Disrupt Battlefield finalist Valor Water is graduating out of Y Combinator just in time to help solve the world’s water crisis. Valor provides a suite of business-intelligence tools for water utilities.
In a drought, consumers are encouraged to conserve water and they often do. In California this past December, conservation was up from 10 percent in November to 22 percent in December, in year-over-year water-use comparisons done by the State of California. Since July 2014, consumers saved 134 billion gallons of water or enough to supply 1.8 million residents with water for a year.
But with that conservation comes a challenge for utilities: decreasing revenue. For every gallon conserved in a drought, that’s one more gallon a utility is not earning money on, over time putting the provider in a very precarious financial situation. Utilities, fearing for their survival, often end up issuing rate hikes to maintain revenue. This leads to a cycle whereby consumers are no longer incentivized to conserve, as they’ll end up paying the same water bill regardless.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Valor founder Christine Boyle has long been familiar with the role water plays in society. She explains that whether you live in an urban or rural community, are trying to grow food or want basic sanitation, “if you don’t have access to water, you probably have a pretty poor quality of life.”
It is this sentiment that brought her to University of North Carolina where she pursued her doctorate. Like most water scholars, Boyle began her studies focused on water quality and wastewater management.
In 2007, everything changed. A major drought hit the Southeast United States causing North Carolina and Tennessee to experience the driest year on record. The drought led to restricted water use for citizens, extremely low reservoir levels, damaged crops, limited energy supply from regional hydro and nuclear power and went so far as to cause conflict between states trying to claim ownership of what few water resources existed.
For every gallon conserved in a drought, that’s one more gallon a utility is not earning money on, over time putting the provider in a very precarious financial situation.
With all of this, Boyle saw local utilities struggling to stay afloat. Conservation efforts had caused the City of Charlotte to lose $19 million that year. Even smaller utilities were coming up $1-2 million short of their expected revenue. Their only solution was to increase rates on the customer in hopes of maintaining their ability to provide water.
It was at that time in her PhD that Boyle began working with local utilities to find alternative financial strategies that could help them weather the crisis. She began analyzing utility data to more effectively segment their users and understand consumption at a more granular level, leading to targeted rate adjustment and pricing tiers that were more efficient. They also highlighted customers with potential leaks, broken meters or mis-reads, leading to potential “hidden” revenue.
In the years that followed, Boyle continued to consult for U.S. water agencies while completing a Fulbright Fellowship in China, also focused on financial water management. When she returned to the U.S., the demand for her services continued to rise.
“Originally, I didn’t think of the services I was providing as a product,” Boyle explains. But as a consultant, she added, you are usually involved with a utility over several months, typically on a project basis, and often are brought in too late in the game to make significant improvements. Ultimately, utilities need a tool they can be using in their day-to-day operations.
That’s when Boyle began to create Valor Water Analytics. The company first had to secure the right to use the technology from UNC and today has a non-transferrable, global license from the university for the financial tools Boyle developed as a graduate student.
We first heard from Valor in the Battlefield at Disrupt SF this past fall when it launched its Drought Conversation Toolkit. Today, it added additional backing from both Y Combinator and ImagineH20 accelerator programs.
Valor’s West Coast location puts the company in a good position to expand. Since launch, the team has brought four California utilities on-board with its system including the Sonoma County Water Agency. With this customer, they have released a case study to assist others in the water space understand the planning process.
Valor has worked quickly to diversify its product offerings. On top of the Drought Toolkit, Valor now offers four additional products as part of their subscription service — Hidden Revenue Generator, Water Revenue Profiles, SMART Targets and Cutoff Analyzer. These tools enable more detailed customer segmentation, water consumption and payment trends. The Cutoff Analyzer allows utilities to model the impact of proposed future rate changes on their customers to predict how behavior and thus revenue could change.
Using Valor, existing utility customers have experienced an average of 6 percent net revenue increase and are using that money to invest in infrastructure and ensure water continues to be affordable to communities.
Ericsson, the pioneering wireless technology company that holds many patents related to cellular network connectivity, has filed suit against Apple both with the International Trade Commission (ITC) and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, claiming violation of 41 patents that apply to both the iPhone and iPad. These include essential patents related to 2G and LTE tech, as well as non-standard patents dealing with software and component hardware design.
With the ITC filing, Ericsson is seeking exclusion orders, or junctions, meaning it would want to have the sale of Apple device’s barred pending resolution of their patent complaint. The U.S. District Court case is mainly about Ericsson attempting to recoup damages from Apple.
The main issue here appears to center on licensing arrangements – Ericsson’s standards essential patents fall under FRAND terms, which means Ericsson must offer them to other companies under fair and reasonable non-discriminatory licensing terms. Apple and Ericsson had a global licensing agreement that expired last month. A renewed offer based on what Ericsson believes were FRAND terms was rejected, and the wireless pioneer also says an attempt to have the dispute resolved by a U.S. federal court’s decision on what would constitute fair terms was also declined by Apple, leading to this legal action.
Ericsson holds a portfolio of over 35,000 patents, and remains the largest individual holder of standards essential patents in the wireless industry. It’s difficult to find a contemporary company in the wireless industry that doesn’t have licensing agreements in place with Ericsson, but it looks like Apple probably felt they could get better terms than what were being offered in this case.
Apple provided the following comment regarding the renewed court action, reiterating its statement from when Ericsson first filed suit in January:
With tens of thousands of innovative employees, Apple has deep respect for intellectual property. We’ve always been willing to pay a fair price to secure the rights to standards essential patents covering technology in our products. Unfortunately, we have not been able to agree with Ericsson on a fair rate for their patents so, as a last resort, we are asking the courts for help.
20 February 2015
Last updated at 17:05
By Joe Miller
A Californian start-up will be allowed to advertise a mail order DNA test that screens for a rare genetic condition, after a U-turn by the US regulator.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said the 23andMe product would “provide people with information about possible mutations in their genes that could be passed on to their children”.
It had previously banned similar tests.
The 23andMe kit screens for Bloom syndrome, an inherited disease that is most common among Ashkenazi Jews.
It can detect whether a healthy person is a carrier of the genetic variant that causes the disorder, and therefore at risk of passing it on to their offspring.
‘No test is perfect’
In a statement, the FDA also said it would provide the “least burdensome regulatory path” for future projects from 23andMe and similar companies.
“In many circumstances it is not necessary for consumers to go through a licensed practitioner to have direct access to their personal genetic information,” the regulator added.
The decision contrasts with the FDA’s stance in 2013, when it ordered 23andMe to “immediately discontinue” selling its saliva collection tests after failing to provide information to back its marketing claims.
The $99 test had offered users a readout of their genetic code, including a detailed analysis of their health risks.
However, despite giving the Bloom syndrome kit a green light, the FDA cautioned that “no test is perfect” and suggested that the kit should only be used by those likely to carry a relevant gene.
Informative labelling and information on how to follow up with a medical professional must be provided by 23andMe, the FDA said.
Anne Wojcicki, of 23andMe: “We’re really partnering with the consumer”
While welcoming the FDA’s decision, 23andMe said it would “not return health results on individually cleared reports” until it had a “comprehensive product offering” in place.
The health tech company, which is backed by Google, has been operating since 2006 and was co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, its chief executive, who married Google co-founder Sergey Brin in 2007.
“This is a major milestone for our company and for consumers who want direct access to genetic testing,” she said in a blog post.
“We have more work to do, but we remain committed to pursuing a regulatory path for additional tests and bringing the health reports back to the US market.
TechCrunch’s startup launch events go back to 2007 with TC40. That inaugural event surfaced some pretty amazing companies, including Mint, TripIt, Xobni and ZocDoc. The conference grew and in 2010, was re-named Disrupt featuring the Startup Battlefield competition. Over the years it grew into a Mecca for young teams to lay it all it on the line in front of top VCs, CEOs and technologists. To date, 508 companies from more than 25 countries have appeared on the Battlefield stage. More than 72% of those startups are still operational, and an additional 13% have exited, including two IPOs. In total, the startups have raised $4.4 billion.
Thanks to Crunchbase we’ve been able to track all that data.
Today, we’re excited to launch a new channel dedicated to Startup Battlefield. It will serve as a hub for past, present and future Battlefield founders, interested investors, media and the tech community. Each Battlefield contestant has a page with TechCrunch stories and company details from Crunchbase as well a leaderboard showing how they are fare against their Battlefield batch. Battlefield events also have their own pages, bringing together all the content, videos, startups details and judges from a given competition.
The real fun is the overall Battlefield leaderboard, which lists all companies that have ever competed, and allows sorting and filtering by event, outcome, operating status and funds raised. The data is also downloadable in a CSV file. Startups can now see for themselves the benefits and outcomes for Battlefield companies.
You may have heard of a few of our bigger name exits: Yammer and Mint, or some of our fast growing alums, like Zenefits and Dropbox, but more broadly, who is the Battlefield community and what have they accomplished?
To start, companies are usually between 1-2 years old when they participate in the Battlefield. There are of course outliers, like the 5-year old wireless power company, but since 2011 startups on average are trending younger.
Prior to participation, 31% percent of companies have raised funds and of those who have raised, the median amount was $1.1M. We’ve found median is the most accurate representation of the dataset, taking into considering that startups in certain verticals, for example medical and hardware, tend to raise significantly more than their mobile software counterparts. Among the most common funders are Y Combinator (7 startups), TechStars (6 startups) and SV Angel (15 startups). Benchmark Capital has put the most, 38M, into our startups prior to the Battlefield.
After participation, 27.5% percent of companies go on to raise within 18 months, the average amount being $6.4M, more or less a Series A. The most frequent investor post-Battlefield is First Round Capital, backing 13 companies for a total of $135M. Menlo Ventures follows with SV Angel and Crunchfund who have each closed 14 deals for 13 companies.
Outside of this timebox, Benchmark, Accel and Index Ventures are the most prolific investors with 9+ rounds each and over $300M of capital committed.
Some batches have been more successful than others in the years following the Battlefield event with TC50 2008 year leading the way for average amount raised per startup ($9.5M) as well as for total amount raised. The same is true with our acquisitions over time. The TC50 2007 year leads with 13 acquisitions but of course, newer Battlefield batches could ultimately steal this title as time goes on. On average, companies who exit do so about 2 years after participating in the Battlefield.
On the subject of diversity: While we do not collect gender or racial statistics on our applicants, in 2014, twenty-two female founders competed, and the winners in Disrupt SF were the two female founders of Alfred. In the first competition of 2015, Hardware Battlefield, over a quarter of the startups were founded by women. We also pride ourselves on recruiting not just the strongest startups in San Francisco but quite simply, the strongest startups. Our 2014 applicant pool had startups representing 90 countries and of the actual contestants, 73% were from outside Silicon Valley.
These are just a few of the interesting nuggets in our dataset. We’re confident that the community will find many others.
A note to our alumni: If you see data that is incorrect or incomplete, please let us know and update the Crunchbase profile accordingly. We do our best to ensure data is up to date, however, as with any publicly maintained database, the data is not always perfect.
And of course, no Battlefield post would be complete without a shameless plug for startups to apply. Applications are open on to participate in the Battlefield at Disrupt NY. In fact, in honor of this next step in the program we’re extending the application deadline. That’s right, startups now have until 9pm PT on Sunday, March 1 to submit their applications.
See the Startup Battlefield Leaderboard here.
The TechCrunch Radio Pitch-Off gets better every week, and we’re more excited than ever to hear about the latest products in the tech world.
The TC Radio Pitch-Off goes down every Tuesday at 6pm ET on Sirius XM, where five companies have the chance to pitch their product in sixty seconds or less. A panel of judges, including John Biggs, myself, and a guest VC, will ask a few questions and deliberate live to decide who should win.
In fact, Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt will be on the show as a guest judge this week.
In the first half of the show, we discuss the latest news in the world of tech startups and chat with the lovely folks who call into the show.
If you want to apply to participate in the Pitch-Off, here are the deets:
1. You must have a product that is available to general users. No sign-up pages or pre-orders with a TBD ship date. There must be a link we can give to listeners/readers where they can access your product, service, what have you.
2. You must be an early stage company. If you have raised a Series A or later, you are disqualified. Bootstrapped or seed stage startups are welcome.
3. You must be able to pitch your product with your words only.
4. You must be able to operate a telephone.
It’s going to be a hoot!
Each week, TechCrunch Radio will air Tuesdays at 6:00 pm ET with a replay at 6:00 pm PT, drive time for both coasts, on Insight, channel 121, and through the SiriusXM Internet Radio App on smartphones and other connected devices, as well as online at siriusxm.com. Subscribers will also be able to listen via SiriusXM On Demand through the SiriusXM Internet Radio App for smartphones and other mobile devices and online at siriusxm.com.
“There is not one component in Sprout that is wholly unique,” said Ron Coughlin, senior vice president for HP Personal Systems.
“There have been scanners before, there have been projectors before, there have been computers before, there have been tablet surfaces before; it’s the integration of all those components, brought together by a new software paradigm called Workspace.”
Sprout lends itself well to artistic applications and graphic design. For example, users can scan and capture real-world objects in 3D using the Sprout Illuminator projection system, and then manipulate the virtual rendering of those 3D objects with their fingers, using the touch mat.
For example, British fashion designer and creative director Patrick Grant used Sprout to unleash his creativity in a recent art project:
Objects that have previously been scanned are stored on the Workspace desktop and can be flicked from the main touchscreen down onto the touch mat, moved around, resized and edited.
Each object is given its own ‘layer’ (like in Adobe Photoshop), so different objects can be brought to the front or made to overlap. They can also be layered on top of existing 2D images, or integrated into games or other applications.
The system is also well suited to collaborative work, with users on two different Sprout systems able to view video feeds of one another on the main screen, while simultaneously manipulating content on the touch mat.
Julian ‘Artjaz’, creative director of the Graffiti Kings, said that Sprout provides an ideal platform for collaborating and creating remotely with his graffiti collective:
“Our target is ‘makers’, and the maker in all of us. It’s a demographic that cuts across age and profession,” said Coughlin.
“Sprout was conceived out of our consumer team as a consumer product, but 40-50 per cent of the usage in the US is ‘prosumer’, so it’s a true crossover device. People are using this both for their personal lives and their professional lives.”
Users can add a wireless keyboard for tasks that involve a lot of typing, but they can also bring up a virtual keyboard on the touch mat by simply touching the keyboard icon below the monitor.
They also have the option to switch back to the standard Windows desktop mode for more traditional applications, but HP hopes that more and more applications will become ‘Sproutified’ over time.
The company is already working with Microsoft, Adobe and Autodesk to develop versions of their apps that are optimised for Sprout’s dual-screen environment, and expects that they will be launched in the next few months.
“If you make something touch, it becomes easier and more fluid, it breaks down barriers,” said Brad Short HP distinguished technologist and creator of Sprout.
“Developers are moving everything to touch, and what they saw here is a 20-inch touch surface that works on a desktop, so now their professional productivity apps, which are really well-suited for desktops, can get the benefit of touch as well.”
HP said that anyone can develop applications for Sprout using the Sprout Software Development Kit. New applications, including a range of creative applications for professionals, families, gamers and beyond, will continue to be added to the Sprout Marketplace regularly.
In the future, HP hopes that Sprout will work in tandem with the company’s 3D printers, so users will be able to recreate their 3D virtual designs in the real world.
Designer and author Sophie Conran has already tried this out, using Sprout to breathe new life into her renovation project:
“Think about ‘blended reality’ as going from physical to digital back to physical. So you could take anything in your house, scan it up, and we could recreate that on a 3D printer,” said Coughlin.
“You will see Sprout and Sprout’s capabilities go onto new form factors, go after new segments, and even project into new services, so consider this the beginning of a much more expansive ambition.”
Sprout by HP is available to pre-order from the HP Store online and at select retail locations from today. It will also be available in select Dixons and John Lewis retail stores nationwide on February 26 for a starting price of £1,899.
Some people say they are addicted to Facebook and can’t go for long without checking their status.
Newsbeat has just the place for them. If the social networking company gets it way they could be checking in to Facebook Town.
The social media company has bought up more than 200 acres of Silicon Valley.
According to Silicon Valley Business Journal Facebook “feel you just can’t build a corporate campus, it has to be integrated into the community”.
A man cuts the grass in Menlo Park in California
A Facebook Spokesperson told Newsbeat: “This purchase is an investment in our future and the future of Menlo Park. Being a good neighbour is extremely important to us.
“We look forward to continuing our dialogue with city and community leaders on local priorities in the months and years to come.”
In reality it’s still too early to say exactly what Facebook may do with the site and whether they will go ahead with a full scale giant Facebook town where workers and local people can live next to Facebook HQ.
No official plans appear to have been drawn up and Facebook may not move in for a number of years but it is considering building the town.
It owns the land near Menlo Park in California and has been the area’s largest employer for years.
More than a quarter of the residents there work for Facebook.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says Bournville is one of the nicest places to live in the UK
Building towns for workers is nothing new.
In the past a soap factory built the town of Port Sunlight in the Wirral and Bournville in Birmingham was built for the chocolate company.
Facebook Town may be seen as a way of offering something back to the area.
The company and other computer industries have been blamed for pushing up house prices, making it hard for locals to get on the property ladder.
Follow @BBCNewsbeat on Twitter, BBCNewsbeat on Instagram and Radio1Newsbeat on YouTube
If you’re tired of keeping around a loud, bulky PC on your desk, take a look at the OptiPlex 3020 Micro from Dell. This tiny machine might not look like much, but it’s more than enough computer for everyday tasks like web browsing and e-mail. Even better, it’s incredibly affordable, so it makes for a perfect office PC.
Currently, there are two stand-out configurations worth mentioning here. First off, let’s talk about the cheaper dual-core model. It sports a 3.0 GHz Intel Core i3 CPU, integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive. Secondly, we have the beefier quad-core model. Inside of it is a 2.0GHz Intel Core i5 CPU, integrated Intel HD 4600 graphics, 4GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive. They’re mostly identical, but clearly the CPU and GPU are superior in the quad-core configuration.
The starting price for the dual-core Optiplex 3020 micro is $612.86, but Dell currently has it on sale $569. If you apply the coupon code “SHBGD1LVLCD199″ in your cart, your subtotal will drop to just $329. Similarly, that very same coupon code will drop the quad-core model down to $469. Whichever config matches your needs, you’ll end up with an awesome tiny PC.
Check out these other outstanding deals:
Today, we found a fantastic bargain on two Dell monitors as well. Both models feature IPS LED-lit displays with a full 1080p resolution. Even better, they both come with $100 eGift cards — just use coupon code “7ZB7SD?2L3CWV2″ for the best price.
The Pirate Bay is back online two months after Swedish authorities delivered what had appeared to be a fatal blow to the notorious file-sharing website.
Following the longest outage in the history of the decade-old website, a slimmed down version of The Pirate Bay came back online over the weekend along with a new logo: A Phoenix rising from the flames.
The new iteration of The Pirate Bay is a much smaller and tightly run ship, stripping out many of the former administrators and moderators, who are now revolting against the decision to let the site run without support.
One of The Pirate Bay’s former administrators, identified as WTC-SWE, told TorrentFreak that a decision maker at the site thinks it “can be run without any staff at all and at the same time keeping up with fakes, internal issues etc.”
He said many of the people who dedicated themselves to The Pirate Bay are now preparing to start their own site — and are warning users of the re-launched Pirate Bay to watch out for potential malware threats, since the site won’t be as closely monitored by a dedicated staff.
The Pirate Bay had been hit with raids in the past, with the website’s administrators staging a high-tech mutiny to bring the site back to its operational capacity in just a number of days.
The raid last year marked the first time in a while the site had been knocked offline instead of being blocked by Internet service providers in various countries.
Swedish police said they raided The Pirate Bay’s servers after being prompted by a complaint by the Rights Alliance, a group targeting cyber crime.
Founded in 2003 by a group of Swedish hacktivists seeking to build a library of files to share, the site had humble beginnings on a server based in Mexico and moving a few months later to a laptop in Sweden.
At is peak, an estimated 50 million people used The Pirate Bay each day to download music and movies.
The site’s core group, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij and Carl Lundstrom were tried and convicted on copyright infringement charges in Sweden and have since distanced themselves from the site.
Each was sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay millions of dollars of damages, which was to be dispersed to various entertainment companies. The group appealed and had their sentences shortened.
Lundstrom served his sentence. Warg was arrested in Cambodia in 2012. Authorities caught up with Sunde, who was living openly in Sweden, in June of this year. Neij was arrested last year while trying to enter Thailand, marking four years since his conviction.
The site’s leadership has switched to a nonprofit organization registered in the Seychelles, according to its “about” page last year. With the relaunched site, the about page was not operational and did not provide any updated information.