented one — and, understandably, rather risk-averse. Even if someone wanted to question the doctrines and practices by which buildings are made, they don’t command the capital to do so.

“People do stuff because it’s what they were taught to do. No one has the millions in venture dollars to say, ‘What if we did it different?’ All these benefits show up, but then you have to reinvent part of the wheel, and companies have no reason to. There’s just no reason a contractor would ever think about doing that,” Huh explained.

The industry has effectively insulated itself against a great deal of innovation with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t spend millions of dollars fixing it” attitude. It would take a venture-backed newcomer to upend the conventions that have held construction costs and methods in stasis for decades. So at least is Huh’s hypothesis, and he believes that Social Construct is that newcomer.

Computational construction

Huh recalls his team questioning the status quo: “We wondered, could we build a whole building out of precisely made parts, the way you’d build a plane?”

Turns out people have made attempts a few times, even before CAD made the idea so attractive. “They tried this in the 70s,” Huh said. “What they found out was they could never get the parts to fit. The designs assumed an idealized space – exactly 10 feet or whatever. but it’s never quite 10 feet, the parts just aren’t that precise. Half an inch of error over 10 feet is actually pretty good. So everyone works around each other, which means the parts have to be cut to fit. Flexibility is more important than precision.”

Where Social Construct’s process diverges from the industry norm is at the point where the general shape and purpose of the building and its floors have been decided. For instance, it may be a largely triangular building with flat corners, the elevator in the center, and with three one-bedroom and one two-bedroom apartments on each floor.

That sort of design can be roughed out by an architect in a few hours, but the specifics of where exactly everything goes, from water fixtures to electrical lines, can take much longer. So that’s where the computer takes over.

Image Credits: Social Construct

You could call it an AI, but Huh has deliberately shunned the term to avoid any suspicion of trying to take a ride on that particular hype train. Working from that level of detail, the Social Construct system plans out every aspect of the construction, optimizing the layout for a variety of parameters.

There are three key aspects:

First, construction uses pre-fabricated “assemblies,” of which there are about a hundred types total: walls with kitchen cabinets, walls with holes for shower fixtures, lighting and so on. These pieces can be carried by a single person or at most two, and snap into place onto the framing. This minimizes the chance that there will be any unusual dimensions or requirements that mean this wall has to be extra thick, or you need an extra length of piping to supply the bathroom sink. It also makes assembly and repair work simple. Where there are normal walls or non-standard widths, ordinary drywall is used.

Second, all the pipes, cables, and assorted in-wall infrastructure has been moved under the floor, the routes pre-determined by the computer. It all goes in a tiny space below the floorboards — which provides better sound and heat insulation as a side benefit. This further simplifies construction, as there is no need to adapt or improvise the angles, lengths, and other aspects of water or electrical work. The light switches don’t even need to be connected, as they’re wireless and kinetically powered.

Image Credits: Social Construct

Third, the layout is calculated to minimize the possibility of variance in measurements or construction. Cuts can never be perfect and microscopic errors add up so 20 feet hallway in the design document might actually need to be 20 feet and a quarter inch. The computer knows this and plans around it, avoiding situations that tend to create that type of variance wherever possible and allowing for last-minute adjustments when it’s inevitable.

So the sequence of events is that the basic “shell” of the building including all the usual stacks and structural pieces gets built as normal — that part doesn’t change at all. Once it’s done, the team measures the actual dimensions inside very, very carefully, which lets the computer design for exactly that space. Then the walls are raised per the generated plan, the cables are laid according to the same, the assemblies are carted in and click into place, and finally the hardwood floors are installed, with the pieces cut to fit what little differences from the plan have emerged.

Image Credits: Social Construct

“We compared this to a conventionally built building, and we’re seeing that we can save 20 percent on construction costs,” Huh said — and considering construction is about two thirds of a building’s entire budget, that may be saving tens of millions right off the bat. The Social Construct building was also finished 2 months faster.

Faster work may sound like less hours for subcontractors and the like, but Huh said they’re emphasizing that lower costs and quicker work mean more productivity, so take-home pay is comparable but jobs will be easier and more numerous.

It’s important to note that Social Construct isn’t actually getting into the contracting side of things. The plan is to partner with, train, and certify contractors so that they can scale more like a platform than a boots-on-the-ground company — “Which makes us venture-backable,” Huh noted.

Right now the first building built with these methods has been sold and the company is looking for its next site, local partner, and land owner — and so they decided to exit stealth mode.

Social Construct already has about $17 million in funding, from Floodgate, S28 Capital, Felicis, Founders Fund, and (“of course,” Huh said) Y Combinator. They’ll be looking for more soon as they begin the process of truly scaling up, but it seems wise to have remained quiet until there was a whole building they could point to and say, “look, it works!”

So if your dream was to live in a computer-designed building and apartment, you’re slightly late — but it sounds like this will be the first of many.


Source: Tech Crunch

A pledge to unite international students and tech

I count myself blessed to have been contributing my weekly Dear Sophie articles to Extra Crunch since the beginning of 2020. The inspiration for the column struck last December after I returned to the Bay Area from speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt. I was doing my hair, and I remember feeling the spark of the idea begin to take shape in my mind. Before I fully understood the shape of the thought, I knew it was already resonating in my heart.

The last three-and-a-half years have been hell for immigrants and hell for immigration lawyers. Probably a lot of caring government immigration adjudicators have felt it, too. But it’s like an abusive relationship: The people who keep getting knocked around by the administration are completely powerless and literally have no voice, as they are not entitled to the right to vote. Many immigrants live in fear that the cost of opening their mouths would be retaliation and deportation. So we need a new paradigm.

The latest insult to injury affecting high-skilled immigration, in the wake of consular closures and the the H-1B ban, is last week’s announcement that raises the possibility of the potential deportation of hundreds of thousands of international students currently enrolled in U.S. higher ed for taking online-only classes during COVID-19.

Even with litigation by Harvard, MIT and Johns Hopkins, and some programs offering qualifying courses for students to maintain enrollment, the clock is ticking. My firm is inundated by requests from students both local and even abroad, struggling to find a way to continue to simply “be” in the U.S. legally.

Many others are desperate to find employment to remain in status in the U.S. on OPT and STEM OPT work permits. Working visas such as the H-1B, a common option for many recent graduates, are also disintegrating. So many are scared that they could be forced to leave, as they have been now, for years.

Why is it hard to leave? Well, think about it. Immigrants are people. Your friends, your neighbors. Like you. Some international grad students who have been here for almost a decade completing cutting-edge research put down roots and might be pregnant now or have U.S. citizen children, not to mention, potentially have been working for decades for lucrative job opportunities ahead.

And then, beyond the obvious COVID-19 health concerns about departing the U.S. on international flights in the midst of a pandemic, some home countries aren’t even accepting citizens immediately and returning students may face long waits for flights with potentially exorbitant fees. Many students, families and university administrators around the country and around the world are scared.

So many immigrants are trying their best, but under this administration it feels like a Sisyphean task — never enough — as the rock keeps rolling back down the hill.

All last week I found myself fielding The Zoom Calls of Panic: the brilliant UX designer who tells me he’s in purgatory; the accomplished Ph.D. who laments that “the U.S. is the only country that won’t take me after I get my U.S. Ph.D.”; the amazing business woman crying that she needs an extraordinary ability visa not for herself but so that she doesn’t disappoint all the families of all the people for whom she has created jobs in the United States.

Yet also, last week, there were so many glimmers of hope, opportunities for my clients to make decisions, and chances I got to take to show somebody that they can have choices, routes, strategies and hope.

One of the most inspiring things was all of the employers who have been coming out of the woodwork to support international students and grads to sponsor them for visas. Five years ago, that was simply a matter of routine business necessity in a system that was predictable, secure, navigable and easily accomplished in volume. Now, meeting a U.S. employer excited to sponsor international students as an act of solidarity gives me chills as an act of courageous heroism.

One of the events that almost moved me to tears last week was when I stayed up late one night and dragged myself to put on makeup after I finally got my elementary school kids to bed. Bleary, I provided a rambling 40-minute YouTube live stream interpreting the F-1 visa ban for international students after they had requested this from me on LinkedIn saying “In Sophie We Trust” (no pressure!). During the live stream, I received a comment from David Valverde, founder of Pranos.ai. He said that he had been an international student and that he would pledge to consider international students for job openings at his rapidly scaling startup.

We stayed in touch throughout the week on LinkedIn, and every time a stranded international student with a tech background who needed a job contacted me, I sent them David’s way. We finally connected on Friday, and somehow egged each other on to commit to volunteering in a self-imposed 2.5-day “hackathon for social good.”

This weekend’s result? We proudly announce the Community for Global Innovation (CFGI), a movement centralizing how companies and individuals around the world can stand in solidarity with international students and the belief that everybody deserves a chance to succeed.

CFGI is a constellation of top startups, VCs, professionals, nonprofits, international students and grads. We pledge to support international students, create awareness and effect change.

Through the platform, companies take the CFGI Pledge to support international students: “If you’re international, no problem. In our team, everybody has a chance.”

We also teamed up with Welcoming America, a leading U.S. nonprofit, accepting donations to make the U.S. more inclusive toward immigrants and all residents.

We’re actively seeking the support of volunteers, corporate donors and community members such as international startup founders who know it’s time to share their stories.

Growing up as the daughter of an immigration attorney and an immigrant, I know that innovation can truly come from anywhere. Diversity is critical for innovation.

The technology we rely on every day was often invented and created by people who had the courage to leave their homeland and start a new life. We all benefit as they continually create more jobs in the world as we move to a new global interconnected economy.

Life is not a zero-sum game: When we can come together to support one person to succeed, it benefits us all.

Everybody deserves a chance.

As a result of CFGI, I’m blown away by what David is doing, and I’m so excited to see how others contribute. David’s company Pranos.ai is a revolutionary mass media platform that converts any window into a transparent digital HD display. David told me:

“Especially in an early-stage technology company, every new hire has an incredible effect on the company’s destiny. Hiring highly skilled top-talent at the beginning is critical to how Pranos.ai will create many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs globally through the growth of the gig economy.”

Pranos.ai was the first company to take the CFGI Pledge. They are open to considering any candidate based on merit, regardless of immigration status. David is proud to recruit a diverse team and stand in solidarity with international students.

pranos.ai

Image Credits: pranos.ai

And why do I care about all of this so much?

I know what it’s like to be on the outside. Even though I practiced as an immigration attorney right out of law school, I gave up my career for many years to take care of my two small children.

I experienced postpartum depression and things snowballed as my dad, who was my dear mentor and friend, passed away unexpectedly and then my marriage came to an end. I wondered how I could survive in Silicon Valley as a single mom without a professional network.

Imposter syndrome shook me to my core. I longed to be an entrepreneur but I found reasons that it seemed impossible, like that I didn’t know the slightest bit about coding.

So, I decided to serve others. I began my immigration law firm out of my kitchen and met clients at a Peet’s on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View that has since turned into apartments.

I offered pro bono immigration services to people facing deportation who had experienced persecution based on their sexuality and individuals who had experienced domestic violence. I thought, “Well, at least I can support others.”

Little did I know that my clients were actually the ones supporting me: to believe in myself and create a new life. I’m inspired by the amazing courage of immigrants and the grit and tenacity of everybody who has the courage to follow their dreams.

I’m delighted by the access to information and spread of knowledge that we’ve all been able to pull off so far with “Dear Sophie.”

And now CFGI is here, where companies can take the pledge so they can be attractive to the world’s best and brightest who will know that hiring decisions are based on merit.

I’m also thrilled to see what will come next.

I stand here in deep appreciation of everybody who comes together in love and support of one’s neighbors. Because we all know, this is actually a very small, lovely blue dot in the universe, and we are all neighbors. The lines on the map that divide us that we call “walls” don’t actually separate the human spirit, or love, or ideas, or even germs, as we’ve all so keenly learned.

With so many global challenges and opportunities, I understand that our immigration struggles are simply a microcosm of so many things, and we can’t and won’t go back to the way things were.

We here who are privileged enough to live in Silicon Valley know how fortunate we are. This is where the future is being created, where the veil is thin between thoughts and things. Here, ideas rapidly come into creation and reality.

Here, we see each other on eye-level. We seek out challenge as opportunity. And we know that one focused person is more powerful than a million who are not, so innovation can come from anywhere, and one person can change the world.

So maybe here, on this leading-edge outpost, between the San Andreas fault and the crashing waves of the Pacific, we have an opportunity to take a stand:

We believe that everybody should have a chance to do well. Let’s start by standing in solidarity with international students and graduates through CFGI. And since what benefits one of us benefits us all, perhaps with the growing momentum, we can support others, such as children in immigration jail, asylum seekers, Dreamers and everybody else who deserves a chance.

Because, but for the grace of God, there could have been born I.

I am thrilled to announce CFGI. Remember, life is not a zero-sum game. If we can come together in love to support just one person, that ripples out and benefits us all.

I hope you’ll join me.


Learn how to make immigration work for you at Early Stage where immigration expert Sophie Alcorn will troubleshoot the many snags that can affect early-stage startups that are trying to bring talent into the country. Buy your tickets now. 

Read “Dear Sophie” on Extra Crunch; use promo code ALCORN to purchase a one or two-year subscription for 50% off.


Source: Tech Crunch

FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton on what newly remote companies tend to get right and wrong

Over the last few months, just about any tech company that can go remote has gone remote.

Are companies adopting remote for the long haul, or is it just a holdover until they can get people back in the office? What are newly remote companies getting wrong or right in the transition? If a company is going to be sticking with a remote workforce, what can they do to make their roles more enticing and to build a better culture?

FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton has been thinking about remote work for longer than most. She founded FlexJobs in 2007 — at a time when she herself was looking for a more flexible job — as a platform tailored specifically for jobs that didn’t keep you in an office all day. In 2015 she also founded Remote.co, a knowledge base for remote companies and employees to share the lessons they’ve learned along the way.

I recently got a chance to chat with Sara about her views and insights on remote work. Here’s the transcript of our chat, lightly edited for brevity and clarity.


Source: Tech Crunch

Trump’s account is back on Twitch following ‘hateful conduct’ suspension

It’s been two weeks since Reddit and Twitch made key moves to ban political content over service violations. As Twitch noted at the time, its suspension of the official Trump account was just temporary. Following earlier reports, the service confirmed with TechCrunch that the account had been reinstated.

A spokesperson for the company also reiterated its original statement on the matter, noting, “Hateful conduct is not allowed on Twitch. In line with our policies, President Trump’s channel has been issued a temporary suspension from Twitch for comments made on stream, and the offending content has been removed.”

The suspension was triggered by two pieces of content. First there’s the campaign kickoff, which included the infamous line, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. […] They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

And then there’s the recent Tulsa rally, which included this bit, “Hey, it’s 1:00 o’clock in the morning and a very tough, I’ve used the word on occasion, hombre, a very tough hombre is breaking into the window of a young woman whose husband is away as a traveling salesman or whatever he may do.”

“Like anyone else, politicians on Twitch must adhere to our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines,” the service said at the time. “We do not make exceptions for political or newsworthy content, and will take action on content reported to us that violates our rules.”

The move came amid the administration’s ongoing war with social media platforms like Twitter, which has included a call (and executive order) designed at revoking Section 230, which protects platforms from legal claims over user-generated content.

With rhetoric heating up both in rallies as well as Trump’s online media, it seems likely that history could repeat itself in the lead-up to the November election.


Source: Tech Crunch

Edtech exits show a need for better plumbing

The world’s massive experiment with remote learning has done more than emphasize the cracks in the way we learn. It’s brought much needed attention and capital to potential solutions.

But it’s not just investors who are flurrying to the space; edtech incumbents are taking notice, too. Recent acquisitions show that edtech’s growth spurt is forcing incumbents to think bigger and scoop talent along the way.

India edtech giant Byju encapsulates how to strategize around momentum. In June, the company raised money at a $10.5 billion valuation. It currently leads India’s online edtech market. Days later, TechCrunch learned that the company is in talks to acquire two-year-old education learning app Doubtnut for $125 million.

It’s because Doubtnut has a hold in a place that Byju doesn’t: smaller, localized towns and villages within India. While Byju might be a household name within India’s larger cities, the buy could help it expand to smaller markets.

There’s also Docsity’s recent spree of buys. The global e-learning startup, which launched in 2010 to serve Italian students, is a social network for professionals and students. In early July, it announced plans to buy two edtech companies: Estudar Com Você, based in Brazil, and Koofers, based in the U.S.

Estudar com Você, founded in 2015 and nicknamed “Brazilian Khan Academy” sells video lessons and text-based explanations for students in Brazil. Docsity bought the upstart to broaden its offering to its largest market, Brazil, and introduce video content for colleges to its curriculum.


Source: Tech Crunch

More new space consolidation as Voyager Space Holdings acquires Pioneer Astronautics

It’s beginning to be a sign of the times: smaller or younger space companies getting acquired by larger entities. Today, the company being acquired is Pioneer Astronautics, which has been bought by Voyager Space Holdings in a combined cash and stock deal. Voyager, which bills itself as the “first space-focused holding company,” now has a portfolio that includes both Pioneer and Altius Space Machines, which it acquired last year.

Pioneer Astronautics was founded in 1996, and focuses on R&D of new technologies related to space exploration. The company’s focus of late has been on sustainable human space exploration, including leveraging materials found on deep-space destinations, including the moon, and turning them into resources that are required for sustained human presence in those places. Pioneer was actually selected by NASA recently to research materials systems for use under the Artemis program, for instance, and it plans to demonstrate how it’s possible to create oxygen for breathable air, and steel for construction, from lunar regolith — essentially the soil analog found on the moon’s surface.

Voyager Space Holdings, which is led by co-founders Dylan Taylor and Matthew Kuta, aims to bring together a number of different smaller new space companies to “increase vertical integration and mission capability,” the company said in a press release announcing this news. There’s definitely an opportunity in the current climate to bundle a number of different more niche and specific services together for the larger players in the commercial space sector, as well as for government and defense clients.

Others appear to be pursuing a similar strategy, with Redwire, a PE firm-created holding company, having recently acquired Adcole Space and Deep Space Systems, along with in-space manufacturing pioneer startup Made in Space. All those acquisitions happened this year, with the Made in Space deal announced in June.

There are a number of factors that point to this being a trend that’s likely to accelerate. First, the current global economic climate is making it difficult for many small businesses to continue to operate independently, particularly in high-cost, long-term return areas like pioneering new technology development. While that is probably driving down acquisition costs for the holding companies long term, the commercial space sector seems poised for growth, driven especially by the renewed global interest in space exploration and science, fueled by public-private partnerships.

For the smaller space companies, this consolidation represents a steady source of funding for ongoing work that’s not dependent on a VC or other capital raise effort. Space is expensive — particularly when you’re trying to do something no one’s ever done before — so it’s logical that they’d look to these kinds of tie-ups as a means to continue their ambitious work.


Source: Tech Crunch