Author: blockinvest venture

Coinbase to propose a federal regulatory framework for crypto to US officials within the next month

Coinbase Co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong

Image Credits: Steve Jennings / Getty Images

Cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase wants to help guide any emerging regulation on exchanges like itself, for obvious reasons, and in an interview with TechCrunch Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 on Tuesday, Coinbase CEO and founder Brian Armstrong revealed it’s preparing a draft regulatory framework for consideration by federal lawmakers which it aims to distribute sometime within the next month.

“Coinbase wants to be an advisor and a helpful advocate for how the U.S. can create that sensible regulation,” Armstrong said in the interview. “In fact, there’s a proposal that we’re putting out at the end of this month, or maybe early next month, that is our proposed regulatory framework.”

Regulators typically seek industry feedback when forming new rules, particularly in industries where the pace of technological advancements mean that progress in the market has far outpaced the development of new, and amendment of existing, regulation. Armstrong said that he has in fact been asked multiple times for such a proposal.

“When I go to DC, I’ve met with a number of people in government, and they typically will ask us ‘Well, do you have a draft, do you have a proposal of something we could try to shop around about how this could be regulated federally?’,” he said. “Because right now, Coinbase has, you know, 50 different state regulators for money transmission licenses, 50 for lending licenses, you know, FINCEN, and SEC, and CFTC, and IRS and Treasury and OFAC.”

Armstrong clearly would prefer if there were an overarching federal framework that would alleviate the burden of dealing with independent state-by-state rules and agencies. But he also did seem aware that any proposal they put forward will definitely be just a single piece of a larger puzzle, which will include input from other industry entities working in crypto as well as guidance from existing related regulations.

“We have a proposal that we actually want to put out there that could help maybe create at least one idea about how to move forward,” he said. “But this is going to require input from a lot of people and that willingness [on the part of lawmakers] to kind of engage with private industry and learn about what the opportunity is here.”

Coinbase recently clashed with the SEC after teasing the launch of a ‘Lend’ product that would allow its users to stake their crypto holdings in exchange for a return in the form of yearly interest. The SEC threatened to sue over the product since it signalled that this would represent security, and be regulated as such, and Coinbase quietly walked back its plans to debut the product for now shortly after making public the SEC’s threat and articulating its lack of comprehension about the potential regulatory backlash.

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PayPal launches its ‘super app’ combining payments, savings, bill pay, crypto, shopping and more

New PayPal app Dashboard 2

Image Credits: PayPal

PayPal has been talking about its “super app” plans for some time, having recently told investors its upcoming digital wallet and payments app had been given a go for launch. Today, the first version of that app is officially being introduced, offering a combination of financial tools including direct deposit, bill pay, a digital wallet, peer-to-peer payments, shopping tools, crypto capabilities and more. The company is also announcing its partnership with Synchrony Bank for its new high-yield savings account, PayPal Savings.

These changes shift PayPal from being largely a payments utility that’s tacked on other offerings here and there to being a more fully fleshed out finance app. Though PayPal itself doesn’t aim to be a “bank,” the new app offers a range of competitive features for those considering shifting their finances to neobanks, like Chime or Varo, as it will now also include support for paycheck Direct Deposits through PayPal’s bank partners with two-day early access, bill pay and more.

These features could make PayPal more competitive, as getting paid earlier has been one of the bigger draws among those considering digital banking apps instead of using traditional banks.

In addition to shifting their paychecks to Payal, customers’ PayPal funds can then be used for things that are a part of daily life, like paying their bills, saving or shopping, for example.

The enhanced bill pay feature lets customers track, view and pay bills from thousands of companies, including utilities, TV and internet, insurance, credit cards, phone and more, PayPal says. When bill pay first arrived earlier this year, it offered access to (single-digit) thousands of billers. Now, it will support around 17,000 billers. Customers can also discover billers through an improved, intelligent search feature, set reminders to be notified of upcoming bills and schedule automatic payments for bills they have to pay on a regular basis. The bills don’t have to only be paid from funds currently in the PayPal account, but can be paid through any eligible funding source that’s already linked to their PayPal account.

Via a Synchrony Bank partnership, PayPal Savings will offer a high-yield savings account with a 0.40% Annual Percentage Yield (APY), which is more than six times the national average of 0.06%, the company says. However, that’s lower than top rivals in the digital banking market offer, like Chime (0.50%), Varo (starts at 0.20%, but users can qualify to get 3.00% APY), Marcus (0.50%), Ally (0.50%), ONE (1.00% or 3.00% on Auto-Save transactions), and others. However, the rate may appeal to those who are switching from a traditional bank, where rates tend to be lower.

PayPal believes its high-yield offering will be able to compete not based on the APY alone, but on the strength of its combined offerings.

Image Credits: PayPal

“We know that about half of customers in the United States don’t even have a savings account, much less one with a very competitive rate,” notes PayPal SVP of Consumer, Julian King. “So all in all, we think that by bringing together the full set of solutions on the platform, it’s a really competitive offering for an individual.”

The app has also been reorganized to accommodate the new features and those yet to come.

It now features a personalized dashboard offering an overview of the customer’s account. The wallet tab lets users manage Direct Deposits and connect funding sources like bank accounts and debit and credit cards alongside the ability to enroll in PayPal’s own debit, credit and cash cards. And a finance tab provides access to the high-yield savings and the previously available crypto capabilities, which allows users to buy, hold and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash and Litecoin.

The payments tab, meanwhile, will hold much of PayPal’s traditional feature set, including peer-to-peer payments, international remittances, charitable and nonprofit giving, plus now bill pay and a two-way messaging feature that allows users to request payments or say thank you after receiving a payment — whether that’s between friends and family or between merchants and customers. This addition could bring PayPal more in line with PayPal-owned Venmo, which already offers the ability to add notes to payments and make comments.

Messaging also ties into PayPal’s new Shopping hub, which is where the company is finally putting to good use its 2019 $4 billion Honey acquisition. Honey’s core features are now becoming a part of the PayPal mobile experience, including personalized deals and exclusive rewards.

Image Credits: PayPal

PayPal users will be able to browse the discounts and offers inside the app, then shop and transact through the in-app browser. The deals can be saved to the wallet for future use, so they can be applied if shopping later in the app or online. Customers will also be able to join a loyalty program, where they can earn cashback and PayPal shopping credit on their purchases. The company says these personalized deals will improve over time.

“We’ll use AI and [machine learning] capabilities to understand what kind of shopping deals are most interesting to customers and continue to develop that over time. They’ll just get smarter and smarter as the product gets more usage,” notes King. This will include using the data about the deals a customer likes, then bringing similar deals to them in the future.

Also new in the updated mobile app is the addition of PayPal’s crowdsourced fundraising platform, the Generosity Network, first launched late last year. The network is PayPal’s answer to GoFundMe or Facebook Fundraisers, by offering tools that allow individuals to raise money for themselves, others in need, or organizations like small businesses or charities. The network is also now expanding to international markets with Germany and the U.K. to start, with more countries to come.

As PayPal has said, the new app is laying the groundwork for other new products in the quarters to come. The biggest initiative on its roadmap is a plan to enter the investment space, to rival other mobile investing apps, like Robinhood. When this arrives, it will support the ability to buy stocks, fractional stocks and ETFs, PayPal says.

It will also later add support for paying with QR codes in an offline environment, and tools for using PayPal to save while in stores.

The updated app is rolling out starting today in the U.S. as a staggered release that will complete in the weeks ahead. However, PayPal Savings won’t be available immediately — it will arrive in the U.S. in the “coming months,” as will some of the shopping and rewards tools.

Blockinvest Ventures is hereby to help you understand more regarding the investment industry with conscientious advice. We hope that you can feel the article was helpful and don’t forget to subscribe our website for further news!

How to meet the demand of EV infrastructure and maintain a stable grid

Andrew TangContributor – Andrew Tang is vice president of energy storage and optimization at Wärtsilä Energy, which provides solutions for renewable energy integration and EV charging infrastructure development.

As electric vehicles (EVs) become the new standard, charging infrastructure will become a commonplace detail blending into the landscape, available in a host of places from a range of providers: privately run charging stations, the office parking lot, home garages and government-provided locations to fill in the gaps. We need a new energy blueprint for the United States in order to maintain a stable grid to support this national move to EV charging.

The Biden administration announced 500,000 charging stations to be installed nationally and additional energy storage to facilitate the shift to EVs. Integrating all of this new infrastructure and transitioning requires balancing the traffic on the grid and managing increased energy demand that stretches beyond power lines and storage itself.

The majority of EV infrastructure pulls its power from the grid, which will add significant demand when it reaches scale. In an ideal situation, EV charging stations will have their own renewable power generation co-located with storage, but new programs and solutions are needed in order to make it available everywhere. A range of scenarios for how renewables can be used to power EV charging have been piloted in the U.S. in recent years. Eventually, EVs will likely even provide power to the grid.

These technological advances will happen as we progress through the energy transition; regardless, EV infrastructure will heavily rely on the U.S. grid. That makes coordination across a range of stakeholders and behavior change among the general public essential for keeping the grid stable while meeting energy demand.

The White House’s fact sheet for EV charging infrastructure points to a technical blueprint that the Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute will be working on together. It is critical that utilities, energy management and storage stakeholders, and the general public be included in planning — here’s why.

Stakeholder collaboration

Charging infrastructure is currently fragmented in the U.S. Much of it is privatized and there are complaints that unless you drive a Tesla, it is hard to find charging while on the road. Some EV owners have even returned to driving gas-powered vehicles. There’s reason to be hopeful that this will rapidly change.

ChargePoint and EVgo are two companies that will likely become household names as their EV networks expand. A coalition made up of some of the largest U.S. utilities — including American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy, Southern Company and the Tennessee Valley Authority — called the Electric Highway Coalition, announced plans for a regional network of charging stations spanning their utility territories.

Networks that swap out private gas stations for EV charging is one piece of the puzzle. We also need to ensure that everyone has affordable access and that charging times are staggered — this is one of the core concerns on every stakeholder’s mind. Having charging available in a range of places spreads out demand, helping keep power available and the grid balanced.

Varying consumer needs including location and housing, work schedules and economic situations require considerations and new solutions that make EVs and charging accessible to everyone. What works in the suburbs won’t suit rural or urban areas, and just imagine someone who works the night shift in a dense urban area.

Biden’s plan includes, “$4 million to encourage strong partnerships and new programs to increase workplace charging regionally or nationally, which will help increase the feasibility of [plug-in electric vehicle] ownership for consumers in underserved communities.” Partnerships and creative solutions will equally be needed.

An opportunity to fully engage technologies we already have

“Fifty percent of the reductions we have to make to get to net-zero by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies that we don’t yet have,” John Kerry said recently, causing a stir. He later clarified that we also have technologies now that we need to put to work, which received less air time. In reality, we are just getting started in utilizing existing renewable and energy transition technologies; we have yet to realize their full potential.

Currently, utility-scale and distributed energy storage are used for their most simplistic capabilities, that is, jumping in when energy demand reaches its peak and helping keep the grid stable through services referred to as balancing and frequency regulation. But as renewable energy penetration increases and loads such as EVs are electrified, peak demand will be exacerbated.

The role that storage plays for EV charging stations seems well understood. On-site storage is used daily to provide power for charging cars at any given time. Utility-scale storage has the same capabilities and can be used to store and then supply renewable power to the grid in large quantities every day to help balance the demand of EVs.

A stable power system for EVs combines utilities and utility-scale storage with a network of subsystems where energy storage is co-located with EV charging. All of the systems are coordinated and synchronized to gather and dispatch energy at different times of the day based on all the factors that affect grid stability and the availability of renewable power. That synchronization is handled by intelligent energy management software that relies on sophisticated algorithms to forecast and respond to changes within fractions of a second.

This model also makes it possible to manage the cost of electricity and EV demand on the grid. Those subsystems could be municipal-owned locations in lower-income areas. Such a subsystem would collect power in its storage asset and set the price locally on its own terms. These systems could incentivize residents to power up there at certain times of the day in order to make charging more affordable by providing an alternative to the real-time cost of electricity during peak demand when using a home outlet, for example.

Behavior change

The greatest challenge for utilities will be how to manage EV loads and motivate people to stagger charging their vehicles, rather than everyone waiting until they are home in the evening during off-peak renewable generation periods. If everyone plugged in at the same time, we’d end up cooking dinner in the dark.

While there’s been talk of incentivizing the public to charge at different times and spread out demand, motivators vary among demographics. With the ability to charge at home and skip a trip to the “gas station” — or “power station,” as it may be referred to in the future — many people will choose convenience over cost.

The way we currently operate, individual energy usage seems like an independent, isolated event to consumers and households. EVs will require everyone — from utilities and private charging stations to consumers — to be more aware of demand on the grid and act more as communities sharing energy.

Thus, a diverse charging network alone won’t solve the issue of overtaxing the grid. A combination of a new blueprint for managing energy on the grid plus behaviour change is needed.

Blockinvest Ventures is hereby to help you understand more regarding the investment industry with conscientious advice. We hope that you can feel the article was helpful and don’t forget to subscribe our website for further news!

Laser-initiated fusion leads the way to safe, affordable clean energy

Image of a blue laser beam against a black background.

The quest to make fusion power a reality recently took a massive step forward. The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced the results of an experiment with an unprecedented high fusion yield. A single laser shot initiated reactions that released 1.3 megajoules of fusion yield energy with signatures of propagating nuclear burn.

Reaching this milestone indicates just how close fusion actually is to achieving power production. The latest results demonstrate the rapid pace of progress — especially as lasers are evolving at breathtaking speed.

Indeed, the laser is one of the most impactful technological inventions since the end of World War II. Finding widespread use in an incredibly diverse range of applications — including machining, precision surgery and consumer electronics — lasers are an essential part of everyday life. Few know, however, that lasers are also heralding an exciting and entirely new chapter in physics: enabling controlled nuclear fusion with positive energy gain.

After six decades of innovation, lasers are now assisting us in the urgent process of developing clean, dense and efficient fuels, which, in turn, are needed to help solve the world’s energy crisis through large-scale decarbonized energy production. The peak power attainable in a laser pulse has increased every decade by a factor of 1,000.

Physicists recently conducted a fusion experiment that produced 1,500 terawatts of power. For a short period of time, this generated four to five times more energy than what the whole world consumes at a given moment. In other words, we are already able to produce vast amounts of power. Now we also need to produce vast amounts of energy so as to offset the energy expended to drive the igniting lasers.

Beyond lasers, there are also considerable advances on the target side. The recent use of nanostructure targets allows for more efficient absorption of laser energies and ignition of the fuel. This has only been possible for a few years, but here, too, technological innovation is on a steep incline with tremendous advancement from year to year.

In the face of such progress, you may wonder what is still holding us back from making commercial fusion a reality.

There remain two significant challenges: First, we need to bring the pieces together and create an integrated process that satisfies all the physical and technoeconomic requirements. Second, we require sustainable levels of investment from private and public sources to do so. Generally speaking, the field of fusion is woefully underfunded. This is shocking given the potential of fusion, especially in comparison to other energy technologies.

Investments in clean energy amounted to more than $500 billion in 2020. The funds that go into fusion research and development are only a fraction of that. There are countless brilliant scientists working in the sector already, as well as eager students wishing to enter the field. And, of course, we have excellent government research labs. Collectively, researchers and students believe in the power and potential of controlled nuclear fusion. We should ensure financial support for their work to make this vision a reality.

What we need now is an expansion of public and private investment that does justice to the opportunity at hand. Such investments may have a longer time horizon, but their eventual impact is without parallel. I believe that net-energy gain is within reach in the next decade; commercialization, based on early prototypes, will follow in very short order.

But such timelines are heavily dependent on funding and the availability of resources. Considerable investment is being allocated to alternative energy sources — wind, solar, etc. — but fusion must have a place in the global energy equation. This is especially true as we approach the critical breakthrough moment.

If laser-driven nuclear fusion is perfected and commercialized, it has the potential to become the energy source of choice, displacing the many existing, less ideal energy sources. This is because fusion, if done correctly, offers energy that is in equal parts clean, safe and affordable. I am convinced that fusion power plants will eventually replace most conventional power plants and related large-scale energy infrastructure that are still so dominant today. There will be no need for coal or gas.

The ongoing optimization of the fusion process, which results in higher yields and lower costs, promises energy production at much below the current price point. At the limit, this corresponds to a source of unlimited energy. If you have unlimited energy, then you also have unlimited possibilities. What can you do with it? I foresee reversing climate change by taking out the carbon dioxide we have put into the atmosphere over the last 150 years.

With a future empowered by fusion technology, you would also be able to use energy to desalinate water, creating unlimited water resources that would have an enormous impact in arid and desert regions. All in all, fusion enables better societies, keeping them sustainable and clean rather than dependent on destructive, dirty energy sources and related infrastructures.

We are betting on the side of optimism and science, and I hope that others will have the courage to do so. Blockinvest Ventures is hereby to help you understand more regarding the investment industry with conscientious advice. We hope that you can feel the article was helpful and don’t forget to subscribe our website for further news!

Blockinvest Ventures is hereby to help you understand more regarding the investment industry with conscientious advice. We hope that you can feel the article was helpful and don’t forget to subscribe our website for further news!

EV charging solutions will become a benefit to the grid rather than a liability.

President Joe Biden’s plan for electric vehicles (EVs) to comprise roughly half of U.S. sales by 2030 is a clear indication that the U.S. is making strides in decarbonizing its transportation systems, which currently account for nearly half of total U.S. emissions.

Though this kind of federal support is critical in accelerating the mass adoption of EVs, we must face the impending need to rehabilitate the ailing U.S. electric infrastructure that millions currently rely on, namely the capabilities of the power grid.

As society converts to an all-electric future and demand rises for EVs, a challenge our modern world will face is how to charge the increasing number of vehicles without overstressing the grid past its capacity. While some predict EVs will overload the power grid, others have found methods that support our energy infrastructure, including solutions such as wireless charging, vehicle-to-grid (V2G) integration or more efficient methods of utilizing renewable energy sources, to name a few.

Amid warranted concerns about the unstable grid, there is an urgent need to find solutions that can reinforce this critical infrastructure to avoid pushing the grid to its limits.

The current challenges facing the grid

According to the recent IPCC climate change report, extreme heat waves that previously only struck once every 50 years are now expected to happen once per decade or more frequently due to global warming and anthropogenic emissions. While this has already been seen in this past year through record-breaking heat waves and extreme fires in the Pacific Northwest, utilities, operators and industry experts continue to express concern about whether current energy systems will be able to withstand increasing temperatures from climate change.

And it’s not just heat: In February, a cold snap in Texas crippled energy infrastructure and left millions without power. These numbers will only continue to increase as temperatures rise and the grid overworks itself to meet electricity needs.

In addition to fluctuating temperatures impacting the grid, many are also concerned about its ability to support the increasing number of EVs expected to hit the market in the coming years. With reports indicating that transportation electrification will likely require a doubling of U.S. generation capacity by 2050, there is a need for flexible EV charging options that can increase flexibility and load times during peak charging hours. However, as it currently stands, the U.S. power grid is only capable of supporting 24 million EVs until 2028 一 well under the required number of EVs needed to successfully curb road transport emissions.

Despite these challenges, one thing that industry experts have pointed out is that EVs have the potential to play a massive role in managing demand as well as aid in stabilizing the grid when necessary. However, as EVs are more widely adopted across the U.S., utilities need to ask themselves critical questions such as when people will likely charge their vehicles, how many users are charging their vehicles and when, what types of chargers are in use, and what types of vehicles are charging (such as passenger vehicles or medium- to heavy-duty fleets) to determine the additional demand for electricity and how they must upgrade their grids.

EV charging solutions will become an asset, not a liability

With long lead times for grid infrastructure upgrades paired with an increasing number of individuals and companies looking to electrify their vehicles, municipalities across the U.S. are desperately searching for methods to implement the necessary charging infrastructure to stay ahead of the rising EV tide while simultaneously ensuring the grid’s stability. However, a recent analysis by the ICCT estimates that with the current number of U.S. EV chargers at 216,000, the country will need 2.4 million public and workplace chargers by 2030 if it wants to meet its goals.

To address this concerning lack of charging infrastructure, cities have begun to explore charging options outside of the traditional, stationary station to not only speed up the adoption of the necessary charging infrastructure, but to protect the grid as well. One of these options is dynamic charging, otherwise known as wireless or in-motion charging.

On one hand, some argue wireless electric vehicle charging will pose an additional strain on existing grid infrastructure by increasing demand variability due to fragmented charging duration caused by charging lane layouts and traffic. On the other hand, many argue that wireless charging actually decreases the demand on the power grid due to the fact that energy demand is spread over time and space throughout the day, rather than being confined to stationary chargers’ charging period between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., which enables a reduction in required grid connections and upgrades.

Additionally, wireless charging can be deployed in locations where conductive (plug-in) charging solutions cannot — such as roads, directly under commercial facility loading docks, at exit and entry points to facilities, under taxi queues, at bus stations and terminals, etc., which means that wireless technology can charge EVs at regular intervals throughout the day with “top-up” charging.

This method also enables more efficient utilization of renewable solar energy, produced and utilized predominantly during daylight hours, meaning limited additional energy storage devices are required, unlike conductive EV charging stations, which can typically only be used in the evening and nighttime hours and require energy storage.

These benefits indicate that cities and utilities alike can capitalize on efficient energy utilization strategies such as wireless charging to spread energy demand over time and space — adding additional flexibility and protection to the grid. While this method can and should be applied to passenger EVs, using it to power medium- to heavy-duty fleet vehicles will allow for a much faster transition to electric in these challenging-to-electrify fleet segments.

Can wireless charging assist the grid in supporting widespread adoption of EVs?

While passenger EVs pose challenges of their own to the grid, large-scale fleet charging will be a monumental task if utilities don’t get ahead of the transition. Wireless charging offers a cost-effective solution to operators looking to transition to meet carbon reduction goals, with projected numbers of electric commercial and passenger fleets making up 10%-15% of all fleet vehicles by 2030. Let’s take a closer look at an example comparison between plugging in large vehicles versus wireless charging and the impact both have on the grid:

  • Conductive (plug-in): 100 e-buses with 240 kWh batteries using overnight conductive charging at a bus depot requires a minimum grid connection of 6 megawatts (MW) because the entire fleet charges at the end of daily operations, typically simultaneously.
  • Inductive (wireless): 100 e-buses using wireless charging stationary charging technology at bus terminals, garages and stations located inside city centers enable the buses to be “topped-up” throughout the day at natural breaks in their operations. This charging strategy enables both massive battery capacity reduction (the exact amount depends on the fleet and vehicle energy requirements) and, because the bus fleet charging is spread throughout the day, the required grid connection(s) can be reduced by 66% to just 2 MW.

Wireless electric roads accompanied by solar panel fences adjacent to the road may be the ultimate solution for decentralizing power generation and eliminating stress on the grid. According to industry calculations, approximately 0.6 miles of this electric fence solution could provide between 1.3-3.3 MW of power. This combination of solar generation coupled with wireless charging infrastructure embedded into the road can support anywhere between 1,300 to 3,300 buses per day independent of power grid supply (assuming an average speed of 50 mph and accounting for seasonal variations in solar radiation).

Furthermore, because wireless electric roads are a shared platform for all EVs, this same road would also charge trucks, vans and passenger vehicles without placing additional pressures on the grid.

Innovative charging methods will play a critical role in modernizing and adapting our power grid

Although wireless charging is still relatively new to the market, the benefits are beginning to become glaringly self-evident. Amid increasing concerns about outdated grid infrastructure in the face of widespread transport electrification efforts, rising temperatures and extreme weather conditions, innovative charging methods can provide an optimal solution.

From distributing EV charging throughout the day to avoid overloads to being able to support the energy capacity needs of both passenger vehicles and large fleets simultaneously, technologies such as wireless charging will become critical resources in adapting to an all-electric decarbonized future.

Heimdal pulls CO2 and cement-making materials out of seawater using renewable energy

The Heimdal logo over a rocky landscape.

Image Credits: Heimdal

One of the consequences of rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere is that levels also rise proportionately in the ocean, harming wildlife and changing ecosystems. Heimdal is a startup working to pull that CO2 back out at scale using renewable energy and producing carbon-negative industrial materials, including limestone for making concrete, in the process, and it has attracted significant funding even at its very early stage.

If the concrete aspect seems like a bit of a non sequitur, consider two facts: concrete manufacturing is estimated to produce as much as 8% OF all greenhouse gas emissions, and seawater is full of minerals used to make it. You probably wouldn’t make this connection unless you were in some related industry or discipline, but Heimdal founders Erik Millar and Marcus Lima did while they were working in their respective masters programs at Oxford. “We came out and did this straight away,” he said.

They both firmly believe that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, but were disappointed at the lack of permanent solutions to its many and various consequences across the globe. Carbon capture, Millar noted, is frequently a circular process, meaning it is captured only to be used and emitted again. Better than producing new carbons, sure, but why aren’t there more ways to permanently take them out of the ecosystem?

The two founders envisioned a new linear process that takes nothing but electricity and CO2-heavy seawater and produces useful materials that permanently sequester the gas. Of course, if it was as easy that, everyone would already be doing it.

“The carbon markets to make this economically viable have only just been formed,” said Millar. And the cost of energy has dropped through the floor as huge solar and wind installations have overturned decades-old power economies. With carbon credits (the market for which I will not be exploring, but suffice it to say it is an enabler) and cheap power come new business models, and Heimdal’s is one of them.

The Heimdal process, which has been demonstrated at lab scale (think terrariums instead of thousand-gallon tanks), is roughly as follows. First the seawater is alkalinized, shifting its pH up and allowing the isolation of some gaseous hydrogen, chlorine and a hydroxide sorbent. This is mixed with a separate stream of seawater, causing the precipitation of calcium, magnesium and sodium minerals and reducing the saturation of CO2 in the water — allowing it to absorb more from the atmosphere when it is returned to the sea. (I was shown an image of the small-scale prototype facility but, citing pending patents, Heimdal declined to provide the photo for publication.)

So from seawater and electricity, they produce hydrogen and chlorine gas, calcium carbonate, sodium carbonate and magnesium carbonate, and in the process sequester a great deal of dissolved CO2.

For every kiloton of seawater, one ton of CO2 is isolated, and two tons of the carbonates, each of which has an industrial use. MgCO3 and Na2CO3 are used in, among other things, glass manufacturing, but it’s CaCO3, or limestone, that has the biggest potential impact.

As a major component of the cement-making process, limestone is always in great demand. But current methods for supplying it are huge sources of atmospheric carbon. All over the world industries are investing in carbon reduction strategies, and while purely financial offsets are common, moving forward the preferred alternative will likely be actually carbon-negative processes.

To further stack the deck in its favor, Heimdal is looking to work with desalination plants, which are common around the world where fresh water is scarce but seawater and energy are abundant, for example the coasts of California and Texas in the U.S., and many other areas globally, but especially where deserts meet the sea, like in the MENA region.

Desalination produces fresh water and proportionately saltier brine, which generally has to be treated, as to simply pour it back into the ocean can throw the local ecosystem out of balance. But what if there were, say, a mineral-collecting process between the plant and the sea? Heimdal gets the benefit of more minerals per ton of water, and the desalination plant has an effective way of handling its salty byproduct.

“Heimdal’s ability to use brine effluent to produce carbon-neutral cement solves two problems at once,” said Yishan Wong, former Reddit CEO, now CEO of Terraformation and individually an investor in Heimdal. “It creates a scalable source of carbon-neutral cement, and converts the brine effluent of desalination into a useful economic product. Being able to scale this together is game-changing on multiple levels.”

Terraformation is a big proponent of solar desalination, and Heimdal fits right into that equation; the two are working on an official partnership that should be announced shortly. Meanwhile a carbon-negative source for limestone is something cement makers will buy every gram of in their efforts to decarbonize.

Wong points out that the primary cost of Heimdal’s business, beyond the initial ones of buying tanks, pumps and so on, is that of solar energy. That’s been trending downwards for years and with huge sums being invested regularly there’s no reason to think that the cost won’t continue to drop. And profit per ton of CO2 captured — already around 75% of over $500-$600 in revenue — could also grow with scale and efficiency.

Millar said that the price of their limestone is, when government incentives and subsidies are included, already at price parity with industry norms. But as energy costs drop and scales rise, the ratio will grow more attractive. It’s also nice that their product is indistinguishable from “natural” limestone. “We don’t require any retrofitting for the concrete providers — they just buy our synthetic calcium carbonate rather than buy it from mining companies,” he explained.

All in all it seems to make for a promising investment, and though Heimdal has not yet made its public debut (that would be forthcoming at Y Combinator’s Summer 2021 Demo Day) it has attracted a $6.4 million seed round. The participating investors are Liquid2 Ventures, Apollo Projects, Soma Capital, Marc Benioff, Broom Ventures, Metaplanet, Cathexis Ventures and, as mentioned above, Yishan Wong.

Heimdal has already signed LOIs with several large cement and glass manufacturers, and is planning its first pilot facility at a U.S. desalination plant. After providing test products to its partners on the scale of tens of tons, they plan to enter commercial production in 2023.

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Power Global eyes India’s auto-rickshaw sector has a battery that can be swapped out and a refit kit.

In India, a country that is more densely populated and has lower rates of car ownership, auto-rickshaws and other two- or three-wheeled vehicles play a central role. While many auto-rickshaws on Indian roads are already electric, they tend to rely on lead-acid batteries that need to be replaced every six to 11 months.

Power Global, a two-year-old startup, wants to disrupt the auto-rickshaw market by offering a retrofit kit for diesel-powered vehicles and a swappable battery pack to transition the more common lead-acid batteries to lithium-ion.

Power Global was founded by Porter Harris, who had previously engineered the batteries for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft. He also worked as the chief battery engineer at EV startup Faraday Future. Thus far, he estimates Power Global has been around 95% self-funded — thanks in part to the sale of his SpaceX stock.

“I’ve been looking at the Indian market now for about five years,” he told TechCrunch in a recent interview. The opportunity is certainly ripe, with some market research firms estimating that the electric rickshaw market in India will grow to $1.3 billion by 2025. It’s also dire: Last year, 15 out of the top 20 most polluted cities in the world were in India, according to air quality technology company IQAir, and much of those emissions are due to transportation.

By offering two separate products for diesel-powered or electric rickshaws — the retrofit kit, which Harris said will fit more than 90% of current models, and the “eZee” swappable battery — Power Global is aiming to capture almost the entire auto-rickshaw market.

Harris says the company already has around 48 dealers ready to sell their products, thanks largely to Power Global co-founder Pankaj Dubey’s extensive history working with Indian dealerships over his career with Hero Motors, Yamaha and Polaris. And that’s a real benefit, because much of Power Global’s plan is dependent upon an extensive dealer network that can get people signed up to the swappable battery subscription model and help drivers buy and install the retrofit kits.

The main source of revenue will come from getting drivers on the energy-as-a-service monthly subscription model via Power Global’s “eZee” swappable batteries.

“It’s a totally different business model,” Harris said. “We can’t translate petrol or gas solutions and try and make that work for electric, it’s really a whole new thing. Our viewpoint is: a lot of kiosks, a small amount of [battery] modules per location.”

Image Credits: Power Global(opens in a new window)

The company wants to launch on the outskirts of New Delhi, National Capital Region to start, with the eventual goal of planning a kiosk every three kilometers or so. Drivers will also have the option to take the battery home and charge it using a Power Global home charger.

On the user side, the company’s also developing an app that will allow drivers to see stats, like how many kilometers they’ve traveled that day, their remaining battery life and where they can find the nearest battery swapping kiosk.

Power Global expects its batteries to last four and a half to five years. The company plans to use the batteries for stationary energy storage application once they’re taken out of the eZee ecosystem. Harris said there are plans to eventually tie those batteries in with small solar panels to provide energy to rural areas. Once the battery has been completely depleted of all its useful life, Harris said it’ll be sent to a recycler.

The company aims to release its eZee swappable battery product in the first quarter of next year, followed by the retrofit kits. It has opened a battery production plant in Greater Noida, India, which it anticipates will produce about a gigawatt-hour — which is about 10,000 Model S packs — this time next year. That’ll make it one of the largest domestic manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries in the country. By the end of 2022, Power Global aims to have at least 10,000 vehicles on the eZee swappable system.

While Power Global is in discussion with some U.S.-based companies interested in the eZee product, Harris said the focus is ultimately further east. “Do we really need another solution for the top 10% of the world? No, we don’t. Let’s focus on the other 90% of the world and actually make a difference.”

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Cryptocurrency must be regulated in order to maintain its worldwide validity.

The past decade has seen several structural changes in know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations in Europe and globally. High-profile money laundering cases and the penetration of illicit funds into global markets have caught the attention of regulators and the public, and rightfully so.

The Wirecard scandal was a particularly salacious example, in which the investigation into widespread fraud revealed a chain of shell companies involved in illegal distribution of narcotics and pornography. Over at Danske Bank, some $227 billion was laundered through an Estonian subsidiary, going virtually unnoticed for nine years.

In the United States, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed an action against Ripple Labs and two of its executives, claiming they had raised over $1.3 billion through an unregistered, ongoing digital asset securities offering. That case is ongoing.

Traditional forms of regulation from the fiat world do not reciprocally apply to every aspect of crypto nor to the fundamental nature of blockchain technology.

As regulators and financial institutions improve their understanding of these criminal practices, AML requirements have likewise been improved. But these adjustments have been an overwhelmingly reactive, trial-by-fire process.

To address the challenges of the fast-evolving blockchain ecosystem, the European Union has begun to introduce more stringent financial regulations that further bolster the regulatory system in order to improve licensing models. Many member states now regulate crypto assets individually, and Germany is leading the way in being the first to regulate cryptocurrencies.

These individual regulations clearly prescribe the pathway for crypto companies, outlining the requirements for obtaining and maintaining a financial license from the regulator. Compliance naturally boosts investor confidence and protection.

As these financial crimes and crypto itself evolves, so have regulatory bodies’ efforts to monitor, address and enforce restrictions. Internationally, the most prominent monitoring body is the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which outlines general guidance and determines best practices in anti-money-laundering practices and combating the financing of terrorism.

Although FATF is considered soft law, the task force sets the bar for workable regulations within crypto assets. Especially notable is FATF’s Recommendation 16, better known as the “travel rule,” which requires businesses to collect and store the personal data of participants in blockchain transactions. In theory, access to this data will enable authorities to have better oversight and enforcement of crypto market regulations. In other words, they’ll know exactly who is doing exactly what. Transparency is key.

The travel rule conundrum

FATF’s travel rule impacts two types of businesses: traditional financial institutions (banks, credit firms and so on) and crypto companies, otherwise known as virtual asset service providers (VASPs).

In its original incarnation, the travel rule only applied to banks, but was expanded to crypto companies in 2019. In 2021, many of the FATF member jurisdictions began to incorporate the travel rule into their local AML laws. This regulatory shift sent shockwaves through the crypto sector. The stakes of refusal are high: Failure to incorporate the travel rule results in a service provider being declared noncompliant, which is a major obstacle to doing business.

But, the travel rule is also a major hindrance that doesn’t take into account the novelty of crypto technology. It is problematic for crypto businesses to integrate due to the major amount of effort it poses when obtaining KYC data about the recipient and integrating it into day-to-day business.

In order for crypto businesses to obtain this information for outgoing payments, data would have to be provided by the client and would end up being virtually impossible to verify. This is highly disruptive to the crypto’s emblematic efficiency. Moreover, its implementation presents challenges regarding the accuracy of the data received by VASPs and banks. Also, it creates further data vulnerabilities due to additional data silos being created across the globe.

When it comes to international standardization measures rather than those isolated within certain communities, there is a wide gap between exclusively on-chain solutions (transactions that are recorded and verified on one specific blockchain) and cross-chain communication, which allows for interactions between different blockchains or for combining on-chain transactions with off-chain transactions that are conducted on other electronic systems, such as PayPal.

We must eventually find a halfway point between those with valid concerns about the anonymity crypto assets provide and those who see regulation as prohibitively restrictive on crypto. Both sides have a point, but crypto’s continued legitimacy and viability within the larger financial markets and industry is a net positive for all parties, making this negotiation nothing short of crucial.

Not anti-regulation, just anti-unworkable regulations

Ultimately, we need to regulate with efficacy, which necessitates legislation that is applicable specifically to digital assets and does not hinder the market without really solving any AML-related problems.

The already global nature of the traditional financial industry underscores the value of and need for FATF’s issuance of an international framework for regulatory oversight within crypto.

The criminal financial trade — money laundering, illegal weapons sales, human trafficking and so on — is also an international business. Thus, cracking down on it is, out of necessity, an international effort.

The decentralized nature of blockchain, which runs contrary to the central-server standard we know and use nearly everywhere, presents a formidable challenge here. Rules and regulations for traditional financial institutions are being implemented part and parcel onto crypto — a misstep and misunderstanding that ignores the innovation and novelty this economic ecosystem and its underlying technology entails.

Traditional forms of regulation from the fiat world do not reciprocally apply to every aspect of crypto nor to the fundamental nature of blockchain technology. However well intentioned they may be, because these imposed regulations are built on an old system, they must be adapted and modified.

The creation of fair restrictions on the technology’s use requires a fundamental understanding and cooperation within the limits and characteristics of those technologies. In traditional financial circles, the topic of blockchain is currently subject to more impassioned rhetoric than genuine understanding.

At the heart of the issue is the fundamental misunderstanding that blockchain transactions are anonymous or untraceable. Blockchain transactions are pseudo-anonymous and, in most circumstances, can offer more traceability and transparency than traditional banking. Illegal activity conducted on the blockchain will always be far more traceable than cash transactions, for example.

Technology with such immense potential should be made accessible, regulated and beneficial for everyone. Blockchain and digital assets are already revolutionizing the way we operate, and regulatory measures need to follow suit. The way forward cannot simply be delivering old-school directives, demanding obedience and doling out unfair punishments. There’s no reason a new way forward isn’t possible.

The end of the outlaw era

Activity can already be monitored through a collective database of users known to abide by international standards. This knowledge of approved users and vendors allows the industry to spot misconduct or malfeasance far sooner than usual, singling out and restricting illegitimate users.

By means of a well-thought-through tweaking of the suggested regulations, a verified network can collectively be built to ensure trust and properly leverage blockchain’s potential, while barring those bad actors intent on corrupting or manipulating the system. That would be a huge step forward in prosecuting international financial crimes and ensuring crypto’s legitimacy globally.

Crypto’s outlaw days are over, but it’s gained an unprecedented level of legitimacy that can only be preserved and bolstered by abiding with regulatory oversight.

That regulatory oversight can’t just be the old way of doing things copy-and-pasted onto blockchain transactions. Instead, it needs to be one that helps fight criminal activity, shores up investor confidence and throws a bone — not a wrench — to the very mechanics that make crypto a desirable financial investment.

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Tips: Make accessibility a priority in your startup’s items and culture from the inception.

The world of accessibility has experienced a tipping point thanks to the pandemic, which drove people of all abilities to do more tasks and shopping online.

For the last year, the digital world was the only place brands could connect with their customers. A Forrester survey found that 8 in 10 companies have taken their first steps toward working on digital accessibility.

What’s driving this change besides the increased digital interactions? Fortune 500 companies are finally starting to realize that people with disabilities make up 1 billion of the world’s market. That population and their families control more than $13 trillion in disposable income, according to Return on Disability’s “The Global Economics of Disability.”

However, only 36% of companies in Forrester’s survey are completely committed to creating accessible digital experiences.

Although digital accessibility has been around for decades, companies have not caught on to its benefits until recently. In its latest survey, the WebAIM Million analysis of 1 million home pages found accessibility errors on 97.4% of the websites evaluated.

What does this mean for you? Why should you care about this? Because this is an opportunity for your company to get ahead of the competition and reap the rewards of being an early adopter.

The benefits of digital accessibility

Companies are now realizing the advantages of creating accessible products and properties that go beyond doing the right thing. For one, people are living longer. The World Health Organization says people aged 60 and older outnumber children under 5. Moreover, the world’s population of those who are 60 and older is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050, up from 900 million in 2015.

W3C Web Accessibility Initiative provides an overview on Web Accessibility for Older Users. Here’s what it reveals.

  • Hearing loss affects 47% of people aged 61 to 80.
  • Vision decline affects 16% of people aged 65 to 74.
  • Mild cognitive impairment affects 20% of people over 70.
  • Arthritis affects more than 50% of people over 65.

In short, developing accessible digital products helps you reach a much larger audience, which will include you, your co-workers and your family. Everyone is going to become situationally, temporarily or episodically impaired at some point in their lives. Everyone enters a noisy or dark environment that can make it harder to see or hear. An injury or an illness can cause someone to use the internet differently on a temporary basis. People with arthritis, migraines and vertigo experience episodes of pain and discomfort that affect their ability to interact with digital devices, apps and tools.

Additionally, no one has ever advocated against making products and websites accessible to more people. Despite this, the relative universal appeal of accessibility as a principle does not mean that it will be as easy as explaining the need and getting people on board to make major organizational changes. A lot of work remains in raising awareness and educating people about why we need to make these changes and how to go about it.

You have the why. Now here are five things to help you with how to make changes in your company to integrate accessibility as a core part of your business.

1. Tap the right people to create accessible experiences

According to the second annual State of Accessibility Report, only 40% of the Alexa Top 100 websites are fully accessible, proving the needs of people with disabilities are, more often than not, being overlooked when creating web experiences.

To design for people with disabilities, it’s important to have an understanding of how they use your products or web properties. You’ll also want to know what tools will help them achieve their desired results. This starts with having the right people on board.

Hiring accessibility experts to advise your development team will proactively identify potential issues and ensure you design accessibly from the start, as well as create better products. Better yet, hiring people with disabilities brings a deeper level of understanding to your work.

2. Hire designers passionate about accessibility

Having accessibility experts on your team to provide advice and guidance is a great start. However, if the rest of your team is not passionate about accessibility, that can turn into a potential roadblock. When interviewing new designers, ask about accessibility. It’ll gauge a candidate’s knowledge and passion in the area. At the same time, you set an expectation that accessibility is a priority at your organization.

Being proactive about your hires and making sure they will contribute to a culture of accessibility and inclusion will save you major headaches. Accessibility starts in the design and user experience (UX) phase. If your team doesn’t deliver there, then you will have to fix their mistakes later, essentially delaying the project and costing your organization. It costs more to fix things than to build them accessibly in the first place.

3. Remember that accessibility is for everyone

People deciding whether to invest in accessibility often ask themselves how many people are going to use the feature. The reasoning behind the question is understandable from a business perspective; accessibility can be an expense, and it’s reasonable to want to spend money responsibly.

However, the question is rooted in one of the biggest misconceptions in the field. The myth is that accessibility only benefits people who are blind or deaf. This belief is frustrating because it greatly underestimates the number of people with disabilities and minimizes their place in society. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge that people who may not have a disability still benefit greatly from accessibility features.

Disability is a spectrum that all of us will find ourselves on sooner or later. Maybe an injury temporarily limits our mobility that requires us to perform basic tasks like banking and shopping exclusively online. Or maybe our vision and hearing change as we age, which affects our ability to interact online.

When we understand that accessibility is about designing in a way that includes as many people as possible, we can reframe the conversation around whether it’s worth investing in. This approach sends a clear message: No business can afford to ignore a fast-growing population.

Think about it this way: If you have a choice of taking an elevator or the stairs, which would you take? Most pick the elevator. Those ramps on street corners called curb cuts? They were initially designed for allowing wheelchairs to cross the street.

Yet, many use these ramps, including parents pushing strollers, travelers pulling luggage, skateboarders rolling and workers moving heavy loads on dollies. A feature initially designed for accessibility benefits far more people than the original target audience. That’s the magic of the curb-cut effect.

4. Hire agencies that build accessibly by default

Whether you have a small team or are expanding an in-house accessibility practice, working with an agency can be an effective way to embrace and adopt accessible practices. The secret to a successful partnership is choosing an agency that will help your team grow into its accessibility practice.

The key to finding the right agency is selecting one that builds accessibly by default. When you know you are working with an agency that shares your organization’s values, you have a trusted partner in your mission of improving accessibility. It also removes any guesswork or revisions down the line. This is a huge win, as many designers overlook details that can make or break an experience for a user with a disability.

Working with an agency focused on providing accessible experiences narrows the likelihood of errors going unnoticed and unremedied, giving you confidence that you are providing an excellent experience to your entire audience.

5. Integrate accessibility into your supply chain

On any given day, enterprises and large organizations often work with dozens of stakeholders. From vendors and agencies to freelancers and internal employees, the nature of business today is far-reaching and collaborative. While this is valuable for exchanging ideas, accessibility can get lost in the mix with so many different people involved.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to align these moving pieces of a business into a supply chain that is focused on accessibility at every stage of the business. When everyone is completely bought in, it cuts the risk of a component being inaccessible and causing issues for you in the future.

The startup advantage

A major challenge that comes up repeatedly is the struggle to change the status quo. Once an organization implements and ingrains inaccessible processes and products into its culture, it is hard to make meaningful change. Even if everyone is willing to commit to the change, the fact is, rewriting the way you do business is never easy.

Startups have an advantage here: They do not bear years of inaccessible baggage. It’s not written into the code of their products. It’s not woven into the business culture. In many ways, a startup is a clean slate, and they need to learn from the trials of their more established peers.

Startup founders have the opportunity to build an accessible organization from the ground up. They can create an accessible-first culture that will not need rewriting 10, 20 or 30 years from now by hiring a diverse workforce with a passion for accessibility, writing accessible code for products and web properties, choosing to work with only third parties who embrace accessibility and advocating for the rights of people with disabilities.

Many of these considerations here have a common denominator: culture. While most people in the technology industry will agree that accessibility is an important and worthy cause to champion, it has a huge awareness problem.

Accessibility needs to be everywhere in software development, from requirements and beyond to include marketing, sales and other non-tech teams. It cannot be a niche concern left to a siloed team to handle. If we, as an industry and as a society, recognize that accessibility is everyone’s job, we will create a culture that prioritizes it without question.

By creating this culture, we will no longer be asking, “Do we have to make this accessible?” Instead, we’ll ask, “How do we make this accessible?” It’s a major mindset shift that will make a tangible difference in the lives of 1 billion people living with a disability and those who eventually will have a disability or temporary, situational or episodic impairments affecting their ability to use online and digital products.

Advocating for accessibility may feel like an uphill battle at times, but it isn’t rocket science. The biggest need is education and awareness.

Formative, a student learning and analytics platform, raises $70M to challenge the summative, test-based approach to education

Students using digital tablet in classroom

Tests are king in many school systems and other educational environments: they are seen as an efficient way to assess what knowledge students have retained, and how well they do on a level playing field where everyone has the same exam to take.

Some, however, believe that system is flawed, and today a startup that’s built a platform to provide another way of assessing and teaching is announcing a big round of funding on the heels of strong growth for its approach.

Formative — a platform for K-12 teachers to create assessments from scratch or provision assignments from other digital sources and learning platforms, assess in real-time how students handle them, adjust instruction based on those results, and then use progressive assignments to build a bigger picture and how that student is acquiring knowledge — has picked up $70 million, funding that it will be using to continue expanding the reach of its platform.

The funding is being led by Summit Partners, with previous investors Fika Ventures, Mac Ventures and Rethink Education also participating, among others. Formative is not disclosing its valuation but this is being described as a minority investment.

More significantly, it’s a major step up for the startup, which was founded in Santa Monica, CA, in 2013 and had raised less than $7 million before now.

The funding however matches how well the startup has been doing. On the back of a major surge of interest in digital learning tools — spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, the subsequent closure of physical schools, and a huge shift to remote learning — Formative says that its platform is already in the majority of U.S. school districts (specifically 92% of all U.S. school districts have at least one teacher signed up); that more than four million students have engaged with “Formatives” (as the assignments are casually called); and that it is delivering annual recurring revenue growth of around 700%.

And in keeping with that momentum, Formative has a lot of ambitious plans for the funding. They include building more analytical tools for teachers and administrators as well as parents and students; taking Formative to more international markets (it’s currently most active in English-speaking countries); and more generally (and perhaps most importantly) building technology that’s helping the system rethink what a quality education might look like, what form that should take.

“One of our big goals in the future is to really help be a gateway to evaluate the rigor and effectiveness of different curriculum streams,” said Craig Jones, the CEO who co-founded Formative with Kevin McFarland (the COO), in an interview. “We’re using all the data that we’ve collected, the billions of student responses to facilitate a bigger picture, insights on student learning, to the necessary stakeholders. That can spin off into a lot of different things that we can help our schools and teachers and parents use that data to ultimately drive additional learning.”

Jones, who is a former science teacher, and McFarland came up with the idea for Formative the startup while working on MBAs at UCLA, where they were looking at how different pedagogic approaches might prove to work better than traditional methods for learning. Formative the startup takes its name from the idea of formative evaluation, where teachers provide regular, sustained assessment to check on students and modify how they are teaching to help them learn. In many ways it sits in opposition to an over-reliance on summative assessment, or the idea of wrapping up learning, and evaluating, based on a final test, although in practice even a shift to more formative can still help a student better prepare for those final summative assessments.

While the idea behind formative assessments has been around for a while, the breakthrough that Jones and McFarland had was to realize that the concept could be truly scaled and expanded if it was digitized, since that would enable efficient assignment delivery, and much more data collation, visualization, communication and analytics.

That concept, of course, took on a whole new profile in the last year and a half: schools and teachers that had already invested in the idea of using more digital tools, and possibly even Formative itself, ramped up their engagement; and they were joined by a new wave of educators scrambling to fill the big gap created by schools closing to slow down the spread of Covid-19, who might have previously had a very tenuous engagement with online learning. That had a big impact on a lot of the edtech sector, with online learning companies like Kahoot also seeing a big rise in use (and taking a bigger initiative into learning management by acquiring tools like Clever), as well as a plethora of other providers.

Formative too seized the moment and set up something it called the Covid-19 Assistance Program, providing free access to its platform — which is normally priced in different tiers, starting at free for a basic service, then increasing to $12 and $17 or ‘contact us’ based on numbers of teachers using the platform that allows for more integrations, more analytics and so on. Some 5,000 teachers and schools signed up for the free service, Jones said, and McFarland noted that as schools reopened, it’s continued through in what has definitely been an evolving engagement with technology for many in the classroom. (And not all are so quick to shift: my kids’ secondary school in London still strictly forbids people using “screens” at school and in classrooms.)

“There’s been a really big shift in the U.S., where there are more devices in classrooms now than there are students,” said McFarland, who said that many are taking a hybrid approach of saying, effectively, ‘If we want to utilize this, we can utilize it but not necessarily rely on it every single day.’

“That’s where you’ll see a lot of flexibility,” he continued. “They’re using a device, not a toy. We try to work a lot in that flexible hybrid environment.”

The approach it has taken is to make its system work in as seamless a way as possible for teachers, by not only integrating with all the learning materials that are “native” to digital platforms, but also making digitized versions of the most popular publications, and those that they are using as part of their curriculum, also something the teachers can call up and assign through Formative. In that regard, it’s not a learning content company, but more of a channel for making the content that is there, more accessible and more useful. It also links up with other tools like learning management systems when they are used to create a more efficient process overall.

That’s a model that has resonated with both educators and investors.

“Formative helps to accelerate learning for students, save time for teachers and quantify results for school and district administrators,” said Tom Jennings, an MD at Summit Partners, in a statement. “We believe Formative has a rare combination of rapid, capital-efficient growth, innovative products, delighted customers and a humble, mission-driven team. We admire how Craig, Kevin and the team have built the business and expect our partnership to help Formative accelerate product enhancements and the continued global expansion of the business.” Jennings is joining Formative’s board with this round.

Blockinvest Ventures is hereby to help you understand more regarding the investment industry with conscientious advice. We hope that you can feel the article was helpful and don’t forget to subscribe our website for further news!

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